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Homemaking

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Stumbled Upon

I love it when you stumble upon an old recipe that you haven't made in years. It may not have been a favorite recipe, but one that was tried and true... required little effort... and seldom let you down. Let’s face it, it wasn’t a beloved recipe, if it was, you wouldn’t have stop making it. But for one reason or another, you drifted. It probably happened slowly, over time. Another similar recipe stepped in and competed for your attention, and little by little, it was replaced. In the end, you didn’t even realize you stopped making it. Then, one day, years later, you think about it. Hmmm… you ponder… I wonder if it was as good as I remember. So, you take the time, seek out the recipe, and smile as you are flooded with memories.

“Oh, yeah. I got this recipe from… oh, what was her name? She had that weird husband that use to make that strange clucking sound when we played cards. God, and that dog of hers! It smelled like, well dog, to the nth degree! It’s going to drive me crazy ‘til I remember her name!”
OR
“I remember I made these for Missy’s Girl Scout Troop and they gobbled them up.”
OR
“The kids were so young when I made these. Drew couldn’t have been more than 7. I wonder if they’ll even remember them.”

So, you dust off the recipe card and add it to your on-line recipes. (The last time you made them you didn’t have internet… does THAT say something?) And you make this lost, but found again, recipe. Time will tell whether or not it becomes a favorite that you make on a regular basis, or if you make it this one more time, remember why you fell away in the first place, AND remove it from your on-line recipe box. But love it or leave it, there is something satisfying about becoming reacquainted with a long lost recipe. It’s nostalgic, for sure, and in some cases, it’s a new beginning of a beautiful relationship!

Here’s the recipe that I stumbled upon. I remember now why I stopped making it. It can be rather temperamental. But I found I am more tolerant of recipes than I use to be. Occasionally, the granola bars don’t stick together well. But I’m okay with that. When it happens, I just crumble up the whole batch, and serve it as granola. It is totally yummy sprinkled on yogurt. So, let me introduce you to an old friend, one, by the way, that I plan to keep making.

OATMEAL BARS – AKA Granola Bars
Ingredients:

2 cup oatmeal
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter (can use margarine, but I am not a fan)
1/2 cup whole almonds or other nuts (optional buy yummy)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:
Boil sugar, soda, and butter. Take off heat and stir in oatmeal. Spread in a well greased 8 inch pan. Bake at 350 for 7-10 minutes. Cut immediately but allow to cool in the pan.

Old friends, old recipes, there is something very satisfying with becoming reacquainted with both! Think about it. Is there an old recipe that you haven’t made in years? Maybe it’s time to give it a try… again!
 

Cooking Malfunctions

My parents use to say that they never needed to worry about me… that was the job of my 3 brothers. And over the years, each of them has looked after me in their own unique way. I can remember after one particularly awful date, while the octopod walked me to my front porch, he had the nerve to make one final assault on my chasten resolve not be become one of his conquests. Before I had an opportunity to plant an upper cut to his jaw, the front door opened, and there stood my 10 year old brother, in his jammies. “Is there a problem?” he questioned. “Not anymore”, I replied. And with that I turned my back on my date and went in the house. Just as I was closing the door I heard his tentative comment, “So, I’ll give you a call?” Jeeze! Anyway, when I was safely inside, I gave the little guy a hug, and asked him what he was doing up at midnight. “I didn’t trust that guy,” was all that he said as he climbed the stairs to bed.

But, every girl that has ever had brothers knows that brothers are definitely not all fun and games. On the average, for every good thing they did, there were usually a half dozen actions that I was ready to strangle them over. One of their most annoying behaviors was their incessant proclivity to share my culinary failures with would be suitors. I don’t why they thought it was so humorous, it’s not like most young men highly valued a girl’s gastronomic expertise. At this point in their lives, physical attraction and his date’s willingness to watch action films were all that truly matter. But that didn’t stop my brothers from falling into their roles as would-be comedians on open mike night at a comedy club.

