Post # 180 A M*A*S*H Inspired Lesson

October 19, 2013 at 7:03 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 180 A M*A*S*H Inspired Lesson

You’ve read my blog posts in the recent past about childhood hunger.  There are so many very easy things that we each could be doing to make a huge impact in the hunger crisis for kids in our country.  I won’t go into the specifics since I’ve written about them recently, and will likely write about them again when the information will do the most good.

Right now, I want to discuss a different kind of situation.  It’s one of degrees, not motivation.  I have a very good friend I’ve know since high school, and for whatever reason we happened on this discussion earlier this week.  I know she won’t mind if I relay the pertinent bits of that discussion.  And if she does, too bad.  (wink wink)

We were discussing kids, and those who don’t have the best starts in life, and those who don’t have the best parents.  With the government shut down, we talked about parents who needed more of the government services, but were unable to get them due to the very thing that was causing them to need the services in the first place.  Ever since I moved back to this town, she has told me about the outreach her church has made for the community, trying to supply their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs.  It’s one church and this is a very large city.  But they’re doing what they can.  And they’re doing it very effectively.

Then she made the comment “I’m worried about people being hungry.”

I got more than a little impatient.  I basically just verbally kicked her butt.  I don’t know if she’ll every talk to me again, but I lit into her.  Worry?  That’s for the birds.  Sitting on your couch, wringing your hands, being worried while children go hungry is not accomplishing anything.  If you’re “worried” create an action.  Telling people you’re worried, no matter how good it makes you feel, does NOT put supper on the table.

After I got myself in better control, we continued our discussion, and we both recalled an episode of M*A*S*H.  For those who don’t know the show, it was about an Army hospital during the Korean war and how the characters dealt with the stresses of trying to save lives during war and being away from their families and careers and lives back in the States.  It was based on the movie of the same name, but the show ran for so many seasons that it eclipsed the movie totally.  It had amazing writers and actors and over time, it evolved from a strict comedy to a dramatic comedy.  During its last few seasons, it stopped using a laugh track, allowing the viewers and the actors to create the comedic moments for themselves.

One of the recurring themes in the show centered around how the war affected the children in the area.  The character Father Mulcahy, a quiet, spiritual, unassuming man was very involved with the local orphanages who were featured on more than one episode.  At one time or another, every character had a story line involving the children of the war.

One of the more inspired characters was Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester, the third, brilliantly portrayed by David Ogden Stiers.  Charles, as he insisted he be called, was from a rich Boston family with a stellar career in thoracic surgery before being shunted to the MASH.  He used his arrogance and pretentiousness to keep a distance between himself and the ravages of the war.  It was his only defense, which wore down over time.  During the first season he was on the show, there was a Christmas episode in which he was prominently featured.

His family had a long practice of buying the largest box of the most expensive chocolate at one of Boston’s premier stores.  They would anonymously leave this treat on the doorstep of some poor family on Christmas Eve, delighting in the fact that they had helped another family during the holidays, in addition to their standard charitable works.  This year, Charles requested his family send the chocolate to him so he could leave it with the orphans.  On Christmas day, the MASH people were hosting Christmas for the orphanage complete with presents and dinner.  During the party’s hectic confusion, Charles quizzed a few of the orphans about their unexpected treat.  They talked about the party and the food, but there was no mention of the chocolate.  Charles went to the director of the orphanage and asked if he’d found the chocolate.  He had and was very grateful for the gift.  Charles asked when he was going to give the chocolate to the children, the man explained that he’d sold the gift on the black market and used the money to buy rice.  Charles was incensed that his gift had been abused in that way.

The older man said “Major, you would have given them a treat that would have lasted them a day and would not have nourished them.  I was able to get enough rice to feed them for a month.”  Charles was humbled as he said, “You’re right.  I should never have given dessert to a child who has not yet had a meal.”

That’s the lesson from this post, that my friend and I puzzled out during our talk.  Being worried, being sad, being ineffective does no one any good.  There’s a huge grapefruit tree in my back yard.  I don’t like grapefruit.  Neither does partner/spouse, and FiL only likes them occasionally.  The produce would rot almost entirely on the tree if it weren’t for one man.  He came by twice, with the owners’ permission, and pulled all the fruit from the tree.  I asked if he was selling it, not that I care, I was just curious.  He told me that he took it all to a park where the homeless population of the city usually hung out and gave them all away.  I thought that was the coolest thing I’d heard in a long time.

