Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Woodchuck Freezer

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

Friday Food: When You Put a Woodchuck in the Kitchen


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.

A. ate more of his never-ending ponudo. Good thing he liked it.

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

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Ugly Cake Baker

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

The Home Stretch

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


Happy birthday to 
Smiling Jack.