Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Soup Day

Even though it is now November, we're still having lovely weather here on the prairie. Every now and again there is a touch of chill to the air, though, and today the wind was from the north, and the sun was fleeting as the clouds blew in. It was a great day for soup for lunch!Usually when I'm home alone during the day I forage the refrigerator for leftovers and cobble together this and that to make something of a meal for lunch. Today I just kept thinking of a soup recipe I've made before in the Instant Pot. Since I had fresh-made beef stock (from t-bone steak bones and scraps), I quickly threw stuff in the IP, and within 20 minutes had a piping-hot bowl of nourishing and tasty vegetable beef soup.
The original recipe that I used for inspiration calls for potatoes and white rice, neither of which were in my pantry. Instead I used mushrooms and the last bit of a box of rotini pasta. I also substituted green beans for the peas, and black beans instead of garbanzo.This made a full pot of soup, so I enjoyed my lunch, then packaged up the remainder in glass jars to freeze for another meal. I love having extras to freeze for later.I'll be doing a couple of soup days for freezer cooking in the near future. It's an easy and frugal meal, and makes a perfect lunch for me and to send with Greg.Tell me what your favorite soup is - I'd love some ideas for new recipes to try!
Edited to add:It was so chaotic around here when I was trying to publish this post that I forgot to include the recipe. Oops! Here it is:

Pressure Cooker Vegetable Beef Soup

Yield: 6 servings
·      1lb. lean ground beef
·      1 tablespoon oil
·      1 large onion, diced
·      1 rib celery, chopped
·      6-8 mushrooms, quartered
·      3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
·      2 14-ounce cans beef broth (I used homemade)
·      1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
·      1 12-ounce bottle V8 juice
·      1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
·      2 carrots, peeled then sliced into thin coins
·      1 can cut green beans, drained
·      salt and pepper
1.  Preheat the pressure cooking pot using the browning or sauté setting. Add ground beef to the pressure cooking pot and cook until browned. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels.
2.  Add oil to the pressure cooking pot. Add onion, celery, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.
3.  Add beef broth, tomatoes, V8 juice, beans, carrots, and browned ground beef to the pot and stir to combine. Lock lid in place, select High Pressure and 4 minutes cook time. When timer beeps, turn off pressure cooker and do a quick pressure release.
4.  Stir in green beans and pasta, season with salt and pepper to taste. Turn on sauté function and cook until pasta is done to your liking.
(You could put the pasta in before pressure cooking since it only cooks 4 minutes, but I didn’t think to do that. It would save a little time at the end.)



Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Time Keeps Slippin', Slippin' Away

Well. I  had no idea it had been nearly FIVE months since I fell down the Instagram hole and left my blog on the wayside. About the time we entered the 21st century and got smart phones, I guess. I'm still old-school in that I "do" email and most of my online time is on my laptop. We'll thank old Mother Nature for the need of a big screen. Ahem.
So what's happening here on the prairie? Harvest is in full swing. Greg's company finished seed corn harvest a few weeks ago. Now it's the farmers who are cutting down the corn fields. We love it when the world opens up again and we can see far and wide across the prairie. There has been some hard frost, so the minute pirate bugs are no longer making warm afternoons miserable. Sunrises and sunsets are stunning.
The family is doing well. Jessica and the kids are still living here with us. Some days are awesome, some days are long, but we are blessed to have them.
Bradley's losing teeth left and right, Silas is learning to read, and Layla is talking a blue streak. All are happy and healthy. Jess is hoping to be able to move out by spring, but I think they'll stay close.
I'm still enjoying my part-time job as assistant manager at the local movie theater. It's a great opportunity to get out of the house and see people and balances all of the alone time I have while everyone is gone during the day.
I am truly home alone since our sweet 10 year-old cat, Max, passed away last week. He was an indoor/outdoor cat and we knew the risks of letting him out. He insisted, and we acquiesced. He paid the price.  We have a moratorium on pets for awhile.
Last spring Jess and I got booth space at the local flea market store in town. Admittedly, we don't put much time into it, but have had some fun searching out deals with "the booth" in mind. Jess scored a few piles of pallets over the summer and we've been tearing those apart and putting them back together as wine racks and serving trays. There is a holiday boutique next week in town, and we've rented a space to sell some of our creations there.
The garden did not do great this year, but again, I didn't put lots of effort into it. We enjoyed some homegrown cucumbers - our single plant really produced nicely. We did add a few new raised beds, and the compost from the plant nursery had pumpkin seeds, so there is a lovely crop of pie pumpkins and assorted gourds out there.

