Putting It All Together

There is something extremely satisfying about taking bits and pieces and putting them together to make something new. Something wonderful. Something unexpected.

It’s not what happens to you, but how you handle it. If Life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If the lemons are rotten, take out the seeds and plant them in order to grow new lemons.

Louise Hay

One thing I, like millions of other folks, have discovered is that while the Rest of the World may be chaotic, focus on simple things, simple steps can restore peace and order.

Quilters take big pieces of fabric, cut it unto small pieces and the sew it to other small pieces to make a big piece once again.

Cooks and bakers combine ingredients to make things that not only feed your body, but your soul.

Musicians take sounds, combine them with other sounds and magic happens.

For some, this process is a new and potentially scary endeavor. For others the process is not only a necessary way of basic survival, but a trusted ally in good and bad times.

Sending you warm thoughts and virtual hugs.

Playing, er, Experimenting in the Kitchen

I’ve been cooking since I was 11 or 12. My mom started me off with simple foods and eased me into the magic of the kitchen one meal at a time. Before I knew it, I was responsible for dinner every night. And, yes, doing the dishes, too.

As a result, I was one of those kids who knew more than the rest of the class when I took my one and only Home Economics class. (Wasn’t into sewing, but loved the cookery stuff!) The advantage of the class was discovering foods and techniques that we didn’t have at home.

Over the years I’ve been fascinated by all sorts of cookery shows, books, magazines, you name it. When I discovered that other folks read cookbooks like I read science fiction, my mind was blown. Truly.

The upside of that curiosity is the willingness to try new things. Now, I won’t say that I have no limits, because I do, but I will say that those limits are few and far between.

Things I’ve Discovered Along The Way

Seasoning can be more than just Salt and Pepper. If you are like me, you have a spice collection (large or small) that might be overlooked more often than not. I encourage you to dive into that collection and try those tasty gems on different things than what you bought them for.

I love curry powder! I have a very old and very rarely used recipe for chicken curry that requires not only curry powder but powdered ginger. A couple of weeks ago I was preparing my favorite breaded chicken breasts and pulled out the curry powder instead of the poultry seasoning.

Heaven!

Speaking of that poultry seasoning. I know it tends to reside in cupboards only for the rare occasion you make stuffing at Thanksgiving, but did you know a touch on beef can be an amazing experience?

I discovered this many years ago when I stopped by a local burger shop to try their fare. They had a reputation for flavorful, beautifully cooked burgers. All true, but the real star of the show was the poultry seasoning that was used when the burgers were mixed.

Onion and garlic powders make everyday cooking easier. I don’t do enough cooking anymore to rely on chopping fresh. Too often things go bad before I can use them. Since I hate waste, the alternative was the powdered versions. Note: I don’t use the ones with salt added as I like to control that one on my own.

Dried mustard is another unsung hero. Yes, it is used in bar-b-que sauce, but have you tried a touch in eggs? You can add it to the filling for deviled eggs, but try a touch added to beaten eggs along with the salt and pepper before you scramble them. When I first saw that ingredient in a recipe for scrambled eggs I was dubious, but I tried it and it became a favorite.

I keep small jars of dried rosemary and sage in my collection, too. They are wonderful when roasting chicken or pork.

I also keep a small(ish) bottle of coarse ground black pepper. I prefer the flavor to a fine grind, but don’t have the desire for a mill. Oh, and white pepper has a different flavor that can be quite tasty used in the correct dish.

One thing to keep in mind if you are contemplating a collection of dried herbs and spices – store in a cool, dark place.

Don’t be afraid to play a bit. Think of it this way, if you have it, and use it, you must already like it. Try a small amount in a new way and see what you think. You might be on the way to a New Family Favorite.

Frozen Treats

Okay, let’s be honest here, lots of us (not pointing fingers) have been enjoying home made breads and cakes during our Stay At Home Adventures. Some of us might say, a bit too much. 🙂

As it is allegedly Spring and heading into Summer (I say this because, as I type this, currently it is a scootch above freezing and has been pouring rain…) fresh fruits are heading into the market.

