Monday, May 28, 2012

1960s Working Mom Dinner

Mom in her working days
When I was growing up, my mother worked full time.  This was not quite as common in the 1960s as it is today.  We didn't suffer at all, however, by having a working mother.  When my brother and I were small, we had what today might be called a live-out nanny -- ladies who came to our house and stayed all day to take care of us.  When we were in school, the "nanny" was sort of a cross between a babysitter and a maid, as she had time during school hours to do some cleaning.

I don't remember our first sitter.  She came when my mother returned to work when I was a year old.  We lived in Germany then (my father was military), and her name was Krista, but everyone in our family called her Dee-da because that is how I pronounced her name.  All I really know about Krista was that a bow and arrow accident had left her with a glass eye.

The second sitter was Miss Murphy.  She took care of us for about five years,  during the time we lived in Clarksville, Tennessee.  Miss Murphy was the sweetest lady ever.  She was in her early-mid sixties.  She had never married and lived with her two brothers.  One brother was named Horace, and for many, many years I honestly thought his name was Horse.  Her other brother was Charlie.  He had a real sweet tooth and would mix sugar and water when there was no other dessert at their house.  Miss Murphy would let me sit in her lap during thunderstorms, and sometimes she would let me skip kindergarten if the other kids had been teasing me and I cried before school.  (This sometimes was the result of wearing a hooded raincoat and being called Little Red Riding Hood.) Miss Murphy was very protective of us.  In the summer, she would sit outside in a lawn chair, holding an umbrella for shade, while we "swam" in our little tiny wading pool.  I clearly remember her telling me, "You can drown in a teaspoonful of water."

When we moved to Georgia, Nelly became our maid.  She really was the one most like a maid.  After all, by then I was in third grade and my brother was in fifth.  She wore a white uniform.  Nelly, unlike Miss Murphy, could drive, so she would take us to music and swimming lessons.  She also taught us to play cards -- Fish and a game called Pat, which I can no longer remember.  She was a good cook and would often start supper by putting a roast in the oven.

Despite having this household help, my mother still had to prepare dinner most of the time after she came home.  In those days, a can of Campbell's soup was an easy way to make a sauce for dinner, and there were no foodie blogs or cable TV shows to make working and stay-at-home mothers feel guilty for taking this shortcut.  One of my mother's easy weekday meals was hamburger pie, a one-course meal that -- with a glass of milk -- covered all the bases for a balanced meal for the kids.

Hamburger pie is kind of a variant of shepherd's pie.  My mother always baked it in the oven and served it over mashed potatoes.  I am more flexible (and lazier).  I cook the whole thing in a non-stick skillet and serve it over rice or egg noodles when I am too rushed to make mashed potatoes.

Hamburger pie is not fancy; it won't impress your foodie friends.  In fact, I would never serve it to guests,  but I do make it occasionally when I want something easy and hearty, and I'll tell you a secret -- my family loves it.

Hamburger Pie

1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cans (10 1/4 ounce) tomato soup
2 cans (14 1/2 ounce) cut green beans, drained

Break up ground chuck in non-stick skillet.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add chopped onion.  Brown meat and onion together until thoroughly cooked (no pink in the meat).

Spoon out as much fat as possible from the pan.  (If desired, you can remove the meat with a slotted spoon to another bowl and pour out the fat, then return the meat to the pan.)  Add soup and beans.  Combine and heat over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until bubbly hot.

Serve over mashed potatoes, rice, or egg noodles.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Honk Honk

It was a busy morning at the strip mall when I stopped by for a haircut.  The parking lot was filled with honkers.

See the second group coming along at the far right?  Sorry for the photo quality -- shot with a cheapy LG phone.

I was able to very slowly get into a parking spot, then waited for the first goose group to pass by.  As I quietly walked behind this group of geese, a couple of the goslings turned to follow me.  (I am a natural leader, you know.)  The adult geese weren't too happy about that, and let me know with some spirited hissing.  Canada Geese have essentially become pests in our town, but those goslings are awfully cute!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Buttermilk on the Cusp Equals Divine

I had a full half gallon of buttermilk that had reached its sell-by date.  A cup went into breakfast biscuits, but that left a whole lotta buttermilk still to use.  I went searching through my recipe book, but then decided to just check the web. I'm so glad I did.  I found a wonderful recipe for a lemon buttermilk pound cake on Baking Bites.