So that's about it for catching up this evening. I have several things to tell you about in the next few weeks, so I hope you stick around!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Old MacDonald Had Some Puppets

About a year ago I was posting photos of a felt puppet project I'd started. Old MacDonald and all of his farm animals transformed that felt into sweet hand puppets. I made three sets, one for us and two for gifts. They were such fun to watch come together and we all enjoy playing with them.

The patterns and instructions came from Just Another Day in Paradise. (They are hand drawn patterns, so obviously a lot of work went into them. Thanks so much to Larissa for sharing.) These were not difficult to make, but there were tons of little pieces to keep track of.

I started by cutting the mitts, one pair for each animal. Then I tried to sew by color of felt - all of the orange pieces, all of the grey, all of the pink, etc. Then I did as many eyes as I could at once, and the hooves were on several, so I tried to do all of those at the same time. It didn't always work out, so there was a lot of changing of thread colors, but it did go quickly when I was able to spend some time working at the table. When we began work on the new flooring, the puppet project was put away and ended up staying put away until the summer was over and we were into Fall. I had to finish them, though, since they were birthday gifts for nephew. My Alex and Kale had been waiting since May for their birthday gift, and Connor's second birthday was quickly approaching in October. I probably sewed on them for between 10 and 12 hours altogether, but I was making three sets, so if you just want to make one set, cut that time by 2/3. A full set of puppets in one afternoon is awesome. A full set of puppets in one day is awesome. A full set of puppets after four months? Well... nope, they're still awesome. A couple of hours on a Saturday morning was all it took to put the final stripes on the kitties and the curly-q tails on the pigs. Somehow I ended up with extra stray pieces like eyes and hooves. I did finally just say no to hooves. They didn't fit anyway, and what little one was going to care about it. None. So I cut myself some slack and called them good. And they are so good! They're so CUTE.

I did, of course, change a few things as I put them together. I gave the old farmer guy overalls instead of jeans and shirt - my nod to Grandpa Adams, I guess. None of my three farmers have a hat yet, and that needs to be rectified. I think some of one of the kitties' stripes are different, I left off the blue on the bottom of the ducks, and of course, those evil hooves.

The felt came from the marts of Wal for the most part, but some was from I've always had great service and fast shipping from them, and can get a variety of colors not offered at the local box store. If you have to go out and purchase all of the felt for these, it would be a little bit of investment, but you get nine puppets. I had most of what I needed already.

As for play value, well, besides being fun to look at, there is the song. Songs build vocabulary. Did you know that often times children will sing words that they don't say yet? Plus, you've got the bonus of the song teaching children all of the animal sounds. I don't know why knowing animal sounds is important, but don't we all test young children on this all the time? "What sound does a cow make?" "moo."  Yeah! and we clap wildly. Okay.

There is also the dramatic play value. Kids can create scenarios between animals and/or the Old Mac guy. They have the power to control the puppets, to lead and construct the story. Plus, these guys are just fun to look at.

