Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Few Things About Today - October 23

Saturday, October 23

The weather is still gorgeous!  I can go outside in a tank top and capris and be perfectly comfortable - if it weren't for the mighty gusts of wind whipping around.  Too wet to do yard work, although I strongly suspect I need to start doing something in our backyard, to prepare our landscaping to survive winter.  There is not enough time in the day to read all about how to garden properly.  Hence, I will call my mother (previously mentioned as my go-to garden expert).

However, I will say that I have unwittingly created a butterfly haven.  Moth haven mostly, but there are also some beautiful butterflies at times.  I captured one this morning.  If science were this interesting in high school, maybe I would have been more interested in it.

 Update on the mums I repotted last week:  they are thriving and growing.  Although they are still sitting in the exact spots I left them after repotting.

I am drinking Starbucks Breakfast Blend, kindly purchased by my sweet husband last night in an effort to derail a melancholy couple of hours.  It worked.  It continues to work this morning, as I savor every single cup I drink.  I take a sip.  I think the package calls it "bright."  They are correct.

Our grocery budget for the month is pretty much gone, so for breakfast I had a delicious frosted pumpkin bar we thawed out of the freezer, and a cherry Starburst.  So you see why I'm really extolling the deliciousness of the coffee.

I have a lot to do today.  Dishes to wash, carpet to vacuum, laundry to do (a load is in the washer - I'll count it as one small triumph), sheets to change...  Yet here I sit, happily losing myself in rediscovering Henry David Thoreau's "Walden, or Life in the Woods."

Do you know how many great one-liners and potential speech-quotes Thoreau has written in this book?!  Countless!

"There are many fine things which we cannot say if we have to shout."
"I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society."
"Be it life or death, we crave only reality.  If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel the cold in our extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business."
"Our life is frittered away by detail... simplicity simplicity, simplicity!"

It is humorous and dry, as well as being full of wisdom and history and inspiration and even poetry.  You can't call it prose when it's so lyrical, you just can't.  I mean, take the following passage, one of my favorites:

 "Life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal,-- that is your success.  All nature is your congratulation."

Tell me that's not poetry.
And now I suppose I'll go about the very prosaic tasks of my day.

I'm Making Bread Today!

Real, honest-to-goodness bread made with yeast.  See, I'm not counting the many, many loaves of quick breads I've made over the years.  Those aren't really "bread."  They're more like coffeecake in slice form, or muffins made in loaf pans.

I can already tell that quick breads may be my first and true love, though.  Real bread... is just so messy.  Dough stuck to my fingers, my hands, my counter, my wooden spoon.  And it's just now rising.  I can only imagine the messes that might ensue from an energetic rising.

I'll let you know how the real bread turns out, but for now, let me leave you with my favorite quickbread recipe, from my great-aunt Edie.  Just in time for the holiday season and those pretty, alluring bags of fresh, bright, red cranberries, it is... Cranberry Nut Bread!

Cranberry Nut Bread
2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. grated orange peel (use the real thing!)
1 egg, beaten
3/4 c. orange juice
1/4 c. oil
1 c. fresh cranberries
1/2 c. chopped nuts (try pecans)

Mix dry ingredients.  Add the rest and mix.  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

So simple, so delicious.  Make three loaves, one for you, one for your neighbor, and one for your friend.

I can already sense this might mean a scouting trip to the grocery store for me.  Do they have fresh cranberries yet?  Do they?  Kind of like the long wait for canned pumpkin.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Adventures in Repotting

As with any adventure - yes, including those undertaken in bright, warm, late morning sunlight - it is generally understood that it should begin only with coffee in hand.  Iced coffee if you must, but make sure you are properly caffeinated.

This is my new favorite coffee mug.  I think I am not alone in my use of coffee mugs.  I'll reuse the same one for about a week, rinsing it out between uses of course, but not rewashing.

