Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cooking with Me

My cookbook collection.
I love cookbooks, and have been collecting them for over 30 years.  Some of my favorites are the one published by the Nebraska 4-H Clubs, which my aunt and cousins gave me as a wedding shower gift.  That's the one with the binding falling apart to the right of the Gordon Ramsey cookbook .  I also love my Pillsbury Baking cookbook, which is out of print, so I make sure to take really good care of it.

The problem, though, is that while I love looking through them and thinking of all the wonderful things I'd like to make, I never seem to have the time to actually make all the recipes in them.  Add to that the fact that my husband is a somewhat picky eater, and there are just the two of us, plus my own weight issues, the cookbooks are really just kind of taking up space.
I also enjoy cooking shows on TV, particularly Top Chef.  The thing I like about them is their skill in creating new dishes out of nothing, except their own talent and knowledge of food. This is an ability I do not possess.  I'm a skilled recipe follower, and enjoy cooking and baking, but there's no way I could be given a challenge involving scallops and quinoa and have any idea what to do with them.

Which is also why TV cooking shows are so frustrating.  For cooks like me, I look at them and admire them, but they really make me feel incompetent.

So, here's what I think I should do.  I think that what the Food Network needs is not one more chef coming up with new and exciting recipes.  I think it needs a show where a competent, workmanlike cook prepares a meal each week using the recipes in her collection of cookbooks.  It would show those of us whose own self-esteem takes a beating during each episode of Iron Chef or Top Chef that cooking can be fun and rewarding even if you're just following a recipe. And, it would give me an excuse to actually try the Beef Wellington recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

I think a show like that could be a lot of fun, even more so with a wacky sidekick.  Let me know if you're interested.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

(Mis)Adventures in Cooking

I don't know why I do this.  I always think that I'm a more competent cook than experience proves.  As a result I wind up trying to fix my mistakes with not-so-satisfying results.
Take this weekend for example.  Our church is having a potluck lunch tomorrow.  I signed up to bring a main dish.  I decided that I would make my Chicken and Wild Rice casserole.  Tonight is the night our dinner circle, also from church, is meeting.  I told the hostess that I would bring the same thing for dinner tonight, that way I would only have to worry about preparing one thing.

The Chicken and Wild Rice casserole is fairly simple, but it only serves 8, and I really needed it to serve double that.  Therefore, I decided that I would make 2 casseroles, each a double recipe.  No problem.  

The first thing I decided to do to simplify my life was to prepare the wild rice and bake the chicken ahead of time.  I did this on Thursday when I was off for Veteran's Day.  Everything ran smoothly.  The rice was done, and the chicken was ready to be diced for the casserole.

So, it's now Saturday morning.  After working out and finishing breakfast I got started. I cut up the chicken, which really worked well.  Usually when I make this I'm trying to cut the chicken while it's still hot, and it's more difficult that way.  The only problem was that the original recipe calls for 3 cups of chicken.  Since I was making 2 double batches, I really needed 12 cups of chicken, and I really only got about 11 cups.  But that was minor.

Then comes the sauce preparation. I decided to prepare the sauce for each casserole separately, rather than making a quadruple batch and dividing it up.  So,  I doubled the amounts of chicken broth and 1/2 and 1/2.  But when I add the sauce to the chicken and rice it was way too much.  I tried to ladle out some of the sauce, thinking I would add it to the 2nd casserole, but I couldn't get the sauce without taking out the rice. So, I just covered it with foil and put the whole mess in the fridge.

When I went to make the 2nd batch, I didn't double the sauce recipe.  So, while I have double the chicken and rice, it's not swimming in sauce.

I decided that I would try to repair the 1st casserole by adding chicken and rice.  So, I now have some chicken breasts baking in the oven, and wild rice cooking on the stove.

