Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Never Ending Cycle of Illness

At least, that's how it feels.

Now that my husband has recovered from his head injury, while we were getting dumped on by a blizzard and he had to clear out the driveway four times he developed a fever and cough. I'm still coughing from whatever it is that I got, but I'm hoping not to get what he has so I'm keeping my distance. The youngerchild is recovering from pneumonia, the olderchild has a cold but is recovering, and I made chicken soup.

This is one of the things I tend to keep in the freezer - one bag with the carcass of some bird (today I used the chicken, but there is a turkey and a goose in there, too) and a separate bag of leftover meat. What I didn't have on hand was celery, and it took me an hour and a half to get some. First I went to the Whole Foods with their tiny parking lot that was backed up because people we waiting in line to park. I figured I did not need to wait in line for overpriced celery so I left and went to the market in the next town. By the time I got home, I'd spent 90 minutes running that particular errand.

The rest was easy - make a stock with the bones, thaw the meat, separately sauté the mirepoix and then put it all together with salt, pepper, thyme, and egg noodles.

Hopefully it makes everyone get better sooner!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy New Year - Highlights and Lowlights From the Last Few Weeks

The holiday season is always busy, and this one was no different. We had our share of joy and chaos and food. Where to begin?

My brother-in-law out in Ohio has taken up hunting and, for Christmas, sent me a box with 2 venison roasts, 2 pounds of ground venison, 2 pheasants, 2 partridges, venison snack sticks, a venison summer sausage, and 4 goose breasts. Since two of the goose breasts were starting to thaw (even though the food was packed on dry ice, it was supposed to be an overnight delivery but it took 3 days and, yes, they got their money back for the shipping costs) we had them the night they arrived. My husband grilled them and I made an elderberry-cranberry-port reduction. Most of us thought they were lovely. The youngerchild apparently doesn't like meat that's a little "gamey." I have plans for some of the rest, like maybe venison meatballs or venison lasagna or something.

There was a quick run up to Christmas eve, in which the youngerchild was sick with a bad cold and I worked all the way through the 23rd. We had our first Christmas with my parents a week early. We had our second Christmas, with just the four of us, on the 22nd. On the morning of the 24th we flew to Denver to spend Christmas with my family out there and then go skiing. This is where the chaos set in.

We've done this ski trip thing for many years, right? We have it down to a science. We know how much food to get (as long as my husband doesn't go off script at the grocery store) and what meals we can easily cook in a small and not perfectly stocked kitchen. We have not, in the past, had to deal with illness. What happened was this - the youngerchild suddenly developed a fever and didn't want to get out of bed. We spend Christmas afternoon at an urgent care, with a negative flu test but a tentative diagnosis of pneumonia. Antibiotics were started. I asked the doctor if we could go to the altitude where our rental condo was; he assured me all would be fine.

Nope.

Up at altitude the fevers did not go away. After a day where the youngerchild did not ski and one of our friends did not ski but the rest of us did, in the night things seemed to be worse: breathing fast and really hot. The next morning we went to the urgent care on the mountain where it was quickly demonstrated that my youngerchild needed oxygen. A chest X ray showed a pneumonia but on the opposite side of where the original doctor thought. A different antibiotic was started and the options were to stay at altitude with oxygen or go down to a lower altitude and it was likely oxygen wasn't going to be needed. In my opinion there was no choice so the youngerchild and I left, leaving my husband, the elderchild, and our friends to stay and ski. I got a home oxygen saturation monitor and checked frequently, the first day was a little dicey but then things got better quickly. So we hung out with my sister and waited for the rest of the crew to finish the trip.