It doesn’t take a whole lot to put thoughts into action.  Many groceries have coupons at the registers that you can buy.  Food banks take donations daily.  Many churches accept whatever you want to get rid of, as long as it’s not perishable.

So, that’s the MASH inspired lesson.  Actions and deeds, not thoughts and sympathy.  Thanks again for letting me climb on my soap box!

Enjoy!

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UPDATE: I HATE COMPUTERS! REALLY!!

October 18, 2013 at 7:59 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on UPDATE: I HATE COMPUTERS! REALLY!!

Major computer problems have kept me from normal activity today.  Blog update tomorrow without fail.

food funnies (5)

Post # 179 Guest Blogger Mary’s Accidental Pumpkin Muffins

October 16, 2013 at 11:59 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 179 Guest Blogger Mary’s Accidental Pumpkin Muffins

Mary has been a friend of mine for several years, and I’ve always admired not only her intelligence and sense of humor, but her quick thinking that averts disaster.  One day last week, she post on FB a success she’d had with pumpkin muffins.  Here’s how successful they were:

Mary 01

I love her two boys although I’ve only met the older one.  Even then it was in utero.  Her stories of their eating habits, as well as her husband’s are legendary on FB, and keep us all in stitches.  So I asked if she’d like to share the story of the Accidental Pumpkin Muffins with all of us and she agreed.  Mary is a home cook and we’ve swapped recipes and lessons almost for as long as we’ve known each other.  She believes in sustainable good sources and her garden produce has fed not only her family, but her extended family and neighbors as well.  Her daily challenge, as you’ll hear, is to feed four very different appetites while maintaining her sanity, her budget, and her ideals.

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Sometimes I find myself in a situation where I haven’t thought things through.  In the kitchen, this usually doesn’t work out well.  Forgetting steps and not checking to make sure you have all the ingredients before starting is almost a sure road to failure.  Once in a while, though, you find a win.

I try my best to follow the ideals of Grow Food, Not Lawns.  As a mother of two small boys (ages 2 and 6), it can be a huge to just make something that will be eaten.  Forget about it being a favorite, I strive for “not thrown out”. The sugar pumpkins are huge and numerous.  Far more pumpkins than a few pies will dispose or.

Pumpkin Patch 01.jpg

Pumpkin Patch 02.jpg

We’ve had pumpkin soup, which the boys wouldn’t eat.  The six year old told me it was “too soft”.

We’ve had pumpkin scones, which were bland and tasteless.  No one wanted those.

We’ve had pumpkin macaroni and cheese, which was eaten, but everyone commented something was “weird”.

So I looked online for a recipe for pumpkin muffins in hopes of finding something that would use a significant amount of pumpkin *and* be eaten.  I found this, and so started making them without thinking.  Very quickly I realized I didn’t have what the recipe called for.  Substitutions had to be made.  After all, I’d already mixed many of the ingredients.

I only had a cup and a half of all purpose flour.  I forgot that the week before I’d made a mistake when ordering groceries and clicked on the wrong item.  So I looked at what I had.  I had cake flour, soy flour, bread flour, whole wheat flour and rye flour.  I elected to use the cake flour to make up the rest.  If anything, it would make the muffins more like cupcakes…moister, softer, yummier.

Since my whole purpose was to use up some pumpkin from the garden, I never intended to use canned pumpkin.  I’d halved, cleaned, roasted, and pureed some already.

Pumpkin Patch 03.jpg

Unfortunately my measuring cup doesn’t designate 15oz.  Only 16.  So I added in the 2 cups of pureed roasted pumpkin.  I figured, a little more wouldn’t hurt.

And then I noticed that the recipe called for orange juice (or water).  I’ve learned from experience that when a recipe calls for a flavored liquid like juice or broth, but allows for water, it doesn’t come out well if you use the water.  The recipe is letting you know you need more flavor.  And here I was, with no orange juice.  We had purple Kool-Aid, cranberry juice, and a heavily spiced apple cider.  Apples and pumpkin go so nicely together I opted for the cider.

I made them and set out bowls the next morning for breakfast, fully expecting that the boys would taste the muffins and then opt for cereal.  And I’d be taking 34 muffins to work to share so there wouldn’t be wasted food.

They ate the muffins.  They asked for more.  They finished those, too.  When they finished dinner, they asked for more as dessert.  My husband/their Dad asked if they wouldn’t rather have ice cream or Oreos.  No, they wanted muffins.  The same went for this morning.  It’s nice to hit upon a winner sometimes.  Especially when it was something of an oops.

