Everything Is Very Much The Same

I have been struggling with what to write about on my blog. I had great plans for what to write about as RangerSir and I explored life as full-time retirees. The places we would go. The decisions we would make. Things that turned out well and things that turned out completely wrong. Times we got more than we planned and times we got a good slap in the face from reality. Instead we got COVID and half the country “hating” those who don’t agree with them. It has made me hesitant to write about my ordinary life for a whole host of reasons. I know I am lucky compared to many other folks, so I did not want to flaunt my lot when so many others are struggling in so many ways. I did not want to say things that would start a firestorm of haters and trolls because I don’t need or want that. Days seemed the same to me and I could not imagine that my ordinary life would be something that someone else would want to read about. I could list many more reasons for why I haven’t been blogging. I have decided that is all about others and how they might negatively view what I write. I have missed writing, but have allowed myself to be talked out of writing. Today I am going to stop all that and start writing again. If I lose subscribers and my numbers go down I don’t care. All I want to do is share things that happen and maybe make you smile or feel like you can when you thought you could not. I want someone to think occasionally I could be in her shoes and that would be worse. I want to prompt someone remember something they forgot and relish the memory. So here goes a jumpstart on an old blog, by an old gal who just likes to write even if it is the ordinary.

In my last post I wrote about my half turkey that I was fixing for Thanksgiving. It is exactly what I did. Turkey dinner for two. I started the prep at the same time RangerSir’s family started the Zoom meeting. It was the first time we had spent the holidays with his side of the family in over 25 years. Family and friends were in all phases of celebrating the holiday. We had some folks who were in the late afternoon celebrating across the pond and we were the furthest west so I was just starting our half turkey. It was different, maybe even a little strange since some of the family were folks we had never met as there had been a couple of marriages that we had not gotten to be there to celebrate. The most interesting part is we were just putting our turkey in when we started and we were taking our turkey out as we finished. It was perfect timing and we really enjoyed the time spent with the family

Our zoom group for Thanksgiving of family.

We made the perfect dinner for two folks who have lived many places and not been home with family for years. We made Minnesota wild rice as a side. It is an old Minnesota family favorite that we had not had as part of Thanksgiving for a long time. I halved or quartered every recipe I made to allow us to have all the sides we thought necessary, but not so many leftovers it would create waste. I revised some recipes making them have a comfort food taste, while making it a healthier alternative. It was a grand adventure in cooking and planning to pull it off.

When RangerSir worked we ate dinner at the table most nights. Since he has retired we have gotten sloppy and started to use the dining room table for puzzles and other things. For Thanksgiving dinner we treated it like a proper meal and set the table. We used Granny’s good silverware and the bank giveaway crystal we collected when we first got married and only get out for special occasions. I dug out the table cloth that we only use when we put a leaf in the table. We spared no extravagance for the special day.

Dinner for two.

I must say we missed folks that we are usually with for Thanksgiving but we did enjoy our dinner together. We talked about many things and it was perfect in its own way. We were thankful for one another and our bounty that was both present and absent.

So I am back blogging. I will share with you thoughts I have as we plug through the adventures of life even when they are quite ordinary. I appreciate your time and support.

New Way of Thinking of Thanksgiving

With the current crazy wave of COVID most of us are choosing a new type of Thanksgiving gathering this year. For most folks it will be a smaller gathering. Just your immediate family. Just your household and one or two friends. It will be different that is for sure.

One of the greatest challenges is how to scale back a holiday that is laden with more food, friends and family than almost any other time. It is full of long standing traditions for every family on what we must do and have. So the idea of making a Thanksgiving dinner for less than six is hard to imagine. You have spent years getting the biggest turkey you could find. You have juggled ovens and timing to get it all done at exactly the same time. Doing the holiday smaller may seem daunting. Scale back may seem reasonable for some things and others elements smaller may seem impossible.

Turkey is one of those things that just doesn’t scale down. However one thing you can do is have your grocery store meat department cut your turkey in half down the breast. I have been doing this for years. There are lots of advantages of having a half turkey this way. It takes less time to cook. You get an assortment of white and dark meat. You don’t need a roaster or huge pan; instead you can use a sheet pan.

Two halves of a turkey, each having one half breast, thigh and the famous turkey leg.

Be forewarned that there are some grocery stores that don’t have meat cutters on site or meat cutting equipment. Our local Walmart has neither. Our local Safeway does have meat cutters working during core business hours. We also have several local meat markets that will be able to help you as well. You need to be prepared to take both halves of the turkey. So if you have a deep freezer this idea will present no problem. If you don’t look for a friend to split a turkey with you.

