Friday, June 18, 2021

Friday Food: Costco Meat by Way of Arizona


Short version: Soft tacos, beans, and treats

Long version: My mom had planned this meal, and she packed it all up and schlepped it over to our rental house so we wouldn't have to get back in the car to go to her house. She had bought a bunch of pre-cooked and shredded meats at Costco--beef, chicken, and pork--which she and my sister heated up for tacos. She had also made pinto beans, and my sister made some Spanish rice. There was also guacamole. That I did not make.

What did I make? Nothing. I ate, though. It was very luxurious.

My mom had also brought chocolate chip cookies and these little individual brownie things, both of which came from Costco and thus were in GIANT tubs. My children were thrilled, with both the indulgence of not one, but two dessert options, and by the sheer quantity.

It may be a good thing we don't have a Costco nearby.

After eating as many sweets as they could get away with, they all went to run around on the surprisingly verdant lawn with their cousins. Excellent mesquite trees for hanging a tire swing, too.

It's amazing what water will do in a desert.


Short version: Spaghetti and meatballs, green salad

Long version: And what did I contribute to this meal? Again, nothing. We went to my parents' house for dinner, and again, my mom and my sister did everything. Well, my mom did ask me how I make meatballs, so I guess I provided a recipe, but that was the extent of my involvement.

The children ate poolside after burning approximately a million calories swimming. 

They could get used to this lifestyle.


Short version: Salami, cream cheese, crackers, grapes, tomatoes, animal crackers, graham crackers with peanut butter

Long version: On our way home. We were trying to drive out of some terrible weather--heat, wind, ominous clouds, and what looked like smoke or dust--before camping, so we were in the car until just after the sun set. That's why the kids ate various snack foods for dinner.

They had the graham crackers and peanut butter after we finally set up our camp in the middle of nowhere. And that's all they had, because then it was dark.

Setting up the tent after the sun was down, but before it was completely dark. 


Short version: Chicken tacos, frozen corn

Long version: We made it home around 9:30 in the morning, so I had plenty of time to make dinner. What I did not have was the energy. Luckily, my mom had sent me home with all the leftover, unopened packages of meat from our Friday meal, so I used two pounds of the pre-cooked and shredded chicken breast to make taco meat. It didn't have any seasonings other than salt and garlic powder, so I added salsa, chili powder, cumin, and more garlic powder.

The lettuce I used both for my salad and the taco topping wasn't mine. My mom had also given me one of the fruit trays from Saturday's event for my brother-in-law, and the grapes and so on were on a bed of green leaf lettuce. I suspect a normal person would have thrown that lettuce away.

I, however, am not a normal person. I am a person who lives many miles from the nearest store-bought produce, and I have spent enough time without fresh produce that I could never bring myself to throw any away. So I brought it home. It was fine.


Short version: Sun-baked chicken casserole, pinto beans

Long version: I live in a place with very, very high UV levels. The combination of the blue, cloudless New Mexico skies and our high elevation means some extremely strong sun. So why, I have been asking myself, do I not have a solar oven?

Because someone has to build it, and A. is so busy all the time, he hasn't had a chance to do it yet. I mean, this is rad, but it would take a lot of time to build.

So I decided to experiment with the simplest possible solar oven.

I was just planning on making a casserole with the leftover taco chicken anyway, so I didn't even need to cook anything--just warm up and melt cheese. And it's certainly been hot enough; we arrived home just in time for temperatures well over 90 degrees every day.

I used my cast-iron dutch oven, because it is dark and retains heat well. I covered the bottom with corn oil, then a layer of the chicken (to which I had added some onion, green chili sauce, finely diced beet greens, and sour cream, plus the remainder of the cooked corn), then a layer of corn tortillas (thriftily using up the pieces from the ones that I had ripped in the bag), then some garlic powder, and then shredded cheese.

I covered the dutch oven with a glass lid and set it outside on the hood of the Honda.

This is actually my idea of fun, yes.

I put it out around 3 p.m., which is why I had to prop it with the rock, to get the angle right so it would get full sun. I left it out there about an hour, at which point the cheese was mostly melted, the chicken layer was warm, and there was some condensation on the underside of the lid. Unfortunately, some thin clouds covered the sun at that point, so I figured it wasn't going to get any hotter.

We actually could have eaten it like that, but I put it under the broiler for a second anyway, just to get the cheese all the way melted. 

So it kind of worked. If the clouds hadn't come over the sun a bit, I think it would have definitely worked. And it tasted really good.


