Friday, December 31, 2021

Friday Food: So Much Celebrating

With three family birthdays, Christmas, and New Year's within a two-week period, this is a very celebratory time of year in our house.


Short version: Tamales, chocolate roulade

Long version: Such a simple meal . . . that takes so long.

This was the second year I made tamales, and, as with anything, it was faster and easier this time as I implemented my own shortcuts. 

Like soaking the corn husks in the sink, because no matter what all the recipes say about using "a large bowl," I'm pretty sure almost no one outside a commercial kitchen has a bowl large enough to fit these things.

I started it the day before by pressure-cooking beef ribs, which makes stock, meat, and rendered fat. All of those things are in the tamales. Most people, of course, use purchased stock and lard, but I figured it was a good way to use up some beef ribs. Plus, as a general rule, the fewer the purchased ingredients in anything, the better it tastes.

Tamales are a lot of work, but they are worth it.

Ditto the roulade.

Next year, though, I need to remember that the quantities in the tamale recipes I consult ("follow" isn't really the right word . . .) don't really make enough. The recipes say they make about 30 tamales. This year I made one recipe's worth and ended up with only 21, so I made another half recipe and had 34 tamales at the end of it. But really, I should just double the masa mixture to start with so I can have 50 and can freeze some. Because if I'm going to all that effort, I should definitely get at least one more meal out of it.

Anyway. That's just me talking to myself. 


Short version: Spaghetti and meatballs, Christmas mushrooms, green salad, eggnog, molasses cookies

Long version: The tamales were actually our big Christmas dinner, albeit on Christmas Eve, but this meal was almost as popular.

The meatballs were some I had made a month or so ago and froze, so all I had to do was make the spaghetti, to which I added a bag of roasted tomato sauce from the freezer and some Latino cheese.

The Latino cheese is made by a local-ish cheese factory that sells their cheese in the grocery store of one of the small towns we go to sometimes. I think they made up the name entirely, because an Internet search revealed nothing about it. Anyway, it tasted like a slightly less aged Parmesan, so I grated it and added it to the pasta. The kids didn't notice any difference, which is great, because I can't get blocks of Parmesan here. Having a local substitute--like the asadero cheese we use in place of mozzarella--is really useful. I hope they keep making it.

The mushrooms are a Christmas tradition going back to Cubby's toddler days. When he was very small and offered some mushrooms to try, he declined by saying he only ate mushrooms on Christmas. I suspect he was just trying to delay the mushroom consumption to some far later date and randomly chose Christmas, but it has now become an unalterable family tradition to have mushrooms on Christmas Day. Three of the four children actually like mushrooms now, but the one who doesn't still gamely eats his yearly Christmas mushroom piece every year.

The molasses cookies are a recipe from the MiL's Grandma Bishop, of chocolate cake fame. The recipe as written uses lard and would make something like 100 cookies, which is what farm women used to make to fill their cookie jars. I made half a recipe, with butter, and they are delicious. The combination of spices is very Christmas-y, and they make a perfectly seasonal dessert with some eggnog.

I made the eggnog, too, using this recipe. It used up the seven egg yolks left after making the roulade, and was perfect with the cookies. Mine was too thick after chilling, but I just thinned it out with some milk.


Short version: Beef stew, bread and butter, cheese

Long version: I had taken out a random bag from the little freezer labeled "beef for BBQ," which I think was from the last time I made beef stock with soup bones. I actually used that for the tamales, and so I didn't need the beef from the ribs. I used that beef for this soup, which also included beef stock left from pressure-cooking the beef ribs, the last of the roasted tomato sauce, some already cooked onions, potatoes, carrots, and frozen green peas.


Short version: Birthday chips and meat, cake and ice cream

Long version: I do cook my own birthday dinner, because that way I'm assured of getting exactly what I want. I had bought some tortilla chips awhile ago, so I just combined the last of the tamale meat and the rest of the rib meat with more salsa, shredded cheese, some leftover canned black beans, and sour cream, and served that with the chips. Everyone scooped up the meat with the chips, and yes, that is what I consider to be a celebratory meal. 

I still believe chips make everything better, I just don't often indulge in them.

I made the ice cream using this recipe and the last of a bag of Oreos Cubby had bought with his own money at the store last time we were there (he gave me permission). You may recall I had tried this sort of condensed-milk-based no-churn ice cream before, with overly sweet results thanks to too many chocolate chips. This one was not too sweet, although it does have an odd mouthfeel. It sort of coats. I suspect it's our ersatz "heavy cream," however, which has thickeners and nonfat milk and all kinds of weirdness in it. And is the only kind we can get. Sigh.


