Saturday, December 30, 2006

My Kitchen

Ilva at Lucullian Delights has asked us fellow bloggers to show the world our kitchens. Even though I'm not "technically" a food blog (I talk about lots of stuff) I do post some of my better recipes, so I figure I can join in the fun too! She's going to do a round up of all the entries some time next month, so be sure and watch her site. Hell, check her site out anyway. That woman takes the most awsome photographs!

Several people have already posted their pictures and I'm so jealous of Tanna's kitchen. Her's was totally destroyed by a broken water pipe and they've rebuilt it to be the perfect dream kitchen. We can't all have catastrophies that enable us to design dream kitchens (thankfully) but I'm hoping for a good tornado.

I really wanted to wait until I had a sunny day to take my pictures but I'm running out of time. You'll see that I'm in preparation for my New Year's Day Annual Big Party. That's my roaster waiting for me to fill it with George's Maid Rites. And, yes, it's sitting on my dryer. Which is in the kitchen.


Here's my messy counter - east view.

And here's my messy counter - north view.


And here's my window herb garden which is my favorite spot in the kitchen. I absolutely love those two windows! I have my bird feeders hanging right outside the window and I can stand there, drink my coffee and watch the birds (and neighbors). It's amazing what you can see through my kitchen window.

Oh, and that's my dishwasher. As you can see, it's definitely a "one-butt" kitchen. But, like all kitchens, its the room where everyone congregates. We don't have a table in it (too small) but people like to stand around, sit on the counters, dryer, wherever and talk. Makes it a little hard to actually cook when they do that, but we somehow manage.

Yes, I do wish I had a beautiful big kitchen, but barring that tornado, I guess I'm stuck with what I've got. I remember when DH and I were first together we lived in a veritable shack (and I'm not exaggerating here). There wasn't an even floor or wall in the place. The bathroom was the size of a closet and the dining room ceiling fell down and just about killed the kids! But it had the biggest, most wonderful kitchen in it. Lots of counter space and cupboards, with room for a big kitchen table. Our house now is 100 times better than that POS, but I do miss having a big kitchen.

There you have it folks - the place where all the magic happens. Well, maybe not so much "magic" as plain old alchemy. What was it I read the other day? Oh - you could go to K-Mart and buy the cheapest set of golf clubs, hand them to Tiger Woods, and he'd still golf better than you or I. The lesson being, it's not the size that counts, it's how you use it. (I hear you giggling Bettina.)

I'm really looking forward to that roundup, Ilva. So many kitchens, so little time!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Holidays

Wishing you and yours the very best this Christmas. And may 2007 be trouble-free for all of us!

Bathroom Walls

As anyone who has ever done any work on an old house knows, nothing is ever easy or simple. When Tom (the plumber) came to take out the tub's faucets and drain to prepare it for Mr. Tubbs, the drain crumbled in his hand, it was that rusted out. It's probably a miracle that it hadn't leaked into the dining room below. I'm sure it was just a matter of time. The "new" sink also refused to drain and Tom figured those pipes were in the same condition. Sooo... yep, that's right. Tom had to open up the floor to install new pipes. See ->

(That's Dusty, our Heinz 57 royal PIMA.)

Well, hell. I hated that old floor anyway. Nothing for it but to go get a remnant from our local floor guy. Shouldn't be too expensive. It's a pretty small bathroom. Right? Wrong. Four hundred buckaroos ladies and gents. That's installed, of course. Oh, and to install the new floor - they're going to have to take OUT the tub and stool. Great.

Sooooo.... since I'm going to have a nice new floor to go with my nice new tub and sink, I figured I might as well paint the walls. Right? See how ugly they are? I blame my daughter for the color choice. But that formica crap - that's all the previous owner's doing. I've got that... crap... in both bathrooms and the kitchen. Ugh!

But, if you prime it with an oil-based primer it'll paint up nicer than nice. So, with high hopes, I started ripping off loose wallpaper. (Every frigging room in this house has at least 4 layers of wallpaper!) Now, I've painted over wallpaper before. In fact, in every frigging room in this house. And, for the most part, it turns out really nice. Just make sure any loose pieces are either re-glued or ripped off. That especially looks nice when you're going for that "European Old World" look.

All my walls are plaster. And, like I've said, the house is old (over 100 years old). So when you start to rip off wallpaper, you see that it was hiding a whole bunch of "problems". Like mold. The room was literally covered in black mold! Ack! I tried painting Kilz over it, but it just kept seeping through. I knew I was over my head, so I called in the expert - Angie Helleseth. Angie has a remodeling business called The Perfect Touch. She and the women who work with her are absolute magicians. I knew if anyone would know what to do, it'd be Angie. Of course she told me the "proper" thing to do would be to take out the plaster and lathe and put up dry wall. And I hope the NEXT person who owns this house does exactly that. But this "little" remodeling project is quicky turning into a money pit, and I just can't afford to keep sinking money into this room!

Her next suggestion was to completely wash down the room in a strong Clorox solution and fill every crack and hole with caulking. Then cover it all with... you guessed it - wallpaper. Shit. I give up. I can't wallpaper, but I can wash and caulk and paint. So I've hired Angie to come in after the floor is laid and put up this paintable wall covering that looks like stucco. Then I'll paint. Then Tom will come back and replace the tub and stool.

I keep reminding DH that it was hot water that was running down the drain all those years. And, boy - are we going to save money on that puppy! He knows that once we started we can't stop until it's done, but the doleful looks are starting to piss me off. It's not MY fault we have an old house.

Maybe I should have taken Steve's advice years ago when I was first making noises about remodeling. He suggested we bulldoze it over and build a new home. ...Nah. I kinda like the old place.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Bathroom Remodel

Living in an old house has its rewards and its challenges. Our home was built in the late 1800's as a single-family dwelling. While it's no mansion by any means, it was generally well-built to the standards of the day. The eight foot ceilings had me sold from the beginning. However, old electrical works and old plumbing accompany the Italiante woodwork and we've had to gradually replace most of the worst offenders. Which brings me to my latest "project" - the upstairs bathroom.

