Monday, February 27, 2006

Pasta in Vodka Cream Sauce

I got this recipe from All and made it this weekend. The color is a little off-putting because it looks like Campbell's Tomato Soup. But it is a nice change from regular marinara sauce.

Penne in Vodka Cream

1 pound penne pasta (or whatever tube shaped pasta you have on hand)
1/2 cup butter (yes - one WHOLE stick!)
3/4 cup vodka
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
8 ounces tomato sauce
1/2 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 cup heavy cream (I used half and half)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
(I also added frozen Italian meatballs and some fresh mushrooms I needed to use)

1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain and reserve.

2. In a large saucepan melt butter over medium low heat; add vodka, red pepper flakes and Worcestershire sauce. Stir well and simmer for 5 minutes.

3. Blend in tomato sauce, tomato paste and cream; increase heat to bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes or until sauce has slightly thickened; season with salt and pepper to taste. (This is where I threw in the meatballs and mushrooms.)

4. Reduce heat to very low and stir in cheese; add cooked pasta and more cheese if desired.

Serves 6.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Little Bit About Me

[I decided to move this out of my profile and make an actual entry so that I could expand upon some of the themes.]

I grew up in a nursing home! Well, back in the 50's nursing homes were more like boarding houses, with every level of care given. It didn't necessarily start out that way in 1955. I think someone just asked mom if they could rent a room, and it grew from there. Grandma Moss had the same type of nursing home in Onawa and I think that's where mom got her idea from. Anyway, we ended up with about 40 patients in all between two houses, with my family living in a third. (Luckily all in a row.)

Turin only had about 98 people living there, but it had a 3 room school that I attended until 6th grade. (For those who don't know... that means one teacher taught 3 grades and one row was a grade.) Recesses were spent sledding down the hill by the school in the winter or playing on the huge merry-go-round in good weather. At one time the grades went up to 8th, but by the time I attended, it only went to 6th. Then, in 1964, our school consolidated with West Monona and closed permanently. They (whoever "they" are...) tore it down several years ago, and in my opinion, the town is less without it.

Turin is nestled among the Loess Hills and was very pretty. Elm trees lined the streets until Dutch Elm disease took them all. Men were always gathered at Adam's blacksmith shop or Hinkle's Cafe. (Grace Hinkle made the best peanut butter pie!) There were two gas stations, two cafes, a feed store, a grocery store, a hardware store, an elevator (grain, for you city-folks), a lumberyard, a telephone office, a church, a school and (of course) a nursing home.

We got dial telephones in 1968 or '70. Before that you went through an operator who connected you to your party. ("Hello, Linda? I need to speak with Francis.") I was in Europe one summer with a school study group and wanted to talk with my mommy (I was homesick). I rang up the overseas operator and asked her to dial 34 (34... that was my phone number...) She thought I was playing a joke on her and almost refused to do it. She only believed me when I started crying! With a stern warning about playing a joke on her, she rang into the office and asked if there was a number 34 there. I can't remember who was working, but I remember she asked the overseas operator if it were Sally calling home and chatted with the both of us for a minute before ringing my house. Needless to say, the overseas operator was astonished. Mom said when the phone rang, she looked at the cook and said, "There's Sally". Wierd.

I was a "horse nut" from my earliest memory and I owned horses from the ages of 9 to 21. Luckily there was a barn on the property, so I kept my horses in my back yard. The surrounding hills were my playground. I remember riding to the top of one hill in particular to sit and watch the day go by. I could look down at the fields of corn and beans criss-crossing the bottom and the clouds slowly passing overhead. ["The bottom" is what the valley between our hills and the hills of Nebraska were called. Long ago the Missouri River cut a wide swath between the two, leaving fertile ground behind. I'm guessing it was about 15 miles wide and FLAT, FLAT, FLAT! Onawa is located on the bottom. I think that's why I always hated that town - it was too flat.] I once asked mom if she ever worried about me - being out all day on my horse. She told me "No...the horse will come home if anything happens to you." It was only later that I realized that, the horse might come home, but how would she know where the hell I was! Those hills were big and I went everywhere in them.

It was the perfect place to grow up, even by '50's standards. I was very lucky, and I miss it still. If I ever win the lottery, I'm going to buy one of those hills and move home.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Daytona 500

Sunday was the Daytona 500, it was also Jay's annual Daytona 500 party. Hey - any excuse will do for a party! I'm not really "into" NASCAR that much. But, Daytona is one race I do like to watch. And if I can watch it with friends, food and booze, then so much the better.

