Friday, October 28, 2011

Book lovers come in all kinds

Loud and just possibly slightly inebriated thrift-shop customer*: I can't find anything as (expletive) good here as the (expletive) book I just finished, and I don't want anything (expletive) not as good as that, because that book was just the best (expletive) thing I ever read.

Aren't you curious to know just what the book was? But I guess we'll never know.

*Not the shop where we volunteer, another one. We stopped by because they were having a sale.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What's for supper? Autumn veggies and leftover pork

What's on hand tonight?  Half a package of whole wheat tortillas, leftover boneless pork chops, a bag of grated cheese, tomato sauce, chicken broth, red and green peppers, butternut squash, rice.  I could have chopped the meat and peppers and made fried rice, but I went with Pork and Pepper Tortilla Stack instead.   I used this very easy enchilada sauce recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking (except I used a can of no-salt sauce instead of crushed tomatoes, since that's what I had).

The menu:

Pork and Pepper Tortilla Stack
Butternut Squash (baked in the toaster oven)

Chocolate lunchbox cakes (bought on sale)

Friday, October 14, 2011

No-sugar apricot treats: gluten-free, dairy-free

I found this recipe in a Company's Coming Kids' Lunch cookbook, but the identical recipe was posted on a vegan forum six years ago. So I'm not sure who borrowed it from whom. In any case, these are easy and very good. I did think they were a bit strong on the orange peel--next time I would use just a spoonful rather than the whole thing. Cut into small slices, they would look nice on a holiday cookie plate.

Apricot Logs/Balls/Slices

1.5 cups dried apricots (about 40--or a 300 g bag)
1 Tbsp water
juice of 1 medium orange
Grated peel of 1 medium orange (or less, see above)
1/2 cup flaked coconut
Flaked coconut, for coating

Measure apricots and water into casserole dish or large measuring cup. Cover and microwave on high for 2 minutes until moist and plump. (Lacking a microwave, you could pour a bit of boiling water over them and cover, or steam them briefly.) Put the apricot mixture and orange juice into a blender or food processor. Blend, stopping the blender and stirring often, until the apricots are very finally chopped. Pour mixture into a medium bowl.

Mix in the orange peel and first amount of coconut. Divide the mixture in half. Roll into two 6-inch (15 cm) logs.

Place the second amount of coconut on waxed paper. Roll the logs in coconut until well coated. Cover each log with plastic wrap. Chill about 3 hours. Cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces.

Variation: shape the mixture into 1 inch balls. Roll in the coconut and chill.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Shoo-fly Pie and Thanksgiving

In Mabel Dunham's historical novel The Trail of the Conestoga, the Bricker family has just crossed the Niagara River after many days on the road from Pennsylvania.

"It's the Promised Land," cried Sam, laughing good-naturedly and swinging the water-pail. "Look once, there's the Jordan River,"—he pointed to the Niagara—"and back there's the wilderness. We was forty years in it, not?"  "It seemed so," thought Annie.

But John was determined to be literal. "Forty days, it was," he said, "forty days exactly, for I counted them. And what for a river do you think the Jordan is?"

"Too hungry to tell you now," replied Sam, refusing to be depressed by his brother's prosiness. "Come, Little Johnny, fetch the dishes, and me and you'll set the table. Got some shoo-fly pie, Annie?"

"Shoo-fly pie," said Annie.  "It'll go a long time till we have that again."
The table was a deal one of the drop-leaf variety, which folded into a tiny corner when occasion demanded but spread two broad, obliging wings at meal-time. Around it the little company gathered for their first breakfast in Canada.

It was when Sam was drinking the last draught of coffee from his saucer that there was borne in upon his mind the importance of this day in the history of the Bricker family. Even in old age they would recall this first morning in Canada and all the events which should transpire in it. He proposed that they should celebrate it in some appropriate way.... He told Little Johnny to set the benches in rows, and get out the Bible and hymn-book. He induced John to read the account of the crossing of the Jordan, and then they all knelt together and said "Our Father."

And how they sang! Sam started the tunes as well as he could, while John and Annie and even the children joined in. Soon the silent woods reverberated with the long-metered hymns....

At daybreak on Monday the journey was resumed. A corduroy road followed the course of the river, and this the Brickers took, trusting that it would eventually lead to the Mennonite settlement, which was said to exist somewhere along the shores of a great lake called Ontario.--Mabel Dunham, The Trail of the Conestoga

Photo of the Vineland Cairn found here
Pie photos by The Apprentice, October 2011