They: Kim is such a bad cook, she burns Jello.

(Lie: I did not burn Jello. I just didn’t mix it thoroughly enough and when you dug into it you hit pockets of non dissolved Jello, which spewed dry powder into the face of unsuspecting diners.)

They: Kim is such a bad cook, she melts salads.

(Lie: I did not melt a salad… well, not directly, at least. My brother, his date, my date and I, were making dinner when my parents were out of town. My job was the salad. Being fair to me, the veggies had probably exceeded their “best if used by date” and the lettuce wasn’t very crisp. I had one of my scathingly brilliant ideas… why not pop the salad into the freezer for a few minutes to “crispen” it up! Now, I could go into all the scientific reasons which I learned about later in biology (stuff about cell walls and such) why this wasn’t a brilliant idea, but suffice to say, when I pulled the salad out of the freezer, it did in fact achieve my desired outcome. The lettuce was crisp. BUT, in the time it took to walk the salad to the table, the lettuce began to thaw, leaving behind a slimy vegetated mess that looked like it belong in the bottom of Mr. McGregor’s compost heap! God love my date, he valiantly slathered it with salad dressing and swallowed a couple of bites swearing it wasn’t so bad. When his third bite brought about involuntary gagging, the salad was removed from the table and the next course was introduced.)

They: Kim is such a bad cook it took 2 of us to carry her veggie meatloaf to the table.

(Lie: It did not take 2 of them to carry the veggie loaf to the table, it only took one, and it’s never been substantiated that this caused my brother’s hernia that required surgery!)

Over the years I’ve had my share of perceived cooking malfunctions. Just ask my children. There are 2 entrées in particular that all 3 of them site when discussing food prep gone awry. The first was a perfectly edible vegetarian spaghetti, made with spaghetti squash instead of noodles. I knew the recipe was doomed when my ex grumbled and groaned about it without so much as a taste. The children all watched him in anticipation as he begrudgingly took one miniscule bite. Then, with all the emote of a drama queen, he pushed the plate away, and promptly went to the phone and ordered a pizza. (And to think I’m not married to that man today… shocker!) Anyway, I wasn’t surprised when the children pushed their plates away with confidence as they looked to their father for approval. As for me…I sat at the table by myself and ate a perfectly lovely dinner. (Ah, truth be told… not so lovely! But I certainly wasn’t going to give Benedict Arnold the satisfaction of having me join them for pizza!)

The second food they all go on about was this very delectable chilled strawberry soup. It was one of the last days of school before summer vacation, and we were having their teachers over for lunch. I made this chilled strawberry soup and served it with a curried couscous chicken salad. Yum, right? Well, I could see them turning their noses up at the soup, but I gave them my best “don’t you dare do that in front of company” look, so under duress, they spooned what they considered to be a loathsome concoction into their mouths. Lunch was barely over before all 3 of them were in the bathroom throwing up. Seems they were all coming down with the flu, and lunch was enough to encourage its onset! To this day they blame their malaise on the soup, but I swear it was just a common, garden variety, virus that done them in!

Although today I have years of tried and true recipes tucked under my belt, I’m still open to trying new recipes and techniques. Case in point… Most days my grandbabies and their mother are over for lunch. Sometimes lunch is leftovers, sometimes I’ll prepare an entire meal, and about once a month I serve breakfast for lunch. This is generally one of their favorites, especially if pancakes and bacon are involved. Usually, I’ll buy this yummy maple flavored bacon to serve with pancakes. On this particular day, I did not have maple favored bacon, just regular bacon. So, dare I say it? I got another one of my scathingly brilliant ideas! Why not throw a little maple syrup in the pan while the bacon was frying? I often do that with left over ham, seemed to make sense that I could do the same with bacon. What I didn’t take into account was the temperature I was using to fry the bacon was evidently considerably higher than the temp I used to reheat ham. The temperature was hot enough to transform the syrup into a hard candy coating in seconds! Within a minute our bacon was securely preserved in a hard outer coating like a prehistoric mosquito in amber! Still hoping the bacon was edible I brought it to the table. Bug went to take a bite of the rigid bacon. Through clenched teeth that had been welded together by the candy coating he said, “Something’s wrong here!” We convinced him that as soon as the sugar dissolved he’d be able to move his jaws once again, but we realized there was no saving the bacon. Although the children were devastated, they weren’t nearly as surly about it as the 3 dogs who realized their bacon lust would go unrequited!

