Category Archives: cooking

Friendship Friday ~ Cousin Day

Yesterday was a special day. It had been written on a calendar block, cleared of all else. We spent all day with the Boston little boy cousins and their amazing parents.

My anxiety about having little people around for the day was alleviated quickly when this little one walked in, grabbed a recorder, and began playing while his brother accompanied him on the piano.

recorder

Uncle B patiently listened to Little Mae tell all about King’s Dominion adventures using her map of the park.

Mae and Uncle B

My baby and my sister’s baby smiled at each other a lot, which was a huge milestone for anyone who knows my baby and her thoughts about babies.

Baby B

Baby B won her over.

Mae and baby

Meanwhile, lots of creating happened. The cry of Guys, Guys! Look over here! caught my attention. I looked to see this little one with his airplane.

airplane

My much younger sister was caught wearing my perpetual mothering face in this picture. I so know the feeling.

mothering face

With everything happening at once, there were problems to solve, like the one of figuring out how to find all of the pieces and get this track to stick to the green board. Daddy to the rescue on that one! Problem solved.

track

It was sweet for my littles to get an opportunity to experience the life of their big siblings. Here Coco gets to feel like her big sisters when the littles were being born, holding a babe in arms.

Coco and baby

And these eyes and little chewing mouth. I could not get enough of them.

chewdalee chew

And this snuggly sleeper. I might have cried a little.

sleepy baby

Of course, a day with littles (or bigs for that matter) is not complete without some down time with a screen and a cuddly blanket.

screen time

This day was so full, pictures don’t do it justice. I finally had to put down the phone and just be in it, because everything was so much to take in.

I want to remember the moments of sweetness like a two-and-a-half-year-old cousin wandering into the TV room with his bowl of shredded cheese and climbing up next to Kirk and asking questions about Minecraft. My thirteen-year-old’s patient response and offer of letting him play reminded me of how Caleb treated his little brother, and my heart swelled.

I want to remember the conversations with my brother and sister that felt natural and relaxed and made us forget that we live hundreds of miles apart and that this doesn’t happen every day. Moments of falling asleep on the couch or walking out into the yard or playing UNO Attack (thanks, B!!!!) felt like they happen every day.

And dinner time. Oh, the dinner table.

I want to remember shopping with my sister and planning our meal like it’s the most normal thing in the world, all while talking about everything. I want to remember cooking and being together and living life.

I want to remember what it was like to have a full dinner table and the littles getting to be the bigs and experiencing the noise and cries and trauma of food touching other food or too much ketchup coming out of the bottle or corn on the cob rolling onto the wrong place on the plate. Our table was full and loud and fun.

Our day was full and loud and fun.

My body, mind, and soul felt full and tired and happy and sad and grateful, so very grateful.

sister selfie

At the end of the day when, Sister Selfie! was called, here is what we got. Sister selfie, plus one. I am old enough to be this girl’s mom, so I could technically be a grandma. Technically. Not yet.

For now I relish being auntie to this precious little one and his brothers and will hold so many special memories close to my heart.

It was a very good day.

Picking Chicken

I stand at the sink picking chicken. I am not literally doing it in the sink, but a large cutting board resting over it creates extra make-shift counter space. I can look out of the window at leftover snow-clutter in the yard, and watch Dewey frolic around, muddying his paws.

Picking chicken forces me to be present in the moment while allowing my mind to wander slightly before bringing it back again. There is much to do, lots to keep up with, but right now feeding the family is on my mind, hence chicken picking.

The chicken I am picking comes from bones left from a meal we had earlier this week ~ a whole chicken cooked in the crock-pot. After eating what we could, the remains were placed in a covered Corning Ware dish in the refrigerator to be processed later.

Later is today. I cannot bear for food to go to waste, and if I don’t attend to this, that is exactly what will happen. It brings me to a Saturday afternoon picking chicken in front of the window. I am thinking and dreaming and trying to stay focused before slipping into the abyss that I often dangle above in my thoughts.

It’s quite the mental balancing act. Good thing I have this chicken to keep me grounded.

