Summer, Diary 4, 2016

Tawny Scrawny Carrot Stew.

Doesn’t that sound divine?

My kids love the book The Tawny Scrawny Lion by Kathryn Jackson. Incidentally, I do too… the copy we have is mine from when I was a little girl. We read it at least twice a week at bedtime, and lately James has been talking about having bowls of carrot stew and heaping his bowl with berries, and soon enough Roman and Rose started relishing the idea too.

So last week I made Tawny Scrawny Carrot Stew.

I looked up several recipes for cream of carrot soup, and then modified slightly to match the stew the rabbits make Tawny Scrawny in the book. The description was a carrot stew, with fish and herbs and mushrooms.

Oh my gosh… it was so good! I wasn’t sure at first, as it’s not a combination one often sees, but it was delicious and easy and I would make it again in a heartbeat.

My kids ate it for supper, grinning from ear to ear, and then we heaped our bowls afterward with fresh raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. A perfect finish to this dish.

I LOVE to cook from a good book. Redwall, Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Little House, Boxcar Children, The Tawny Scrawny Lion, Miss Suzy… gosh, there’s so many wonderful books out there that just make me want to eat! 🙂

(Not the best picture. Sorry. I took it with my phone, after my growing hoard had all but consumed the pot.)

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Tawny Scrawny Carrot Stew

Ingredients
• 6 cups Carrots, chopped
• 6 cups Liquid (all water, or a mix of water and vegetable broth)

• 15 oz White Fish (I used Cod)

• 2 T Butter
• 2 cans Mushrooms (4 oz each), drained

• 1/2 tsp Thyme, dry
• 2 tsp Garlic, chopped • 2 T Butter
• s/p to taste

Directions
Put the carrots and liquid in a pot and boil, uncovered, till carrots are soft (about 15-20 minutes). Scoop out into a bowl, leaving liquid in the pot. Add the white fish to the pot, another 2 cups of water, and simmer till cooked (about 10 minutes), till opaque and flaking. Pull fish out, and add the carrots back in. Add the thyme and garlic. Use an immersion blender, or a regular blender, and puree the carrots and liquid.

In a small pan, sauté the mushrooms in the 2 T of butter.

To the creamy carrot soup, add the fish, the mushrooms (and mushroom/butter drippings), and another 2 T of butter. Mix to break the fish up. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Enjoy.

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Holiday Delights

We celebrated Christmas with Sackett Man’s family. In total we had thirteen people in our home over the weekend before Christmas (fourteen if one counts my soon-to-come baby boy), and I couldn’t have had a nicer time.

I LOVE playing the hostess. I love getting the house ready. I love putting the air fresheners in various rooms (apple cinnamon is the best scent). I love making up the beds with fresh, crisp sheets and warm blankets, setting out clean soft towels in the bathrooms, putting up the finishing touches of Christmas decoration so that the atmosphere is warm and full of the holidays. Most of all, I love to cook. Molasses cookies. Fudge. Artisan bread. Bowls of dried fruit and almonds and cashews for snacking. Scrumptious beef roast with gravy, mushrooms, and onions, roasted in garlic and rosemary and red wine. Mashed potatoes made creamy with milk, sour cream, and butter. Green beans cooked to bright green al dente and tossed with chopped, crispy bacon.

My mother-in-law brought her own delicacies. She made a ton of Christmas cookies, and brought her delicious caramel rolls. My sister-in-laws brought cranberry fluff, homemade punch, english toffee pudding, vegetable trays, ham-and-pickle roll-ups, pecan pie, pickled herring, cheese and crackers, lefse… I’m sure I’m forgetting something… Needless to say, we did not go hungry!

A huge thanks to my wonderful In-Law Family, for coming to visit us and celebrating Christmas in such a special way. 🙂

One thing I tried making this year that I’ve never, ever attempted before, was good old fashioned candy (yes, that you need a thermometer for as you carefully cook the sugar). I made Turkish Delight.

