Monday, December 31, 2018
It's December 31st, and we know what that means! It means while the rest of the world is gearing up for a night of champagne-fueled revelry to ring in a new year, the Woodchuck Family is cursing and scrambling to fix a furnace.
Oh yes. Again. What are the odds this would happen to us again a year to the day that it happened last time? In a different state! With a different furnace!
Low. The odds are low. And yet . . .
When I was up at 2:30 this morning for the third time with Poppy, it sort of blearily dawned on me that it was pretty cold in her room. So I checked the thermostat. It was set for 65 degrees, but it was 54 degrees in the house.
I just stood there for a second in my pajamas staring at the read-out before realizing that meant the furnace wasn't working. At which point I thought to myself, "You have got to be kidding me." With a very profane adjective before "kidding," I'm afraid.
Anyway. At least I knew why she kept waking up. Nothing to be done at that hour except bring the baby into bed with us. I told A. the furnace wasn't working and he got up to get the woodstove going again. This took the chill off the kitchen at least, but it was still too cold to put Poppy back in her crib.
I laid there listening to the furnace trying to start over and over again before eventually getting up at 4 a.m. to turn it off entirely. I didn't bother going back to bed. I wasn't going to be sleeping anymore, anyway, and I figured that way I could keep the fire going.
Since I was up, I checked the weather forecast, which was a winter storm warning starting tonight: high winds, 3-10 inches of snow, five degrees . . . How's that for timing?
We really needed to get that furnace going.
At first I thought we might be out of propane, as we had been getting low, but the propane-fueled stove was still working, as was the propane hot water heater. Then I thought maybe the furnace needed a new air filter, as that was part of the problem last time. The previous owner had left behind a new air filter (thanks, Dale!), so I slid that in there. Nope.
A. eventually got up and climbed up on the roof to be sure the vent wasn't iced over. Nope.
Next I started many rounds of phone calls to the propane company, trying to find a service guy that knew anything about newer furnaces like this one. No luck. One eventually told me to call a heating and cooling contractor he knew, and it was that kind man who diagnosed the problem over the phone. The drain was frozen.
So A. disconnected the drain hose and let the accumulated water drain into a jar. The furnace started working. Hooray!
Of course, it was still frozen underneath the house somewhere, which was not something we could easily remedy, but he just left the jar under the disconnected hose and we can dump it occasionally.
The important thing is that we have heat. Happy new year, indeed.
Saturday, December 29, 2018
Okay, so we don't technically live on the prairie, but close enough that Cubby came home with this a few days before Christmas:
He also carried it through the house to show it to me in the kitchen, dripping blood the whole way, but I don't want to talk about that.
That there is a jackrabbit, which, despite the name, is actually a hare. He chased it down and shot it with his .22 while he was out with A. on the range. He was extremely proud of himself. So of course we had to eat it.
It hung for a few days to age and tenderize, and while it was hanging, I was pondering how to cook it.
Then, just a couple of days before Christmas, at 2 a.m. when I was trying to get back to sleep after getting up to nurse the baby, I remembered something. "Hey," said my semi-conscious brain, "I think Laura and her family ate a jackrabbit one year for their Christmas dinner."
This is the sort of thing a juvenile brain steeped in the Little House books will come up with at 2 a.m.
I looked it up the next day--or rather, later that same morning--and sure enough, right there in By the Shores of Silver Lake were three paragraphs describing the Ingalls family's Christmas dinner, which featured a jackrabbit shot by Pa.
Well. This was fate. Kismet. Destiny. I had to make the jackrabbit for Christmas dinner. And while I was at it, I might as well make the rest of the meal as described in the book. Because it also included sourdough biscuits (no problem for a slave to sourdough like me), cucumber pickles (thanks, Rafael!), bread and onion stuffing, mashed potatoes, and an apple pie.
Okay, so we begin with the jackrabbit. My primary concern with it was toughness. To address this, I brined it for a day and then baked it covered, in a relatively low oven, for two hours. I also draped it in bacon. In the book, Ma uses salt pork for this, which is essentially bacon that hasn't been smoked.
I'll spare you the photo of the raw jackrabbit curled up in the pan, because raw rabbits look like skinned cats. Not appetizing.
Next, bread and onion stuffing. For this, I set Cubby to work early in the morning cutting up a half loaf of sourdough bread to dry out during the day.
His reward for getting up so early to open presents.
This is, amazingly, the first time I'd ever made stuffing (technically a dressing, as I didn't stuff it in the jackrabbit). I looked at a couple of recipes online, and then just made it up, as is my habit. I sauteed some onion and celery in a lot of butter, added salt, pepper, and some sage that I had just received that morning as a Christmas gift from the MiL along with my pepper mill from Penzey's spices (so fortuitous!), mixed in the bread and then some venison stock I had in the fridge. It baked at the end with the jackrabbit.
I used this recipe for sourdough biscuits. The book specifically mentioned that the biscuits were small, so I made them that way. I don't have a biscuit cutter, anyway, so I can make them any size I want with whatever round item I can find to cut them with.
In this case, I used that small honey jar there. The black water bottle top was too small.
I ended up with two skillets of biscuits, but no room on my single oven shelf for both skillets plus the pan of stuffing. So I put one skillet of biscuits directly on the floor of the oven. They got a little too brown on the bottom this way, but were still fine.
And look how cute!
Mashed potatoes are pretty self-explanatory, though I bet Ma didn't have so much butter, milk, and sour cream to put in hers. I did, though, so I used it. No sense sacrificing flavor for historical accuracy.
I also omitted the cornbread the Ingalls family had, since there was quite enough bread already on the menu. The "rich, brown gravy" also went by the wayside, as the juices in the pan from the jackrabbit were far too salty because of the brine and the bacon.
