Saturday, May 16, 2020

Saturday Cooking School

This week's ridiculous episode with baked beans, chronicled in irritated detail in yesterday's post, resulted in two smart women who know what they are talking about telling me what I did wrong.

Hooray for smart women.

And now, so we can all be smart people ourselves--at least when it comes to baked beans--I will share their wisdom with you.

The MiL was the first to weigh in, telling me it was most likely the vinegar that was the fatal ingredient. The MiL actually worked at the famous Boston restaurant Durgin Park when she lived there. She has eaten and made many authentic baked beans, and I should have asked her before I made any baked beans, obviously.

Confirming evidence came from a reader, Tara, who very kindly e-mailed me to let me know that she "knows usually random science trivia" (her words), and told me this:

. . . while the age of the navy beans might have been an issue, it was likely more the addition of the vinegar to the sauce pre-baking that caused the eternally unbaking baked beans problem. Acids do something to the seed coat (outer layer) of beans that makes it tough and generally impervious to water. It's like putting a rain coat on each bean. So if you add some vinegar at the start of the cooking, you can cook forever and still have nice firm almost-uncooked beans. The solution is easy -- just add the vinegar (or whatever other acid you might be adding, like that squeeze of lemon juice) after the beans have hit the texture you want. Naturally, this doesn't help your current pot of beans, but next time! :)

So now we all know: Stay away from the vinegar until your beans are soft, or they will never GET soft.

The end.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Friday Food: Cursed Baked Beans


Short version: Curried split peas, garlic bread, fried eggs, roasted carrots

Long version: Unsurprisingly, the children who ate the curry--that is, all of them but Charlie--very much enjoyed dipping their bread in their curry.

I was considering making sourdough naan, but then I remembered the pita bread and decided to save myself the shrieking of the smoke alarms.


Short version: Carnitas-style pork, rice, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: The pork was this giant package of pork A. picked up at the grocery store a few weeks ago that was just labeled "pork for tamales." It was big chunks of what looked like pork butt, and it cooked up very nicely. I appreciated that it didn't have a bone in it, so there was actually very little waste.

Literally just as I was about to start dishing up dinner, another of our elderly-lady neighbors (not Miss Amelia) called and said she had some cheese she wasn't going to eat and would we like it? So A. sent the boys over there with a loaf of bread, and they came back with the cheese and TWO ENTIRE kitchen garbage bags full of food.

"Some cheese," huh?

Included in that spectacularly generous haul were two avocados. One was too far gone for us--the chickens very much enjoyed it--but the other was fine and needed to be used right away. So we had an avocado in our salad, and it was very exciting.


Short version: Same pork, oven fries, same salad (minus the avocado), chocolate chip cookies

Long version: When I was about ten years old, I remember at a restaurant my dad telling me I had to order something besides salad and french fries. Because that's all I ever wanted to eat.

And now here I am thirty years later, and I still just want to eat salad and fries.

Therefore, I made myself some salad and fries for Mother's Day. Plus some leftover pork, to make it a bit more balanced. (Happy, Dad?)

The chocolate chip cookies I had actually made several days before, but I froze some for Sunday so I wouldn't have to bake again. I let each child have two cookies this time, and they were gratifyingly amazed at my largesse.

One of the ewes very appropriately had a lamb this night, and I took a picture for you:

Okay, so it's four days old in this picture already, but still: AWWWWW.


Short version: Pulled pork sandwiches, frozen green beans

Long version: Is this the same pork that I cooked on Saturday? Yes, it is. Made more exciting by cooking the leftover pork with barbecue sauce this time.


Short version: Not pork! Cheese pizza, green salad

Long version: Since I was making bread, I used some of the dough to make one pizza. It had green garlic and fresh basil in addition to the cheese. This time I decided to try a method for the sauce that the person who wrote about it swore made for the best pizza ever. The tomatoes aren't cooked into a sauce before they're put on the pizza, but rather just drained and spread on raw.

Since one more pan to make pizza sauce sometimes feels like the proverbial straw on this pizza-making camel's back, I thought I would try this.

Yeah, no. It just made the crust soggy and didn't taste as concentrated and good. As I suspected. Never again.

The same neighbor that gave us the cheese+bags o' food dropped off yet more food this day. The county delivered a box of food to every senior citizen in the county, and she said she couldn't eat it all herself, so she gave some to us.

My favorite is the can of spinach that's called "Freshlike." Not really fresh, but freshlike.


Short version: Bunless hamburgers, oven fries, frozen green beans, and the g--d--- baked beans

Long version: Can we talk about the baked beans? I really need to talk about the baked beans.

It all started with the white navy beans that were in the box of food Rafael gave us a month ago. These are traditionally used to make baked beans, although I haven't felt motivated to actually start with dried beans and make baked beans.

But then! Early on Monday, I decided I was ready to make baked beans. So I quick-soaked half the bag of beans, added all the stuff to them (bacon, onion, vinegar, maple syrup, ketchup), and put them in a 300-degree oven. There they stayed for six hours, at which point they were most definitely not done. Not even soft. So I took them out of the oven and simmered them on the stove for another three hours.

Still not done.

Nothing daunted, I cooled the pot down and put it in the refrigerator overnight, pulling it out in the morning and putting it back on the stove. Where it sat simmering ALL DAY. Like, ten hours. And were they done at the end of those ten hours?

Kind of.

I mean, they were soft enough to eat, but not, like, falling apart and making the beans all saucy, like baked beans are supposed to be.

Just how old WERE these beans?

