Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chicken Stuff For the Soul

"Chicken Stuff."  Shall I talk about it at length? No? Too bad, here goes.

Chicken can be canned, pressure cooked, roasted, or braised. However much you like. Chicken can also be turkey, if you are so inclined.

Chicken into bite-sizes.
Add mashed potatoes to the menu at will.
Gravy: Don't use package stuff, it often has corn starch in it. Instead make your own with chicken drippins or start with a basic roux (sp?) of equal parts butter/margarine and flour: two tablespoons each to start, get bigger if you want to make more. Add some chicken broth, and Better Than Bouillon chicken base by half teaspoons until you get the taste you like. If you need to thicken more, mix flour with cold water to make a gluey consistency and add a dribble at a time to hot broth.

The tricky bit is the stuffing. You're going to have to guess-timate how much you will eat of this Stuff. For a regular meal, I use:

1 loaf of cheap bread, torn into bite-sized pieces. (Which freeze well for later use, btw.)

2 - 3 stalks of celery
One yellow onion
2 teaspoons pepper
One teaspoon salt
3 - 4 sticks of margarine (I only use Saffola)

Melt the margarine (I start with two sticks) and add finely-chopped onion and celery. Add more margarine, and simmer until onion is translucent. Add pepper and salt.

Drizzle this mixture over the bread chunks with a slotted spoon, folding it into the bread frequently. When bread is deliciously moist, spread it on a cookie sheet and let it bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until crunchalicious.

The margarine/celery/onion drizzle also freezes well.

Mix chicken with gravy and serve with crunchy stuffing and mashed potatoes.

Now, if you want to make soft stuffing, you do the same mixture for the stuffing, but before you've begun any of the other procedures, you put one chicken liver in a saucepan with about a quart of water and cook the living crap out of it, mash it up, and cook it some more.

The seasoned bread goes into a baking dish, and gets the livery broth ladled over it until it is bread pudding consistency. Bake this beast for a half hour at 350 (you're looking for a slight crust on the top.) orrrrrr microwave on setting 7 for 4 minutes.

Lately I've been making only a handful of the crunchy stuff because the rest of the crew (including Joan) prefer the soft stuff, the Philistines.

My mother would have told the rest of the family to rot before she'd go to the trouble of making soft stuffing; if she cooked chicken livers, it was only because they came with the chicken and became part of the gravy water. (She did not believe in Communism, Tarot Cards, or bouillon.)(Or cooking soft stuffing outside a turkey.) I on the other hand, bought a container of chicken livers for this very purpose, and divvied the little container into seven small freezer bags, for use when I need leverage with my son-in-law, who will agree to almost anything if he gets Chicken Stuff in return.


Friday, April 19, 2013

The Ago, Again

When I was a kid, there was Winter, with freezing temperatures appearing in our area in mid-September and continuing until the third week of May or so. (Not constant, of course there were warmish days and thaws and freaky hot spells.) Every house had a basement, and those basements were climate-controlled coolers. Thus you bought your bushel of apples from the orchard owner in September, and stored them in the constant coolness of the cellar. Carrots and cabbage might also have been stored there in that way. And your potatoes from your garden.

Last year, potatoes from my garden got the fridge in the garage to keep cool enough to eat as we used them up. If I buy a big bag of apples, it's likely to be in there, too, beside the carrots.

Mom did keep some carrots in her little refrigerator. We never ate cooked carrots, but if my sister and I whined for snacks, Mom could always say, "Eat a carrot." Carrots were not a staple, but an expedient.

But there was never spinach dip (or fresh spinach, for that matter) or kalamata olives; no hummus or refried beans, or chimichurri, or garlic cloves; no avocados, no sour cream, no Greek yogurt. A 16-oz jar of mayonnaise, yes, but not a big-ass jar of it like we have -- mayo was used only thinly, and mostly in macaroni salad or BLTs. I'm not certain we always had a jar of it open.

All those specialty items needed no room in Mom's little fridge.

