Friday, March 22, 2019

Friday Food: Thrifty Fun


Friday

Short version: Macaroni and cheese, green peas

Long version: The last time I made macaroni and cheese was pretty dismal, so I decided to actually follow a recipe this time. I screwed it up in multiple ways, but it still came out well. I started out making half a recipe, but then when it came time to cook the pasta I dumped in the whole pound, and then I had not enough sauce, so I added a little bit of extra milk after I had already assembled the casserole.

I was using homemade sourdough bread instead of white sandwich bread for the bread crumbs, so I should have made much smaller crumbs and used a lot more butter for them. They were kind of dry. Also, I only had store-brand sharp cheddar and some mild cheddar, so I wasn't starting with the greatest quality ingredients.

But like I said, it still came out well. Cubby asked me whose recipe it was. I said it was Martha Stewart's. He asked if I had her address because he wanted to write to her and tell her how delicious the macaroni and cheese is.

Perhaps Martha Stewart might actually enjoy receiving such a letter? Just don't tell her what a mess I made of her recipe.

Saturday

Short version: Cube steak in gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans

Long version: Cubby and Charlie returned this day from their trip. They spent the day before hiking the Guadalupe Peak Trail. Guadalupe Peak is the highest peak in Texas. The trail is 8.4 miles, rated "strenuous," and there's an elevation gain of about 3,000 feet.

They did the whole thing. THE WHOLE THING. Charlie, may I remind you, is six years old. I didn't even want to do that kind of hiking when I was sixteen years old. (Just ask my dad.)


He said it was fun, but cold. I should think it's pretty much always cold at almost 9,000 feet above sea level.

Anyway. I thought after all that exertion I'd better make something pretty hearty. So I cut up cube steaks into, um, cubes, browned them, simmered them with garlic, then made a gravy with milk and cornstarch. I also added some balsamic vinegar and already-cooked chopped onion I had hanging around at the end. It was okay, but it did kind of remind me of Salisbury steak.

Sunday

Short version: Bunless hamburgers, rice, roasted sweet potatoes/onions/cabbage, vanilla pudding

Long version: You can tell this was St. Patrick's Day because I added cabbage to my roasted vegetable mixture, and also gave the children--who do not like roasted vegetables, the weirdos--wedges of raw cabbage for their vegetable. I'm at least half Irish, and A. has quite a bit of Irish ancestry too, so I felt I should acknowledge that with cabbage.


I also planted some cabbage starts this day. I thought it was appropriate, even though much of this cabbage will probably be used for sauerkraut. I also have German ancestry.

I would have made potatoes, too, but A. planted the rest of my bag of potatoes, so rice it was.

I had already planned on making pudding when I stopped in at the tiny store in the village after church to get a gallon of milk. The guy running it gave me the two gallons he had left for free because they had reached their "best by" date the day before. He said he was glad I came in, because with "all those young 'uns" he was sure it wouldn't go to waste. Nope, sure didn't. I used most of one gallon to make a double batch of pudding and froze the other to make yogurt with next week. The young 'uns were very happy with their pudding.

Monday

Short version: Cheese omelets, use-it-up rice dish

Long version: Usually when I make eggs for dinner, they're scrambled, because that's the easiest and quickest way to cook as many eggs as I need to make for this horde. This time, I decided to indulge Cubby's dislike of scrambled eggs and make cheese omelets. I made three omelets with five eggs each, and was reminded anew why I don't make omelets for dinner. It took like half an hour. What a pain.

I was amused by the variety of egg sizes in the eggs I most recently got from Jack's preschool teacher. A few of them were huge. Not double-yolked, either, just huge eggs.


That's one overachieving hen.

The rice dish was one of those pleasing things that uses up a multitude of random bits and pieces. The last three pieces of bacon, diced and fried; plus about a quarter cup of partially-cooked onion from a couple of days before when I needed only a tiny amount of onion for tuna salad but didn't want to store the rest of the raw onion in the refrigerator; plus the rest of the carrot sticks from A. and Charlie's road trip (diced); plus a little bit of collard greens that I hacked off the frozen chunk in the freezer; plus some green peas and the leftover rice.

