Potato and Pepper Wrap Monday, Aug 12 2013 

Some of you might remember me — I’m the one who has shamefully neglected my wonderful blog for the last few months in favor of busy-ness, experimenting, life…with a little depression mixed in here and there. Even my husband remarked that he hasn’t seen a blog post come through on his e-mail — and here I wondered if he ever read anything I wrote! [Joking — he actually reads most things…]

Since we last got together, dear friend, I have been bombarded with stress, ER visits (for self and children), financial woes and other such happenings, to include church activities, spending time with all the “extras” (children who are not mine technically but who call me “Mom” anyway), getting together our school situations (some cyber, some homeschooled, and one still in public school) and in the last week actually canning produce. I even volunteered to sit at a stand for our cooperative extension office and also attended a food swap I wanted to tell you about! It’s just been…busy. Hectic. Crazy. At times I admit my life feels like its own recipe — and a disastrous one at that! But I am thankfully focusing on contentment in my circumstances, as much as is possible, and just plodding on day by day. But I guess, in the words of my fav chef of all time — and a few other close friends who are, strangely, also into food — “It is what it is.”

With the summer 2/3 of the way through already, I have to admit I have been much less creative in my kitchen…We have been having light meals, lots of leftovers, and of course the ole’ summer standby — hot dogs on the grill, boiled, charred, whatever. All courtesy of amazing summer sales that I can’t pass up, having to feed this brood of 6 children and friends often. Yesterday was middle son William’s 12th birthday and he originally asked for steak, but thoughtfully reconsidered and asked for hot dogs, corn and s’mores. I wish I could impress you with amazing pics of a gorgeous cake (it was too humid, so the grocery store got my business…don’t judge!) or even fun at the campfire in our yard (it got rained out almost immediately). Alas, no wonderful pics of any of that. I will seriously have to work at it…

Maybe you will recall that I have been trying to cut animal products out of my diet. Meat is not as difficult for me as dairy, though I did splurge a bit over our vacation week. But things are getting back to normal…So no hot dogs — at least not for me. I was forced to look around in the kitchen, which is probably a good thing. I was really low on some staples, really overwhelmed by some produce (think peaches, corn…stuff I’ve been canning that I’ll share with y’all later). I have to say — I love a happy accident! Instead of hot dogs for me, this is what I came up with after a not-so-quick glance in the pantry…

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POTATO and PEPPER WRAPS:

What I did:

I sauteed three small new potatoes (a combination of red and yellow), which I diced, in a frying pan with about 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, seasoned to taste with salt, pepper and chipotle pepper powder, for about five minutes or until the potatoes were soft. [I usually don’t reach for the chipotle powder – I think I grabbed it on a whim after reading about how capsacin can help with colds, or with weight loss or something along those lines. In these potatoes, it really spices things up a bit and I’ll be experimenting with it again in the near future.] I added 1/4 of a large red bell pepper, diced, and sauteed another two to three minutes.

Meanwhile I warmed up two flour tortillas and filled them with several sliced cherry tomatoes from the garden and a small handful of grated sharp cheddar. Once the potato mixture was done (soft enough for my taste), I scooped some of it into each tortilla and rolled them up. Yum! I wish I had thought to add some spinach or something, but maybe that will happen in the future. I may even add some diced carrots to the saute, but it was really very filling and I was satisfied enough that I didn’t have to drool over the hot dogs.

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I’m still here… Wednesday, May 1 2013 

Allergies, a cold, homeschool portfolios and the classic disease called “procrastination” may have kept me from blogging in the last how many (!!) days, but I have not disappeared completely. AND I have been and am still playing in my kitchen!

Stay tuned for a series on my adventures in canning, as I have recently scored some great deals at the local farmers’ market. And keep a lookout for posts on my ever continuing quest to eat healthy…an oxymoron because I just LOVE to bake! Well, all of that and more will be up-and-coming now that the kiddies are spending more time outdoors with the onset of the lovely spring weather. It gives me more time to perfect my recipes, try new things and review new cookbooks – as well as blog!

