Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hector and the Search for Happiness

This is my kind of movie. I dislike the term, "feel good movie", but I must say this is a movie that made me feel good. I wade through so many mediocre and crappy movies on Netflix that it's exciting when I find something worthwhile. The ending was perfect.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Rain, Rain, and More Rain- Homemade Chicken Stock

We are in day five of rain and I've heard no one complain. On the contrary, everyone seems to delight in it. We had a break in clouds for an hour yesterday afternoon and promptly sat on the porch with sunglasses on because even the filtered sunlight was too bright to our eyes after days of cloudiness. It was raining again by dinner time but we continued on the porch because the temperatures were so mild. Steve invited a co-worker over for scotch and a cigar. I brewed a nice pot of tea for his wife and myself and we sat by candlelight in the balmy night. The very same weather continues this way today with a heavy, rain soaked sky following the sound of pouring rain all night. It is the most peaceful, relaxing sound.

The only creature who seems to love this weather more than myself is our resident mockingbird. He perches in the tallest tree and sings his heart in an imploring aria that would move the staunchest, cold-hearted ogre. It's a beautiful song of which I will never tire. He's an annoying fellow on sunny days, singing much too early on summery Saturday mornings and chasing all the gentle birds from the yard. But, he makes up for his annoying personality with his singing in the rain today.

This is the season where summer co-mingles with fall. We have geraniums boldly blooming next to mums, cherry tomatoes and squash still producing while leaves begin to color and drop. I hope the season continues to change gently for our benefit. The potted geranium in the photo has done so well, I think I will bring it indoors for the winter. It will need to be pinched back so it doesn't become 'leggy', but after an ugly spell, it may bloom for us come January. That would be sweet, indeed.

What to do on all these rainy days? Well, there is always a ton of ironing. When that becomes too dull, there are good things to cook and Netflix movies to watch. Today I retrieved a post-cooked chicken carcass I had saved in the freezer for the purpose of boiling it into some nice chicken stock. To make a good stock is very simple: Put the chicken or turkey frame in a soup pot, add 2-3 bay leaves, 8 peppercorns, 2 ribs of celery chopped, and 1 onion quartered, plus a little salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil, then simmer for 2 hours. Strain out all the solids and Voila! The best chicken broth. Once cooled, you can freeze it in pre-measured containers, ready to pop into your next soup recipe. It will yield about twelve cups.

Plastic Solo cups work best for freezing the stock, making it easier to remove the frozen stock from the cup. I tried foam cups and it made a mess.

I pop each cup of stock out of the plastic cup and into a freezer bag. Each frozen' cube' of stock measures one cup. This makes it handy when it's time to add stock to a recipe!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Changing With the Season

Autumn has arrived! I woke Monday to the beautiful sound of steady rain. It was a welcome sound to mark the change of seasons. Then we were treated to three glory days of sunshine before more rain arrived Friday. Another steady, pouring rain. I love it and I found multiple excuses to walk out in it today, ie: walking the dog, getting the mail. I don't think I was quite as silly as the old man I drove by who was on his riding mower, mowing his lawn in the steady downpour like it was the perfectly normal thing to do. I'm still a little worried about him and I hope he has some family watching over him.

Steve has been gone T-E-N days and is due home today. Hallelujah! I have purposely not made a list of broken things for him to fix when he's home.We will celebrate his homecoming with Slow Cooker Barbecued Beef Ribs.  I like the fact that I can assemble the meal in the morning. We'll be out to the airport in the afternoon and that can be a waiting game. It's still pouring rain and a perfect kind of day to be in the kitchen. While I'm at it, I'll make several chicken pot pies in individual aluminum pie tins. These are for hard working daughter #3 and her husband to keep in their freezer for all those long days when they have no time to cook . (All the daughters are hard working, but only one lives nearby whom I can support with frozen dinners.) I hope she doesn't read this before I get them to her because it's a surprise.