I wasn’t sure about it. I and my family love the Narnia series; our young boys really enjoy the original BBC Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe movie. There’s been curious interest regarding the sweet that was Edmund’s favorite for a while now, so I finally researched and found a recipe and tried my hand at it. Turkish Delight can be made in many, many flavors (lemon, orange, pistachio, chocolate, etc) but the most common is Rose. Yes, Rose flavored candy. I assume this is the flavor Edmund enjoyed, because in every single movie the candy is a soft pink color. To that end I ordered my rose water (Rose Flower Water by Cortas), and— because some reviews said it was a very strong brand— I sampled a teaspoon of it in a glass of water (the recommended amount is 1-2 Tablespoons in a glass of water), and I couldn’t drink it. It was so strong! The scent was like putting my nose smack dab into the middle of the strongest bouquet of roses ever. And then drinking that bouquet. So that made me concerned that the flavor of the Turkish Delight was going to be too much.

I forged ahead anyway.

I used the recipe from this lady’s blog: http://titlisbusykitchen.com/recipe/turkish-delight. Not only does she have the recipe written out, but she has a step-by-step video to go with it. It made the whole experience so much better; there’s nothing that takes the fear out of an new recipe than watching someone with a sense of humor show you how it’s done!

The ingredients are:

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp rosewater
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • Few drops of food coloring
For the dusting
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • Extra powdered sugar (on hand if needed)

The only modification I made to the recipe, at all, was I halved the amount of rose water. I put in 1½ tsp instead of 1 tbsp. For our American tastebuds, unused to the taste of roses, it made all the difference! It flavored the Turkish Delight delicately, without overpowering it.

My husband and I, used to the scent of roses as being connected to bouquets, soaps, or face wash, like the flavor but are still getting used to attaching it to a food. Our kids, on the other hand, have no such preconceived ideas, and love it!

January Note: One thing to keep in mind: this is an old fashioned candy, made the old fashioned way. There are no preservatives or additives to keep it in perfect form for weeks (*cough cough* months YEARS *cough cough*) on end, so it will sweat and the powdered sugar it rests in will turn into a glaze around it. For the best results, eat the candy within the first five days. If the sweating really bothers you, switch out the powdered sugar/cornstarch every 2-3 days.

Another side note: the recipe says it will keep for a week. That doesn’t mean you have to throw it out on the eve of day seven. It just means that the texture will become softer and less candy-chewy, and it will sweat more and more. I’m nearing the end of week two, beginning week three, and I’ve taken to using a fork to separate the pieces (the best I can) and eating it that way.

My prep for candy making.

My prep for candy making.

Mixing, mixing, mixing as the sugar SLOWLY rises in temperature.

Mixing, mixing, mixing as the sugar SLOWLY rises in temperature.

You can't see it here (sorry), but it has reached temp: 240˚F.  * note: turn off the heat immediately when it reaches temp!!!

You can’t see it here (sorry), but it has reached temp: 240˚F.
* note: turn off the heat immediately when it reaches temp!!!

This is the water/cornstarch mixture. Once this has cooked you add the sugar syrup and cook low and slow to a glowing gold color. KEEP THE HEAT ON LOW! AND MIX CONSTANTLY!

This is the water/cornstarch mixture. Once this has cooked you add the sugar syrup and cook low and slow to a glowing gold color. KEEP THE HEAT ON LOW! AND MIX CONSTANTLY!

After adding the three drops of red food coloring and the Rose Water, I poured (scooped) the mixture into the wax lined/oiled pan. I used this handy icing spatula to spread it out even.

After adding the three drops of red food coloring and the Rose Water, I poured (scooped) the mixture into the wax lined/oiled pan. I used this handy icing spatula to spread it out even.

This is what you will need to finish the Turkish Delight: a cutting board sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. you turn the Delight out onto the board and cut it. 1"x1" is the perfect size.

This is what you will need to finish the Turkish Delight: a cutting board sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. you turn the Delight out onto the board and cut it. 1″x1″ is the perfect size.

So sorry I don’t have a picture of the finished product, all cut and dusted. Just imagine your favorite picture of Turkish Delight from the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe… it really is just that pretty!

