2017: I Got This

imgresIt’s about this time every year that I do my annual New Year’s resolutions post. You know, where I say that I am going to pray more, eat less, exercise more, worry less, drink more water, drink less alcohol. And then, by the end of January, I am back to barely remembering my morning prayers, half-heartedly dragging myself to the gym once in a while with absolutely no enthusiasm, drinking less water and drinking more alcohol and worrying about my lack of commitment. Sigh.

So I decided I’m going to forgo resolutions and just think more about what I would like my 2017 to look like. And that’s a pretty easy task.

I would like to not see the inside of a hospital, or even an emergency room, in all of 2017. I don’t know if this is possible, but what I do know is that it has been an entire year since I’ve been admitted to a hospital, and despite a couple of ER visits, my overall health seems to be better. I don’t know if I can attribute this to my low-fiber diet and my increased water intake, but I know that both of those things haven’t hurt. Keep up the good work, Kris!

Bill had his semiannual appointment with his neurologist’s office right before Christmas to measure his Parkinson’s progression, and we were blessed to learn that there has once again been very little progression. So little, in fact, that the PA with whom he meets (because the doctor doesn’t even feel he needs to see him more than occasionally since he is progressing so slowly) suggested we might not have to come every six months. Bill and I nodded, but admitted afterwards to each other that we feel better getting their outlook every six months. But when we honestly answered her question about how often he — and by association, I — exercise, she would have said tsk, tsk if people actually said tsk, tsk.

Interestingly, she told us that his doctor (who is quite renowned within the field of neurology and movement disorders) believes that regular aerobic exercise is as beneficial to people with Parkinson’s as are the medications they take. And while the meds can often have yucky side effects, aerobic exercise does not. I wish that eating rib eye steaks and drinking martinis was just as effective, but I’m afraid it isn’t. So, it’s back to the gym, and not begrudgingly either. After all, God has been good enough to keep his progression slow, so we can do our part.

I think that for the most part, I am a positive person. As Bill is reading this statement, he is trying not to laugh. He would tell you that I worry about everything, and he is, in part, right. I tend to worry about a lot of things, many of which never transpire. He, on the other hand, worries little, and only about very specific things, but otherwise, lets life play out however it will. I feel compelled to say that life often successfully plays out for him because I worried about something and therefore was able to avert disaster. Let’s just say that had he been responsible for Christmas presents, he would have nine grandchildren looking at the absence of presents under the tree and saying, “Why Santy Claus, why?” just like Cindy Lou Who.

Regardless, I want my 2017 to be positive. While 2016 wasn’t as bad a year for me as I hear many people complaining about, there were still many things that stunk. A friend was diagnosed with cancer. Our country went through a very difficult and divisive presidential election. Our grandson Micah gave us a medical scare when he aspirated a rock into his lung, requiring emergency surgery.

I will admit that part of me is sad to say goodbye to every year because as you age, the years go by more quickly and the end of life (which young people think will never come) looms ominously closer every day.

But there is no point in concentrating on the negatives when there are so many positives in my life. And that’s what I intend to remember this year. So when I think about what I want my life to look like I 2017 as I indicated in the very beginning of this post, I realize that I want it to be full of smiles and joy and things that are good for me, like good books, great friends, awesome family time, great food, interesting travel, and lots of hugs and kisses from grandkids and friends and my husband.

2017: Watch out; here I come!

For good measure, here is the recipe my family uses for our annual New Year’s prime rib. I offered it to you a couple of years ago, but it’s time to give it to you once again.

the-beast-2017Herbed Rib Roast

 Ingredients
1 7-8 lb. prime rib roast (3-4 ribs)
1 T. whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 T. kosher salt
3 garlic cloves
1 t. chopped fresh thyme
1 t. chopped fresh rosemary
1 T. olive oil

Process
Grind peppercorns and salt to a powder in an electric coffee/spice grinder, then transfer to a mortar. Add garlic, thyme, and rosemary, pound to a smooth paste with pestle. Stir in oil. Rub paste over roast. Transfer roast to a rack set in a small flameproof roasting pan. Marinate, covered and chilled, at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.