Here's the thing.  Being in the fall mood (helped along by strategic placement of pumpkins, mums and haybales at our local grocery stores), I bought a few potted garden mums.  Although they are hardy little plants, they are beginning to suffer in their small containers.  And the big purple one keeps tipping over - which explains its lopsided look...

So I consulted my mother, who is my on-call gardening expert.  She suggested I repot the mums into larger pots and then, after the first frost, cut them way down and keep them in the garage.  When spring hits (sometimes March, sometimes May here in the Midwest), I'll plant them in my garden.

In theory, that all sounds wonderful.  I just hope these mums don't die before the first hard frost, from my amateur repotting efforts.  But I'm always game for these sort of improvement projects, so I grabbed my morning coffee and headed outside.

These are my tools.  The little plastic spade came from Walmart for about two bucks, and the "real" implement came from my mom.

 These are my helpers, Murray and Haley.  Who can garden without their pets "helping"?

At this point, I've emptied three different annuals out of their pots.  Plants, if you can't survive the winter and come up on your own in the spring, I am sorry, but you don't belong in this girl's garden.

My mums!  Aren't they gorgeous?  Nothing says fall like the cute little blooms and the spicy, distinctive smell.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My Non-Recipe Chili Recipe

This weekend we had a bunch of friends over for Fall Fest, a little celebration of autumnal activities, that I hope becomes an annual event.  Fall Fest centered around a chili feed - each couple bringing their own special chili - because no one makes the same kind of chili, and everyone thinks theirs is the best!

I couldn't find my recipe.  It was a concoction of my own creation - one of the few times I actually recorded what I put in something that turned out delicious.  This was a blow, but also a chance to record my new recipe online, so I went for it.

You start with a pound of ground beef.  We get ours from a meat locker because it is far superior to any beef you can find at your average grocery store.  We're from Kansas.  We have ideas about our beef, ok?  So anyway, you start with a pound of ground beef.

Then you chop 1 onion - yellow or white, doesn't matter.  I like to chop it pretty fine, so the pieces are about the size of the beans.

Pop those into a big stew pot (some call it a Dutch oven, I believe) and brown them, seasoning with salt and pepper.  None of that fancy, fresh-ground pepper is necessary.  This is good ol' fashioned chili, folks!

You can drain the meat if you want; I didn't, just to lend it a little extra flavor and goodness.

These are the beans we're using.  My mom was shocked when I told her the meat-to-bean ratio.  I suppose you could call this Cheap Girl's Chili...

Drain and rinse the kidney beans, the pinto beans and the black beans; leave the chili beans just as they are.  Dump all those fiber-rich beans into the pot and stir it up!  Turn the heat up a bit and let those simmer together for a few minutes.

It's looking a little thick, isn't it?  Well, my friends, we are just now getting to the lycopene-rich tomatoes*.  I had a jar of fresh tomatoes I froze this summer, so I used those, along with a can of generic Rotel and Italian stewed tomatoes.  Dump 'em all in and stir again.

After I did that, it was looking a little runnier than I liked, so I drained and rinsed my pinch-hitter beans, Great Northerns.

These are my friends, the Chili Crew.  You may notice they are very similar to the Mexican-flair spices featured in my Sweet Potato Quesadilla recipe adaptation.  Certain spices are included in that list of "things that never get old."  I also used cumin and paprika.


Season heavily!  Season with abandon!  I'm talking at least a couple tablespoons of chili powder, a couple teaspoons of garlic salt and onion powder, a teaspoon or so of paprika.  Take it easy with the cayenne, although the capascin is said to kick up your metabolism a notch.

Let all that simmer for fifteen minutes or so.  You can put this in the fridge and serve the next day, actually.  That's probably what I'd recommend.  Let the flavors meld...


* You may notice I'm throwing a little healthspeak into this recipe.  I'm not trying to sound like I know a lot about this stuff, or have some sort of dietician degree (I don't and I don't).  But I do read a LOT of magazines, and some of what I read actually sticks with me.  Fiber, lycopene, capascin... all things that are good for you.

