Messy Kitchen

I wanna thank you Lord,
For noisy children and slamming doors,
And clothes scattered all over the floor
My never ending messy kitchen
And dirty dishes.
Noisy kids are happy kids,
And slamming doors just means we live
In a warm and loving home
Your long hours and those dishes in the sink
Means a job and enough to eat. – excerpted from Dirty Dishes, by Scotty McCreery

I love to open up Pinterest and see just what it is in which they think I’m interested on any given day. For a long time, Pinterest was offering me suggestion after suggestion about how to build chicken coops and what is the best thing to feed your chickens. I found these posts particularly puzzling because the closest I’ve ever gotten to looking into raising chickens is perusing recipes for frying them.

More recently, Pinterest has apparently decided I’m looking for creative ways to wear a pony tail, interesting in that my hair has been like this…..

…..for at least two decades. Should I ever try to wear a pony tail, it would be like the two little sprouts you see on some 18-month-old girls.

But recently, what popped up was a post entitled 10 Tips for Cooking All Day Without Making a Mess. The title struck me for a couple of reasons: 1) I wonder when I last cooked all day; and 2) I quite literally can’t cook for 15 minutes without making a mess. So, I bit. I clicked on the link.

The author of the article started out by saying Cooking all day is fun! (No, it isn’t.) Especially if it’s blizzarding outside. (Still no. If it’s blizzarding, I want to curl up in front of my fireplace and read Agatha Christie.)

But, by that time, she’d hooked me, so I kept reading to glean the tips to cooking without a mess.

Suggestion 1: Start with a clean kitchen.
So, here’s the problem. My kitchen is never clean. There are always dishes in my sink. My coffee cup stays on the kitchen table where I left it after breakfast until I get ready to set the table for dinner when I finally put it in the sink. So, see above: there are always dishes in my sink. The bread I pulled out of the bread box to make toast might not make it back into the bread box for three or four days. The toaster crumbs don’t get swept up until I finally break down and wipe off the sink when it becomes so sticky from the jam on the toast that the napkin sticks to the counter.

Suggestion 2: Make a game plan before you start.
She suggests that you plan all your meals for the day, and then chop all of the vegetables, zest all of the citrus fruit, cut all of the meat, and measure all of the sugar or flour for all of the dishes that you will be preparing that day. Such a great idea, but seriously? I generally don’t know what I’m making for the next meal until about 20 minutes before it’s time to eat. Unfortunately, my lack of planning not only prevents me from chopping all of my veggies for the day, but requires about three trips each day to the grocery store.

Suggestion 3. Pick the right tools for the job.
Her example is to make sure you use the right sized bowl for the job so that you don’t have to switch bowls halfway through, thereby resulting in dirtying two bowls. Another good idea, and one which I seem completely unable to embrace. I seriously say — OUT LOUD TO MYSELF — at least three times a week, “Kris, do you think you get a prize for using the smallest bowl/baking pan/skillet?” as I dump ingredients into a larger container.

Suggestion 4. Have canisters large enough to fit your measuring cups.
I have that one nailed. I’m dying, however, to buy one of the two-cup measuring cups that The Pioneer Woman uses, thereby rendering my canisters too small.

Suggestion 5. Measure over the sink.
My sink is filled with dishes.

Suggestion 6. Use a plate as a giant spoon rest.
Great idea. Then you can use it to hold measuring spoons, knives, and so forth, resulting in clean counters. Except see above: My counters are never clean.

Suggestions 7 and 8. Aluminum foil and garbage bowl.
Done and done.

Suggestion 9. Tidy up as you go.
Really? I’d be happy if I just remembered to close the cupboard doors. That way I wouldn’t hit my head quite as often.

Suggestion 10. Schedule cleaning breaks.
The thought makes me tired. Maybe I should schedule nap breaks.

The reality is that I am truly a very messy cook. I spill. I really do leave cupboard doors open. The food on the floor by my feet looks like what I would feed my chickens if I did, in fact, have a chicken coop as Pinterests suspects. My Roomba works way harder than I. Still, most of the time, I wouldn’t be too awfully horrified to have someone drop by.

As Scotty McCreery said, dirty dishes and a messy kitchen are the signs of a happy home.

This post linked to Grand Social.

