Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The day has started and so must the cooking. I love cooking together with my mother and sister-in-law. We chit-chat and cook ... and later in the day, even enjoy a glass of wine. Here is what we are having...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cranberry Thanksgiving

Cranberry Thanksgiving by Harry Devlin is one of our all time favorite books. It's witty, classic and has a great life lesson in the end. As part of the story Grandma's famous secret cranberry bread recipe is revealed. It's a wonderful recipe and we cook it every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. While I know this is top secret and all, I am going to divulge the secret recipe so that you can cook your own. I highly recommend the book -- for several years my mother came into our schools and read the story to our classrooms and brought along some cranberry bread to serve. I have carried on the tradition with my children.



Grandma's Secret Cranberry Bread Recipe

  • 2 C Flour
  • 1 C Sugar
  • 1 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/4 C butter
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 t grated orange peel
  • 3/4 C orange juice
  • 1 1/2 C chopped cranberries
  • We have always added in 1 C chopped pecans or walnuts when you add the berries.

Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in butter until crumbly. Add egg, orange peel, and orange juice. Stir until evenly moist (but don't over mix). Fold in berries. Bake 350 degrees for 1 hour until toothpick comes out clean. (in buttered loaf pan)

Other quick bread tips I've learned:

  • Doneness tips: when there is a crack at the top of the loaf and edges are starting to pull away from the pan.
  • Leave cooked bread in pan for 10 minutes until removing from pan.

Enjoy!

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Mom's Stuffing ... by special request

For the turkey silly! My mother has been making this stuffing "for always". I'll have to ask her where the recipe came from originally. We don't vary from it -- we stay the course and enjoy every bite of this classic "no tricks" stuffing.
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 loaves of Arnold's classic white bread (it's a big ole long sleeve). (the bread should be a firm white bread) Tear the slices into more or less bite size pieces. Mom doesn't cut ... no, no, no! She tears. Set these "crumbs" out the night before.
  • 1 Cup butter
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 1 t pepper
  • 1 T dried sage (I tried fresh once and it didn't taste the same ... at all. Not sure why.)
  • 1/2 t poultry seasoning (comes in a box with a picture of a turkey on it)

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add veggies and herbs - saute until soft. Mix the bread crumbs with the veggies (always a bit tricky and messy). Let cool before stuffing. Good thing to make first thing in the a.m. -- it smells wonderfully. Mom always has an extra side dish of the stuffing cooking in the oven. At some point when everything is getting close to done, she takes some of the juice from the turkey pan and squirts it all over the dish of stuffing. Bake any extra stuffing in a covered buttered baking dish at 375 degrees until heated through (take the cover off about 10 minutes before it's done) and top is golden, 30 to 40 minutes.

Use the left overs to make the Turkey Hash I made last year! YUMOLA! Whew.

Who is the lucky winner?!

Introductions . . .

Benjamin picks the lucky winner! Who will it be . . . .

Congratulations!

Cold November Morn'

It's 15 degrees below normal here. Last night it was in the low 20's.
Here is a picture of one of my cold frame windows. BBbbrrrrrrrr . . .
Inside, my spinach is feeling the chill. It was just above freezing inside the cold frame.
My cold-loving kale is looking very droopy and is planning a trip to Virginia.
My boys know how to play (just say "no" to video games and television).
Here are two of Benjamin's creations.
When I say "go play" this is what he comes up with.
Ripley follows along and helps out his older brother.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Homemade QUICK Marinara

It's come to my attention on several occasions over the past month or so that a lot of people don't know how to make a quick and simple marinara sauce. IT IS SO EASY! It's inexpensive, fast and yummy. Great combo! For those of you who don't have tomatoes stock piled in your freezer or canned in your basement -- it's okay, you can use canned! It's great to have several 32 oz cans of plum tomatoes in your pantry for this reason. OK, here goes . . .

Homemade Marinara

First of all, this doesn't have to be exact. For all of those scientists out there (I'm a fine art major) shake it off and let loose. It will all be okay. This recipe is for a nice coating of marinara on about 3/4 lb of pasta. If you like more marinara -- just double the recipe. This should take you the same amount of time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta (once you get the hang of it).

  • Put a large pot of water for pasta on the stove. Throw in 1 T of salt into the water.
  • Drizzle the bottom of a large saute pan generously with olive oil - set stove to med-low heat. (don't skimp on the olive oil -- it builds up the good HDL cholesterol in your body and tastes yummy)
  • Crush, slice or chop 4-6 cloves of fresh garlic into the olive oil. Experiment with how you like your garlic best. Do not use that horrific chopped garlic from a jar (ever).
  • Saute garlic until it's getting soft and translucent, but not browning. Stir around from time to time while you do other things. (no biggie if it gets golden a little this time - don't stress)
  • Add about 1/2 t salt and about 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes if your serving children, 1/2 - 1 t if you enjoy a little kick in your marinara (which I do).
  • When your garlic is softish turn up your heat to medium high and dump about a 32 oz of plum tomatoes (or a thawed 1 quart bag from the freezer) into the pan. The tomatoes should spatter like crazy. That's good. If you have a spatter screen, put it over the pan, or partially cover the pan with the top to cut down on clean up. Keep the heat up on medium high to break the tomatoes down. Stir from time to time to make sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pan. If your tomatoes have the the skins on them still, I usually just tong them out of the pan one by one after they fall off each tomato to save time.
  • **right about now, put the pasta in the boiling water** (cook pasta al-dente because you will be cooking it more in the saute pan later.)
  • Smash tomatoes with a potato masher if they need to be broken down further. Your marinara should be thickening up. At some point after the tomatoes have broken down, you will want to turn the heat down to medium.
  • Just before (not sooner) add a ladle full (or so) of the starchy pasta water to your marinara sauce. This will make the sauce cling to the pasta. Reserve a little (maybe 1/2 a cup) of the pasta water in case your sauce gets a little to dry or thick.
  • Dump a big ole bunch (maybe 1 cup of leaves before they are chopped - I like even more) of fresh chopped basil and or parsley in the the marinara. (I usually do one or the other, but it's up to you.)
  • Drain your cooked pasta and dump the whole thing into your saute pan.
  • Flip and toss your pasta around in the saute pan to coat it with the marinara. If you need to, add in a little of the reserved pasta water. Maybe add a little more olive oil -- drizzle it around. Sometimes I grate parm cheese into the pan at this point too.
  • Serve with freshly grated parmigiana-reggiano cheese.