Enter Wonder Woman: The Homeschooling Mom

My oldest started kindergarten this year, and we’re homeschooling. This Summer, with great excitement and much trepidation on my part I mentally began to prepare for schooling him. I was giddy and nervous. Was I going to do a good job? I love teaching kids, but I’ve never taught one to read before. What if I didn’t know how? What if I couldn’t do it? What if I couldn’t find the resources I wanted/needed? What if there were too many resources to choose from, what do I do then? How would I know what to get? What if I got something terrible that didn’t work at all and just made him miserable? What if I was so unprepared that we got to Spring and he didn’t know ANYTHING?

I took a deep breath and made myself a cup of Earl Grey tea. Then I huddled away on pinterest for a while till I had calmed down enough to be rational.

I was going to be fine. I would plan, research, and organize the way I always do. I had all Summer to do so, and my mom — who homeschooled me and my six siblings from kindergarten through highschool — was happily hauling out everything she’d saved and sorting through it for me. I was going to reach September with a folder of weekly school lists ready and every book/craft/project/resource I could possibly need all filed neatly in my bookshelf. That’s what I would do; I was going to plan the whole year and have stress-free schooling. I was going to be the On It Mom.

Turns out I’m more of the Almost On It Mom Who Plans The Day Before. Actually it was two weeks before, sort of, and mostly the week before, when I showed up at Mom and Dad’s for the weekly visit and frantically, with Mom’s help, figured out my first week’s schedule and went home with boxes of stuff from her. I have accepted that I am the Almost On It Mom, because even though I have an overall grasp of what the year will consist of the actual schedule only gets made on a week-by-week basis.

And that’s okay. To Roman I’ve got it together and he’s happily learning away, and that’s what is important.

Then, going into the year with renewed confidence, I decided I would be the Make It Yourself Crafty Mom. Flashcards? I’m an artist, I can make flashcards! Pictures for coloring? Who needs to spend all that time researching printables on the computer! I can draw those! Crafts? I am crafty enough, I can figure it out and spend the time to make shapes, draw and design, and cut everything out. Such as this week: we’re learning about leaves for science; what chlorophyll is and why the leaves change color in the fall. For the craft we’re making leaves to either turn into garland or tape on the windows.

I can do that. I’m the Crafty Homeschool Mom who is so amazing I make everything at home!

Turns out I’m more of the Find Printables Online Mom. Because really… when you have three children, all under the age of six, plus laundry, dishes, house care, and schooling… who has TIME to completely do it yourself?! I glared at the inner crafty me who was wailing with guilt, and gagged her. It is plenty crafty to print templates off the computer for school crafts. Think of all the time it saves so that you have the time to actually DO the craft with your child! Think of the time saved to plan other parts of school and take care of your house and other children, instead of being hunched at the table trying to get his next coloring picture done!

Flashcards? That I only, in two months, had time to create four of? I found an awesome printable for that! In color! He now has the entire alphabet in flashcards. Easy peasy.

Fall leaves to decorate the house in? I found an awesome printable for that! I took colored paper (I chose red, orange, and yellow) and printed out a whole bunch of sheets of gorgeous leaves for Roman to cut out and tape all over the house. Shazam.

I utilize many things I never thought I would. I use youtube all the time. Learning about Columbus, I found a wonderful 15 minute video done in dramatized storybook format for him to watch and learn about Columbus. Today, being our weekly Library Day, we’re going to look for some Columbus books. And maybe some other fun exploration books. And a Dr. Seuss or two.

So I’ve made my peace with not being the ‘Perfect’ On Top of It, Awesome, Make-It-Yourself Wonder Woman Homeschool Mom. He’s learning to read. He’s learning a bit of history. He’s learning some science. He’s becoming a whiz at math! (I wish math had been that easy for me to pick up!)

As far as my son is concerned, I am the Wonder Woman Homeschooling Mom.

He’s learning, and he loves it. And that’s what matters.

He was having trouble understanding how Columbus could have made the mistake of thinking he'd reached the Indies. So I found a map and printed it twice: a full one, and then just half of it (the Eastern half, which is the world as Columbus knew it). I taped them together so he could see the 'roundness' of the world, and then pointed out the similar distance between his starting point and intended/real destination, and voila! With the visual aid, he got it!