Earlier, I pulled two bags of broth from the freezer and emptied them into the slow-cooker. I added some salsa verde, cut the bigger pieces of meat from the bones, and opened two cans of great northern beans, leaving it all to cook for the day. Saturday meals are a challenge for me after a busy work-week. Here’s to white-chicken-chili with cheese and chips later!

I dropped the remaining chicken into a pot on the stove with some onion, covered it all with water, and left it to boil and simmer as chores and such took place. I turned the heat off, strained the broth, and left the bones to cool. There was a lot of meat still on them, leading me to the place of picking chicken.

Picking chicken is not my favorite, but if I do it, there will be meat in the freezer to pull out later. I can use it in my chicken pot pie recipe that is frugal, except for the time it takes to make it. A requested favorite, it will come in handy on a night when my son is unexpectedly home, and I want to cook up some love for him.

Picking and processing chicken is a skill that hearkens back to my field experience days as an at-home mom of lots of children. There was plenty of time to hone that skill as most everything was fixed from scratch as frugally as possible.

I am in a different season. Now I am trying to save for dreams on the horizon, and one way I can make money is by saving money, and one way to do that is by picking chicken.

 

Sweet Potatoes

It’s Thanksgiving Eve, and tonight I am thankful that the sweet potatoes are fixed and ready to be baked tomorrow. I am thankful for my parents and their willingness to host Thanksgiving dinner. It is lovely to just show up.

I first tasted this casserole twenty-eight years ago, Holiday Season 1987, with Steve’s family. His sister-in-law, Robin, prepared it. I asked for the recipe. I still have it on a faded pink piece of paper.

Siblings have requested the recipe in the past. This year an adult child texted to ask. After digging around, looking for, and finally finding it, I decided to post it here.

Robin’s Sweet Potatoes
4 or 5 sweet potatoes, baked, and middles scooped into a mixing bowl.*
Add
1 cup sugar

1 stick butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c milk
3 eggs
Mix well.
Pour into a greased baking dish.
Prepare topping.
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 stick butter, melted
Mix together, spread over potatoes, and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

*To cook sweet potatoes, wash and then prick them all over with a fork. Place on a foil-lined cookie sheet or baking pan and bake at 375 for an hour or so. Remove from oven to counter or just turn off the oven and let them cool in there. When cool to touch, the insides scoop right out.*

This dish can be made ahead of time and baked later. I have played around with this recipe by adding more potatoes, cutting the sugar/butter to taste, etc. It’s still good, but definitely not diet, low-carb, low-fat, or low anything. It’s like candy.

Perfect for twice a year!

Friendship Friday ~ Cheesy Edition

I love my kids. All of them. They overwhelm me. Every one.

They are my greatest gifts. They are what God knew I needed, and I cling to that reminder when I’m not so sure.

They are some of my issues. I have helped to create many of theirs.

Five remain at home, one with his foot out the door, but still very much present. It takes many deep breaths and much fortitude to brace for the second half of this parenting journey with the ones who remain.

This.

family

This is a bag of cheese pulled from the freezer for Friday night pizza.

Several weeks ago, adult child three stopped in unexpectedly. She helped make the Friday night pizza. She also offered to divide the giant bag of mozzarella cheese into smaller, freezer-sized portions, a task not my favorite.

In the weeks following, as I pulled cheese from the freezer, I found hand-written notes on the bags. I love my mama. It’s Friday! and other sweet messages adorned them, written in trademark black Sharpie.

This bag makes me smile so much that I’m keeping it to refill. I love the picture she drew and her handwriting for the words and just everything that reminds me of the huge, undeserved gift I’ve been given to be the mom in the picture.

I’m thankful for moments like this where I am reminded of the redemptive good birthed from the very hard. Many years of pizza making, lots of Fridays, lots of freezing of cheese and sauce and dough, lots of misunderstandings about plans and movie choices and curfews come together in a moment of beauty written on a bag of cheese.

Sweet-Smelling Fragrance

Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. . .

Today seemed a good one to talk about fall scent, or in the words of my son, foul stenchBoth are correct, actually.

