Monday, May 31, 2010

Always Remember...

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth

-Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Confessions of a Kitchen Failure

This isn't going to be a how-to blog about the latest thing that was on my dinner plate.

Because to be honest, it was frozen pizza.

I would have taken some great pictures of my dinner last night, but my dinner was not great. 

We have been very thankful through the last couple of years to get free deer meat from my grandparents.  I think free meat is one of the biggest blessings, since it's always the most expensive thing on my grocery list.  We have accumulated ground deer meat, (awesome in chili), and some deer minute steaks from them... 

The minute steaks make me nervous.  I have no idea what to do with them.  My grandpa swears that if you just salt and pepper them and pan fry them, they're next to heaven.  So a while ago I dredged them in a flour, salt, and pepper mixture, then pan fried it.  Ick.  Failure #1.

Come last night.  I  figure everyone has "off" days in the kitchen, no matter what you make. So I pulled up my big girl britches and decided to give it another try.  This time, we tried them with Lawry's Seasoned Salt.  {I'm convinced that Lawry's makes anything taste good. If you don't have any in your pantry, get some}. And we put them on our inside grill.  Failure #2.  No amount of barbecue sauce was helping either.  We tried.

I've come to the conclusion it's not the way I'm making them.  It's the meat.  It's the only logical answer.  To confirm this, I text my mom {her and my dad got real burned out on deer meat early on... my grandpa seems to think that he needs to get a whole deer. every. single. year.} and it went a little something like this:

me: "So this is the second time I've tried the deer minute steaks, and second failure. I think I'm gonna give up.  I know there are starving kids around the world, and I wish I could send them my deer minute steaks, 'cause I'm done"

mom: "Believe me. I understand."

So they will stay in the (very back of the) freezer for now.  Chris and I had a discussion on whether we would rather starve or eat deer minute steaks.  We decided they would probably be handy if push comes to shove.

Then I put a pizza in the oven and life went on.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sweet As A Rose

When we moved in our house, I noticed there were a few rose bushes around the house.

I'm ashamed to say now that after dogs, planting other bushes, and just plain ol' neglect, there is only one left, but I have taken to caring for it and giving it it's best life.

The beautiful white blooms make me wish it could talk.

Strange.  Let me explain...

As I was talking to a neighbor, she told me that two owners before us was a sweet old lady that lived in our house.  And she had beautiful roses everywhere... I wish I could sit on my front porch with a glass of iced tea and learn everything there is to know about roses from a sweet old lady.  But since I can't, I will settle for enjoying a piece of beauty that she loved and (knowingly or unknowingly) passed on.


My husband has been full of surprises these last few days... Mother's Day was Sunday, and my birthday was Wednesday...

My first "Mother's Day" gift from my husband, Chris.  It's a "Baby's First Year" memory book. I'm so excited for October to start filling it out!

This is my birthday gift that was sitting on my dresser that morning with a note that simply said "Happy Birthday Babe. I love you." I've been eyeing this kind of watch for a while, but he picked out this specific one. I love it. 

And this is my birthday dinner.  My man does wonders on the grill.  Complete with my home-grown chives.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Saving Dimes

I hate spending money on cleaning necessities.  Remember my homemade anti-bacterial wipes? I still use them and love them.  Although, on a side note, I would suggest throwing them all in the laundry every once in a while and starting over - if you aren't going through them very them often.  They can start to smell funny after a while in an airtight container.

I know people make their own laundry soap, so a quick "Google" search landed me with countless recipes. They were all basically the same, but I chose a "dry" recipe.  Super easy!

Laundry Detergent:
2 c. finely grated Fels Naptha (or Ivory) soap
1 c. washing (or baking) soda
1 c. Borax

Use 2T. per load.

The Moolah Details:
Borax  - $2.98
Baking soda - $0.48
Ivory (3 bars for $1.07) - $0.36/per bar

Grating the soap was kind of fun... and smelled oh-so fresh.

I already had a container at home, so I didn't have to purchase anything to store it in.  Although a Ziploc bag would work just fine.
So here's the fun part...