Thanks for sticking with me thus far. Hope you’re enjoying the weather where you are!

Blessings,
~Mary

And remember — It’s always fun to play in the kitchen!

March Secret Subject Swap Friday, Mar 15 2013 

This post was supposed to post at 10:00 a.m. this morning…I am not sure what bizarre computer glitch kept it from doing so, but I’m elated because I had a chance to add a thing or two.

So — Welcome back to Take Two of March’s Secret Subject Swap. This week, 13 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts. Here are links to all the sites now featuring Secret Subject Swap posts.  Sit back, grab a cup, and check them all out. See you there:

www.BakingInATornado.com

http://www.justalittlenutty.com/

http://suburbiainterrupted.com

http://mooreorganizedmayhem.blogspot.com/

http://www.bigaandlittlea.com

www.theblacksheepmom.blogspot.com

http://www.themommyref.blogspot.com/

http://www.100lbCountdown.com

http://www.findingfelicity.com

www.eviljoyspeaks.wordpress.com

http://caramelliving.blogspot.com/

adventuresinhickeyland.blogspot.com

My subject is “: When did you realize that you were an adult?” and it was submitted by: http://www.100lbCountdown.com

Oh geez!!! An adult? Me?!?!?!?

This is where it gets tricky. Sometimes I’m amazed that I am at that age where my kids look at me and think “old”. Sometimes I am amazed when people look at me and say “You can’t possibly be that old!” Sometimes I’m amazed when I realize I’m not even close to acting my age — or, on the other hand, I’m amazed when I do…Age is, after all, relative. I love the expression “You’re only as old as you feel”…

If you were to ask me when I did or do NOT feel like an adult — or at least not quite my age, well — that’s just easy! I’d say when I’m out on a “date” with my husband, playing trivia or singing karaoke. Or feeling like I still have time to accomplish my dreams. Or dancing in the living room with my children and their friends. Or driving down the road in the summertime all alone, windows down and radio blasting or while I’m singing in the shower at the top of my lungs. Or when I’m chatting with an old friend and the years evaporate into “it can’t possibly have been that long ago!” Or maybe even when I’m writing about my most secret thoughts and feelings and re-read what I wrote and realize I am still such a child in so many ways. Or when I have a childlike faith and optimism that something good has to happen, because God is good and life can’t — just can’t — be all that bad, even when things are seemingly crumbling around me. Or when I can’t figure “it” all out…That overwhelming melancholy may set in, and then I certainly do not feel adult.

But adult??

Well, here’s a story some of you might find amusing…Once upon a time, believe it or not, I was younger than ten with a very (VERY!) over-protective mother. Who let me walk alone (gasp!) to the corner store. For something trivial like bread or something. I felt so very adult. Until later in life when I learned she had walked through the neighbor’s yard and kinda sorta followed me the whole way there and back…Don’t get me wrong, I love her for it. It instilled in me that feeling that I was responsible. At least at the time. And that I was old enough to do something important. But did that mean “adult”? At less than age ten I wonder. But then…Many children have been forced to grow up beyond their years due to circumstances beyond their control. I think, for instance, of some of my own children, who were put into foster care and saw some pretty bad stuff before they were even close to the tender age of ten…

I remember when I first got my driver’s license. In New Jersey, that meant age 17. And though my birthday was in October, we were taking driver’s ed my junior year. Most of the class consisted of simulated driving, but there was also a written test. If you passed the written test with a decent enough grade, you could use that at the Department of Motor Vehicles to get your permit. So I had to wait. Til March. I was, of course, anxious to get my license and gain some independence. But when I finally passed my test, my mom was a “little” (noted understatement) paranoid about letting me drive. Anywhere. Well, growing up in South Jersey across from Delaware, one of the things we did was shop across the bridge to avoid paying extra taxes. The price tag you saw was the price you paid. So most of my friends and I frequented the mall in Christiana, Delaware – no sales tax. I mean, we did that when we could find a ride. One day I asked my father how much longer he thought it might be before I could venture across the Delaware Memorial Bridge by myself (well, rather with friends). And he gave me permission. I really felt “adult” then…expanding my horizons and traveling further distances independent of parents than ever before. I appreciated his trust in me.