That's it!

Ingredients

  • 1 quart tomatoes or 32 oz can of plum tomatoes (include the juice in the can)
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 1T plus 1/2 t salt
  • 1/4 - 1 t red pepper flakes
    1 Cup (before they are chopped) fresh basil or parsley leaves.
  • About 3/4 lb pasta

I'll leave you with this picture of some herbs and apples that I've dehydrated. As you may remember, I had a bad experience trying to dry tomatoes in the late summer here in humid New England. They all got mold. So, I purchased a dehydrator. It didn't dawn on me until late in the season that I could dehydrate my own herbs as well. Next year I will dehydrate a lot more.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Joy

Look at that Arugula Salad! Picked only minutes before it was served -- Joy! I get such satisfaction from growing our food. Our standard "dressing" for our salads is olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice a little Portuguese red pepper sauce (which is simply a hot pepper ground up and preserved in vinegar and salt), salt and pepper. Usually we throw in a little minced onion but we were fresh out of those. If all you grow in your garden are tomatoes, cucumbers and basil -- please consider arugula. Plant in between your tomato plants -- and then in their place after the tomatoes are done for the season -- and you will have greens into the frosty weather.

We have had several mild days and boy have the greens in my cold frames taken off.
These actually look smaller than they really are
Presenting ... the first of my garlic shoots. Isn't she gorgeous? :)
This picture was taken this morning -- it's a cold one.
See the frost crystals on the straw?


I'll leave you with this. Ripley came downstairs in his new soccer shorts (thanks Grandmama).
It's not even 30 degrees. When I explained that this outfit wasn't going to "cut it", he proceeded to have a colossal meltdown. Here he is. Poor guy.


Monday, November 17, 2008

What are we having for dinner??

For dinner this week:
M: Pasta Bolognese and Arugula Salad, T: Butternut Squash Soup, W: Date Night, Th: Beef Stew with Cornbread, F: Otsu Pasta with Tofu.
In our effort to Simplify and Organize we must talk about meal planning. As a younger adult I always thought this was a drag. I am naturally creative and spontaneous -- so the thought of meal planning made me cringe and revolt! However, as you get older, and wiser (yes, it does happen, even if you start out thinking you've got everything figured out thank you very much) you begin to recognize the wisdom of such a thing.
First: The Rules
  1. At the same time every week (whatever works best for your schedule) decide what you will be serving for dinner.
  2. Consider what days you will be able to make something more involved, and what days you will need something quick. Consider the "season" that you are in, and what is realistic for your schedule -- understanding that planning gives you a little more time to make things happen.
  3. Some people like to rotate their menu over a two week period -- so you have 14 things and you just keep rotating over and over again. This requires less "thinking about it". When you get sick of one dish or another -- switch that one meal out.
  4. Some people like to plan their meals by "type" just to give them some guidelines and make it quicker and simpler to plan. Monday is Soup Night, Tuesday is Pasta Night, Wednesday is Sandwich Night, etc., etc.
  5. Keep in mind that if you plan ahead, you will be able to cook more things from scratch. Such as beans -- in the morning throw them in a bowl of water and they will be sufficiently soaked and ready for cooking by late afternoon.
  6. Create a grocery list from your planned menu.
  7. Go to the grocery store only ONCE a week. This will save you time and money! And don't go roaming through the aisles after you have everything "to see if there is anything else you need". This is a marketeers dream come true. Prepare to spend an extra $50. Don't do it. As soon as you have everything, leave at once!
  8. Only buy what's on your list. (If you hope to save, give and/or stick to your budget this will be a huge help.)

Here are the top reasons why you should plan out your meals:

  1. You will save time at the grocery store.
  2. You will save money at the grocery store.
  3. You won't have that blank stare on your face when you enter the grocery store as you panic asking yourself -- OK, What am I going to cook this week?
  4. You won't have a stress attack trying to decide what you are going to cook this week as you try to keep your children from running wild in the aisles.
  5. You won't find yourself panicked as afternoon approaches and you still haven't thought about what you are going to whip up for the family.
  6. You won't find yourself rushing to get things done at the last minute because you planned for a meal that you didn't have time for b/c you picked something that sounded yummy at the last minute.
  7. You will save by being able to cook more from scratch.
  8. You will buy less take out and pizza.

For the Working Mother: The comment below was left by my friend an neighbor Katie who is very organized (she should be writing this) and works several days a week. She had some great suggestions, so I thought I would enclose them.

Katie Wrote: I work several days a week and have 2 young gals at home. My friends tease me, but what honestly works for me is that I plan our dinner menu for the week and actually write what we're having on the calendar (I'm sure you've seen this in my kitchen). Anyways, it helps me with grocery shopping and getting my family's meals ready as quickly as I can. There are always those occasions when we deviate from what was planned, but I try to stick to it as much as possible, if even for my own sanity during the evening hours. On the days that I work I always plan simple meals that I can pull together quickly like pancakes, sausage, fruit; pizza and Caesar salad; grilled cheese and tomato soup; or burgers on the grill with raw veggies, like cucumbers and carrot sticks. I love to cook and try new recipes and tend to do that on weekends and on my days home from work when I have a little bit more time. If, for example, I know I'm cooking chicken then I'll cook extra 'just with a little olive oil' and use it for soup or enchiladas the next night. When I make meatballs or spaghetti sauce I always make enough to freeze for another night. And when I make homemade banana, cranberry, or pumpkin breads, I always make two and freeze one. As a kid I didn't like leftovers; as a working mom - LOVE them! I cooked a chicken Monday night with all the fixins like stuffing, homemade mashed potatoes, and butternut squash. Of course there were extras and so I buttered a small casserole dish and layered the stuffing, potatoes, chicken, and gravy. My hubby was home yesterday so he just popped it in the oven and presto dinner was done and actually tasted better the next night. Hope some of my ideas are helpful!