He was having trouble understanding how Columbus could have made the mistake of thinking he’d reached the Indies. So I found a map and printed it twice: a full one, and then just half of it (the Eastern half, which is the world as Columbus knew it). I taped them together so he could see the ’roundness’ of the world, and then pointed out the similar distance between Columbus’s starting point and intended/real destination, and voila! With the visual aid, Roman got it! He even got a good giggle out of it. That night he nearly ran Sackett Man over holding the two ‘globes’ and explaining about Columbus. 🙂

Autumn Green

It snowed last night. The snow melted immediately once the morning light touched it, but its brief presence made one things very clear—

The garden must be picked.

Unfortunately I am in no state to do it. I am confined to my husband’s recliner with my laptop, taking vicodin every four hours, because yesterday I was in the hospital having a cerclage. So my husband geared up with grocery bags, scissors, laundry baskets, and gloves. Our oldest bundled up in his winter coat, hat, gloves and boots. The two of them are outside picking EVERYTHING. Bless them!

Most of what’s coming in I can take care of later. One thing, however, cannot wait, unless I want a limp, green, slimy mess.

Ew.

What is this potential mess? My cilantro. I love cilantro! Its fresh lemony scent wafts through my nose and washes my thoughts clear of any stress and trouble. Its bright flavor bursts in my mouth and proves to every taste bud that God loves each and every one of them and wants them to be happy!

But cilantro attacked by the unforgiving, freezing forces of nature? A malicious cruelty done to a completely innocent herb, if you ask me. So Sackett Man is outside with scissors and cutting and bagging it all for me. I figure that I can take five minutes today to stand in my kitchen and preserve it. Despite my achy back and other, general achiness, it will be SO worth it!

Mom and I have tried different ways of preserving cilantro over the years. We’ve tried drying it, which preserves it nicely, but you loose the fresh, bright burst of flavor that I love so much. We tried freezing it whole last year, in ziploc bags, but it was difficult to pull out just what you needed and when it thawed it was just not the same. And then one day a couple of weeks ago I was on the phone with Mom, and she was telling me about all the things she was doing with her garden produce. That day she happened to be making pesto, and I thought… “Pesto. Pesto! PESTO!” And why not? Why NOT make a pesto out of cilantro? As far as I know there’s no law that says pesto can only be made out of basil, but even if there is I’m willing to risk jail for this wonderful and amazing concoction. Because it’s delicious.

The next day I picked a bunch of cilantro to try it out. My heart pounded as I put it in the blender; my hands shook as I added the oil. My whole body quivered as I pushed the button and watched as it spun and blended into a brilliant emerald green elixir. I carefully, meticulously measured in the salt and the lemon juice, and blended it once more, gently and lovingly.

And then… I tasted it.

Oh heaven! I had found it… the perfect way to preserve cilantro so that its fresh wonderfulness could be enjoyed even in the depths of winter. I made Indian chicken and rice that night, and tried a spoonful of the Cilantro Pesto on top. It was fantastic, and Sackett Man gladly put it on top of his second and third helpings.

The process is really and truly very simple.

You’ll need 10 cups of cilantro total, but be aware that you’ll have to add it in a bit at a time.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 8.48.53 PM
Firstly, I put 5 cups of cilantro into my blender.

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I added 1 cup of olive oil, to give the blender enough moisture to blend.

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I pulsed the blender, using the handle of a wooden spoon to push the cilantro down in between pulses.

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I added the last 5 cups of fresh cilantro and pulsed all over again. Then I added approximately 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and some salt. A quarter to half a teaspoon, depending on how salty you like it.

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Look at that! Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

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I put it into two quart-size ziploc bags, and spread them flat to put in the freezer. Flattening them works well for usage, too, because you can just open the bag and break a piece of the frozen ‘slab’ off whenever you want to use some.

This is what I shall do with the cilantro my husband is bringing in today.

I can’t wait!