Mary 02

Original Pumpkin Muffin Recipe

http://www.verybestbaking.com/recipes/144769/LIBBYS-Pumpkin-Muffins/detail.aspx

Recipe as I made it

Ingredients

  • 1 ½  cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups roasted pureed fresh pumpkin
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Apple Cider

Directions

PREHEAT oven to 350° F. Paper-line or grease 36 muffin cups.

COMBINE flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil and juice in large mixer bowl; beat until just blended. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture; stir just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling 3/4 full.

BAKE for 28 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

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And you really can’t argue with results like this:

Mary 01

Thanks, Mary!  You’re welcome to guest blog anytime!

Post # 178 Takin’ the Easy Way Out!

October 14, 2013 at 3:06 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 178 Takin’ the Easy Way Out!

I won’t burst into song, although I’m tempted.  The Beatles are one of my favorite groups.  Nope, today I’m going to talk about short cuts in cooking, mostly the already prepared stuff you find in the grocery.  And it all starts because I was describing making dinner to a friend over the weekend, and they were amazed when I talked about the mashed potatoes.  You see, for not other reason than we just love freshly roasted turkey, we had a full on turkey dinner yesterday.  The turkey was in a roasting bag and was already prepped with butter and herbs.  The bag made it self basting and much easier clean up.  I stuck it in the oven for about four hours, turned the oven off and left the bird there to soak up its own juices and finish cooking completely.

It was the sides that made my friend’s jaw drop.  Earlier in the afternoon, I steamed some frozen Brussels Sprouts.  When they were done, I drained them, put them in a decorative bowl, and put them in the fridge to chill.  Just before serving, I shook a bottle of champagne vinaigrette and poured over the sprouts.  I added some already grated cheddar cheese, a small handful of roasted sunflower seeds, tossed the lot together, and topped it with crispy fried onions from a box.  While I was doing that, I had a pan of water on the stove heating to a boil.  I used instant mashed potato powder to make a bowlful of mashed potatoes.  A whisk, some elbow grease, hot water, and packet of this wonder, and voila!  You couldn’t get any easier.

I know lots of people who, if they read this, would be just as surprised as my friend from yesterday.  For a very long time in my cooking career, I looked down my nose at anyone who didn’t make everything from scratch.  It’s just as easy, most times, and tastes so much better because you can control the ingredients.  But as I got busier, and my cooking requirements changed from cooking for others to cooking for just myself, I found that short cuts and “the easy way” weren’t necessarily bad.  I rediscovered some childhood favorites, and discovered that many of the old standbys had been reinvented and remastered so they were healthier and tastier.

Cooking from scratch can be easy.  Most of the things people like to eat are fairly simple given the time, the practice, and the availability of ingredients.  Recently, I’ve taken on barbeque beans and tweaked it into something “world famous” as my sister has named them.  I have to admit, they are good.  It’s a two step process, and it time consuming.  Except the time is mostly in slow cooking and you can be doing something else while they are cooking.  A batch of chocolate chip cookies, for me, is the easiest thing in the world.  That’s mostly because I’ve been making them for so long, I can do it in my sleep, so the process is refined to the point of zero wasted steps.  The longest part is waiting for the oven to heat up.  But it does take prep and planning.  Years ago, when I was sharing an apartment with two guys in the Navy, one of them told me a little gem of wisdom that has stuck with me till today.  We were discussing vegetables.  I like vegetables better than I like fruit because fruit tends to be too sweet for me.  He reached for frozen vegetable, and grabbed the top of the line brand which was more expensive, but only by a few cents.  His explanation was “I’ve long believed that the best produce that gets harvested goes to the top brand.”  It made sense.

The mashed potato mix I use is from a company called Idahoan which makes me think it’s part of the Idaho Potatoes company but that’s just pure supposition on my part.  Each pouch makes two cups of mashed potatoes which feeds my family of three quite well.  The come in a huge variety of flavors and I’ve never seen them any higher than a dollar a packet.  They go on sale often and when they do, we stock up.  They’re so well flavored that I seldom make gravy for them, although sometimes I do, just cuz we like gravy.  Last night, I made one called Loaded Baked Potato which really tasted like a baked potato that had been mashed with bacon, onion, sour cream, and butter!  We’ve had garlic mashed potatoes, red skin mashed potatoes, and plain buttery mashed potatoes.  And they’re gluten free!  wink wink nudge nudge.  And salad kits are the best!  Instead of having to fix us an entire head of lettuce, the salad kit has pre-measured everything you need for whatever kind of salad you bought.  Lots of times, I’ll make up the salad kit and add a couple of my own vegetables to it.  Just watch the package though.  Try not to buy a salad kit with lettuce that’s going brown at the edges.  It won’t taste good.