And as my mother had no use for corned beef, she would never have bought up five packages of uncooked corned beef as I did a couple weeks ago when it was on sale for $1.88/lb. They took up a lot of room in the garage fridge. Also, from a discount store in Modesto, I buy my sandwich cheese five pounds at a time, which also takes up room. In addition, the bottom shelf of that old GE holds two flats of eggs (that would be about 4 - 5 dozen) -- I buy them cheaply from the poultry farm out the road.

Not only did Mom not cook any extra-big batches of stuff, or keep or make specialty stuff, she also didn't shop per se. She got what we needed (plus her morning ration of sweet stuff, which oddly enough, I don't do) and that was that. I, on the other hand, ran into a "Today's Special" at the store in which they were trying to get rid of legs of lamb for a jaw-dropping $3.99/lb, down from the $7.99 it was a month ago. I brought home two whoppers that about filled the garage fridge before I deboned them and froze the meat.

Today we re-filled the garage GE with a slab of spare-ribs the size of a Radio Flyer wagon, for tomorrow's dinner. And fresh corn on the cob, which was also on sale. Crazy. Mom is probably looking down from her space in the afterlife and yitching, "That's why you're all fat!" But she had no interest in food, really, and even as a spirit, likely has no understanding that those ribs will be lunch for a few days (the corn will all go) or that the brisket I trim off the top of the rib-slab will become pulled pork for sandwiches ... or tamale filling.

My guess is that by tomorrow night, we'll find enough room in the inside refrigerator for what remains of the ribs. And have some room to spare.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Ago

My mother's kitchen, looking west.
Bernie asked me today about what kind of refrigerators our parents had when we were kids.

I know what kind his parents had, because the 72-year-old GE creature is still happily humming away in our garage. My parents had a similarly sized Frigidaire.

Both sets of parents upgraded to newer frost-free models sometime between our clueless pre-teens and unobservant teen years; Bernie's parents kept their GE (thank goodness) while my parents ditched the Frigidaire.

Today's point was that our parents made do with teensy fridges, while we have this 26-cubic-foot Samsung glitzy utter lemon bastard, and the ancient GE I tricked my mother-in-law out of, and a small chest freezer, and all of them are crowded. "How did our parents manage with such little refrigerators?" Bernie asked.

I opened our Samsung Traitor Piece of Shit (which today was not leaking condensation water all over my new tile floor) and had a peek. "Well, there are things that my mother did not store in our little Frigidaire."

Ice water. We have two gallons of purified water in the fridge, because John has kidney problems, and because not only do I loathe the taste of the hard water here in Ripon, but also the clay content constipates me. (I know, TMI. Oh well.) My mother was a great unbeliever in ice water, and considered those neighbors who kept water in their fridges to be ostentatious. We did have two ice trays, but use of them was frowned upon as a kind of weakness.

Looking at my own storage, I can see things in there my mother would never have tolerated. Top shelf: more than one jar of jelly. More than one flavor at a time would have been more than enough. No way would she have had pomegranate, grape, and strawberry. Nor would she have kept a mason jar of dog-quality chicken broth, which I do, for Howie's sake.

Meat drawer, (dropping to the bottom of the fridge) Mom would never have had cotija cheese, mozzarella cheese, pecorino romano cheese, pepperoni, quesadilla cheese, snack string cheese, summer sausage, gorgonzola cheese, a big storage container of grated cheddar cheese, a block of regular sharp cheddar cheese, a chonk of extra-kick-ass-sharp cheddar cheese (for snacking), or salami, or bologna, or packaged sliced turkey. Those things were simply not on the menu. Dad had, at times, a small wedge of cheddar cheese we'd snip at when he was drinking beer and felt munchy, but it was not used in cooking and was not a staple.

Veggie drawer? There was no such thing. Vegetables with our meals consisted of canned corn, or canned peas, or lettuce and onion salad. Maybe pickled beets. In summer, sliced cukes or tomatoes. Mom would not have had a big bag of kohlrabi scored on a store mark-down day, or asparagus, or broccoli, or mushrooms, or spinach. She did not know how to cook them, eat them, and they did not exist for us.