Thursday Thoughts

Time For Another Meal
I overheard a couple of businessmen talking in the café at the Aloft Hotel where Bill and I spent Monday night (seeings as he had to be on an airplane at 5:15 a.m. Tuesday morning). One man was preparing to order his breakfast. He asked the other fellow what he was getting. “Oh, I’m not getting anything,” he told his friend. “I’ve heard of this great new diet where you don’t eat anything before noon.” Hmmm, I thought to myself. That diet would be completely ineffectual for me. I am perfectly capable of eating three full meals plus two in-between-meal snacks between noon and 6. Hope it works for him.

What Comes First, the Chicken or the Coop?
We all fret about our apparent loss of privacy. I can no longer complain about looking something up on Google and then being bombarded five minutes later with ads on Facebook or Amazon. Let’s face it; Google knows where we are at all times. Pinterest is the same way. If I look for a particular recipe on Pinterest, it isn’t more than the blink of an eye before Pinterest starts pinning one recipe after another for whatever it is I looked at whether or not I pinned it. But Pinterest, I have a question. Why-oh-why do you think I have the least bit of interest in chicken coops? For the past two weeks, my Pinterest feed has included everything anyone would want to know about building, cleaning, or fixing chicken coops. While I like chicken, and while I eat a lot of eggs, and while I appreciate the fact that both our Vermont family and Jen’s son BJ happily raise chickens, I do not. I have never even been interested enough in the idea of raising my own chickens to look it up on any source whatsoever. So Pinterest – PLEASE STOP WITH THE CHICKEN COOP INFORMATION. And, while you’re at it, you can also stop pinning Plus Women clothing. Just sayin’…..

It’s All About the Crunch
Yesterday, I was cleaning house and had the television on for background. It was morning, and one of the numerous talk shows was playing. It was of the programs that features three or four women behind a table discussing random stuff. I didn’t recognize a single woman, but it didn’t matter because I was just looking for noise. That is, until I heard them say that Frito-Lay is considering creating Doritos especially for women. What would make them different than those Doritos made for men is that they wouldn’t crunch, they wouldn’t leave residue on fingers, and the package would be small enough to fit in a little purse. These women were up in arms about the whole notion, and I was in total solidarity with them. I want my chips to crunch, and to crunch BIG. Furthermore, licking my fingers after eating Doritos or Cheetos is half the fun. And a bag small enough to fit in my little purse?  What? A bag with maybe four chips in it? Nope. I’m sitting out the protests for teachers’ pay increases and gun control, but don’t mess with Doritos. No crunch, indeed.

All Booked Up
What do I do when Bill is out of town? Eat Chinese food for lunch, and read a whole book in one day. I will be glad when he walks in the door.

Ciao.

Black-Eyed Peas: It’s What’s for Dinner and Better Than a Funeral

Sunday afternoon, I was watching an episode of Father Brown on Netflix, once again wondering why anyone would hang out with the good Catholic priest when his friends and parishioners are constantly getting knocked off by one murderer or another despite the fact that there are only 250 people in the quiet English village. The way I figure it, anytime Father Brown calls and asks if you want to hang out, you should say you would love to but you are busy washing your hair that afternoon. And, by the way, I’m leaving your church and becoming Anglican like everyone else in England. Oy vey.  Between Father Brown’s Kembleford, England and Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, Maine, no wonder young people are fleeing from small towns throughout the world!

Suddenly I heard poppity pop pop, the cheerful sound my cell phone makes when I get a text message. I glanced over and saw that it was from my nephew Erik who lives with his family in AZ. Erik rarely texts me, and I immediately began thinking about what I have in my closet that would be appropriate to wear to a funeral in AZ where the temperature remains in the range of 104 to 106 degrees in the shade. My mother would be proud that I went there so quickly.

Anyway, I read the text and it turns out my sister wasn’t dead, nor was anyone else in our family. Instead, Erik was asking me how I made the black-eyed peas I offer every New Year’s Day so that we can all have great luck in the year ahead. Given several cancer scares, a sister-in-law’s broken back, a couple of surgeries, and several hip failures so far in 2017, I am going to go out on a limb and say that relying on legumes for luck isn’t working. I can’t go out on MY limb, however, as my hip is one of them that is failing.

I responded by telling him how I make my black-eyed peas, wondering all the while how he can be planning on making black-eyed peas when 1) It’s 108 degrees outside where he lives; and 2) His wife and his kids can barely be in the same room with a legume, so he would be on his own eating the massive amount of beans the recipe makes. Perhaps he was planning on feeding an entire flatulent village. Who was I to judge?

