Monday, September 26, 2022

Menu plan for the week of September 26

 Last week, the same friend who gave me some of her sourdough starter handed me a box that was labeled "banneton proofing basket kit."  Take this, she said, I have an extra.

I think most people, when they hear sourdough, picture those round crusty loaves with intricate patterns carved into their tops.  And one of the tools that the folks who make those types of loaves use is a banneton, which is a fancy name for a basket that holds the dough during the second rise.  And I can not, for the life of me, figure out how those folks get their loaves out of their fancy baskets and into their Dutch ovens for baking without totally deflating the dough.  My friend said she couldn't figure it out either.  Because of that, and because there are so many other ways to use sourdough starter that my family is more likely to actually eat, I honestly had never given serious consideration to making one of those artisan loaves.  

But then, the kit came into my life.  When I opened the box, I was expecting to find a banneton and a banneton liner.  I did find those things, along with a few other tools, but on top of all that laid the gorgeous book, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple by Emilie Raffa.  I am a sucker for a beautiful cookbook, and this, my friends, is a beautiful cookbook.  And now I need to make all the things, including the things that require a proofing basket.  Up first, a Cinnamon raisin swirl loaf (without the raisins).


And here's what else is on the menu this week:


Supper:
  • Chicken fettuccini alfredo, green beans
  • Burritos or tacos, taco toppings, carrots
  • Beef stroganoff or fend for yourself
  • Fend for yourself
  • Pizza, salad
  • Hamburgers or hot dogs, buns, chips, raw veggies
  • Grilled pork chops, mashed potatoes, grilled broccoli

Other:


Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Being kind to my future self

 I've been thinking a lot about being kind to my future self lately.  

As you may have gathered from last week's menu post, mealtimes have been a bit ... scattered ... around here.  Sporadic.  Chaotic.  There has been a breakdown in our usual mealtime routines, which means, among other things that, while I usually wash dirty dishes that don't fit in the dishwasher immediately, or at least within 30 minutes, after supper, I have not, lately.

And so suddenly, it'll be 9:30 or 10 p.m.*, and the dishes will have not yet been washed, and have I mentioned that I am exhausted?  Yes, yes, I have mentioned that.

But lately I've been deciding to be kind to my future self by washing the dishes, even though I'm exhausted.  And my future self is always so appreciative of my past self.

Also, I feel like I need to mention** that the dish fairy hasn't shown up around here for weeks, which makes it that much more difficult to wash dishes.  I mean, without the dish fairy putting them away, the clean and dry dishes from yesterday take up all of the room where I want to put the clean and wet dishes from today to dry.

I feel like it's a really good idea to ask myself, every day, "what can I do to make things easier for future Scarlet?"  And I've been coming up with things each day to set future Scarlet up for success.

I'm still exhausted, though.

How about you?  Do you ever think about how you can make your future self's life a little easier?


* For reference, bedtime is usually 9:01 p.m.

** I feel the need to mention this so you will feel sorry for me.  I mean, no dish fairy, for weeks!  How can I be expected to cope with such drudgery? 

Monday, September 12, 2022

Meal plan for the week of September 12

 Remember how I asked for meal ideas last week?  Well, one of you actually responded!  Isn't that exciting?  Someone actually read a blog post, and was so moved by it that they took action.  

That person suggested chicken burrito bowls, which you may recall we actually had on the menu about a month ago, and we really liked them.  And by we really liked them, I mean I really liked them and no one else complained verbally about them.  So it's on the menu again this week, because who cares how anyone other than the cook feels about the meals?  

I'm strictly using the whole eat it or starve philosophy of meal planning at this point.  Of course, they don't actually starve, because they are all either adults or teens (and one of them happens to be both adult and teen), and they are fully capable of feeding themselves.

Great idea, dear reader!  Thank you.

And, uh, if any of the rest of you would like to be thanked publicly in this space, feel free to send your meal ideas my way, too.

Here's what's on the menu this week:

Supper:
Other:
Yup, there will be other things.  Just not sure what yet.

What's on the menu at your house this week?