Ma made a pie from dried apples. We ate all of our dried apples already, but I had also frozen some of Mr. Billy's apples with sugar and cinnamon, thinking I would use them for baked apples. Works for pie filling, too. I mean, I guess. I'm not a pie expert. I've literally never made a pie. This was my first one.
I don't even own a pie pan. So I used my deep oval casserole dish and put just a top crust on it. I used the Fannie Farmer recipe for a 9-inch crust and I knew as I was making it that I was overworking it. It was kind of inevitable, though, as I had to use almost exactly twice as much water as the recipe called for (thanks, high altitude!). So I was judiciously adding the water a tablespoon at a time, but that meant that I had to keep mixing it and my kitchen was a sweltering 80 degrees and . . .
Yeah. This was a terrible pie. The crust was almost inedibly tough.
Also, I overbaked it because the top wouldn't brown and then the filling was dry. Super.
I'm sure Ma's pie was a lot better than mine, but I had vanilla ice cream to go with my terrible pie, so I think that's still a win.
Oh, and here's a picture of the last few refrigerator dills:
I may have gotten a little snap happy with the food photos.
The Ingalls family's meal was notably lacking in vegetables, as was all of South Dakota in December at that time period. However, I figured carrots are a pretty standard winter vegetable, so I threw some in with the jackrabbit for the last hour or so.
Here is the final plate of (semi-) historically accurate Silver Lake Christmas food:
Have a very carb-y Christmas; it's the best time of the year.
The jackrabbit, oddly, reminded both A. and me of beaver meat. We were ambivalent about it, but the kids loved it. Of course.
So there it is. My descent into crazy Little House culinary fandom. It was fun, but I won't be repeating it anytime soon.
Yesterday morning, Cubby looked out at the 17-degree blowing snow and said to his brothers, "Hey guys. It's a perfect morning outside. Let's go out."
So they did.
Keep up that northwoods conditioning, boys. Wouldn't want to get soft, now would we?
Friday, December 28, 2018
Only two meals this week did not feature beef. This is what happens when you have a whole cow in your freezer. I am not complaining.
Short version: Bunless cheeseburgers, fried onions, bread and butter, green peas
Long version: Oh man. I really, really, reeeeeally did not want to cook this night. Had I the ability to make a Wendy's magically appear closer than 120 miles from my house (literally--I just looked it up), I would totally have gone to Wendy's.
However. That magical ability has yet to be granted to me--and let's be honest, it's really for the best--so I made the hamburgers myself. Some of the ground beef from the whole cow had already started to defrost, so I used those packages in this meal.
The only reason my lazy self even bothered to slice an onion and fry it in one of the hamburger skillets was because there was a half of an onion sitting in my refrigerator, and I hate partial onions in my refrigerator. I can smell it every time I open the door.
I also hate waking up to a dirty kitchen, but guess who was also too lazy to wash all the pots and pans? Yup. At least I managed to load and run the dishwasher. And rinse out my French press, so I could make coffee first thing. Priorities.
Short version: Chicken-fried steak with cream gravy, boiled potato chunks, vegetable soup
Long version: The butcher that cut up our cow is actually just over the line in Texas. Thus, when I was giving my cutting instructions, the guy asked if I wanted my flank steaks "chicken fried." Meaning cut thin and pounded into cube steaks.
Thinking of A. and his fondness of chicken-fried steaks, and my own fondness for grillades, I said yes.
They are pretty convenient. Quick-cooking, you know. Or at least, they would be if I wasn't cooking six of them and thus shuffling steaks in and out of the skillet to brown them and then putting them in the oven to finish cooking.
I still have the print-out of the recipe for "Texas Chicken-fried Steak" I found online all those years ago, and the most amusing thing about it is that in the note in the instruction about dredging the meat in flour, then egg, then flour again, "Your fingers will get messy, so remove your rings."
I guess you can tell I'm not from Texas, because I didn't even have to remove one ring, much less plural rings.
I probably should have mashed the potatoes, but I didn't feel like it.
The vegetable soup was mostly to use up two jars of venison broth I took out of the freezer to make room for all the beef. This soup had onion, garlic, celery, carrots, mushrooms, frozen zucchini, frozen green beans, the liquid left from making the Italian chicken a few days prior, and pinto beans. I managed to get those cooked in the morning, so I had beans in my soup this time. Yay.
Short version: Leftovers and regrettable peanut butter balls
Long version: The peanut butter balls were not regrettable because they were bad. Quite the contrary. I fear that now that I know how easy it is to make a superior version of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups at home, they will become a regular feature and my jeans will never fit again.
I used this recipe, but added a bit of coconut oil to the chocolate chips when I melted them to make the dipping chocolate a little bit looser. This is a five-star dessert. So good. So, so good.
Short version: Pot roast, bread and butter, frozen green beans
Long version: We went to a 5 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass that was 35 miles away, which meant we were gone during dinnertime. I made the pot roast--an arm roast--before we left and then just turned the oven off at 4:15 when we left the house, leaving the meat in the warm oven. It was still warm enough to serve when we got home at 6:45 p.m.
Then all I had to do was microwave the green beans and slice the bread, butter it, and force my children to sit down and put something besides sugar in their stomachs. I did this by means of bribery. This is also how I got them to behave at Mass. You sit still (well, still-ish) and don't shove your brother for an hour and eat your dinner and you can open the presents from your Florida relatives.
It worked. Hooray for presents.
Short version: A Little House on the Prairie Christmas
Long version: I'm still working (read: have not even started, but have the best of intentions--and photos) on a post about this, but I'll just say that we sort of re-created the Christmas dinner Laura's family had in By the Shores of Silver Lake. And if you know what that is, you are my kind of person.
Teaser photo of the Mystery Main Course:
Definitely not a supermarket ham.
Short version: Prairie Pie and other leftovers, salad
Long version: I made a version of shepherd's pie with the leftovers from Christmas dinner for the children. A. ate yet more of his ponudo and I ate a salad with some leftover hamburgers that really needed to be eaten.