The original plan was this: we had the rental condo until 1/1, everyone was supposed to ski 4 out of 5 days, finishing up on 12/31. However, it was really warm up there (apparently the only part of the country that was) and after 3 days everyone decided to return their skis, book a snowboarding lesson for 12/31, and then come down a day early so we could be together for New Year's Eve. But then another event happened which threw that into disarray as well: they decided to go ice skating. Yeah. Suddenly I get a call on 12/30 that my husband had fallen, hit his head and, "there's a lot of blood." My friends sounded nervous, so I made them put him on the phone. He sounded fine. I had them take him to the same urgent care where he apparently started repeating himself. As I'm trying not to panic too much, thinking about concussions, head bleeds, CT scans and how to delay our flights and the fact that the kids have to be back at school on 1/2 and how am I going to get him down to where I was and whether he'd be safe to fly I eventually get another call that he's looking and sounding better and his head is getting stitched up. They get the intern on the phone with me so we can chat and we decide that he can be watched by our friends and then come down tomorrow. Snowboarding lessons were cancelled, everything else that had been planned was cancelled, and early on 12/31 they packed up and came down to Denver. Thankfully by then he just had a headache and we were able to go to the movies.

With regards to the cooking, I managed to get chickens roasted on the first day, the leftovers were turned into soup the next day. After that, the rest of the gang were on their own, and they seem to have fed themselves just fine.

Now we're all home, and we all feel as though we need a vacation from our vacation!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Branching Out

For a little while now I've been playing with uses for my beeswax. I did order a new colony of bees for next spring but in the interim I had a bunch of wax left over from the previous clean out. After making soap that one time with my friend I decided that soap was too much work for me to only make it once in a while. Lip balms, on the other hand, are rather easy. You melt the beeswax over a double boiler with some other oils, add scent, and pipe into lip balm tubes. I have a hand carved wooden spoon that doesn't mind being dipped into these mixtures and that makes it simple.

I did need to get some supplies, like a filling kit, extra tubes, some label paper for my printer and various essential oils. Researching on the internet yielded three different recipes - some with honey and some without. Each one had beeswax, some had coconut oil, some almond oil, some shea butter. So I experimented and I decided the recipe I liked best was this one with the coconut and almond oils. It has the nicest texture and the nice part is you can use different essential oils. For the record it makes about 20-21 5-ml tubes. Thus far, I've made the following batches: Myrrh and Palmarosa (smells like roses), Lavender, Peppermint, Honey Lemon, and Honey Lemon Mint.

The next part was coming up with a label that worked and my husband encouraged me to draw my own bee for the logo rather than use a clip art one. That way, if I trademark the logo it's original. Each type of lip balm has the bee colored in with different sharpies to represent the scent. And since my labels don't seal the cap onto the tube, I use washi tape to finish the seal. I purchased a bunch of washi tape with two different bee designs. I think they're stinkin' cute. Don't you?
Most will be given away as gifts, although I did sell some to a realtor friend who will used them for client gifts. I'm almost out of beeswax now but hopefully when I have more in the future I can make more!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Taking Notes as I Go

Yesterday I made a cake for a bake-off at my husband's workplace. It's a fundraiser, with proceeds going to fight malaria. I'm used it as an opportunity to test out a recipe combination I wanted to try. After my success making a Smith Island cake, I thought it would be fun to make a Brazilian carrot cake version to enter in next year's fair. This is my first chance to try out my concept.

First I made the batter for the cake:

Carrots (3 large or 5 medium or 7 small)
1 cup oil
4 eggs
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
dash of salt
1 heaping tsp. baking powder

Blend the carrots, oil and eggs in a blender and then mix in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Weighing this out (the cake layers each need 200g) yielded only 6 layers. For future reference, make 1.5 batches to get 8-9 layers of cake. Other things to note: bake at 350 for 13 minutes per 2 layers. I had a few technical difficulties here, with my oven mitt gouging one of the layers (I'm using it anyway, I plan to fill up the hole with chocolate) and another layer getting stuck on one side because I didn't have enough baking spray.

Next, the fudge frosting: 

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-1/4 cups heavy cream
1-1/4 cups sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
10 T. butter at room temperature

Heat the cream, sugar and vanilla and pour over the chocolate. Whisk until melted and smooth. Add the butter and whisk until smooth. Chill for about an hour and the use to frost the cake.

The cake chilled overnight and was taken in today for the fundraiser. I suspect I won't win the bake-off but my cake did seem to get a fair number of votes at least! Here's a photo of it being served:




Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Celebration!