Friday, September 9, 2022

Italian Sausage Cauliflower Soup: a low carb interpretation of Zuppa Toscana

 I gotta be honest with you.  I'm publishing this recipe mostly because I want to remember what I did this time that made it taste so good.  But if you want to try it too, you should.  It's really yummy.

I first tried Zuppa Toscana on the day our previous slow cooker fell victim to inertia.  So delicious.  On that day, I modified the recipe for stovetop, and the next time I made it, this time in my new crock pot, I discovered that I preferred the stovetop method, although the slow cooker is really convenient.  I think it's because I like a thicker soup than the original recipe provided in the slow cooker.  If you prefer a thinner soup, feel free to add water or additional broth.  Later on, I found a lower carb Zuppa Toscana copycat recipe.  This recipe is inspired by both.

This low carb soup is creamy and thick, with a slight spicy kick from the sausage and crushed red pepper.

Italian Sausage Cauliflower Soup

Makes about 6 servings
Click here to print this recipe

  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1 medium onion, diced (use more or less to your taste)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes (use less or omit if you don't like a spicy kick; use more if you do)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 16 oz frozen cauliflower florets
  • 12 oz frozen riced cauliflower
  • 4 c chicken broth or stock
  • 1/2-1 c heavy whipping cream
  • 10 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled, or a couple of handfuls of real bacon pieces--measure with your heart
  • 2 c chopped kale or spinach, optional 

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, sauté 1 lb Italian sausage with 1 diced onion until sausage is cooked through.  
  2. Add 2-3 cloves of minced garlic.  Cook and stir for a few more minutes until fragrant.  
  3. Add crushed red pepper and salt and pepper to taste*, 16 oz frozen cauliflower florets, 12 oz frozen riced cauliflower, and 4 cups chicken broth.  
  4. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.  
  5. Add 1/2 - 1 c of heavy whipping cream, 10 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled, and kale or spinach, if using.  Heat through.  Serve and enjoy!


* I used 1/2 t pepper and 1/2 T salt, but my homemade chicken stock didn't have any salt in it. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Important Information

 At the beginning of August, I got a text message from the school district telling me to check my email for an important message about transportation.

I duly checked my email, and found a message about transportation.  It was a message that I didn't necessarily think was important, but the school district probably thinks every message they send is important.  The important message about transportation from the email was that they would be sending a letter through the US postal service about my student's transportation.

Yup.  That's what it said.  And they did.  They sent a letter via USPS telling me about my student's specific transportation arrangements.  Which is, definitely, for sure, important information.

Now, I am a big benefit-of-the-doubt-er, so I can see why the school district might feel the need to warn me via text message that they'd be sending an email, which in turn warned me that they'd be sending a letter.  I mean, they probably wanted to get the message out through as many channels as possible, so parents wouldn't miss it.  And it worked, in my case.  I was totally on the lookout for that important transportation information for the next couple of weeks, and I did not miss it.  

The school district also probably wanted to avoid having to field 38 bajillion phone calls from parents asking about bus information, although I bet they still got many, many phone calls in the intervening weeks, because no matter how many ways one communicates, and no matter how many times one communicates, there are always those who don't get the message, for whatever reason.

But it just struck me as comical that the school district felt the need to do that.  Why not include the information in each of the communications?  Why build our anticipation so?  I wonder how many more times this school year this same sequence of events will occur regarding important information.

Monday, September 5, 2022

(non) Menu plan for the week of September 5

 I did a thing the other day.  I canned potatoes for the first time.  See, we needed potatoes, and the 10 lb bag was just a couple of pennies more than a 5 lb bag, so I bought the 10 lb bag, even though a week or two prior to that, I had composted three moldy, smelly*, and oddly juicy rotten potatoes.

It was quite the internal debate, in the store.  Should I buy the 5 lb bag, which we are much more likely to use before they go bad?  Or should I get double the potatoes for about the same price, knowing it would be much more challenging to use them up?

Well, in the heat of the moment I chose double the potatoes.  And after I cooled down, I realized that with only one potato-eater currently in the house, there is no way I would use them all.  Of course I berated myself mentally, because that's how I roll.  I mean, by purchasing the 10 lb bag, I was virtually guaranteeing that I was going to be throwing away potatoes in a month or so.