Short version: Tacos, ice cream with peanut butter hot fudge sauce
Long version: Yeah, this is what I chose for my birthday meal. Mostly because I had the ground beef in the little freezer, so it was the most accessible, and also because it's easy to make and I really like taco salad.
You may notice I omitted cake this year. I'm so tired of baking--and, incredibly, eating what I bake--that I didn't even want to make or eat a cake.
I know. It's like I don't even know who I am anymore.
But! We did have some vanilla ice cream, and that sounded like a good idea with hot fudge sauce. But this time, I had the brilliant idea of adding peanut butter to the hot fudge. With my love of all combinations of chocolate and peanut butter, I don't know why this didn't occur to me before.
What I should have done was use my favorite recipe for hot fudge sauce and then just stir in creamy peanut butter. Instead I looked at actual recipes for peanut butter hot fudge sauce and used this one. I made a half recipe, and it made a very thin sauce. I should have known it would, given the half and half instead of heavy cream and cocoa powder instead of chocolate. It was not at all fudgy. Also, not enough peanut butter flavor.
I added some semi-sweet chocolate chips to thicken it up, then stirred in peanut butter until it tasted like liquified peanut butter cups, which of course is what I was going for. Yum.
My only request for a birthday gift from my children was a photo with all four of them. I told them that included everyone smiling nicely and not making silly faces. This is what I got.
Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?
Thursday, December 27, 2018
Happy birthday to me! Anyone else out there have to actually do the math to figure out how old they're turning? I was born in 1979 (on a cold and foggy night . . .), so that means this is my 39th birthday. And what do I have to show for these 39 years?
A lot of children and a really messy house. The one begets the other.
New Mexico has decided to morph from southern Arizona weather to upstate New York weather, so it's currently 26 degrees with a couple of inches of snow on the ground. A. has to do some serious wood cutting today to get ready for the single-digit temperatures coming our way. He did get up this morning to field the morning demands (and refereeing) from the children while I lazed in bed until the shocking hour of 6:40 a.m.*
I'm drinking my second cup of coffee while Charlie reads a book to Poppy--might as well take advantage of having both literate children and a baby who wants to read board books all the time--and will shortly go into the kitchen to make my breakfast. Which I will not be sharing.
If you can't be selfish on your birthday, when can you? (Answer: Never, if you have children. Including birthdays.)
Anyway. Have a pleasant day, my lovelies. Feel free to eat some cake in my honor today if you so desire.
* I usually get up any time between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m., so this is sleeping in for me.
Tuesday, December 25, 2018
I'm too tired to write out a whole post--making Christmas memories is exhausting--but I took lots of pictures. Here they are.
Cubby got up an hour and a half before anyone else, so I put him to work helping me start dinner preparations. Merry Christmas!
When Charlie finally got up, he and Cubby spent some time on their beloved heating vents while they were waiting for . . .
These two to appear for stocking exploration.
In which there were nuts. And a very exciting package of peanut butter crackers for Poppy.
She loved her little piano/xylophone, too. And the boys were appropriately impressed that I managed to pick out "Jingle Bells" on it. Just call me Beethoven.
This little spinning ducky toy unfortunately became a prime target for the Transformer toys the boys got. Apparently, it's easy to mistake a singing duck for a Decepticon.
Eventually I kicked the boys out on to the enclosed porch to crack nuts in their pajamas.
And the silly socks my dad sent them.
The boys got lariats from their other grandfather and practiced with them quite a bit on this post A. set up for them.
And inevitably, on A. himself.
Such a fun dad.
I've apparently reached the limit of photos I can upload to one post, so I'll stop here. I have to do a whole separate post for Christmas dinner, anyway. It was a weird one. So stay tuned for that.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Monday, December 24, 2018
Saturday, December 22, 2018
Yesterday morning I expressed to A. my concern that the whole cow we were picking up at the butcher later was not going to fit in our freezer. It's a big freezer--18 cubic feet, which is one of the bigger ones you can buy--but then again, it was a big cow. We were anticipating about 600 pounds of meat, plus A. had asked for all the fat and organs for trapping bait.
I was sure the fat and innards wouldn't fit. I wasn't sure if all the meat even would, as there were a couple of boxes of pork, chicken, and stock in the big freezer already and the small freezer above the refrigerator was full of zucchini, apples, collard greens, and yet more stock. I said I wished we had another freezer.
But was the Woodchuck Man concerned? Of course not! "You need another freezer?" he says. "I'll make you one."
A. thought for awhile, and then announced he had a solution. And that solution was creating a freezer in the underground mechanic's pit right outside our house.
A mechanic's pit is just what it sounds like: a pit constructed to allow a vehicle to be parked right over it so a person can get under the vehicle and work comfortably standing up, rather than sliding under the vehicle in a prone position. Mechanic's pits are not a standard house amenity, but then, our house isn't standard. It's a 1970s trailer with an owner-built addition. And that owner also wanted a mechanic's pit. So he built one.
The pit is constructed of stone. It's long and narrow, with steps leading down into it. It has a sheet-metal roof that can be moved on and off of it, too. So it's basically a mini-cellar with a removable roof. It is, in short, the perfect pre-modern freezer space.
Before we left to go get our beef, A. filled every available empty jug with water and put them in the chest freezer to freeze while we were gone. When he got back at 4 p.m., the jugs were frozen solid. Good thing, because it was almost 70 degrees outside and our frozen beef needed some help staying frozen.
We filled the chest freezer to the top with beef.
That's a lot of beef.
We still had probably a hundred pounds of meat that wouldn't fit in there. So we filled two of our coolers with meat and added jugs of frozen water in those.
And there was yet more meat, which we put in a large plastic planter thing we had, with two more jugs of solid ice on top of that.
A. placed those in the mechanic's pit, then arranged many buckets and plastic totes around them, which he filled with water. The idea is that those buckets and totes of water will freeze solid, thus continuing to cool the temperature of the pit even when the outside temperature gets above freezing.