So, how do you enjoy those succulent sweet morsels without adding on more inches? Not into making a pie or cobler? Don’t want to make jam or jelly? What if you have dietary restrictions? What do you do if you don’t have a lot of specialty equipment in your kitchen? Well, you make sorbet!

Sorbet is made from water and fruit puree or juice. It contains no milk, cream or eggs, and is one of the oldest forms of frozen desserts. Records of frozen sorbet-like desserts date back to the ancient Romans and Chinese, where they were made with snow, fresh fruit pulp and sweetened with honey.

Not to be confused with sherbet. The difference between sorbet and sherbet is mainly how much dairy they contain. Sorbet contains no dairy whatsoever, while sherbet contains a little cream or milk to give it a richer, creamier texture.

Simple. Easy. Delicious.

Sorbet can be produced using very simple equipment. At the very least, you can use a potato masher or a fork or, if you have one, a blender. The food processor is also an option. No ice cream maker is needed.

You can use whatever fruits you have on hand. If they are just this side of over ripe and you aren’t sure what to do with them, this is a great option. You can also adjust the flavors any way you like. Say, for instance, you want to add a touch of mint or maybe almond. You can use extracts or, if you have the plant, chop up some mint to add to the mixture before you freeze it.

So, how do you actually do it? Simple as 1 – 2 – 3:

  1. Cut up the fruit.
  2. Freeze the fruit.
  3. Blend (or puree) the fruit.

Let’s start with the fruit. You will want about 3 – 3 1/2 cups of frozen fruit.

You can prep your own or use frozen fruits. Keep in mind that while the bags of fruits from the market are already in uniform sizes, their sweetness may vary depending upon when they were harvested and frozen. This really isn’t much different than fruits you pick and process on your own. Bottom line: Check the sweetness and adjust as you see fit. You can add honey to adjust if you need to.

If you are prepping your own fruit, try to get them as uniform as possible – this will help them freeze at the same rate. Speaking of freezing, a good option is to prepare the fruits and have them in the freezer overnight. If you can’t wait that long, leave them in the freezer at least 3-4 hours or until they are frozen through.

You will need to have room in your freezer for a sheet pan that you can lay the fruit on to freeze. Avoid placing the fruits on the pan in such a way as they will touch and/or clump. Clumps make processing more difficult as they won’t be easy to separate.

Method One: Using Blender or Food Processor

  1. Freeze the fruits.
  2. Put into blender or food processor along with any sweetener needed.
  3. Blend until smooth.
  4. You might need to add a little warm water and press the fruits down to process.
  5. Eat immediately as a soft freeze or return to the freezer for a hard freeze.

Method Two: Manual Press

  1. If using already frozen fruits, set them out to semi defrost. If using unfrozen fruits, cut up and add to a large bowl.
  2. Use a potato masher or two forks to break up the fruit into a small puree.
  3. Pour fruits into a freezer safe container – preferably something shallow. Freeze for about an hour.
  4. Remove from freezer, stir the fruits to break up ice clumps. Return to freezer. Repeat until fruit is totally frozen.

Get creative! Combine fruits to make delicious desserts. Do you already have a favorite smoothie recipe? Why not adapt it to make sorbet?

You could put the mixture into smaller containers, add Popsicle sticks and have a great cool treat for young and old alike.

What if you have chunks of really good chocolate on hand? Why not add a few to the softened mixture before you eat – or pop the mix back into the freezer? You could also add larger fruit chunks to the mix to really up your game.

Sorbets that use naturally sweet fruits have low calorie counts. They can be elegant additions to a Company Dinner or an easy luscious treat any time. They prevent food waste, which is also a plus for your budget.

Give them a try and let me know what you think!

My New Favorite Bread Recipes

I’ve owned a bread machine (or two) over the years and the one prevailing issue I’ve had is some inconsistency with the results.