This is a yummy pound cake with a very tender crumb.  I made only a few small changes to the recipe, like substituting lemon juice for lemon zest and using salted butter and less loose salt.  I also opted to omit the lemon glaze to reduce the sugar level and make it perfect for a breakfast on the front porch this morning.  We initially tried the cake hot from the oven, and it was absolutely divine served warm.

Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake
slightly adapted from

3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup salted butter, softened
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease (or spray with non-stick spray if using a non-stick pan) a 10-inch Bundt or tube pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in lemon juice, then beat in eggs, one at a time, until combined.

Combine vanilla extract, buttermilk, and oil.

Add one third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat gently until just combined. Then add half of the buttermilk mixture, beating until just combined. Repeat, ending with the flour mixture. Beat until just combined and no streaks of flour remain.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for 45-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. 

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto wire rack to cool completely.  Top with lemon glaze if desired.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Laundry Day

I admit, I dry most of my laundry in the dryer.  Sometimes, though, on a warm, sunny day, I have the time and inclination to hang my clothes on a retractable line I stretch across our backyard.  There's something satisfying about seeing laundry drying on a clothesline.  Fresh air, sunshine, energy savings, and extra whitening.  What's not to love?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Morning Walk

Alfie, like most dogs, loves to go for long walks.  We often walk along the little river that runs through our town.  The river is little more than a trickle during hot, dry summers, but right now, it doesn't look too bad.  Occasionally, we see a heron wading along looking for breakfast, but this morning, there wasn't even a duck in the river.  (I think the word got out I was bringing my camera.)

Our river is actually only a branch of what becomes a larger river, so it's not very big.  This section, where we first cross the river to join the bike path, is essentially a canal.  I have heard that the river was moved slightly at some point in the town's history, and this area certainly looks like it's true.  The bike path leads to the university, so this route can be pretty busy at times.  When we walked this morning around 6:00 a.m., however, we only met one jogger and one other walker, so it was quite peaceful.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

May Flowers

It is mid May, a wonderful time for gardeners in northern Illinois.  It's finally time for planting.  

at Ozzie's Greenhouse, north of Hinckley

These geraniums exerted their siren song and drew me into the greenhouse at Ozzie's where I couldn't resist the dark red Calliope geraniums.  Their deep red was so luscious, and geraniums are a particular favorite of ours.  For many years, I had one geranium that I moved from one house to another and it grew in a large pot, most recently in our dining room.  I finally had to let it go a few years ago, which kind of broke our daughter's heart.  She is too sensitive.  I think we let her read too much poetry as an impressionable youngster.  She may have even read my favorite flower poem, "The Geranium" by Theodore Roethke.  I just hope my new geraniums meet a happier fate.

Calliope dark red with Diamond Frost Euphorbia
"The Geranium"
When I put her out, once, by the garbage pail,
She looked so limp and bedraggled,
So foolish and trusting, like a sick poodle,
Or a wizened aster in late September,
I brought her back in again
. . .
Near the end, she seemed almost to hear me--
And that was scary--
So when that snuffling cretin of a maid
Threw her, pot and all, into the trash-can,
I said nothing.
But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week,
I was that lonely.

I also planted a couple of tomato plants (in pots so they can try to find the minimal sun in the yard), basil, parsley, nasturtiums, and rosemary.  Window boxes are still to come.

Hope things are blooming where you are!

Linking to:
God's Growing Garden
Mercantile Muse

Monday, May 14, 2012

Where the Buffalo Roam

The wonderful thing about Mother's Day is that one's family feels obligated to do whatever crazy activity the mother wants to do.  At least that's the way I see it, so yesterday, I buffaloed my family into going along for a picnic at Fermilab.

Fermilab, or Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, is a large facility in Batavia, Illinois dedicated to particle physics research.  It is best known for its Tevatron, a four-mile particle accelerator.  Fermilab is a campus of 6,800 acres of former prairie and farmland.  The campus is open to visitors for biking, dog walking, a stroll through the prairie, and, of course, science education.

The real draw for me, however, is the small herd of North American bison (aka American buffalo).  Bison have lived at Fermilab since 1969 when they were brought to the site by Robert Wilson, the laboratory's first director, as a way to recognize and maintain the connection to the prairie.

Luckily on Sunday, the bison were down at one end of their large grazing area, near the double fence so, after a trek along the pasture from the security building, we were able to get a close-up look at them.  They are in the process of shedding their winter coats, so they looked a bit ragged, but still awe-inspiring.