My Job Kills My Creativity

That's why you'll notice most of my blogs are posted on the weekends.
By the time my day ends (at five p.m.; I can't complain about the job itself or the company or my coworkers at all - they are great!), the following things have sapped any inspiration I awoke with:

1. the Outlook reminders that I snooze incessantly... maybe it's for two hours ("After I get in the swing of the workday, I'll tackle that") , maybe four ("I'll be ready for it after lunch"), maybe two days ("I need so-and-so's opinion and they're out until Thursday")... well, you get the idea.
2. the phone that doesn't stop ringing
3. the pressure to solve problems or be the go-between
4. the looming to-do list - cross one item off, two more are added, with a greater sense of urgency

Well, that's just going to have to end, I tell you.  When you spend five sevenths of your days (math = not my "best" subject) at work, you just have to figure out how to make those viable days, too.  Some people have it figured out already.

When I discover the art, I will let you know.  For now, I am just going to try to make it through with a modicum of graciousness and the enthusiasm to make the most of the hours from five thirty to eleven thirty.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sweet Potato Quesadillas: An Adventure in Mashing

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Poor imitation, then, must be even more gratifying to the one being imitated.  Pioneer Woman, this one is dedicated to you.  I don't know if you were the first blogger to include step-by-step photos in your recipes, but you are certainly one of those who does it best.

Shout out completed, I will procede to the task at hand: dinner.  What do you feed a hungry man returning from a long day at the office, when you want to be a little creative but not spend too much time or money to get there?  Why, sweet potato-chicken quesadillas, of course!

I'd like to give credit where credit is due, of course.  The basic version of this recipe originally appeared in EveryDay with Rachael Ray, so you can find the unadultered recipe by Sarah Ellis there.

Anywho, to begin, you will need:
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
4 10" flour tortillas
1 1/2 c. shredded, cooked chicken breast
2 c. shredded colby jack cheese
assorted favorite "Mexican flair" spices
Serves 2

First, cook the sweet potato in a pot of boiling water until softened, about 10 minutes.

While the pot's a-boilin', drain and rinse your black beans.

Sure, they don't look nearly as pretty as the orangey potatoes in a fog of steam, but they're magical in their own right (wink wink).

Since I know you're speedy with that, go ahead and chop your cilantro and toss it in with the black beans.  Add more if you like!

I sauteed two chicken breasts ahead of time and kept them in the fridge so they'd be cool enough to handle.  Nope, it doesn't look like a regular pale chicken breast.  That's because I used plenty of those Mexican-flair spices!  Chili powder, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne... even a little oregano!

Shredding chicken: neither as labor-intensive or as messy as you might think.  Simply use one fork to hold the chicken, the other fork to pull the meat toward you.  Work with the grain, if chicken has a grain.

Ah yes, my little sweet potatoes are nice n' tender.  Use a wooden spoon to mash up those cute little sweet potatoes.  Mash them pretty well - nobody wants a chunk of that in their quesadilla.


Dump the black beans and cilantro in with the mashed sweet potatoes.

Mash the beans up with the sweet potatoes.  You're really getting good at this!  Sure, add some more Mexican flair if you want to.
Now we're moving to the topping-your-quesadilla part.  I'm not going to insult your obvious intelligence here with detailed instructions.

I will point out that if you are better than me at mashing, your sweet potato-bean mixture might spread a little easier across your tortilla.  Put your toppings on two of the tortillas and then press the other two tortillas on top of them.  I didn't measure out two cups of cheese.  Just sprinkle (or dump) it to your little heart's content!

This is my ingenious device, which helps things cook faster in the skillet.  Can you tell I am an impatient individual?

Finished product!

Top with salsa and/or sour cream and enjoy!  We liked these quesadillas almost better cold.  You can taste the chicken and cheese a little more clearly then.