To cook:
Let roast stand at room temperature 1 hour. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Roast beef in middle of oven 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and roast beef until a thermometer inserted into center of meat registers 110 (for very rare, 120 for medium), 1-1/2 hours to 1-3/4 hours more. Transfer beef to a large platter and let stand, uncovered, 25 minutes. Meat will continue to cook, reaching about 130 for medium rare.

Just Wing It

When I was a kid, my grandmother – who lived in an apartment above my parents’ bakery – made a big noon meal for us every Saturday. And every Saturday it was the same thing – fried chicken. None of us complained, of course, because, well, FRIED CHICKEN.

But like all of those who grew up during the Great Depression, Grammie used every single part of the chicken. She would, of course, fry up the livers and gizzards. (We would fight over the livers and leave the gizzards for Dad and Grandpa.) She would cut up the chicken so that each breast included part of the back. And when she fried the chicken, she included every piece, including the neck.

As we would go around the table and take our pieces of chicken, Grammie would always take the neck. I really like it, she would tell us. We believed her, of course, because she was Grammie.

In hindsight, I reckon she took the neck because she wanted to leave the other pieces for the rest of us. There is little meat on the neck, as I’m sure you know. Well, actually you might not know because, like most of us, you either throw the neck away or boil it for soup stock. You have never tried to nibble a neck.

I have, because I was curious  to see why Grammie liked the neck. I repeat, there is little meat on the neck. And yet, if you nibble carefully enough, you get some a bit of meat that is quite tasty. Why? Because meat next to a bone, whether it is chicken or pork or beef or lamb, is the tastiest.

As for me, my favorite part of the chicken then was the wing. I could usually claim a couple of them because Grammie would fry a couple of chickens. I liked to nibble away at both ends of the wings, but I always preferred the part that isn’t the little drumette.

Things haven’t changed a whole lot, except that now, wings are an essential part of American culture, thanks to a little bar in Buffalo, NY. You know, buffalo wings? By the way, a few years back when Dave and Jll and the family took their sabbatical trip during which they drove in an RV around the US states east of the Mississippi, they stopped at the little bar in Buffalo, NY and tried the wings. Dave’s takeaway? They taste like every other chicken wing in the United States.

Anyhoo, I still love me some chicken wings. But here’s the funny thing: my preferred cooking method is either grilling or roasting in the oven for an hour. When they have finished cooking, I leave mine plain and dip Bill’s in a sauce made from Frank’s Hot Sauce and butter. And whether or not I grill them or bake them, I cut off the little useless piece but otherwise leave well enough alone.

I recently found a recipe on Pinterest in which the contributor claimed that he had the best recipe for baked chicken wings. His trick, he claimed, resulted in crispier wings than you would ever achieve by frying. Crispy, crispy, crispy, he bragged.

And so I decided to give them a try. I’ve always thought mine were delicious, but it was on Pinterest. Like Wikipedia, Pinterest is always right.

His trick? You parboil the chicken wings before you bake them. This, he claimed, took out all of the fat, leaving you with a crispy result.

What it left me with, unfortunately, was a soggy, tasteless chicken wing. I’m pretty sure he put it on Pinterest just to see how many people he could fool.

As my son Court said, “In the history of the universe, what food has ever been improved by removing the fat?”

So the other night, I made chicken wings using my original process, and they were delicious…..

chicken-wings

Salt, pepper, a little olive oil, and bake at 425 for an hour – 30 minutes each side.

I don’t think I will post my recipe on Pinterest.

Talking Turkey

The other day on my blog, I was writing about all of the meals using leftover turkey that follow the main event. Turkey chopped salads. Turkey ala King. Turkey club sandwiches. Turkey tacos. But in the blog post, I specifically mentioned “the inevitable turkey tetrazzini.”

