Monday, February 1, 2016

The Bounty is Back

Saturday was Bountiful Baskets day here in our prairie corner. We haven't contributed for BB since before Thanksgiving, and it was good to get back to it. We ordered just one conventional basket and a stew pack add-on:

Here's what we got for vegetables: potatoes (a bag of small and several large russets), a bunch of kale, a bunch of broccoli, a head of lettuce, three bunches of radishes, several large and lovely carrots, a bag of fresh green beans, a bunch of fresh asparagus, two onions, orange bell peppers, several very unripe Roma tomatoes, and a very large head of cauliflower.
Fruits included: apples, clementines, lemons, and a small pineapple. 
There is also a bag of lentils and a packet with fresh bay leaves and a head of garlic.
Here's what we've done with it so far: for lunch yesterday we had a lovely green salad using some lettuce we had in the frig as well as part of this head and some of the kale. I sliced a radish and grated a carrot. 
I cooked the apples with a little cinnamon and some raisins to make a chunky applesauce that Layla and the boys are going to enjoy with their breakfast oatmeal. 
Here are the plans we have so far for the rest: Beef stew on Tuesday (potatoes, onion, carrots, green beans), which is supposed be a blizzard day here on the plains, mashed cauliflower (faux-tatoes) and cauliflower bites, broccoli/cheese soup, fajitas with the peppers and an onion, twice-baked potatoes from the large russets (they'll go in the freezer). The asparagus will be used in a breakfast casserole, and the pineapple and tomatoes will hopefully be ripe enough by next week to serve in a fruit salad to some company. I have found that if I don't make specific plans, some of our bounty gets lost in the frig and forgotten. 
We also just made our first trip to an Aldi grocery store on Thursday when we were in Lincoln. We picked up some nice produce there. I was taking a chance that the zucchinis and jalapenos wouldn't be doubled up with our BB, and they weren't. The zucchini are huge and beautiful and will make some delicious bread. I got two packages of fresh jalapenos to make sauce
We are blessed to be able to stock up on so much fresh lovely produce during the long winter season. It's true that you don't know what you're getting when you contribute for a basket, but you do know it will be half fruit, half veg, and whatever the specifics, you can make some deliciousness from it.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rest and Recovery

I felt better than I looked...

Nine days ago today I had some surgery, and have spent this past week resting and recovering. Recovery has been easy and I've had no pain. Each day is better than the last and I'm ready to get back to normal. 

A little too ready, I guess. I had my first post-op check up on Thursday, and was so glad to get out of the house that I was good with going out to lunch and doing a little shopping while we were in Lincoln. Then on Friday, it was such a nice day that I went along with Greg to drop Silas at preschool and run some errands. Then yesterday I did a little cooking and kitchen work. 
Today is a literal day of rest for me. I'm shuffling around the house like I'm 115 years old and it is not bothering me to watch everyone else do everything. While I am no stranger to sitting in my chair looking at Pinterest for a few hours on the weekend, this is different. So, I am listening to my body (with the doctor's orders ringing in my ears) and taking a few more days off. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Happy Birthday Baby!

Our little Layla had her first birthday last week. We celebrated yesterday with a small gathering here for cake and ice cream. Jess and I always make grander plans than get done. We don’t aspire to Pinterest-esque parties, but we do love to think we could. One thing that did get done was the pink roses and pearls cake that Jess wanted for Layla. It was obviously an amateur decorating job, but still was pretty.

I used a new-to-me recipe for the frosting. It was a base of marshmallow crème, so it ended up kind of spongy when set. Some of us really liked it, others not so much. I liked the texture and it seemed lighter than regular buttercream. It did not pipe so well, however. Granted, the kitchen was pretty warm, but the frosting was a little too soft for making those roses. I also needed one more batch to be able to completely cover the cake. What you’re seeing here is the least-worst side of the cake. I also have never piped frosting on a vertical plane before, and I was trying to work quickly. Now I know to allow some time to do that. Jess placed the candy pearls on each flower. Those were crunchy chocolate candies that weren’t like little bullets to chew on, but we still didn’t let Layla have one. She got a plain cupcake with a tiny dollop of frosting.
I didn’t use a recipe from any particular web site or blog, rather just read a few, then put it together myself. Here’s what I did:
1 stick butter, softened
7 oz. marshmallow crème
2 tsp. vanilla
Cream together til smooth.
3 C powdered sugar, one cup at a time
pinch of salt
I added the first cup of powdered sugar and pinch of salt, then got that all mixed with the butter/crème mixture. With the second cup of powdered sugar, I added a dollop of gel food coloring and mixed all that together until smooth. Then added the third cup of powdered sugar and mixed.
You can add a tablespoon or two of milk if you want a more fluid frosting, but I was going to for pipeable, so didn’t. Next time I’d add another ½ cup of powdered sugar for a bit stiffer consistency.