My preferred machine is a 20+ year old Sears model that I Absolutely Adore. Note: I doubt you will be able to find one like it. This machine makes wonderful bread, is easy to use and is reliable.

That being said, there are always opportunities to see what else I can do with it. I have yet, for example, to try making jam or cakes in the machine. But I can see the time when I will give them a try.

In the meantime, I happened across this recipe from Food.com and gave it a try. Boy! Was I amazed! The recipes is: Throw Away The Bread Machine Instructions White Bread.

One of the main takeaways is that you start out proofing your yeast in warm water before you add the rest of the ingredients into the pan. Just as you would if you were making bread by hand. That short 10 minute wait gives you time to gather all your ingredients, measure them out and make sure that the yeast is still active. Sort of a jump start, if you will.

Because I use yeast from a jar that I store in the refrigerator, and I don’t let the yeast come to room temperature before I start, the time spent in the warm water does double duty. It not only brings the yeast up to temp, but gets the proofing underway before the machine starts combining ingredients.

The very first attempt with the recipe netted a lovely high loaf with a golden crust, even crumb and lovely taste.

As I continue to experiment, I will be sure to use the proofing method in this recipe. I know it won’t work for delayed baking, but for general use it should be a huge help.

As I think further, one thing that may explain the inconsistency issue is the temperature of the water used. Straight out of the tap sounds easy, but if it is cold outside, the water will be cold. If you draw hot water, be sure it isn’t too hot – it needs to be at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Too cold and the yeast won’t grow, too hot and you’ll kill the yeast.

What else do I use my bread machine for?

  • Pizza dough.
  • Sweet dough for cinnamon rolls.
  • English Muffin Bread.
  • French bread (not the traditional kind but I could if inclined)
  • Italian bread
  • Dinner Rolls

Fresh bread made at home is less expensive than store bought and I know what is in it. While I use a machine, I started out making bread by hand and, contrary to what some people may think, basic bread is basically 15 minutes of work and a couple of hours of waiting; waiting for the rise and waiting while baking.

Which, come to think of it, is pretty similar to using a machine. 🙂

Either way, the end result is tasty, tempting and a true treat!

My Favorite Tools and Resources

While I’ve usually had excellent luck with my original bread machine, I did have a different one that made great dough, but the baking left a lot to be desired. I was lucky to be a part of an online cooks message board (long since gone) that had bread bakers as part of the group.

The group recommended The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger. This book was a life saver as it provided much needed information about how the machines work their magic and what to do to help them do their jobs. The biggest take away from the book was to use additional gluten when baking in a machine. I tried it – and it worked!

This book contains my favorite pizza dough recipe!

Somewhere along the line I came across the first three books in the Bread Machine Cookbook series by Donna Rathmell German. These books have been great fun providing interesting recipes and options for using the machine.

These books have my favorite English Muffin Bread recipe along with the recipe to make the sweet dough for cinnamon rolls.

Fleischmann’s Yeast has a wonderful website (Breadworld.com) that holds an amazing array of recipes for hand and machine made breads and pastries.

King Arthur Flour’s website (kingarthurflour.com) not only has a wonderful recipe section, but their online shop has some great tools in addition to the flours, seasonings, chocolates, etc. They have a great community section where you can ask bakers for help with any question you have regarding baking.

Bread making doesn’t have to be complicated. Bread is actually very simple. Enjoy the process and don’t be afraid to experiment.

A Little of This

And A Little of That

For those of us who are staying put, sheltering at home can be a bit of an unexpected, not to mention unwelcome, opportunity to discover ways to keep ourselves busy.

Some folks will dive head first into a lot of binge watching. I know I have quite a few series I’m behind on.

Other folks will gather around the gaming table, or find ways to do their online gaming with friends.

Crafters will catch up or start projects that have been waiting in the wings.

Folks will head to the kitchen to see what miracles they can create from the cupboard and pantry.

There is a lot of Spring Cleaning going on.