Bison stand 5-6.5 feet tall (1.5-2 meters) and can weigh from 930-2,200 pounds (422-998 kilograms).  While the husband thought they looked quite docile, they can and will attack, and can run almost 40 miles (65 km) an hour! According to the National Park Service, every year bison injure visitors to Yellowstone Park who get too close to the herd.  I wouldn't want to get too close, but I enjoyed getting just close enough to these majestic creatures that once roamed the American prairies and the American west.

Protected by a double row of fencing. The one you see here, closest to the bison, is electrified.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Confetti Kedgeree

Here's another great meatless (though not vegan) recipe from Nikki and David Goldbeck's American Wholefoods Cuisine.  This recipe is a great use for leftover beans but, if you need to, you can use canned beans in a pinch.  If you have leftover rice, you can have this dish made in a flash!

This is a very inexpensive meal, and good when your larder is getting low as it uses pantry staples.  On this occasion, I did use canned beans, which I drained and lightly rinsed.  I combined kidney beans and navy beans for contrast in color and taste.  You can use any beans you prefer -- pinto beans and black beans are also good choices.  It reheats well for leftovers, too.


from Nikki & David Goldbeck’s 
American Wholefoods Cuisine

2 tablespoons oil
1/4 cup chopped scallion or onion
1 tablespoon curry powder
3 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups cooked beans, drained (or 2 cans if using canned beans)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped pimiento
Dash soy sauce
Salt (omit if rice and beans are salted)
2 hard-cooked eggs, separated

Heat oil in a 15-inch skillet or wok.  Saute scallion for 2-3 minutes to soften, add curry powder, and cook for 1 minute.

Add rice, beans, lemon juice, soy sauce and dash of salt if needed to pan and heat through, stirring to prevent sticking.

Chop and mix in the egg whites.  When hot, top with crumbled egg yolk, remove from heat, and serve.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Taking the Antiques Plunge

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my flag garlands and promised I'd soon show you where they were going.  I'm finally ready for the reveal! 

We are now antiques dealers!  We decided to take the plunge and try to rid ourselves of some of the excess baggage stored in our attic, basement, and cabinets.  While I've been selling vintage goods on Etsy for almost ten months, this is our first brick-and-mortar booth (ok, pegboard and linoleum if you want to be exact).  We're a little nervous about making back our booth fee, let alone any profit, but it is certainly an adventure. And a lot of work.  It takes a long time to write out price stickers for books!  

I used two of the four garlands in the booth, which we opened April 29.   The booth still needs some tweaking and definitely more stuff in the display case, but I'm pretty happy with the way it looks so far.  That said, I am very open to suggestions from all you sellers and shoppers out there!  If you see any areas for improvement in arrangement or anything else, don't be shy about letting me know.

Our booth is on the second floor of On the Square Antique Mall, a three-level mall in Walworth, Wisconsin.  The store used to be across the street in a strip mall where, many years ago, we bought the big hutch that is in our living room. The mall is now located in a former department store.

So this new adventure begins.  I just hope it is a Sweet Posy Dream, not a Sweet Posy Nightmare!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Thank You, Mr. Sendak

Maurice Sendak died this morning.  He was 83.  When our children were little, Sendak books were some of their favorites.  Almost everyone is familiar with Where the Wild Things Are, but I like some of his lesser known books even better.

Part of our Maurice Sendak collection.

As I mentioned in my recent post about pancakes, In the Night Kitchen was a particular favorite at our house.  Other favorites were Chicken Soup with RiceHector Protector, Pierre, and Kenny's Window.  Sadly, I think the kids may have forgotten Kenny's Window, as I recently said, "An only goat is a lonely goat," to our daughter and she didn't remember where it was from.  True, it's only one line from a 55-or-so-page book, but for some reason, it always resonated with me. That is the wonderful thing about Sendak's books.  While he was known as a children's author, his books are fun for adults to read, too.  A streak of dark humor runs through them.  Maybe they are not appropriate for all children, but our children enjoyed them, and I find them wonderfully entertaining.

Take Pierre, for example.  Little Pierre, who always says "I don't care."  Poor Pierre is eaten by a lion.

Arriving home
at six o'clock,
his parents had a dreadful shock!
They found the lion
sick in bed
and cried,
"Pierre is surely dead!"