I called my sister Bec the next day to let her know that Erik had contacted me looking for the recipe. I called her for two reasons (and I must be in a listing mood today): 1) I wanted her to tell me why Erik was seeking to cook something as, well, hearty as beans in unbearably hot weather; and 2) I wanted to tell her that 10 minutes after I communicated with Erik, I lackadaisically logged onto my Pinterest site only to find recipes for black-eyed peas on my feed.  This is the truth, hand to God. Pinterest is reading my text messages.

The answer to (1) is that no matter where you live, sometime in mid-August, your thoughts turn to autumn. And if you like to cook (as does Erik), you begin thinking about cooking things on top of the stove for a very long time. Autumn/winter cooking is all about braising. It turns out that when Erik was in college, his roommate would go home for the weekend, and the boy’s father would always send him back with a big pot of beans. The young men would eat delicious beans for a week. Erik was feeling nostalgic. Our taste buds have more muscle memory than anything else.

The answer to (2), by the way, is that we are fooling ourselves if we think we have even the littlest bit of privacy left in our lives. So really, when people start getting bent out of shape because they fear a loss of privacy, they might as well realize that the horse has already left the barn. No privacy. None.

Anyway,what this all tells me is that since Erik is jonesing  for a pot of beans and the majority of my grandkids are back in school (the Vermonters don’t start until after Labor Day), the deluge of All Things Pumpkin is about to begin. Lord, make me strong.

Here, by the way, are the instructions I gave Erik (and Pinterest) regarding my black-eyed peas…..

Soak the black-eyed peas overnight (or do a quick-soak ). Place beans, some carrots and celery diced small, a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes, some diced garlic, a bay leaf, a couple of ham hocks or a ham bone, and enough water to cover into a slow cooker and cook all night long. Don’t add salt until the end.

Enjoy, but don’t expect good luck. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Heads or Tails

As the temperatures hovered dangerously close to 80 degrees these past few days in AZ, you would think I would be focusing on grilling or making fancy salads. Nope. Oddly, braising is what sounds good. Maybe it’s a fortuitous that St. Patrick’s Day is on the horizon as I can satisfy some of my braising needs by cooking a corned beef.

My mother was a traditional cook, at least during the years when I was growing up, and she did a lot of braising. I remember eating beef pot roasts and pork roasts and spare ribs that she would cook slowly in the oven until they were tender. I remember beef stews and green beans made with ham hocks and vegetable soups made with beef shanks.

But what I was recalling as of late was a stew that she made occasionally that featured oxtails. Little pieces of beef that came – not shockingly – from the tails of a cow. I’m guessing probably not necessarily an ox, but at least some sort of beef. Oxtails probably stemmed from the mentality that was common among people who grow up on farms: you don’t waste any part of the animal.

Mom didn’t necessarily take this philosophy to heart, as I don’t remember her ever serving us, well, heart. At least not beef heart. I remember battling my brother and sisters for the chicken heart, that teeny-tiny, chewy organ that comes in the little sack that frequently is shoved inside a chicken, along with a liver or two, a few gizzards, and the neck. Since chickens, as most animals, only have one heart (earthworms have five hearts, but I wouldn’t want to eat a single one of them), it was a valuable commodity. Livers were first runner up, and we happily gave Dad the gizzards.

I don’t have my mom’s recipe for Oxtail Stew, but I sure remember the meal. I recall that they varied in size but I always seemed to get the small ones. But mostly I remember that they were extremely slippery. I loved them. I joyfully picked up the scalding little devils with my fingers and gnawed until I got most of the meat, not necessarily an easy task, but I have always been good at getting meat from a bone. I think I was a hyena in a former life.

I decided to make Oxtail Stew.

Since I didn’t have my mother’s recipe, I did what any normal 21st century cook would do: I went to Pinterest.  There, I found a yummy-sounding recipe for oxtail stew cooked in a slow cooker. That sounded spot-on to me, so I invited my brother Dave and my sister Bec to dinner where we could eat with our fingers and reminisce about Mom. I warned Bill (who had never eaten oxtails) that it was likely that he was going to have to swallow his pride and eat with his fingers, something he is loath to do unless it’s a pizza.