I’m hoping that my grandbabies were a little too young to have internalized this little culinary faux pas otherwise, I’m certain it would become yet another amusing anecdote to share at inopportune times. But who am I kidding? They are young, which means I have years and years to provide them with plenty of cooking disasters to enrich our family’s folklore!

Two types of cooking experiences get remembered…the really good and the really bad. But let’s face it…it’s the really bad ones that we love to recount over and over and over again!

Glimpses of an Elephant

There is an old Indian parable about 5 blind men and an elephant. The story goes that each man got to touch only one part of the animal. One man felt his tusk, one his trunk, one an ear, one his side, and one unfortunate soul, his tail. They were then brought together to give their interpretation of the elephant. As you can well imagine, their perceptions were drastically different. As in all parables, the purpose of the story was didactic…to teach the listeners a lesson. And what lesson can we surmise? I think there is a twofold message in this tale. First, each person comes to a situation from a different perspective. For that reason, we should be tolerant and respectful when other people’s values and insights differ from those of our own. And the second, we need to be careful when we try to assess a situation. Frequently, we are not given the complete picture…only snippets…which can lead from slightly to radically skewed assessments of the truth. Our news media is often guilty of this, sharing bits and pieces of a reality to provide a picture that they wish to convey. To get an accurate picture it is always a good idea to gather information from a variety of sources before forming our own opinions.

This certainly is one of my concerns with the internet, blogging in particular. Don’t get me wrong, I love the blogging world. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a part of it. But there is a phenomena that I have observed that has given me cause for concern, and that is our propensity to bestow godlike qualities on some of the authors. And this really becomes problematic when we hold ourselves up juxtaposition to these demigods, and we compare our situation to theirs.

Young mothers, often functioning with sleep deprivation and low self-esteem (did I ever really fit in a size 6 and when is the last time I could actually see the wall-to-wall carpeting in the family room), are very susceptible to this behavior. Moms looking for insight and suggestions or just 15 leisurely minutes to themselves, surf the net and stumble open blogs being written by Mount Olympia moms. These women can do everything! They grow organic veggies, make 3 nutritious and preservative free meals a day, home school their brood, make all their children’s clothes and have abodes right out of House Beautiful. There are idyllic pics of their offspring running barefoot through sun dappled meadows, with heads thrown back in pure glee. Oh, and their husbands…their husbands are their own private cheerleading squad, praising their accomplishments, and orchestrating romantic outings. And if all of this wasn’t enough to fill a 48 hour day, they find the time, each and every day, to document their lives on camera, and write enthralling blogs that chronicle their Utopian existence.

So why do so many young mothers flock to these sites? Logically, it would seem that only slightly masochistic women would subject their egos to this type of scrutiny!  I’ve decided, when it comes right down to it, these blogs are so popular because they have become our modern day Harlequin Romances. Their blogs are a fantasy. In the back of our minds I think most of us know things can’t be as perfect as it seems, but it’s nice to dream!

Believe me, I don’t think any of these women that write these blogs are being deceitful, but they are only showing you part of the elephant. Just remember, all elephants have a butt! These women get yeast infections and lose their tempers, their children have meltdowns in the grocery store checkout line and flush wooden toys down the toilet, their mother-in-laws chide them for their childrearing practices and untidy houses, and their husbands need to work late and occasionally forget an anniversary! Their lives are not perfect. The internet is, after all, a parody of the real world, not a world in and of itself. All writers give you a glimpse of an elephant, not a photo of the whole beast. Trust me, where there’s a head, there’s a tail!

