What’s Cookin’ – The Deconstructed Chalupa (Guest Post)

The following is a post written by our middle child who recently relocated from the Midwest to Flagstaff, Arizona.  She has been living on her own for about 7 months now and is taking the plunge into cooking beyond her comfort zone.  I keep telling her, “Practice makes perfect.”  – Mama

Crock Pot Cooking for the Novice:  Round One

This past Christmas (well a couple days after), my boyfriend’s mom bought me a crock pot.  This gift stemmed from a conversation that we had on my lack of cooking experience, which comes as a surprise to most people given that my mom is no novice in the kitchen.

Deconstructed Chalupas (4)

Right out of the box, never been used crock pot.  (Cutting board sold separately).

I had been in my new place for about two weeks and hadn’t strayed from my diet of chicken and rice, the only meal I had learned to cook since living on my own for over 7 months.  That is, the only meal I HAD learned . . . until now.  After a week of telling my boyfriend that I was going to try out my new crock pot and not doing it, he challenged me by suggesting that I would never use this fabulous gift from his mother.  Now, if there is one thing I hate, it’s not stepping up to a challenge.  I woke up on a Saturday morning ready to take on the daunting task of cooking.  I had searched the web and found a recipe, put together my shopping list (sure that I knew what each ingredient was so as not to look completely lost), and sent a quick text message to my mother warning her that I’d be shopping for food and potentially in need of assistance.  Off I went to face my first challenge of the day: the grocery store.

I did better than I expected.  I found all of my ingredients with ease and then I got to the meat section . . . I wanted pork.  But was it pork butt or pork shoulder that I needed?  I texted mom for backup.  Low and behold, pork shoulder and pork butt are virtually interchangeable terms.  Funny animals, pigs.  My shoulder and butt are quite different.  They are on completely different parts of my body and serve completely different purposes.  For the pig, at least how a butcher defines the shoulder and the butt, they are both part of the same cut of the pig.

Parts of a Pig

I did look up the different cuts of a pig just to verify for all the nonbelievers out there.

I hurried back home with all the ingredients in hand, ready to spend the day “learning how to cook.”

Here’s how it went:

I found a recipe online for Southwestern Style Chalupas.  Of course I made some changes to it due to the suggestions from one of the individuals that critiqued the recipe on the website, my mother, and simply what just happened during the cooking process (we will call this “on-the-job learning”).  The recipe below shows the modifications in 3 different colors: black denotes the original recipe, as found, red denotes the suggested changes from one of the comments on the website, blue denotes my notes and changes I ended up making either by cooking suggestions from my mother or by mistake . . . I mean “on purpose”.  😉

Don’t worry, there’s a clean copy of the recipe at the end of this post, but I wanted to share the kitchen contemplations of a novice.

Here’s what this looks like in action:

What kind of utensils do I need to cook this recipe, you might ask as a novice (hoping you actually have what you will need and, more importantly, you actually know what those items are AND how to use them)?  Surprisingly, cooking utensils aren’t that bad and so easy a monkey could use them!  This is what you will need: measuring spoons, measuring cups (or a pitcher), the largest knife you can find, cutting board, crock pot and can opener. This picture may raise the following question: Do I have a can opener?

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All my cooking utensils, already used so dirty for the picture (not pictured: can opener).

Now that you know what supplies you need, let’s get cooking!

First thing’s first, open up that can of pinto beans and drain.

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There’s the can opener!

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Beans are looking good almost effortlessly.

That was exhausting.  Time for a coffee break.

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Note: coffee was not used in the recipe, just for drinking.

Okay, back to work.

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Now, get out the biggest knife in your kitchen to cut that onion.

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Look how nicely chopped that onion is.  Looks good.

Are onions supposed to be juicy?

WARNING:  Onion vapors may cause irritation to the eyes!

This irritation is due to the chemistry of the onion.  Onion cells contain sulfenic acid forming amino acids that, when onion cells are severed (aka when you cut into that innocent looking orb that’s just sitting there on your cutting board), mix with enzymes to produce a volatile sulfur compound (propanethiol S-oxide).  This compound is released into the air over the cutting board that makes its way up to your tear ducts until you’re about half way through cutting your onion, almost to the point when you start thinking “I am a powerful supercook!  Not even this onion will make me cry!”, when the burning sensation begins.  The compound has reached your tear ducts and is now reacting with your tears to form sulfuric acid. Your eyes are now going to dissolve.  You should’ve worn your safety glasses.