Leftovers? Her meals were made to be eaten on the day of the cooking, and if there were leftovers, they were eaten the next day as the next day's meal. No finicking. No discussion. There was no such thing as having to mark a container with the date to make sure it was eaten before the end of the week. Next day.

In my mother's Frigidaire there were also no:

Tabasco sauce
Steak sauce
Soy sauce
Green tabasco sauce
Blue cheese salad dressing
Ranch salad dressing
Horseradish sauce
Barbecue sauce
Shrimp cocktail sauce
Cottage cheese
Greek yogurt
Worcestershire sauce
Heavy cream

Because we lived in a small town, and the markets were within walking distance, she never stocked milk at more than a quart, butter at more than a pound, eggs at more than a dozen.

"What the hell did you eat?" Bernie asked me.

"Basic meat and potatoes meals, and leftovers."

"That's why she was so skinny when you married her," chimed Alex, butting in on the conversation as she passed through the room.

To be continued ...

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Morning Surprise

So I arise early, refreshed by the vitamin C I took last night to soothe my Springtime-assaulted sinuses. I trundle to the kitchen to put water on for a pint of tea (Red Rose is my current brand.) I carry my big glass of ice water to the studio, open my laptop, and turn it on. I return to the kitchen to complain about the high winds blowing all sorts of twigs and leaves and blossoms and trash around the neighborhood, though I have to admit the swooshing sound in the trees was ultra-soothing to sleep to all night.

Sipping my tea, I return to the studio, call up Firefox, and click on the BBC to see if North Korea has done anything stupid overnight. Margaret Thatcher has died, God rest her soul, and while looking at an article about sleep, I spot a visitor appearing from the black border of my screen, rapidly climbing into clear view.

Yes. I levitate upwards and backwards.

To my credit, I do not scream (you learn not to be loud if babies are quietly sleeping in the house) nor do I spill my tea (you learn to abandon beverages when threatened.) And I did know where to find my camera -- on my worktable, how clever of me to leave it there instead of putting it away.

Jumping spiders startle, but do not scare me. I admire their predation, and commend them for eating annoying insects when I have conversations with them. This jumping spider (after a bit of internet research) was identified as a Daring Jumping Spider, a juvenile at that.

I get a paper towel and shoo young Daring onto it, carrying her (him?) out to the woodstack, where numerous tasty bugs abound.

And vow that I will turn on the light over my worktable before I put fingers to keyboard from now on.

Cowbird Murmuration

Are they dancing in the sunset before roosting in our tree? Or is it "Evening Prayer?"

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Tomato Time!


Bush Goliath tomato plants!
I had to search for these little bruisers. Last year I found them at Walmart, but this year, I went to Ace Hardware, Lowe's, Walmart, Savemart, and finally found some at Home Depot. Bush Goliath is a compact tomato plant, not above three feet tall, and last year, my one plant produced more tomatoes than all the other plants combined. Indeed, we ate the last tomato from it in October. In the 2012 growing season, I made the Bush Goliath share the planter with Early Girl, but this year, I planted its twin in with it. I gave them both plenty of pelleted fertilizer to start them off, and 1/3 cup epsom salts mixed in the soil around them.

Bernie planted his peppers -- Italian sweet peppers in the round pot, and in back, in a nuclear-proof chimney flue, the notorious jalapeno. Last year, in this same spot, he grew more peppers than he knew what to do with. That's rosemary in front of the pot, by the way.

Still awaiting their permanent home, we have three Early Girls and one buffed Brandywine tomato. I've never grown Brandywine before, so it will be something of an experiment. I understand that the vines grow HUGE, which is something I like in a tomato. I see these tomatoes making a kind of hedge in the front yard, and perhaps a philosophical statement as well.

And there are the little darlings, Sweet Success cucumbers. I'll put a large tomato cage in with them for them to climb on. Last year my cucumber plants didn't do well at all; this year I'm hoping for a better result.

Along with the Early Girls and the Brandywine, I have three Marglobes (my go-to variety for the past couple years) and two Romas that need to go into the ground. And corn. And potatoes. And onions. I think Alex and John will plant their eggplants and artichokes this weekend. And amazingly enough, it's not even Orphan Tomato Rescue Season yet! I have so much to look forward to ...