It was quite tasty, except oversalted because the little metal pourer on the salt container fell right out as I was doing the final seasoning, resulting in the salt rushing out a little too fast. Whoops. It was still good, though. Everyone had seconds and the entire (full) skillet was eaten.

I also used the rather water-logged cheese left in the cooler that A. brought home from their trip for the omelets. I am totally in the running for Thrifty Homemaker of the Year.

Tuesday

Short version: Indecisive steaks, fried potatoes, green beans

Long version: I took out a big pork roast from the freezer on Monday, congratulating myself for taking it out to thaw ahead of time so I wasn't dealing with my usual almost-totally-frozen chunk of pork situation when it was time to cook it.

But then I thought, "Wait. We just had eggs. I should save the pork for when we've had beef for like five nights in a row and I need a break from the cow."

So then I took out some ground beef because Cubby has been requesting shepherd's pie.

But then I thought, "Wait. I have that duck fat I need to use up. I need to fry some potatoes. But I don't want to make hamburgers again."

So I took out some steaks. They were really good, as were the potatoes. Those I thinly sliced on the mandoline side of my box grater--a hated task--then put in the skillet with the duck fat, salt, and pepper, cooked them covered on medium heat until they were almost done, then turned the heat up to brown them some more.

I had planned to make a vegetable requiring more prep work than frozen green beans, but just before I was going to start cooking, I got pinned in my chair by a double nap situation.


I elected to sit there and let them sleep rather than get up to prep vegetables. I have no regrets.

Wednesday

Short version: Barbecue meatballs, garlic bread, roasted broccoli/cauliflower/onion

Long version: A. left in the afternoon this day for a trip to New York. I would normally use his absence as an opportunity to make grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner and call it a meal. However. I had all that meat in the refrigerator. So the kids got lucky and had meatballs for dinner instead.

I save pieces of sourdough bread for bread crumbs--mostly the end pieces--which are still pretty coarse even after going through the food processor. Therefore, I make sure to soak them for at least five minutes in milk to soften them, then I squish them with my hands before I add the rest of the ingredients (in this case, ground beef, eggs, diced and sauteed onion because I loathe bits of raw onion in meatballs, salt, pepper, and garlic powder). The bread crumbs incorporate much better this way.

I made the garlic bread because I was baking bread anyway right before dinner, so I once again stole some dough to make a loaf of garlic bread. This time I kneaded some garlic powder and extra salt right into the dough instead of just putting it on top with the butter, and it was much better that way.

The broccoli and cauliflower was already-prepared florets in a plastic bag labeled "steam in bag." No. Never. Much healthier to cook it in a cast-iron skillet in the oven.

It was a very visually appealing meal.


A steamed plastic bag of vegetables would not have the same aesthetic value.

Thursday

Short version: Flank steak, Miss Amelia's chicken rice, green salad

Long version: Miss Amelia gave me some rice she said she had made with leftover chicken. It was short grain rice that had been cooked so long it was kind of like mush. She cooks on a woodburning stove, so I think everything gets cooked a long time.

Anyway.

It was pretty bland, so I added some Parmesan cheese and lots of pepper. It was okay, but I think I'll use the rest for a soup base.

I marinated the steak in a balsamic vinaigrette that I also used for the salad. Not that I put the marinade from the raw meat over the salad; I just saved some for the salad. But I'm sure you didn't think I would do something like that, right? Right.

Wait! We can't have a Friday Food post without a picture of the baby! This is the only recent one I have.


Blurry baby eating bread and butter in her room with no pants on. What a life.

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

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Another Chance To Shine


I'm afraid that I have a history of questionable hostessing experiences.

There was the time that the MiL came to visit us in northern New York and I forgot to give her blankets for her bed. Luckily, the MiL is pretty chill about such things (ha--get it? chill? chilled because of no blankets? yeah), but I was still kind of embarrassed by that one. I haven't forgotten blankets since, either.

There was the time I got shingles the day my parents came to visit us here and they spent most of their time taking care of my kids and driving A. to the airport.