That was a joke.

Your eyes will make it.  You may just cry for a bit until your eyes have flushed the irritant out.  This was an amateur move on my part.  I looked up how to prevent this irritation from occurring.  A more experienced cook, or a chemist, may know this but to reduce this irritation from happening you can make sure to refrigerate your onion before cutting (this would slow down the reaction since colder particles have a slower rate of reaction) or cut the onion under water.  I prefer the safety glasses approach.  But since the irritation has already occurred by this point, it’s time to walk away from the onion and have a refreshment until the crying has subsided.

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Note: Beer was not used in the recipe, just for drinking.

Now, time to get to the chiles.

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Get that can opener back out!

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Yum, Mexican green chiles (don’t worry, they are mild).

The most difficult part is mixing your spice blend.  Here is what I ended up using:

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All the spices were measured out into this little bowl.  How nice.

And then I minced the garlic. I actually know what mincing is so here is the definition for all the other novices out there that have never minced.

Mince: taking the largest sharp knife in your kitchen and, using a karate type motion, cutting something into the smallest pieces possible while avoiding cutting yourself (note: this definition was not found in a dictionary).

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The knife looks bigger next to those little pieces of garlic.

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Minced.

To be able to mince, you will have to break the cloves.  This can be done by placing the clove under the flat part of the knife (preferably with the blade of the knife facing away from you) and then applying pressure on top of the knife.  This can also be done by biting the cloves, or so I’ve been told.

So, there you have it! After measuring out a quart of water, all the ingredients are ready to go!

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Look at that butt.

Before I get too ahead of myself, there is one critical step that must be done. Plug in the crock pot.

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Yes, there it is. I did remember to plug it in.

I was under the impression that you just throw everything into the crock pot in whatever order you want, so that’s what I did.  I do recommend putting the meat and spices in first and the water in last . . . my mistake.

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Putting the water in first wasn’t my most successful moment of the day.

Turn the crock pot on High, stir up all the goods, and cover.  After an hour, I changed the temperature to Low and then waited . . .

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How long do I have to wait again?

Just hang out for a couple hours until it’s time to shred the pork.  There are so many things you could do with this time JUST DON’T USE THIS TIME TO UNCOVER THE COOKING MEAT.  This will make the waiting last so much longer.  But there are so many other things to do.  I decided to write this blog post, for instance.  I also finished drinking a beer, ate some ice cream, figured out how to use a staple gun, did this art project for my kitchen, sanitized my counter where I dropped the raw meat, and washed the dishes (though crock pot cooking leaves you with minimal dishes to clean).  I could’ve also taken a nap or watched something on Netflix.  The opportunities were nearly endless.

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Look at the art. Can you believe I didn’t get this idea from Pinterest?

When the meat is tender enough to be pierced with a fork, it is probably ready to be shredded.  Or so you would think.  After 5 hours of waiting, I took the pork out and began cutting the fat off.  That part was easy enough.  Then, when I started to cut it off the bone, it got more difficult.  I guess it wasn’t ready to leave the bone.  I cut up what I could and put it back in the crock pot, bone and all (minus the fat).  I covered the crock pot again and went back to waiting.  This time I watched some Netflix.

Another hour later . . .

It was getting tenderer.  I turned the heat up to High and let it cook for another hour (I was getting impatient, but I shouldn’t have kept opening the lid . . .).  I was getting to the point where I was wondering why I tried cooking in the first place and then I start smelling the aroma fill my apartment.  This wasn’t smelling too bad.  Maybe I was doing something right.

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Hour 7 of cooking arrives.  I took the meat out.  It came off the bone easily.  I wished that I hadn’t cut the pieces off the bone earlier because those pieces aren’t looking as tender.  Still, I cut those pieces into strips and then shredded what was still on the bone.  I put everything back into the pot and left the crock pot on High and uncovered.  I was experimenting with cook times and techniques.  I wanted the broth to thicken up a bit which actually means I just needed some of it to be soaked up by the meat or, by leaving it uncovered, allowed it to evaporate off.

