Friday, July 9, 2021

Friday Food: And Then There Were Four

A. and Calvin left last Saturday to visit the MiL in New York for a week, so it was just four of us most of the week. And hey! I did actually cook! Well, a few days, anyway.


Short version: Pizza, green salad with vinaigrette

Long version: I went to the store on Thursday and bought asadero cheese (our substitute for mozzarella) and I was making bread anyway, so there was dough hanging around. AND, it was only 72 degrees.

Sounds like a pizza day to me.

For the sauce, I used some of a can of "classic pasta sauce" we got from commodities via Miss Amelia. It's low sodium, so I added salt to it, plus garlic powder, pepper, dried oregano, and some balsamic vinegar. I microwaved it for a few minutes to thicken it up, and ta da! Pizza sauce.

Not as good as homemade, but pretty good.

The larger pizza was just cheese. The smaller pizza had bacon and sardines on it. Both had fresh basil from the garden.

Fresh basil is so good. Definitely at the top of the list of things I will always grow no matter what. (Also on that list: tomatoes.)


Short version: Leftover pasta skillet for the kids, salad for me

Long version: A. and Calvin left in the morning for New York, leaving me with just ("just"--ha) three kids. They had leftover pasta mixed with leftover barbecue beef and leftover pizza sauce, plus some frozen peas thrown in there for greenery. And some grated asadero for deliciousness.

I had a salad. Which had an avocado in it, because I had been to a store. Hooray.


Short version: Patriotic hot dogs, broccoli salad, potato chips, deviled eggs, and an Ugly Flag Cake

Long version: I thought ahead while I was at the store and got some beef hot dogs for the Fourth of July. And, because it is a tradition of Our Great Country, I charred them over an open flame.

Few things will motivate me to actually grill anything (given that grilling for us involves actual charcoal and is a pain), but Independence Day is one of them. Is it really the Fourth of July without meat charring on a grate? No.

So. Hot dogs on a grill. Our grill probably doesn't look like yours.

Rustic, but it charred some hot dogs satisfactorily.

I had a small head of broccoli that I had also gotten at the store, and I very randomly decided to make broccoli salad with it. I don't think I've ever made broccoli salad before, so I have no idea why this idea popped into my head, but it was delicious. Well, I thought it was delicious. The children were not so enthused.

I very loosely followed this recipe, except I used pecans instead of sunflower seeds, only raisins that I did not bother soaking, and I steamed the broccoli instead of blanching it.

I had boiled some eggs figuring that would be my protein, because I do not eat hot dogs, but then I remembered how much Cubby loves deviled eggs, so I made those. They were all eaten well before dinner, though.

We were all set to have a picnic outside, but then there was thunder and flies and few raindrops, so we moved into the house. It was still a picnic, just a kitchen-floor picnic.

Far fewer flies.

And now for the Ugly Cake. It was Cubby's turn to choose a toilet-cleaning dessert, and he was enthusiastic about my idea to make a flag cake. But of course, as is always the case for me, I didn't have any special ingredients on hand to decorate the cake, and sure as shootin' wasn't driving to a store to get any. And so, as is always the case for me, I improvised.

Yellow cake frosted with white buttercream frosting and decorated with frozen blueberries and raspberry preserves.

Funny how "blue"berries are only blue when they're fresh. As soon as they're frozen or cooked, they're purpleberries.

As I said to my sister, it was ugly, but it's the patriotic thought that counts. And the kids sure enjoyed eating it.


Short version: Ham and cheese quesadillas, carrot sticks with curry dip, raw grape tomatoes

Long version: Is this the cliche of a meal Mom makes when Dad is out of town? Absolutely. Did the children love it? Also absolutely.

It's rare for us to have deli ham, and even rarer to have flour tortillas, but I bought both when I was at the store last week. Much to the children's delight.

I had some ham with some of the curry dip, which is delicious. If I ate sandwiches anymore, I would definitely make ham sandwiches with the mayonnaise plus curry powder now, rather than plain mayonnaise.

I felt ridiculous paying four dollars for a small plastic container of cherry tomatoes, but I am VERY IMPATIENT for my own tomatoes to get ripe already. I think they have a couple more weeks to go. Boo.


Short version: Beef pot roast, garlic bread, collard greens, roasted peppers and onions

Long version: It was quite cool in the morning, so I cooked an arm roast before it got warm, just with half a can of leftover low-sodium pasta sauce we got from Miss Amelia, sliced onion, garlic, and a sprig of rosemary A. accidentally broke off when he was weeding the herbs.

The collard greens are literally the only thing I have been able to harvest in the garden for a couple of weeks. It's extremely irritating to have all these luxuriantly growing plants out there, but still nothing for eating.

The asparagus on the right is all done, and the tomatoes on the left aren't ready yet. Annoying.

Thank goodness for the two volunteer collard plants that came up. Next year I really need to be more careful to bridge this gap between spring plantings and summer plantings.


