Wednesday, November 28, 2012

WELCOME and Thanks!

WELCOME to Connie and thanks for following this blog.

Thanks also to my other blog followers. I treasure each of you!

Most of you are fellow bloggers and Connie is no exception.  I follow her as well and am a big fan.  I always learn something new and occasionally yearn to be at her dinner table -- especially after her recent post on all those onions!

What will we do if no one is in charge??

In my humble opinion, there's a difference between 'society' and 'community.' My experience with society has a lot of elected officials, regulations and people in charge of their domains. Government does stuff for you and you pay for it whether you use it, want it or not.

Community is different. It is somewhere between loose organization and chaos.  People do things because it's right to do them or they want to do them, not because it's required. Things come together, or they don't. 

My current experience in an unnamed place in an unnamed western state is a positive reflection on the goodness of community. A family has a genuine misfortune, there's a fund-raiser. 

People want music? It happens, right there.



Folks need to communicate?
 Put it on the bulletin board.

Christmas coming up? Decorations materialize.
If someone is offended, they keep it to themselves.
Decorations will be taken down soon enough.

Neighbor too busy with work to decorate the fence?
No sweat, that's what neighbors do.

Got something you don't need?
Need something you don't have?
Check the free box outside the Mason's Lodge on Main Street. Today there are books, a hat, an inkjet cartridge and a clean egg carton for your hens' product.
Folks tend to only put nice stuff that still works there, not stuff that should go to the dump.

A few local folks, through a variety of circumstances, wouldn't eat regularly if not for the kindness of others. Cafe serves them, other regulars add a buck or two if they can when they pay their bills to cover the losses.

There are more examples every day, but just thought I'd offer a small glimpse of living communites that function with out someone "in charge."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Spice up your holidays

I'm a huge fan of Penzey's spices. They have high-quality, fresh spices at very reasonable prices.  If you save your old spice jars you can refill them with Penzey's spices in resealable ziplock bags, many of which are in bags as small as one ounce of product, for even greater savings. For example, based on the way I cook, I buy dill weed in one ounce bags, garlic in 4 ounce bags and cinnamon in 8 ounce bags.

They always have some special offers during the holidays. This year is no exception. First is their free shipping with an order of $30 or more, a minimum savings of $7.95.  The second is this year's holiday gft box. It is a great sampler of some of their spices, and also a wonderful gift for a friend who cooks. Their cinnamon (included in the box) is unbelievably good -- I occasionally sprinkle it on buttered toast to make cinnamon toast. No sugar needed! The gift box comes with a cute kitchen towel.  If you prefer pairs of towels, you can buy extras as well.  Several of my friends and family members will get these for Christmas (surprise!).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the opportunity to succeed or fail.

Thank you for the ability to start again after success or failure.

Thank you for the abundance we forget we have.

Thank you for the freedoms we take for granted.

Thank you for the blessings we so often overlook as the minimum standards for our lives.

Thank you for giving us minds and hands to do your work.

Thank you for this peaceful day.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Easy Holiday French Toast

In addition to being a day for us all to reflect on the blessings in our lives, Thanksgiving is a day for foodies to excel. I'm not normally a big fan of 'convenience foods' but the following meal is one time I'll make the exception. Why make the day only about the BIG meal when you can start the day with an easy but special breakfast? Here's a way to make a fabulous breakfast with little mess of fuss. 

Start with the right ingredients, like a loaf of great cinnamon raisin bread and some Del Monte bottled citrus salad. For a light side of fruit, a small bowl of the bottled pink grapefruit or regular orange sections with a little fresh banana is a great for a light, colorful fruit side. Should take about 5 minutes to 'prepare.'

The French toast is almost as easy. Take some bottled eggnog (I like the Shamrock), add an egg or two (about 1 egg per 3/4 cup of nog), moisten a slice of good quality cinnamon raisin bread and cook. Prep time before cooking is about 5 minutes and again, very little to clean up after. Serve with butter and your favorite syrup.  The great part of this is that the spices and extra goodies are contained in these products!