This was actually real food.

I got the toppings ready!

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My favorite, sharp cheddar cheese.

After cooking uncovered for 30 minutes, finally, the final product.  Turns out the meat ended up being tender enough to enjoy but the broth didn’t really thicken up.  It was a soup consistency and didn’t quite look like the picture from the recipe I found online.  I did leave the rest on the heat because it really wasn’t entirely ready.

Deconstructed Chalupas (1)

Look, posed pork.

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Was it good?  I ate it, if that tells you anything.

What did I learn?

  • I can actually, semi-successfully, use a crock pot.
  • I hate waiting all day for food.
  • It probably would be much better if an experienced cook made it but at least it was cooked through and had enough flavor so that I didn’t get sick from undercooked meat.  My taste buds were happy.

Will I do this again?

Someone said “practice makes perfect” so I will do more cooking.  Though I’m not under any delusion that perfection will ever occur from my cooking, at least I can feed myself.

 

Posted in Food & Home | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Irony

Today is my birthday.

Today our cat, Angel, died.

She has lived with us since 1997. She was 2 years old then. Our babies were 4 years old.

She spent most of her life with us living under the kid’s beds. She was never a lap cat or very sociable. She came out at night when everyone was in bed asleep. Basically, she tolerated us.

Angel the Cat (6)

But, a funny thing happened two years ago when our babies went away to college.

Angel decided that it was time to bond with the adults in the house. Yeah, the ones who changed the litter box, fed her, gave her water, took her to the vet, cleaned up her cat barf, and vacuumed up her cat hair.

Angel the Cat (7)

Basically, she was in love with my DSH. If I dared to sit next to him, she would look up at me as if to say, “What the hell are you doing sitting in my spot next to my man?”

I have to admit that I had a love / hate relationship with this cat. I am not the big animal lover in this house. When I agreed to adopt a cat from the local humane society I had a few rules. First of all, no kittens. We had to get a cat that was already litter box trained. Second, I was not in charge of changing the litter box. Third, I was not responsible for watering or feeding the animal. Fourth, I was not in charge of cleaning up barf – neither cat barf nor kid barf.

It was my plan that the cat’s demise would correspond with the last two kids going off to college. The average life expectancy of a house cat is 15 years after all. I did my homework.

Angel, however, had other plans. I started calling her “the cat who won’t die.” She became needy. A downright pest. After years of ignoring us, she now demanded attention. And lots of it.

DSH kept a lint brush by the back door so he could brush off his dark dress pants before leaving for work. She kept him company every morning as he made his lunch. She loved rubbing up along his legs especially when he wore dark blue or black slacks.

She got noisy. She never meowed and rarely purred. She yowled. Early in the morning. Every morning. The most she ever weighed was 6½ pounds, and she lost weight over the last several months. It is amazing how loud of a sound an itty bitty cat can make. I admit it. I yelled at her when she did this. It was so annoying.

Angel the Cat (4)

And I turned into the cat lady. Yes, I posted more pictures of the cat this past year than I did of the kids. Because every night she would come into the family room and snuggle up next to DSH while we watched television. She would demand that he pet her by pushing her head under his hand. She would get into his face and snuggle into the crook of his legs.

Angel getting warm

She lived a long, happy life with our family. And, it turns out, I did help take care of her from time to time. I cleaned up after her, washed her bowls, and swept up the cat clay that she inevitably drug out of the cat box. I washed the rug under her cat box several times the past few weeks as she made it to the box, but not into the box. We carried her poor, weak, frail body back and forth between her favorite spot on the couch and to her soft bed that we made for her over the register in the laundry room. She loved sitting on the registers when the furnace was running.

This morning when DSH found her, as we expected, we placed her in the white Coach shoe box with the red velvet interior that I had saved for her. We went out before sunrise in the frigid weather and dug a hole in the frozen earth of one of our gardens to bury her.

My sister told me that she went out on her own terms perhaps in full realization that it was my birthday.