The faucet in the bathtub has leaked for the last SEVENTEEN YEARS! And for who knows how long before that. At first it was just an annoying drip. But gradually it's gotten to the point where the rust and calcium build-up completely prevented us from turning off the faucet. What was even worse was that it was the HOT WATER FAUCET. Damn. I know that I could have just replaced the faucets, but as you can see, the tub desperately needed a facelift. Years of running and dripping water had carved a channel down the front and in the bottom of the tub right down to the cast iron base. I also knew that this was not a job for a "doityourself-er" like me.

Enter Mr. Tubbs:


Don Gustafson from Fort Dodge, Iowa, has been resurfacing tubs, sinks, showers and the like for over 20 years. He uses a spray-on coating that gives the appliance a new surface. It's not an easy job, by any means. First he has to clean the surface with a special chemical cleaner. Next he fills in the grooves and cracks with a putty-like substance.

Then, while that is drying, he covers literally every surface with paper, plastic and tape in preparation of spraying his solution on to the tub and sink. And when he gets done, you're left with this:


It is absolutely outstanding - Like a brand-new tub! I could not believe the difference. Nor that I put up with the drip and the crappy-looking tub for as long as I did. If you live pretty much anywhere in the State of Iowa and could use Don's services I recommend him highly. His phone number is (515) 576-8522. Tell him Sally said "thanks".

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Oyster Stew


I can't remember a time when I didn't like oyster stew. Mom and Dad absolutely loved it, so it was on a regular rotation in our house. When we were young, my brother and I had a deal - I liked the milk better than the oysters and he was just the opposite. So when we had the stew for supper Butch and I would dink around with our bowls so that I had more milk and he had more oysters. Mom didn't really care as long as she had hers and we didn't fight about it.

Thinking back on all those oyster stews brings back so many good memories. Like the time Butch bit into an oyster and found a pearl. Or the time Mom backed Dad out of the kitchen waving a butcher knife in his face while he said "Now, Opal...now, Opal" over and over and over again. After he left she calmly sat back down and continued with her soup giving our giggling faces stern looks and fingering the knife by her bowl. I never did know what they were fighting about.

Turin, the nursing home and oyster stew all blend together in my mind. It was part and parcel of my childhood memories. Growing up in the 50's and 60's our only source of oysters were canned. Unlike today where pints of "fresh" oysters show up on grocer's shelves around this time of year. I'll bet Mom didn't pay $1.92 for a can of oysters, but that's still cheaper than those pints. And they taste a whole lot better, too. (At least in my mind....maybe I just like the taste of the tin... who knows.)

We also served the residents oyster stew at least once a month. That's where I learned that if you chop up the oysters they go further. An added benefit is you get at least some oyster with every bite. If Butch were alive today I definitely wouldn't share my oysters with him any more, I like them so much.

Making oyster stew is a breeze. At least, it is the way I make it. Oysters, butter, milk, salt and pepper (to taste). That's pretty much it. I've dinked around with the recipe some over the years, but I just keep coming back to the basics. And, like all soup, it's even better the next day. And don't forget the oyster crackers. The other ones just don't taste as good.

Oyster Stew

1 can of oysters
1/2 stick of butter
milk or half 'n half (or a combination)
salt to taste
pepper to taste

1. Open the can of oysters and dump them in your sauce pan. Using a chopper thingy, chop them to the consistency you like. Or don't. It's your soup, after all.

2. Turn the heat on to medium and throw in the butter. Let the oyster juice and butter work it's magic for a bit on those babies.

3. Add your milk/half 'n half up to the top of the pan. Be realistic here. If you use a huge soup pot, you're obviously going to need more oysters and butter. Plus, that's a gallon or so of milk. How big of a crowd are you cooking for anyway?

4. Add some salt and pepper after it's heating up good. Taste it. Does it need more? You decide. Oh, and don't let the bottom of the milk burn. Keep that fire about medium and slowly heat that milk up.

There you go. Simple, huh? This is our traditional Christmas Eve supper. I loved it when Mom lived with us because I could make oyster stew a couple of times a month. DH isn't as crazy about it as I am. I think he's content to just have to eat it on Christmas Eve. Thank goodness I read Ivonne's post about comfort foods. I now have an excuse to make (and eat) oyster stew for no particular reason other than I love it. When I told him what was for supper he just gave me "that look". Nothing hostile or anything. Just like "stew and what else?" so I'm heating him up some left over pork cutlet and gravy. Come to think of it, maybe I will up the size of my pan and use two cans..... . Thanks Ivonne!

Oh - by the way - I've also made oyster stew out of left over boxed scalloped potatoes. Not bad...not bad at all.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Package From Canada!


Look what came in the mail today from my good friend Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice! Some spiced nuts (using the black walnuts I'd sent her earlier this year), two Canadian cool magazines and a wonderful card. I can't wait to browse the magazines and munch my nuts. This came while I was a work and I had a heck of a time keeping DH out of the nuts. But I promised to share a few bites with him tonight.

Thank you so much, Ivonne! Any time you want more walnuts, just let me know.

P. S.

These nuts are seriously addicting!!! Here's the link to Ivonne's recipe for Orange Vanilla Nuts. Try 'em - you'll LOVE 'em!
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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Pound of Flesh

I wanted to update my blog to let anyone who might be interested know the reason for my absence. As I have said previously, we lost two much loved men in mid-June in horrific accidents. At the end of that month a young man who had three young children crashed his pickup into a tree when he missed a curve on a gravel road. They said that there were pieces of him everywhere and they had to use dental records to identify him. I did not know Kirk well, but I know his kids. His youngest was in T-Ball with my grandson. I know his ex-wife. I know his mother. This was a terrible tragedy and our small town lost another husband and father in an unimaginable crash.

This past week another man, Benji Banwart, suffered a killing stroke while farming. Again, all of us lost a good friend. His funeral was on Saturday, and on Saturday my husband was involved in an accident. No - he's fine (thanks for asking). So is the other driver, thank God. A young girl literally turned in front of him. He only had time to swerve slightly to the right to avoid T-boning her vehicle with the pickup. Thankfully she was also driving a pickup, otherwise the outcome would not have been so blessed if our grill guard had gone through her windshield.