Store-bought laundry detergent: $4.98 for 32 loads = $0.16/load
*I have tried the cheaper detergents, and find that the soap just doesn't wash out a lot of times. My clothes go to the dryer with little white specks on them. Not cool.

Homemade laundry detergent (I made 1 1/2 times the recipe):
I used less than 1/4 of the Borax box, but 1/4 is - $0.75
1- 16oz. box baking soda (used most of it) - $0.48
2 bars Ivory soap (one bar = about 1 1/2 c. grated) - $0.72   - Total: $1.95

1 1/2 times the recipe made approximately 4 c. detergent...
4c. laundry soap = 64 T. = 32 loads = $.06 per load

Next on the agenda is homemade dishwasher detergent.
Let me know if you try it!  I'll be making it as soon as my store-bought is gone.

Dishwasher Detergent:
1 c. washing (or baking) soda
1 c. Borax

Use 2T. per load and vinegar for rinse agent if desired.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Organized Recipes Equals Happiness

If you're like me, every time you get a cooking magazine you have high hopes that everything will be cooked, tried, and rated within the month.  

Here is my stack of magazines that has accumulated throughout the years and has slowly overtaken my kitchen shelf.  I'm guessing about 3 recipes total have been attempted.  As much as I love looking through magazines, it's a bit intimidating when I'm searching through a dozen of them looking for "that recipe I saw"...

So one quiet Friday evening, I popped in a movie, got the scissors out, and got to work.

The "keeper" recipes -

And the recycle pile. This made me so happy it's skirts the line of pathetic.

I already had a 3-ring binder, so I bought a pack of sheet protectors for about $3.  

I organized the clipped recipes by category: appetizers, salads, soups, main dishes, desserts, and drinks.

I taped the smaller recipes to pieces of printer paper...
So now I have this binder that can be added to and edited...  If I try a recipe and don't like it, the taped-in recipe is easily removed.

I also added food prep and party ideas that I found.  For instance, serving a chicken salad in individual Mason jars for an outside Spring brunch. How cute!

I plan to do this same thing with house decorating and entertaining ideas I get inspired by.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

"All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my Mother."
- Abraham Lincoln

Today, as I look back at all my Mom has done for me...

Birthed me - with no drugs.

Schooled me... and my three siblings - without strangling us.

Didn't spare the rod - I'm thankful now, not so much when I was six.

Exemplified what it means to be a Godly wife, sister, friend, and mom. I pray one day I can be half the mother that she is.

Rocked me in her lap as I cried countless tears over feelings that were hurt, scraped knees, and animals that had died. Hamsters. We went through a lot of hamsters. Baby birds that had fallen out of their nest and I wanted to take to the vet... One sweet memory I will hold forever is when a baby bird - I really liked animals - had died... I was sitting in her lap, crying (shocking, I know), and she told me that not even a bird falls without God knowing it.
And as I was sitting there with my head on her chest, I could hear her heartbeat. That is what
comforted me. I didn't want to ever get up.

And most important.

Just kidding.

A little.

Taught me that none of life's problems can't be solved with a cookie. Having a bad day? Make cookies! Having a good day? Make cookies! Need a break? Make cookies! Stressed? Make cookies! Celebration? Make cookies!

We had cookies instead of cakes for our birthdays. She would make a huge cookie and decorated/frosted it however we wanted. I always loved these cookies because none of my other friends had them. They got boring store-bought cakes.

So today, I share with you my Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe. Consider yourself
extremely blessed.

The cast of characters:
I'm sorry Mr. Vanilla, I got in a rush and kind of forgot about including you in the family picture. Not that you aren't extremely important. Especially since you came all the way from Mexico. I promise it won't happen again.
Side note: This is how you accurately measure brown sugar. At least how I was taught. There is no leveling. You scoop and scoop and cram and pack it until the cup is overflowing.
First step is to cream the white sugar, brown sugar, and Crisco.

Next add your eggs and vanilla.

Everyone hates doing dishes. So what we do is cream the above mentioned, then add the flour, soda, and salt. Mix the soda and salt on top of the flour a bit. Then mix everything together. Why in the world would you dirty another bowl to mix the dry ingredients? I don't have a clue.
This was always the time that, if one of us kids happen to be making cookies, mom would magically appear. "Mom, weren't you upstairs taking a nap?" or "Mom, I thought you went to the store?" or "Mom, aren't you out of town with dad?" Oh no, she was there when it was time to test the dough. Or rather, "taste" the dough.