Never being one to be shy, my sister Jen asked me outright on Thanksgiving Day if I really made turkey tetrazzini as one of my Thanksgiving turkey leftovers, or if I was once again using “literary license.” She used air quotes and said it with a bit of a snicker. Literary license, by the way, is my excuse for not always being entirely factual if being a tad, well, not factual is more interesting. Wikipedia calls it artistic license and defines it as distortion of fact…..by an artist in the name of art. So see? It’s a real thing. It only requires a bit of a stretch of the imagination by calling what I produce “art.”

By the way, saying that my sister snickered was also literary license.

But back to turkey tetrazzini.

I admitted to my sister that I had, in fact, never made turkey tetrazzini using my turkey leftovers. I have made turkey noodle soup. Turkey pot pies are a common post-Thanksgiving meal that I make.  Bill loves when I simply throw the leftover turkey into the leftover gravy, and serve it over a slice of white bread with a side of leftover mashed potatoes.

But no turkey tetrazzini. I mentioned “inevitable turkey tetrazzini” because I always saw it as the leftover turkey meal of choice in Redbook and Good Housekeeping. I think it’s been around for decades. My mom might have even prepared it with leftover turkey. It just has a 1960s feel to it, doesn’t it?

Hold that turkey tetrazzini thought, because I want to digress to something only marginally related. The matter of the turkey carcass.

Somewhere near the end of our Thanksgiving meal, a discussion ensued about what was going to happen to the turkey carcass. Or, in our case, the turkey carcasses. There was a point when I thought we might be moving to the living room to perform feats of strength with the carcasses being the grand prize. Thankfully, Allen and I took the high road and backed away, leaving the carcasses to Court and Alyx’s mom Manith. I suspect that two superb pots of soup have recently been made from those bird skeletons.

But back, once again, to turkey tetrazzini.

A day or so following Thanksgiving, I finally had time to begin perusing my Food Network Magazine that featured their Thanksgiving ideas. Lo, and behold, what should appear but a recipe for turkey tetrazzini. Yes indeed, in something as fancy schmancy as Food Network Magazine.

I took a gander and liked what I saw. This was not your mother’s turkey casserole featuring cream of mushroom soup and cheddar cheese and baked at 350 until the turkey is so dry it gets stuck in your throat. In fact, it didn’t go into the oven at all. And in place of cream of mushroom soup, the recipe called for  — wait for it – a cup-and-a-half of heavy cream. As I perused the recipe, I noticed that I had every single item in my pantry and/or my refrigerator.

I will never again poke fun at turkey tetrazzini, because Bill and I almost licked the pan clean. How do you go wrong with something that includes cream, parmesan cheese, mushrooms, and wine?

turkey-tetrazzini

Turkey Tetrazzini with Spinach and Mushrooms

Ingredients
Salt for cooking noodles
8 oz. wide egg noodles
3 T. unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ small onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1 t. chopped fresh thyme
¼ c. dry white wine
1-1/2 c. heavy cream
3 c. chopped leftover turkey or chicken
8 c. baby spinach
½ c. grated parmesan cheese

Process
Cook the noodles in the salted water as the label directs. Reserve ½ c. cooking water, then drain. Toss with 1 T. butter and season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 T. butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 3 min. Add the mushrooms, thyme, ½ t. salt and a few grinds of pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are soft and lightly golden, 6-7 min. Add the wine and cook until absorbed, about 1 minute. Add the heavy cream and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, 4-5 min.

Stir the turkey and spinach into the sauce and cook until the turkey is warmed through and the spinach is wilted, about 3 min. Stir in the reserved cooking water and return to a simmer. Remove from the heat, and stir in 1/3 C. parmesan cheese.

Add the noodles to the turkey mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan.

 

Meals and Memories Redux

This blog originally ran on November 12, 2013. I like this particular post because it includes fond memories of my mother, who I miss every day.