 


 

~ Cilantro Pesto ~ Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 8.51.35 PM

• 10 C. Fresh Cilantro
• 1 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• 1 ½ – 2 T Lemon Juice
• ¼ – ½ tsp Salt

Put 5 cups of cilantro and the olive oil into the blender. Blend in pulses, scraping down the sides in between. When it’s blended, add the rest of the cilantro and blend again in pulses. Add the lemon juice and salt to taste and blend just enough to mix.

Pour into two quart ziploc bags, flatten, and freeze.

Enjoy!


Chocolate Therapy

It’s eight in the morning, and I’m here at my table, having watched the sky grow from dark to blushing pink to blue (thank you, baby daughter, who got me up so early). I am finishing up the comic for my nephews today, and wrapping the last gifts for the last extended family gathering, which will be had at my house. I am also going to indulge in some fantastic cups of indulgent, velvety, rich homemade hot chocolate. Why? Because I’m nervous, and nervous = chocolate therapy.

“Why are you nervous?” One might ask. “So far it sounds like you’re just doing art, which you do all the time anyway, and having some family over. What’s the big deal?”

Well, tomorrow, early in the morning, my husband is having knee surgery. I know that isn’t the biggest thing in the world; not the most dangerous, or most fearful. But he’s never had surgery before. He’ll be out for it, and intubated (“Just in case”, the doctor’s say. That’s not very reassuring.), and then out of commission for two weeks. I’ll need to make sure our two boys (5 and 2) don’t leap on him or bump his legs during that time.

And I’m his wife. It’s my job to worry about him.

He’ll be fine; probably the hardest part, for him, will be the two weeks of inaction. Sackett Man is a man of movement. He’s always doing. So not doing is probably going to give him a worse case of Cabin Fever than our -45˚ weather ever could.

It’s only -10˚ today, by the way. We’re having a hot streak.

My mom is graciously watching our boys tomorrow (I’m keeping the baby girl), so that I can be with Sackett Man. Thank you, Mom!

And today: today I am mixing up my homemade hot chocolate mix. And having some of it. It’s really the EASIEST thing in the world to make, and it’s so, so good!

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

A Cup of My Homemade Hot Chocolate

A Cup of My Homemade Hot Chocolate

3 1/2 cups Powdered Sugar

2 1/4 cups Cocoa Powder (I use Dutch Cocoa)

1 1/2 tsp Salt

Combine all ingredients in an airtight container, and mix.

Add 2 Tablespoons to a cup of hot water, and then added a splash of milk at the end (like one does for coffee). YUM!!! Garnish as you wish: with nothing, or marshmallows, or whipped cream… you get the idea.

NOTE:

If you want to have just a little bit to try (who wants a tub of something they don’t like?) then do these amounts:

1/4 cup Powdered Sugar

2 1/2 T Cocoa Powder

1/8 tsp Salt

This will give you a good amount for sampling purposes.

Then if you like it, you can make the tub!

A Fudgy Christmas

Christmas Eve was magical… in a snowy, swirling, hold-your-breath kind of way. We were traveling to visit the Grandparents, and it began to snow. It was dark, and in the dark the wind swirled the falling snow all around us. The highway was eerie; we were the only car that we could see for most of the drive. Once in a while other cars would appear, their red taillights glowing hazily around us, and then in a swirl they would disappear, coming and going in the gusts and flurries like ghosts.

As I said, magically eerie.

We made it, and spent a wonderful Christmas with the inlaws. Good company, delicious food, talk and games and laughter. We video-chatted with some relatives living oversees right now, and loved and missed them all the more.

Now the cleanup begins.

My house is a mess; it always is in the aftermath of packing for a trip. But that’s okay. Refreshed from the holiday and nourished with a large mug of steaming coffee I am ready and armed to tackle the house and the gremlins that messed it up!

For those of you that don’t know, I am fully convinced that every house has gremlins. They’re the ones that take and hide things you put in a ‘safe’ place, and they like to collect socks. Just one of each pair, because they have no sense of decency or polite manners.