It takes a special kind of woodchuck brain to envision this.
It didn't get cold enough to freeze those big containers last night--it only got to about 27 degrees--but we have some much more prolonged cold coming, with lows in the teens that should freeze all that water. In the meantime, A. wet a sheet and put that over the top of everything. The sheet froze, and the evaporative cooling as it dries out will help keep everything cold today. Even with a high of 54 degrees today, the meat in that exposed tub is still completely frozen.
A. put the sheet metal cover back on the pit for today, and will take all the covers off of everything tonight so the big containers of water can freeze solid. Then he'll cover it all over with some carpet padding we have, as well as cardboard, put the roof back on, and it should stay frozen for several weeks that way. By the time the pit isn't cool enough to keep it all frozen, we'll have eaten enough that there will be space in the chest freezer.
And that's how A. saved the beef. Because where there's a woodchuck, there's a way.
Friday, December 21, 2018
Short version: Pizza grilled cheese, vegetable soup
Long version: Pizza grilled cheese is just grilled cheese sandwiches made with leftover pizza sauce and mozzarella (or, in our case, asadero) cheese. And pepperoni for those who like that. Usually I sprinkle garlic powder on the bread when I spread on the butter, but I forgot this time. There were still no complaints, because these sandwiches are awesome.
I made the soup because I have waaay too much stock hanging around taking up the freezer space that will be needed for a whole cow soon. I had taken a big container out a few days earlier intending to make soup and never got around to it. Finally did, though. This vegetable soup included onion, garlic, carrots, celery, mushrooms, collard greens, potatoes, a bag of Rafael's calabacitas from the freezer, and frozen green beans.
No other beans, though, which is a bummer. I prefer to have something like cannellini beans in my vegetable soups to make them heartier. I guess I need to start freezing small portions of cooked pinto beans for that purpose.
We went to the playground earlier in the day and I realized that I no longer have to push Poppy on the swing, because there's always a brother to do it. Bonus.
Short version: Bunless cheeseburgers, oven fries, salad with ranch dressing
Long version: This was A.'s request for his birthday meal. Well, not the salad. I've never known him to request a specific vegetable, but of course I had to make one and I know he likes salad with a lot of ranch dressing. So I made ranch dressing instead of the vinaigrette I usually make.
He also at first requested that I make real french fries, fried in oil on the stove. But then he changed his mind, because when I do that, he never gets enough fries. I can't fit enough in a skillet for this horde, you see. So he asked for a big pan of oven fries instead. I tried this method this time. It was fine, but no better than just cooking them the whole time in the oven, in my opinion. The initial boiling didn't seem to do much, so I won't bother with that again.
Short version: A.'s proprietary ponudo, creamy cucumber salad
Long version: Okay, this was an interesting one. It's always interesting when A. gets in the kitchen (see: whole octopus, sheep testicles, and beaver tails, among others). He came home from the store about a month ago with a package of frozen tripe, and another of hominy. Plus a small tub of red chili paste.
Tripe is animal stomach, in this case from a cow. Hominy is corn that's been treated with lime to remove the hull. It also makes it puffy, so it looks kind of like Corn Nuts. The red chili paste is just red chilis and water, pureed to a very smooth consistency. These are not items I would have ever bought on my own.
A. used to eat tripe with some frequency at cheap taco places in Tucson where he went to college, because as a broke college student, the tripe was the most affordable. The traditional use for tripe in Mexican food is in a soup called menudo. The hominy he remembers from posole, a kind of stew that also features various meats. There were recipes for both of these dishes on the back of the hominy bag.
He decided to combine the two recipes and make posole with tripe. Or maybe menudo with chili. Or, as I prefer to call it, ponudo.
Get it? Yeah.
Anyway, what he did was saute onion and garlic, then add the hominy, tripe, chunks of lean pork (so convenient we had those boneless sirloin pork steaks), a small amount of the chili paste, and a bunch of venison stock.
The recipe called for pig's feet. He was mad he didn't buy them, too, as he is quite fond of pig's feet. (I can't say I was too upset.) The pig's feet seemed to be mostly used for essentially making a gelatinous stock in the beginning of the recipe, and since we already had stock prepared, I didn't think it was necessary. The venison stock wasn't very gelatinous, though, so he also added a bit of masa to thicken everything.
Then he let it cook. And cook. And cook. It simmered for about two hours, but probably could have used more time. The hominy was still a bit chewy, as was the tripe.
I'd never had tripe before. I can't say I found it too appealing--the visual texture does indeed look like honeycomb, which is why this variety is called honeycomb tripe, and the mouth texture was quite chewy--but the taste was pretty bland. It kind of reminded me of the octopus tentacles, actually.
Cubby said he liked the taste of it, but didn't like the texture. Charlie said he didn't like the tripe at all. Jack said it was too spicy. They all ate it, though, with the addition of some sour cream to help with the spiciness.
A. was very pleased with how hearty and flavorful his stew turned out to be, although he did say he'll cook it longer next time. We still have half the bag of tripe and another bag of hominy in the freezer, so he'll have another opportunity to refine his recipe.
The cucumber salad was something I threw together quickly, as A. doesn't really do vegetables when he cooks. It was cucumbers, finely sliced raw onion leftover from the hamburgers, and leftover ranch dressing. That helped to cool everyone's mouths, too.
Short version: Tacos, leftover ponudo, steamed broccoli, pan-fried sweet potatoes
Long version: I had quite a bit of meat left when I made hamburgers, so I made it into taco meat the laziest way ever. Which is to brown the meat, then dump in salsa. I also added a spoonful of the red chili paste, since we had it. I don't make it this way often, as salsa is kind of expensive to use in large quantities as a flavoring agent, but it is nice not to have to chop onions or garlic. And it's fast, which is helpful on nights like this when I walk in the door at 4:20 p.m. and need to get dinner on the table quickly.