A few weeks ago, when Bill and I were still in Arizona, my brother David and I were sitting outside late in the afternoon. Talk turned towards our childhood, as it often does whenever any combination of the siblings gathers.

I think we all agree that we had a wonderful childhood. None of us ever doubted that our parents loved us. Times were different, however. There wasn’t a lot of “I love you’s” tossed around though we knew they did. A term you hear thrown around these days is “helicopter parent.” You know, the parent who hovers around their child making sure no harm ever comes to little Junior or Juniorette. I think it’s safe to say that neither my mother nor my father would ever have been accused of being a helicopter parent.

Here’s an example: My mother was a very sound sleeper. Because of this, it really took a lot of guts for any of us to wake her up in the middle of the night. We knew it would involve a lot of shaking of her shoulders. Eventually, she would leap up in bed with a loud, “What is it?” Gulp. It had better be good because by this time Dad was awake.

For me, it was either “I’m going to throw up,” or “I can’t sleep.” If I was going to throw up, she was liable to ask me why I was telling her this in her bedroom instead of leaning over the toilet in the bathroom. And the “I can’t sleep”, well, that just got on her very last nerve.

Her answer to that particular complaint, without exception, was (say it with me Siblings), “Nobody ever died from a lack of sleep. Go back to bed.” I have no recollection of her ever getting out of her bed to tuck me back into my bed.

By the way, as an adult, I can certainly see, clear as day, just how silly it is to awaken someone to tell them that you can’t sleep. But for some reason it made perfect sense to me as a 7-year-old.

On the other hand, it wasn’t a good idea for anyone to bring harm or even angst to any of her children. Do so, and out came the Mother Lion. I clearly remember when a neighbor boy who was a year or so older than me and a bully before people became concerned about bullies chased me down, held me to the ground, and kissed me on the lips. I was probably 7 or 8 years old. I broke free and ran to my mother in tears. I vividly remember that she went to her closet, got the broom, and chased him all the way back to his house. She may not have caught him, but I’m sure he felt the bristles on the back of his neck.

But back to David and my conversation that day. We were talking about Mom’s good cooking. He told me his favorite meal and I told him mine. It got me to thinking about her cooking, so this week I asked all my siblings what meal they would have Mom make if she could come back to cook one dinner for them.

My sister Beckie’s response: Mom’s fried chicken. My mom, by the way, always claimed that she couldn’t cook a lick when she got married. All of her cooking skills were learned from her mother-in-law. I’m sure that’s true as my mom was the youngest of 13 kids, and her mom died before my mom was married, and sick for much longer than that. Not in a position to teach my mom to cook. So Mom’s fried chicken is actually my grandmother’s fried chicken, and now my fried chicken. Don’t confuse this chicken with southern-style because it isn’t crunchy. Instead, it is tender and flavorful.

My Family’s Fried Chicken

Ingredients
1 frying chicken, cut into 10 pieces (my mother always cut each breast into two pieces}
1-2 c. flour, well-seasoned with salt and pepper
Butter and vegetable oil, half and half, deep enough to fill a pan to a depth of about a quarter of an inch

Process
Preheat the butter and oil in the fry pan until it’s hot enough to sizzle if you flick a drop of water into the pan. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, shaking off the excess. Lay the pieces skin-side-down into the hot oil. Cook until it’s nicely brown, 5-6 minutes. Turn over and do the same on the other side. It doesn’t have to be cooked all the way through. Only fry a few pieces at a time or your shortening will cool down too much and your chicken pieces won’t brown nicely.

As you remove the chicken pieces from the pan, place them into a roasting pan. (Conversely, you can place them temporarily on a plate and return all of the pieces to the pan to finish. Make sure your pan is oven-proof and has a lid if you choose this option.) Cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil and place into a preheated 350 degree oven for an hour or so until the chicken is cooked through and falls off the bone.