The ice cream was good with the cake, though, which was, of course, Grandma Bishop's cake and which Cubby made for me.

Oh! And the MiL's brother, who is the family historian, sent me some photos of Grandma Bishop. Including this one that features the MiL herself (in a baby bonnet!) on Grandma Bishop's lap.

No cake or cookies in sight, though. Bummer.


Short version: Rooster pot pie, biscuits with strawberry jam

Long version: I got a call the morning before from a lady we know slightly who had heard we would take roosters. 

How many calls like this have I gotten over the years? Dozens. Which is how we've gotten hundreds of pounds of home-raised chicken for free.

This particular delivery was seven roosters. That's a lot of roosters.


A. killed them Tuesday morning and skinned two of them for dinner. (The others he hung for a day or so to age.) These two I pressure-cooked and used for the pot pie.

Instead of a regular pie crust, I made a biscuit crust for the top. The children were very happy with this meal.

I was feeling whimsical, hence the vent slits in the shape of Christmas trees.

I had a little of the biscuit dough left, so I made some biscuits and let the kids have one each with strawberry jam for dessert. That was popular.


Short version: Cubby's tomato soup, leftovers

Long version: The "creamy" tomato soup from Cubby's ATK kids cookbook is one of the recipes out of it that we make somewhat regularly. Actually, that he makes somewhat regularly. He makes a quadruple recipe of it (which is not actually that much, since the original recipe only serves 1-2), and this time we got to use my brand-new immersion blender to puree it.

Thanks, MiL!

The soup doesn't have any protein in it, so the kids had it with tortillas and melted cheese. The classic pairing of a grilled cheese sandwich is overkill with this soup, because the soup is thickened with a bunch of bread.

A. had a bowl of chicken soup made with rooster stock and pot pie filling. And I had the last of the leftover meatballs.


Short version: Bull and potato skillet, frozen peas

Long version: I used the immersion blender again to break down the pressure-canned bull meat even further before I added it to the potatoes and tallow in the skillet. I can tell this immersion blender is going to get a lot of use.

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

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Thursday Thank You

Okay, I think I need to lay off the days of the week alliteration titles, right?



I did want to say thank you to all of you lovely people who took the time to comment and wish me a happy birthday. I am very bad at responding to comments individually--which doesn't at all mean I don't love them because of course I do--so I thought one big blanket thank you would be the way to go here. Except . . .

Linda: I love how consistently you show up to cheer in the comments section. And that you actually make some of the random recipes I post. Thank you!

MiL: I'm not scared of lard . . . just of grocery-store lard. As soon as we have a good source for real lard, it will be in all of Grandma Bishop's recipes. Thank you for being the respository for family history (and recipes). It's fun to pass them along to the next generation.

G.P.: Thank YOU for being here for so many years and for all the kind comments you have left.

Mary in MN: Thank you! I hope your winter this year in MN hasn't been too severe. And if you're sick of snow, please send some to my particular drought-stricken county in New Mexico.

Sheila: Thank you! I wish we had gotten your white post-Christmas (see above).

Lisa: And a belated thank you to you!

Tammy: Thanks! I hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas.

Anonymous: I hope you do try the cake. It's delicious, and fun to watch the baking soda and buttermilk fizz.

Kit: Thank you! I appreciate your regular Friday Food comments so I can be a nosy parker and read what everyone else eats.

Cheryl: Thank you so much for making one of your rare comments here. I'm so glad you like coming here and reading.

Claire: Thank you! Having a framing of the rising sun does greatly enhance glowiness.

What can I say? I was inspired to write individually to each and every one of you.

And to those of you who didn't actually comment but who still spend some of your precious time here reading these many words that I throw out there . . . Thank you. I truly do appreciate each and every pair of eyeballs. Here's a pretty picture for you.

Sunrise and sunflower skeletons. (Never going to stop with the alliteration.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

T.T.: In Honor of My 42nd Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. To commemorate the occasion, I took a special Morning Walk Photo:

A selfie with the rising sun. And my faithful companion in the background.

Of more practical use to all of you, however, is the following recipe for Grandma Bishop's Chocolate Cake.