Needless to say, this freaked me the FUCK out! Steve and Dean are too recent for me to just laugh this off.

I can't help but think about the poor guys on our fire department who have had to go out to the accident sites on Dean, Kirk and now Benji. These guys volunteer their time and efforts and they all knew these men. Worked with them; partied with them; went to their weddings (some anyway); and went to school with their kids. To go out there and see their friends hurt, bloodied, dead. I can't even imagine what their nightmares must be these days. There were a lot of tears at Benji's funeral. I think everyone is in overload mode these days. "Please, Lord - no more! You've had your pound of flesh from our small town. Please don't let me pick up another friend... or have a friend pick me up."

And so, dear friends, my absence is my nervousness and numbness. The last time this happened, when my mother and brother died within three weeks of each other, it was almost two years before I could read more than one sentence at a time. On good days I'll try to catch one blog entry, read one email, or watch 15 minutes of a TV show. I can't concentrate right now. My mind keeps returning over and over again to Steve, Dean, Kirk and Benji. Remembering the last time we spoke, or laughed, bought each other a beer, teased one another about some stupid thing. And Don's accident. The "what ifs" are driving me nuts. I've tried numerous times to keep posting. My mind just doesn't seem to want to quiet down so I can write. Cooking is once again an absent-minded chore. Time is the only thing that will calm my mind.

Two weeks ago (or was it just one?), Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School had their annual fall festival and Jay had EIGHT tanks of chicken going! If I had been thinking, I would have taken a picture of that and posted it. Wouldn't that have been a sight! I apologize. Ah well, next year. There's always "next year" - right?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Summer's End


The weather guy has just said that there is a chance of frost on Tuesday night. I guess that means that summer is over. That also means I have some work to do in the garden. I was really hoping to have at least another weekend to get to it in some sort of controlled fashion. Maybe I'll just throw a couple of sheets over everything and hope for the best.

After the terrible heat we had this summer, my eggplants and peppers are putting on fruit like there's no tomorrow. Silly plants! My tomatoes are all but done and I'm sorry to see that end. It's been a fantastic year for herbs, though. They really liked that high heat and humidity. The basil, parsley and cilantro seeds that I planted in July are all coming up. Looks like I'll have lots of herbs to bring indoors to winter over in pots on my widow sill. Last year was the first time I tried doing that and it was wonderful having fresh herbs to use all winter long. I just went out in the garden and dug up the smallest of the plants, slapped 'em in a pot and put them on my window sill in the sun. I don't know why I waited so long to try this, it's so easy. I hope you try this, too.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

5 Things You Should Try Before You Die

Tanna from My Kitchen in Half Cups recently tagged me with Melissa's challenge to list the five things you would want to eat before you die. I'll admit that this is a pretty strange challenge. At first I thought she was asking what I would want to try before I die. Foods that I've never had, but always wanted to taste. And I couldn't think of a thing! I'm a simple woman with midwestern taste. Oh, sure, I've had fresh Maine lobster and steamed clams. Steak Tartare and cavier. I've even tried Escargot and absolutely loved it. But sushi will never pass these lips! My six year old grandson loves sushi, but the thought of raw fish makes me gag. I'm definitely not as brave as Eddie from Deep End Dining.

But now that I've actually gone over and read Melissa's challenge I understand that she is asking us in the blogosphere to name five things that we wish everyone in the world could taste because it is something that we've eaten and loved. That's not so bad! I can do that.

So, here are my choices:

1. Jay's Chicken - While the chicken is absolutely scrumptious (juicy and smokey with a wonderful barbeque flavor), its the process that you simply must experience! Five homemade barbeque tanks, 20 men milling around in an unspoken dance while turning 450 halves of chicken by hand and slathering on the "secret" marinade, dousing flames, drinking beer and laughing. All of these men are just ordinary guys - most of them are farmers. But all of them have been cooking this chicken for years. Jay is just the guy who inherited the first tank from whoever it was that started this tradition. They only cook their chicken in the summer, usually for some fundraiser or another. No one is paid (except in beer) and it is consistently wonderful chicken.

And what would go better with Jay's Chicken than pick No. 2:

2. Iowa Sweet Corn - Picked fresh from the field, quickly shucked and dropped into a kettle of boiling water. Slather that puppy with a ton of butter and eat it as hot as you can stand.

Then, of course there is:

3. Sweet Corn and Bologna Boil - Ring bologna and sweetcorn cooked together in that kettle of water. Husband No. 1 and I used to attend a summer party at the local state park where this was the main event. Either bring a ring of bologna or some sweetcorn, throw it in the big pot boiling over an open flame and fish out some that is already cooked. Pop open an ice cold beer - yum! You're in heaven. I cook some sweetcorn this way every summer. The bologna flavors the corn, and the corn returns the favor. I highly suggest this delicacy.

4. Heirloom Tomatoes - I happen to agree with Tanna on this one. Of course, any tomato picked and eaten while standing in the garden is wonderful, but the heirlooms have such a sweet taste. Deeper and more "tomato-y". I don't know the name of the one growing out there right now (it's striped and big), but it has the better flavor. And that's saying a lot! This has been our year for sweet, juicy tomatoes.

And, lastly:

5. Aunt Della's Macaroni and Tomatoes - This was very often the dinner we ate coming back from the garden. She would simply boil up some macaroni and heat up a jar of her home canned tomatoes to pour over it. Home canned is the best. When I get to craving this dish I will sometimes open a can of stewed tomatoes and make it, but it just doesn't taste as good. Sometimes the simplest things really are the best!

So, there you have it. The five things I would wish everyone could taste. Thanks, Tanna, this was fun!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Pluck

The post that I had planned for today must wait. Pluck is down. Why does that matter? Because my post has several imbedded links and the sites I want to link to are on Pluck. (Pluck is my RSS reader, in case you were wondering.) And why does that matter, you ask. Because dummy here doesn't have all the blogs I refer to in my Favorites and I can't remember everyone's address! So, until Pluck comes back online it will just have to wait. And it was a good one too! Really!