I made my bean soup and George made his maidrites. AND, since everyone wants to know how we make these two recipes, I decided to just post them here.


4 lbs. hamburger
1 med. onion, chopped
3 cans chicken gumbo soup
4 packets of sloppy joe seasoning mix

Brown the hamburger, adding the onion towards the end; drain off the fat. Put the hamburger, onion, soup and seasoning mix in a large crock pot (or electric roaster) and mix well. Add the ketchup and mustard to taste. More ketchup than mustard. It shouldn't be "sloppy", you just need a little zing to it. Cook on medium for about 4 hrs. to allow flavors to meld.


1 Smoked ham hock
bay leaf
beef boullion

dried beans, peas, lentils, whatever
baking soda

Again, I've given no measurements because it is up to you how much you want. I have a 6 qt. stockpot and I use about 4 cups of legumes and fill it up with water after adding the rest of the ingredients.

I used to hate bean soup - it was sooooo bland! Then one day I picked up a bag of "mixed beans" at the grocery store and followed the recipe on the back. Heck - it even had the seasoning packet in it. I was hooked - I've never made bean soup any other way. Now I buy whatever dried bean, pea, lentil, etc. I can get my hands on and mix them all together. The flavor is so much better than just using northern or navy beans. By using the mixed legumes and a really good smoked ham hock, you'll find you really won't need to season the soup much more than the bay leaf, salt, pepper and the bullion.


Nyda Gleason taught me how to "de-gas" my beans when I made bean soup at the nursing home. It made it so much easier for the residents to digest. Until recently, every time I mention de-gassing my beans, I was met with a resounding "Huh?" At my New Year's party, one of the men told me that his mother de-gases her beans by letting them soak over night with baking soda in the water. (She lives in southern Iowa - it must be an "Iowa" thing...) I guess that would work too. I just don't like to take that much time, so I bring them to a boil 3 or 4 times. Here's how:

- Cover your beans with water
- Add about 1 tablespoon. baking soda
- Bring to a full boil - uncovered (you definitely don't want this crap boiled over on your stove!)
- Drain into a colander, rinse, rinse the foam out of the pot
- Do it again - 3 or 4 times

You will see that the hulls are coming off the beans. (I wonder if this is what actually makes the gas?) You want to drain those off. Make sure you get as much of the hulls out of the pot as possible. Then, after the last de-gas, add the rest of your ingredients and make your soup.

Bean soup is a very forgiving soup. Don't have a ham hock? No problem! I've used bacon, ring bologna, summer sausage and butter (yes - butter!) as my flavor agent. I do add the bullion to give it a deeper flavor. I keep forgetting to pick up a jar of ham flavored bullion, so I just use beef. And you don't have to de-gas your beans. It's just something I do. But, do try the addition of other types of beans and peas. I think you'll agree that it is most excellent!


Friday, February 17, 2006


I just got this email from a good friend and I thought it's something I should share. I don't know who the author is, but she sure has hit the nail on the head. Hope it touches your hearts like it touched mine.


A young wife sat on a sofa on a hot humid day, drinking iced tea and visiting with her Mother. As they talked about life, about marriage, about the responsibilities of life and the obligations of adulthood, the mother clinked the ice cubes in her glass thoughtfullyand turned a clear, sober glance upon her daughter. "Don't forget yourSisters," she advised, swirling the tea leaves to the bottom of her glass. "They'll be more important as you get older. No matter how much you love your husband, no matter how much you love the children you may have, you are still going to need Sisters. Remember to go places with them now and then; do things with them. Remember that 'Sisters' means ALL the women... your girlfriends, your daughters, and all your other women relatives too. You'll need other women. Women always do."

"What a funny piece of advice!" the young woman thought. "Haven't I just gotten married?Haven't I just joined the couple-world? I'm now a married woman, for goodness sake! A grownup! Surely my husband and the family we may start will be all I need to make my life worthwhile!"

But she listened to her Mother. She kept contact with her Sisters and made more women friends each year. As the years tumbled by, one after another, she gradually came to understand that her Mom really knew what she was talking about. As time and nature work their changes and their mysteries upon a woman, Sisters are the mainstays of her life. After more than 27 years of living in this world, here is what I've learned:

Time passes.
Life happens.
Distance separates.
Children grow up.
Jobs come and go.
Love waxes and wanes.
Men don't do what they're supposed to do.
Hearts break.
Parents die.
Colleagues forget favors.
Careers end.