If the dough is sticky, add more flour (about 1/4 cup at a time). You don't want the dough to stick to your fingers.
Mix in whatever combo of "chips" you'd like - about 1 1/2 to 2 cups - depending on your preference. Chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch, white... Or if you're feeling frisky, add some Reese's Pieces, Andes Mints, or Holiday plain M&M's (Christmas, Easter, etc).
Drop by spoonfuls - or scooper-fulls on a cookie sheet (use foil or parchment paper if you're wanting to cut down clean-up time).

Bake at 350F for 8-10 minutes. I prefer my cookies to have a little crunch on the outside and soft on the inside, so this is what they would look like coming out of the oven if you want them like that.
Remember I was talking about cleaning up and not dirtying any more dishes than you have to? Well welcome to one of my favorite parts of this whole operation. Count 'em... Six dirtied items. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you and goodnight.
Just kidding. But not really.

Here's the specifics:

Mama J's Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
3/4 c. white sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. Crisco
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour (check for consistency)
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 1/2 - 2 c. chocolate chips

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ginny, Ginny, Quite Contrary, How does your garden grow?

I looked up the meaning of "contrary".

Beside the definition, there was a picture of me.

But this post is about my garden, not my questionable characteristics.

I was determined this year to make my front flower bed look presentable.

My two neighbors across the street, both named Theresa mind you, have a beautiful flower bed that spans across both of their front yards.

Tulips that'll knock your socks off.

Flowering bushes that make you wanna cry.

Not really.

But it really is a delight to be able to look out my front window and see all of that. And it makes me feel bad for them. When they look out their front window. Well, they probably want to cry. Because it's so gosh darn sad.

But! This is the year I vowed to change that. Or start to...

My first thought was to call in the expert. Ranal.

Lynn and Ranal are my parent's neighbors who have lived there longer than my parents (which is 23 years), so we barely know a time when there was no Lynn and Ranal.

They are awesome.

No, awesome doesn't do them justice. Lynn is the kindest soft-spoken guy you'll ever come across, and Ranal is a personality of unique spunky fun. And they'll let you inhabit their basement when a tornado gets a little too close.

They live in a log cabin. Is that the epitome of cool or what? Lynn plays the fiddle in the Flatland String Band. Fond memories I have of summer evenings outside hearing him play on his back porch. Pure sweetness. Ranal is an artist. I'm not sure what the correct term is, but she does these crazy cool and unique collages. Her basement is so organized and full of fun crafty stuff (and a cooler-than-you-can-imagine dollhouse). Ranal also has beautiful gardens... Were you wondering when I was going to get to my point?

Ranal was more than happy to share her abundance of plants with me, so on a fresh Friday morning, I went over and helped her dig up some goodies and catch up on life.

This is my bed before the transformation. The weeds do give a nice background to the dandelions...
This is the loot. I made out like a bandit.
I love plant swapping. When my garden gets established, I will love giving some of my abundance away. It just feel like the old times. The way it should be. There wasn't your neighborhood Lowe's around the corner. If your neighbor had some extra daisies, then more than likely, you'd get some. If you had some extra forget-me-nots, you'd be happy to share. I love it.

Here are the specs on my plants:

Irisis - two toned purple and possibly yellow. I love not knowing, and the surprise it will bring.
Blue Salvia - if I remember correctly, this should produce a small blue flower
Live Forevers - this plant most definitely lives up to its name. I got one plant with the roots, and a couple stems off another plant. Ranal said to just stick the stems in the ground and it will grow. It's not growing. It's thriving.
Purple Spiky Stuff - this stuff has spiky leaves and will produce a purple flower. Ranal so cleverly named this since she couldn't recall the correct name. I personally like "Purple Spiky Stuff".
Day Lilies - big orange flowers
And some herbs:

Lemon Balm - I'm SO excited about this. It smells so lemony and divine, and is used as a garnish. Put a couple leaves on a piece of cheesecake or in your iced tea. Love it.
Not pictured is Oregano and Sedum (a ground cover).