Short version: Breakfast sausage patties, curried split peas, rice, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: Cubby eats three servings of curried split peas every time I make it. He explained to me that he would eat four, but he's afraid it might make him sick.

It's good to learn the lessons of moderation at an early age, I suppose. Although I'm not sure three servings of anything counts as notable moderation.


Short version: Barbecue beef sandwiches, carrot sticks with ranch dip

Long version: Re-purposed pot roast with amended barbecue sauce. Not exciting, but serviceable.

I had a salad with some of the beef in it, because the baby lettuces have finally made it to the adolescent stage, so I could harvest enough for a salad. Hooray!

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

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Remote Living, Part 8: Carrying On

You thought we were done with this, didn't you? Nope.

There were a few more questions, and I am not the woman to leave any question unanswered. 

How long did it take you to develop relationships with people in town? 

No time at all. This is the most welcoming small community I have ever lived in. People would stop and introduce themselves to us at the post office, or in our yard if we were outside, or on the playground. Integrating into a community is much easier if you have children, because of course you are immediately part of the school community. (Assuming you're not homeschooling.) And in a small place, the school is the hub of everything.

That, and church. We met almost everyone in one of those two places.

But here is where I have to give some general advice about integrating into a small community: For the first year or so you live there, listen, don't talk. You are coming in as an outsider, and no matter how friendly the locals might be, no one likes to feel as if they are being judged. If you come into a community and immediately start trying to change things or organize things or whatever, you run the risk of coming off as critical of the place you moved to.

We spent the first year we were here just figuring out how everything worked, who everyone was and how they related to everyone else, and then we let our place in the community develop from there. Eventually, we were asked to take jobs or serve in various capacities at church. That is when you know you have been accepted as a community member.

Do you have get togethers with other families? 

Not really. But that's mostly because I'm an introverted homebody. We do have other kids over to play, or we'll, say, go to our neighbors' house because they have sparklers or something for kids to play with, but it's not like there's some kind of monthly family gathering or anything. People are generally so far apart here that something like that is difficult.

Do you find some people go to town more than others?

I haven't really asked anyone this particular question, but I get the impression that almost everyone goes to town more than we do. I think the local people are so accustomed to driving long distances that they think nothing of taking their kids 90 miles for swim lessons. I, however, really dislike driving long distances, with my kids or without them, so I'm willing to go without a lot to make our trips to the Outside World less frequent.

So much road between us and my beloved seltzer.

Have you ever considered maybe having one family go every other trip and getting groceries for each other?

Although I think this is a great idea, it's not something we have done. For one thing, that would be a TON of stuff in one trip for one person, especially given our large family and the amount of animal feed we buy. For another, A. almost always makes grocery trips in conjunction with another errand, like getting the dogs their rabies shots or buying hay.

I've heard of some people on Facebook posting when they need something and asking if anyone is going anywhere where they could pick it up, but that's like a prescription or something, not hundreds of pounds of groceries and animal feed.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

T.T.: Custard for Karen.

On last week's Friday Food post, Karen. left a comment saying that she needs to figure out how to make custard.

I chose to interpret that as a request for a recipe, despite the fact there was no actual request for an actual recipe in the comment.

I'm skilled at finding hidden meanings, you see.

Okay! So! Custard.

The recipe I use is from The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook, by Christopher Kimball of Cook's Illustrated fame. I don't actually remember how I acquired this cookbook, though I suspect it was in the bargain bin at the Barnes and Noble A. and I used to go to like twenty years ago in search of air conditioned relief from our stifling basement apartment in Albany, New York.

Remember bookstores? Yeah. Those were the days.


I don't actually like the cookbook all that much objectively--it trades rather heavily on nostalgia for old fashioned Vermont farms and cooks--but I do like this recipe. It's the only custard recipe I've ever used.

That said, I have changed it a bit.

To start, I always make a double recipe. The original recipe says it will serve eight. Maybe eight normal people, but it certainly will not serve my six family members. A double recipe is a LOT of custard--like half a gallon--which is exactly how much our custard-hogging family will eat. We never have leftovers.

I also adjusted the amounts of milk, cream, and eggs. I use slightly more milk and less cream, because cream is much harder for me to get than milk. And I use slightly more whole eggs than separated egg yolks, because I loathe separating eggs and also very much dislike having stray egg whites hanging around in the refrigerator.

These changes don't matter as much, however, as the baking. This is tricky, I will not lie. For one thing, it involves a water bath. Water baths are a pain, what with the weight of all that water in a giant pan that is also filled with heavy custard, and the boiling water sloshing all over when you try to move the pan. Getting the custard dishes out of the water bath is also impossible to do without soaking your oven mitts with hot water.

But it's the baking time that will make or break a custard. The texture of this custard is supposed to be very smooth. I would even say silky. And it will be, but only if you don't overbake it. 

I have to admit I often do. The baking time depends so much on the size and shape of the dish you're baking the custard in, and I have to change that sometimes. When the custard is overbaked, it will separate a bit and weep moisture and is definitely less appealing. Although it's certainly still tasty and will be eaten if it's overbaked, so don't be too intimidated.