Nana’s Notes: Personally, I believe a cast iron skillet is imperative to make good fried chicken. Having said this, I must say I don’t believe my mother used a cast iron skillet. Still, you would have to pry my lovely well-seasoned iron skillet out of my hand to make me fry chicken in a regular skillet. I used to fry the chicken, place the pieces on a plate until finished, pour out most of the grease, return the chicken to that pan, cover and finish cooking it in the oven. Now, however, I fry the chicken and put the pieces into a toss-away aluminum roasting pan, cover it with tin foil and finish it in the oven. There is no getting around it. Frying chicken is messy business. Also, I add a bit of cayenne pepper to my seasoned flour. Don’t tell my mother.

Forge Ahead

Much as we love spending the winter in Arizona, we are always happy to be back in Denver, for a number of reasons. We are lucky enough to be able to enjoy a second springtime. We see the cactus flowers in Arizona in March and April, and we are back just in time to see the end of the forsythia blossoms and the beginning of the lilacs and the iris. I love to get my garden planted – mostly herbs and a couple of tomato plants – and will put in my petunias just as soon as the tulips die completely back and make room for them.

The pitiful end of my forsythia blossoms

The pitiful end of my forsythia blossoms

Tulips with their BFFs, the dandilions

Tulips with their BFFs, the dandilions

This spring, I have made a few resolutions. It makes sense since most of the resolutions I made in January have been forgotten. Not just neglected; I can’t even remember what they were. Sigh.

I have been feeling like a slug because we got out of the habit of exercising, something we had done faithfully for a long time. And I have been putting on weight, something I conveniently blame on my low fiber diet (rich in carbs and sugar), forgetting that one can eat low fiber without eating ice cream every night after dinner. Sigh again.

So I am facing the upcoming warm months with renewed energy and commitment. I started by going to the gym Monday, and plan to go every Monday, Wednesday and Friday beginning right now. Tuesdays and Thursdays I will lift my measly little weights at home. Hey. It can’t hurt.

Furthermore, while I’m not going on a diet (diets don’t work for me; all I think about is food), I am simply going to cook healthier meals.

While in Mesa, I walked over to our nearby Basha’s most every day of the week. I am determined to walk to the grocery store here as well. King Soopers and Whole Foods are a bit farther away than Basha’s, but no matter. Even if I don’t do it every time, I can do it regularly.

There are simple things around the house that will get me better organized. For example, when I want to remember to take something upstairs, I put Whatever-It-Is on the steps. And then I step over them again and again because heaven forbid I would bend over to pick Whatever-It-is up. And then I would just have to PUT WHATEVER-IT-IS AWAY!

No more! Whatever-It-Is will go up with me the next time I climb the stairs.

And speaking of the stairs, I am determined to stop thinking of walking up the stairs as undertaking the Bataan Death March. The other morning I used the last tissue from the box in the kitchen. I found myself using paper towels or toilet tissue to wipe my nose until I finally realized that it wasn’t going to kill me to walk the exactly 14 steps up to the linen closet upstairs where I keep my boxes of tissues. Our house in Mesa is small, and 14 steps will get you practically anywhere in the house. But I don’t live in Windsor Palace, so the stairs will become my friend.

Sometimes I come to the sudden realization that my glasses are so dirty I can practically not see out of them. I am going to use my handy-dandy microfiber cloth to clean my glasses each and every morning before I put them on.

As part of my healthier eating, I found a recipe for a casserole that uses ground chicken for the meatballs. I halved the recipe and we enjoyed it for dinner, with plenty for leftovers.

Chicken Parmesan Meatball Casserole, courtesy Buns In My Oven

chicken parmesan meatball casserole

Ingredients
For the meatballs:
1 pound lean ground chicken
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 egg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup milk
For the casserole:
1 pound campanelle pasta (any small shape is fine, such as ziti)
1 jar (24 ounces) marinara sauce
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Process
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 1 minute less than package directions state.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the meatballs. Add all of the ingredients to a large bowl and use your hands to mix them together well. Form into small balls, about 1 inch in diameter and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until cooked through and no longer pink. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Add the pasta sauce to a large bowl and stir in the cooked pasta and meatballs. Stir gently to coat everything in sauce.