BUT......... Sisters are there, no matter how much time and how many miles are between you. A girl friend is never farther away than needing her can reach. When you have to walk that lonesome valley and you have to walk it by yourself, the women in your life will be on the valley's rim, cheering you on, praying for you, pulling for you, intervening on your behalf, and waiting with open arms at the valley's end. Sometimes, they will even break the rules and walk beside you. Or come in and carry you out.

Girlfriends, daughters, granddaughters, daughters-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law, Mothers, Grandmothers, aunties, nieces, cousins, and extended family, all bless our life! The world wouldn't be the same without women, and neither would I. When we began this adventure called womanhood, we had no idea of the incredible joys or sorrows that lay ahead. Nor did we know how much we would need each other. Every day, we need each other still. Pass this on to all the women who help make your life meaningful. I just did.

Thank you Glenda for thinking of me. S

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Chicken Noodle Soup

I have a terrible cold. And it's blizzarding outside. It's the worst storm of the winter season. Sounds like the perfect time to make a pot of Jewish penicillin. And, since I have a package of chicken hindquarters in the fridge (.49 at Billie's this week), I might as well start from scratch and make the stock too. So, coughing and sneezing, I start it off at 6:00 a.m. this morning.

Stock is one of those extremely simple things to make, I'm always amazed more people don't do it. I mean, you can't screw it up and it tastes so much better than the canned stuff. I also decided to make my own noodles. Mainly because Ivonne has challenged herself to learn how to make fresh pasta this year which reminded me that I used to make homemade noodles all the time. But I haven't done it for a loooong time and wondered if I could actually remember how.


- Chicken
- Carrots
- Onion
- Celery
- Rosemary
- Parsley
- Bay Leaf
- Garlic
- Salt and Pepper

The amount of each is up to you. You can use what ever herbs you like. I just used some rosemary that fell off my rosemary bush in the window and cut about 4 sprigs of parsley from my parsley plant in the window. No need to cut, wash or even remove the skin from the onion. Just throw the vegetables in and let 'er cook. I cooked mine about 4 hours total. Oh, and if you over-salted, just throw a potato in to soak up some of the salt.

When the chicken falls off the bone, its done. Fish out the chicken and vegetables and let them cool enough to handle. Pick all of the usable meat from the bones (saving the fatty and yucky stuff as a treat for the dogs). Now you can bag up the meat and either freeze it for later use or use it now. I throw the veggies away. (I suppose I could feed the carrots to the dogs, too. I've read you're not supposed to give them onions, though.) Strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth. This makes the broth a little "cleaner".

- Carrots
- Onions
- Celery
- Mushrooms (optional - I had to use them)

Sounds like the stock again, doesn't it? Cut up the vegetables to the size you like to eat. Put the veggies in the broth and bring to a simmer. I didn't add any more salt or pepper because the broth tasted fine without it.

- 1 cup flour
- 1 egg beaten
- pinch of salt

That's it! I've seen some recipes where they add milk or water or butter or oil. But you don't need to. You don't even need a bowl! I smushed this together on the same surface I intended to roll it out on. Simple, right? After you get the egg and flour incorporated, it's time to start kneading. Knead the dough until it is smooth and fairly elastic. Then let it rest for 10 or 15 minutes.

After the resting period, roll it out as thin as possible. Remember, the noodle will poof up when you cook it. After rolling, dust slightly with flour and roll the dough up like a tube. With a sharp knife, cut the tube into strips and unroll the strips. This is when you can either cook it right away or let it dry a bit. I used to hang it over the backs of the kitchen chairs to dry. But you can leave it on the counter like this, too.

When your vegetables are tender, add as much chicken as you wish and the noodles. I would advise cutting the noodles in thirds for easier eating. Cook for about 5 to 10 minutes (whenever the noodle is done), serve it up and enjoy!

(See, I told you, Ivonne, that I'm just a simple cook.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Monday Night Euchre

A lady from a neighboring town who runs Euchre tournaments in various surrounding towns, has started one in my hometown on Monday nights. I don't know how to play Euchre, but being relatively intelligent, I figured what the hell - nothing else to do on Monday nights. Last Monday (the 6th) was the first night and Jeannie and I paired up since neither one of us had ever played before (makes sense to me). Most of the players were from out of town and had their own partners. Apparently they follow this couple to each tournament every night. (In case you're wondering - they're all retired folks.)