For an At Home Mother with Young Children: For more thought provoking ideas (in case you missed this) my Sister-in-Law Tanya made this comment about how meal planning has helped her to simplify and organize her evening routine -- as she has a 3 month old, a 2 year old and a 4 year old!

Tanya Wrote: I have a new meal planning system that has been really helping me to simplify. I love to cook, but I am a creative type and tend to be indecisive and rather prone to last minute inspirations. Considering I have a 4, a 2, and a 3 month old I needed to do something different!!! I was overwhelmed at the grocery store and could barely function while managing the little ones. My daughter was over sleeping for preschool because we were eating dinner so late. Sandy sat down with me and helped me come up with an emergency plan designed for my current situation, but as I have been doing it I think it would be great for anyone trying to simplify. The basic idea is that I have a category of meal that I make for respective nights of the week. For example Monday is soup night, Tuesday is "out" night, weds is pasta night, Thursday is meat night, and Friday is sandwich night (paninis make it a bit more interesting). Weekends are more spontaneous. It makes planning and going to the grocery store so much easier. Out night is supposed to be either take-out, or eat-out but has ended up being left-over night. Thursday is my usual shopping day so I can get fresh meat or fish. For now I am limiting myself to some very simple recipes in each category. I have not found it at all boring. In fact by limiting myself I have been more enthusiastic about cooking.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Environmentally Friendly School Lunches




What is an environmentally friendly parent to do when it comes to packing school lunches?
The good news is that being environmentally friendly and saving often do go hand in hand.
  • Wrap all sandwiches, breads, carrot sticks, grapes in wax paper -- just like the "old days". Waxed paper is compostable. My 9 year old is well trained and brings all compostable things home in his lunch box. What a guy! Plastic baggies are more expensive, are toxic to recycle (although always better to recycle) and let's face it -- go right into the trash at the school.

How to wrap a sandwich in waxed paper

  • Bake "quick breads" as a great part of a pack lunch. Quick breads are great ways to get healthy vitamins into your children. From carrot, to zucchini, to pumpkin bread -- it's good stuff. Wrap in waxed paper.
  • If you pack a dessert for your children, bake cookies and freeze them. Take them out of the freezer one at a time -- they will be thawed out by lunch time.
  • Use older cloth napkins (maybe with a stain or tear or two) rather than paper napkins. I won't be devastated if it doesn't come home -- but once your children know the routine, they put it back in their lunch box just like any other reusable food container. (No need to continually buy paper napkins.)
  • Go to a thrift store and purchase mis-matched forks and spoons for them to take in their lunches when needed. Again, if you lose one, you won't be devastated. So far, all of mine have come home. (A much cheaper option than continually buying plastic ware.)
  • Pack whole fruits like apples, peaches, pears. Sometimes I wrap the fruit in an old cloth napkin if the fruit is fragile. Train your children to bring home the apple / pear cores so that they can go into the compost. If necessary write "our family composts" on the inside of the lunch box. At first, my (now) 9 year old got pressure to throw stuff away, but he stuck up for himself and explained that we compost!
  • I pack hot soups a lot for my children. They bring it in low wide mouthed thermos. So healthy for them and what's better than soup on a fall / winter day?
  • I was sending my children (who can handle glass carefully) to school with my glass food storage containers. I finally got two complaints in one week from the schools so I ordered stainless food containers from life without plastic. They are adorable and my children seemed to work them just fine. (4 and 9 year old) If you don't know already, I'm anti-plastic. :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cold Frame Progress

Arugula
Mesclun Mix

China Choy (Bok Choy)

In the past week, seemingly all at once, the leaves fell off our trees.
(Our back woods, and Benjamin's tree house)


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Housework Part Two

Identifying the PROBLEM AREAS . . .
.
Simplifying and Organizing does require some thoughtful planning. Keeping a home is a particular challenge because we aren't paid a bonus if we perform well, we don't get a review at the end of each quarter, and let's face it most of us don't attack the job of keeping a home in the same way we would a job outside of the home.
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As I've mentioned before, I grew up in an entrepreneurial manufacturing family. We literally started our business in our home -- making handbags. Before this, my father worked for various companies through the years overseeing their domestic manufacturing. So growing up my father was always doing things around the house with efficiency in mind. If we were raking leaves, painting the house, cutting firewood, carrying firewood ... you had Dad over your shoulder examining if you'd chosen an efficient technique, and of course he'd give you his input and suggestions. Years later, when it became difficult for us to compete domestically my brother decided we needed to change our manufacturing approach to LEAN Manufacturing developed by Toyota. The basic idea is that folks work in teams and are paid bonuses when they work together to come up with more efficient, higher quality ways of doing things -- and succeed. They should be constantly analysing where their problem areas are and trying to figure out what a good solution is. These same analytical techniques can work at home.
.
First: Analyse what is working and what is not around your home. Where are your problem areas? Where and about what do you get frustrated? Some categories might be: laundry (I can never keep up!), meals (we are eating too late, and evenings are chaos!), keys (I can never find them!), shelves (getting a pan out of my cupboard is like wrestling barbells!), mail (I have stacks of mail everywhere!) scheduling (I keep missing appointments or remembering at the last minute) Are you getting the basic idea?
.
Second: Make sure you write all of this down! Write down your problem areas and start to think of possible solutions. Hang your list up! Talk it over with your spouse and/or friends. This holds you accountable to actually do something about the problem.
.
Third: Create a plan of attack. Re-write your list (after you munched on it awhile) in order of priority. Put the thing that frustrates you the most at the top ... the least, at the bottom. You can't get reorganized and simplified in one night. Attack one or two things at a time, and cross them off the list when you feel you've made some progress. This is important because it gives you a sense of accomplishment and hopefulness.
.
I will probably talk more about the issue of meal planning and food shopping later, but here is an example of attacking a problem and finding a solution that my sister-in-law Tanya commented about.
.
"I have a new meal planning system that has been really helping me to simplify. I love to cook, but I am a creative type and tend to be indecisive and rather prone to last minute inspirations. Considering I have a 4, a 2, and a 3 month old I needed to do something different!!! I was overwhelmed at the grocery store and could barely function while managing the little ones. My daughter was over sleeping for preschool because we were eating dinner so late. Sandy sat down with me and helped me come up with an emergency plan designed for my current situation, but as I have been doing it I think it would be great for anyone trying to simplify. The basic idea is that I have a category of meal that I make for respective nights of the week. For example Monday is soup night, Tuesday is "out" night, weds is pasta night, Thursday is meat night, and Friday is sandwich night (paninis make it a bit more interesting). Weekends are more spontaneous. It makes planning and going to the grocery store so much easier. Out night is supposed to be either take-out, or eat-out but has ended up being left-over night. Thursday is my usual shopping day so I can get fresh meat or fish. For now I am limiting myself to some very simple recipes in each category. I have not found it at all boring. In fact by limiting myself I have been more enthusiastic about cooking."
.
Next time I will get more specific about certain problem areas! Good Luck!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Homemade Cleaning Supplies