Basic Yellow

I got my first degree in Human Ecology…the progressive evolution of Home Economics. It was a rather Zen approach to homemaking skills whose stated purpose was not to teach you how to make a loaf of bread, but to question whether you should bake bread over buying a loaf. The program was not supposed to be a simple indoctrination into “stichin’ and stirrin’” but about enlightened choices! Truth of matter is they still taught us how bake bread, make a white sauce, cut up a chicken and sauté, braise, boil, broil, bake, roast and many other useful techniques. When it came to preparing meals, my weakest skill was presentation. In class, how food looked was rated almost equally to how it tasted. To that I said, “Phooey!” No matter how attractive you make something look, if it isn’t flavorful, it isn’t going to be eaten. But in general, people are willing to try something that you tell them, “tastes better than it looks” and won’t let it’s homely appearance stop them from devouring the food if it’s delicious.

Having said all that, I must admit I do try to make my dishes visually appealing. I just don’t see presentation as a substitute for flavor. One of the basic things we were taught was to provide an array of color. Idea being, not only will the dish appear interesting, but chances are you’ll hit on different nutritional contributions. Red meat, green veggie, white starch, you get the picture. However, through trial and error, my family created their favorite meal. Over time it simply came to be known as “basic yellow”. “Basic yellow” is a gastronomic hug. No matter how trite or demanding your day was, if you came home to “basic yellow” you knew there was hope!

And, what comprised this mystical meal? Usually, it was a braised pork chop, chicken flavored Rica-A-Roni, corn and applesauce. Add a hunk of cornbread and wah-lah, “basic yellow”. We are talking about a major monochromatic presentation. This most certainly would have earned me a grade of D-! The only saving grace would have been a variety of textures. But however bland it may appear, and although it was geared to plebeian tastes, it was certainly satisfying. Early on, I was compelled to try to “brighten up” the meal, but any variation, like adding cranberry sauce or green beans, was met with near revolutionary complaints. So, basic yellow evolved into our family’s favorite. Oh, we all have other “foods” that we enjoy more, but as a group, we can all agree on "basic yellow"!

BASIC YELLOW BRAISED PORK CHOPS – Serves 6

Ingredients

6-8 pork chops, medium cut with bone

1 cup flour

Seasoned salt (Lowry's) or salt free (Mrs. Dash)

1/4 cup Olive oil

Directions

  1. Heat oil in electric fry pan set at 350 degrees.
  2. Coat both side of pork chops with flour.
  3. Place pork chops in heated oil. While one side is browning, sprinkle seasoned salt on the tops.
  4. When bottoms are golden brown, flip. Sprinkle the other side with seasoned salt.
  5. When the bottoms are browned, add enough water to nearly cover the pork chops.
  6. Cover.
  7. Allow to cook until all the water has cooked off. With the temperature left at 350, it should take between 20 – 30 minutes. Before the last of the water boils off, scrap the bottom of the pan under the pork chops. Serve with plenty of yellow food!

What is your family’s basic meal? Remember, it needn’t be pretty! If you have a favorite recipe from it, please share!

LIKE GRANDMOTHER, LIKE GRANDDAUGHER

            When I was young, I loved going to my paternal grandmother’s house. My grandma knew how to show a kid a good time. She’d take us to wooden floored "dime stores", let us stay up with her and watch the Tonight Show, and in clement weather, we’d go to the drive-in movies. My grandma use to drive up and down the rows looking for young couples. She always parked next to a duet that seemed amorously inclined. Grandma was a first class voyeur! When the movie started, she’d often spend more of her time watching the mating ritual in the car next to us then the movie on the big screen. Through out the night she’d give us reports. “Oh, look, he put his arm around her.” “Ah, now they’re kissing.” “Oh, damn, the windows are steamed up. I can’t see anything.” Occasionally, she’d be caught in her clandestine pursuit, and the couple would move their car to a new location. She always felt cheated when that happened, as did I. If the couple next to us was entertaining enough, we’d stay for a double feature. If their activity did not properly amuse Grandma, we’d usually leave at intermission, and we’d miss the countdown featuring dancing hotdogs and other performing concessions...and the second movie. Ah, but as usual, I see that I am meandering from my intended topic!

