Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Comforts of Home

Instinct tells us all is well if we smell something cooking.  One of the biggest anxieties is the fear of no food, or no shelter.  This week I kept life simple with soups and fresh bread but it was amazing what  even savory onions browning on the stove added to the "glad to be home" feeling of the holidays.

Wednesday: Baked potatoes

Thursday:  Fresh white bread, pineapple, and milk for supper.  Holiday Stuffing for the party I attended.
The Stuffing was made of 9 cups cubed fresh bread, 1/2 cup butter, 1 large onion diced,1-1/2 cups diced celery, 2 tsp thyme, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and 1 cup cranberries all mixed with 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup.  Brown the celery and onions in the butter.  Mix all ingredients together with sauteed onions and celery.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until heated through.

Friday:  Joe's potatoes.  Potatoes were on sale the first of October again.  We stocked nearly 300 pounds for our family.  They are being stored in open totes in the garage.  I also bought a large bag of fresh onions.  Many onions are 4 inches in diameter.  To use the onions and potatoes before they rot, dishes like "Joe's Potatoes" are fantastic.  Brown 2 large onions cut into circles in 1/2 cup butter.  Add 7 pounds peeled, sliced potatoes (in rounds).  Cover with enough water to just barely submerge the potatoes.   Cook until potatoes are soft to a fork.  Salt and pepper.  The potatoes brown with the caramelized onions and thicken the broth as it boils down.  This dish is a Depression Dish that my grandpa would often make to feed his eleven children.  Savory onions helped assuage the lack of meat on their table.

Saturday:  Macaroni, taco flavored ground meat and tomato sauce were added together to make a variation of macaroni/ hamburger/ and tomato dish.  The children assembled all the ingredients while I went out.  They ate it all.  It must have been delicious.  I start with the macaroni-  measuring1/2 the volume that I want in the end.  So to serve 8  people 1/2 cup servings each, we needed 2 cups of macaroni.  We added 1 pound of meat, about 3 cups of crushed tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Recipes are Refreshing

My thirteen year old walked in from a stressful day at school, picked up a recipe book and made custard.  I was oblivious to his project until I saw the creamy yellow pudding cooling in a bowl of ice water.  Cooking is relaxing for him.  He is not afraid to try new methods.  This custard did not set before he ate it but he has tried something I have yet to do.

Over the summer when the raw ingredients in our house were flour, sugar, milk and eggs, I made flan for the first time.  It was great fun, felt elegant but didn't use any "exotic" ingredients.  If one is a little afraid of cooking there is no better way than to read a recipe book.  I like books that are from country cooks or small towns.  These recipes are delicious, most of the time from scratch and simple.

Breakfast:  Baked Potatoes for some and leftover pasta for others with milk
Lunch/Dinner:  Chicken noodle soup - I started the chicken boiling after breakfast, peeled carrots, and chopped celery at noon, chopped the boiled chicken while the carrots were boiling in the same water the chicken had boiled, added curly egg noodles, flavored it with bouillon cubes and a little salt.  The soup served the family for lunch and dinner.  (It was ready and savory on a cold winter night.  I could take two of the children shopping with a clear conscience).

It's my turn! and Progressing in the kitchen

The six year old asserted that she could the tomato sauce for dinner.  She turned over a small trash can and started stirring the crushed tomatoes.  We added salt, basil, and garlic.  "This is good."  she said,  "But we had a lot more to do."  She went to the spice cupboard and pulled lemon pepper, brown sugar, a secret ingredient or two and began stirring.  The siblings came to taste test.  More salt was added and more sugar.  She proudly tasted the finished sauce.  We poured it over rigatoni and bow tie pasta, added grated mozzarella, some cream cheese, and Parmesan and stirred it all together.  Served with a green salad, dinner was great because we were all together around the table feeling like everyone had contributed.

18 months
My babies are nearly always close by me.  So they are often on the kitchen counters while I am peeling carrots, mixing bread, or cracking eggs.  Almost from birth they are in the kitchen.
5 Years
My children start cooking by frying eggs.  At a young age (5) they can manage cracking the shell, the results are ready to eat quickly and the possibilities of what an egg can do are limitless.  They start with a basic fried egg, then scrambled, then sunshine up, then over easy, then they create an omelet.  Each egg is eaten with relish because it is their own creation.

8 years 
Somewhere in this age range  the children graduate to creating their own hamburgers.  In my recipe collection I have the prized "Brent's Burger"  that lists the special spices he added to his burger.  It was a little too hot - too much curry but it was his and delicious.

11-13 years
Cookies are a great way to get familiar with the kitchen, a mixer, teaspoons, tablespoons, fractions and tasty products.  Everyone in the family applauds the cookie maker.  My husband could make eggs when we got married.  Then he started making cookies, now he can make caramel from sugar and water, and delicious cream cheese cakes.  Cookies were the gateway to kitchen confidence.