In today’s society, many families  have both parents working outside the home.  Kids are involved in different activities that add to the confusion and stress of daily life.  Anything that can help de-stress the home cook is “not to be sneezed at” as my Mom used to say.   Food manufacturers  have paid attention to their customers and are providing the kinds of foods they need.  But you have to shop smart.  The cheaper something is, the less likely it will taste good or be nutritious.  That’s not to say it can’t be, it’s just less likely to be.  Organic means different things to different people, so if your mix says organic, check it out.  The USDA defines organic foods as those that have had minimal industrial processing, but that’s still a fairly loose term.   What I do when I see a new short cut product is buy one.  If there are multiple versions of the product, like the flavors in the mashed potatoes, I buy the one I think my family will like the best.  I tell them ahead of time that it’s a mix, and after we finish eating, and sometimes while we’re eating, we’ll decide whether or not to add it to our pantry.  I try to be careful about what ingredients are in the mixes I buy since you never know what is going to react with what.

I’ve left the discussion about rice mixes to the end.  As you know, if you’ve looked through this blog before, I like rice.  It’s close to my favorite food.  For me, cooking rice is so ridiculously easy that I don’t even think about it any more.  The dogs need rice for dinner?  I’m on it.  The neighborhood is having a potluck?  I’ll fix ’em a bowl of rice and nuts.  We want a quiet, no fuss dinner?  Rice and meat cooked together.  Rice is wonderful stuff.  Some of the mixes are too.  The brand Near East makes several rice pilafs that are killer.  Goya makes a Yellow Spanish Rice mix that we have three or four times a month.  We get a saffron rice mix in an aluminum pouch whose name escapes me right now about once a month.  But this is definitely an area where cheap is not better.  The less you spend (unless it’s on sale), the lower the quality.  Many companies make up flavor with salt in various forms.  Also, in order to cut costs to keep the product profitable, lots of times instead of vegetables you get vegetable “flavoring” whatever the heck that is.  And trust me.  It is a sin to ever fix “instant” rice.  It’s more expensive than regular rice and any nutrition that was in it is processed out of it.  If you don’t have thirty minutes to cook rice, don’t plan on eating rice.  Even the good mixes take 20-30 minutes.  Any mix that takes “just 5 minutes from stove to bowl” is using instant rice.  But again, it takes experimentation to find the ones you’ll like and fit your budget.

Well, I hope this helps you out.  Let me know if you have any questions.  Enjoy!  Just not the instant rice stuff.

Post # 177 Garden Updates Including Outdoor Plants

October 11, 2013 at 3:32 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 177 Garden Updates Including Outdoor Plants

I’ve never really been much of a gardener.  When I was a kid, my mom tried to get me to work a vegetable garden for her.  But that’s what it was, work.  Especially in the Arizona in summer.  So now, we move back to Arizona and there’s a great garden plot already set up.  I’m a different person now, well aware of the work a garden takes and how hot Arizona gets.  The idea of raising my own vegetables suddenly seems appealing and easily accomplished.  The front yard is landscaped in gravel and pebbles and no work there except whatever plants we choose to put in the big pots on either side of the doorway.

Funny way reality has of intruding on daydreams.

We started with the front and the plants we wanted to have there.  Someone gave us a huge beautiful Asparagus Fern.  It was large and heavy in its hanging basket.  But I didn’t want to give it up because it was so nice looking.  I knew we were going to have to get large nails or hooks to make sure the basket’s weight didn’t pull it out, but I wasn’t sure the wood would support it.  After thinking about it for a couple of days, I finally hit on a good solution.  I got some decorative chain and put it over the wood so weight was evenly distributed and hung the basket through the loops at the height I wanted it.  The best part is that there are no huge nails or hooks to remove or mar the wood when we leave.  Well, that got us thinking.  Why couldn’t we do that with all the plants we wanted to hang?  Well, of course, we could.  So at the opposite end of the porch that faced the neighbor’s driveway, I hung two baskets and planted Morning Glory seeds.  My goal was to loop the vines around in such a way that they created a screen.  I hung the basket high in the hopes that the vines would drape down.  Yeah, no such luck.  So I moved the baskets down and watched the vines climb the basket chains, the chains the baskets were hooked to, and then up onto the porch rafters.  Then they started climbing back down, and intertwining with each other.  All through the process, they kept putting out the prettiest flowers.  At one point, there were over two dozen blossoms.  People walking by stopped to ask what they were.

morning glory

My hope is that one day soon, they won’t look so scraggly.  They’ll turn lush and green and beautiful.  It was a hot summer and they endured so I have no complaints.