I realized that I don't have a succinct link page set up for homemade cleaning supplies. I started by making my own homemade laundry soap. Who doesn't cringe at the expense of purchasing cleaning supplies when you go to the market? I did. Well, you can save big time by making your own and contrary to what you might think, I really doesn't take long. Plus, if you'd like to be kind to your environment -- these are all earth friendly recipes. Recently I was out with a girlfriend of mine -- the waiter was washing down a table next to me and I nearly gagged on the fumes from the detergent spray! I have gotten used to having natural earth friendly soaps and cleaners in my home. What a difference.

Window Cleaner: Put 1/8 cup white vinegar to 1 cup water into a recycled spray bottle -- shake to mix it up and you're ready to go! Frankly, I don't measure the vinegar -- I just glug a bit into a spray bottle, fill the rest with water and call it a day -- it works very well and doesn't fume me to death. (Ok, I'm being a wee bit dramatic -- but try using the vinegar spray for a month then go back to Windex and you'll see what I mean.)

Homemade Furniture Polish: 2 t Olive oil, 1/4 C white distilled vinegar, 20 drops pure essential lemon oil, and water. Put olive oil, vinegar and essential lemon oil into a recycled spray bottle 22 ounces or so. Then, fill up to the top with water. Voila! Your done. Shake, spray and polish.
(Thanks Tanya for the above info)

Simple Powdered Laundry Soap:
As a footnote when you grate the soap, grate it small. I understand that you can use Dr. Bronner's bar soap. This soap is fine for front loading washing machines.
Link it at Raingarden
here
Link it at Plain Old Kristi here

Liquid Laundry Soap:
This is the soap I'm using at the moment. It's working very well with my front loading washing machine and it's very inexpensive.
Link it at Plain Old Kristi
here

Dishwasher Soap: I'm using this now and let me tell you it's maybe 10 minutes to make (including getting out the boxes of ingredients) it's very inexpensive (again) and works well. I can't be quite as aggressive (I don't wash my dishes before putting them into the dishwasher -- don't get me started! Just go ahead and wash them ... ) in loading my dishwasher, but for the price and the environment (most regular dishwashing detergents still have phosphates in them) it's worth it. Link it at Plain Old Kristi here

To clean my house from floors to bathrooms I use Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds. I've been using the first container of it that I purchased for six months or so and I've hardly made a dent in it. You use only 1 t per gallon of water. I also made a spray out of it for the shower and bathtubs. About two teaspoons in a spray bottle and fill the rest with water -- that's it. Very inexpensive.

Now, to more newsy things ...

My friend Michelle came over today to teach me how to make egg rolls which she'd learn how to make from her Filipino Sister-in-Law. I in-turn taught her how to make my pie crust -- which she'd been struggling with. (I think I need to make a video b/c she's not the only one. Once you get the hang of it though, it's easy, yummy and better for you than butter.) What a fun day we had -- cooking away while our children (who happen to be almost exactly matched in age and adore each other ... wonderful!) played both inside and outside on this beautiful fall Veterans Day. For dinner, to go with the egg rolls (which were made with the local Rehoboth hamburger that I purchased last month) I will be making fried rice with the broccoli and bok choy that I just picked in my little garden. Yumola!


AND ... Our new wood stove insert was installed today. Wood stoves today have to pass new emissions standards, so a wood stove is actually far more efficient and environmentally friendly than using your fireplace. I'd had it last year when our oil bill went close to $600 in one month with the thermostat set at 66 degrees! As we speak, it's 71 degrees inside the house and in the 30's outside. Yipee. I turned down my thermostat to 60 degrees!



Ok, time to get busy. Enjoy the pictures!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Chicken Soup


First let me tell you that when I went to go downstairs Victor said in a loud whisper "No more cooking!" Victor is not saying this because he's "all done" with the home cooked meal thing -- he would sooner starve than eat a burger at McDonalds (literally) ... and that's not because he has read The Omnivore's Dilema recently. He grew up for the first six years of his life in the mountains of Portugal where everyone lived off the land. (and when I say "everyone" that's not a very big crowd, let me tell you.) They grew and raised their own food, made their own olive oil, made their own wine, dug for truffles in the mountainside behind their home, went down to the town spigot to get water (which is still there and people still use), made their own cheese, made their own bread (I'm not sure if my MIL used a community oven in that house, but she did growing up) ... I could go on and on and on. Suffice it to say, he knows what good food tastes like and he's not going to settle. But, back to the original point of this paragraph ... Victor was saying "No more cooking!" out of compassion for me really. I can get going working away on projects to such a degree that by the end of the day I quite literally can barely stand up. I did go a bit overboard yesterday. There were things I had to catch up on. I baked bread with the new flour I'd bought from a local bakery which is in the French style and requires a "pre-ferment" and I'm still trying to get used to that process. I still had pumpkin cuttings (yes, I saved them all) and seeds from our Halloween Pumpkins waiting for me in the fridge -- so, I made pumpkin puree and roasted pumpkin seeds. I tried an apple cake recipe, because I have apples I have to use up. And lastly (I know, even you're tired reading this post!) I made my Mother in Law's Chicken Soup. Ah yes, the title of this post ...