Now, here's my 2nd catastrophe (maybe).  I also signed up to bring deviled eggs to the potluck tomorrow.  I had found a recipe in a magazine and wanted to try it. What sold me was the addition of bacon. Is there nothing that bacon can't make better?
Everything went well - hardboiled eggs aren't that challenging, and they peeled and sliced perfectly.  I mashed the yolks, and added the bacon, mayo and lemon juice.  The recipe only called for 3 tablespoons mayo, but it was still really too dry, so I added more mayo.  Still no problem.  Then I added the chives and dried mustard, mixed it all together and filled the egg whites.  Everything went smoothly; the only problem is the taste - they're okay, but not great.  I'm not sure what is off, but I'm hoping that after mellowing in the fridge the flavors come together better.

So, what I thought would be a laid-back Saturday with minimum of muss and fuss didn't quite work out.  I'm hoping the casserole at least works out, but I'm definitely re-evaluating my culinary skills - and sticking with cookies.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Ideal Saturday Morning

This morning after my husband went to work and I got up and got to work myself.  I did a quick house cleaning, then made a special breakfast - a non-fat mocha coffee and French Breakfast Puffs.  This is the recipe I've had since 7th grade home-ec, and it's always been for special times. What a way to begin the day - a clean(ish) house, a good book, a delicious hot drink, and a favorite treat.  Here's the recipe:

French Breakfast Puffs
1/3 c. shortening
1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Cream sugar and shortening.  Add egg.  Sift dry ingredients together.  Add to creamed mixture alternately with 1/2 c. milk.  Fill greased muffin cups 2/3 full.  Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.  Immediately roll in 1 stick melted butter and then in a mixture of 1/2 c. sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why My Hair Is Gray

Actual text conversation between me and my 25 year old son who was planning a camping trip in the Rockies:
Me: Have fun camping!
Son: lol there's a forest fire on the other side of the mountain, in the sand dunes.
Me: So you aren't going? 
Son: No, we're going, they said it's safe and haven't shut anything down.

Despite my worrying, the camping trip went off without a hitch and he had a great time.  A week after this escapade he bought this:

 As his father reminded me he is a grown adult.  Still doesn't keep me from worrying.  And praying.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Falling in love at the library - CharlotteObserver.com

Falling in love at the library - CharlotteObserver.com

When I read this article I was reminded of my own early library experiences in a small Nebraska town.

When I was in first grade I started attending the public school in the small town of Homer, Nebraska. For Kindergarten I went to the one-room schoolhouse a half mile from my home, but now I was going to "town school." For a shy child it was a bit overwhelming to go from a classroom of 10 where I was the only kindergartner, to a room of 35 first and second grade students.

Because the district consolidation had just started there was no bus service, which meant that my mom and the other moms in our area shared car-pooling duties. But, one day a week, my mom picked me up and took me to the public library in this small town. It was just open 1 or 2 afternoons a week, and I don't know what led her to this weekly activity, but I'm forever grateful she did it.

The library was very small - just one room in a storefront. The children's section consisted of a few shelves. I obtained a library card by paying 10 cents. The librarian took an index card and wrote my name on it. Whenever I borrowed a book, she checked it out by writing the title on the card. When the card was filled up I paid another dime and started another card.

My mom took me to the library every week during the school year and summer. When second grade started my sister, now in kindergarten, and I rode the brand-new school buses, which put an end to my weekly library excursions for awhile.

However, at some point during second grade my mom and my teacher, Mrs. Harris, decided that I should be allowed to go to the library. There was no centralized school library at this point, and I'd read all the books in our classroom library. So, once a week, I would leave school, walk to the library a couple of blocks away, check out my book and walk back to school in time to catch the bus home. I was 7 years old. Obviously this was 1964, and a much different time.

In third grade the new school building was finished and contained a central library where we were allowed to go when we had finished our assignments. This put an end to my school-day visits, but I continued weekly library visits during the summer.

I shall be forever grateful to my mom, my teacher and the librarian Mrs. Esch, who all encouraged me in different ways to appreciate reading. I remember vividly the books I read: The Moffats by Eleanor Estes, all the Bobbsey Twins, and so many more. It's because of them that I still love to read and love to pass that love of reading on to other children.