Then there was the time I moved out to college for a short while, before illness got the best of me. I felt so grown-up as I walked to and from classes, implemented my own schedule and decided everything from when and what my meals would be to when I would work on my assignments.

It could have been when I was working for a law firm and moved in with my grandparents, and my Gram gave me a house key because they didn’t really impose a curfew.

But maybe that wasn’t quite “it”. Maybe it was when I was working in Philadelphia. I worked for a law firm on Spruce Street, catching the Patco Speedline from New Jersey to Philly five days a week. I was learning to manage my own money and feeling very “adult” as I stepped onto the car every morning and night in my business attire. Well, that year my only sibling, a younger sister, was a senior in high school. She was in the choir and had the most amazing voice! She was practicing a solo from Les Miserables, which, coincidentally, was scheduled to run at the Forrest Theater that December. So I purchased tickets as a gift for her birthday. She came over on the Patco Speedline and met me after work. We went and viewed the light display at John Wanamaker’s, wandered around the city for a quick bit, and ended up at Moriarty’s for a lavish supper after the play, all my treat. I felt so adult being able to show my sister how special she was to me and to be able to afford to do something nice for her for that particular birthday.

Possibly it was the time I had a place all my own…A small crappy excuse for an apartment that didn’t even have a separate bedroom (I childishly called my living room the “living bedroom”)…I loved being on my own in so many ways, and I took meticulous care of — because I had pride in — the little house. It was amazing to be in charge of myself and my living quarters.

Still, maybe that wasn’t the defining moment of my adulthood. I could say school or marriage brought it about, but neither of those things really made me feel any more “grown up” or “adult”. I often lacked confidence and certainty, which made me feel that I had not quite “arrived” at adulthood. Even buying our first house didn’t quite push me forward – at least not in my own mind. And earning my college degree was done over long periods of time through internet classes and late study nights as I tried to balance my wife/mom schedule with being a student.

I think that what made me finally feel “adult” was not one defining moment, but a series of little moments, most of them dealing with trust in some way…

* Babysitting and even house-sitting for various people during my young adulthood — I felt trusted and that was a big step.

* When I was a young adult, I taught 4th grade CCD at the Catholic church my grandparents all attended (I’m no longer a practicing Catholic)…It was so fun to be with the children, so interesting to be influencing their lives…And my young cousin would pop in to see me before and after class, which I really enjoyed because she confided in me  – See? Again with the trust…

* Gaining trust from my aunts, so that I was able to take two of my younger cousins on a trek to the Jersey shore. We went to Wildwood, walked the boardwalk, rode some rides…It was nice to be old enough to take them anywhere!

* Not long after my husband and I bought our first house, we hosted a party for the 7th grade CCD class (which we taught) around Christmas time, making some kind of cookie or craft and then delivering them via caroling to the local sick and shut-ins in our parish.

* Helping with a program called Journey, where my husband and I gave the “sex talk” on weekend retreats (I still blush!).

* Applying to do foster care as a young couple…The children placed with us were between 11-15, and we were newly married…It was interesting to be trusted to mentor children and provide guidance to pre-teens and teens, though we’d never been parents ourselves.

* Adopting our first five children — first a son who was 3-going-on-4 and then a sibling group of four children ages 18 months through age 7…Wow!

* Influencing an excitable, interesting and fun group of young ladies as a Brownie Girl Scout Leader.

* Having our first baby, after fostering and parenting and mentoring so many children…

* Losing two babies and having to explain miscarriage to my six small children.

* Being asked to lead the nursery room in our current church – a huge responsibility – and help choose the preschool curriculum.

Those experiences probably propeled me into adulthood faster than anything, because with each successive step I was relating to young persons who needed me to act mature and be “the grown up” even when I didn’t feel all that grown-up. There were, of course, many other situations where I needed to relate to people in an adult kind of way, which made me feel that I was edging my way there, slowly but surely.