Last Monday, Jeannie and I had a blast. Since she'd played 500 before, she was at least familiar with the bidding, etc. She was bidding like there was no tomorrow (even though she didn't know what she was doing). Actually, she could have gone alone (Euchre term) most of the times since I rarely helped her, and she usually made her bid. Of course we still came in DFL, but hey - we won $2.50 each! And we had fun. (<-- key word here) This Monday night was a different story. Well, actually, I had fun. Jeannie, unfortunately was stuck with some guy from out of town whose partner wasn't there. So Bettina and I were partners and we started off at Jeannie and "doofus' " table. I knew right away I wasn't going to like him when Dani (Bettina's 17 yr. old daughter) came in to talk to her mom. She was wearing a USMC sweat pants (her boyfriend's) and an Army hoodie (her dad's) and just generally casually dressed. As she was standing there 'ol "Homer" (I don't know this guy's name, so I'll just use whatever is appropriate. OK?) gave her the once over, up and down "look", then shook his head. Right away I was pist. This guy is disapproving of what Dani was wearing - like it's any of his business. And he was wearing bib overalls fer Christ' sake!

Next this yahoo starts talking about his mother. He said she lived with him (I'll bet its the other way around) and that she was 87 yrs. old. As he talked about her, intimating that he was going to put her in a nursing home, he called her lazy! Lazy! She's 87 fucking years old! What the hell does he want? Her to get a job? (Incidentally, he doesn't even have a job.) That pist me off even more. What a jerk.

During the tournament you rotate among the players so you play each team twice. Bettina and I were having a pretty good time (we came in 2nd place) and I was starting to learn the subtleties of the game. Then we came back to Jeannie's table and I could tell she was upset. I soon saw why. After every hand jackass would harangue her about her plays - and not too gently. Remember, this is only the second time Jeannie has played Euchre. Here he was bitching her out about her play. Not one to back down from a fight, or to defend my friends, here's what happened:

Me: Why don't you shut up about it. Jeannie's doing her best.

He: (giving me a look like he wants to backhand me)

Me: (come on! do it!)

Bettina: (man, I hope he takes a swing) [edit: Bettina is a 6' 1" German Amazon. Only the very foolish - or very drunk - would dare take her on.]

He: I was just telling her how to play...

Me: No you weren't. You were bitching about her playing. This is just her second time. Leave her alone.

He: (turning from me, saying to Jean) See, when I played this card you should have...

Jean: Why don't you just shut the fuck up. I'm tired of you always telling me what I did wrong. I don't need this shit. This is supposed to be fun, but I can't take this crap anymore. [edit: Jean had been abused by her husband. Mentally, not physically, but she definitely has the abused wife syndrome. She just quietly takes whatever shit is shoveled on her...until she blows.]

Or words to that effect.... Bettina and I are yelling at him at the same time, so I'm not completely sure what she said.

Then she gets up from the table and quits! You could have cut the silence with a knife. Bettina and I are glaring at this guy, he's all red in the face, everyone is staring. It was great! Luckily the owner's girlfriend stepped in to take Jean's place and finish the tournament. I asked her later if he tried pulling that shit on her. She said he tried, but she just told him she plays 'em the way she sees 'em. (good girl)

The lady who runs the tournament said that this guy is just an asshole and that unless he has a partner, he can't come back to this town. LMAO! Man! Was that fun! I can't wait until Monday night!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Italian Night

On February 10, DH and I enjoyed another "Italian Night" up at the motel. This was the third year they have put this event on and it was another hit. For $29 a person, we got to eat spaghetti and meatballs (NOT homemade - but not bad), a salad and breadsticks (again, not homemade - but tolerable). After supper they had a comedian to entertain all 130 of us. He really was very good. His name is Alex Jackson from Minneapolis, and I encourage each and every one of you to catch his show if you possibly can.

This small amount of money also allowed us to sample (and buy) wines from a little winery up in Estherville, Iowa. Little Swan Lake Winery is a relatively new winery in that their grapes are not mature enough to actually bottle, so they buy the juice from other wineries and mix them on site. Hence the strange names. I only sampled the Buffalo Blush and White Swan. Both are actually semi-sweet, but since I lean toward white wines, I bought the White Swan. Two bottles, actually. One to drink during dinner and entertainment, and one to bring home to share here. I've even tried my hand at photographing it. I apologize for the blurry picture - I'm really new to this!