Another Day

After my meltdown the other night (for which I humbly apologize), I started wondering how many other women strive for perfection based on society's ideal as presented in magazines and television. We buy these glossy magazines picturing gorgeous homes and dream that, some day, we'll have a house that looks just like that. With the big kitchens and classy bathrooms. French doors that lead out to a secret garden with a pond and waterfall. Beautiful garden plots with not a weed in sight. Show-stopping gladiolus that win blue ribbons at the fair. Mile-high Lemon Meringue pies and Paella. We can do it! Hell, here's the recipe. And it gives us step-by-step instructions for putting in that pond and waterfall. All it takes is time, back-breaking labor and money.

And then we look around at our homes and our yards and our gardens. We look at our too-small kitchens and our worn out carpet. We see the bugs are eating the lettuce and the weeds! Oh my - the weeds! Instead of beautiful terra cotta patios we have grass beaten down by dogs and kids. Our garden paths are rabbit runs. Reality seems to pale in comparison to those glossy magazines.

Thank God for the internet and people who share their accomplishments, no matter how small. Like Natalia's Financier that she loves but could never find in Denver, so she made it her own self. (I thought she was looking for a banker!) Or Tanna's Fougasse bread that she thinks didn't come out quite right, but is so happy to be finally baking in her newly remodeled kitchen after a horrible leak completely destroyed her old one. Thank God for Kate at My Kitchen Garden as well as Farm Girl Fare showing us her garden plots gone to weeds or dug up by dogs. But, look there! Look at that volunteer basil. How cool is that?

Thankfully I've stopped buying those stupid magazines. Now my role models are people like Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice. Although I'm completely jealous of her great pictures, I could care less about making tarts or cakes that are so beautiful they make your heart skip a beat. And Joe Pastry who weekly makes some kind of bread and a dessert. We never get to actually SEE these items because he is busy analyzing his weekly projects right down to the molecular level. No pictures, but by God you're gonna learn something! Then there's Janet from The Old Foodie. It's hard to describe what Janet writes. She's a foodie who loves history, and where she gets her information is a total mystery to me. But it's interesting to see the way cooking has evolved. The girls over at Go Fug Yourself have taught me what style really is with side-splitting humor. And The Waiter who, through his gentle dialog, teaches us all about how to live a good and balanced life.

There's so many more, but you get the picture. Life is full of changes, some for the better, some for the worse. I guess its what you do with them that matters. And quite frankly I don't know anyone who lives in a perfect house with a perfect yard and garden. Or has the time OR the money to do all that crap. And at my age the back-breaking labor part is definitely out.

Maybe I should buy me a red hat. I'll wear it pulling my weeds.

Note To Self

Note to self: Never post when you're tired and have been drinking wine.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Blog Overload

We just got done eating a wonderful meal - basically completely from our garden. Tomatoes, onion, garlic and shrimp in a wine reduction sauce. It was great. But, after dinner, DH wanted me to "blog" about this delicious dinner. And I am really fighting this notion.

I use an RSS feed reader to keep up to date with my blogs. The only trouble is I have literally hundreds of blogs that I subscribe to. What that means is every day that the author posts to their blogs, my reader picks it up. Of those hundreds of blogs I subscribed to, I only religiously read a few. And they're not all food blogs, by any means. Waiterrant is one of my favorites. As is Everything is Wrong With Me by Jason Mulgrew. Not to mention Opinionista. Or Damn Interesting. Or Go Fug Youself. What I'm trying to say is that there is not enough hours in the day to read everything of interest. Kinda like "Better Homes and Gardens" magazine.

I used to subscribe to "Better Homes and Gardens" magazine and it used to drive me crazy. Those beautiful pictures of the perfect garden; or the perfect kitchen; or the perfect meal. And then (as if that wasn't enough) I started subscribing to Martha Stewart Living. What a beautiful magazine. What scrumptious recipes! Where BHG left off, MSL picked up. It was meant to inspire me to greater achievements. What is did was make me depressed about the way I lived.

Don't get me wrong, I don't live in a hovel by any means. But, I just couldn't - didn't want to - make my home into the showcase that these magazines endorsed. True, with MSL their intent was to inspire you to be more that you thought you could be. But, who has the time! I work full time, am a grandma (full time) and try to keep my house in a semi-semblance of order. Kinda like every other woman I know.

It occurred to me the other day that my blog list is getting kinda like my Better Homes and Gardens. It had grown to monster dimensions. Something that I could no longer keep up with. And I felt guilty about that. Here are all these wonderful people writing these wonderful things on their blogs, and I didn't have the time to read them. Not only were they better cooks/gardeners/craftsmen/writers/photographers than I, but I wasn't soaking up their words of wisdom! What an ungrateful wench.

So, what did I do... I deleted every highlighted entry so I wouldn't feel so guilty about not reading them. I was caught in the BHG trap. Nothing I had or could do was as good as what I was reading.

And then that started me feeling really guilty about my own blog. Instead of this being a place where I could just let my hair down and speak my mind without the worry of social censorship, I started to try and write things I thought the other bloggers might find interesting.

Well, FUCK THAT. I'm not that interesting. I'm just me. I'm not a haute cuisine chef. I'm not a pastry meister. Whereas I might like a "light" supper, that always entails meat of some kind. To just eat a salad for supper... well, that just ain't gonna happen. I made Farmgirl Fares summer in a bowl tonite and it was fantastic. But I paired it with shrimp. And if it wasn't shrimp, it would be steak. I don't care how hot it is, I want my fucking MEAT.

Ok, forgive me (you un-named masses). I just needed to get that off my chest. I wish I could bake like Ivonne of Creampuffs in Venice. Or garden like Kate of Farmgirl Fare. Or keep my house like Flylady. Or plan my meals like Leann Ely (see Flylady). Sorry. It ain't gonna happen. I'm 55 years old. I love my husband, my daughter and my grandson. That's it. The summer rain will fall. The weeds will grow. The grass needs mowed. And another person is calling from jail and wants his bond reduced. Take a number honey 'cause it aint gonna happen today.