Dulce's Chicken Soup

I could fill this entire blog with different versions of soups that my Mother-in-Law makes. If you know anything about Portuguese culture, you know that they know how to make a mean soup. I love talking to my Mother-in-Law about cooking because she is a such a wealth of information on how to really cook. Not, let's "pretend" to cook like they did in the old days ... no, no, no she starts talking about how her mom used to make this or that, or how her mom used to cut a vegetable a certain way (and because of the slight language barrier she will literally get any vegetable out of the fridge and start cutting it right there on the kitchen table to be sure I understand just what she means). The irony is Dulce doesn't think she's a really great cook. "Aeeh, I'm not a great cook" she'll say. She has no idea. Maybe she is being modest. There are several Portuguese cultural situations where you say the opposite of what you mean. Like, if you want tea when someone offers it to you. The answer is "Aeh, no thank you." (Like this is the last thing in a million years you would have thought of having at that moment.) Then it's the job of the hostess to ask again "Are you sure, come on, how 'bout some tea?" Your response is (even though you do want tea) is a resounding "Oh, no, no, no, I'm fine, thank you." Again, as hostess, ask one more time (the approved number of times you do this is three) "Come on, just one cup of tea, I already have the water on." and finally you say "Oh, sure, I would love some tea." It took me some time to realize that even Victor was still doing this. He'd always say no, when I started to realize that he really meant yes. Finally (I can be a bit sassy) I'd say, "Now I'm not going to do the whole three times asking thing ... if you want tea, just say you want tea!" I digress. (What else is new?)

Now this soup I haven't ever seen being cooked from the very beginning to the very end. But, when my Mother-in-Law is cooking I watch her like a hawk. My version isn't quite as good as hers, but it's dern close.

  • Drizzle bottom of pan with olive oil.
  • Put about a tablespoon of salt and a shake (just a small one) of paprika into the pan.
  • Thinly slice two onions (btwn 1/8-1/4" wide) and throw in the bottom of the large pan.
  • Cook onions over medium heat until they are translucent.
  • Put two chicken breasts WITH BONE IN into the pan.
  • Fill pan with water (not so full that it will slosh out when boiling)


  • Bring water to a boil, reduce heat slightly to maintain a rolling boil - not a simmer.
  • Cook for about 1 hour. (you can double check chicken by cutting a breast open and making sure the liquid in there is running clear ... ie: without blood or pinky color)
  • Meanwhile, take about 3 medium sized carrots - cut into 1/8" slices, then chop small with a big 'ole knife several times changing the direction of your knife several times until the pieces are both tiny-tiny to the size of a pea or so. (My MIL does this all slowly by hand with one small knife -- it's not just the Chinese that feel the way things are cut is important!)
  • Take chicken and bones out.
  • The easiest next step is use a hand held blender -- stick it in the pan and churn up the onions.

  • Dump the cut carrots into the pot -- continue cooking at a rolling boil.
  • Pull chicken off the bones and shred pulling apart with a fork ... kind of like string cheese ... line up the "strings" then cut across chopping pieces into 1/4-1/2 inch lengths. (see pictures)


  • Dump about 1/2 lb (which is about 1/2 box) of "Acini di Pepe" pasta into the soup. This is the little pasta that looks like little balls that you find in Italian Wedding Soup. My In-Laws also use regular pasta, which they break off into about 1" lengths when they drop it into the soup pot.
  • After the pasta is done cooking (about 10 minutes) put the cut chicken into the pot.

Esta Pronta!


My Mother-in-Law on what was one of her happiest days to date ... the birth of Ripley. We were able to be in the Alternative Birthing Center with our Midwife Silvia -- Our families were in the living room next door, so this picture was taken just a few minutes after Ripley was born. Joy.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Happy Birthday Love Cook Create Knit!

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED ... thanks for playing!
It's my blog's first birthday! I can hardly believe it's been one year (more on that later). To celebrate I am going to have my first Giveaway! Have I mentioned that I know how to make jewelry? Yes, my poor husband, if I'm not into one thing, I'm into another. I handmade these earrings last night just for you. The gold ones are a yellow jade, and the orange pair I believe is carnelian. The gold wiring and earring is gold filled. So, here is how it works: Simply add a comment to this post (tell me which earrings you prefer, the gold or the orange) and I will add your name into "the hat" for a drawing. If you have or add a link to my blog on your blog I will add your name in twice. That's it! I will hold the drawing in two weeks on the 22nd, just in time for Thanksgiving. After the name is picked I'll post the winner and my email address. You (if you're the winner) will simply email me your name and address and I'll send it off! Outside of the USA is fine, the earrings are small and light. Enjoy!
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Now, other business, two days ago, just shy of Love Cook Create Knit's first birthday I was given my first blog award from The Domestic Goddess! Thanks Dawn! Her dry sense of humor alone is worth the visit. So, as it goes with these awards I am supposed to recommend and award a favorite blog or two of mine, which I will do with pleasure. However, I cannot insist that they in turn post the award or "pass it on" just because that type of pressure on someone else makes me feel uncomfortable. I'm sorry, I hope I'm not upsetting the blogisphere. Apologies.