I have mentioned this cake many, many times in my Friday Food posts. It's my go-to cake, because it's so easy and good. The recipe came from the MiL's grandmother. The original name of it was Dom Econ cake (as in, Domestic Economy).

The Dom Econ cake recipe is associated with Cornell University. It's possible Grandma Bishop, who attended Cornell, learned it there. The recipe I have from the MiL indicates that it's circa 1910. 

My actual recipe.

She may also have learned it from a women's club she belonged to that almost certainly received information, recipes, and demonstrations from Cornell's Agricultural Extension program.

In any case, this recipe has now been in the family for over a century.

Grandma Bishop's great-great grandson (Cubby) made it for me yesterday for my birthday. It's easy enough that an 11-year-old can just follow the recipe. And it uses only one mixing bowl. And no electric mixer.

If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is.

So, without further ado, I present to you . . .

Grandma Bishop's Chocolate Cake 
* Recipe as written makes one cake layer.


2 well-rounded tablespoons cocoa ("well-rounded" means "heaping")

1/4 cup lard OR 1/3 cup butter at room temperature

1/2 cup boiling water

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup buttermilk or full-fat plain yogurt


1) Butter and flour an 8"x8" pan, or 9" round cake pan. If you want to be very sure the cake comes out cleanly, cut parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and then butter and flour it.

2) Put cocoa, lard or butter cut into pieces, and boiling water in medium bowl. Stir until all the fat melts.

3) Stir in the sugar, flour, and salt.

4) When combined, stir in the egg and vanilla.

5) In the measuring cup you used for the flour and sugar, put the buttermilk or yogurt and quickly stir in the baking soda. It will foam up. It's fun.

6) Add the buttermilk/yogurt mixture to the batter in the bowl and mix it all together quickly. Pour into prepared pan.

7) Bake at 350 degrees for about twenty minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.

8) Let cool completely before upending the pan to take the cake out. Frost as you like. Or, if you're like me and aren't so into frosting, just dust the top with some powdered sugar.


Thanks, Grandma Bishop. Your memory (and your cake) lives on.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Boxing Day

Americans don't really celebrate Boxing Day as a general rule, but we did this year. And it was funny.

See, one of the gifts my parents sent for the kids this year was a boxing bag and a pair of gloves each. A. used to take boxing lessons and had been meaning to get a bag for a couple of years now. Our covered porch, built by one of the previous owners, has a frame of welded steel pipe that is perfect for hanging a 100-pound boxing bag. 

A. was sick on Christmas Day, so he didn't hang it right away. But yesterday he was feeling well enough to hang it up. On Boxing Day. Ha.

A. gave a quick boxing lesson first.

Demonstrating a basic combo.

I don't think cowboy boots are generally recommended for boxing.

You think this little lady with the unicorn hairbows is going to be left out?

Think again.

I don't know how Boxing Day is typically celebrated in Britain, but here in the Wild Wild West, whacking a giant sandfilled bag seemed appropriate. And fun.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Snapshots: Christmas, Of Course

Delivering bread to the neighbors on Christmas Eve, western-style.

Making tamales . . .

A lot of tamales.

Stocking exploration.

I don't know what I was actually taking a picture of here, but the end result is pretty trippy. And also quite representative of Christmas morning with four young children.

Favorite gifts included a remote-control tarantula for Calvin and a remote-control rat for Jack. Gross.

Poppy's favorite toy, a unicorn she named Pretty Sparkles, inevitably ended up as prey in this game of disgusting battery-controlled creatures.

Poppy also received nail polish from my sister, which of course must go on right away. (Lookit those pudgy hands!)

Cubby received an army set with something like 750 pieces.

As well as 120 earplugs (still a favorite toy, all these years later), seen here in formation at an elevated battle position.

There you have it! Our Christmas, snapshotted.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Ready, Set . . .


It's a go for Christmas mayhem in the morning.

Merry Christmas, my lovelies. I hope your day is filled with light.

Friday Food: Ram Lap and Many Desserts

Merry Christmas Eve! I've been making an awful lot of treats lately, but there must be real food too, of course. Like so . . .


Short version: Split pea soup, leftovers

Long version: I brought home some leftover ham from the school cafeteria last week, so I made some split pea soup with it. Happy Cubby.

Calvin, who is not a fan of soup, had leftover meatloaf, rice, and carrot sticks.

A. had some of the soup and then some steak and rice.

I had a salad with the last of the meatloaf in it.