I am still a scared little girl in some ways, not always in charge, but I can see the adult me peeking out more and more as life goes on and I move along with it.

A busy melancholy week… Thursday, Mar 7 2013 

I know I’ve been a bit quiet. I have an explanation — there was an unexpected death in my extended family this week.

It’s one of those kind of things that just unfortunately happens, usually with no warning, causing you to think about your own approaching mortality, and making you wonder if you’re doing enough, not doing enough, could be doing more, etc. You know how those thoughts roll — on and on like a broken record, driving you crazy. You cry, you reminisce, you put your energy into everything and nothing all at once…Yeah, death is quite the fiend…I hate the way he creeps in and steals, destroys, snatches someone with vigor and unapology.

This will probably be one of the few times I’ll wax religious, but I don’t know how people handle the thought of death without belief in God, without hope for a future reunion. It’s what kept me sane when I miscarried my two babies, or lost two beloved grandparents, or other family and friends…What do you have if you have no hope?? My personal belief is that I serve a living, loving, righteous and redeeming God who allows us the hope of eternal life. If you are curious, please leave a comment so I can message you. Otherwise, no personal attacks please. After all, I am grieving and trying to process…In my own way, this is part of how I cope.

So today, while I’m sitting at home with my children as the funeral is being held in another state, I am trying to think about several things…The memories I have of the person who has passed away, the memories I still have time to make for myself and my family and friends (God willing), and the things I cherish and enjoy about my own life now, such as it is.

Don’t wait to say the things that need to be said or spend the time that needs to be spent. Life is fragile and fleeting.

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An Easy, Delish Asian Dumpling Tuesday, Feb 26 2013 

Well, I decided to come back for the second month of the cookbook challenge (http://growandresist.com/2012/12/21/cook-the-books-a-cookbook-challenge/) and this month’s book was Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen. I was a little intimidated, honestly, because I’ve never really worked with wonton wrappers, egg roll wrappers and certainly not ever dumpling wappers…I even have a hard time folding a burrito! And not only were these going to be the backbone of the recipe, but they were going to be homemade. Like from scratch! I mean, I do prefer cooking from scratch when there is time, but for dumplings?? I wasn’t sure I could do it. Fortunately for me, Ms. Nguyen’s book is extremely detailed AND extremely easy. She outlines the key to making and filling dumplings in a way that is practically fool-proof. After the first attempt came together so smoothly, I was intrigued and delighted. Even my kids were pretty impressed with my results – one asked where we ordered take-out! Not only that, but Asian Dumplings was full of narratives and pictures – the kind of cookbook I sit down to read from cover to cover. And I did just that before selecting my first recipe to try.

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I made a double-batch of the Steamed Vegetable Dumplings. My only disappointment was that I could not find brown pressed tofu, so I used an extra firm tofu that I pressed slightly, froze for a bit, thawed and pressed again. I’m not sure if the texture was comparable, but I liked the overall taste and the tofu meshed well with the other ingredients, all of which I  was able to find in my local grocery store. Which is to say that at least for this particular recipe you would easily be able to assemble all the ingredients without resorting to ordering online or anything – except for the brown tofu as noted. Ms. Nguyen has some amazingly exotic-sounding recipes in this book, though I confess I’m not much of a carnivore and not at all adventurous when it comes to meat and seafood. But I can see myself easily following her savory recipes for my family, or adapting many of her delectable looking recipes for my leaning-toward-vegetarian tastes.

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The above pictures show my dumplings just prior to cooking. Ms. Nguyen includes a website — www.Asiandumplingtips.com — as well as a wonderful resource page, for newbies starting out. I am a huge fan of that site now! And if any of you are lucky enough to live out near San Francisco you can even take some classes!

So I ended up pan-frying the bottoms slightly and was pleased with the results, which I served with rice and steamed vegetables for a complete meal.