Spread half of the pasta and meatballs into a 9×13 baking dish. Top with half of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Family Cooking Ties

IMG_0069“Do you think you will use that ham bone or throw it away?” asked my nephew Erik as he got ready to leave on Easter Sunday. I knew right away why he was asking.

I assured him that the ham bone would be put to good use. But if I wasn’t going to use it, he wanted it.

“What would you make with it?” I asked him.

He didn’t have a plan, but he knew there were a lot of options. He also knew that a good cook would never let something as delicious as a ham bone with a lot of meat still clinging stubbornly to it go to waste.

This past Thanksgiving, Court asked Jll a similar question. What are planning to do with the turkey carcass? Jll assured him she didn’t really have a plan, and as she has four kids Court Closeupand was entertaining Heather and Lauren and the two boys, she was desperate for refrigerator space.

“Take it,” she said with obvious relief.

Like, Erik, Court wasn’t sure what he would make, but knew a turkey carcass would make something good. I think that carcass turned into turkey noodle soup if I’m not mistaken. And it undoubtedly was good because everything tastes better if there’s bones involved.

I have said on numerous occasions that my mother was a very good cook. Though I never asked her, I presume she liked to cook, because I don’t think you can be a good cook if you heartily dislike it. Given all of that, I often think how happy it must make her up in heaven to see how so many of her grandkids love to cook – and do a bang-up job of it.

Christopher and porkNot only are they good cooks, but they appreciate the art of cooking and the gift of good food. Recently, when Jen was here, we had the family over for carne asada. Dave’s son Christopher had smoked a pork butt the day before, and had some left over. He brought it along, knowing full well that somehow that smoked pork would be eaten. It was. I put it in a fry pan, crisped up the bottom, and it became smoked carnitas. In addition to pork butt, he smokes a delicious brat. My mouth is watering.

Jen’s son BJ is happiest if he can throw a piece of meat that he has marinated for a few hours onto the grill. He makes up his own marinade using whatever he thinks sounds good. I would never be able to do that. I require a recipe. Jen sent him home with leftover prime rib from their Easter dinner. He sautéed onion, garlic, mushrooms and a jalapeno in some olive oil, then added the meat to warm up. He made it all into a sandwich.

Good cooking isn’t limited to the men of our family. Mom would have loved seeing Jensen17 (2)Maggie in the kitchen. I have watched Maggie mature into an absolutely splendid cook in the years since she’s been married. She is far removed from her post-college days when she would be cooking something in a fry pan and call her mother in desperation as smoke was rising from the pan. Jen could hear even over the phone that the meat was frying at too hot a temperature. “Turn down the temperature!” she would firmly instruct Maggie. “It’s cooking too fast.

It’s nice to see our love for cooking being passed down to our kids and even our grandkids.

I used up my ham bone last night preparing green beans and ham. Here is my mother’s recipe for Green Beans and Ham, in the exact words from her recipe card…..

Green Beans and Ham or Bacon
Sauté chopped onion in margarine, add flour and brown slightly. Add hot water and boil a few minutes. Prepare frozen green beans (or fresh beans). Pour the onion mixture into the beans, add ham (or chunk bacon cut in small pieces). Simmer about 30 minutes. Add water, if needed. Add peeled potatoes and continue cooking until potatoes are done.

Nana’s Notes: I sauté in butter rather than margarine. Rather than water, I use chicken or vegetable broth. Nowadays you can get fresh green beans anytime, so I never use frozen, only fresh. When I was small, green beans were only available in the summer. Mom would buy them from a farmer. I carefully cleaned them, always on the lookout for a worm!  I like to use new red potatoes or new yellow potatoes.

Sunny Day in Paradise

Bill and I woke up yesterday morning, happy that it was Tuesday which meant we didn’t have to go to the gym, and with no particular plans for the day.