Short version: Birthday pizza, carrot sticks with ranch dip, chocolate pudding with whipped cream

Long version: Jack's birthday request meal. 

I usually buy store-brand semi-sweet chocolate chips. In this pudding, I used fancy Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips that my mom brought me, which are much better chocolate chips, but which made the pudding too sweet. It wasn't inedible by any means, but I definitely should have cut the added sugar to compensate for the sweeter milk chocolate. Oh well. 

I had a salad with some leftover steak, the very last of the store lettuce and a handful of arugula that's still hanging out in the garden. Arugula really is amazingly hardy stuff.


Short version: Beef stir-fry, rice, baked apples with cream

Long version: Our meals were getting to be pretty sad in the vegetable department because we were pretty much out of fresh vegetables, so I decided to make a stir-fry and use the frozen bags of vegetables.

We'd been having so many rich desserts that I made the call to have baked apples for our regular Sunday dessert. Baked apples are about the most wholesome dessert possible. 

I had frozen a few gallon-sized bags of peeled apple slices when I got a surplus of apples in the fall, and I used one of those bags. To the apples I added cinnamon and a container of . . . something. The something had been in my refrigerator for so long that I forgot what it really was, other than it was a mixture of butter and some kind of sugar left from making a long-gone dessert, so I figured it would keep. Tasted kind of like brown sugar and butter.

Anyway. The apples were good.


Short version: Bunless cheeseburgers, pasta, frozen green peas, pureed calabaza

Long version: I used the last bit of pizza sauce with the pasta, along with butter, for the kids. 

I took the bag of pureed calabaza from the freezer. And I found the peas! I knew I had at least two big bags of frozen green peas in one of the big freezers outside, and I finally found them when I was re-organizing one freezer so I could put in the new 50-pound bag of flour.

I actually had three big bags of green peas. So we're all set for peas for awhile.


Short version: Ram lap, roasted potatoes, leftover peas and calabaza

Long version: The lap on a sheep is the breast. This was from the ram A. butchered just over a year ago. He cut off the lap, which is flat, thin, and boneless, and cut it into two pieces. I found these when I was re-organizing the freezer and thought I'd better use it.

The lap has more fat than meat on it, and the best way to cook it is to roll it up and slow cook it, kind of like pork belly. So I rolled it around six minced cloves of garlic, some already cooked onion, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and oregano, and cooked it for a couple of hours at 300 degrees. I drained off the fat as it rendered off and used some of it for the potatoes.

If I'm to be completely honest, I didn't even eat any of the meat. I really dislike any sort of meat that has such a high percentage of fat in and on it, so I just ate potatoes and vegetables. Everyone else, however, LOVED it. The kids all had seconds, and Cubby declared that this is what he wants for his birthday dinner.

Okay then.


Short version: Italian sliders, leftover pasta, garlic bread, carrot sticks with curry dip

Long version: Italian sliders=very small ground beef patties seasoned like meatballs, fried and covered with marinara sauce and asadero cheese.

How many times have I explained that? Probably too many. 


Short version: Breakfast sausage patties, chicken curry soup

Long version: The soup was a masterpiece of found food. It started with a quart of curried split peas from the freezer that I had way oversalted when I made them originally. To that I added the stock I had made from the quail carcasses last week, a bag of already-cooked chicken from stock-making when we were butchering the meat chickens, some already-cooked onion, chopped potatoes and carrots, green peas, and a bit of cream to finish it off. 

I cooked the sausage separately, although I actually cut a bit up and added it right to my bowl of soup. It was tasty.

In non-dinner news, I made cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Christmas is the only time I make cinnamon rolls. I used a different recipe this time, and they came out very, very well. I used all white flour, and next time I would increase the cinnamon by about half a teaspoon, but otherwise, two thumbs up.

I even had some Christmas-y sprinkles that were at the bottom of a container of store-bought sugar cookies one of the students at school gave me. I had saved them for some unknown purpose, and it turned out to be just enough sprinkles for four of the cinnamon rolls, one for each kid.

Festive cinnamon rolls ahoy.

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

T.T.: Natural-Dye Homemade Playdough

Would you believe that in almost twelve years of parenting, I have never once purchased playdough? Kids love it, of course, but most parents do not. Messy, expensive, funky smelling, and inevitably ends up dried out in those little cups, which then get thrown away.

Not into it.

However! At least three of those problems can be avoided by making your own playdough. (Not the messiness. That's just the nature of playdough, purchased or no.)