 

            Putting aside the undivided attention she showered on us, I think the thing I enjoyed most about Grandma’s was her stashes. She had any number of collections that I could spend hours rifling through. She had an awe inspiring collection of cheap costume jewelry. As it happens, I don’t share my Grandmother’s love for jewelry. I myself wear a simple ring, beaded necklace and silver hoop earnings. Period. But as I child, I loved going through her jewelry boxes. I’d adorn myself with multiple necklaces and bracelets. I’d marvel at her ability to wear the pinching clip-on earrings for an entire evening. When I was in high school, I finally convinced her to let me pierce her ears, and it was her turn to marvel at the comfort of pierced versus clip-on earrings. Joyfully, I could even get my older brother involved in jewelry play if it became the booty of marauding pirates!

 

            But what I loved the very best, what I could totally immerse myself in, was her sewing notions. My grandmother could do anything crafty. She could sew, knit, crochet, paint and was always in tune with the latest trends in crafting. She made clothes for herself and her daughter, including my aunt’s elaborate wedding dress. In the final months of her life, as dementia robbed her of her most endearing memories, I could usually get her to reminisce about the dresses she made for her daughter, and for briefest of moments, a smile would touch her lips and her fingers moved back of forth feeling fabrics from the past. But when I was young, she was still an active crafter, and she saved everything in hopes of turning them into a future work of art. She had stacks of cloth she had collected over the years. There were bins of elastic, hooks and eyes, bias tape, ribbons and garter hooks, which I will be eternally indebted to the women’s liberation movement and technology for doing away with the garter belts and girdles! My favorite potpourri was her tin of buttons. This tin held the collective history of my father’s family’s wardrobe. No garment was discarded without being stripped of potentially useful items. She’d remove workable zippers, lace collars, and of course, buttons.

 

            The only downside to any of this was the smell. Her things smelled…well, old. As I sorted through the buttons, sorting by color or size, I was inundated with a musty, sour smell. I imagined this was the scent of an opened coffin long after the person’s remains had decomposed, leaving behind rotting fabric and disheveled hair. And no, I’m not generally a morbid individual, but her drawers and boxes, bins and tins smelled of arcane history. As I held buttons I wondered if they had been on a pair of my dad’s knickers or a roaring twenties frock worn by my grandmother. Occasionally, my grandmother would remember a button’s history, but more often than not, I was forced to fantasize over their origin.  

 

            The other day I was reorganizing my sewing room and attic closet, both of which are crammed full of arts and crafts supplies. As I was rerolling some lace, and trying to decide if I should sort cloth by size or fabric content, I realized, somewhere along the line, I had become my grandmother. I was now the nutsy “old” broad, hoarding a lifetime of acquisitions, in hopes of turning them into treasures. It was now my grandchildren that come over to sort buttons and finger the laces and trims. It won’t be long before they are ready to knit and sew and then my closets will hold untold treasures and possibilities. I don’t know exactly when I became my grandmother, but I think it was well before my first grandchild was born. Our desire to craft and create made us kindred souls long ago. Our collective ability to look at items and see potentially lovely creations made it almost impossible to throw out anything. As I look lovingly at my stashes I think, I am my grandmother’s granddaughter. The only difference…my stuff smells much better!

           

Here are a few of my "presentable" stashes. I find it extremely satisfying to just gaze at them! 

Felting Yarns.

Felting Yarn.

Flannel.

Ribbon and Trims.

Thread Collection.

Partial View of Sewing Room Closet.

Felt.

Buttons.


This is just a sampling of my "neatest" stashes! I think Grandma would be proud! What traits did you inherit from your grandmother?