The two big pots in front of the door were a different matter.  I’ve tried at various times to plant pots and keep things growing but never been successful.  So Partner/spouse said, “We’ll plant carnations and Elysium.  They’ll do great.”  During Spring, they did great.  Then the heat hit and things in the pots pulled back.  I deadheaded the carnations so we only had the gray-green pointy leaves.  I watered every day, making certain they had all they wanted to drink.  Something wonderful happened about two weeks ago.  The both came back and said, “Howdy!”

Ellysium

The white and purple flowers are the Elysium, and the gray-green are the carnations.  I don’t know what the carnations are going to do so I’m just going to baby them for a while.  The Elysium started out as small plants about the size of a teacup.  Now they’re overflowing both pots.  I just texted Partner/spouse an hour ago saying that I had the front door open to get the wonderful breezes blowing through and the smell of Elysium was filling the living room.

These are two other plants that are doing wonderfully well, too.  The first is chocolate mint that grew through the bottom of its basket and is now touching the cement.  I notice today that it’s sending tendrils back UP the plant into the pot again.  Crazy.  The second if called a Coral Fountain.  I don’t know what kind of plant it is but it has doubled in size since we got it.  It sends out branches straight up then they bend.  As they bend, they get small coral-red blossoms.  Guess what they attract?  Hummingbirds!  We’ve had dozens of the little monsters hanging around.  If they start nesting, I’m starting to kill some.  They’re nasty birds.

chocolate mint (2)

coral fountain

Now, the garden I stopped taking care of about a month or so ago.  Maybe a little longer.  I was sick to death of tomatoes (yeah, I know, and now I’d kill for a fresh tomato) and couldn’t even give them away.  The volunteer plant turned out to be a cantaloupe and we got about two dozen of them.  I don’t like them, and neither does Partner/spouse.  FiL does, but only ate three.  All the rest had to be given away, and I couldn’t find any takers!  I felt like walking out to a busy corner and chucking them at cars.  “Here!  Take the damn thing!”  If it was something I liked, that would be a different matter.  We got two full crops of radishes and enjoyed the heck out of them.  The carrots were wonderful, too, although I only made one stew out of them.  I just didn’t make enough, or else they didn’t grown big enough.  The tomatillos never materialized.  No idea what I did wrong, but there you are.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  So once I grew tired of it, I stopped.  It was a lot of work.  I stood back and waited for the plants to die so I could pull them up and put them in the trash dumpster in the alley.

Guess what?  They didn’t die.  Buddy, the puppy, ran into the house a couple of days ago with an immature cantaloupe he’d been chewing on.  The vines in the middles are dead, but the vines on the outer edges are still putting out fruit.  The tomatoes are doing the same thing.  Tons of blossoms and tons of tomatoes that spoil before I can do anything more than marvel at them.  But they’re still there!  And the basil!  That’s an OMG situation.  The one that started from seed is only five feet tall.  The one that started as a plant is over six feet tall!  AND the seeds have started other plants in the garden.  I was looking at something the other day and noticed what I thought was a weed.  When I picked a leaf to smell it, BASIL!  Then, today, when I was looking at the cantaloupe, I saw another basil plant about three feet tall and already going to seed.

basil (2)

It’s like the thing that wouldn’t die!  It’s the desert, for crying out loud.  When you stop watering things, they’re supposed to wither and die.  Not my garden!  I must be a better farmer than I thought.  So, I’m going to wait for about another couple of weeks to see what happens.  Then, I’m pulling everything up by the roots!  I’ll need a shovel for that, though.  My guess is that the roots go pretty deep.  I’m going to keep the basil, though.  I like basil.  Then, I’m going to start planning the garden for next year, and start earlier.  I’ve got an experiment I want to try with cilantro.

Enjoy!

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