Hawkeye & BurstThe boys have been reading their comic book constantly since they got it. My eldest, who likes to tell me he has ‘super eyes’ when I ask him to look for something (and then he goes around the house, bug-eyed, looking for it) was thrilled to find that his hero-self had the power of Super Sight. And my second son (who runs around the house as fast as possible saying “I’m Fast Man!”) likes the fact that his hero has Super Speed. He now has an excuse to run like crazy through the living room and the hall!

I have made two large batches of fudge. One was enjoyed at the inlaws’, and the second is waiting to be enjoyed with my side of the family. It really is the best recipe ever, and it’s SO easy.

You can do any flavor extract you like, but my favorite is the almond. It pairs beautifully with the dark chocolate!

First, put a piece of wax paper or tin foil in your 8×8 pan, enough so you have some coming up over the two sides. This will be how you get your fudge out of the pan.

Next line it all with plastic wrap.

Dark Fudge — Recipe Dark Fudge

1 can (14 oz) Sweetened Condensed Milk

3 cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet or dark)

1 1/2 tsp Almond Extract

Put all the ingredients into a double boiler (or a pot, as I do) and over low heat. Take a wooden spoon and mix, mix, mix. Stir constantly to keep the chocolate melting evenly and not sticking to the bottom. It will be somewhat stiff. Once it is mostly melted turn off the heat and then mix like crazy to get the last few pieces of chocolate to melt.

Pour into your prepared pan. Put it in the fridge to cool. After two hours, grab hold of the foil/wax paper and lift it out of the pan. Remove the plastic wrap, cut into square, bite-sized pieces, and thoroughly enjoy!

I did. 🙂

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

So this Christmas is a cheaper one, primarily because we had a lot to fix on the house this year after we moved in, and Sackett Man needs surgery on his knee. One of the hazards of being a plumber; so many years spent kneeling and crouching to fix sinks, tubs, toilets, broken pipes, etc. takes its toll.

With all of this in mind, we knew we had to tighten up our financial belts and soldier forward. However, I am an avid gift-giver. I LOVE giving gifts. I love shopping for them, I love making them, I love finding them, I love discovering the perfect gift for that perfect someone… so I was determined that, money or no money, Christmas was NOT going to suffer. Amazon has been my friend. Pinterest has been inspiring. And with the crazy mix of wonderful people in our immediate and extended families, there has been an unlimited amount of ideas to ponder and sift through.

One of these ideas is the gift of Chai. Perishables are a great gift idea for adults, because let’s face it… at a certain point, how much more ‘stuff’ do you really need? I personally always have things I would love, but I also adore food. Cooking it, eating it, looking at it. Food is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind; otherwise He would have just given us broccoli and beans and water and called it good.

I am so very, very glad He didn’t.

So again, on to Chai. There are many tea drinkers in my family. (And if any of them are reading this post, no, don’t try to guess who’s getting this for Christmas. My lips are sealed.) So I thought, what about a homemade Chai mix? I started doing some research, but there are TONS of recipes out there. Most of them require powdered milk, powdered creamers, etc., but I don’t stock those things in my cupboard and was looking for something I wouldn’t have to go buy special ingredients for. So I looked at the spices and the different amounts, and then I started experimenting with a creamer free, dairy free, sugar free Chai Spice Mix. After two days and many, many cups of Chai Tea, I have found what I think to be a very yummy blend.

The best part? It’s SO easy.

Chai Spice Mix

Chai Spice Mix

Chai Spice Mix

2 tsp Ground Ginger

2 tsp Ground Cinnamon

1 tsp Ground Cloves

3/4 tsp Ground Cardamom

1/2 tsp Ground Nutmeg

Thoroughly mix all of the spices together into a container with a lid (for easy storage).

Serving size: 1/2 tsp

When you want a delicious cup, put a bag of your favorite black tea and 1/2 tsp of Chai Spice Mix into your cup. Add the boiling water and let steep for 4 minutes. Remove the tea bag, then sweeten to taste (if you want) and add your milk or cream. It is fantastic!

If you are not a black tea fan, you can just make your cup the same as above, but without the tea bag. You won’t suffer any lack of deliciousness, I promise. (I would still let the spice mix steep for 4 minutes to get the full flavor.)

Try it and let me know what you think!

~ Mary