Unfortunately for me, once again this was a borrowed library book, so by the time I requested the book and picked it up and then had to return it because it was on hold and not renewable (sad for me!), I did not have enough time to play in the kitchen with any of the other recipes. At least not yet. But once again I’ve found another book to add to my repertoire — Asian Dumplings is now on my “cookbooks I need” list, lol…Meanwhile I’m hoping to get back on the library’s reserve wait list and try something from the “Sweet Treasures” chapter!

If you are a fan of samosas, spring rolls or Asian dumplings of any kind, you really need to get this book and go play in the kitchen!

Visit to the Candy Kitchen, Ocean City Maryland Monday, Feb 25 2013 

While at my daughter’s cheerleading competition this past weekend we had the pleasure of checking out The Candy Kitchen on Saturday afternoon. Ocean City is full of these delightful stores! The colors were so bright and I could’ve died right there in candy heaven! But I survived with a little cash left to spare (and I do mean little!)…

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I enjoyed the way the store displayed the mouth-watering sugary treats. My fav by far was the King Tut confection, which I am going to try to figure out how to make. But I also loved the shoestring licorice, brightly colored lollipops and cool candies like edible Legos! Wow!!!

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Check out the adorable flipflop candies! I definitely was inspired! Hopefully there will be candy posts to come…after I get my laundry caught up…whatever decade that might be!

So — Go play in the kitchen!!!

Potatoes Potatoes! Recipes wanted! Sunday, Feb 24 2013 

Well I asked for potatoes and I sure did get some! Hubby found 100lbs for $16! So please send your fav potatoes recipes and we will have a potato party!

A rebel cake… Tuesday, Feb 19 2013 

February 18th was my son’s 17th birthday. He was excited because he had off from public school (for Presidents’ Day). And he was excited because he made it into the local fire company (he can literally run there) as a junior firefighter (no more quiet moments in this house — I mean, should there have ever been any…). And he was excited because I baked his cake and designed it the way he wanted…

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I found the recipe I use in the Joy of Cooking cookbook, by Irma Rombauer, which is kinda my “go to” cooking manual, and finally tried it one day just to see if I liked it. I won’t give away all the intricacies of the recipe, but I will say that it is more than worth it to try! It does not take that much time, really — baking from scratch as opposed to a box is much better in my opinion (no artificial everything). But this recipe uses real chocolate, chopped and melted (4 ounces) and then mixed in with 3/4 cup mayonnaise, as opposed to using cocoa powder. While that may seem a little fussy, I think that it gives the cake an extra boost of chocolatey goodness that you just can’t always achieve with cocoa powder. I personally attribute this to the fact that the melted chocolate incorporates much more smoothly and evenly into the mayonnaise, so there are no little clumpy bits of cocoa (which always happens to me even if I sift! ugh!!!). Not to knock cocoa — it is delcious and works great in many recipes. But this particular cake’s taste really shines when using real chocolate.

So the cake was cooling — and stuck in the pan (ever suffer memory loss when baking and forget to grease and flour??). And I was trying to figure out the best method to achieve the particular design my teen country boy wanted for the cake. I chose to work with fondant, mostly because I thought the stars would be better cut than piped. At least by me. I’ve taken several Wilton courses, but time is just not always in my favor when trying to achieve birthday cake perfection. So a quick trek to Michael’s and I was able to procure fondant in a box. Not as exciting as homemade, and certainly not as tasty! Next time I will think things through a bit better to plan ahead. Of course, hopefully I won’t be recovering from a week of illness and scrambling last-minute to get stuff done. But que sera sera, right?! So, ever one to make the best of things, I bought the fondant. But the one benefit is that they make the stuff pre-mixed in colors, so I did not have to mess with red!

Anyway, this is what the finished product looked like:

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He liked it! So I count that a success…And since it’s just about gone, everyone thought it was quite tasty too!

Chai Spiced Milk Saturday, Feb 16 2013 

014When the wind is howling outside the windows as the sun sinks into the blackness of night you can often find me curled up under my favorite quilt (which my mother made me!) either reading or watching a movie…And if it’s cold enough you can bet I’ll be sipping on chai-spiced milk. “Why not chai tea?” you may wonder. Well, honestly at night I don’t need the caffeine. And I’m afraid I’m more than a bit of a food snob — I won’t use decaf!