I had never tried this, but on Jack's birthday this year, I did. Because it was cold, and the kids were bored, and, well, it was Jack's birthday and he wanted to try it.

I used this recipe for the actual dough*, and, to be honest, it is kind of a pain. Mostly because it's pretty hard to stir the ever-thickening dough around in the pot continuously. It's not complicated, though.

But of course, what is playdough without all the colors? And what if you don't have food coloring because the idea of putting it in food is alarming to you and you never buy it?

And by "you," I of course mean "I."

Luckily, I know from my adventures in Easter-egg dying** that it is perfectly possible to create a dye from random things found in the kitchen. Which is why I dyed my playdough with blueberries and coffee.

I didn't really follow directions for this part. All I did was pour boiling water over about six frozen blueberries, then mash the berries and strain the resulting liquid off. And I used my spent coffee ground in the French press to make a some second-run coffee. 

Then I separated some of the thickened white dough into two chunks. I put one chunk back into the cooking pot with the blueberry water, mixed it all together, and cooked it some more until the dough had reached the proper consistency again. This made pink playdough, which made Poppy very happy.

I did the same with the coffee water, although I think I added too much of the water to that color, so it was a little wetter. It never did get drier, even with more cooking and kneading in extra flour. It was still usable though. And that made brown.

Colored playdough! Yay me!

If you want to try this, I would say you only need a few tablespoons of the dyed water for about a cup of the dough.

I thought about making yellow with curry powder, but then I thought how curry powder stains and decided I really didn't want to have my children handling that at all.

The pink blueberry playdough is a little more damp than the white, and the brown coffee was more damp than the pink. But it was all a hit.

Playdough table and chairs made by my dad, table cover courtesy of a really cheap and awful shower curtain liner from a dollar store that I use to cover the kitchen table when the kids paint.

It was a little bit of effort, but now I have three bags of playdough (in quart-size ziptop bags that I wash and re-use) that I did not have to pay for, that do not smell weird, and that did not create any further plastic trash. Hooray.

* Because it was the first one that came up when I searched for a homemade playdough recipe. That's about as much research as I ever put into recipes, to be honest.

** This just reminded me that I should have tried using paprika to make orange. Next time.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Snapshots: Let's Go To the Tree Lot!

Of course, this being a very remote corner of New Mexico, our "tree lot" looks like this:

No sleigh rides and $5 hot cocoa here.

Just a dirt tank with, surprisingly, a little water still in it from the last rain we had, uh, two months ago.

Jasper came too, of course. 

There's the tree!

Then back to Adventure Van we go. (I will never stop being amazed at the absolutely saturated blue of the New Mexico sky.)

Decorating . . .

Putting on the star . . .

All done!

A small tree, but cheery.

There you have it! Our annual Christmas tree adventure, snapshotted.

Saturday, December 18, 2021


Jack is seven today. He has a cold, as does everyone else in the family except A.

It's going to be a very snotty birthday.

But! There are Lincoln Logs to play with courtesy of Grandma, some very gooey-looking store-bought cinnamon rolls that were given to me by a student at school, and chocolate pudding to look forward to after a pizza dinner.

Happy birthday to Jack,
a fantastic big brother, a funny dude, and an all-around great guy.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Friday Food: Birthday Flan


Short version: Turkey soup, breakfast sausage patties, chocolate revel bars

Long version: "Is this . . . turkey soup?" A. asked. "Wasn't Thanksgiving a long time ago?"

Yes on both counts. But it was turkey soup I had taken out of the freezer.

I had made a very large pot of soup with the last of our very large turkey and the very large amount of broth I made from the carcass. I omitted any starch before freezing, though, as potatoes or rice or whatever tend to get mushy in the freezer. So to the container of soup I took out of the freezer I added rice and the some leftover mushrooms and onions.

The sausage was separate. 

Cubby made the revel bars. He wanted to make cookies in the afternoon, which I told him he could do if he cleaned up the kitchen afterwards. The revel bars were a recipe he found in one of my cookbooks that involved a layer of basically oatmeal cookie dough, then melted chocolate, then a topping of oats and nuts. They came out well, and it made a LOT of cookies. 

So many bars.

And more importantly . . .

Dishes I did not wash. Hooray.


Short version: Tacos, carrot sticks

Long version: I had made quite a large batch of taco meat earlier in the week, and we ate the last of it this night.