Ironic.

RIP Angel. We will miss you, you darn cat.

Posted in Musings | 6 Comments

Downsizing. For Real.

About mid-way through last year, DSH and I decided that we were going to downsize.  For real.

In other words, we’ve been talking about downsizing for a while now.  I have been ready for far longer than my DSH.  I am tired of cleaning a house that is much too large for just the two of us.  Even if it means that the few weeks each year that our remaining two college-aged daughters are home leaves us a little less room than we are used to having.

I am tired of spending almost every weekend during grass growing season – cutting, trimming, watering, and fertilizing an oversized yard.  Seriously, DSH is so crazy about his lawn that there are periods when we cut it three times in a week!

Easter Weekend Jack 04 07 2012

I have a lot of things on my bucket list, and I want to start checking some of them off the list.  Before I get too old.  Or die.  And I can’t do that if we are tied down to a too large house and a too time consuming lawn.

So about the middle of last year, I started going through every room, every closet, every drawer and even the basement to clean things out and purge.  Call it my mid-year New Year’s resolution.  My goal – get rid of at least one thing a day.  On some days, it’s a small thing.  I may skip a few days.  But on other days, I get rid of a large load of stuff.  I tick off the pounds that we won’t have to move once we finally sell this house.

Rachel's Empty Room 2012

Our middle child graduated from college last year and moved out which meant that an entire bedroom of furniture plus some extra stuff we had in the basement moved on to a new home.  We went through my kitchen, which is well stocked, and I purged extra stuff to help her stock her kitchen.

My biggest challenge is with DSH who happens to be a bit of a packrat.  I remember when we were transferred to Dallas, and I was left with the task of getting our home ready to sell and move.  I threw away an old stick that was in the garage.  Seriously.  It was a dirty old stick.  A stick which DSH used in some weird tool fashion when working on the cars.  Apparently, it was the perfect stick.  He will never let me forget that I threw away that stick.

Oh, but he’s had plenty of ideas for stuff of mine that I can get rid of – like my desk.  That I love.  So, every evening I rattle off the stuff I’ve moved out of the house.  Forever.

I  suggested / asked / begged / cajoled him to join me in my endeavor to downsize our stuff prior to a move to a smaller home where we can age in place.  I talk about the things that I’m getting rid of, and he has started to do the same.  Whenever he gets rid of something, I smile / clap / rejoice / reward him for participating in this goal of downsizing stuff.

Now if I could get him to get rid of the years of papers, magazines, and journals he has stockpiled in various spots throughout the house and garage.  He thinks I don’t know about them.  But I do.  And I consider them a fire hazard.  They’ve gotta go.  But I’m taking baby steps with him in this area.

Not only am I going through all the stuff in our home, but I also recently downsized my car.  I am done driving mini-vans, station wagons, and SUVs.  I downsized for real to a small hybrid that gets double the gas mileage and is much easier to drive and park.

We also finally put our home on the market late last Fall.  By Thanksgiving, we had a few showings, but no offers so we took it off the market for the holidays.

Hennsley House

Next week, it goes back up.  In the meantime, we have cleaned and repaired and staged our home for showings.

2013 – the year we downsize.  For real.

Posted in Musings | 6 Comments

Baker’s Dozen – Signs That Your Child Has Actually Become an Adult

Our New Year’s Day 2013 started with a move.  Our middle child, who was on temporary assignment in Indiana, made her official permanent move away from our family home to her new home 1,400 miles away in Arizona.  (Three down, two to go).  That made me think of . . .

Signs That Your Child Has Actually Become an Adult

1)  You have a newly and completely empty room in your home.

Rachel's Empty Room 2012

Our daughter’s old, pink room is now empty.

2)  Their extra stuff is no longer stored in your basement.

Rachel Move Loading the Truck

Packing for the big move from the Midwest to northern Arizona.

3)  They have possession of all of their personal papers including their Social Security card and immunization records.

4)  They call someplace else “home”, and they have become a “guest” when they are in your home.

5)  Their new residence looks more like a home than a college dorm room.

Rachel Bedroom in Flagstaff

Our daughter’s new bedroom is decidedly more adult looking than her old, pink room.