It's not often we do our Thanksgiving dinner on the actual day. Usually I have to work and we have our celebration on a different day. Not this year!

Here's what was on the menu:

Roast goose. I followed Hank Shaw's instructions from Duck, Duck, Goose, removing the breasts halfway through the cooking and then searing them at the end. This was more work than I anticipated and I think it came out too tough. Not the recipe's fault, maybe mine? Anyway, for the price of a fresh farm raised goose I think it will be easier to stick with a smaller turkey. The gravy that is made from the giblets is pretty tasty, though.

Stuffing, topped with goose fat before reheating. Cranberry sauce which I made the other day.

Mashed potatoes, made by my husband. Sweet potatoes and marshmallows, made by my mom. She also made a Brussels sprouts and grape dish that was pretty good, so says those of us who like Brussels sprouts.

Pumpkin bread, made by my sister-in-law, and brioche dinner rolls, made by me. I made the dough last night and refrigerated it until this morning when I got up early and shaped a dozen dinner rolls. I haven't made brioche in ages!

Lastly, the pies. I had a pumpkin pie and that fabulous apple pie I made yesterday. The cornstarch worked perfectly, the crust was flaky and light, and not having a solid top crust wasn't a problem at all. I topped the pie with homemade caramel sauce which I made this morning and then there was ice cream and whipped cream because what's a pie without one or the other?

So from me to all of you, Happy Thanksgiving and may your table always overflow with lovely homemade food!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Vision = Reality

Finally.

I've been trying for a while now to get a particular look for my apple pies. I want them to look autumny. Like piles of fallen leaves. I want them to evoke that nip in the air that screams snow is coming and still look tasty enough to eat. It's Thanksgiving, and I want my pie to be perfect.

Here is a list of the things I tweaked for today's pie:

1. I used my smaller (new) pie plate so only 6 apples.
2. Therefore, I dropped the sugar to 3/4 cup.
3. I added 2 T. of cornstarch to the sugar because I'm tired of my pies being runny.
4. No top crust - I covered the apples with cut outs of leaves and acorns, all scored with a knife, and tossed randomly but strategically onto the pie.
5. I used an egg-milk wash rather than milk and sugar.
6. The pie was baked uncovered first, and then covered for the second half of the baking process.

Not very scientific of me, but I can probably trace each alteration to a specific result and therefore I should be able to figure out which of these I should do again.

Regardless. I am happy.

Monday, November 20, 2017

That Time of Year

This is the time of the year where I do a lot of cooking but not a lot of noteworthy things and very few canning projects. I've been making bread, and granola, and cooking pretty basic meals. It's a busy time with school and work and travel. However, Thanksgiving will be upon us shortly and I need to get ready.

First of all, no turkey this year. There will only be six of us, so I'm splurging on a goose (they are surprisingly expensive compared to turkeys). We're also cutting back on the sides: no squash and no beets. Mom will make the sweet potatoes and some new brussels sprouts and grape dish (I'm intrigued) in the place of the broccoli. I will make gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and the pies. Those I'll start tomorrow, although yesterday I roasted the sugar pumpkin and got 6 cups of purée. I froze 3 cups for a later batch of pies and have 3 cups waiting for tomorrow. This morning I made the stuffing; since I won't be stuffing the goose it's just in a dish to be heated up at the last minute. I used leeks and duck stock instead of the usual onions and turkey stock, so it'll fit with the flavors of the goose a little better. I have pumpkin bread in the freezer which I'll thaw.

One other thing I plan to do - on Wednesday I'll make brioche dough and refrigerate it overnight. Then on Thursday morning I can make brioche dinner rolls. Whatever doesn't get eaten can become bread pudding later on.

This morning I'm tapping into my cranberry reserve and making cranberry sauce. Just 8 cups of cranberries, 2-2/3 cups water and 2-2/3 cups sugar. I'll be canning whatever I don't need for Thursday as I've been out of cranberry sauce for a while. Never fear, I still have at least 4 bags of cranberries in the freezer!