In order to make this warm, spicy and delicious drink, you may have to seek out a few exotic sounding ingredients…But it will be worth your while. You’ll need peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, star anise and cardamom seeds. You can see the last three spices in my picture to the left. The peppercorns were already in the peppermill and I forgot to take them out to include them in the picture. (Since most people have seen pepper before, I wasn’t too worried.)

At any rate, I found a local Indian grocer in my area back in 2010 where I obtained my spices for a very reasonable (a/k/a “cheap”) price. I’ve seen them other places where I thought I’d have to sell one of my children. Seriously. And while I do love great chai, I actually love my children more than food!!! At any rate, the packages I ended up buying were larger, so I got more for my dollar. Plus I had enough that I was able to share some with my sister. And I still have some left. From a purchase I probably last made in late spring of 2012 — I know, time to refresh my stash….I do use these things in my baking too, but not as often as I use them in this particular recipe.

This chai recipe, by the way, was inspired one day while I was standing in the grocery store. I actually took the time to read the label on the back of a box of chai tea and a box of powdered chai tea mix , and I thought I could probably come up with something similar by myself without a mix and without the flavoring already added to the tea…I have experimented with adding other spices, such as fresh ginger, white pepper or whole allspice and even whole cloves. But this combination of spices is my favorite go-to recipe, though I will add the above-mentioned things from time to time just to change things up a bit (I know, I live on the wild side, right?) Well — the chai spiced milk part came from just omitting the tea one evening out of necessity…because one of my children used the last – gasp! – teabag without telling me! And discovering that I had no tea after I was already through the majority of the recipe gave me this heavenly-scented, body-warming, exotic creation that is now almost a nightly ritual during the harsh winter months.

So here’s what I do:

* Place about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds in a small saucepan and crush slightly with the back of a spoon.

* Add 2-3 whole anise stars to the pan and crush lightly

[NOTE: You don’t want to pulverize your spices into a powder – you merely want to crush them enough to release their scent and flavor.]

* Break off a 1″ piece of cinnamon stick and add to the saucepan.

* Next, add about 1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper. I use whole peppercorns in a peppermill and just measure out what I want after I grind it.

* Add sugar — this will depend on how sweet you like your spiced milk.  I probably add up to 1/3 cup, and my recipe serves about two people — unless, like me, you have very large cups!

* Finally, add your milk. Again, this will depend largely on how much you want. I usually eyeball it, but the last time I measured, it was about 3/4 cup per serving. So in other words, for the two servings in this recipe, I used 1 1/2 cups. I have made this with regular whole milk, but I have also used coconut milk (not the canned kind, the one in the dairy case) and almond milk to make it vegetarian/vegan friendly. I have not tried it with soy, so if you happen to try it out, please comment to let me know what you think.

* Heat the milk til it’s as hot as you like — I like mine cooked just under scalding, where bubbles are just barely starting to pop up around the edges of the pan.

* Strain the milk through a fine mesh sieve and pour into a cup.

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* Enjoy!

A crummy Valentine’s Day… Thursday, Feb 14 2013 

I am hopeful that all of you are out enjoying the romance, building on your relationships or blessing others in some amazing way. Me? Can’t…I’m stuck in bed with whatever thing my husband and son suffered from earlier this week. I kept thinking that “it” had passed me by. Until late this afternoon when I should have been starting on the lovely supper I had planned to prepare. Instead, I was not able to play in the kitchen, which just really sucks!

However, prior to my being attacked by “it”, I had the chance to experiment with quite a few recipes in the last few days (in and around taking care of the sick ones)…Just didn’t have time to write about them. Stay tuned for coming posts about some really cool recipes, including the Cook the Books challenge post on Asian Dumplings, a book by Andrea Nguyen, as well as a post about my stomach-soothing Chai Spiced Milk. Thanks for being so patient.

Happy Valentine’s Day — Hug someone and share the love!

~Mary

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