When I told Bubby I didn't think we'd be able to use the potatoes, he told me that sure we could.  He still remembers the week that he and his brother ate mashed potatoes every. single. day. with fondness‡.  He didn't seem too enthusiastic when I told him he was welcome to try†.

So I decided to can the potatoes.  Our most frequent preparation of potatoes is mashed, and by canning potatoes, I'll be able to get mashed potatoes on the table in about 5 minutes.  Based on the instructions in the Ball Blue Book of Canning, I expected to be able to get 2 quarts, that I thought I could probably stretch to 3, which didn't seem worthwhile canning, but I was committed.  I ended up with 5 quarts, which for me is a full (pressure) canner load, plus enough extra for a Bubby** sized serving on Saturday.  So yay!  I'm looking forward five easy-peasy mashed potato preps, and zero rotten potatoes.

Also last week, I canned salsa (it's super hot this year), zucchini "pineapple", green beans***, and pinto beans.  I think I'm done for now, but I do have some tomatoes in the freezer that I will eventually have to do something with.

The menu plan is a mess this week.  School started, and I am exhausted.  So we'll probably have breakfast for supper this week, along with fending for ourselves a couple of times, plus pizza, maybe hot dogs, possibly tacos or nachos.  I don't know.  I feel like this is awfully early in the "new year" to stop caring about what I'm going to feed my family.

What's cooking at your house this week?  I could use some ideas.

* * * * *

*I honestly thought I was smelling unshowered teenager whenever I caught a whiff.  Which was so weird, because sometimes there were no teenagers around, showered or otherwise.

‡I do not.  

†Bubby generally does peel and cut the potatoes when we have mashed potatoes, but the last time he did the actual mashing there was an incident with the salt shaker, and he's been reluctant, since then, to mash the potatoes himself.

**A Bubby sized serving is equivalent to 3-4 normal person servings.

***I know.  I said I wasn't going to can green beans anymore.  But they just keep coming, friends.  And I had to do something with them.  And we already have 4 family sized portions in the freezer.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

New sheets day

 Monday is new sheets day in our house, and since the kids would not _ever_ change their sheets of their own volition, on Mondays I write "change sheets" on their list of chores on our mud room white board.  And Bubby generally ignores my instruction to change sheets.

I have noticed that my kids' most effective strategy for getting out of doing something is simply not doing it right away.  My brain is generally on top of things enough to tell them to do something once, but they count on me forgetting, and not telling them again, at least not consistently.  And I usually do.  Forget.  And I usually don't. Tell them again.

So several months ago, I started taking Bubby's sheets off his bed on new sheet day.  This way, if he wants to sleep, and does not want to sleep on the floor or in his hammock, he will need to put new sheets on before he goes to bed.  It's been a highly effective technique--Bubby hasn't missed a clean sheet day since I implemented it.

The other day, he happened to catch me taking his sheets off, and he told me, you know mom, taking the sheets off is the easy part.  It's not really all that helpful for you to take them off.

I know, sweet child, I know I'm not being helpful.  I'm not intending to be helpful, although it is darling that you think that.  I am intending to get you to actually change your sheets once in a while.

Oh, he said.

I've got strategies, too.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Menu plan for the week of August 29

 It's football season, friends, which means Bubby needs to get picked up from practice most days right during the time I need to be making supper.  It shouldn't be an issue, because generally there is at least one adult at home who could help with supper, while another adult picks up the kiddo, but it does require planning (and prepping) ahead on my part.  The other days, he has games, which means there generally aren't any adults at home and we get home late (hence the two fends for yourselves this week).  

Here's what's on the menu this week:

Supper:

Other:

* I accidentally bought maple-flavored sausage patties, so I've been feeding them to my family, since they like maple-flavored things.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

August 2022 garden update

 Hello, friends.  Welcome to the 2nd of the year, maybe final, but most likely penultimate, garden update!  Let's get right to it, shall we?

The green beans keep coming.  We've eaten them fresh several times, and I blanched and froze four family sized portions, and they just keep coming, despite being completely eaten up by Japanese beetles.  The plants look so straggly, and I'm kinda done with green beans, so I'm tempted to tear them out, but that feels like throwing away perfectly good food, which doesn't feel good.  So I'm going to leave them for now.