In my job as a librarian I hear a lot of talk about the future of libraries. I know the world is changing, and if I want to read something I can find it online and download it to a machine and read it. And I really don't have a problem with that - I think that there are advantages to ebooks. But to me there is nothing more thrilling than walking into a building full of books and wandering around, pulling a book off the shelf, reading a few pages and deciding whether or not to continue reading or move on. I'll always be a library user, and I suspect that I'm not alone.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

One Month In...

I'm one month in to 2010 and I think I'm doing better than I was at this point last year - physically, emotionally and spiritually.  
  • I've been working really hard to cut out calories from my diet and for the most part have been successful, losing about 10 pounds so far.  
  • I've been hitting the gym almost every morning, and the foot seems to be holding up.  I'm thinking I may be able to walk the Maine Marathon in October.
  • This winter hasn't been as overwhelming as last year - there's less snow for one thing.  
  • We have a new church closer to our home, and while it still doesn't feel quite as comfortable as back home, it will be okay.
  • I still miss my family and friends, but Facebook is helping me to feel connected.  And therefore, sane.
  • There are still parts of my life that are overwhelming and difficult, but I think my coping skills are coming back.

So, all in all, I think I'm doing better than I was last year at this time.  As one of my favorite verses says, "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." (2 Chronicles 16:9a). I know that even when I despair and grieve the Lord is still watching over me, waiting for me to reach out to Him. 

Friday, January 01, 2010

At Least I Met One Goal Last Year

At the end of last year I set a goal to read 100 books this year. At the beginning of the year I thought I would easily surpass this goal, but during the summer I began to worry. I kept pushing on, and during the last week of December I reached the magic number!

Here is the list of books I read in 2009:

Adult Books
1. Supreme Courtship - Christopher Buckley
2. The Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri
3. Sweet Caroline: Last Child of Camelot - Anderson
4. I Wish I Had a Red Dress - Pearl Cleage
5. The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett
6. What Was Lost - Catherine O'Flynn
7. What it Is - Lynda Barry
8. Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri
9. Ellen Foster - Kaye Gibbons
10. Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea - Chelsea Handler
11. The Private Patient - P.D. James
12. What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal - Zoe Heller
13. Sleeping Arrangements - Madeline Wickham
14. Fed Up - Jessica Conant Park, Susan Conant
15. I'm Perfect, You're Doomed - Kyria Abrahams
16. Growing Up - Russell Baker
17. The Levity Effect - Gostick and Christopher
18. The Believers - Zoe Heller
19. Everything You Know - Zoe Heller
20. Nice to Come Home To - Rebecca Flowers
21. The Family Man - Elinor Lipman
22. Nature Girl - Carl Hiaasen
23. She's Come Undone- Wally Lamb
24. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley
25. Working - Studs Terkel
26. Tea Time for the Traditionally Built- Alexander McCall Smith
27. Confessions of an Advertising Man- David Ogilvy
28. The Big Rewind - Nathan Rabin
29. The Help - Kathryn Stockett
30. The Baker Street Letters - Michael Robertson
31. The Punch - Noah Hawley
32. Austenland - Shannon Hale
33. Sonata for Miriam - Linda Olsson
34. The Girls from Ames - Jeffrey Zaslow
35. Snark- David Denby
36. Murder at Longbourn - Tracy Kiely
37. Flipping Out - Marshall Karp
38. Necessary as Blood - Deborah Crombie
39. Methland - Nick Reding
40. The Seven Faith Tribes - George Barna
41. Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher
42. That Old Cape Magic - Richard Russo
43. The Language of God - Francis Collins
44. Thy Kingdom Come - Randall Balmer
45. The Actor and the Housewife - Shannon Hale
46. The Spellman Files - Lisa Lutz
47. Evidence of Love - Melissa McConnell
48. They Found Him Dead - Georgette Heyer