There was a LOT of ponudo left. I froze a big container and gave A. a big bowl of it for dinner, and there was still a large container of it in the refrigerator. A very economical food.
Short version: FFA food.
Long version: This was the night of the school Christmas program, and the FFA served us ham, green beans and bacon, rice with water chestnuts and mushrooms, Chinese cabbage salad, and some kind of Nilla Wafer dessert with lemon cream in it.
A. also ate a big bowl of his ponudo before we left. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
Short version: Jack's birthday request meal.
Long version: The Birthday Boy wanted spaghetti, so that's what he got. I also made chicken, fried peppers and onions, and green peas. I made the spaghetti sauce in the morning (olive oil, lots of garlic, two big cans of tomatoes, oregano, basil, balsamic vinegar and a little bit of anchovy paste that A. had bought) and put the chicken in the oven to bake with some of it while I was at the school for Jack's class Christmas party.
When I got home at 4:15 p.m., all I had to do was boil the spaghetti and add cheese to the top of the chicken for a non-breaded version of Chicken Parmesan. Plus microwave the peas and fry the peppers and onions.
We also had a cake.
I know you've already seen this, but who can resist another look at an ugly cake?
Short version: Spaghetti casserole, leftover ponudo, steamed carrots and broccoli
Long version: I had to make a little more spaghetti, but there was plenty of sauce left and a couple of pieces of chicken. Chop the chicken, mix in all the spaghetti and sauce, plus some extra garlic powder and some cheese, top the whole thing with more cheese, bake, and ta da!
A classic casserole.
Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?
Thursday, December 20, 2018
I remember once years ago when the MiL was making a cake, she was cutting the layers in preparation for frosting it and fretting that it wasn't coming out even. I couldn't even see any flaw, but I just shrugged and said, "Put on more frosting; no one will see."
That pretty much sums up my philosophy of cake decorating. And that is why my children end up with cakes like this:
May I present my specialty: The Ugly Cake.
When I made Jack's birthday cake yesterday, I of course didn't have any supplies for decorating it. Do I ever? I did, however, have the caramel M&Ms (which are gross, by the way) Miss Amelia gave Cubby when he brought her some cookies. And the Christmas-colored M&Ms Jack got from the school superintendent in one of those large plastic candy cane things.
This time I colored some of the frosting with cocoa powder to fill my professional cut-off sandwich bag piping tool. I didn't have a lot of the oh-so-aesthetically-pleasing brown frosting, though, which is why I wrote the shortest message I could think of. And clever, of course, because he was turning four. Get it?
Don't ask me what that design around the edge is. I had some frosting left to use up and that's what I ended up with. This is what happens when I listen to my muse.
I figured kids don't care what their cake tastes like as long as it has their name--or, uh, their initial--on it and candles to blow out.
Too bad I couldn't find the birthday candles.
But you know where I did have some candles? In the Advent wreath in the middle of the table. And how many candles are in an Advent wreath? Four! It's like Jesus guided me to have Jack blow out Advent wreath candles instead of birthday cake candles!
Or like I really need to unpack all these damn boxes so I can find things already. Probably that.
You know what Charlie said when he saw the cake, though? "Wow, Mommy. I didn't know you were so good you could write words on it."
That's right, son. I am just that good. Please always believe that.
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Last night we attended the FFA fundraiser. This is really the school Christmas program, but the FFA (Future Farmers of America) also has an auction for a fundraiser. So the elementary kids do their entertainment in the form of recited poems, songs, and dances; then the FFA serves a free ham dinner to everyone (that they previously cooked themselves); and then there's an auction of a lot of (really nice) donated items*.
As the mother of not just one but three elementary students, I got to feel the glow of maternal pride for Jack's snowman song; Charlie's Christmas poem; and Cubby's role as narrator of a short Christmas play written by his classmate, his swing dance with another classmate to "Jingle Bell Rock," and his very long recitation of another Christmas poem.
Cubby had a lot of roles in this extravaganza. That happens when just 11 kids--that is, the entire K-6th grades--are carrying the majority of the entertainment load. Good thing he's a natural-born performer.
Anyway. I failed to bring my phone (AGAIN) and so do not have a single photo of any of this excitement (AGAIN).
But I do have a picture of the cookies I donated for the senior citizens' bags that were handed out after the performance.
108 chocolate chip, 52 oatmeal raisin, and I can only hope everyone is happy with what they get because I have learned that people have OPINIONS regarding cookies.
Because of that event last night, we're having Jack's birthday dinner and cake tonight. I already brought his cupcakes to school on Monday--Grandma Bishop's chocolate cake cupcakes with M&Ms on top, because that is what I always make for school cupcakes. I brought them Monday because he has his class Christmas party this afternoon, which I will also be there for.
Today I'm baking bread for teacher gifts. As soon as the dough is out of the big pot I mix it in, I'll start another batch for neighbor gifts.
I'm also baking yet another chocolate cake for Jack's delayed party tonight. I'm well on my way to having Grandma Bishop's chocolate cake recipe memorized.
Tomorrow I'm providing bacon and cream cheese tortilla pinwheels for Charlie and Cubby's class Christmas party, and also going to the school for a meeting.
And then the older boys will get off the bus at our house at 2:15 p.m., at which point I will crawl into bed and declare myself done for the rest of the holiday season.
Just kidding. We have to drive like two hundred miles on Friday to pick up our boxes of beef at the butcher (yay!) and the Honda from the mechanic (yay!), so I guess I can't take to my bed. I'm definitely going to stop baking for awhile, though.
* This was a real auction with an auctioneer, not a silent auction. DEFINITELY not a silent auction. I've never attended an auction before, and holy hell, they are LOUD. Kind of fun, but we had to leave shortly after the auction started due to the baby starting to turn into a pumpkin, so I don't know how much the mesquite bowl my dad donated for the event went for. Based on the fact that a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls went for FIFTY DOLLARS, I'm guessing the bowl went for a lot. Also based on the awestruck reactions to the artistry of the bowl by the office staff when I dropped it off, and the FFA coordinator when she saw it. Good job, Dad.