Cubby and Poppy actually ate some with their dinner, and they tasted pretty good, but I was kind of mad that they were still not as soft as they should have been, so I determined the next morning to simmer them until they were REALLY SOFT, by God.

I put them on the stove, turned the burner to like medium-high to start them simmering, and then . . . got in the shower.* Leaving the beans on.

By the time I got out of the shower and remembered them, they were most definitely scorched. And not soft. I took the top layer of beans out of the pot and put them in another one (leaving the scorched layer on the bottom of the pot, and let me tell you how fun THAT pot was to clean--it was my enameled cast iron one, so it can't be scrubbed hard). And then I just left them there, because honestly, I was SO DONE with the beans.

I still heated them up and served them at dinner, though, even though they STILL weren't as soft as they should have been and definitely tasted scorched. None of the children seemed to notice, though.

After all that effort with the beans, I was almost tired enough to conk out on the front steps with the dogs:

Except Jack beat me to it.


Short version: Breakfast sausage, pasta, frozen green peas

Long version: The school Sysco program has started offering five-pound tubes of pork breakfast sausage, which my children were very excited about. It's loose sausage, obviously, so I just fried it as patties.

The pasta had just butter, cream cheese, garlic powder, and pepper on it.

I ate some leftover vegetables with the singular leftover hamburger patty, because I don't actually like breakfast sausage all that much.

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

* In my defense, sneaking off for a shower is a delicate operation due to Poppy's possessiveness of my time and person. So when I see a window of opportunity when she's distracted, I have to make a run for the bathroom and get in the shower before she notices I'm gone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

No More Pencils, No More Books

And this officially ends the most bizarre school year ever.

School ended this year via distance learning on Zoom, because that's what life is like now.

Charlie had his last Zoom class meeting at 8 a.m., during which his class had a pet show and everyone got to show off their pets. The other five students in his class all showed off their dogs. Charlie chose to introduce everyone to Dorito, the chick that Charlie named and that we're pretty sure is a rooster. Not a pet for much longer, I guess.

Cubby had his last Zoom class meeting at 10:30 a.m., during which his class showed everyone the kites they were invited to make and fly this week. Cubby insisted all week that he didn't want to make a kite--it wasn't required, so I didn't insist--but then decided an hour before his meeting that yes, he DID want a kite.

It was made from a coat hanger, a trash bag, and duct tape, and amazingly, actually flew about twenty feet for ten seconds on his sixth try running down the road to launch it.

Jack had his last Zoom class meeting at noon. His preschool class had "Cowboy Day" for their last class, which was hilarious because the teacher showed a bunch of photos from her own ranch and all the kids basically dressed in their, uh, clothes. Since 80% of them actually live on working ranches.

Jack's cowboy outfit is not his everyday apparel, but we do at least have all the correct items.

He was very excited that I let him borrow my hat, which I do not ever let my children use unless it's for a very specific purpose. Because anything they use gets broken.

Then we celebrated with some banana bread. I felt like I should make them a treat since they were missing their end-of-year sugar-binge parties.

And that was it. It was pretty anticlimactic. 

Our daily lives will change very little now, except I no longer have to nag the older two to do their math or force my very reluctant boys to sit still for Zoom meetings on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Ah, summer. You came none too soon.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

For All the Mothers (Ovine and Otherwise)

We have a brand-new mother around here, and for once it isn't me. One of the full-to-bursting ewes had a lamb three days ago. It's another girl lamb, and it was lucky enough to be born during our warm spell and thus did not require any shepherd intervention.

Do I have a picture of it for you? No, I do not. But! I do have a picture of the Megaton cabbage plantation!

Cabbages are just as cute as lambs, right?

Because it is Mother's Day and I get to do what I want, I spent the morning planting out almost all of the starts that were in the kitchen grow box. There are now 12 tomato plants and two pepper plants out in the backyard cells A. prepared for me. They are protected from our vicious winds with the most aesthetic of objects:

Our house is definitely going to be on the next Home and Garden Tour.

I got the idea for the tires from the lady we used to buy milk from. She said they work really well, and you can just keep stacking them up as the plants get bigger. God knows, we have plenty of old tires on our new (abandoned) property. I'm also hoping the heat absorbed by the black tires will keep the plants a bit warmer and happier during our cool nights in the summer.

I also planted out the remaining eight basil seedlings in various places. Those have some attractive plastic milk jugs around them, too.

A. spent the morning cutting up and hauling away the board fence that used to be where that stone wall is in the above picture. It was big, heavy, and awkward, and has been sitting in the middle of the yard near my lettuce for months now. His gift to me was two hours with a chainsaw and wheelbarrow to get it off the ground and out of my way.

Beautiful bare ground, just waiting to be planted with something. More cabbages, maybe?

Cubby nailed up some of the wood to cover gaps in the fence to keep the dogs from racing around that yard and over my carrots. He also used some hinges that had been on the section of fence A. cut up to actually afix the gate to the post to that yard, so now I have a fully-functioning gate there, instead of various propped-up pieces of wood that were always getting blown over in the wind.

After Poppy's nap, A. took all four kids (and the dogs) to our neighbor's canyon so I could sit here in a quiet house. Except it's not all that quiet, because I'm listening to music on my computer. I love music, but I absolutely cannot have it on when my kids are around, because they make too much noise of their own and the combination of them and the music just makes me crazy.

So for now, it's just me and Gary Allan.* And both of us are right where we need to be.

Happy Mother's Day to all my sisters in arms. I hope the day is exactly what you wish it to be.

* It occurs to me that I should be taking advantage of my children's absence to listen to something not appropriate for their innocent ears. Pink, coming right up!