Short version: Quail, shepherd's hand pies, roasted potatoes, green salad, chocolate revel bars

Long version: A. went quail hunting with Cubby and Calvin at some public land a few miles from our house. He got four quail. They hung overnight and I roasted them this day. They were tasty, but very small.

That's why I made the shepherd's hand pies, too. For those, I used the extra pie crust I had put in the freezer when we made the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, plus some shepherd's pie meat from the freezer, and a bit of cheese. The children enjoyed them very much.


Short version: Shepherd's skillet, broccoli soup, apple/pearsauce and cream

Long version: Due to various chores that needed to be done when we got home from school before it got dark outside, I didn't even start making dinner until 5 p.m. Which meant speed was the name of the game.

I had some of the shepherd's pie meat left, so I micowaved a couple of giant potatoes, diced one and a half of them, and fried those with the meat.

The other half of the potato went into a soup for Cubby, who accidentally gouged a very large and very bloody furrow into the roof of his mouth on Sunday. He couldn't eat anything solid that would press into the top of his mouth when he swallowed, so I made a quite thin soup for him with the potato, leftover broccoli, some random cooked onion, a jar of beef stock, shredded cheddar cheese, and sour cream, pureed in the food processor.

He also had the apple/pearsauce. And then the rest of the children had the same thing, because who can resist apple/pearsauce with cream?


Short version: Meatloaf, rice, carrots, caramel milk

Long version: The ground beef we got from our last cow is definitely more lean than I like it, because it was a range cow and just didn't have a lot of fat on it to start with. I still had a package of fat from the cow we got a few years ago, though, which I recently rendered. So I melted some of that tallow and mixed it in to the meatloaf mixture. Much better.

Earlier in the day, I had made A.'s requested birthday dessert for the next day, which was flan. Flan requires making a caramel, and then, of course, I ended up with a pot that had rock-hard caramel all over the inside. Rather than boil that off with water to clean it, I heated milk in the pot and mixed the melted caramel into the milk. 

That was a pretty big hit, as you might imagine.


Short version: Birthday steaks, twice-baked potatoes, green salad with ranch dressing, flan

Long version: I know I saw a package of hanger steaks in the freezer, which is a particularly choice cut, but I couldn't find it when I went to get steak out for A.'s birthday dinner. I informed him he would have to settle for New York strip steaks and filet mignon.

He was fine with this.

I baked the potatoes the night before with the meatloaf, and then scooped them out, mashed, and stuffed them, so when I got home from work, they just needed to be baked another half hour.

The flan was from a recipe A. sent me. I've never made flan before, and so, predictably, I made some mistakes. The recipe calls for blending the custard mixture, and mentions it may need to be done in two batches.

It definitely does. But I didn't. So that caused a huge mess.

The caramel also refused to get smooth, despite my constant stirring, also at the behest of the recipe. A., who used to make flan years ago, came in while I was trying to get the caramel smooth and told me he always left the caramel alone without stirring to start melting in a single layer first. So I stopped stirring, and sure enough, it smoothed out.

I also forgot to cover it with foil when I put it in the oven, but I remembered after only twenty minutes or so, so no harm done.

The birthday boy very much enjoyed his dessert, particularly the texture. It was pretty sweet, though. Kind of inevitable, with all that condensed milk and caramel.

The following is a photograph the MiL sent me of a giant squash she grew or bought, I'm not sure which:

A., the appreciator of all giant vegetables, of course asked her for some seeds.


Short version: Leftover meatloaf, leftover rice, lettuce with ranch dressing

Long version: I made it to the end of the marathon that is the last week of school before Christmas break, but I was not exactly bursting with energy by the time we all made it home after the last fun-filled day of school. That's why I made the most low-energy dinner possible with the leftovers I purposely planned for earlier in the week.

I didn't even put anything with the lettuce, which is why it was just lettuce, not a salad.

Whatever. The semester is over, our very long break has begun, and everyone is going to sleep in this morning. It's the most wonderful time of the year. 

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Song Time!

It's December 15th, which is the birthday of that famous American . . . A.

And, as always, we will sing an original song of my own writing entitled "The Woodchuck Man Can." The tune isn't original to me, though. The words are sung to the tune of "The Candyman Can."

(The most recent version is here, and it links to the previous nine versions should you have a burning desire to read all the versions. Man, I've been doing this a long time.)

Here we go!

Who can dig all the holes

For bulbs to grow in spring?