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Today we celebrate A.'s 38th year by singing a really terrible parody of "The Candyman" of my own conception called "The Woodchuck Man Can." Here are all the other versions: One, two, three, four, five, six, and seven. (That's a lot of versions.)
Okay! You ready? Let's go!
Who can move a whole house
without a helping hand?
Who can find his family the world's raddest van?
The woodchuck man
The woodchuck man can
The woodchuck man can
'Cause he uses what he has and makes it work for him.
Who can brace a Christmas tree
with a bucket and some stones?
Who can find adventure wherever we may roam?
The woodchuck man
The woodchuck man can
The woodchuck man can
'Cause he uses what he has and makes it work for him.
Who can fix a muffler
With nothing but a shoe?
Who can make a greasy man's meal
A woman just won't do?
The woodchuck man
The woodchuck man can
The woodchuck man can
'Cause he uses what he has and makes it work for him.
Happy birthday to A., who brought the best of the woodchucks to the west.
Friday, December 14, 2018
It appears the raisins have a slight edge in our oatmeal cookie poll*. It also appears that people have very definite opinions regarding cookies. At least, my kind of people do.
Anyway. I made four dozen oatmeal-raisin cookies on Wednesday, four dozen plain chocolate chip cookies Thursday with Jack's help (because I ran out of oats), and am set to make another six dozen chocolate chip cookies today with Cubby and Charlie.
But of course, man cannot live on cookies alone (although this woman might like to try it with the chocolate chip cookies). So here's the actual food I cooked this week.
Short version: Tuna and rice skillet, popcorn
Long version: We pulled into our driveway at 3:36 p.m. after our Christmas tree excursion. We had to be at church in the village at 5 p.m., leaving me with exactly one hour and nine minutes to make dinner and bake the bread that was exploding out of the pans on the counter. I didn't have any meat thawed. I also was out of eggs, my go-to quick dinner.
This is one of the few times I might have wished for a convenient drive-thru. However, 75 miles away is not convenient, so there was nothing for it but to cook something fast on the fly.
First I cooked some diced bacon. While that was cooking, I also made some rice in a separate pot. When the bacon was done, I took the bacon pieces out of the skillet and cooked diced onion and celery in the bacon grease. Then I added two big cans of tuna, a bunch of the now-cooked rice, some mayonnaise, and grated cheddar cheese.
Ta da! Just like tuna noodle casserole, except with rice. I should have added some peas to get in some kind of vegetable, but, well, I didn't.
It was actually pretty good and definitely filling. Everyone liked it. Even Charlie.
We ate so early that when we got home from church, I made some popcorn. And then everyone ended up eating slices of fresh bread with blackberry jelly about an hour later, so basically, we ate every carbohydrate in the house.
Short version: Cabbage soup, oven-fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green salad
Long version: Cubby randomly asked me a few days earlier if I could make cabbage soup. Um. Okay? I mean, sure. I have cabbage. I have lots of stock. I can figure something out. But, why?
Apparently, Charlie in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ate cabbage soup frequently, and this detail stayed with Cubby after he read the book. I'm pretty sure impoverished Charlie and his family did not have bacon, carrots, and potatoes in their cabbage soup, but that's what I used to make it tasty.
Cubby loved it. He asked me if he could bring the leftovers to school for lunch. Um. Okay?
My Charlie did not love it. He was happy with the chicken and mashed potatoes, though.
Short version: Scrambled eggs and sausage, beanie weenies, leftover mashed potatoes with cheese, leftover rice, leftover pureed squash, Rice Krispie Treats
Long version: I was still out of pretty much every kind of protein, although I was lucky that the tiny general store in the village had eggs, pork sausage, and hot dogs when I stopped in after church. I didn't notice until I got home that the sausage was hot breakfast sausage, though. So I could only cook a little of that to mix with the scrambled eggs.
I sliced the hot dogs and added them to some of an enormous can of Grandma Brown's beans the MiL had sent us. Seriously. That can was three and a half pounds of beans. We had a lot left over.
Poppy could have eaten more beans if she had used the right end of the fork, but she did pretty well regardless.
Incidentally, there is no way I would actually call this beanie weenies with my sons present. Because you know what else you can call weenies? Yeah. Hotdogs and baked beans in much less hilarity-inducing. A. informed me they always called them franks and beans when he was a boy. Whatever you call it, it's really surprisingly tasty.
So during Advent I announced that we would only be having dessert on Sundays after lighting our Advent candle. Mostly I did this to curb the crazy sugar intake during this holiday season, but also for Advent observance and all. I did, however, promise that the Sunday dessert would be homemade.
Too bad I forgot about that until right before I was about to dish up dinner.
Rice Krispie Treats to the rescue! They take literally five minutes to make with the help of a microwave, and they are definitely better than the sum of their limited parts.
Short version: Pork, rice, green peas, steamed cauliflower
Long version: We finally got to the grocery store, and I came home with more of those boneless sirloin steaks that tend towards dry and tough. Appetizing.
Fortunately, I remembered how I had made them palatable before. So I chunked up some of the pork, browned it in chicken fat that had been hanging around in the fridge, seasoned it with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and the MiL's paprika, added a little chicken stock, and then some heavy cream at the end. Thumbs up.
Short version: Italian chicken, hot breakfast sausage patties, leftover rice and mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes/bell pepper/onions, leftover pureed squash
Long version: "Italian" just means that I wanted to use up the rest of a can of tomatoes from the refrigerator, so I cooked the chicken pieces in a tomato sauce with tomato, chicken stock, onion, garlic, oregano, and basil.