I have one softball sized watermelon, and the plant seems to have stopped setting flowers, so it's looking like this is our one hope for watermelon this year.

One of my cabbages is actually forming a head, which is exciting.

The zucchini flower issue* is continuing.  All but one of the zucchinis we've harvested this year have been the result of hand pollination.  Here is an open male flower, along with an almost ready zucchini in the background.

I'm so happy the marigolds from last year self-seeded.  It's a bright spot of color in an otherwise not very lush looking garden.

I've harvested about 3.5 pounds of tomatoes, and there are plenty more on the plants.  As you can see, blight has set in, so it's a race to see if the blight, or I, get the tomatoes first.  Something has happened with the tomatoes that I don't remember happening in past years--a lot of the new bloom clusters have died--they look like they've been burned.  It's kind of an ok thing, since the plant doesn't really have time, at this point, to grow a whole tomato from a bloom, but it's weird.  It's happening with the cherry tomatoes, too.

The jalapenos are going strong, with multiple peppers on each of our four plants.  I'm not sure how to tell if they're ripe, so my plan is to wait until I have enough tomatoes for a batch of salsa (about 6 pounds), and then pick as many jalapenos as I need for a batch of salsa (about a pound), picking the biggest ones first.  I may can some jalapeno jelly if there are enough leftover jalapenos.

I harvested a red pepper maybe a week ago, and there are bell peppers of various sizes on each of the four plants.  This is the largest, at about 4 inches long.

This volunteer sunflower is my favorite thing in the garden (at least until that watermelon ripens...if it ripens).  It's way taller than me--maybe 10 feet?--with multiple buds.

I planted three supposedly cold hardy to -40°F lavender plants near the chicken coop.  I'm doing all the research to give these plants the best chance of surviving the winter, because I really enjoy having them there.  Two of them are blooming, and it's so lovely to look at, and smell, them.

The only other plants that survived by the chicken coop were two zinnias from saved seed.  I'm trying to decide if I want to plant daffodils and/or black eyed Susans (perennials) here or if I want to just plant zinnias or other flowers each year.

I've harvested probably 2 dozen small onions whose leaves were dead or damaged to the point that it was obvious they wouldn't be getting any bigger.  I still have about 8 onions in the ground, and I'm looking forward to seeing how big they get.  The ones in the containers did way better than the ones planted in the garden beds.

I planted some radishes at the beginning of the month.  According to the seed package, they should be ready in about a week, but it's not looking good.

And that's it.  I'll probably post a season wrap-up, but I might not, so maybe prepare yourselves emotionally for this to be the last update for this year.

What's happening in your garden?

* We've had lots of male and female zucchini flowers, but hardly ever at the same time, which makes fertilization difficult.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Menu plan for the week of August 22

 I've been doing baking days about once a week for most of the summer.  The idea is, if I'm going to heat up the oven, I want to just do it once, both to save energy (because I won't have to preheat for each baked item), and also to avoid heating up the house more than once.  Last Thursday, I made bread (sourdough, of course, which means I wasn't using the bread machine), two kinds of muffins (also sourdough: coffee cake and zucchini), and cookies.  I also made taco bean soup, which I did not bake, but since I'm out of home canned pinto beans, I had to cook the beans first.  It was almost too much for me.  There were ingredients and dirty dishes and recipes in progress and finished products everywhere.  I ran out of cooling racks.  I set up the bread machine (for the pizza crust for supper that night) on the floor in the dining room because I didn't have counter space for it.

Have you ever watched a YouTube food prep video?  Yeah.  They make even more stuff than I did, every week, and they don't seem overwhelmed in the least.  I wonder how they do it*, while filming, no less.

Regardless of how they do it, I, too, manage to get food on the table most nights.  Here's what's on the menu this week:

Supper:

Other:


* Well, for one thing, I think they make use of more mixes and convenience items than I do.  I mean, I don't see them feeding their sourdough starter or cooking beans or even making muffins from scratch.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Cleaning the cleaning machine and curious?