And there have been many, many times that my sister has been the recipient of my particular brand of hospitality. She has come to see me only to spread manure, dispose of a rotting deer, sleep in a room with a tower of bed frames (or just on a fold-out couch in the living room), and take my sons skating on the ice rink of our driveway on the Canadian border.

I don't know why she keeps coming to visit me, but she is even now en route from her home in Florida to our remote outpost of New Mexico. But I think this will her best visit yet. I have an actual room for her, with an actual bed and a door and everything!

Okay, so actually it's Cubby's room. I made that into the potential guest room by bringing home a queen-sized bed my parents were going to donate because my dad made a king bed for their guest room. I took the bed planning to put it in Cubby's room and kick him out of there to sleep in his brothers' room should we ever have a guest that needed a room.

That day has arrived.

It took some doing to transform that room from a room that is clearly inhabited by a nine-year-old boy into an acceptable guest room. But I'm pretty proud of the end result.

So of course I took some pictures for you. I should have taken "before" pictures so you could fully appreciate the remarkable transformation.


Unfortunately, I couldn't do anything about the hideous floral border thing near the ceiling that I didn't have a chance to paint over yet. Thanks, Dale.


That white bedspread will not stay on the bed when Cubby is back in residence.


I'm sure my sister will appreciate the cheesy '30s-era illustration of a lumberjack in a log jam. And the mason jar for water because I don't have any actual drinking glasses. Mason jars are still trendy, right?

Incidentally, that "bouquet" there? That was a stretch, for sure. The room was kind of bare looking, but it's not as if I have access to any fresh flowers. It's too early for anything much to be growing outside, either. Literally my only options were that feathery green weed that was growing near our fence and some branches from the apricot tree that is alllllmost about to bud out.


Can you see the teeny tiny pink buds?

It's not exactly a room at the Ritz, but it's a far sight better than some of my previous options for housing guests. And more importantly, I feed guests really well. I figure if I fill them up on homemade pizza and carnitas tacos, they'll be in too much of a food coma to stay awake to notice their rather basic quarters.

In any case, we're very excited to have SuperAunt come for another visit. And I am NOT going to have her help me plant the 49 Arizona Cypress trees that just arrived yesterday. No, I am not.

The most gracious of hostesses; that's me.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Making Dreams Come True


Clotheslines are very important to me. I've been hanging clothes outside to dry almost exclusively for years now. I like it, and I like not paying for the propane or electricity for a clothes dryer.

And now, settle in for a short history of my life with clotheslines. Whee! With many links to pictures of Clothesline I Have Known, because I appear to have a slight fixation.

Ahem.

The first clothesline I remember using was when I was growing up in Tucson. We had one on our back patio and my dad was pretty militant about us using it instead of the dryer. It takes clothes about two minutes to dry there, so I can see why he was so insistent about it. I found it kind of annoying at the time--teenagers are like that--but it started my clothesline experience.

The clothesline at Blackrock was always between two trees, as there are many, many trees to choose from there. First it was between the sweet gum tree and a cedar tree. (Bonus photo of that clothesline, because yikes, I have a LOT of photos of clotheslines on this blog.) Until the cedar tree almost fell right over from rot and had to be removed.

Then the clothesline was moved to a spot between a basswood tree, a utility pole, and a tulip poplar tree. Until the tulip poplar blew over in a violent storm. Then we just had the shorter clothesline between the basswood and the utility pole.

At our house in northern New York, there was no clothesline until A. put one up for me under the elevated porch. We eventually moved it to a spot between a birch tree and a spruce tree, so the clothes would get more sun and also not be right outside the back door. It was a pretty short line, though, so it wasn't good for much except hanging out blankets or whatever.

I never did get a clothesline put up at our rental house in the village here, mostly because there was nowhere convenient to run it and we didn't want to dig a giant hole in the yard to put in a standalone one.

When we moved to this house, A. put up a temporary clothesline for me between the fence and the shed. I never intended that to be the permanent spot because it wasn't long enough and also it was exposed to the often-strong winds here that would blow things right off the line with some regularity. The wind also blew loose dirt all around there.