If you decide to sew up a set, I'd love to see them.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Delicious Nutritious

It is one of my highest priorities to serve nutritious food to these grands of mine. They eat many of their meals here, so there are definitely tons of opportunities for me to amp up the nutrition in what is served to them. They are mostly good eaters, especially good vegetable and fruit eaters, so this is a fairly easy task for me. 
A few weeks ago I was watching a replay of a Periscope presentation about healthier meal planning strategies. One of the four or five points made was to offer a veggie tray every day. That one struck me as such a simple way to have snacks, an appetizer, or even a side to your meal. Usually we only make up veggie trays or cruditè for special occasions. Why not make every day a veggie tray day? So one morning last week, I dug out the sectioned server that has a lid, and spent a few minutes cleaning and cutting up several kinds of vegetables. I had to go to work that evening, but made sure Greg and Jess knew the veg tray was in the frig for them. 
It was decimated when I got home. 
They'd had a busy evening with a parent meeting at school and wrestling practice, both at supper time, so the kids snacked on it beforehand and the grown-ups after. 
On Sunday I was getting food from the frig, and Brad asked, "Are you getting out the veggie tray? I love the veggie tray!" I didn't have one prepared, but quickly pulled out a few containers and he made his own. 
This morning it took only five minutes to pull this one together. There is the requisite broccoli and carrots, cauliflower, green bell peppers, orange and red baby peppers, cucumber, and celery sticks. Black olives fill the center spot.
I'd prefer a bit more color, but we ate up all of the "flavor bomb" cherry tomatoes (those were SO GOOD - from Sam's Club - I hope they still have them next time I go). They will inhale those black olives and the broccoli. Last week we had pea pods from our Bountiful Basket, but they didn't care so much for them. These trays are good for at least a few days, maybe a week, though the cucumbers won't last that long.
If they want, they can have some homemade Ranch or bleu cheese dressing to dip the veggies in, but lately they've been eating them plain. I would prefer they eat the veg with the dip than not eat them at all. 
With Bountiful Baskets and garden season coming up, I look forward to putting together a veggie tray each week for snacks and to serve with meals for as long as they enjoy it. I'm thinking this will be a great way to introduce new or very seasonal vegetables to try. What are your favorite veggie tray components? I'd love to hear if you have a dip suggestion or what your family enjoys for crudite. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Instant Pot, Semi-Instant Food

For the past few months I've seen many a blog post about this thing called "Instant Pot" and how it revolutionized food prep in many a kitchen. We have a small pressure canner, and Greg thinks I could cook in it, but I don't. I don't even use it for canning much of anything, but my mother instilled in me a deep and permanent fear of the pressure canner, even though I know in my head that what I have is many times safer than what she used. 
So, I have three crockpots, and Jess has hers here, too. That's a lot of real estate taken up by four different sizes of the same appliance. Yet, I use all four, sometimes two or three at the same time. I appreciate being able to cook a meal or make a big pot of sauce or beans to portion for the freezer, all while not having to tend to it much. But, it did take hours and hours, then there was a big, heavy, hot, dirty ceramic crock to deal with. 
No one had to twist my arm when I had a few Amazon gift cards and could pay for half the cost of this new one-pot-stop that not only pressure cooks beans in a tiny fraction of the time the crockpot can, but it also cooks pasta with sauce, makes hard-cooked eggs perfectly, and cooked potatoes for our Easter potato salad in, you guessed it, a fraction of the time it normally takes.
Steamed asparagus was the first food in the pot. It needed just a another half minute or so, but that was my error. I was more worried about over-cooking it. Next up was supper - pasta with meat sauce. The meat and some onion were sauteed in the pot, then I drained the meat before pouring in the full box of penne. I poured the sauce over the top and added a touch of water so the liquid covered the pasta. The timer gets set for half the number of minutes the box says to cook. It takes a few minutes for the pot to come to pressure, then six minutes later, Presto! A big pot of deliciousness.

Later, I cooked five pounds of potatoes for potato salad in 20 minutes. I made the mistake of using high pressure instead of steaming, so some of the potatoes "popped" out of their skins, but they still worked for the salad. I just cooled the potatoes on a rack, then refrigerated overnight.

On Sunday morning, we ran out of boiled eggs before finishing our Easter lunch salads, so I popped seven of them in the IP and 18 minutes later they were cooled and peeled. It was exciting to cut the first one open and see a beautiful yellow yolk with no gray ring. Then to have them peel perfectly even though I'd just purchased the eggs the day before, made me giggle a little.