6)  They pay for their own utilities and have their own Internet.

Rachel Desk in Flagstaff

Oh, the challenges (and stress) of setting up utilities, including Internet, for the first time.

7)  They have moved away from their favorite color of childhood (pink) to more grownup color schemes (teal, plum, & gray).

Rachel Living Room in Flagstaff

We had fun helping our middle child spend her money on things for her new home.

8)  They own their own power tools.

9)  They no longer use your address to get their mail.

10)  They have an adult job with benefits.

Rachel Stream Picture

Our daughter is an environmental engineer and this is a picture of a stream that she helped to design as one of her reclamation projects.

11)  They are no longer covered on your health insurance.

12)  You no longer can claim them as a dependent on your income taxes.

Rachel Kitchen in Flagstaff

We love that she has decorated her new home with some of her daddy’s, grandparent’s and great grandparent’s things – DSH’s A-B beer box, my father’s old engineering books, my grandmother’s old doll lamp, and DSH’s father’s old tube radio.

13)  You no longer pay their cell phone bill.

Posted in Musings | 6 Comments

The Highs and The Lows of 2012

In January, we found out that my brother-in-law had cancer.

David's First Infusion Therapy cropped

And I was blessed to be able to spend time with him and my sister several times this past year.

Parc Nicollet Fountain October 2012

Including one time in October when Parc Nicollet, where he is receiving treatment, colored their fountain pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Seeing the pink water in the fountain was bittersweet because I lost a friend to breast cancer over the Summer.  She was a model of optimism and hope and living life to the fullest and, in the end especially, she was a model of courage.

She left behind twin six-year-old daughters and a loving husband who posts about her on Facebook frequently.  He posted on their anniversary which he usually forgot, and he posts about the trials of parenting two little girls including one hilarious post in which he lamented about the challenges of combing a curly headed girl’s hair to make it straight and a straight haired girl’s hair to make it curly when all he has to do to his hair is run a wash cloth through it.

Sunny and Family Jan 2012

We had a going away dinner for DSH’s former co-worker who is from China.  She and her son have been living in this country while her husband continues to live and work in China.  For the past several years, they have only been able to see each other a few weeks each year.  He was able to visit to help her move from the Midwest to California where she was re-assigned.  They are the sweetest family and her dream to remain in this country was realized in 2012 when she received her Permanent Resident Card.

Rachel with her new diploma 05 05 2012

Our middle child graduated from college.

Leah Surprise Party Masters Graduation Dec 2012

And our oldest daughter finished her Master’s degree.  Her husband had a surprise party for her.  And she was even surprised.

Jacci and Katy's Bday

Our youngest two daughters turned 20 in 2012.  After 16 years of living with teenagers, we have NO MORE TEENAGERS!

For the next 7½ months, all five of our daughters will be in their 20s.  Then our oldest turns 30.  Yikes.  How did that happen?

Elizabeth Visit Sept 2012

DSH and I love our nieces and nephews.  It’s like having all the fun of kids without the responsibility.  We share their joys and their sorrows.  We enjoyed an unexpected visit from a niece who lives in San Diego.  We had a nephew get engaged and then get un-engaged.  We have a new great nephew – we now have one great niece and two great nephews.

We love spending time with all of our extended family and wish we could do more of it.  That’s why making connections with extended family members this past year has been one of the many highlights of our year.

Freaky Family Fun MN 2012

Another highlight was getting to spend an extended period of time traveling across country with my sister and her two children, my niece and my nephew.  Both of them happen to be teenagers.  I haven’t had enough teenagers in my life.

Spring Break in Biloxi 2012

DSH and I went on a college kids’ Spring Break trip to The Gulf with our middle child and a few of her sorority sisters.

St. Pat's Rolla 2012

And we partied with her at St. Pat’s.

Rachel's Empty Room 2012

Moving.  We did a lot of moving.

We moved three kids home from college in the Spring.  We moved a new graduate to her first home away from home three states away.  Then we moved her back home over the holidays.

We moved our youngest two back to college in the Fall and then we moved one home right before Christmas because she will be studying abroad this next semester.