I was determined that at this house, where we anticipate staying for many years and where the weather is good pretty much all year for line drying, I was going to have a clothesline that really worked the way I wanted it to, not just a random one put up wherever there happened to be supports for it. After all my experience with clotheslines in the past, I knew exactly what I wanted.

The preferred style of clothesline in this area is two T-bars of heavy pipe to make a double clothesline. I liked this idea very much and told A. that's what I wanted. With two full-length clotheslines, I would finally have enough space to hang two loads of laundry. I have never had this much clothesline space, and now that I have to do two loads of laundry every other day, I could only hang all my clothes out if I did a load every single day. And then I still couldn't put up sheets and other things.

I also spent some time thinking about where I wanted the clothesline positioned, eventually deciding on the backyard, which is completely enclosed by the house on the south side and a high board fence on the other three sides. This blocks the wind enough that even when it's blowing a gale everywhere else, there's never more than a pretty good breeze back there. Also, there are no trees there, which means no birds perching over the line and soiling the formerly-clean clothes with their droppings.

Gross.

A. built the clothesline I specified, in the place I requested. I bought some heavy-duty clothesline to put on the frame, some really awesome metal clothespins to anchor the clothes on the line even if the wind is strong (and also to replace most of the wooden clothespins I have always hated because they seem to break far too frequently).

We think it could use an additional prop in the center to hold everything up properly, but other than that easily-remedied issue, I have the clothesline of my dreams now:


Happy sigh.

And as a bonus, A. also made me a compost bin so I wasn't just dumping garbage in a pile in the corner of the back yard:


Incredibly ugly and cheap afghan left behind by Dale. Nothing is more patriotic than a compost bin.

Three cheers for A. He sure knows how to spoil a woman.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Friday Food: Camping and Traveling


Not that Poppy and I did any of the camping or traveling, but the rest of the family did.

Friday

Short version: Tilapia, fresh bread, green salad

Long version: A. had found some frozen tilapia fillets at the grocery store the day before, so he got them for our no-meat Lenten Friday meal. He cooked them in the oven covered in garlic, lemon juice, and a full stick of butter. He joked that he's going to start a cooking site dedicated to ways to get the most fat into your food.

He might not be joking about that, actually.

I had to bake bread right before dinner, so instead of frying potatoes as I had planned, I decided to just slice the still-warm bread and cover it in butter. Yum.

Saturday

Short version: Camp food for the boys, leftovers for the girls

Long version: For the campers, I made what A. calls Hobo Packets, which is any kind of food that can be wrapped up in aluminum foil and heated up in the coals of a fire. In this case, I put in boiled sliced potatoes--tossed with butter, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika--plus slices of leftover steak on top of that. I also put a couple of extra pats of butter on the steak, as it was quite lean.


Perfection for a meat-and-potatoes man like A.

In addition, they had Fritos, cheese, carrot sticks, apples, and marshmallows. The latter three were apparently all roasted over the fire on sticks. Charlie tells me he likes carrots cooked this way, but no way else. So if I want him to eat cooked carrots, I have to spear them and cook them over an open fire. 

Duly noted. And unlikely.

Poppy and I had a mixture of diced leftover potato and pot roast cooked in a skillet with a couple of tomatoes from an open can in the refrigerator, green peas, and some garlic powder. This was very good, actually, and didn't require any real cooking to get a hot meal. Hooray for leftovers.

Sunday

Short version: Tacos, with avocado! And roasted sweet potatoes/bell pepper/onion.

Long version: Yes, I get excited enough about avocado that I must use an exclamation point. A. went to a big grocery store on Friday and thus was able to get me some avocados. Avocados make everything better.

Monday

Short version: Taco meat skillet, cucumbers with salt and vinegar

Long version: Leftover taco meat + rice + cheddar and pepperjack cheese. Done.

Tuesday

Short version: Ribeye steaks, mashed potatoes, sauteed mushrooms and onions, frozen green beans

Long version: Nah.

Wednesday

Short version: Roasted chicken thighs, leftover rice, roasted broccoli

Long version: A. and Charlie left for a special father/son trip to Carlsbad this day. To keep Poppy distracted while I was making dinner, I put the little rocking chair in the kitchen, gave her her water bottle, and stationed her attendant behind her to do the rocking.