My YouTubers have been working hard to provide content for their regulars.

All of these are attempts to provide a sense of “normal” in a world that is pretty much anything but.

There is no “Right Way” to find normal. Each person does certain things because it provides a way for him or her to focus away from stress and worry and relax.

I encourage all of us to take walks, check on those we love via phone or email, watch, read, do the things we do in a safe and thoughtful manner.

We all know the drill; wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Stay at least 6, if not 10, feet apart from other folks. Pay attention to the medical experts.

We will get through this. Together.

Are You A Follower or A Leader?

A few months ago I came across something unusual on YouTube. A young woman who was dressed in not so modern clothing who was reorganizing her small New York City apartment to be a sewing room.

The video quality was amazing. The background music was above par – obviously not cheap filler. The perspective and attention to detail was impressive.

I’m not a seamstress. I have no desire to make clothing – of any era. And yet, I was intrigued.

After a few months of following this woman, I was introduced to some of her costuming fellows. Turns out she is one of a cadre of people who, for a variety of reasons, makes clothing to replicate earlier eras. And they are all darn good at what they do.

Last week three of these women (including the original I talked about) made a video about their various preferred eras and why they dress the way they do. You see, each dresses within their own preferred era(s) to a degree each day of their lives. For some, the “costume” might be wearing regular 21st century dress not what they choose to wear on their own.

Mind boggling, isn’t it?

Over on another channel, I found myself watching a variety of manufactured home walk throughs. These are of relatively new homes that are being marketed at various home shows. All are quite nice sized, although the one prevailing thought I had was that it would require a lot of work to keep them clean and tidy. The other prevailing reaction was to the decor used by the various manufacturers.

Disclaimer: If you prefer this style, great. It really isn’t my cup of anything.

The majority of the homes were presented in the current modern style. Predominately white, grey, charcoal with little to no actual other color. There were, however, one or two that had rooms with a focus wall with Color or a room that had Color on all the walls.

I found myself drawn to the homes that had color on the walls. The ones with architectural details. The ones that had some personality and didn’t look like a cookie cutter version of a Pinterest spread or the latest edition of some home decor magazine. In short, the homes where it looked like a real human being lived there, not just spent a weekend.

On top of all of that, one of my favorite home DIY vloggers posted this week about a project she is doing for a family member in a small apartment. Her taste is very different from that of the person whose apartment she is working on and she commented on the fact that she was looking forward to exploring that difference. One of the commenters remarked on how that would be great because while the rooms on Pinterest and in home decor magazines looked beautiful, most people don’t live like that.

It got me to thinking.

Human Beings tend to not only be tribal but followers. The majority are more inclined to follow the latest trends, be it in home decor, clothing, food, music, media or pretty much anything else, rather than step away from the tribe and decide for themselves what they prefer.

Granted there is a percentage of people who follow their own paths. We see it in pretty much any category, but even within those categories we can find leaders and followers.

When the three women were talking about their clothing choices, the comment that prevailed was one of comfort. One remarked that while it seemed a bit unusual to use natural fibers, it turns out that those fibers were more efficient at heat control, were easier to clean and maintain and were more sustainable. Above all, however, it was the way she felt wearing the garments. She felt comfortable in the them. More so than in any modern off the rack garment.

Self comfort is something that I think we don’t always consider when we choose what we wear or how we decorate our homes or even, to some degree, what we follow. The rest of the pack might not agree with those choices.

The irony of this idea is the lack of realization that the “rest of the pack” does not wear the clothes, live in the homes, or occupy the same space as the one making the choices.

I’ve been around long enough to remember when there was no cable TV let alone streaming. Some folks are shocked at the thought of that. They can’t imagine not having that monthly bill, let alone all those channels they don’t watch.

Some people can not consider not having a monthly loan payment on a vehicle. The idea of not having a brand new vehicle each year or so is so alien they can’t contemplate it.

Some folks come home to a house that may be Pinterest friendly but isn’t comfortable, let alone “homey” and don’t know what they can do to resolve that problem.