The moving continues into 2013.  Our first move is to get our middle child from the Midwest to Arizona where she starts her next work assignment.

And, hopefully, sometime in 2013, we’ll be moving ourselves into a smaller home where we can age in place.  And have fewer rooms, especially bathrooms, to clean.

Yes, we are Downsizing for Real.  Besides trying to sell the house, I traded in my big car for a small hybrid.  Yes, after years of mini-vans, station wagons, and SUVs, I am downsizing for real.

2012.

We’ve had fun.

Thanksgiving 2012

We’ve enjoyed friends and family.

We’ve experienced the ups and downs, the highs and lows that come from experiencing life over a period of time.

We are trying to slow down and live more in the moment.

And we are trying to do all that while not eating dinner by 5 and going to bed by 9.  No, I do not want to turn into an old person.

Angel the Cat (6)

And I also do not want to turn into a Cat Lady.

Yes, it seems I have taken and posted more pictures of the cat this year than I have of the kids.

Ouch.

We hope that everyone is able to look back on 2012 without regret and that everyone is able to look forward to all that life brings their way in 2013.

Happy New Year!

Posted in Home | 4 Comments

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!

From our home to your home . . .

Faith – We wish you all the best at this time of year whether you are Christian or non-Christian, religious or not, close to family or far away.

Hope – Our hope is that the world becomes a better and safer place in the New Year.

Love – Our hearts ache for those who are missing loved ones this year particularly for the friends and family of the little ones and the adults who tried to protect them from the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Family – May everyone be surrounded by those people who love them the most for that is the true definition of family.

Christmas Card 2012

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas from our home to yours.

Posted in Musings | 2 Comments

Twentysomethings

This was an eventful year for us.

Rachel with her new diploma 05 05 2012

Our middle child graduated from college and moved away from home.

Three down, two to go.

We decided to downsize and put our house on the market.  That’s a work in progress.

Jacci and Katy's Bday

In August 2012, our babies turned 20.

Our babies are 20 years old.

Wow.

I remember when they were infants thinking that we would never, ever sleep through the night again.  But we did.

Until they became teenagers and college students.  Now we are thinking we will never, ever sleep through the night again.

I remember when they were infants thinking that there would never be an end to breastfeeding and diaper changing.  I thought we would never get them all into school and graduated from high school.

But we did.

And now we are down to just two in college.  And they are almost halfway done!

For the first time since 1996, we no longer have any teenagers in our home.

That’s the most mind boggling thought of all for this past year.  17 straight years living with teenagers.

I think that deserves some type of award.

Thanksgiving 2011

This picture was taken over Thanksgiving 2011 which was the last time all five of our girls were together.

For the next 7½ months, they will all be twentysomethings.

In March 2013, our oldest child will turn 30.

I’m still wrapping my head around that one.

Posted in Faith & Family | Leave a comment

My Thoughts on Jams, Jellies, Cranberries, & Turkeys

In between putting our house on the market and cleaning and going through closets and drawers and moving kids to and from college and into new apartments, I have continued to cook and bake and can.

I find working in the kitchen to be relaxing and fulfilling and a way to be creative.  Except for the dirty pots and pans and dishes part.  That part I do not like at all.

These are the things that I canned this year.  The thing about canning and preserving is that it requires patience.  I am not a very patient person so preparing jams and jellies and pickling stuff is a good lesson in learning patience for me.

Here is what I made this year:

Apple Butter – My friend, Cathy, has an apple tree in her yard that produced a bumper crop of apples this year.  My friend, Laura, and I got together and made apple butter.  It was my first time making apple butter, and it was yummy.  My brother-in-law LOVED it and ate an entire jar himself.

Peach Jam – My family LOVES peaches.  I do not.  My youngest daughter bought a large volume of peaches from the local farmer’s market and then went back to school.  I turned the ripe produce into jam which everyone loves especially my brother-in-law who ate an entire jar himself.

Blackberry Jam - I made a batch of this early in the summer when the fruit was on sale, and I made another batch recently when another supply of blackberries from Mexico went on sale.

Blackberry chip ice cream.