Monday, August 07, 2006

It's Here!


I finally got my postcard today! It came from Natalia of From Our Kitchen blog. She had such a nice note on it. She's 19 years old, a college student with a passion for photography and baking. She hopes one day to go to baking school.

Thank you so much Natalia! It's a beautiful card and a lovely message. I wish you all the best in your studies. OH - and thank you so much for the scone recipe! I like scones, too and I will definitely give this one a try. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Postcards From The World

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Today is the day I received my secret Postcards From The World recipient's name and address. I was so excited! Like Ivonne, I too was concerned that my postcard might not be good enough. (Unlike Ivonne, my photo sucks however.) I was afraid it might not be appropriate to send someone I don't even know a card from a religious shrine. What if they're not Catholic? Or even Christian? What if I offend them with my choice of postcards?

But then I realized that this shrine - although it might be fundamentally Catholic - was a testament to faith everywhere. It's a man-made expression of faith and love in a power greater than himself. Plus it's what West Bend is known for. People from all over the world visit the Grotto of the Redemption by the thousands every year. How could I not send this card to my secret Postcards From The World recipient.

So here you are secret Postcards From The World friend. I hope you like it. Maybe it will inspire you to visit West Bend, Iowa one day and we can meet. Who knows. Stranger things have happened.

Baby, It's Hot Outside!


Man! Is it hot! With a temperature of 96 degrees F and a heat index of 112, you most definitely need something to cool you down while you're sitting outside by the grill. I don't know about you, but when I need something cool and refreshing on a hot summer day, my thoughts always turn to frozen margaritas. So I naturally went looking for a Party In A Bucket frozen margarita mix this past week. I don't know whether you've seen these gems in your part of the world, but I"ve been able to find this product every year - until now. I've checked all the stores in my part of the country and, for some reason, they are not carrying them anymore. I was really bummed.

Basically the Party In A Bucket is nothing more than the margarita (or daiquiri) mix along with some water sold in a bucket to which you add your tequila (or rum for daiquiris), stir and put it in the freezer for a couple of hours until it turns into a slushy, yummy, ice cold slice of heaven. Now what was I going to do?

That's when I remembered this recipe. I'd copied it down from somewhere (or someone) years ago and stuck it in my recipe book. I hadn't made it in a couple of years, but I remembered you mixed it up, poured it into a gallon ice cream bucket and put it in the freezer for a couple of hours. And (more importantly) I remembered it was goooooood!

So, here is my own version of a Party In A Bucket. I hope you like it as much as I do. Mix up a batch today and share it with your friends at your next pool party or barbecue.

Frozen Drink
(Not very ingenious, I know. My recipe doesn't have a name - perhaps you could suggest something?)

9 cups water
2 cups dark rum
1 (12 oz.) can frozen lemonade
1 (12 oz.) can frozen orange juice concentrate
3 Tablespoons grenadine
1 Tablespoon maraschino cherry juice

To prepare:

Combine everything in a freezer container (I use a gallon ice cream bucket) and mix well. Freeze to desired consistency.

P.S.
This is my entry into Meeta's Monthly Mingle - Beat the Heat. Enjoy! Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Hardy Hibiscus



I planted this beautiful plant about 4 years ago. It grows to over 6 feet high and dies back completely each year. This year the plant is literally loaded with buds and the blooms are the size of dinner plates! This is one of my favorite plants.

Postcards From The World

In today's fast-paced world the art of letter writing has definitely taken a back seat to emails, instant messaging and text messaging. Not only has our penmanship suffered, but the language itself has changed with the effort to write the most words with the fewest amount of letters. IMHO* this change is mostly good. It allows us to keep in touch with family and friends almost instantaneously without having to get off the computer to use the telephone (for those poor schmucks still using dial up - LOL). Or, if you're like me and are on the phone 90% of your day, you certainly don't feel like spending an hour on the phone talking to your mother/friend/co-worker/whatever.

So why is it that when I go to the post office and see an actual letter, my heart sort of skips a beat with anticipation? I've thought about this and I believe it's because someone has actually thought of me and taken the time to set their thoughts to paper and send it off. Unfortunately this is a rarity in today's world. Even Christmas and birthday cards have been replaced with e-cards. And I'm just as guilty as the next person.

I remember when my parents would take us on vacation every summer to such exotic places as the Black Hills or Yellowstone Park. Mom would buy postcards for us kids to send to grandma or friends and I always picked the cheesiest ones I could find. You know the ones with the giant rabbit with horns on it's head, or the one of Godzilla storming down a city street with the words "Wish You Were Here" on the front? Yep. Those were my picks.

Postcards are a way of saying "I'm thinking of you while I'm here having fun". They're kind of like text messaging - with a picture. That's why when I saw Meeta's idea about bloggers from all over the world exchanging postcards anonymously I was instantly hooked. Who doesn't like getting postcards? And to get one from someone whom you only know vicariously through their respective blogs - well, that would be outstanding!

Count me in, Meeta!

*In My Humble Opinion

P.S.
I've been trying to upload a picture to post with this entry, but Blogger seems to be having a bad day. Sheesh.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Egg Salad Sandwiches


I've discovered that the only way Q will eat hard boiled eggs is by making Deviled Eggs (or, as Quinten calls them, Paprika Eggs). So, over the 4th, I bought two dozen eggs and boiled a dozen up to make his favorite Deviled Eggs. Alas! Fresh eggs are a bitch to peel. I ended up with only about 6 eggs that were "good" enough to use as Deviled Eggs with rest looking like they'd been in a fight with a meat grinder.