I used three batches of frosting for this cake, and could have used one more. It was three 8-inch layers with a thin layer of frosting in between and on the top and sides before I piped the roses.

It was fun to experiment with a new recipe, and I’ll keep it to use occasionally when we want something a little different.

Friday, January 1, 2016

So it begins...

The New Year is here, bringing with it the need to take stock and organize and resolve to do better in whatever area of life one feels the need to improve. No formal resolutions for this girl beyond the desire to be healthy and productive. 
I knew it had been quite awhile since I posted here, but had no idea that it was August. So much has happened around here since then, yet so much remains the same. Here's a recap:
We had a fairly successful gardening year and put away several quarts of my special tomato sauce (oven roasted with olive oil and garlic), as well as quite a bit of basil frozen in olive oil, and lots and lots of bell peppers, cut into strips and ready for fajita-making. 
The grandboys' 4th and 6th birthdays were celebrated with a bounce house in the front yard. That caught peoples' attention as they drove by. As things were being set up that Saturday morning, Jess inadvertently drove over the guide wire from the electric pole by the alley and snapped it off, so the power company guys had to come fix it. They told me they were going to leave it until Monday, but were glad they'd come when they saw the bounce house a few feet away. I was glad, too.
School started and Jess sent her oldest off to Kindergarten. He loves school and his friends and we've all adjusted. I get to see him off to the bus a couple of mornings a week, and then pick him up every day. We get a few minutes to catch up on his day and have a snack together. 
The younger of the two boys is in his second year of preschool and goes in the afternoons. He and I have a couple of mornings a week and all day on Wednesdays for "Silas-Grammy" time.  
The baby goes full-time to daycare, but I get some snuggles in before she goes, and sometimes help with getting her fed in the evenings. She's a mama's girl, but likes her Gram, so I don't feel too left out. We'll celebrate her first birthday in less than two weeks from today.
At mid-summer I was asked to return to the local movie theater to help out for a couple of nights a week. It's a fun job, and so nice to get out of the house and see people. In this new year I will have some expanded responsibilities and a few more hours a week as I take on being an assistant manager. The job will still be part-time, but I look forward to having some fun there.
We hosted a very fun Halloween party for friends and family, and I think it will be a tradition to have one each year. Greg really enjoys Halloween, and Silas embraces all things spooky as well. We're already planning crafts for new decorations for the 2016 party.
Thanksgiving was low-key as is usual when Brad spends the holiday with his other family. We had a small dinner for just us on the Sunday before, then enjoyed the buffet at the local cafe with Greg's family on Thanksgiving. We did not enjoy the snow storm that day, however...
December just flew by, getting busier each week, as it does for everyone. Lots to do at school, work, and home. We did have a wonderful holiday weekend filled with family and laughter and lots of good food. 
That brings us to today and looking ahead at this bright and shiny new year. It starts off with Layla's birthday. This sweet girl brings such laughter to our days and I look forward to celebrating her first year of life. 
Then things will slow down for a few weeks since I'm having some surgery and will need time to recover. After that, I'm hoping to feel much better and am planning on embracing my new position at the theater and pursuing some other new endeavors, one as a partner with Jessica. I'll talk more about that if and when that happens. It's not up to us, or we'd already be in the thick of it. 
So that's the update from this corner of the prairie. It is my intention to blog more this coming year. I often feel that I perhaps don't have much to offer in the way of creativity, and who wants to read about our supper menus every week? Then I think about how much I enjoy when my online friends post on their blogs - their posts are the first ones I read when I open Bloglovin' each day - and I learn from their experiences and sometimes incorporate their ideas into my own household. Also, I read a blog post written by someone who was feeling the way I was feeling, and they made the point that yes, what I'm posting may have been blogged about by 100 other people, but not they way I blog about it. Each of us is unique in relating our shared experiences, so I'll keep hanging out here, and I hope each of you will hang out with me. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Homemade Granola