Of course, everything turns out all right for Pierre, just as it does for Ida and her baby sister in Outside Over There when the baby is snatched by goblins.  While Ida is brave, she is also "foolish," and makes a "serious mistake."  The characters in Sendak's books aren't always wise or even good, they are more like normal children, who say "no" and sometimes misbehave, but things work out in the end.

Ida in "Mama's yellow rain cloak" going off to save her sister.

That's an important lesson, even for adults.  We don't have to be perfect, we will make mistakes, but that's okay.  So thank you, Maurice Sendak, for all the books you wrote and all the joy you gave to children and adults.  We'll soldier on, but we won't forget you or your spunky characters.

Hector Protector

Monday, May 7, 2012

Heaven in Velvet

That would be Red Velvet. Red velvet chocolate pudding cake to be precise. I recently got another of my serious chocolate cravings and was too busy to shop or do much in the way of baking, so I scrounged around in the cupboards and came up with this easy red velvet pudding cake.

You can alter the ingredients in various ways to suit your tastes or pantry. My mother, for example, always bakes with mini chocolate chips because she doesn't like to bite into a big chip of chocolate. I, on the other hand, would be happy with double-size chocolate chips.  To each her own. I used devil's food pudding and red velvet cake simply because that was what I had on hand and, luckily, it worked.

I baked my cake in a Bundt pan.  If you use another type of pan, you will probably have to adjust the baking time.  It is important not to over bake the cake as you want to be sure it stays moist and just a little gooey around the chips.  Heaven!

Shortcut Red Velvet Pudding Cake

1 package (18.25 oz.) red velvet cake mix (not the kind with pudding in the mix)
1 package (3.8 oz.) instant devil’s food pudding mix
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup sour cream
2 cups dark chocolate chips (can substitute milk chocolate)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease Bundt pan.

Combine all ingredients except chips in bowl of electric mixer.  Beat on low speed about 30 seconds to combine.  Beat at medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour into Bundt pan and bake 45-55 minutes until toothpick comes out clean or cake feels done when lightly touched.  Do not overcook.

Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then cool on wire rack.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Elfin Granny Slippers

I'm not talking about house shoes for a a little wee wizened old lady.  I'm not even talking about tiny slippers.  These slippers are big and they're loud and I like 'em.  A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned learning to crochet squares and my plan to crochet the granny square slippers I'd seen on Ravelry.

Are these really going to turn into slippers?

I finally finished them last night.  I think they are just too fun.  The pointy toes look a little like elf slippers.  What do you think?

Here are views of the side and the sole.  I decided to make the soles a little more durable/warmer, so I used a combination of single and double crochet rows instead of granny squares.

Ahh, time to sit back and admire the slippers -- while they are still free of Alfie hair!  (Maybe I should have made them the color of golden retriever . . .  .)

Linking to Inspired by Felicity Blog Party
Inspired By Felicity Blog

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Nigella's Chicken Schnitzel

I once heard an interview with Michael Caine on NPR where he recalled growing up with a somewhat opinionated and unenlightened father.  His father apparently refused to eat chicken as it was not a manly meat.  Whether it is manly or not, we eat a fair amount of chicken at our house, so I'm always looking for new ways to prepare it.  The other day, I stumbled on a recipe from Nigella Lawson for chicken schnitzel with bacon and white wine.

It's not really a proper schnitzel, but it did sound interesting, so I gave it a try.

The sauce looks mostly like bacon grease here, but there is wine in there!

The chicken was flavorful. I used a hickory smoked bacon for a smoky flavor and some Yellowtail Moscato, which added a touch of sweetness.   I also added a sprinkling of salt and pepper, which the recipe did not include.  The chicken itself was a little thick.  I had cut the breasts in half, but I think next time (if I am not too lazy) I will go the extra step and pound them into very thin pieces.

If you aren't afraid of unmanly meat, you can find the recipe on Nigella Lawson's website.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day Flowers

May Day dawned gray and dreary here in northern Illinois, but there are still some bright spots in our yard.  The spirea bushes are in full bloom, and this year happens to be a good year for them.

The bees are happily buzzing in the spirea, and while the pagoda dogwood blooms are just beginning to open up, the bees are already at work there, too.

We appear to have only one columbine which will bloom this year.  Luckily, there are a number of buds.

The allium -- nature's fireworks --  are beginning to open as well.  This one is in full flower.

Happy May!