Ranal suggested that I get some composted manure to mix in with the soil since my bed had been dormant for a while. Easily found at the local hardware store. And not smelly.

On a side note, I received a plant from one of the Theresa's from across the street. I can't remember the name, but the leaves have green, yellow and pinky/reddish tint to them. Beautiful! I also received some "Naked Ladies" from Chris' grandmother. [The conversation went like this: "Ginny would you like some naked ladies to go in your yard?" me: "Umm.. err... *cough*... well... uh"] After I found out what they were, I took about 8 bulbs, and they are scattered around the bed too.

This isn't a spectacular "after" picture, but it's definitely a big improvement. And it looks even better in person. I promise.
AAAAND!! I have my very first Iris bloom!! I felt on top of the world, like I could accomplish anything when I saw that little purple beauty. My chives have also sprung some little pink blooms also.

I think I'm off to a great start with SO much thanks to Ranal! I'll keep you updated.

I'm getting a lilac bush from my mother-in-law tomorrow. I love lilacs.

I plan to spend as much time outside this summer as possible.

One of the best parts of this whole thing? Every plant I received is a perennial.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Seafood Boil

A long while ago. In October of '09. My family had a Po' Man's Seafood Boil.

We didn't go with crab or lobster.

Those suckers'll pinch a dent in the pocket book.

So we did shrimp, crawfish, oysters (I think... It was some sort of shellfish), and assorted vegetables.

Granted, even crawdaddies in the God-blessed middle of the country aren't necessarily the cheapest, but more affordable than lobster, and these were "seasoned". They looked divine. If I remember correct, I got a 5 pound bag for about $10. My dad and I were really excited about these :)

Let me digress for a moment. Something I have always loved about my dad is his enthusiasm for any ideas that us kids come up with. When I mentioned wanting to try a seafood boil (that's what I get for watching too much Michael Chiarello in the summertime), he said "Well when are we going to do it? Let's get it on the calendar". And the other night at the symphony, I mentioned (again) how much I want to learn the Cello. He said "Well what are you waiting for?". Always there to encourage us in our dreams. Even if it's in the form of cooking sea urchins.

So moving on...
Here's everything all ready to go. My dad has a deep fryer (the kind you use outside and fry turkeys in). So we filled that with water and had it come to a boil. This takes a lot longer than you would think. I'd put the water on at least an hour before you're ready to add ingredients. Add a couple pouches of Zatarain's Crab Boil seasoning. I found this at the local grocery store right in with all of the other seasonings. Whooda thunk?

When it comes to a boil, put your vegetables (we used carrots, onions, corn, and potatoes, but use whatever you have on hand or whatever sounds good to you) in the basket part of the deep fryer. If you don't have one, that's okay, you'll just have to fish everything out. Get it? "Fish"? Hahaha :) The veggies will take longer to cook than the seafood, so get them going. We also squeezed a few lemons in there as well then dropped the halves in.

If you're random, like my family, print a picture of a crab and tape it to the front door. Just so everyone outside will know what is going on inside. Because it's obvious when you tape a crab to the door, you're having a seafood boil inside.

Here's a group shot. On a side note, no, my parent's do not have pink walls. Well, they did at the time, but it's only insulation. We did this boil at the perfect time (if you're going to do it in the fall or winter) because they were in the middle of remodeling their kitchen/living room, so there was no carpet or furniture. We hauled the picnic table in from outside, threw down some newspaper and let 'er fly.

After the veggies were done, we removed them and added the seafood and some polish sausage, and cooked until everything was done. We also had some sourdough bread, and we made some garlic butter dipping sauce.

One of the most fun parts was dumping everything on the table and eating troth style. Not that I'm comparing my family to swine, it's just fun to eat with no plates or utensils sometimes :)
Look at how fun that is!
As fun as this little guy looks to eat, we weren't very impressed with the "seasoning" that he came with. Next time, we decided that we'll either go for the big stuff (crab and lobster), and/or season everything ourselves.

But a family memory made to say the least - how many times can you say you've eaten seafood on a picnic table in the living room with a crab taped on the door?

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