What does one do with less than perfect eggs? One makes egg salad, of course. Its pretty had to screw up egg salad, right? It's just eggs, mayo, mustard, pickle relish, salt and pepper, right? I've made it that way for over 30 years. So when this little gem of a recipe landed in my RSS feed box on the day I was going to make egg salad, I just knew I had to try it. I'm so glad I did! The mustard powder gives it that nice "mustardy" flavor without the added vinegar that prepared mustard has. And the dill weed compliments the egg and mayo flavor the way my pickle relish never could. I knew I had a winner with this recipe, and I just had to share it!

So, here is -

Egg Salad Sandwiches
Submitted by Sara Slade at Allrecipes.com

8 hard cooked eggs, diced
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup dried onion flakes - I used about 2 Tblsp. finely chopped onions - use your own judgement. Dried onions can sometimes be over-powering.
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dill weed
8 slices of bread

In a bowl, gently mix the eggs, mayo, onion, salt, mustard powder, garlic powder, pepper and dill. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight (This step is important to fully develop the flavors). To serve, spread equal amounts on 4 slices of bread and top with the remaining slices to make sandwiches (well *duh*).

Try it. I think you'll agree that you can build a better egg salad sandwich!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Amish Macaroni Salad


Well, I'm not quite done with obligations this month...it's our turn to help serve the meal at the Chamber monthly meeting. I've been asked to bring two salads today and I've chosen this macaroni salad and the fruit dip I made for Dustin's going-away party served with apples, strawberries and grapes.

I really like this macaroni salad because (1) it makes a LOT; (2) it's easy; (3) it's colorful; and (4) it tastes very good! The next time you're asked to bring a salad to some event, give this one a try.

Amish Macaroni Salad
from Allrecipes by Connie0751

2 cups elbow macaroni
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons dill pickle relish
2 cups creamy salad dressing (e.g. Miracle Whip) I just use Mayo
3 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
3/4 cup white sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon celery seed

1. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add macaroni and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside to cool.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the eggs, onion, celery, red pepper and relish. In a small bowl, stir together the salad dressing, mustard, white sugar, vinegar, salt and celery seed. Pour over the vegetables and stir in macaroni until well blended. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

I'm Back!!!


Whew! June was a busy month! First we had the Rodman Hillbilly Days with horseshoes, kids' carnival games, bingo, pork tenderloin supper and an auction. Quinten liked the dunk tank the best! It was a day of fun, sun, beer and food. Nothing better than that!

Then the town started REALLY cranking up for the Sesqui celebrations over the 4th of July. Everyone went the extra mile to get their businesses and homes ready for the deluge of people who would be coming into town for the All School Reunion. We fed around 700 people on Saturday night who came from all over the country to attend this event alone. The Antique Tractor Ride had 98 entrants which actually shocked the committee members. They didn't think there would be that many people interested in doing it. Rain fell when they started out, but the sun came out with a vengeance later. I saw a lot of red, sunburned faces that evening at the street dance.

Almost every organization had a food booth running on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Cattlemen even cooked steak sandwiches uptown Friday and Saturday night during the TWO street dances. Three, if you count the Stingrays which performed out at the Country Club on Saturday night as well.

Entertainment was everywhere - Celebration Iowa singers, Redemption Singers, Stingrays, Standing Hampton, Chaos on Wheels, the Pacesetters Drill Team, and the excellent DJ for Friday night's street dance. Our fireworks display was done on Sunday night and it was excellent! West Bend always has had a really good fireworks display, but we out-did ourselves this year.

Our annual July 4th auction (which is a Herculean effort - thank God I'm not on that committee!) was a smashing success, raising over $11,000.00. This money all goes towards next year's fireworks display. I'm glad people enjoy watching fireworks because we spend a lot of money to put them on. All the fundraisers throughout the year go towards this one event. Like I said - West Bend has a really good fireworks display. It's kind of our signature event.

Many families had their family reunions during this weekend as well, so the town tripled in size (at least) for four whole days. It was fun, but the exhaustion was etched on the faces of many people in the days that followed. I'm finally reaching the bottom of some of the piles of work at the office and Quinten went home. Normalcy should return soon. No more obligations. No more extra people. No more fundraisers. Whew!

P.S. - DH just reminded me that we did the Fireworks Golf Tournament as well in early June. I must have blocked that stressful event out of my memory. LOL

Friday, June 30, 2006

Antique Tractors


These are just some of the more than 98 antique tractors which are participating in the Sesqui Antique Tractor Ride today. They start in West Bend at 8:00 a.m. and travel to three surrounding towns before coming back here for supper tonite. We took Quinten out to look at them last night - he was terribly impressed. It's odd to see these venerable machines next to today's monster tractors. They barely make it to the new guy's wheel wells!










Some of them are extremely valuable due to the fact few were ever manufactured. In the case of the Cockshutt, there were only 600 tractors made. The one next to the Farmall (I can't remember it's name) is an earlier model of Cockshutt.

Back in the days when these guys were in service, farms were a lot smaller. I can't even imagine trying to farm 1200 acres with one of these. I'm sure that every farmer on this ride feels the same way. But, for one day, it's great to relive a bit of the past. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tragedy

I apologize for my lack of posts recently. Our small town has had a double tragedy - two men have been killed in less than a week of each other. Two women, two friends, have been suddenly left alone. Steve died June 9 when the semi he was driving crashed full-speed into another semi, killing both drivers. The day he was buried (June 17), Dean was driving his tractor out to cultivate his field and was hit by a train. His funeral is today.

Every wife is thinking the same thing. The town is reeling with shock. Both men were much loved by many, many people. I can't really think of much else to say.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

This Week's Meals

I was going to list everything we ate this week, but by Wednesday I realized that all I was doing was cleaning up left overs. It wasn't until yesterday that I actually dug into the freezer and cupboard and put together a meal.

From the freezer I found two poached chicken breasts, a bag of garden tomatoes from last summer and two bags of Italian style shredded cheese. I decided to roast the tomatoes a la Creampuffs in Venice (thanks Ivonne!) to deepen their flavor before adding them to the dish. From the cupboard I used a head of garlic (which I roasted along with the tomatoes) and a box of lasagna noodles that had been in the cupboard forever. The recipe I used called for a can of cream of mushroom soup and a bit of milk. This was a mistake. Even with adding the roasted tomatoes and garlic the dish still tasted like every other chicken/cream of mushroom soup/noodle/cheese recipe out there. Not bad, just bland tasting. This is really too bad because I could just as easily have made an Alfredo sauce to use.