But first I needed to find oxtails. None at Basha’s. None at Fry’s. AJ’s Fine Foods took 15 rings before they answered the telephone and then, upon my request for their meat department, sent me to a black hole which produced no meat department. Cross them off my list, then and forever, no matter how fine their food is.

However, when you’re on the hunt for any unusual cut of meat or any unfamiliar vegetable, your best bet is to hit the Mexican markets and/or the Asian markets. Bill and I set off on our adventure, where our intent was to hit the Mexican market first and if that produced no results, go a bit further into the Asian part of Mesa. We lucked out on our first try and found delicious-looking oxtails at Los Altos Ranch Market…..

uncooked-oxtails-los-altos-market-2-17

Those oxtails eventually became this……

oxtails

After eight hours in a slow cooker, the meat was indescribably tender and tasty, and the broth was rich and packed with flavor. I served the stew over mashed potatoes, and there was none left at the end of the meal. My assessment? I was sad that they were so tender that they didn’t provide my desire for slipperiness. However, my brother (looking carefully around for Mom’s ghost bearing some sort of weapon) said he thought mine were better than Mom’s. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Here’s the recipe…..

Slow Cooker Oxtail Stew

Ingredients
2 – 3 lbs. oxtails
2 T. flour, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
½ lb. mushrooms, cleaned and cut in half
½ c. red wine
1-1/2 c. beef broth or stock
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 T. tomato paste

Process
Cook bacon in large skillet until crisp. Remove to a plate, and crumble.

Coat oxtails in the seasoned flour, and cook in the bacon grease until brown on all sides. Cook only a few at a time to aid in browning.

Place vegetables, wine, stock, bay leaf, thyme, and tomato paste into slow-cooker. Add the bacon and the oxtails to the vegetables.  Cover with lid and cook for 8 hours or until oxtails are tender.

Serve with mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

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.

“Pinning” for You

I own a ridiculous number of cookbooks – ridiculous because I actually use a total of exactly two. Well, perhaps technically more than two. I tend to lump all of my Lidia Bastianich cookbooks into one. If I cook one of her recipes, I use the actual cookbook. Of her cookbooks, the one I use far and away the most is Lidia’s Italian American Kitchen. It has the tomato sauce stains to prove it.

20160918_140120

The other cookbook I open occasionally is my beloved Joy of Cooking cookbook that belonged to my mother-in-law who gifted it to me a number of years ago. It’s beloved simply because it’s from her. I can’t say I use it often. Joy of Cooking is a classic cookbook from which you can get recipes for practically anything. For heaven’s sake, it even tells me how to dress a deer (and I don’t mean in camouflage shirt and pants, ar ar ar). Needless to say, I haven’t actually had the need to hang a dead deer from my back porch because Bill doesn’t hunt, thank goodness. I’m not anti-hunting, mind you. Just anti-dressing-a-deer and anti-plucking-a-goose-or-wild-turkey. At any rate, Wilma’s Joy of Cooking was well-used by her, and looks much like my Lidia’s Italian American Kitchen.

dressing-a-deer

I was thinking about this the other day as I was searching all of my various spots for a particular recipe. It’s a pasta salad that I make often but have never memorized. I have it somewhere, but I can never remember where. Since the pasta salad originated with my sister Bec, I generally email her and ask her to send me the recipe.

However, when I made the salad recently, I googled the recipe. It isn’t an easy one to find, as it comes from the Crème de Colorado Cookbook (one of Colorado Junior League’s cookbooks) which isn’t online. But I put in “tortellini salad havarti salami” and eventually found it on the Better Homes and Gardens website. I don’t know if BHG stole it from the Junior League or if Junior League stole it from BHG. I envision both groups comprised of women wearing pillbox hats and white gloves and not stealing, so your guess is as good as mine.

All this is to say – perhaps randomly – that I love Pinterest. I wish I had invented Pinterest. First, and foremost, because I would likely be a millionaire. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about looking for recipes because I would have a professional chef on my staff. But second, because I would be so proud of myself for having had such a good idea.

I rarely use cookbooks anymore (see above), but that isn’t to say that I don’t use recipes. Oh my, yes I do. I couldn’t cook without a recipe. I’m not one of those. My siblings all cook without recipes. Me, I need to have someone telling me what ingredients are necessary and how much of each. Having two homes makes keeping track of my recipes somewhat difficult. As it is, I haul many of them back and forth – mostly those that were my mom’s recipe cards. But more and more, I’m able to find the recipes online and “pin” them to my Pinterest page. That way I have access to my recipes wherever I am as long as I have internet access, and I know where to find them.