On Monday I tried frozen chicken breasts and salsa. In about 40 minutes I had tender shreddable Mexican chicken for quesadillas. In the crockpot this would have taken a few hours and the texture would have been drier.  

On Tuesday, I had to try the beans. Dry beans, rinsed well, covered in water in the IP. In less than an hour they were cooked and mashed for refried beans. LESS THAN AN HOUR.

I didn't use it on Wednesday. Yesterday I had to work over the supper hour, Jess and Scott had a Kindergarten meeting for Silas, and Bradley had wrestling practice. I could foresee chaos reigning the evening. While cleaning out the refrigerator to get ready for the weekend, I popped some leftover roast beef and a package of pasta in the pot with some beef stock. In 10 minutes their supper was cooling on the counter. All they did was reheat and serve with the veggie tray I left for them. It worked out great. Greg could have made the meal himself, but he's not used the IP yet, and was reluctant to try it while he was watching the boys. After he plays with it awhile, he'll be happy to whip up quick meals when I'm at work.

Why did we invest in this new appliance? First, because of the time saved while cooking. Typically you cut cooking time in half, sometimes even more. Second, space. I can now put my four crock pots  and the steamer in storage and that will free up quite a lot of room on the shelf, allowing for better organization in that space. Cooking with pressure keeps more nutrients and color in the food, and I've found the meat to be moist and not mealy like it gets in the crock pot sometimes. It also saves on dirty dishes when you can toss everything into one easy to clean pot.

Why did we choose Instant Pot over the other electric pressure cookers? Greg did some research before we decided to buy, and the IP is the only one with a stainless steel pot. The others have a non-stick lining and we didn't want that. We purchased from Amazon.

There are many tips I'm picking up as I peruse online recipes for the Instant Pot. There are also many recipes we want to try. I'm putting together a list of blogs with good pressure cooker recipes and will post those in the near future. Right now I need to go read about how to make the chicken stock.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Pizza Rolls for Lunch

Since my eldest grandson started school last Fall, we've packed his lunch most days. He is very easy going about what we pack for him, but I feel bad when he gets peanut butter and jelly sandwiches several days in a row because we need to get groceries. 
This morning I made up some pizza crust dough and used the last of a jar of pizza sauce from the frig to make these homemade pizza rolls.

I didn't take step-by-step pics, but it's simple. I divided the dough in two and then rolled each half into a rectangle. Shredded cheese was sprinkled all over each piece of dough. I mixed the pizza sauce with a pound of browned ground beef and divided that between the two pieces of dough, spreading it out evenly and trying to get it clear to the ends of the rectangle. Then roll it up on the long side and slice into rounds about an inch or a little more than that wide. 

They were placed on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat, then I sprinkled a tiny bit of grated Parmesan cheese on top of each one and baked them at 400° for almost 25 minutes. 

It was my intention when I started these that I would use some turkey pepperoni left from the package they used to make pizzas for supper on Saturday, but there was no leftover pepperoni. Next time. The hamburger worked okay and didn't fall out of the rolls because I mixed it with the sauce before putting it on the dough. Obviously, any topping you like on a pizza could be used for these. We have some garlic cream sauce left from Saturday's pizza-thon, and I think I may make some more using that and some cooked mushrooms and onions. Yum!

These little things are pretty tasty on their own or dipped in some Ranch, which is how I ate two of them for my lunch. I put a couple in the cupboard for school lunch tomorrow, put a dozen in the freezer (in bags of two), and left several in a container on the counter for after-school snack today. 
You can just bake the roll without making slices, and the kids like that, too. I just don't think the center gets done enough without really drying out the outside. 

These aren't necessarily a quick think to make, if you factor in the one hour rise time for the dough, but they are easy. They'll be fine to eat at room temperature for school lunch, too. I'll thaw the frozen ones overnight in the frig, then by the time he's ready to eat them, they'll be perfect. 