I think one of the reasons we have so many leaders in social media is that so many more people are looking for ways to resolve problems they feel unempowered to deal with on their own.

The problem is, making changes takes courage. Stepping away from the pack and going a different route can be frightening. It can also be strengthening.

There is a natural phase when you evolve from the way you were raised into the way you choose to live. That being said, there seems to always be carry over; family traditions, family recipes, for example.

When you choose not to make changes that you know (or at least ‘think’) will make your life more comfortable, you deprive yourself of self comfort. You deprive yourself of self expression. You deprive yourself of you.

When fear of the unknown stops you, you lose.

Now I’m not saying you need to jump out of an airplane or go cliff diving or swimming with sharks – unless, of course, that is what you really want to do. What I’m saying is that you can do little things to see if you really like something. If you do, keep going. If you don’t, stop. Re-evaluate. Reconsider. Try a different thing.

You do You.

The only way to know what “you” is, is to try. Experiment.

A sample sized can of paint is inexpensive. If you don’t like it, paint over it. And, by the way, painting as an activity can be very therapeutic. This can be applied either to a canvas, as in “Art” or on a wall, which, ironically, can also be “Art”.

Trying different clothing can mean a trip to a charity shop or a visit with a consignment shop. Or, if you are up to the challenge, a trip to a fabric store.

Exploring different music, books, and various media is a simple visit to the local library – which is usually free.

Speaking of free, check out the local museums in your area. You might be surprised at the treasures they hold.

Curious about craft projects? Visit your local hobby shop and see if they hold classes.

Ditto regarding home do it yourself projects. Many local hardware stores either hold classes or will know where to direct you.

The point is simply to take baby steps. Dip your toe in the water to see if it is something you want to explore or not. It doesn’t have to be expensive or drastic.

What it does have to be is something that allows you to be come more comfortable living your life.

One step at a time.

Java – The Joy Of

Good coffee makes the meal. Bad coffee will kill it.

I’m one of those people who really do appreciate good coffee. I am by no means an expert, but I do know how to make a decent cup of Java. It took me a while.

I admit I was spoiled. Both my parents knew the secrets to excellent coffee, but it was my dad who taught me to appreciate the joys of a perfectly prepared pot accented with Just The Right Amount of Sugar and, believe it or not, evaporated condensed milk.

Yep, my coffee life began with condensed milk rather than dairy cream. Probably because the former was a lot less expensive than the latter and we watched our pennies.

As I grew up and learned more, I found I actually prefer <gasp> Carnation Creamer. There is a richness that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else.

I also learned that the process of actually making a decent pot of coffee is a lot more difficult than first thought.

I’ve tried most of the usual suspects but really only found my perfect solution in a Melita Pour Over pot or a Keurig. Since I no longer make large pots, I tend to follow the Keurig but have the option to use the reusable pod. There are lots of these types of machines on the market, just as there are lots of pour over pots and filter systems that I knew nothing about.

The truth is, everything changed when my place of employment replaced their old coffee bar system with one that used thermal pots. No more burned coffee. Joy!

Then, I happened to discover one of my coworkers ground his own beans and made his own brew. He was an excellent teacher – I still own my first coffee grinder.

Coffee is a joy reserved for weekday mornings when I’m trying to organize my thoughts or Saturday evenings with some seriously good TV.

I prefer Pike Roast or Donut Shop – no decaf for me, please. Both have similar profiles, but each has its own distinctive characteristics.

There was a point in time when I could get my hands on bags of the most wonderful Colombian Supremo beans that made an amazing pot of coffee. Even my dad was impressed!

Now I understand that not everyone enjoys their coffee the way I do. Some don’t care for it at all and others aren’t all that particular. In some way, it is a nice change of pace from the folks who are far more invested in the contents of the cup than I am. 😉

At the end of the day, a good cup of coffee can be the balm that keeps the rest of the world at bay. Even for just a little while.