But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom.
But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.
And who is adequate for such a task as this?
2 Corinthians 2:15,16

The recipe for Fall Scent is found on one of those lost plastic pages in my virtuous cookbook of yore. It involves simmering good-smelling things in a pot on the stove, being careful not to burn all of the water away, thus crusting everything to the bottom of the pot and filling the house with a stench.

It’s a great use for those lemons or oranges or other citrus fruits or even apples that are going bad in the fruit bin. One step ahead of the compost pile.

Fall Scent
1 lemon, cut in half or quartered
1 orange, same
some whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
A bay leaf or two

Squeeze the juice of the lemon and orange into a 2qt pot, dropping the rind in, as well.
Add the other ingredients and fill with water.
Bring the whole thing to a rolling boil, and then reduce to simmer.
Enjoy the scent, adding water as it evaporates.

VERY IMPORTANT! Do not leave unattended. If you smell a delightfully strong scent while you are in another part of the house, RUN to add more water, because the water is almost gone. If you have OCD tendencies, you might want to stick with something safer like diffusing essential oils, because it will drive you crazy wondering if you turned off the stove when you leave the house. Or come up with a ritual for signalling to yourself you have removed the pot from the top of the stove.

Trust me on this one.

I sometimes add apple bits, peppercorns, or other interesting spices to mix it up a bit. This mixture will keep in the fridge for a week or so.

The backstory to fall scent is that when we purchased our yellow house eleven years ago, it was rather run-down and ramshackle. Everything was filthy and old and broken, and the eight appliances that conveyed were from the 50’s.

That’s another story.

There was basic work to be done like updating the wiring and waterproofing the basement and refinishing the floors and cleaning. Oh my, the cleaning.

We would come over to work, and I would brew a pot of fall scent to mask the musty smell and try to make it seem home-y.

The following fall when we were more settled and had lived in the house for several months, I put a pot of fall scent on the stove. My then-little bigs got home from school one afternoon and the first thing child 3 asked was, Are there workers here?

The scent was associated with the work being done on the house. And now you know. . .

. . .the rest of the story.

I’m off to parent four more not-so-littles and move on through the day.

And who is adequate for such a task as this?

Enjoy your fall day, Friends!

Fall Chowder

How have I never heard of Croctober? 

Facebook introduced me last night. Pretty cool, since today I was planning to post about Fall Chowder made in the crockpot. Now it can be for Croctober, too! Win~win!

Back in the day before the internet was in every home and wifi connected all of our devices to sites like Facebook and Pinterest, there were people. And books. You had to actually connect face to face (not facetime) with real people and look things up in literal books.

You couldn’t click a mouse and instantly find 50 pumpkin recipes for the season, or 50 crock-pot recipes for your freezer, or any of the other knock-off seasonal latte drink recipes that fill one’s feed while scrolling through Facebook. You had to have cookbooks or recipes from friends or something cut out of a newspaper or magazine to find that unique dish or drink. You had to work a little harder for your variety.

You needed connection.

A small season of connection came for me when I was fifteen, and my family began attending a new church. Looking back, it was such a short season, maybe seven months at most, but I was impacted for the rest of my life by my experience there.

The ladies of the church, who all seemed so virtuous and perfect to my untrained eye, assembled a cookbook that I acquired somehow, maybe from my then-boyfriend, who might have wished that I could be as stellar as they when I grew up. Maybe I came across it some other way. My memory doesn’t serve, and I am choosing not to go to that season in my memory right now.

Where I am choosing to go is to the fact that I received a treasure trove of recipes that I have followed throughout my married life and that has followed me. Each recipe has the name of the woman (or, rare, man) who contributed it. There are no links, websites, or blogs listed. I feel a connection to those whose recipes I prepare.

Some recipes have now been inspired by, since the original is lost or has fallen out of the book or been removed and not replaced (long ago when the book began to fall apart, I put the sheets in page protectors in a binder, which was both good and bad. Good – protect. Bad – remove and lose.)

So, if you are reading this (and I know some of you do) and recognize your (or a friend’s) recipe, send me a shout-out. I’d love to remember.

Here is my crock pot adaptation of Fall Chowder. It is not healthy, fat free, low calorie or anything. It is comfort food at it’s finest, unless you are nine. Then it is torture.