You ready? Let's go.

American Baked Custard--adapted from The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook*

5 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

3 egg yolks (you can use a leftover white or two to make these nuts)

7 whole eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

grated nutmeg

1) Heat oven to 325 degrees. Bring a kettle of water to the boil. 

2) Butter two large casserole dishes. I use an oval one that's just under 2 quarts, and a rectangular one that's just over 1.5 quarts. You want dishes that are relatively wide and shallow, not deep.

3) Find a big roasting pan or Pyrex casserole dish that will hold both of your casserole dishes. Put the buttered dishes in the bigger dish.

3) Using a big Pyrex measuring cup--mine is 4 cups--measure out your milk and cream and put them either in a big microwavable bowl, or in a pot on the stove. Heat the milk and heavy cream until bubbly at the edges. 

4) In that same Pyrex measuring cup, whisk together everything else but the nutmeg. Then temper the egg mixture (this just means warming it slightly so the eggs won't scramble) by whisking in a cup or so of the hot milk mixture and then dumping the tempered egg stuff in with the rest of the milk mixture in the big bowl. Whisk until completely combined. 

5) You can either pour the combined mixture right from the big bowl or you can put it back in the Pyrex cup, which has a pouring spout. In either case, you're going to pour that mixture into your buttered casserole dishes through a sieve. The sieve will catch any of the remaining unincorporated egg. This isn't strictly neccesary, but it creates a smoother final product and I always do it. Grate nutmeg all over the tops of the custards.

6) Transfer that giant, heavy dish of custard liquid into the oven, AND THEN pour hot water all around the casserole dishes to a depth of about 1 inch. Much easier than putting the hot water in and trying to slide an even heavier, and sloshing, dish into a hot oven.

7) Bake about 40 minutes, but check at around 30 minutes. The center should still be wobbly and barely set, although the edges will be set. I usually think it's not done, but it usually is. I think erring on the side of underbaking is probably better with custard. A handy rhyme for you: When in doubt, take it out.

8) Remove custard dishes from the water bath (careful of that burning hot water!) and let cool until at least not burning hot--maybe 30 minutes on a cooling rack--then put in the refrigerator. The original recipe says it can be served warm or cold, but we only like it cold.

I don't have any photos of the finished product, but here it is before going into the oven.

Repeat after me: When in doubt, take it out. (I need to take my own advice.)

* Update: I have further edited the recipe to use even less cream, plus fewer yolks and a bit less sugar. So now I usually make it with 5.5 cups milk and .5 cups cream, 2 yolks and still 7 whole eggs, and 3/4 cup sugar.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Two Monday Bouquets

There are two every week, because weeds don't usually last for a whole week without starting to look pretty sad.

I am definitely going to post these photos every Monday until the flowers are gone, because then I can look back at them in the winter to remind myself that someday there will again be color in the world.

I took one of the many flower clusters from the carrots that I'm waiting on to set seeds. That's the big white thing. 

This one also has a single non-wildflower: A stalk of ornamental sage from the plant in front of the house, planted by the former owner. That's the tiny purple flowers on the left.

I hope you have a beautiful Monday, with or without flowers.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Snapshots: Patriotic Photos

Happy Fourth! There actually isn't anything particularly patriotic about these snapshots. Other than the fact that they're pictures of Life in These United States, since that's where we live.


We got a lot of rain last week. A little over three inches, as a matter of fact. This is very exciting, although it does make it kind of hard to dry laundry. And there is always more laundry to be done during rainy periods, thanks to all the mud. And all the children who like to play in the mud.

I did manage to get eight hours or so of dry-enough weather to get laundry dry.

Well, it did get completely soaked during a heavy cloudburst in the afternoon, but it dried the next day.

While I hang laundry, Poppy practices on her balance beam.

Old oilfield pipe is probably the closest she'll ever get to a gymnastics lesson.

When the rain stopped and the sun came out, we all went outside. Unfortunately, we weren't the only ones getting out into the sun.

Not Howard. At least, according to A.

I came within about two feet of that bull snake and would have stepped on it if I hadn't seen it just in time while I was on my way to the garden.

I retreated, giving it time to slither away, and then continued into the garden, where I saw . . .

A literal serpent in the garden. (Also not Howard.)

I do not appreciate having that jolt of snake-inspired adrenaline twice in the span of about three minutes. Although, as A. pointed out, we may have a lot of bull snakes around, but we haven't had any gophers, rattlesnakes, or rats lately. So I guess the bull snakes can stay.

I went to the dentist on Thursday and stopped in at a dollar store for a new bathmat. On my way to the cash register, I saw a mug that amused me so much I actually bought it:

No one else seemed to find it as funny as I did, but I still laugh internally whenever I imagine Samson's hedonistic pleasure when he manages to get through a gate to eat previously unreachable weeds.

And there you have it! My life, snapshotted.