The blogger that got me into this whole blogging thing is Raingarden. I had just started my journey to live more environmentally responsibly. I'd googled options for plastic sippy cup alternatives and was led to her site. She is an inspiration to me because about two years ago or so she and her family picked up and moved to an adorable family farm in the country somewhere in Minnesota. Frankly, I'm green with envy. Until that moment, I'd never even been onto a blog. I thought it was the most amazing experience ever. So on a whim one day, I started plugging away at creating my own. It's just not that hard. And (this is hilarious) when I received my first comment that happened to be from Raingarden I literally dropped everything and called my SIL Tanya and screamed into the phone "The Raingarden Girl commented on my blog!!!" Awww, so cute.

Now, my other favorite I found more recently. Plain Old Kristi lives down in New Orleans and like Raingarden has her own little farm with chickens (jealous, jealous), an extensive garden and orchard. She too is a wealth of information on living simply, saving, cooking from scratch, making your own laundry and dishwasher soaps, and growing your own food -- not to mention some yummy authentic New Orleans recipes!

So, thanks Domestic Goddess! Happy Birthday Love Cook Create Knit! And, love and thanks to Raingarden and Plain Old Kristi for great information and sharing your journey online. Be well! -Sandy

Friday, November 7, 2008

Consumption ... The Holidays


Since we were on the subject of TRASH and CONSUMPTION (see Wednesday's post) ... What will you do this year for the holidays? We celebrate Christmas and have had our fair share of over-consumption to put it mildly. Just how did we get so far off base in celebrating the birth of Jesus? The more you think on it, the more embarrassing it becomes. And the irony is, if you read through the New Testament I just don't see anywhere where Jesus would be in favor of such a display of excess, waste and gluttony. Surely we have bought onto a lie. The sad thing is, so often in our society shopping for Christmas has become a chore. Something is purchased just to cross it off the list of "to do's". We more than likely aren't filling a need. Toys upon more toys, clothes upon more clothes, widgets upon more widgets. Ugh. If we were to truly celebrate the life of Jesus, we would save all year long, and at the end of the year we would give away what we had collected to the poor, the hungry, and the homeless. Perhaps this is too radical for us all. Maybe a "green" Christmas would include recycling gifts (toys that your kids have outgrown, but are still perfectly OK), purchasing gifts from thrift shops, consignment shops or antique shops, or hand making gifts. Maybe a "green" Christmas is an old fashioned Christmas, where you received an orange in the foot of your stocking, some underwear and socks. Maybe it's making more of a committment to non-gift oriented traditions with family and friends. We have made big improvements as a family over the past five years, but it's like beating back bramble in a forest. It takes committment and discipline on all sides. What will you do for the holidays? Will you make any changes? What do you think of this pickle we've gotten ourselves into? Or, are you OK with it this one time a year?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Housework - Part One

Confession: The first time I read through Simplify Your Life I was working as a single mom and ... had a cleaning lady. Since then I've gotten remarried, had another son, made the decision to stay home for both of my boys (I was at home for my oldest before he was in school) and returned to cleaning my home on my own. So I've never worked out a proper routine. Before life with a cleaning lady my routine was no routine -- clean when I looked around and said "Damn, this place is a pit!" Blush, it's true. Kristi posted her daily cleaning routine recently and it got me to thinking about my short comings in this area. What I have been doing over the past year is blitzing the whole house in one day while both of the boys (9 & 4) are in school. The problem there is that a) Things come up, and then lo and behold, the house doesn't get clean. b) To do a really good job I can't get it all done in one day. c) Our house isn't that big - dining room, living room, kitchen, laundry room, finished basement, 2 1/2 baths, 4 bedrooms - if I attack the whole house thoroughly, plus deal with children and dinner, I'm ready to collapse by 8 pm ... and I'm physically fit!! Here is what I'm working on:

  1. Get up before your children (if you have them, and if at all possible). Drink your coffee or tea, get yourself together, get ready for your day, get your act together. This goes at the top of all lists -- it's a huge help in all things. My children get up at 7am (no one is allowed out of their rooms sooner ... except for bathroom, etc., if they can't get back to sleep, they can read a book.) and I get up at 5:30am. I've been working on creating this habit and now I get up at that time automatically. It makes for a much calmer, happier morning routine for everyone. ... I digress ...
  2. Make a list of all of the housework that you expect to be done.
  3. Create a daily cleaning ritual. Top things that you always do EVERY DAY. Currently I'm trying Kristi's routine. Link it HERE.
  4. Pick one day during the week to tackle the big cleaning projects.
  5. Select certain cleaning projects to do on different days throughout the week.
  6. Select certain cleaning projects to do at the beginning of the month that need to be done once a month.
  7. Stream line your house. Make it CLEANING FRIENDLY. Position things so it's easy to get your vacuum in (like how your coffee table is positioned - how shelves are positioned). Get rid of unnecessary clutter. Decorating is cute and all, but don't go overboard with nick-knacks that collect dust and make cleaning take an eternity. (sorry nick-knack lovers) Down size your piles -- like books that I keep under my coffee table ... the more that are there, the longer it takes to clean. Keep it simple.
  8. Give your children jobs! They can help ... even the small ones ... and it's important to teach them early to create good habits. (Some come out naturally neat, some come out naturally messy. I have one boy that's like Pigpen from the Peanuts, and one that's like my Portuguese Mother-in-Law -- it's genetics, the boy is just neat!)