Now, I'm no wine connoisseur, I just know what I like. This was sweet without being too sweet. Very mellow, actually. Fragrant, with a beautiful amber color. An all-around versatile table wine. I'm very happy that Scott and Diane Benjamin have decided to bring wines back to Northern Iowa. And that the motel has taken the time and trouble to bring a bit of culture to this little town for the last three years. May we have many more nights of food, fun and wine!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Snowy February

Ok. It can stop snowing now! The big, beautiful flakes I was raving about three days ago turned into a full-blown blizzard. It might have been peaceful watching it out my window, but driving 100 miles in a snow storm to pick up my grandson for a three day visit sucks. Thank goodness for 4 wheel drive. I ended up coming home on gravel roads for the traction. Some of the drifts I had to drive through made me glad I had a pickup.

Actually, whining aside, it was really cool. Out in the country, everything blurred by the blowing snow, it was almost surreal. I saw deer, hawks, pheasants. I drove down pristine snow-covered roads where I was the only thing moving. Could that have been one of those "moments" I have been waxing so elequently about? Think so.

The weather guys say this is supposed to keep up for the next couple of days. Snow showers they call it. Showers my ass! Q may not make it back to school on Monday... I'm just saying.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Snowy Thoughts

It's snowing today. The kind of snow that just slowly drifts to earth making everything more muted and quiet. The big, showy flakes. As I was standing outside, having a cigarette and watching the snow, the Methodist church campanile started playing some beautiful song. Moments like those make you happy to be alive.

It reminded me of Sunday nights, playing darts up at the bar. We used to have a crowd of people (15 to 20 some times) drawing for partners and playing cricket on the two old machines Beth had. I loved standing there, waiting for my turn to throw, and watching the snow fly outside the door. It made me feel all safe and warm, standing there, drink in hand surrounded by friends. Another moment of happy to be alive.

I guess we live for those moments. Makes all the bullshit in between worthwhile.

Monday, February 06, 2006

So, Ivonne says to me, "You should have your own blog!" And, here I am. Sitting in front of my computer screen, wondering what to say. How come I can always think of great things to say when I'm driving in my car. I'll just start by telling you how I came to be here ("here" being this web site as opposed to "here" being on this planet).

I first heard about RSS feeds from Chris Prillo of Lockergnome fame. He was raving about RSS three or four years ago. He said that soon everyone would be using RSS to keep up with their news/blogs/web sites. I downloaded and tried Atom, but just couldn't get the hang of it. Then, last year, I found Pluck. To me it was just more user friendly. So, I downloaded it and have been using it ever since. What's the big deal, you say? Well, for one thing I don't have to randomly click all over the web, put something in my Favorites folder, then promptly forget it. With a reader, any time new content is added, you see it because the name is in bold. Simple, right! Now, if a site doesn't have an RSS link, I won't even bother with it.

Then, late last year, I "discovered" food blogs, and I was hooked! A food blog addict. One of my favorites is Accidental Hedonist. Kate posts everyday with articles ranging from wine tasting to USDA inaptitude. It's quite impressive. And the pictures! She posts pictures of the recipe she just made in addition to giving you the recipe. I love it and read it every day. Including the comments. And lots of the commentors have blogs and sites of their own. So, I click on their link and read their blogs too. And THAT'S how I came upon Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice.

I love that Ivonne also posts pictures. But, not just of the finished product. She also shows you what the recipe steps should look like. I really like that. And, she's a wonderful writer. I wanted to subscribe to her blog, but, alas! No RSS feed. I emailed her and asked her if she might consider putting one on her site. And, she did! In the process of working out the details, we've emailed each other quite a bit and learned a little about each other. She's a wonderful lady and I'm happy to have "met" her.

So, now we come full circle. And, here I am. Sitting in front of my computer and wondering what to write about. Ah, well. Maybe I'll think of something... later...

Oh! If you happen to get lost, and come across my blog. Please stop for a moment and say "hi". And, hopefully, come again. I'm going to try and put a Pluck icon on here so that you can subscribe to my blog, too. If Blogger will let me, that is. It says that it has an Atom reader...

The world truly is a small place.