In addition to the chicken lasagna we had a salad made from our garden lettuces and green onions with some cut-up radishes from the 'fridge. Dessert was banana bread made from a bag of cut-up bananas I found in the freezer. I don't remember when I put them there, but the bread tastes pretty good, so I'm pleased.

"Shopping from the freezer" is what someone over at eGullet called it, which describes this process perfectly. It's sort of liberating, knowing that you are using what you have instead of just buying more stuff because you don't know what you have. I know...I know... I need to make and keep a list of everything that goes into the freezer and cupboard. That's definitely on my "to do" list. As a secretary you'd think I'd be more organized in my own home.

And so the challenge continues to use what I have. I think I'm making some progress here.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Scotcheroos


I'd never even heard of these bars before I moved to West Bend. To me bars have always seemed like a lazy cook's cop-out for making cookies. However, this past Friday was the Chamber's annual Fireworks Golf Tournament to raise money to buy fireworks for our 4th of July celebration. Of course our office was on the committee, which meant I had to make a salad and a pan of bars to take to the club for the golfers' meal. Now I understand the reasoning behind this "bar" phenomenon - they're fast and easy to throw together. You don't have to waste time baking batch after batch of cookies. And they're transported to the event in the pan they're cooked in. Can't get better than that! (In other words, I've learned what thousands of harried working mothers have known for a long time.)

I figured this might be a good time to try something out of our new Sesqui cookbook so I chose Scotcheroos. If you like to eat Rice Krispie bars and a Hershey bar at the same time, these puppies are for you.

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
1 cup light Karo syrup
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
6 cups Rice Krispies
1 (6 oz.) pkg. chocolate chips
1 (6 oz.) pkg. butterscotch chips

Melt sugar and syrup together, add peanut butter and butter. Barely bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add Rice Krispies, mix well and press into a 9 x 13 inch pan. Melt chips together and spread over top.

Pretty simple, really. By the way - the salad got eaten but these came back home. Something about beer and bars just doesn't seem to mix. Luckily kids absolutely LOVE these things, so the grandson is happy. I now have half a bag of generic "crispy rice cereal" to use up but I am definitely not making any more bars! Well... at least not until the next fundraiser.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Ingredients


Old Foodie had a great idea. She suggested I list the ingredients I have to work with in the coming week's personal challenge. Then, perhaps, if anyone were so inclined, they might suggest a recipe to use with the ingredients I have on hand.

So, without further auido... auideu.. whatever, here is what I have on hand:

Cupboard:

The usual suspects - canned corn, green beans, asparagus, beets, sauerkraut, peas, pizza sauce, enchilada sause (green and red), canned soup, pasta, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes (with various spices - Italian, Spanish and plain), potatoes, one sweet potato, garlic, pears, pineapple, orzo, rice, packaged potato mixes, spaghetti sauce, various pickles and condiments and (of course) spices.

Refrigerator:

Eggs, milk (I will, of course, replace milk as needed), salsa, carrots, celery, asparagus, parsnips, radishes, wine, opened jars of pickles, salsa, jelly, half and half, relishes, horseradish, mayo, mustard, ketchup and salad dressings.

Freezer:

Who the hell knows!!! Fish, for sure (haddock, cod and others), shrimp, crab, scallops, vegetables (lots of different kinds), nuts, flour, raisins, ginger, frozen soups, lots of different vegetables (home grown and otherwise), sausages (andioulle and summer), peppers, rhubarb, various cheeses. (I realize I've repeated vegetables - that's my problem.)

As you can see, I have the makings for many, many meals. They might not all be meat based, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. So, dear readers, any suggestions?

P.S. Ok... all right! I mispelled peas! LOL Got to admit, it was funny though. Now... give me your recipe, smart alec!

Challenge - Use What You Have

I have just decided to do a personal challenge this week. From today (June 11) through Saturday (June 17) I am NOT GOING TO BUY ONE FOOD ITEM! Each week we throw out enough uneaten food to feed a third world nation (OK...maybe one family in a third world nation) and I am absolutely appalled at my waste. My cupboards, freezer and refrigerator are stuffed to overflowing with food and I refuse to buy another thing until some of this stuff gets used.

So, during the coming week, I am going to challenge myself to cook meals using what I already have. This may be tricky as we still have our 6 yr. old grandson with us, but I think I can figure out things he will like which will be tasty without resorting to breakfast cereal for supper (although pancakes may figure heavily for breakfast).

I'll post the results daily. Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Lettuce

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I have a confession to make - I LOVE Iceberg lettuce! If I hear one more person dissing my Iceberg telling me it has "no nutritional value", I'll... I'll get really mad. Nutrition be damned! To me Iceberg lettuce is a comfort food. Growing up, if you didn't raise lettuce in your garden (and let's just say Mother wasn't exactly into gardens), then if you wanted a salad, you ate Iceberg lettuce. Aunt Della had a HUGE garden, but she didn't waste precious space and effort on growing lettuces. Potatoes, carrots, onions, beets and the like were grown because she could put them up when harvest time came. Even though she was old by the time I came along, she still maintened her canning garden.

Needless to say, until I grew up and started gardening for myself, the only lettuce I ever ate was Iceberg. I do love the beautiful lettuces I grow now. Even their names are so cool: Oakleaf, Black-seeded Simpson, Red Fire. They make such a pretty and tasty salad. Using Iceberg as the base, of course.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

T-Ball


In small towns and big cities across the country summer means baseball. Kids everywhere are taking to the fields, parks and vacant lots to take part in this timeless tradition. We are so lucky that West Bend has an excellent T-Ball program for kids age 5-8. The parents volunteer to coach and many towns-people show up to watch the kids learn how to play ball. I was thrilled to find out that they actually pitch the ball before using the T to get the kids used to being pitched to. It's surprising how many of the young ones can actually hit the pitched ball. They also rotate the positions each child plays so they get a feel for every position.