 Anybody else super annoyed that it's necessary to clean things that clean for us?  I'm talking about the vacuum cleaner, clothes washer, dishwasher--things like that.  Their purpose is to clean things, so why can't they keep themselves clean?

Anyway, I'm on some kind of cleaning kick* and our dishwasher has been particularly gross lately, with rusty films and globs of particulates everywhere, so I decided to go ahead and tackle it today.  It's a lot better now.  Definitely not perfect (because calculus, and life experience, tells me that it can never be perfect), but a lot better.  It was messy, though.  And stuff ended up in a lot of places, including the utility sink, which I cleaned yesterday, and the floor, which I mopped yesterday, and now I have to clean those places again, which means yesterday's effort was wasted.  Ugh.

So, for future reference, if you're going to take on a messy cleaning project, do it before you take on the less messy cleaning projects.

* * * * * 

In other news, you might** be wondering just what miscellaneous items my side of the master bedroom closet is home to, so I'll tell you.

In my side of the master bedroom closet, in addition to clothes, I have:
  • Broken down boxes and other shipping supplies for mystery shopping, plus two not broken down, filled boxes.
  • Garden seeds.
  • Art supplies, including, but not limited to, my hot glue gun, ribbon, cardboard for protecting work surfaces, old t-shirts that I cut up for staining, and the kid paint box, which has kid painting supplies that haven't been used in years and probably aren't good anymore.
  • Two throw pillows that used to be on the bed, that we're not using right now, but I also don't want to get rid of, even though I got them from the thrift store, and likely could find similar shapes and sizes in the future to recover however I would like them to be covered.
  • Two ukulele gig bags, which each contain extra ukulele supplies
  • Overflow cleaning supplies, like bleach, vinegar, toilet bowl cleaner, sanitizing wipes, laundry detergent, and the outdoor window cleaning kit that I am hiding from my husband because he threw the old one away after asking me if he could and me telling him he should not.
  • Coffee
  • A gift for my HS freshman that I have literally been working on since he was in preschool
  • A four pound bag of candy corn that I bought because my people love it and I didn't know if it would still be in stock the next time I went to the warehouse store.
  • Cleaned out candle jars to put the candy corn in for display when it's actually candy corn season.
  • An in-progress crocheting project, as well as an in-progress sewing project.
  • Eleven decorative house flags (one for each month, counting the one that's on display now).
  • Two pairs of slippers.
  • A small wooden tray that I used to use for oils and vinegars, and stopped using a few years ago, but I can't get rid of it because it has two of the kiddos hand and footprints on it.
  • Extra bags and a backpack.
There's more, but I'm guessing you get the idea.  There's a lot of random stuff.

You also might*** be wondering what kinds of clothes are folded on the shelves, so I'll tell you.  On the shelves, I keep bras, shorts, pants, and pajama pants.  And yes, I wore clothes, from the shelves, yesterday, and I am wearing clothes today.  I have temporarily solved the problem of not wanting to mess up my neatly-est stacks of clothing by not putting anything back on the shelves.

* * * * *

* Probably because the new year, aka kids going back to school, is coming soon, and I want a fresh start.

** You are probably not actually wondering.  I don't think I've ever met a person as curious as me, out in the wild, which is annoying because the less curious people tend to look at me funny, or just not answer, when I ask my curious questions.  And I also sometimes have difficulty deciding if my curious question is an appropriate one to ask.

*** Again, you're probably not.  Wondering, that is.  But I would be, if it wasn't my closet, and I wasn't sitting in it right now.  You're welcome

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Stuff was made for people

 Yesterday, I purged and straightened and organized my side of the closet.  My side of the closet is home to a lot of miscellaneous items, and stuff had been creeping outward for a while.  The stuff was still contained in the closet, and on my side of the closet, even, but creeping.  I had had enough with the creeping, so I dealt with it.

As part of dealing with it, I folded the clothes that I keep on the shelves.  I folded them neatly.  Extremely neatly.  We're talking Marie Kondo neatly.  This is the neatly-est my clothes have ever been, besides, possibly, when they were not yet mine and still lived at the store.