Then I got out the ice cream maker, which I had put away until next summer, and made a batch of blackberry chip ice cream.  I just could not help myself.

Raspberry Jam and Jalapeño Jelly – I made my normal batches of these when raspberries were in season and my jalapeño peppers were ripe.  My brother-in-law did not eat any of the raspberry jam because this is my sister’s favorite.

Pickled Garlic – I buy whole garlic in bulk from our local warehouse store because it is cheaper to buy it in bulk even if I can’t use it all before it dries out than it is to buy it from the grocery store.  I do use a lot of garlic, but I hate to waste food, and I saw a recipe for pickled garlic so I made some.  You can use it in lieu of fresh or just eat it right out of the jar.

Pomegranate Jelly & Apple Habañero Jelly – These were my two new jellies this year.  I wanted to try making jelly from juice so I made the pomegranate jelly and put it into funny, squat jars.  I had apple cider left over from Thanksgiving and saw a recipe that used apple cider to make Apple Habañero Jelly.  This is so, so good – just the right amount of sweet and heat.

Our oldest daughter and her husband live in Tucson, Arizona, and will be visiting over the holidays.  They asked that we not buy them anything – they would rather get together for a nice meal with everyone, and they really do not want to deal with shipping stuff and feel that they have everything they want anyway.  So, I sent them a package of each of my canned goods that I made this year.

In return, they are shipping us some of the homemade tamales that they made with some friends in Tucson.

I consider this a win-win!

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

I started making homemade cranberry sauce last year.  It is so easy to make and so much better than the stuff in the can.  I make a spiced version and a plain version, and I make enough to share.

My homemade cranberry sauce – one spiced and one not – isn’t it pretty on the plate?

I love cranberries.

Cranberry Salad

One of my favorite new cranberry recipes from last year was Cranberry Salad.  This is a new regular addition to our holiday table.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie – I made this in a quiche pan because I thought the red cranberries would be pretty against the white dish.  I also used an entire 12-ounce bag (about 3 cups of cranberries) because the recipe calls for 2 heaping cups and that is just not enough.  Think cranberry cobbler – easy to make and so good to eat!

Nantucket Cranberry Pie is my new favorite recipe.  I printed this off in 2010 to make when we went to my sister-in-law’s home for Thanksgiving.  But she doesn’t like cranberries so I made an apple pie instead.  I made the cranberry salad as my new cranberry dish last year and didn’t think I could get away with three cranberry items on my Thanksgiving table.

So, I made the Nantucket Cranberry Pie this year for the first time for a pre-Thanksgiving get together with all of the former high school cross-country kids and their parents.  The kids literally ate the pie right out of the dish with large spoons.  The dish was practically licked clean.

It is so good that I made one the next day for Thanksgiving.  Yes, we had three cranberry dishes, and they were all yummy.

Brined and roasted fresh turkey.

This is what our Thanksgiving turkey looked like this year.  If you have sharp eyes, you might notice that our fresh turkey came to us with a broken wing.

I love turkey and there is nothing better than preparing a fresh turkey.  The pre-brined, frozen birds just do not taste the same.

I can tell you that this entire turkey was used – every piece of moist meat was eaten, and the carcass was used to make stock and soup.  I love turkey, but it is a little bit of work to make it right and to keep it from drying out.

So, instead of another turkey for Christmas day, I have been talked into preparing a ham.  Since we do more of an open house for Christmas, and we will be traveling afterward, this makes sense.

But I am going to miss having a second turkey this year.

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Some of Our Favorite Treats and Drinks for the Holidays

For the times they are a-changin’
– Bob Dylan

The tree is decorated.

The gifts are bought and wrapped.

The cards and packages have been mailed.

What’s left?

Christmas Baking!

We aren’t doing a family get together to bake Christmas cookies this year (see 2010 and 2011 Christmas Cookie Baking Days).  This doesn’t make me happy or sad.  It’s just different this year as our traditions are evolving on our journey to becoming complete empty nesters.

That doesn’t mean we won’t have Christmas goodies to make and share!  I let each member of the family pick ONE item that they wanted, and that is what we (or is it I?) will be making this year.