Here is my list (a work in progress) of housework that needs to be done on a weekly basis. I'm still working out how I will break this down throughout the week (more on that later ... after I work it out :) ). It's a good idea to assign days to do certain things. I know that sounds really psycho OCD, but the idea here is to make it a habit, and make sure it actually happens. In this way, schedules help. You plan ahead and create a realistic schedule that will work for you ... and therefore the housework will actually get done:

  1. Wake up before your kids. (did I mention that already?)
  2. Vacuum thoroughly.
  3. Clean bathrooms thoroughly. (When I say thoroughly, I mean -- we are not talking spot clean, I'm talking scrubbing every inch of the place with elbow grease -- and rags of course -- so that Emily Post could walk in a feel proud.)
  4. Wash Floors and Walls of high traffic areas thoroughly on your hands and knees while scrubbing hard.
  5. Dust all of the furniture.
  6. Change all of the beds. I have my 9 year old strip the beds and plunk the sheets in the laundry room. Start a load of laundry and (I do dry these in the dryer unless I can dry them outside in the fresh air) they will be dry and ready to go by the time you're 1/2 way through your cleaning projects.
  7. Wash windows with hand prints and dog nose prints on them. (grrrrrrrr)
  8. Empty waste baskets (this should be done when you're done with a bag of kitchen trash which for us is once a week b/c we recycle and compost -- before you bundle it up go around and gather up trash from waste baskets around the house.
  9. Tidy up the FRIDGE.
  10. Iron. (This is an area I struggle with.)
  11. Tackle a project on your project list. This is a Simplify Your Life idea that is fabulous. I'll talk more about projects later -- but for starters tackle something relatively small that's driving you bananas, and get it done!

Did I miss anything?
I will post more on my daily cleaning routine later ... this is getting long!
The whole idea is for this plan to become routine and manageable. What works for you? Do you have any advice for me as I go to make my cleaning schedule?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Flu and TRASH!

I was looking forward to yesterday. Getting out to vote and watching the whole landmark election process take place and unfold on the news. My boys both had the day off from school, so with beautiful weather forecasted and the opportunity to take them with me to vote ... I was giddy with excitement. However, around 1am yesterday morning .... I came down with the flu. Can you believe it?! Both kids at home, husband at work, chills, aches, mild fever and ... other flu symptoms that I will spare you. :) I was determined that even if I had to shuffle into my polling location with a bucket -- I was going to VOTE!! I'd waited too long! So, around 10:30am I threw on some clothes and tried to look respectable, packed the kids in the car and off we went (Not to worry, I used antibacterial gel and didn't touch or get near a soul!). Thankfully, it was very busy, but line-less. I shuffled in -- cast my votes -- and shuffled out. The poor boys were anxious to do something fun and all I could do was survive and make sure they didn't get into mischief. It was brutal. As I ached away, I watched t.v. and did manage to see all of the polling results, the concession speech and the acceptance speech. No matter what you think of Obama, as my "less government" Portuguese Citizen History Major husband said last night "That guy gives a friggin' incredible speech! He can even inspire me!"
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TRASH: I did manage to read the paper yesterday and ran into a very interesting article. The subtitle read: "Trash volumes have declined 20 percent to 25 percent across the country during the past 20 months and some industry analysts attribute that to the economy." The Providence Journal article goes on to say "Rhode Islanders are tossing out more than 20 percent less trash than they did two years ago, before the onset of the local recession ... 'It's true that recycling is on the rise increasing 6 percent during the second half of last year and the first half of this year ... and would help diminish overall trash volumes. But ... the lower output in recent years, especially last year, is a reflection of the local economy. People are buying less, so they're throwing out less.' Said Michael O'Connell, Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp's executive director." Isn't that incredible?! To me, it is incredible in a good way. Now, I know this is a touchy subject. As someone whose family is in the manufacturing business (handbags) if people buy less stuff ... or a lot less stuff, companies will have to produce less and perhaps go out of business, and then we will have large losses of jobs, etc., etc. However, as I've pointed out before when posting The Story of Stuff video link, our world's and particularly our nation's level of consumption is unsustainable. The Story of Stuff does editorialize a little bit (if you are offended by that) but it's filled with a lot of great information. The bottom line is we can't keep making stuff, buying stuff and throwing it out. It's unsustainable. What's the answer? For decades now the success of our Nation's economy has been based on consumption. Ugh. How embarrassing. Maybe it is leading the world in sustainable energy. Maybe it's recommitting ourselves to servicing and repairing things again? (I actually drove by a t.v. repair shop recently and nearly drove off the road with my mouth agape. T.V. repair? This poor person can actually stay in business?) I don't know what the answer is. What to do with all of the jobs that we need? Maybe we downsize our economy, people commit to having one family member stay home to raise their children, be content with buying less stuff, and recommit ourselves to conserving, repairing, recycling and reusing things. That would certainly reduce the demand for more jobs. Hmmmm. What do you think?
Speaking of trash ... I just read a blurb from No Impact Man regarding how things are made to throw out and how the world of manufacturing is more or less currently based on getting rid of the old and buying a new. No Impact Man has a vision for the future. All I can say in response to him is "Amen". Link his story here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Finally!






It's finally here, November 4th! Don't forget to exercise your right to vote today. If you are able, go during lower traffic times -- after 9am and before 5pm. I pretty much keep to myself about my political point of view ... well trained New Englander that I am ... unless you know me well and get me going! (you know who you are) But I for one will be glad when this whole election thing is over along with the stress and mudslinging and news addiction. It makes me uncomfortable when people seem to be at waring views with each other -- neighbor against neighbor with all of their opposing lawn signs (which thankfully in our little development we don't have any of). While I certainly have my own opinions I just wish we could work through this process in peace. But, alas, I guess it's just part of the process. So, do your duty, go and vote, and go in peace. What will be, will be. But, if you don't vote -- remember, you don't have any "bitchin' rights".

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Organizational Dilemma

I have a confession to make. It's been two years since I have read Simplify Your Life: Get Organized and Stay that Way with my SIL Tanya ... and, I've fallen off the organizational wagon. Simplify Your Life is a terrific book that isn't corny or impractical -- rather it encourages you to create systems of organization in your life that in turn help you to SIMPLIFY. Now, most people would say (go ahead guys, you can comment) that my house is neat, clean and put together. My dilemma is that I am very creative, spontaneous and sporadic (see poem below). I need to be purposeful. So, I am recommitting myself to getting back onto the organizational wagon. For the next month I'll be talking now and then about Simplifying & Organizing specifically in the areas of Housekeeping, Scheduling, Meal Planning, Beating back the Clutterbug, and Projects. Join in. Comment. Suggest. Encourage. What works for you? What hasn't worked for you? I am going to be throwing out some ideas -- share some of yours. Take the journey with me and tell me how you are progressing.
Left unchecked, my world can be like this If You Give A Moose a Muffin spoof poem that some creative genius wrote:

If You Give a Mom a Muffin
If you give a mom a muffin,She'll want a cup of coffee to go with it.
So she'll pour herself some.The coffee will get spilled by her three year old.
She'll wipe it up.Wiping the floor, she will find some dirty socks.
She'll remember she has to do some laundry.
When she puts the laundry in the washer,She'll trip over some snow boots and bump into the freezer.
Bumping into the freezer will remind her she has to plan supper for tonight.She will get out a pound of hamburger.
She'll look for her cookbook. (101 Things To Make With a Pound of Hamburger.)
The cookbook is sitting under a pile of mail.She will see the phone bill which is due tomorrow.
She will look for the checkbook.The checkbook is in her purse that is being dumped out by her two year old.
She'll smell something funny.She'll change the two year old.
While she is changing the two year old the phone will ring. (Of course!)
Her five year old will answer it and hang up.
She remembers that she wants to phone a friend to come over for coffee on Friday.
Thinking of coffee will remind her that she was going to have a cup.She will pour herself some.
And chances are,If she has a cup of coffee, Her kids will have eaten the muffin that went with it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Arugula ... Fall Harvest

Here is an arugula harvest that I picked last night. If you love arugula and have some space to grow it -- arugula is worth planting. Arugula is from the mustard family and is very easy to sow right into the ground. The germination soil temperature is between 45-70 degrees, so it's a great green to plant in the spring or late summer. This batch of arugula is still flourishing outside in the cool fall air and frosty mornings. I planted it in between my tomato plants. Now of course the tomatoes are long gone, but the arugula is still churning away. Just continue to trim any flowers that bloom. Add fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper -- toss -- and eat! Yumola!!
Great place to purchase organic seeds: www.seedsofchange.com

A Little Gathering

Some highlights from Ripley's small gathering of family and long time friends to celebrate his 4th birthday. Also, SIMPLE FUN GREEN birthday party ideas for autumn. Since his celebration was planned for the day after Halloween, we made it into a costume party. Here is Victor. Normally he isn't very eager to dress up, but after 5 years with my family we may have won him over. He asked (30 minutes before the party) "What am I wearing?" I gave him a mustache and a sombrero and PRESTO!
Here is my dashing father-in-law Mario.

Victor's younger sister Michelle and Mom, Dulce.

Friends Vivian and Michelle ... and more importantly (to Ripley) mother's of Kaleab and Ian.

Nephew Reese and our pooch "Church"

We made an obstacle course out of hay bales - and at the end the kids had to jump into a big pile of leaves.
This was one of the main attractions of the whole party. After awhile, my brother (always the inventor) moved the
hay bales around the pile of leaves to cut down on raking maintenance.
(Of course later the bales will come in handy in my garden!)

Not knowing what to dress up as, I threw on an "old lady" costume, glasses and powdered my hair -- PRESTO!
I was Spiderman's Aunt May. Here is Ripley's spider cake.

Here is the little obstacle course. The kiddos had to climb over three bales of hay and then finally jump into the big pile of leaves. They had a ball! I marked out the "trails" they were supposed to follow with flour on the grass.

We had a pumpkin rolling race. Pumpkins, soon to be pumpkin bread!
Starting line and Finish line made with flour on the grass.

Spiderman left a big mess in the basement! I learned about this game from my mother who did it for one of my birthday parties. At the end of a long length of yarn tie a little prize (we did two tootsie roll pops) then wind the yarn around the room. Roll the free end around a piece of cardboard a few times. All of the kids (with their parents guiding them) roll up the yarn and untangle the web to get to the prize at the end. I was a little worried that the 4 year olds wouldn't be able to handle it, but it was a big hit! Thanks Mom!
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Great party favor idea: My girlfriend Katie had a brilliant idea. In lieu of purchasing and giving plastic "throw-away" toys that are broken within 24 hours, she gave out a bag of sugarcookie mix with a cookie cutter attached. Good clean fun for the kids, creates a "family moment" at home, and gives everyone a little treat. Needless to say, I copied her brilliant idea - wrapped them in newpaper with a colorful ribbon and a few Spiderman stickers. Fun.
Thanks Katie for the fabulous idea!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Halloween!

As a child, I got so much joy out of Halloween. My mother, creative diva that she is, made our costumes and we loved wearing them. She made some real winners ... A cheerleader costume (she made the pleated skirt!), Scott (my brother) made first place at school dressed up as Uncle Sam in 1976 (he was six and boy was he cute), The Campbell Soup Kids (along with my brother of course) ... When I got older I started making my own with a friend of mine: Out of two large boxes taped together we made a large computer with colored plastic in front of cut out circles in the cardboard, then we held flashlights inside our box to make the lights "go". A salt and pepper shaker out of two long narrow boxes. Anyway, as Christians, we reject all of the origins of Halloween and instead celebrate God's gifts of creativity, friends and family. We New Englanders can be a bit to ourselves, so it's a wonderful thing to drop by and say hello to our neighbors, and sometimes even have a quick chat. Yesterday we had all of the Aunts and Uncles and Cousins and one set of Grandparents on my SIL Tanya's side over to the house. Together we even managed to pull together a simple dinner of Chicken Soup a la Dulce (my MIL), Panini Sandwiches and Spinach Salad. Enjoy our joy and memories . . .
Pics: Sandy and apple crisp, fun at "the kids table", Aunt Shay with the newest cousin "Spencer".


























L-R: Ripley, my brother Scott, Rosalie top, Reese, David aka: "Trapper Man", Spencer

My precious boy Benjamin with the Recycling Bin that we made together. He gave a reusable shopping bag to each house he stopped at.


Sweet Reese
Spencer (3 mos). It's hard being Piglet.
Cousins forever: Dylan, Orion and Benjamin


My BIL Glen with "I Love Shay" on his throat. What a husband.





Our neighbor Michelle tending to our large crowd.