I had about half the package of hot sausage left from Sunday, so I made it into two big patties. This ended up being the contested part of dinner. All of the boys wanted to eat it, despite the fact that they kept fanning their mouths and asking for more milk.
This reminds me of the jalapeno eating contest at the enlisted men's club on the Air Force base when I was in middle school. The winner went temporarily blind. I always thought that was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard, but now with boys myself, I can totally see how it happens.
I FINALLY finished up the bland pumpkin. That was a big pumpkin.
Short version: This and that.
Long version: Bacon and fried eggs, franks and beans, bread and butter, salad and radishes
Short version: Pizza, green salad
Long version: Although sourdough pizza is a very long process--two days to get the dough ready--the majority of the work is done ahead of the actual cooking. This worked out very well this day, as I was gone from 2:30 p.m.-4 p.m. I made the sauce in the morning, pulled the bag of already-grated asadero cheese out of the freezer to thaw, pressed the dough into the pans right before I left, and it was ready to assemble and bake when I got home.
I have not yet gotten another rack for my oven, so I couldn't fit both of my half-sheet pans in the oven to make the usual two big pizzas. Instead I used my smaller baking sheet for the cheese pizza and one of my 14-inch cast iron skillets for the pepperoni and onion pizza, because those will fit side-by-side on the one rack in the oven.
The one on the baking sheet got a little too done, because that smaller baking sheet has a dark coating on it. A. really liked his pizza made in the cast iron skillet. It was like a deep dish pizza. Too heavy for me, but then, I wasn't eating it.
Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?
* My posts usually get a little over a hundred views each. This totally random cookie poll? Currently closing in on 500 views. This is obviously a hot topic.
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
As part of their "Lessons in Giving" holiday unit at school, Cubby's and Charlie's classes are putting together gift baskets for senior citizens. They were encouraged to come up with their own ideas of what senior citizens might like that the students could make.
Charlie thought of candy. Cubby's idea was cookies*. Which of course meant that they volunteered me to provide these things.
This is fine, of course. I briefly considering making fudge or something--probably the extent of my candy-making skill--before deciding to just get holiday-themed Snickers and peanut butter candies. I also got some Kit Kats, because that's what Charlie thought would be best.
But I couldn't bring myself to buy cookies. I mean, I don't particularly like making cookies, but at least they don't require a candy thermometer and such terminology as "soft-ball stage."
When I inquired of Charlie's teacher how many baskets they anticipated making, she told me 125. Say what? I was thinking more like a couple dozen. She went on to assure me that I didn't have to make that many cookies, as other people were contributing, too.
But I figure I do still have to make several dozen to have, say, three or four cookies for maybe a third of those baskets.
When I asked Cubby what kind I should make, he suggested oatmeal cookies. Unsurprisingly, that was what I was thinking, too.
Next I asked Cubby if he thought I should make them with raisins or chocolate chips. Oh, definitely chocolate chips, he replied. Chocolate chips are way better.
I must admit that I am also in the chocolate chip camp and always make them that way, which is probably why Cubby has that same preference. However, most older people I know prefer raisins. A. does, too, as those are what he had as a boy.
So I'm making one batch with raisins and one with chocolate chips (the cinnamon, however, is non-negotiable and goes in both kinds), but it got me thinking: What's the clear favorite?
And that, of course, is our poll.
What kind of oatmeal cookie do you consider supreme?
B) Oatmeal-chocolate chip
C) Either as long as there's a cookie involved
D) Pass on the oatmeal cookie entirely (in which case, what do you consider the best cookie?)
* I suspect these were more things they would personally like to receive, but then, we all know kids are the ultimate narcissists.
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Remember how I said I needed to find a way to block the Christmas tree off from the marauding, now-toddling (albeit extremely unsteady) baby? I did. And I'm so pleased with the result, you get to hear allll about it. Yay!
First thing was putting the tree up. Now, normal people have a tree stand. We don't. There is one at Blackrock, but that's the MiL's. There was one at our house in northern New York, but that was our landlady's.
I saw tree stands at the hardware store about six weeks ago and I said to A., "I should get one now. If I don't get one now, it will all of a sudden be time to put up the Christmas tree and I won't have it and will be 150 miles away from a tree stand."
I didn't buy it. And my prediction was correct.
However! Our small pinyon pine is only about three feet tall, so it's not some huge, heavy fir that requires a lot of infrastructure to stay upright. A. was sure he could find a way to anchor it securely enough. He did.
He found an old metal bucket left behind by Dale the Bachelor, put the tree in it, and filled around the tree with stones. With the addition of water, the bucket was sufficiently heavy to hold the tree upright.
Under this we wanted something to catch the inevitable drips of water when I re-fill the bucket, so we put a rubber pan of the sort used for livestock care. And under that, because I knew the tree needed to be elevated to get it up above its barricade (more on that in a second), A. put his small handmade bench.
He made this bench years ago at Blackrock out of slabs of hand-planed wood and no hardware, just drilled out holes for the whittled legs to fit in. It's very rustic, quite attractive, and actually extremely useful.
I liked the way all of this looked so much that I didn't bother with our tree skirt. I never liked it, anyway.*
The barricade I decided to use is the Taos bench. This is actually a sort of couch--in fact, it used to be the dog couch at Blackrock--given to us by the MiL when we moved. She'd had it for many years, acquiring it from friends when she lived in New Mexico in the 1960s. The story she told me is that it originally came from a juvenile detention facility, presumably in Taos. I have no idea how old this thing actually is, but it is also handmade and hand-carved with no hardware used in its construction, just wooden pegs. Much like A.'s bench, although slightly more refined.
All I had to do was angle it across the corner the tree was in and boom: No babies allowed.
When I started stringing the lights (my favorite task, as you may recall), Cubby and Poppy were the only ones in the house. I had found a box of A.'s furs when I was getting out the tree decorations, so I gave that to Cubby to entertain the baby with.