After a few years of breakfast sandwiches and burritos from the local fine fast food eateries, Greg has started taking his morning meal with him from home. I flavor plain Greek yogurt with vanilla and honey, then pack a generous serving with a handful of fresh blueberries on top. As garnish, he sprinkles another generous helping of granola on top before enjoying his delicious nutritious breakfast. At first I purchased the granola -  Bear Naked brand because it’s pretty wholesome, and we like it. I bought two bags, thinking it would last through the month. No. Between Greg and Jess, it barely lasted a little over a week. Time to dig out the homemade granola recipe. The ingredients were in the cupboard already, and took less than 30 minutes to assemble, mix, and bake two quart jars full.


The recipe came from an online friend of mine. Melanie blogs at Comfy House and posts lovely healthy, delicious-sounding recipes. I couldn’t find this exact recipe so I could link to it, which makes me wonder if it wasn’t posted in an email instead of on her blog. No matter, she did post a new granola concoction this summer that also would be wonderful. I chose to try the original one printed out quite some time ago and tucked away in my recipe notebook:

Homemade Granola

3 Cups Old-Fashioned Oats

¼ C vegetable oil

¼ C honey

¼ C brown sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

¼ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 325°. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Let cool completely before stirring in 1 cup nuts and 1 cup dried fruits. Store in an airtight container.



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

And the Pizza Just Keeps on Comin’…

(Recipes at the end of post)

Last night we were blessed to have most of my side of the family here for supper. My sister and one of my brothers were here with their families, so there were 14 hungry pizza-eaters around the table. In shifts, of course. I don’t have that big a table.

My husbands grilled pizza was requested, and since these family gatherings are few and far between, we accommodated that request. Greg and I discussed at length the logistics of feed 14 people homemade grilled pizzas since we have the one grill and the one 12” pizza stone. It meant he would be stuck outside in the hot heat (heat index was over 100°) grilling pizza after pizza while the rest of us were inside feasting. He was okay with that, I think so he could have some time to himself, and because he loves homemade grilled pizza and wanted to share that with my very appreciative family.DSCN0835 (2)

My sister came over for the afternoon and we devised our strategy for making the dough and prepping the toppings. For 14 of us, including two young adults and three pre-teens, three of those of the boy persuasion, we decided to make 8 pizzas. My dough recipe makes enough for two, so we threw together four batches of it and while it rose, we made our menu and prepped our toppings. (Menu written by my sister with a purple crayon. That’s just how we roll.)

 pizza menu 001

Each of the eight pizzas was different, but the foundation was the same with rolling the dough, transfer to the pizza peel after dusting both crust and peel with corn meal, a light brush of olive oil, then a sprinkle of Parmesan. After that, toppings were added, then the cheese. A plain pepperoni, a couple that were just vegetables, the rest had meat and veggies in various combinations. We used homemade red sauce and homemade garlic cream sauce, except for the pulled pork barbecue. The ones marked “red” were straightforward, sauce, meat/veg, mozzarella cheese. The chicken and prime rib pizzas used garlic cream sauce. Oh, that is good! We also added torn fresh basil leaves to about half of the pies. Greg cooked each one on his egg-shaped grill, and they came off hot and crispy, melty and gooey. Each one took about 8-10 minutes. As he cooked one pizza, Tonita and I built the next.

I want to talk about the barbecue pizza. Greg made pulled pork for 4th of July, and we used some of the leftover meat for this pizza. He gave me very specific instructions for building this one. Same base of dough brushed with olive oil, sprinkle of Parm, then sprinkle of shredded cheddar. On top of that, the pork, then the barbecue sauce (we like JB’s Fatboy Haugwash). He likes a layer of dill pickle chips, I like some red onion, then more cheddar, and a little mozzarella. It’s hot and gooey and I like it better than pulled pork sandwiches. DSCN0831 (2)

There were several leftover pieces for them to take home to feed the masses lunch today. We also had green salad, potato salad, green beans fresh from the garden, fresh fruit, jalapeno popper dip, super-delicious cake that Grace made to practice her 4-H entry, and assorted beverages. It was a feast.