I used to religiously peruse Pinterest and pin recipes, decorating ideas, crocheting patterns, and other things that are important in my life. I still occasionally will log onto Pinterest and pin one thing or another. But mostly I use it as a giant high tech recipe box. That alone makes it worth what I pay for Pinterest (which, of course, is nothing).

By the way, here is the recipe for the Havarti Tortellini Salad. It is so good that even Addie’s 13-year-old friends ask for the recipe…..

Havarti Tortellini Pasta Salad

Ingredients
10 oz fresh cheese tortellini, cooked al dente and drained
¼ c. fresh parsley, minced
¼ lb. salami, cubed
¼ lb. Havarti cheese, cubed
1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
½ c. black olives, sliced
2 green onions including tops, sliced

Dressing:
3 T. red wine vinegar
1 t. dried basil
1 t. Dijon mustard
¼ t. salt
¼ t.coarsely ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
½ c. extra virgin olive oil

Process
In large bowl, combine tortellini, parsley, salami cheese, bell pepper, olives and green onion.  In blender or food processor, combine all dressing ingredients and blend well.  Pour dressing over salad and toss thoroughly.  Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

If making more than 3 hours ahead, reserve half the dressing and toss with salad just before serving.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Thursday Thoughts

Family Ties
Yesterday’s post about my parents generated quite a few comments, especially from some of my cousins. They spoke highly of my parents and indicated they were role models to them as they grew up. It pleased me to no end to read their comments, but I wasn’t surprised. For one thing, since my mother was the youngest of very many children, some of her nieces and nephews were actually the same age – or close to it – of my parents. And while I have talked about what good parents they were, I haven’t really mentioned how much fun they would be as friends. They loved to gather as family and they always had a good time. Lots of food. Lots of beer. Lots of laughing. I hope that someday when my nieces and nephews are asked about their old Aunt Kris, they will speak as highly of me as do my parents’ nieces and nephews. And their kids will say, “Really? Crabby Aunt Kris used to be fun?”

Dirty Knees
12654409_10207398882149154_4459618242284937385_n
And speaking of nephews, my great-nephew Austin made me laugh Tuesday night. Bill and I stopped by to watch a little bit of his baseball game because it was close to our house. He is 5, and whatever league he’s in (pee wee? Little League?) gives each child so many swings before they’re called out. It’s more than three, but fewer than 10. I wasn’t counting. At any rate, after four or five swings, Austin got a hit. A nice one that went straight down the middle of the field into the outfield. Now, if you’ve ever watched 5-year-olds play baseball, you know that if the ball makes it even a foot past second base, it theoretically could be a home run for all of the fielding the little ones are able to do. In this league, the player can only run one base. So off Austin went, towards first base. He made it too, of course, and in grand style. Because even though the ball was on the other side of the field while three or four of the kids were trying to pick it up, Austin did a perfect SLIDE INTO FIRST BASE. It’s all about getting your baseball pants dirty. Ask the big leaguers.

Pinterest and Me
If you peruse Pinterest, you know that every day Pinterest sends you “pins” in which it thinks you might be interested. Particularly, when you “pin” something, Pinterest then begins sending you pin after pin after pin related to whatever you originally pinned. If I pin a recipe for pot roast, I understand why Pinterest begins suggesting a variety of pot roast recipes. But I never fail to be amused at the items that Pinterest decides I like. For example, for reasons I can’t quite understand, Pinterest has decided that I like coconut cream pie, and as such, posts every recipe known to man for coconut cream pie. I, in fact, don’t like coconut cream pie. I recently started a folder in which I put low fiber food recipes since I am now limiting the amount of fiber I eat to attempt to prevent bowel obstructions. Pinterest has decided that I am interested in health food, and every day I wake up to find pins on vegetable smoothies and paleo meals and organic gardening. They encourage me to eat Brussel sprouts in every way imaginable, and particularly seem to be promoting blueberry anything. Nothing low fiber, I might add, since they undoubtedly think no one in their right mind would eat low fiber. They might be right.

Goodbye Arizona
We are mostly packed up and will leave for Denver tomorrow. First stop, Flagstaff, where we will watch our niece Jessie present her Capstone project, the last stop before graduation. We will leave Saturday morning for Denver and Rocky Mountain high snow….

Ciao!