I haven't had a child yet who isn't enthralled with dead animal skins.
I did wait until she was down for a nap before starting with the ornaments, because letting the three boys help me was bad enough without adding a baby into the mix. There aren't enough furs in the world to distract her from that craziness.
Anyway. The tree was eventually all lit and decorated and I also added some further decoration to the Taos bench in the form of some sheep skins.
And a highly decorative three-year-old.
Those sheepskins, incidentally, are from these guys. Because I am vindictive, I may have said out loud as I was arranging the sheepskins on the Taos bench, "You guys ate my garden, but the joke's on you, rams."
The real test of the barricade, of course, came when Poppy woke up from her nap. As predicted, she crawled straight over to the bench and tried to find a way to the tree.
"Wait. I can't get to the temptingly shiny plant with all the toys hung on it?"
"YOU DID THIS TO ME, YOU CRUEL MOTHER."
That's right, Poppy, I did. I'm pretty proud of it, too.
Saturday, December 8, 2018
For the past two Christmases, getting our Christmas tree was gratifyingly easy. You know, seeing as how we actually lived on an real Christmas tree farm. Most other aspects of life on the Canadian border were most assuredly not easy--like regular deadly blizzards and endless winter--but the Christmas tree? No problem. We just walked a hundred yards up the road, cut one down, and brought it home.
Here, however, in our new House of Enchantment, there are definitely no Christmas trees within a hundred yards of our house. I had joked with the boys that maybe we should just decorate a tumbleweed--yes, there are real, actual tumbleweeds all over the place here, just tumbling around like an Old West movie scene--and they thought that was a swell idea, but I had to explain that tumbleweeds don't have strong enough branches to hold ornaments and lights.
Yes, I did give it that much thought.
But in the end, I decided we had to go on an expedition into the canyon to get a more traditional Christmas tree.
Cue Friday Family Fun!
Now, when I say "traditional," I am using that in a loose sense. The traditional Christmas tree you'll find in a tree lot is most likely a variety of fir or spruce. But if you think we were going to drive to a tree lot--I haven't checked, but I bet the closest one is at least 75 miles away--and spend $60 or more for a tree, then you haven't been reading here long enough.
The three evergreen varieties native to this area that might be candidates for a Christmas tree are cedars*, Ponderosa pines, and pinyon pines. Cedars are more like shrubs than trees. Ponderosa pines here tend to be too big and also kind of rare. The pinyon pine is the best bet for a Christmas-tree-like size and shape. They do not, however, grow near our house. To find these trees, we had to go down into a canyon.
Fortuitously, A. had that permit to cut wood in a canyon--well, sort of on the rim of this canyon--somewhat near our house, so we loaded up the kids, attached the trailer to the van, and set off in pursuit of one live tree and many dead ones.
It took us about half an hour to get to the national forest road where we could cut wood, and that road was . . . let's say "unimproved."
These were not the worst of the ruts. The worst of the ruts were about twice as deep and had tire-popping sharp rocks embedded in them.
A. drove very carefully and managed not to bottom out or pop a tire. It was a little bumpy, though. Bumpy in the sense that if any of the kids had had loose teeth, that road would have taken care of their extraction.
There were also two gates that had to be opened and closed, because there are cattle in this area.
The gates were my job.
Eventually we reached an area that had trees big enough to cut. Had we gone farther, there were even bigger ones, but we didn't know that yet. So we unloaded the whole happy crew and set to work.
A. cut. The boys loaded.
Some could carry more than others.
But every little bit counts.
Baby Lamb and I sat on the ground nearby and supervised.
Mostly I supervised her, to make sure she didn't crawl into any cow patties.
While the boys were waiting for A. to cut enough pieces for them to carry, they played in a little washed-out gully nearby, jumping in and over it and brandishing sticks.
Lambie there never quite made it over to the game, but she tried.
After A. had gotten as much wood as he could from this area, we loaded up again to explore the road further. A. thought it made a loop, but the road deteriorated so much that he decided to turn around and go back the way we came in rather than risk getting the whole family stuck.
Now, we still did not have a Christmas tree. We saw several pinyons that would have been perfect, but A.'s permit was only for dead wood, and far be it from us to break the law by cutting down a live tree.
So we went to Wally's ranch.
Wally is a man who owns a ranch right next to this canyon. A. has been doing some masonry work for him on a very old house on his property. A. wanted to show us the house, so we stopped at Wally's house. He doesn't live in the one that's being restored; he has a new house on the ranch.
Wally already had his Christmas tree up and when I admired it, he said right away, "Do you folks need a Christmas tree? Go cut one of those pinyons out there."
He also gave each of the boys a soda from his dedicated soda refrigerator. I suspect the boys will want to visit Wally again.
Anyway, after staying for a few minutes to chat with Wally, we all got back in the van to go to the stone house.
The top wood section is brand-new. The bottom stone part is extremely old.
All those stone walls need re-pointing, and A. is just the man for the job.
As cool as the house is--and it is--the boys were most excited about what was down the hill from it.
Wilderness. And a frozen stream.
While they chunked rocks into the frozen water to break the ice, I wandered around looking for a Christmas tree. Also avoiding cactus** and hoping there were no mountain lions in the vicinity.
That last one is not paranoia, by the way. There are actually a lot of mountain lions in that kind of terrain.
It's a long way from a Target Christmas tree lot.
Anyway. I eventually found a pretty good pinyon. It was trying to hide, but I saw it.
You can't hide from me, little Christmas tree.
A. cut it down in short order, and then we all hiked the half mile up--and it was a steep up, and I was carrying the 23-pound baby--to the van to go home.
Now I just have to decorate the tree. And figure out a way to barricade it in so the crawling, standing baby doesn't yank it down. That might be almost as challenging as procuring the tree in the first place.
** I knew we weren't in the northwoods anymore when I announced, "Okay kids, we're going to get our Christmas tree. Don't fall into a cactus."