Crock Pot Fall Chowder

4 c red potatoes, cut into small cubes
4 c carrots, sliced
1 onion, chopped
4-6 c chicken broth or bouillon cubes and water, or equal liquid choice for the base
12-16oz bacon
Small bag of frozen corn
2 cans Campbell’s cheddar cheese soup
2 cans milk
4 c shredded cheddar cheese (or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put the cut up carrots and onions into the Crock Pot (mine is the larger 6 qt size).
  2. Cook the bacon. Either cut it into pieces first and cook it up with the chopped onions, or cook up the strips and then drain and cook up the onions in some of the grease. Put the cooked bacon into the pot. Add the cooked onions. Stir everything together.
  3. Add the broth or cooking liquid of choice. I make big batches of broth when I cook chicken, so there are often frozen bags or containers of broth in my freezer. Since this is going to cook all day, I put the frozen chunk right into the pot. It works great. If you do this, move it to the bottom of the pot and sort of pile the vegetables around the frozen chunk.
  4. Start the pot on low if it will be cooking all day.
  5. An hour or two before you plan to eat (this works for me on a workday when I get home at 3:15, and we eat at 6), remove the lid and give the soup a stir. Everything should be cooked and soup-like. Add the 2 cans of cheese soup and 2 cans of milk. Stir. Add the frozen corn. Stir. Add the shredded cheese. Stir. Replace the lid and continue to cook on low until you eat.

In my ideal world, we eat this with jiffy cornbread muffins and honey-butter. There is a salad.

Reality is sometimes Pillsbury pop-biscuits or bread and butter.

Enjoy! Happy Crocktober!

Friendship Friday ~ Cooking Day

Wednesday was cooking day.

I spent the day in the kitchen cooking and baking and preparing food.

All day.

Except for the trip to the library with the little girls and that one to the store for missing ingredients and the drive to drop off the food that I prepared and then back to deliver the tortillas that were forgotten in the fridge.

Confused, yet?

I signed up to take a meal to a friend who was having surgery that day. Note: It was NOT Dave in the picture above but a different friend. Just to squelch any rumors or misunderstandings, since Dave has had enough health trauma and drama without me further muddying the waters with a poorly worded blog that mentions surgery! Keep reading . . .

It was the only open slot that I could take, sandwiched in the craziness that is our summer. It helped that there were no dietary restrictions, and that my burrito filling recipe is pretty delicious. I would just fix an extra pan for our family and dinner was ready.

I also make delicious chocolate chip cookies. Comfort food at its finest. I would whip up a double batch of those.

While preparing the burrito filling, I was prompted in my heart to check on the Shank’s meal schedule to see who was bringing them food that evening.

No one.

The spot was empty.

Wheels began to turn in my head. I could make up more burritos. Scanning the schedule, there had been several Mexican-style meals and more to come. Burritos didn’t seem a good fit.

I’ll just text and ask.

I texted Heather, asking what her family was in the mood for that evening. She said she would get back to me.

Chicken nuggets. Corn on the cob. Macaroni and cheese. It was a comfort food kind of day. And could we stay and eat with them?

That worked!

I got right on the order, hitting up the store for chicken tender strips to bread with gluten-free flour and crushed gluten-free cereal and bake. The girls helped me shuck 20 ears of corn at Sharp Shopper, where they were 4/$1. I used my super-secret Kraft recipe for the mac and cheese (no need for gluten free as a treat, per request) and threw a pan of peas into the mix for good measure. And color.

It’s a good thing I doubled the cookie recipe! Those weren’t gluten-free, either, but oh so comforting after dinner with a hot cup of coffee. There was somewhat of a stampede in our direction when the cookies came out!

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We set out to take supper to and eat with our friends. As seven foil pans of food were carried to the van, memories of caring for each other during our childbearing years flooded my mind. How many meals had we prepared after babies came? How many times had our families gotten together with the craziness of littles underfoot?

Those littles have grown. These are our youngest now! They are eating at their OWN tables.

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Big kids playing a game together. Were these really our babies?

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It was a wonderful evening of friends, laughter in the face of tears, and delightful conversation.

Sometimes you just need a Cooking Day.