One of my all time favorite holiday bar cookies are:

Hello Dolly Dainties

Here is another version:

Holiday Seven Layer Bars – these are fun because the addition of dried cranberries and holiday colored candies make them so festive!

Peanut Butter Blossoms – a perennial classic.

Gooey Butter Cookies – so tender and good.

Chinese New Year Cookies – my mother made these for us every year when we were children.

Heavenly Hash (or Peanut Butter Rocky Road) – I got this recipe years ago from a former co-worker, and it is my oldest daughter’s favorite.

Grandma’s Fudge – my mother-in-law shared this recipe with my youngest daughters, and they are now in charge of making fudge.  They come up with new varieties every year!

Cathedral Cookies – a very easy cookie to make because there is no baking involved.  They look pretty on a holiday plate and taste good, too.  Another blogger recently linked to this recipe from my site, and I have had hundreds of hits on this What’s Cookin’ post!

We have a few favorite beverages, too!

Glühwein (Hot Mulled Wine) – my son-in-law introduced us to this recipe.  He was born in Germany, and we have really enjoyed sharing this warm drink with family and friends over the years.  This beverage contains alcohol and is for adults only!

Hot Apple Cider – nothing is better on a cold Winter day, and it smells and tastes like you imagine the holidays should.  A perfect, non-alcoholic alternative that is good for everyone!

The times they are a-changin’.

While many of our holiday traditions will continue, others will change and evolve, but they will always be filled with love, joy, and happiness.

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Oh Christmas Tree!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging;
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging;
Not only green when summer’s here,
But also when ’tis cold and drear.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging!

Our leaves are so unchanging and green because we have an artificial tree.  And that makes me happy (find out why here).

This year for the first time in a long time, we did not put the tree up over Thanksgiving weekend.  We started that tradition when the kids started going away to college so that we could continue to decorate the tree as a family.  It is also when we took our annual Christmas picture to use on our holiday cards.

A few years ago, our parish priests and deacons took the war on Christmas to new heights by suggesting that no one should start decorating, buying gifts, baking, or sending cards until AFTER the fourth Sunday of Advent which is when the “true” Christmas season starts.  That would leave families (particularly the women and mothers) with only a few days, depending on the way the days fall, to pull it all together.  Uh huh.  I think most of the congregation was just speechless.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Much pleasure thou can’st give me;
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Much pleasure thou can’st give me;
How often has the Christmas tree
Afforded me the greatest glee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Much pleasure thou can’st give me.

After Thanksgiving, DSH put up the tree and made sure that it was straight and that all of the lights were working.  He even fluffed the tree for me!

I decorated the tree alone.  It didn’t make me sad or happy that I did it alone.  It was just different.

I put red bows on our tree because that is what my mother-in-law does, and I think it looks pretty.  She has been putting up her Christmas tree alone for years.  Once upon a time, she had two trees – one upstairs that she decorated and one downstairs that the kids decorated.  One of my favorite ornaments on her tree is a rattle that was given to her as a baby.  She put a bow on it and places it at the same spot on the base of the tree each year.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!
From base to summit, gay and bright,
There’s only splendor for the sight.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!

I added our ornaments.  Each of our five children had their own box of ornaments.  There was never any fighting over who got to put which ornaments on the tree because their boxes contained mostly the same ornaments that they received or made as gifts over the years.

We are down to two kids left at home.  These are their Christmas ornament boxes which I left out for them to put their ornaments on the tree when they get home from school.

But we have special ornaments, too.

Here is a Mizzou ornament that was given to DSH by his sister both of whom are Mizzou graduates.

Here are some Mom and Dad ornaments made for us by the kids many years ago.  Well, I was “Mother” that year and DSH was “Daddy”.  Guess they were not happy with me about something that year.

A few years ago, we were back to “Mom” and “Dad”.

One of my favorite ornaments is this funky and sparkly Santa Claus.  It has no particular sentimental value.  I just like it.

We have always adorned the top of our tree with an angel.  This one lost her wings a few years ago.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
Thou bidst us true and faithful be,
And trust in God unchangingly.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee! !”

Our Christmas Tree – waiting for the kids to come home and to finish decorating it.

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