If you have the time, you can make your own 'french toast' bread (FTB) in advance by adding more raisins (and nuts or other fruit), spices and sweetner to your a loaf of your home-made bread.  I'll make my loaf of FTB today with oat and wheat flour, raisins, walnuts and lots of spices! I include nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and a bit of cardamom. (Remember to add a little extra yeast to counteract the antibiotic action of the cinnamon if you use a lot of that.)

This is a great festive start to an otherwise frantic but wonderful day. It works well for Christmas, too.  If you want to repeat at other times of year, stash a can or two of the Borden's eggnog.
No refrigeration needed and it's available when the dairy case eggnog is out of season. 
Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dumpling Season!

The cool evenings lately signal the beginning of another favorite for me: dumpling season!  It's too warm half the year for steamed dumplings around here, so this is very exciting!  These aren't the dense, labor intensive flat noodle-like things some people call dumplings.  Our fast, simple dumplings are like fluffy steamed biscuits immersed in soup or stew, so the flavors mingle to bring you pure satisfaction. These are total comfort food at the level of mashed potatoes or meatloaf, not a gourmet meal.

NOTE TO SPOTLESS KITCHEN BRIGADE: some photos below may reveal real life. Viewer discretion is advised.

The recipe is fairly simple:
1 c. flour (half can be whole grain)
1.5 t baking powder
0.5 t salt
1T sugar
3T cold butter or lard
about half a cup of milk
Mix the dry, cut in the butter or lard as in biscuits. Do not add the liquid until your pot of soup or stew is simmering on the stove.  I use a covered skillet with sides about 4 inches high to allow room for the stew and space for the dumplings to rise.
Just before the steaming part, add the milk.  The mixture should be moist but not runny. See the picture for consistency.  I goofed and this is a little wetter than normal. Yours should not be more moist than this. You may need a smidge more or less milk than 1/2 cup depending on your humidity and altitude.

If using canned soup (like Progresso) add another 1/2  cup of water or broth to the soup, as these dumplings will absorb water and thicken the soup.  If you don't anticipate this you will end up with something too thick.

I use the basic recipe for stews of all kinds. The picture is left over beef stew with additional water added.  Once the batter is at the right consistency, drop quickly by medium spoonfuls into the simmering stew. Initially the dumplings will sit low in the simmering broth.  As they steam, they will grow in size and rise ad the leavening starts to work. 

You can stay simple or dress these up for Sunday dinner.  For chicken and dumplings, I may add a pinch or two of thyme or sage to the dry batter.  For beef stew, perhaps a dash of dry garlic. 
From the point in the picture above, cover and DO NOT UNCOVER for 10 excruciating minutes. If they don't look like the next picture or even fluffier, cover and allow them to steam for another 2 minutes.

Carefully lift each dumpling with a large spoon and place on plate or shallow bowl with the accompanying soup or stew.  We sprinkle ours with shredded Parmesan cheese, but they are fine without.

You will be rewarded with a meal that may win you over to dumpling season!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Be the ONE

The national election is Tuesday.  If you haven't already voted, please plan your day to ensure that your vote is cast and counted.

If you have an absentee ballot and have not mailed it, you should seriously consider dropping it at a polling place.  In my state, it must be at the County Registrar's office or an official polling place to be counted on Tuesday, NOT postmarked by that date. That means mailed ballots must be received by my County no later than Monday's mail.  Not sure about your state? Call on Monday to find out.

Do you think your ONE vote won't matter? What if a million people nation-wide have the same sentiment? Or 2 million? Presidents have been elected with smaller margins! Don't give in to feeling powerless. Do not give your power away and let others decided for you. Individuals matter. That concept is a founding principle of our Nation. Do not prove our Founding Fathers wrong. Be the ONE.

Consider copying this post and sending it in an e-mail to 10 or 20 people.  If they each forward it to just 5 or 10 people, that's as many as 200 people encouraged to vote. If they each forward it to a few people, we can be in the thousands after that one forward.  It would not be a chain letter threatening dire consequences.  The consequences of voting or not become clear soon enough.  If you don't vote and don't like the outcome, don't complain.  Instead, BE the wonderful, powerful ONE.  Vote on 6 November.