I cleaned out one of my dresser drawers and found an old notebook I had journaled seventeen years ago. Of course I stopped cleaning and sat down to read it. The memories of what I'd written came vividly back to me and I was caught in a time warp for a half hour. I'm glad I wrote down those few day-to-day memories, but it made me sad to read them because I will forever miss my girls. I never could have dreamed how children capture a mother's heart forever and squeeze it with never letting go. This cartoon sums up a typical day from all those years ago. Oh we had many of these days! Now multiply this times 6,570 or more. Even though the children have moved away and their beds are empty, that love just keeps on beating in my heart. The words in Box #4 are declared and always given thanks for in my prayers.

So, everything changes with the seasons: families, wardrobes, gardens and a refreshing change in menus. I made Baked Potato Soup this week and it was delicious because we haven't eaten it for months. We had sweet Italian sausage on the side along with plenty of the most adorable, miniature saltine crackers. (Those little crackers made me happy- just ask Tess.) There are a wide variety of Baked Potato Soup recipes out there to try, but I've linked the recipe for the one I always use.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Cows and Pie

Junior. B. cut the field this week. I like the shadows from the morning sun on the rows. The air is sharply cooler and the cut hay smells wonderful!

All that hay will be baled and sent across the road to feed these lovely ladies. Their owner drove up with a salt block and the curious cows meandered over to have a look.

This quartet hung back and observed the parade to the salt block. Aren't the little ones adorable? We enjoy having cows across the road. They make good neighbors and the calves antics are fun to watch when they run and play.

This is a Peaches and Cream Pie from Mennonite Girls Can Cook. Click on the link for the recipe. We still have fresh peaches and I needed to use them for something (other than jam). I ran across this recipe which uses a bag of marshmallows and I decided to try it just because it was different. We liked it well enough, it's refreshing and simple and worth the fun to make. The only thing I didn't like about it was the powdery-ness from the marshmallows. It doesn't dissolve in the recipe and you can feel it on your tongue. But that's just me.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

This Week's Diary: The Step Garden, Revisited

     Steve is traveling a lot these days. When he is home, we try to pack as many chores into the days as will fit along with a balance of relaxation. One of the bigger projects that we put off for the summer while we moved my mom is the step garden...again. This will be the third makeover for those beds. Before we go and blame my compulsive nature for these numerous makeovers, let me say one word, Bermuda Grass. Oh, this is the bane of my gardening existence. I was introduced to this invasive, tough, creeping grass here in the south, never having known of its existence up north. Time and again, it invaded the step garden, intertwining its runners and shoots into the plants until there was no separating them. Finally, there was nothing to be done other than to rip the entire garden out, liberally spray Round Up, and begin anew with landscape fabric. I'm not a fan of landscape fabric, but I used it on a test area and it stopped the Bermuda Grass cold.
     I dreaded the whole chore of pulling out an entire garden and getting it weed free. The bulk of that chore was done last spring when I gave away most of the perennials. The garden sat barren for the summer while I continued to spray Round Up and test the landscape fabric. Now that we've got the new soil spread and I'm choosing plants, it's beginning to be fun again. In this makeover, I'm steering away from the tall perennials that I had before like the lavender, echinacea, yarrow, and daisies, etc. This will be a true rock garden in the sense that it will have low, ground covering plants with pockets of color here and there. I'll be relocating some of these plants, like rock geranium and sedums from another garden bed that I'm changing up. But, the most fun was driving along the back road with Steve last weekend, looking for rocks. I love field stones in the garden, especially mossy ones. We gather rocks that the road crews have excavated or that have been tossed onto banks by road grading equipment. Never, ever should old stone walls be disrupted or anyone's private land be trespassed. Most of the rocks in the photo came from our friend John's family farmland. Rock gathering is my idea of a perfect date with Steve : )
      Stay tuned for more of this week in cows and pies...but not cowpies.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Morning Friend

Oh how I love the early morning before the sun comes up, when the household, neighbors, and most of the town are still asleep. It's the time of day that I cherish the most. It's a peaceful, quiet beginning of a new day, "with no mistakes in it yet" as Anne Of Green Gables would say. I especially enjoy the quiet stillness outside the window. It's cool enough in the evening that we can leave the windows open now. Sometimes the night sounds are startling, like when the coyotes run and bark. But most of the time it's peaceful and the night sounds are pleasant. The crickets are plentiful this year and they make up most of the night sound. But this one fellow's familiar call has been a companion to me on many a morning. It's an Eastern Screech Owl and this is one type of call it makes, called a whinny. I love the soft, gentle sound of it even though I read this is a territorial call. I recorded this this morning while I sat at the window listening.