Because I know how to please a tiny toddler.

Thursday

Short version: Curried chicken salad sandwiches, still-frozen green beans, grape tomatoes

Long version: I had quite a bit of chicken left from Wednesday, which Cubby and Jack requested I make into chicken salad. And then I had to bake bread in the afternoon, so we had fresh bread. It all worked out.

I gave the kids still-frozen green beans to eat while I was putting together dinner and then plopped some grape tomatoes on their plates. Lame, but they got two vegetables in one meal. Go me.

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Basking


My sister sent me an areca palm as a housewarming present. I placed it in the same spot I had the Christmas tree, and the other morning I realized that it gets a direct beam of light just as the sun is rising in the morning.


Spotlight on the areca.

This makes me happy every time I see it. Lucky for me the sun rises every morning, so I have a guaranteed bright spot to my day every day.

Ha. "Bright spot." Inadvertent, but funny.

That's all. Have a bright day, my lovelies.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Girls' Night In


A. took the boys camping last night, leaving me and Poppy to live it up at home, just us girls.

I stopped short of face masks, but I did make some brownies. Mostly because I had over-floured the counter last time I was kneading my bread and ended up with about half a cup of flour that I didn't want to just throw away. And what recipe uses just a half cup of flour? Why, this delicious brownie recipe, of course.

How handy.

In all honesty, it was not a particularly thrilling afternoon and evening. We went for a walk to the post office. We read It's Spring over and over and over and over. ("In April the robin began to sing to tell the rabbit it was spring. . . " You want to know the rest? I know the entire thing by heart.) We had some dinner.


And one of us wore bright pink sweatpants, because you have to be comfortable AND stylish for a girls' night, right?

One of us also had a bubble bath.


Still a bit skeptical of this bubble business.

That girl was in bed by 6:30 p.m. I was exhausted and seriously considered going to bed right after her, but I decided that was just too lame, as well as a waste of a rare night on my own. So I watched the movie Return to Me, which is a fantastic movie and one of my favorites. It is also, more importantly, available for free on Amazon Prime streaming.

The menfolk got back around 9:30 this morning, smelling of campfire smoke, covered in smears of roasted marshmallows and with many stories*. A good night for all.

* The most interesting was that an elderly Apache women in full traditional dress showed up at their campsite--one that A. found way off the beaten track by a lake--with her grandson and told them that the local tribe used to have their meetings at that site when she was young. She was very pleased to come upon a tent and a fire and three shirtless boys digging holes and chopping wood with hatchets. She said it reminded her of the tribal gatherings. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Friday Food: Dinner Delegating



There were two nights this week that I was not the primary cook. This trend may continue.

Friday

Short version: Cubby's special hamburgers, quesadillas, tomato and cucumber salad

Long version: Cubby has a habit of standing right next to me while I'm rushing to get dinner on the table, asking questions and remarking wistfully that he wishes he could make dinner.

Believe me, I would like nothing better, son. The problem is getting from wishing to make dinner and actually being able to make it. In between those two things is a lot of instruction and interfering younger siblings.

However.

In pursuit of the greater good--that is, one day not making every single meal myself--I asked Cubby if he would like to make dinner on Friday night. As expected, he was enthusiastic. I asked him what he wanted to make. "Hamburgers," he said immediately.

"And what else?" I asked.

"Um . . . quesadillas." (He already knows how to make quesadillas.)

"Okay. What vegetable?"

"Vegetable?"

"Yes. Vegetable." I suspect he subscribes to his father's idea of a "balanced" meal. That is, meat and maybe an optional starch. Vegetables don't immediately come to mind. He needed a little coaching on this point. He decided on tomatoes.

So that's what he did. I did a lot of suggesting and unobtrusively flipping quesadillas or hamburgers to avoid burning, but I tried to stay out of his way.


Raw meat action shot.

He ended up adding the remainder of a cucumber to some grape tomatoes and using the last of a jar of previously-made vinaigrette to make a tomato and cucumber salad.

Everyone enjoyed Cubby's meal. He was very proud.