Who can pull a house down so he can re-build everything?

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 load the van up

To camp with all four kids?

Who can kill a raccoon at night when he is bid?

The woodchuck man,

The woodchuck man can

The woodchuck man can 

'Cause he uses what he has an makes it work for him.

Happy birthday to A., the fastest woodchuck in the west.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

T.T.: The Secret To Cast Iron Seasoning

It is undeniable that I have, um, a lot of cast iron cooking vessels.

Eight, to be exact, if I include the enameled cast iron dutch oven.

About half of my cast iron skillets were inherited*, and they, of course have the best seasoning.

If you're not familiar with cast iron, "seasoning" refers to the smooth layer that builds up on the inside of the pan as it's used. The best cast iron, with the best seasoning, is pretty much non-stick and doesn't rust.

So how does one achieve that magical state? How, exactly, is cast iron cookware seasoned?

Well! Let me tell you!

I have seasoned the other half of my cast iron cookware myself, and at first I tried using the commonly given directions, which is to rub it with a layer of cooking oil, and then put it in a warm oven for awhile, to kind of bake the oil in.

What this does, unfortunately, is create a nasty, sticky, thin layer of oil that doesn't at all create the smooth surface I was going for.

Over the years, I have discovered that what really seasons my cast iron is animal fats. And a lot of them.

The more cast iron is used for frying foods in tallow or lard, the better the surface of the pan. It doesn't have to be deep-fat frying, but really, the more fat, the better.

Rendering tallow has an excellent seasoning effect, as you might imagine.

This is, of course, why the older skillets are the best: Because people used to fry foods a lot more, and they weren't using canola oil.

So! If you have a cast iron pot or skillet that you need to season, go ahead and fry some doughnuts or make french fries. Then you'll have both better seasoning on your pan and some doughnuts to eat. 

Practical and delicious.

Bonus cast iron advice: Once they're seasoned pretty well, they can be washed with dish soap, and even a nylon scrubby, but they should be put in a hot oven or on a hot burner to dry them off immediately after washing.

* At least one from my mother, and today happens to be her birthday. Happy birthday, Mom! Thanks for the skillet!

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Snapshots: Here and There

This week's photos are all over the place. Let's get started, shall we?

On a small side street of the town I took Poppy and Jack to for their adventure, I drove past this remarkable residence. I had to stop and take a photo for A. the Stonemason.

Is it a mini-monastery? Is it a mini-castle? Whatever it is, it didn't look inhabited anymore, which is a shame. This is a home with character, to say the least.

Poppy is the only one of the children who is always excited to go to school. Unfortunately, preschool is only two days a week, which means on the other two days, she's sad that her brothers get to go and she doesn't. A. and I had to go to the school to pick some things up last week, though, so she got to come along and play on her playground on a Thursday.

And then she climbed all by herself to the highest bar on this thing! Doesn't get much better when you're four.

A couple of the boys decided to be complete cliches and break a lamp in the living room during a wrestling match. Unfortunately, it was the reading lamp right next to A.'s chair. Fortunately, only the ceramic base broke. All the electrical components were fine, and sitting on the bookcase right next to the broken lamp was a wooden vase with a top that my dad had made us years ago and that was the perfect shape for a new lamp base.

So A. drilled a hole in the bottom, chiseled out a groove for the cord, and put it all together.

Broken lamp rescue.

Ta da! (Pay no attention to that picture on the wall. I had just taken it down to dust it and realized after this photo was taken that it was slightly crooked. It has since been straightened. I know you were worried.)

And, as always, we'll close with Walk Photos. This time, however, thanks to late sunrises and early school departures, we have a late-afternoon walk.

The sun wasn't quite setting yet, so we have a dramatic cross of light rather than a silhouette.

And of course, everyone was awake at this time of day, so I had more company than just my usual canine companions.

Yes, that's an old toilet plunger in Jack's hand. And no, I don't know why.

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Friday Food: Fruit for Dinner


Short version: Bull and potato skillet, still-frozen green beans

Long version: A. and Cubby weren't home at dinnertime, so the younger three had a skillet combination of shredded bull meat, sliced microwaved potatoes, the last of the enchilada sauce, and shredded cheese. Pretty tasty, actually.

I had some leftover hamburger, some of the potato, and some very forgettable squash. It was a variety called Atlantic Giant that is really grown more for size than flavor or texture. I mean, it's technically edible, but pretty wet, bland, and stringy. I gave the rest to the chickens.