As well as learning the game, the children also learn sportsmanship. Everyone takes a turn batting, catching and throwing. Then, at the end of the game, they line up to "congratulate" their opponents with a high five and a "good game". Small towns especially rely heavily on sports for activities for their children. I can think of no better activity for a 6 year old to partake in than summertime baseball.

In the picture there? That's my grandson, Quinten, hitting it out of the park! He's a natural. But, why wouldn't he be - his first word was "ball"! Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 05, 2006

1966 Impala SS

Posted by Picasa
Look at Jay's "new" car - a 1966 Impala SS. It was sitting in some farmer's garage for 20 years. This guy bought it brand new from Elbert's Chevrolet. He parked it in 1986 and never drove it again. The body is in fairly good shape (considering) and Jay plans to completely rebuild the engine. He's not even sure whether it will start in its present condition.

He wouldn't tell me what he paid for it, but he had a little smile on his face while talking about it. Whatever it was, I'm sure he feels he got his money's worth. He now has a hobby that will probably take him years to get running and looking cherry.

Man - does this car bring back memories!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Fini

And that's the end of my Memorial Day 2006 roadtrip down memory lane. Until next year - stay safe!

Kennebec Cemetery, May 2006


The last stop in my Memorial Day road trip is Kennebec Cemetery. It is a rather plain, mostly unused cemetery serving Kennebec Township. This is Castana's cemetery where my mother and her brother grew up. I never met my Uncle "Bud" (Alvin was his real name) because he was killed in WWII on D-Day. There is a marble monument at the entrance that has the names of Castana's native sons who died in WWII listed on it. It's a short list, but Alvin Moss is on it.

I have no family buried here either. My reason for stopping is the four lonely graves cleaaaaar down the hill there. The ones with nothing on them. Decorations, I mean. The person's name, date of birth and date of death are listed only. These are the people who died in our nursing home with no family to bury them so mom did. She bought the plots at Kennebec, the coffins they lie in and the headstones that mark their final resting place. I imagine the State gave her a couple hundred bucks to pay towards the funerals and Russ Pearson might even have given her a break on the coffins, but mom had the heart to give them a "proper" burial. I remember each and every one. So, I stop and pay my respects.

Belvidere Cemetery, May 2006


Bettina says that in Germany (her homeland) the graves themselves are planted with flowers. She says its like a park with trees and shrubs and flowers - but no grass. Kind of like this I imagine. This was taken at Belvidere Cemetery near Turin, where I grew up. Apparently the custodian is (or was) more lax in allowing families to plant near or on the graves. Nowadays they don't like you to plant flowers because it is harder for the custodian to mow. In my family plot there are beautiful peonies planted by the grave stones. Unfortunately, they were not blooming when I went to decorate yesterday. (Maybe a road trip is in order later so that I can photograph them?)

But, isn't this beautiful? I love seeing the flowers in bloom at the cemeteries. Belvidere is a pretty little cemetery on the top of (another) hill. Even though I don't have anyone buried there, I still like to drive through it and look at the decorations. Since Turin is in Belvidere Township I know many of the names etched on the grave stones. Unfortunately, I can picture the face with many of those names.

Memorial Day, 2006

Jordan Cemetery, Memorial Day 2006

I think Memorial Day is my favorite holiday. At least it was when I was young. Memorial Day was always like a mini family reunion. It was when aunts and uncles and cousins that you rarely got to see came over from Nebraska to decorate the graves of their families. We spent the whole day at Jordan Cemetery. We children playing hide and seek amongst the tombstones or in the hills; the men visiting or playing horseshoes; the women sitting in the adjoining church gossiping and catching up with family news. The Church's Ladies Aid Society would fix coffee and lemonade and serve pies and sweets in the basement where it was dark and cool.
Now the church is gone - torn down many years ago when the congregation dwindled along with the population. The ones who came to decorate and visit are lying here or in a cemetery elsewhere. Just us children remain to decorate and remember - and there not many of us left either. Busy lives full of families, jobs and obligations keep them from making the journey "home" to Jordan to remember. To remember the days full of family and food and laughter. But I remember.... I'll always remember.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What's Blooming, 5/24/06


This is a Dwarf Korean Lilac bush that is about 6 years old. It is just now blooming, after the regular lilacs have spent their blooms. The fragrance is so overpowering that I can smell it through the house as I sit here at my computer. It's pure heaven!

The lilies of the Valley are also blooming right now. See? There. In among the lush ferns? I love their smell. I only wish they bloomed longer. This garden is just so beautiful right now, but by July it will be struggling as the sun is only partially blocked by the house. I've thought about taking them out and rocking the whole place as this is where my watering hose is located. But I just can't stand the thought of not being able to dip my hands in the flowers and ferns and feel their cool, feathery touch if only for a month. I've tried to transplant some ferns and lilies of the Valley to the north side of the house, but they don't seem to like it as well. I'll just have to be content with their beauty right here.

Along with my fern leaf peony I have a regular peony (that isn't blooming at the moment) and some old-fashioned Iris. The plain-jane purple variety that smells like grapes. At least, that's what it reminds me of. As I was trying to take its picture, the wind was blowing the stalk about and the fragrance of the flower filled my senses.

Peonies and Irises always remind me of Memorial Day. Mason jars filled with the blooms of just-picked flowers. Plastic graveside flowers were simply unheard of back then. The decorations all came from our gardens. The women would walk from grave to grave admiring the beauty and unusual characteristics of the flowers in their plain glass jars. It was a source of pride for all. The cemetery always smelled of peonies and irises. Even today the old-fashioned irises grow along the banks of the cemetery where the cut flowers were thrown when they were spent and the women came back to claim their canning jars.

Oh, sure - the hi-breds are quite the show stoppers, with their frilly petals and their strange, almost garish colors. All flash and no heart. No fragrance. I'll take my plain-Jane purple, grape-smelling, old-fashioned iris any day.