A very goofy photo of the cook and his finished product.

Saturday

Short version: Leftover hamburgers, pasta, steamed carrots, ponudo for A.

Long version: I was lazy and just added butter, garlic powder, pepper, and Parmesan cheese to the pasta. The children were pleased with this. But then, they're always pleased with pasta, lazy or not.

Sunday

Short version: Daddy's roasted duck and potatoes, fried mushrooms and onions, frozen green beans, peanut clusters

Long version: A. bought a duck like two months ago when he happened to see one for a good price at the market. He LOVES duck. I can take it or leave it, so he was in charge of cooking it.

He found a recipe in which the duck is stuffed with cloves of garlic and rosemary--he substituted thyme at my suggestion, because I dislike rosemary and don't have any on hand--and then it's roasted on top of sliced potatoes. So he did that.

I made the mushrooms and onions mostly because I had an open package of mushrooms to use up and an onion that was starting to go bad. And green beans because part of my Motherhood Contract is to provide some kind of vegetable at every dinner. Even if I'm not technically cooking.

It was Sunday, so Jack and I made peanut clusters for dessert. I didn't even use a recipe. I just melted chocolate chips and a bit of coconut oil in the microwave, then mixed in roasted and salted peanuts and dolloped the goop on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

I put this in the refrigerator to firm up. About two minutes after that, Cubby asked if we could call my dad. While I was dialing the phone, Jack asked if he could have a carrot. I asked him to wait a minute, but he decided to help himself. By the time I had my dad on the phone with Cubby approximately ninety seconds later, Jack had the refrigerator door open and Poppy had the tray of still-goopy peanut clusters on the floor.

What a team.

Luckily, she hadn't had time to smear the chocolate all over. The peanut clusters were all still on the parchment paper. They had sort of slid together, but I pushed them roughly back into shape and they were fine.

It was a classic Mom Moment. Kids are fun.


They are also very prone to smearing chocolate all over their faces. Like I said: Fun.

Monday

Short version: Pot roast, carrots, green beans, A.'s Joyful Stew

Long version: Yeah, A.'s stew . . . when he prepared his duck, he found giblets. He asked me what to do with them, and I told him they're usually used to make stock. So he did that. Then he added the bones left after the kids were done eating--they never get all the meat--and simmered it some more. The next day, he added some pigs' feet and then a rabbit that Cubby caught in a snare.

Right at dinnertime, he added the potatoes left from roasting the duck and a couple of the carrots from the pot roast. He said it was Joyful Stew because it was so satisfying. It actually tasted better than you would think, and both Cubby and Jack elected to eat Daddy's stew. Charlie went with the less-exciting pot roast. Poppy ate both.

Tuesday

Short version: A Fat Tuesday feast of smothered pork chops, collard greens, and cornbread

Long version: In the northeast, Shrove Tuesday is celebrated with pancakes. I like pancakes, but I'm not from the northeast. Neither is my mother. She's from New Orleans, and so, in honor of my heritage, I made not-pancakes.

Smothered pork chops=browned pork chops simmered in a sauce of onions, bell pepper, garlic, and tomatoes.

The collard greens came from the last bag of frozen blanched greens from last summer. There's more in the bag. I may make those greens last until I have lettuce from our garden.

Children make almost as much mess with cornbread as they do with rice.


Lovely. A lot easier to sweep up than rice, though.

Wednesday

Short version: Scrambled eggs, stir-fried vegetables in peanut sauce, rice

Long version: Ash Wednesday means no meat and church at 5 p.m. I made the vegetables and rice before we left to pick the boys up from school so when we got home at 6 p.m. with an exhausted baby and three hungry boys, all I had to do was heat everything up and scramble the eggs. Peanut sauce just means I add peanut butter to my standard soy sauce/vinegar/ginger/sugar/cornstarch sauce. The peanut butter makes the sauce way better than you'd think it would.

Thursday

Short version: Ribeye and T-bone steaks, leftover rice, green peas, A.'s leftover Joyful Stew

Long version: Cubby and Jack chose the stew; Charlie, Poppy, and I ate the steak; and A. ate it all.

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