Audio Books:
49. The Memory of Running - Ron McLarty
50. Art in America - Ron McLarty
51. What I Did for Love - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
52. The Book of Samson - David Maine
53. Best Friends Forever - Jennifer Weiner

Juvenile/Young Adult Books:
54. One False Note (The 39 Clues Book #2) - Gordon Korman
55. The Runaway Dolls - Ann M. Martin, Laura Godwin
56. What I Saw and How I Lied - Judy Blundell
57. White Sands, Red Menace- Ellen Klages
58. Rapunzel's Revenge - Shannon and Dean Hale
59. Paper Towns - John Green
60. The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary - Candace Fleming
61. Washington at Valley Forge- Russell Freedman
62. I Put a Spell on You- Adam Selzer
63. Swiss Mist- Randy Powell
64. Getting the Girl- Susan Juby
65. The Smile- Donna Jo Napoli
66. Little Audrey - Ruth White
67. Deadville- Ron Koertge
68. Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress - Maria Padian
69. The Last Invisible Boy - Evan Kuhlman
70. The Kind of Friends We Used to Be- Frances O'Roark Dowell
71. Word Nerd- Susin Nielsen
72. Talia Talk - Christine Hurley Deriso
73. The Truth about Horses, Friends, and My Life as a Coward- Sarah P. Gibson
74. Gideon the Cutpurse- Linda Buckley-Archer
75. The Sword Thief (The 39 Clues Book #3) - Peter Lerangis
76. Headlong- Kathe Koja
77. The Juvie Three- Gordon Korman
78. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks - E. Lockhart
79. I, Lorelie - Yeardley Smith
80. The Time Thief - Linda Buckley-Archer
81. Wintergirls- Laurie Halse Anderson
82. Botswana in Pictures - Alison Behnke
83. Mission Control, This Is Appollo - Andrew Chaikin
84. Jemma Hartman: Camper Extraordinaire- Brenda Ferber
85. A Kiss in Time - Alex Flinn
86. Reality Check- Peter Abrahams
87. The Reformed Vampire Support Group - Catherine Jinks
88. The Possiblities of Sainthood - Donna Freitas
89. Beyond the Grave (The 39 Clues Book #4) - Jude Watson
90. Here's How I See It, Here's How It Is - Heather Henson
91. Hamlet - John Marsden
92. Earthgirl - Jennifer Cowan
93. Scat- Carl Hiaasen
94. Peace, Love and Baby Ducks - Lauren Myracle
95. Who on Earth Is Aldo Leopold? - Glenn Scherer and Marty Fletcher
96. Heartsinger - Karlijn Stoffels
97. If I Stay- Gayle Forman
98. The Secret Life of Prince Charming- Deb Caletti
99. The Miles Between - Mary E. Pearson
100. Love Aubrey - Suzanne LaFleur
101. Kaleidoscopt Eyes - Jen Bryant

Books read long ago and re-read for Adult Book Discussion:
102. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
103. Sense and Sensibility- Jane Austen
104. Mansfield Park- Jane Austen
105. Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen
106. Persuasion - Jane Austen

There are a lot of really great books on this list - and some not so great. I discovered the novels of Ron McLarty - and learned that I enjoy them best on audio (he's an actor who has done a lot of audio books for other authors, so his own books on audio are a real treat - good stories, well told). Other pleasing discoveries were The Punch by Noah Hawley, Evidence of Love by Melissa McConnell, and everyone's favorite this year, The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

My goal for this year is not quite as ambitious - through the years as I read reviewing journals for work I write down titles that sound interesting. The list just kind of keeps growing, so my goal this year is to tackle that list and try to whittle it down somewhat. I don't know how successful I'll be - mainly because I know I'll keep adding to it.

Happy New Year. And if you have any books you think I should add to my ever-growing, but hopefully soon-to-be-shorter must read list, please let me know.