And today, I don't want to wear any of those clothes, because I know what will happen.  I know that once I remove and wear one of those items of clothing, those neat stacks of clothes will never be the same again.  And it's so pretty.  It makes me feel calm, and proud, and accomplished.

Here's the thing: clothes are meant to be worn.  Our stuff is meant to be used.  Our things are supposed to serve us, not the other way around.  And yes, my clothes are currently serving me by giving me the satisfaction of looking at all that order, but that's not what they're meant to do.  It is not my job, necessarily, to keep my clothes folded in a state of perfection*; it is my clothes' job to, well, clothe my body.

I think sometimes we get caught up in serving our stuff instead of letting it serve us.  We want and research and purchase and store and save and keep pristine and manage and let stuff take up space both in our physical surroundings and in our mental inventory.  We forget that stuff is not worthwhile to own unless it's doing its job for us.  We work so hard getting stuff and maintaining stuff that we don't have time to enjoy the stuff.  

At the risk of sounding irreverent, it reminds me of Jesus' words when his disciples were accused of breaking Sabbath by plucking grain.  He said, "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.**"  Stuff was made for people, not people for stuff.


* But if that's what you want to do with your clothes, have at it.  More power to you.
** Mark 2:23-28

Monday, August 15, 2022

Menu plan for the week of August 15

 A couple of weeks ago, inspired by this video, and a Sam's Club sized purchase of boneless skinless chicken breasts, I made up four bags of marinated chicken for the freezer.  As I mentioned last week, I often realize, right around the time I want to start cooking, that I haven't marinated the meat.  At least this way, I don't have to think about it for another few weeks.  The idea is that the meat marinates as it thaws.

So far, due to the luck of the draw (aka grabbing the first package that comes to hand), we've tried cilantro lime chicken and southwest chicken, both of which I thought were pretty good.  We have yet to try rosemary mustard chicken and lemon garlic chicken, one of which will make its way to our plates on Sunday.

Do you marinade meats in the freezer?

As for the rest of the week's meals, here they are:

Supper:

Other:

Friday, August 12, 2022

Leavened

 About a week ago, a friend shared some of her sourdough starter with me.  She had casually mentioned that she was making a sourdough loaf, and I had been wanting to try sourdough for a while, so I asked if she would share some of her starter.  Of course she said yes, and then she actually followed through, and I wasn't quite ready for it, but now I am equal parts obsessed and overwhelmed.

In the intervening week, I've made English muffins, waffles, and cinnamon rolls.  It's kind of magic.  I am amazed every time that the dough actually rises.  Next up I'm planning a honey wheat sandwich bread and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

In case you're not quite sure what sourdough starter is, I'll tell you: it's a culture of captured wild yeast that can be used to make bread doughs rise.  The starter contains the yeast, along with food for the yeast: a mixture of flour and water.  It's kind of a commitment, because sourdough starter is something that needs to be fed and tended to regularly.  This is the way folks used to make bread rise before yeast in a packet became a thing.

Sourdough is also a commitment in that it requires planning ahead.  It takes about 24 hours, sometimes more, to make a loaf, as opposed to around 4 hours using commercial yeast.  Before this past week, I never really understood why the Hebrews were instructed to eat unleavened bread on the night of the very first Passover--the night the Hebrews escaped the tyranny of Pharaoh.  See, I've been baking bread for almost my whole life.  And yes, homemade bread takes time because it needs to rise, but surely the Hebrews would have had time to bake leavened bread.

But y'all.  The enslaved Hebrews didn't have dry yeast laying around.  There was no running to the grocery store to buy a packet of yeast.  They would have had levain--sourdough starter--a culture of wild yeast in a slurry of flour and water.  There simply wasn't time to bake sourdough bread before leaving town.  In fact, I suspect the Hebrews used up their unfed sourdough starter to make their unleavened bread.  It's not like they were going to have access to flour and water to maintain their levain while wandering in the desert. 

This is just another example, I guess, of how we miss so much of the nuance in the Bible because we're not aware of the cultural context or significance of what we're reading.  Now, at least in this instance, I have just a little more perspective, and when I'm working with my levain I can feel a little connection to those ancient bread-makers.

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