The great wide road, the adventure we are given: a sort of manifesto

This week's Charlotte Mason blog carnival combines a Parent's Review article with Chapter IV of Towards a Philosophy of Education, "The Basis of National Strength." The theme common to them both seems to be delight--delight in knowledge, and delight in life, as opposed to indifference and a constant need for others to entertain us.
"....I write as an old woman who remembers how in the [eighteen-] sixties and seventies "countenance" was much talked of; "an intelligent countenance," "a fine countenance," "a noble countenance," were matters of daily comment. The word has dropped out of use; is it because the thing signified has dropped out of existence? Countenance is a manifestation of thought, feeling, intelligence; and it is none of these, but stolid indifference combined with physical well-being, that we read in many faces to-day."--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education
"In order that the flavour and scent of existence may not be lost, we must have within ourselves some consciousness of this impelling power that may lead us to travel deliberately through our ages, realizing that the most wonderful adventures are not those which we go forth to seek. We shall then, perhaps, have some glimmering idea of what [Robert Louis] Stevenson himself meant when he said, "whether the past day was wise or foolish, to-morrow's travel will carry me body and mind into some different parish of the infinite." The conception of ourselves and our children as citizens of the "parish of the infinite" is undoubtedly one that must give us pause."  -- "The Open Road," by Frances Blogg (also known as Mrs. G.K. Chesterton), in The Parent's Review, Volume 11, 1900, pgs. 772-774
In this chapter, which was originally published in the London Times, Charlotte Mason talks about the countenance showing our interest in or indifference to the world, and how that affects the spirit of the nation.  She points out, though, that genuinely educated people are "not brought up for the uses of society only."  We are not cogs or dogs, as Mary Pride has termed it; not bricks in the wall.  Frances Blogg talks about life that retains its flavour and scent, that is more than mere existence.  We are given thoughts from Mr. Burns (the cabinet minister, not the cartoon character) and Socrates:
"Now personal delight, joy in living, is a chief object of education; Socrates conceived that knowledge is for pleasure, in the sense, not that knowledge is one source, but is the source of pleasure.  It is for their own sakes that children should get knowledge."--Philosophy, p. 302
In other words, education is for us.  For our own selves, for the children, and any interested others.  This is why Charlotte Mason emphasizes many books, important books, living books--because studying those books gives us power to think clearly, to make good judgments (meaning, for the good of society), and finally, to give us a life that is more than just passing time.  "But to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."  She mentions, as she always does, that we don't respect or really love children by keeping their educational prospects arid, confined, shallow; we need to allow them to swim out deeper, to climb higher, and to go around more unknown corners than they have been generally allowed.
"Education, then, to [Stevenson] was a journey, full of the delights of wide landscape, fresh invigorating air, or alternate sunshine and shadow, the great wide road stretching infinitely before--leading to that heart of its own, the beat of which he so longed to hear. There can be no liberal education when the eyes are closed or the ears sealed. In this, as in everything else, the wayfarer must live to the full extent of his being. Pitfalls he must find on that journey, blind paths perhaps, but through it all the philosophy of belief in the essential goodness, the actual significance of things created, the state of being 'in love with life.'"--Frances Blogg
P.S. for Charlotte Mason trivia seekers:  who is this Mr. Burns she quotes on page 300?  My guess.  More here.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

On not throwing out food, or, let's rustle up some grub

Sometimes saving money on groceries is as easy as not buying what you know you won't eat. This assumes, however, that you know not only what you are going to eat but also what you, if you're the cook, are going to cook, and how you're going to cook it. It also assumes that you're going to need the whole piece or package or pound of whatever it is, or that you have a plan for the rest that won't involve even more leftovers.

Since this is not a perfect world and we are not clairvoyant at the supermarket, this does not always happen, at least in our treehouse. Factor in time pressures, unexpected events (people not home, flu bugs, fridge dying) and a certain amount of sheer laziness, and it's even more likely that at least some of what we buy is going to end up not getting consumed before it's green/blue/brown, stale, or freezer-burnt.

The way around this is not just more meal-planning, although that helps, but combining the planning with flexible recipes AND a personal repertoire of easy things you know how to do with whatever-it-is. One year during university I shared an apartment with roommates, and one of the visiting parents left a six-quart basket of tomatoes. That basket sat in the corner of the kitchen until...well, let's just say it wasn't too attractive by the end.

I'm not saying that we should all have gone out that weekend, bought cilantro, and canned the tomatoes into salsa. But we could probably at least have made a decent pot of chili out of them. Still, they weren't my tomatoes, so I stayed out of it (and away from it).

Over the years I've had my share of similar use-it-up challenges. Did you ever notice that certain things are hard to use up just because they're either not attractive or accessible in their usual state? Humorist and homemaking writer Peg Bracken pointed out that leftover cake is not a problem, because what you do with leftover cake is eat it. Same with leftover cheese, leftover chocolate, and so on.

But what about the dried beans, the too-large bag of carrots, the cantaloupe you bought on sale, the jar of sauerkraut, the half-head of cauliflower, and all those frozen blueberries? Our hungry ancestors would have been delighted to have had this problem, and you know how they would have solved it? Cooking it up, and eating till it was all. (All gone.) It didn't matter if it wasn't on the menu--whatever it was would have been sliced and put on the table, or put into the soup or the pie, and it would have gotten eaten.

So if you want to use stuff up, that's your first strategy: put it out with whatever else is for supper, or what's in the lunch bag. This is especially important if your family's at all polite or shy about eating what's in the fridge. Put it out there and let people enjoy it.