Then menu Monday the 13th of December:
Breakfast: oatmeal blender pancakes
Lunch:  leftover potato, carrot, beef stew
Dinner:  Pasta with tomato sauce and green salad.  Dessert  cookies from the Holiday Cookie exchange at school.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Family Ties

The power of hearing kind supportive voices who will encourage a person to surmount challenges is incalculable.  This is the power of family committed to one another.  Individual family units, extended family, church family, the friends who become family, communities that pull together, and a nation unified in goodness:  these are the units that capture the power of family.  If we didn't come from a nurturing home, we can create one.  If we don't have siblings to encourage us, we can find them at church.  If we don't know how to speak with love and encouragement nor how to build an environment that puts sparkles in children's eyes, we can find others who are so dedicated and model our lives after theirs.  Life has its challenges, God has intended for us to for us to face them together.   It is this strength that motivates mothers and fathers to forget themselves and create a home full of  peace and joy.  It is the collective strength of many such homes that fortifies a nation against troublesome times.

Breakfast:  Leftover fried Rice and bagels
Dinner:  Taco soup with hominy ( 1 pound ground beef flavored with taco favoring out of the freezer, 4 cups tomatoes diced or paste, 2 cups ( 1-15 oz can) hominy, with 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp onion powder or 1/2 cup chopped onion.)

A Birthday Celebration

The children woke to the savory smell of onions browning for a potato skillet with extra fancy bagels in honor of our daughter who was turning 15.  Given any opportunity to go out on the town, invite friends for a party, play games or watch a movie, she chose to have a family party.  She said "My family really are my best friends."  So we stayed home most of the day.  The younger children went shopping for gifts while I baked a Hummingbird Cake (delicious banana cake base), made pork fried rice and steamed carrots and broccoli.  With an extra large helium balloon wishing a Happy Birthday! in the center of the table the festivity was complete.    We made a great memory.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Taming the December Circus

If there is any time of the year that has the power to stitch families together, it is this magical season.   The first snow flies and the children exclaim "This is the best day of the year!"  It is also the time when homes are most at risk.  I was shocked to listen to a friend describe her instinctual dislike for Christmas and Easter because that meant the grown ups would be drunk and the children ignored.   As an adult these scars of childhood still bleed each holiday.  The only way to find healing is to create new memories, new associations, new traditions.

It doesn't take an alcoholic home to leave the children desolate of family togetherness.  The shopping, the parties, the seasonal concerts, the ball games all crash with speed this time of year.  If not on guard, dinner is each man for himself as he comes and goes.  Children are thrown a fast food sack or a box of macaroni in the rush.   Exhaustion sets in and the magic of the holidays is reduced what can be purchased.

So, for this holiday, we are on guard.   As a mother I am going to create enticing aromas in my home every day.  Make a point to sit down together to read, sing, and eat.  We are creating memories of joy, peace, and love.  These are the threads that weave hope for future generations and give meaning to life.

Breakfast: pumpkin bread and leftover taco soup with hominy (this was soo delicious last evening we can't leave it alone this morning).
Lunch:  Canned Salmon and noodles, green beans and milk
Dinner:   A freezer meal of Upside down spaghetti while my husband and I went out on a date.

Thanksgiving Tradition

The magic of the Holidays starts with Thanksgiving.  I knew we stuck gold when the children ran in the kitchen to discover that we were rolling out pie dough.  Each clamored to make his own special pie.  We rolled out pumpkin pie shells, apple pies and cherry pies.  We baked shells for lemon meringue, chocolate silk and a special pie just to remember my grandmother, mincemeat.  Thanksgiving starts weeks ahead when I purchase the staples on sale: potatoes, carrots, frozen peas, flour, eggs, pumpkins, real butter and even cranberry sauce.  But the week proceeding Thanksgiving is the best time for sales on celery, olives, oven bags, water chestnuts,  other specialty items and of course, the turkey.  We buy an extra turkey for the next holiday and count our blessings.

Thanksgiving is a time to relish each other.  This often means that children learn to forgo their own special preferences during this celebration.  Maybe they can expect singular treatment on their birthdays but Thanksgiving is not a time to allow preferences to force the kitchen to become a short order restaurant.  Thanksgiving is a time to preserve family traditions, create memories of being together and that often requires sacrifice.

The HOW:

Our "Thanksgiving Dinner" is jotted down on a sheet of yellow card stock in my recipe book.  We check and recheck the list when we are shopping, cooking, and setting all the food on the table.  We still have flexibility to add dishes, try new recipes and introduce new favorites but we have the framework all written and it saves a lot of stress to have the Tradition recorded for use year after year.

The pies and sometimes the rolls have to be made the day before to free up the oven for the turkey Thursday morning.  We also make all the salads the day before:  drain the fruit for a fruit salad, make the Hawaiian and cranberry jello, make a seven layer salad (it stores 3-4 days better than a pain green salad), and do the prep fro a relish tray.  Thanksgiving morning we are baking turkey, mashing potatoes, steaming carrots, heating the stuffing (assembled 2-3 days ahead of time from fresh homemade white, wheat, and cornbread and put in a casserole dish), heating green beans and setting a table with butter plates, cranberry sauce, garlands and goblets.  The festive aromas and pretty tables make the eyes of the children glitter with joy.  Every one (except the babies) goes without breakfast so they have an appetite worthy of the meal.    When we do eat, we are really grateful to have food, friends and family with whom to share.