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

O Editor, Where Art Thou?

Well, on the floor.

Yes, literally on the floor for most of the past month. You see, I had this flash of artistic vision as to what my kitchen ought to look like ... and then, what the floor ought to be. I wished for natural slate, but after running a thumbnail across a sample in the tile store, realized that two big dogs would leave toenail scrapes everywhere that would ruin the look. The solution: porcelain tile with a slate look ... and when nearly three years had elapsed, we had the cash to make it happen, more or less.

I have no idea what made me think that I could lay tile in any accurate or appropriate manner. Or what made me think that it would be easy. All I can imagine is that angels were whispering things to me in my subconscious, and then laughing themselves senseless afterwards.

Lowe's had a nice tile called "Castlestone Harvest" that I fixated on, and off we went at the beginning of March, me thinking we could tile the kitchen/family room in a week. I knew from talking to a slate tile salesman that we'd need to lay out the pattern before we ever mixed a bit of adhesive, and we did, at least the first bit.

We began with the white marble hearth. Multiple persons tried to convince me to tear it out and have a cohesive tile not only on the hearth but on the fireplace itself, but I held to my black/white-and earthtones design. From that hearth tile, we ran a laser line to the front of the house, finding that there was a line to the front door entry tiles, off by half an inch due to sloppy chalklines made by the original builders, who were paid cheaply by the hour, and did not care about their work.

We began from the back room's focal point, the hearth, and put in a border of itsy-bitsy tiles -- and built out from there, adhering to our laser line to keep things straight.

Now here's the thing: if you want your tiling done right, and in a timely manner, hire a professional crew. Yes, it's damned expensive, but unless you are an artistic-vision control freak, you really want to spare yourself the physical agony of tiling.

It hurts.

Even with knee-pads, your knees and ankles will kill you. Your back will scream with the effort of bending, and your elbows from the lifting of heavy tiles. Your hands and wrists will swell from the effort of placing and pressing and leaning and prying up -- tiles are heavy, as compared to plates and pots from dinner or shovels and rakes from cleaning horsey paddocks. Indeed, nothing I have ever done has ever compared to the effort involved in tiling.

Truly, it was a learning experience.

Things I learned:
  • Yes, Virginia, you DO have to remove the baseboards. You'll be thankful you did, later.
  • Buying tile from "big box" stores will get you unevenly-sized tiles. That can be okay if you know it in advance and have a tile saw to trim off that aberrant 1/8" on the one side.
  • If you're going to do it yourself, buy a decent tile saw. Expect to spend $250 at least.
  • And a laser line to make your chosen reference points perfect. No, seriously. Use the tools of the present age.
  • Open up your boxes of tile two or three at a time. One of our boxes was apparently a "return" -- the returners had picked out of the box all the bright and interesting colors and replaced them with grays from other boxes.
  • After grouting, and smoothing the grout with a sponge, let the thing dry, and then wipe off the haze with a dry old towel. It will save you a bazillion arm swipes with the wet sponge as you clean up the grout haze. You still need the wet sponge step, but it is greatly minimized.
  • YouTube is priceless. Watch a hundred how-to's.

Now here's the thing: it's easier to hire someone to lay the tile, if a lot more expensive. But the fact is, every single one of those tiles is set by me for color contrast, direction of "grain," visual impact, and focal points. I knew where I wanted the eye to land and be led. Opening up several boxes of tiles and finding four or five outstanding colors and squeaking "Ooh! I know exactly where this tile should go!" is something an installer would never be able to replicate.

The result was simply stunning. The cabinets (a bit weathered after 20 years but I wanted to keep them like that) and the family room sofa and chair, the stained white marble hearth, and the tables absolutely glow on the slatey floor. We have an area rug to use, but can't bear to do so yet -- the tile is so lovely.

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, I'll have a day when there aren't baby toys scattered everywhere, and I'll post a pic or two of the rooms. One special one that picks up my Audubon bird prints that hang on the wall ... not planning it in advance, the colors of the tiles echo the predominate colors and tones of the prints.