Short version: Italian chicken, pasta, frozen peas

Long version: Yet more of the pre-cooked, shredded chicken. Since it's all breast meat, it's basically a blank slate, flavorwise. So this time I cooked some bacon earlier in the day, then I cooked some onion in the bacon grease. To that I added the chicken, a cube of green garlic puree, olive oil, and the last bag of Finny's sauce from the freezer.

For the kids, I cooked pasta and added butter, cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, and garlic powder, then mixed in some of the chicken mixture. A. and I had just the chicken topped with Parmesan and Romano cheeses.

It was a very good combination.


Short version: Barbacoa tacos

Long version: This was the last of the several pounds of Costco meat my mom sent home with me. This package had barbacoa, which is chili-seasoned beef. Since it actually had a sauce with the meat, I didn't have to do anything but heat it up.

Actually, it had too much sauce, so I drained some of it and saved it for flavoring plain pinto beans. It didn't have any weird ingredients in it, and it tasted good, so I definitely wasn't going to let it go to waste.

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

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Remote Living, Part 5: Churches and Libraries

A few more questions popped up . . .

How far do you travel for church? 

Our church is in the village ten miles from us, so that's not a big deal. But our larger parish (we're Catholic) is an interesting one. There are three churches in our parish that have a regular schedule of weekly services. To get to all three on Sunday morning, our priest drives a total of 100 miles. Every Sunday. Plus various midweek services at different churches, although he doesn't go to all three any day but Sunday.

There are also at least three "mission" churches, which means they don't have enough of a congregation to have weekly services. Instead, those mission churches have once-a-month services, and also some special occasion ones, like Christmas Eve. Those mission churches are even more remote, but so incredible to visit. We go sometimes just because they're so old and beautiful. 

Beautiful churches are good for the soul.

On the days the priest celebrates Mass at those churches, he drives over 100 miles just to get to one.

Obviously, this assignment for priests is not for the faint of heart. Or the hater of driving.

What about midweek church activities?

There are no midweek church activities, because there aren't enough parishioners for committees, groups, meetings, and so on. Calvin was the only child at our church to receive his First Communion this year, and will probably be the only one until Jack does his in a couple of years. So no religious education or anything. We essentially homeschool that. 

HomeSundayschool? Whatever.

Oh wait. I think our priest is doing an online Bible study class, but I've never participated in it.

Can you get to a library, or will they mail you books? Or are you on your own?

Well. Buckle up, Kit, because I have MANY WORDS on this subject.

Books are very important to our family. We are readers (well, all of us that can read so far, anyway). My first job as a teenager was as a library page. I am a Library Person without doubt, and visiting libraries had always been a regular part of our lives. Until we moved here.

The library situation here is complicated. There are three small cities, all 90 miles from us in different directions, that have small libraries. However, we don't really use them anymore. Those cities all have different services. So, for instance, we might make our Town Visit one month to the city that has the mechanic, but then the next month we might have to go to the city that has the dentist. This means we can't reliably check out and return books.

There is also the issue that A. almost always goes alone to do all the Town Visits, because the kids and I don't really want to do the drive. And when we DID go with him, it takes so long to do all the errands, visiting a library is just one more thing that makes the trip way too long.

Book Baby checks out the selection (this is Poppy two years ago.)

So. The brick and mortar libraries aren't really an option. Which leaves us with what the library system calls "Rural Services."

There are two of those. One is the bookmobile. This is an RV with bookshelves in the back that drives all over rural New Mexico, bringing books to people. They just started up again after COVID, and last month was the first month patrons were allowed to go inside the bookmobile. 

I appreciate the service, but it's not entirely satisfactory. For one thing, the selection in the actual bookmobile is necessarily limited, and is mostly current fiction of the sort I don't really care for. It is possible to request books from their larger collection and they'll bring them, but you have to know what you want. Also, they don't seem to have reciprocal agreements with any other libraries and their collections, so it's still pretty limited.

For another thing, the bookmobile only comes once a month to the village near us, and stays for just one hour. So if you miss that window, you're out of luck until the next month.

During the pandemic, when the bookmobile wasn't running, I was also able to sign up for Books by Mail. This is a state program out of Albuquerque that, as you could have guessed, mails books right to you. They come in a zippered nylon bag with a return card, so when you're done, you just put them back in the bag and mail them back.

This is a great idea, but the problem with this is the same as with the bookmobile: limited selection. They don't offer books from the larger Albuquerque system, instead maintaining their own small collection. Again, you have to know what you want, and I often can't find what I want. They do have a pretty good selection of New Mexico-specific things--I got quite a few books about native plants for Cubby, for example--but they're pretty lacking in fiction. That we want to read, anyway.