Thursday, February 25, 2016

...and God Gave Back

This is a little bit different post than usual, but I feel led to write about what I experienced over the past two weeks. I had some surgery last month, and all went well. My recovery was quick and easy and I was slowly returning to normal life. Then a phone call from the medical clinic. There was concern over something on my chest x-ray from my pre-op physical done 10 days before surgery. I had a couple of choices, either wait 3 months and do another x-ray or have a CT done to see if any further investigation was warranted. Since my mother died of lung cancer, there was no question but to have the CT. I was mildly alarmed, but not overly so. I didn't tell my husband or children about the CT, since there was no sense worrying them when it was going to come out that it was a faulty x-ray. 

The CT was on a Thursday and by Tuesday morning when I hadn't heard from the clinic, I figured I was getting a letter that put any unease to rest. No. That afternoon the phone call came; the spot was "suspicious". I won't go into the specifics of the results, but it was enough to scare me. Yet, it wasn't horrible. I was told I needed a CT-guided needle biopsy of my lung, and they scheduled that for me. The thing was, this was a Tuesday, and they couldn't get my biopsy done until Monday. A week was a very long time for my mind to embrace those dark places that come with losing my mother 19 years ago to lung cancer, three months after her diagnosis. Dark, dark places. 

So. I had to to tell my family. Greg was wonderful - he understood why I didn't tell him about the CT, and was extremely supportive the entire week. The kids were great, agreeing not to worry until worry was warranted. We agreed not to share with family beyond the kids. No way could I tell my sister and brothers, and no reason to worry everyone until we had answers. In fact, most of them still don't know and will be finding out now, while reading this. Sorry. Yet, I knew I needed to be enveloped in prayer. So I turned to a couple of cousins, some dear friends/former co-workers, and my internet friends. I have a long-time group of friends from email lists who I've "known" for 16 or 17 years now. I asked them to pray for me, for peace and strength and positive results. They stepped up and wrapped me in prayer and good thoughts and support. They sent encouraging messages and texts and I felt very loved. I was also praying and I started to meditate to help relax.

Back to those dark places. When a person cannot eat or sleep and their blood pressure is through the roof because they are so stressed, the mind goes to those worst-case scenarios and makes up all kinds of sad and scary drama. I had a particularly rough evening on Friday when I'd only had 3 hours of sleep the night before. I was losing it when I knew I needed to be calm. So I messaged a friend, one who has gone through the fire of cancer and chemotherapy and come out on the other side. I want to share some of what she wrote to me (with her permission):

" God gave me life and he would decide when he would stop it, not me. It was then I was humbled before God and realized I had no control, it was Him. I gave up control and let each day just be because my fate was decided, it just wasn't the way I thought it would be."

You guys, this is just what I needed to be reminded of. Whatever it was or wasn't was already decided and I needed to give my fear to God. Every time the panic engulfed, I needed to give it to God. Every time those dark places tried to steal my thoughts and fill my head with dread, I needed to give those to God.

So I did. When the fear and darkness and overwhelming sadness threatened, I closed my eyes, took a deep cleansing breath, and chanted in my head, "Give it to God. Give it to God. Give it to God." And He took it. He took the fear. He calmed my heart. He wrapped me in peace. Every time I needed it. And I needed it a lot.

Now I don't usually go around professing my faith to everyone. My faith journey has always been pretty private. I believe some people are called to minister and preach and share publicly about faith and salvation and all of that. Then there are those who live their faith privately, doing good works and showing God's grace through their actions without pointing out that's what is happening. Both ways are okay. I tend to be one of the quiet ones, but like I said in the beginning, I felt led to write this to you today.

So, on Monday I spent the day at the hospital and had the biopsy done. It was unpleasant but afterwards I felt a lifting of the ominous black cloud I'd been shrouded in for a week. There was no more fear, no more panic. I slept all night without waking once. Yesterday morning I awoke feeling healthy and energetic and ready to take on whatever came. By late afternoon, I had test results and am happy to report that they were good. I am fine. Two weeks of stress, but all is well. 

I am happy to say that I gave it to God, and He gave back to me.