Strategy two, especially useful if you have young children, is to put it in a form that's easy to eat. That means melon balls, chunks, or slices, instead of a whole cantaloupe staring sadly from the fridge shelf. At that point you might also notice that you have two bananas and an orange, and there you go, fruit salad. Fruit kebabs. Or just eat the cantaloupe; the point is to eat it. I have found a peculiar thing about those big round rice cakes: they often get left in the cupboard UNLESS I quarter them (sharp knife, be careful) and put them out on a plate or in a bowl with other snacks. Somebody must have had the same idea, years ago, when they invented the idea of eating raw turnip sticks.

In the same way, make half the bag of carrots into carrot sticks. Cook up the beans and freeze them.  Get things ready to eat, or to add to future meals.

Strategy three is the what's-in-your-hand principle, the same one that the great-greats used. I recently followed a recipe for sweet-potato salad, and thought I would try it again if I had extra sweet potatoes. This week I had a large head of cauliflower in the fridge, so I used half of that, along with just one sweet potato, to make the same salad recipe; and it also turned out fine.

Sauerkraut is an easy one for us--we use it as a base for cooking chicken breasts or any kind of pork, in the slow cooker or in the oven. If you're a vegetarian, you can try it with potato chunks.  Omnivores can combine all three.

Frozen fruit is likely to go into a crisp-type dessert, or the sort of thing I made earlier in the week (graham crackers, vanilla yogurt, and blueberries), or as fruit sauce on top of pancakes.

A final tip: know your particular food foe, and figure out a way to defeat its demise. Bags of potatoes that rot before you remember to eat them? The other half of the cauliflower? Leftover meat? A half-gone package of cream cheese? Don't look for complicated recipes to use them up; find simple things that you will actually do and that your eaters might actually eat. If you don't like sour things, or don't have a friend who does, or aren't going to a potluck anytime soon, then making bean salad with leftover beans is not a solution. But bean soup might be.  Making a potato casserole uses up as many potatoes as you have...and "potato casserole" could be as simple as cooking cut-up (sliced or chunked) potatoes in some broth or milk, and adding a little seasoning...and that could be in a pot, in the oven, or in the slow cooker.  Add some of the carrots and an onion, and you're on your way to stew.

To misquote Bloom County's Milo, "it's food and we're going to eat it."  There's not much simpler than that.  And happy Canadian Thanksgiving.

This post is linked to Festival of Frugality #301 and The Common Room: Four Moms Discuss Keeping the Food Budget in Control as Prices Rise

Thursday, October 06, 2011

What's for supper on election night? Reuben Enchiladas

I made up something new tonight.

We had some leftover Reuben Chicken (chicken breasts cooked with sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing)...almost enough for dinner, but a bit on the skimpy side as is. We had a package of whole-wheat tortillas, and a box of chicken broth. We had some uncoloured sharp Cheddar cheese.

So: I rolled what was left of the chicken-and-sauerkraut up in the tortillas, along with a strip of cheese for each one; arranged them in a casserole, and poured a cupful of chicken broth over top (mixed with a bit of chili sauce as well). I added an extra squirt of Thousand Island dressing on top. Lid on and into the toaster oven at 350 degrees. Ours turned out just moist enough--but you might want to check them partway through and make sure they're not getting too dark on the bottom.

Non-traditional, but good. We had the enchiladas with brown rice and green beans. Dessert was dairy-free chocolate pudding.

Found at the thrift store: hot or cold? Infinitesimal?

Yesterday's thrift store shift was mostly about digging through the backlog of children's books.  Plus keeping up with the usual incoming boxes of everything under the sun (in the book corner, I mean).

This is a fun one I put out for sale (but didn't buy):

I had never seen one of these touch-and-feel art board books, but there's a whole series of them.  Wow, what will they think of next?
A picture book about Mary Anning: I brought this home for Crayons/Dollygirl.
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, by Bjorn Lomborg. I thought this would interest the scientists in the treehouse.
The Hot Topic: What We Can Do About Global Warming, by Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King.  Considering there's an endorsement on the front cover from David Suzuki, this is obviously written from the more PC point of view.  But still interesting.

What's Mama Squirrel reading?  She is working very hard at one of the books we found last week:

(Even arts majors should know something about how the universe works, right?)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

What's for supper? What's to use up?

Tonight's menu:

Potatoes, cut up and cooked in the crockpot along with a tiny bit of leftover pork roast, a spoonful of margarine, a cup of chicken broth, some leftover mustard sauce, some milk, pepper, dried onion, and smoked paprika.  Basically, scalloped potatoes.

A bit of thin-sliced smoked pork loin from the Euro-butcher, fried up in the non-stick pan.  Basically, back bacon.

Last night's salad:  spinach, celery, green pepper, and pink beans.

Corn bread

Dessert:  layered graham crackers, blueberries (from a frozen package), and vanilla yogurt (the discount grocery had all the flavoured yogurts on for a dollar last week)