I have used all of these resources in the past, and now I mostly just get a few things from the Books by Mail and buy other books used on Amazon or Thriftbooks. Keeping track of books from so many sources was too hard and stressful. Now I have too many books in the house, of course, with more all the time, but at least I don't have to worry about losing them or returning them to the wrong entity.

Maybe I should start my own lending library.

Okay, I'm all caught up on my answers! Unless you've thought of more questions. I'll be standing by . . .

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A Few of My Favorite Home Things

We are home. 

We have actually been home since Monday morning. There's nothing like taking a trip to bring home (ha, yes, I did that on purpose) to you what it is you love about where you live. That is certainly even more true for me, the homebodiest homebody that ever was.

You want to know what made me happiest about being home again? Of course you do. Here, have a list.

My bed.  It is always the case that my own bed always feels best. But after sleeping on rangeland with cow patties and rocks under me? I could write a ten-stanza Ode to My Bed full of superlatives with no trouble whatsoever. (Aren't you glad I stuck to writing this list instead?)

It looks smooth, but trust me, dried cow patties can really ruin your night.

More-consistent sleep for the kids. None of them sleep as well or as long when they're not in their own rooms and their own beds. Some wake up in the night, some wake up early in the morning, all stay awake later than they normally would. Once we get home, I have every expectation that all the children will be asleep by 8:30 p.m., sleep through the night, and not wake up until 6:30 or so. Since sleep time is the only time I am not actively caring for children, knowing I have that block of time is really important to me.

Quiet and peace. Driving is loud. The car itself is loud. The places we're driving through and to are loud.  Unfamiliar urban environments are noisy, visually stimulating, and a little anxiety-inducing as I count kids and make sure I know where everyone is. I'm on high alert at all times. Not only is it quiet at our home, but the kids can be out of my sight and I'm not worried that they're going to get lost or kidnapped or something.

Home toilets. With four kids on the road, I spend a lot of time either in public bathrooms, or holding steady a kid who needs to use a bathroom where there's nothing but empty space all around. (I prefer the latter. Peeing in the middle of the range is much cleaner than a gas station bathroom. Gross.) Having not one, but two toilets that are stationary and on hand whenever anyone needs them means that I am not constantly hunting around for the toilet paper in the van or waiting in line at a rest stop.

My garden. I wrote about this before. And yes, the first thing I did after we got home (once I had released all dogs and children from the van) was visit my plants. The lettuce survived the heat! Hooray!

In sum, traveling is fun, but getting home is better.

 What do you most appreciate when you get home from being away?

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

T.T.: The Parental Tedium of Literacy

Presently in our house, we have two children who are very proficient and advanced readers and writers; one who recognizes seven letters of the alphabet and can write a single one; and Jack, who is just learning to read and write.

The good thing about having two older siblings who read and write so frequently is that the younger children accept that reading and writing are normal. The challenging thing about that same scenario is that the younger child tries to keep up with those older siblings before he is really ready.

In that stage, the younger sibling spends a lot of time trying to sound out words and asking for help with the ones he inevitably gets stuck on.* Also a lot of time asking for help spelling words, which requires a parent to stand there spelling entire sentences one letter at a time.

It is very tedious.

However! Here's your tip: Whenever you get frustrated with the letter-by-letter spelling and the very slow sounding-out process, visualize the day when that same child will be sitting quietly on the couch, reading on his own. For hours. Because that will happen eventually. 

Book ends, bookworming.

I promise, it will be worth all that tedium. And then some.

* Because English is a really inconsistent and confusing language to learn. So many rules with just as many exceptions.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Snapshots: Dancing Queen

A very fine collection of randomness for you this Sunday . . .

When we cleared out the barn/shed last week, A. took stock of all the black walnut wood he brought back from New York last summer with an eye to supplying wood for my dad to make us a giant bookcase.

We have so many books. So so many. And more all the time. We need lots more space for them. This should help.

These pieces are about four feet long, in case you were wondering.

Poppy and I came out of the bathroom the other night after her shower to find that A. had employed our oversized weed whacker in the back garden.

How much is that horsie out the window?

A. was right there to supervise, but I was a little afraid for my small tomato plants at the mercy of those giant hooves. No damage was done, however. And the more Samson eats, the less A. has to run his trimmer.

That girl up there with the wet hair certainly has no fear of the camera. She requested I take her picture and this is what I got.

She got moves.

I was working on mulching my asparagus, pulling weeds as I went and tossing them over the board fence. This made my neighbors very happy.

I spy, with my little eye . . .

And there you have it! My life, snapshotted.