“What do you have on your schedule today?” I ask him every single morning despite the fact that I know the answer is “nothing particular” seeings as we’re retired. Although I should recall that the answer could be, “I plan to make a four-tiered lemon-and-rosemary flavored wedding cake using homemade fondant accented by the fresh roses I have been growing in the greenhouse I secretly built in the back yard.” You never know with Bill McLain. As Lucy (of Peanuts fame) would say, of all the Bill McLains in the world, he’s the Bill McLainiest.

But he didn’t surprise me, and his answer was “nothing particular.”

“Why don’t we take a field trip to Tempe, drive by Sloan Park (spring home of the Cubbies), have lunch at Portillo’s, and stop by Jo-Ann’s Fabrics so I can buy some yarn?” I said, the final part said under my breath with the hope that he stopped listening after I said lunch at Portillo’s. He had.

It has been extraordinarily nice for the past couple of weeks. I know I can’t brag too much, because I think it has been quite nice in Colorado as well, and while everyone expects it to be in the 80s in Phoenix, high 50s/low 60s in Colorado is a special treat. Still, a day doesn’t go by that I’m not grateful for the warm sunshine and the beautiful flowers. Look, for example, at the bougainvillea bush in our backyard…..

bougainvillea

When we got here a month or so ago, the bush looked like it was on its last legs. It was spindly and it had few flowers. What a difference some warm weather makes.

Anyway, the nice weather called to us, and the day was fun. There were many, many folks at Sloan Park. I think maybe the Cubs pitchers and catchers are going to report any day now, and methinks a few might have been there already, judging from the number of people with their heads plastered against the fence looking into the practice fields. We also saw a number of kids with autograph books shoved into the front drivers’ side window of an SUV with tinted windows, and I don’t think the driver was a member of the maintenance crew!

296308_440399582701934_1842813705_nPortillo’s, of course, is a wonderful family restaurant based in Chicago. In the past few years, they opened a couple of them here in the East Valley – the one very near Sloan Park (no surprise there) and another in Scottsdale, just a stone’s throw from Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the spring home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies.

Portillo’s has All Things Chicago, but Bill and I go for the Italian beef sandwiches every time. Bill gets his wet (which means they pour the gravy on the sandwich) with sweet peppers; I get mine dipped (which means they literally dip the entire sandwich in the gravy) with hot peppers. There are advantages and disadvantages to getting the sandwich dipped, the biggest disadvantage being IT IS A SLOPPY MESS THAT MAKES YOU FEEL AS THOUGH YOU NEED TO GO HOME AND TAKE A SHOWER.  But yummy.

One of my goals for Lent was to eat simpler. One way I thought we could do that was to serve soup one night a week. I decided last night was a good night to do that since we’d had a sizable lunch. I’ve been meaning to make my mom’s vegetable beef soup for some time now, and I took the plunge last night.

beef shanks for soup

vegetable beef soup

Here is my mom’s recipe, verbatim from her recipe card…..

 Vegetable Beef Soupcourtesy Marg Gloor

Cook 2 beef shanks in approximately 6 cups water with 1 chopped onion, 1 stalk celery, 1 c. cabbage; add parsley, salt to taste, pinch of leaf oregano, leaf thyme, and a bay leaf, also a small can of Del Monte stewed tomatoes. Cook 1 hour, then add carrots and potatoes. About 15 min. before serving, add noodles.

Nana’s Notes: I modified the recipe a bit. I browned the beef shanks in a Dutch oven, then added 6 c. water to the beef. I also added 1 chopped onion; 1 stalk celery, chopped; and the same herbs. I let that cook for about 2-1/2 hours until the meat was very tender and fell off the bone. I removed the bones and returned the cut-up meat to the liquid. I added a can of diced tomatoes, one diced potato, a couple of chopped carrots, and a can of green beans (because that’s what I had on hand). I didn’t add cabbage because I’m not supposed to eat cabbage on my new low-fiber diet. I cooked the noodles separately and added them at the end. It was very good, and the first taste made me think of Mom.