Definitely a case of quantity and not quality.


Short version: Barbecue pork, bread, leftover rice, orange slices

Long version: I had promised Jack and Poppy that I would take them for a special adventure, to make up for the fact that they kept being left at home when A. took the older boys camping in the fall. We went to one of our (relatively) nearby towns, where we went to a dinosaur museum and also ate lunch at a local place.

I did not order from the children's menu for them, which was a good call seeing as how Jack ate an entire giant burrito, plus some of Poppy's quesadilla. Kid's an eater for sure.


It was fun, but I was very, very tired by the time we got home. So I just opened a couple of cans of the commodities pork, fried it in a pan, added barbecue sauce, and called it good. It was pretty good, actually.

I was even too tired to peel and cut up carrots or something. So instead I cut up some of the oranges I had just gotten at the grocery store. Fruit for dinner? Unheard of. (At least in our house.)


Short version: Bunless cheeseburgers (on buns!), green salad, green beans, chocolate soup

Long version: I made the buns because I'm in the midst of Christmas Bread Baking Season, which means that I'm baking bread every other day (because each batch takes two days) to give to various people. And that means plenty of opportunities to steal some dough for pizza or garlic bread or, in this case, buns.

The chocolate soup was supposed to be pots de creme, but it didn't set. So it was almost entirely liquidy. Kind of like really chocolately, slightly thick chocolate milk. No one seemed to mind.


Short version: Cafeteria chicken tacos, grapes

Long version: This was our first day back in school after three weeks of Thanksgiving break and remote schooling. Whenever we come back from a long break like this, I feel particularly exhausted after work. It's so much harder to get back into a routine than to just continue with one.

Luckily, the school cook had given me a bunch of extra chicken tacos, so I heated those in the oven--with extra salsa and cheese because they were amazingly bland--and served them with grapes. 

Yes. Fruit for dinner again. I don't know what's happened to me.


Short version: Pork steaks and sauerkraut, baked potatoes, green salad 

Long version: These were cheap pork steaks from the grocery store, but I do love pork and sauerkraut. I need to plant more cabbages to make more sauerkraut this summer.

And A. wants to get a pig. That would certainly ensure the pork supply.


Short version: Leftovers, squash, still-frozen green beans

Long version: We had church after school and didn't get home until about 6 p.m. That's why I made sure to have plenty of leftovers on hand, so all I had to do was heat things up when we got home.

A. had the last of the stir-fry with a bit of extra bull meat and some leftover potatoes. Luckily, he's not fussy about things like needing rice to eat with stir-fry.

Poppy, Jack, and Calvin had tacos with corn tortillas, cheese, and some taco meat I made with ground beef and black beans.

Cubby and I had barbecue pork and potatoes.

This was not the overly large and tasteless squash. This was a much smaller, pumpkin-looking squash that I baked when I was baking bread. Much tastier.


Short version: Skillet food, steamed broccoli, salad

Long version: This skillet had the last of the shredded bull meat fried in some tallow, the other half of a can of tomato sauce, cumin, garlic powder, chile powder, rice, and shredded cheese.

I had the salad--shredded cheese, leftover taco meat, some of the broccoli, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

T.T.: A Highly Tedious Kitchen Task

I spend more time in the kitchen than the average person, and many of the tasks in a kitchen can be described as tedious. But one of the most tedious things I have ever done is skin hazelnuts.

I skinned said nuts in pursuit of homemade Nutella. A worthy goal, but man, standing there rubbing and picking at all those hazelnuts, I really had to question whether the end result could possibly be worth it. 

I more or less used this recipe, although I ended up with more hazelnuts than called for, so I had to adjust quantities somewhat. It definitely doesn't need as much salt as is called for--I used half the amount--but it does need all the powdered sugar. That's what kind of sticks it all together, so you can't skimp too much on it.

Anyway. I made Nutella. It requires skinning hazelnuts, which is definitely not as easy as the recipe would have me believe.

So the real question, of course, is was it worth it?


The homemade version isn't as smooth, because it doesn't have large quantities of palm oil in it like the commercial version. What it does have, however, is a much more pronounced hazelnut flavor. 

Because of all those hazelnuts. That I skinned. 

So there's your tip: Skinning hazelnuts is a serious pain, but it's worth it if the end result is homemade Nutella.

Unrelated photo that has nothing to do with either Nutella or hazelnuts.