Remnants in the Garden

 The garden continues to produce, albeit in a rather ugly, end-of-season fashion. The regular tomato plants succumbed early to the blight and I tossed those stalks already. But, the Cherry 100 tomatoes keep right on giving. These die hard zucchini monsters won't give up either. They've turned tough along the bottom, creating a hideous stalk, yet continue to thrive at the other end.

 While I was picking the Cherry 100's today, I noticed an entirely new zucchini plant at the base of the original stalk. I believe if this plant were given the luxury of extended light and warm days, it would produce forever!

We have four of these zucchini plants and they are still each producing a zucchini per week. Tonight we enjoyed another batch of Turkish Zucchini Fritters. I also walked a gift of zucchini and tomatoes over to the neighbors. I should think we would all be tired of zucchini, but it hasn't happened yet. We'll even mourn for more of them come winter.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Golden Days

The field was washed in the golden light of September this evening. The air was so very still with only the crickets' chorus filling the void. Insects  hovered above the grasses, shimmering white flecks of reflected light. Later, I walked through the field and tiny birds flew up from the tall grass, startled at my intrusion. These precious golden days are numbered, ticking away by the minutes as autumn darkens the porch a little earlier each evening. Its inevitable approach is bittersweet, bringing refreshment from summer's heat but, at the high cost of light and long days. I refilled the oil lamps and read on the porch well into late evening. I am not willing to let go of this summer pleasure just yet. A long summertime ago, my father called out into the dark neighborhood for me to come in from play. I would pleadingly call back, "Oh! not yet! Just ten more minutes. Please!" He always allowed me the extra time and I'm trusting the Golden Days will allow me to plead just a few more as well.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Tis Plum Season!

Steve is away through the long holiday weekend which makes for a seemingly endless expanse of time to fill. I worried about keeping busy while he is away, being somewhat tethered to the house as we are. I decided not to fret about it. The days have a way of taking care of themselves and somehow time always slips away without much input from me anyway.

Our weekly fruit share provided us with little purple plums the last three weeks and it was these very plums that provided activities to fill some of our time this weekend. The plums are not great for eating plain and I had already made jelly a few weeks ago, so it was time to try something new. Every week the fruit share people email a newsletter the day before pick up. It features recipes that use the fruit we'll be getting in our share that particular week. One of this week's recipes that caught my eye (or taste buds) was the one for Asian Plum Sauce. I had all the ingredients except for fresh ginger. I picked up some ginger on Friday and later that afternoon, I got busy with the recipe. The ginger and sesame oil provide a complex blend of flavors along with the plum, brown sugar and lemon. It's an exotic flavor, totally exciting and I can't wait to try it on some pork. The recipe yielded six half-pints and these little beauties will keep on the shelf, ready to be used in a wonderful dinner this fall.

Asian Plum Sauce

I found the next recipe on one of my favorite sites, The Smitten Kitchen. It's for Marian Burro's Famous Purple Plum Torte. The way I see it, breakfast isn't breakfast without a sweet little something to have with the morning coffee. It's the happiest way to start the day and this gem of a cake is perfect. Baking is also an activity in which I can include my mom, so this was a win-win for us. The best part, besides eating it, is placing the plump little plum halves into the batter before baking. It's deeply satisfying to nestle the smooth, purple, half rounds into the blanket of batter. The batter puffs up during baking, enveloping the plum halves, softening and melding them into itself. I'll be happy waking up to this tomorrow morning!

Marian Burro's Famous Purple Plum Torte

We still have a small bowlful of plums left; enough for one more recipe. I'll need to research a bit to see what we can whip up next. If it turns out to be something wonderful, I'll share. Bon Apetit!