I’m including the recipes we use for the sauces and crust. Enjoy!

Super Easy Pizza Dough (makes 2-12” pizzas)

1 C lukewarm water (I use hot tap water)

¼ C olive oil

1 tsp. sugar

1 packet instant dry yeast (2¼ tsp.)

½ tsp. salt

3 C flour

In mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in the water with olive oil and sugar. Let sit 10 minutes. Add the flour and salt and knead in the mixer until a nice dough ball forms and there is nothing left sticking to the sides of the bowl.

Transfer to an oiled bowl, turning crust to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for an hour or so, until at least doubled in size. After the dough is risen, divide in half. Roll out half on a floured surface and make your pizza.

This dough can be frozen after rising and dividing. Seal in airtight container or zipper bag and freeze. To use after freezing, thaw, then roll out, add toppings and bake.

The original recipe does not list baking temp or time. We usually grill our pizzas at 500+°F for 8 – 10 minutes. In the oven, I do 450° for 15 minutes.


Garlic Cream Sauce

1½ Tbsp. unsalted butter

½ Tbsp. olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced or grated

½ C heavy cream

¼ C 2% milk

¼ C grated Parmesan cheese

Generous pinch of salt (check before you salt this – it might not need it)

Generous pinch black pepper

Small pinch red chili flakes

Melt the butter with the olive oil over low heat. Add minced/grated garlic (I use a microplane), and stir. Turn heat to med/med-high and add cream and milk. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Add cheese and seasonings and continue stirring. Once sauce is thickened, remove from heat.

(I usually have to add 1-2 tsps cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tbsp cold water, stir, then simmer til thickened.)


Red Pizza Sauce

(based on recipe in Jessica Fisher’s “Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook”)

¼ C olive oil

2 tsp minced garlic

One 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

3 Tbs chopped fresh basil (or 1 Tsp dried)

1 tsp salt

½ tsp dried oregano

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

One 6 oz. can tomato paste

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook briefly. Add tomatoes, basil, oregano, pepper flakes. Let simmer 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook 3 minutes. Let cool.

This sauce freezes nicely. I portion into tiny jars and chill in the frig overnight before freezing. Thaw in the frig. One batch makes enough sauce for several pizzas.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Summertime Visiting

The last weekend of June was our mini-vacation to Colorado. This was a quick trip over a long weekend, and we went so the boys could see real mountains. They not only saw the mountains, they got to go to the top of one. That was Silas’s dream - “I want to stand on top of a mountain!”. Of course, the rest of us wanted to see the mountains as well, and getting to spend time with my cousin Jesse, his wife Stephanie, and their family, was a huge bonus.

Stephanie was our tour guide going to the top of that mountain as she led us through Estes Park and up Trail Ridge Road. I had no idea we were on the highest elevation paved road in the United States. The altitude made me a bit lightheaded and caused some anxiety, but I’m so glad we went. The scenery was stunning.

Colorado 2015 (52)Colorado 2015 (65)

Colorado 2015 (32)

We saw these guys just past the mountain summit. Traffic was stopped and the park ranger was taking pics for the people in the car ahead of us. We were able to snap some of our own.

Colorado elk

At the visitor’s center I happened to spot this little guy on the rocks on the other side of the fence. He’s a Mountain Bluebird, and the first I’ve ever seen. Colorado 2015 (26)

The boys got to play in the snow. It was cool, but not chilly, just perfect.

Colorado 2015 (104)

A mountain train ride topped our agenda the next day. The Georgetown Loop Railroad was a fun ride for everyone, but of course, the boys were ecstatic. A real steam engine pulled the train and we went over a bridge with a small river beneath.0627151254b 0627151155

There were a couple of other tourist stops – Buffalo Bill’s grave on Lookout Mountain, and the evening spent in Denver at Casa Bonita’s.

Most important, we got to spend some quality time with family members we don’t get to see often. We love those guys and treasure our times together. It was a fun weekend and the kids were great travellers. We came back to the Nebraska prairie, missing the view of the mountains, but loving the cornfields for miles.