This half turkey makes and easy turkey dinner.

Another option is to opt out of turkey for some other meat. Chicken is an obvious choice because you can stuff it. Don’t let that be your limit there are game hens and duck. Or maybe you do chicken all the time because it seems to be a healthier choice, so go wild and do beef or pork.

My mother, a high risk individual, is not going to anyone’s home for Thanksgiving, and she doesn’t want to risk any of her children coming to her place. She is geographically unfit for me to take dinner to her. I have come up with a different solution for her. The local grocery is going to have ready-made dinner for pick up on Thanksgiving day. She is going to have plenty of food and lots of left overs, but the grocery store feast promises to be provide her with the essentials for a Midwest Thanksgiving dinner.

I encourage you to look around if this avenue sounds interesting to you. My mother lives in a little town of 4,000 people with one grocery store. I was surprised at the options they have. You may be surprised what your local grocery store will offer.

Another option would to to do pickup from a local restaurant. They sure could use your support right now. It is another case of you not having to cook and having all the special trimmings you want.

One of my dear friends will be doing a turkey picnic on the beach for two. Her food will have elements of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. When you list the recipes you see Brussel spouts, turkey, cranberry, corn and bread but it is all updated. It sounds like a wonderful alternative to a woman who is looking out the living room window as a the wind howls and the third winter storm of the season blows over the mountain.

Maybe what this year is in disguise is an opportunity to update our Thanksgiving traditions. This is being said by a woman who Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday. For years I hosted the holiday and rented hall tables and chairs to seat all my friends and family who came from near and far. When I no longer did that I was included with friends as part of their holiday traditions and large gatherings. This year it will just be RangerSir and I. I am just fine with this. It is a moment in time when despite all the changes I have so much to be thankful for.

Exploring Cooking

In these times of hunkering down and staying close to home there are reports about ingredient shortages as folks apparently starting cooking more from home. Many folks out there are first-time cooks, while others returned to their roots and made family favorites. There were folks who took up cooking to take some sort of control over all the craziness out there. Others took up cooking out of necessity to stretch their shrinking budgets. I’ve always cooked at lot from scratch for both enjoyment and for better health. Staying home was not going to change that, but it did.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love making pies.

My cooking style was influenced by my grandmas, all three. I came from a blended family and I had an amazing group of women who influenced my life in so many ways. They all brought something different to the table in my cooking experiences. One of my grandmother’s belonged to a cookbook club and made one new recipe a week for as long as I could remember. So experimental cooking seemed to me to be the norm. Another of my grandma’s was the queen of comfort foods, feeding others, and was well known for her pie skills. She gave to me the importance of sharing food with others and the ability to make pastry by gut instinct. My third granny lived in the city and she exposed me to all sorts of foods with her statement that I had to try two bites of everything on the table. It was a taste palette expansion I don’t think I would have had any other way.

Pandemic cooking has brought two things to our home. Learning to really cook for two and making meals that I had never imagined before. RangerSir always was a trouper about eating leftovers and trying new things. I have always loved to browse cookbooks looking for something new to make. Unfortunately for me my collection of cookbooks is old and full of tried and true, but not much new in there begs to be tried anymore. Cooking magazines are outrageously expensive so they are a very rare guilty pleasure. Lucky for me Amazon “gave” a full year of The Food Network app away just after the lock down started and I suddenly had more recipes to try than I had days in the week.

Half of a chicken dinner done on a sheet pan. Thank you Marc Murphy of The Food Network

The Food Network started me thinking about foods I didn’t really use and provided me with new recipes without breaking the bank. We would watch a food show while we ate lunch. Sometimes it was a “What???” moment and other times it had us thinking we should make that. This chicken was suppose to be a spatchcock chicken cooked on roasted vegetables. Once I split the whole chick down the back bone and flattened it on the pan, I got to thinking ‘why am I cooking both haves at one time?” I put the second half in the freezer for another day. The roast vegetables included leeks, something I saw in the store many times. I had always bought onions, shallots and garlic so did I really need leeks too? This recipe got me to try them. They are one of my new favorites to add when doing fall and winter root vegetables. There are now a staple and no longer shy from recipes that call for them.

Another fun thing about using a TV network show is it has turned into a group effort cooking. I know I can print the recipes, but that makes it a one sided affair. Now days I am in the kitchen prepping foods and RangerSir is assigned remote control. His job is to stop, rewind and start the video as I get out of sync with the TV chefs. It makes this cooking a joint effort and we laugh at ourselves in this crazy synchronization of making dinner. He always asks about the food we eat and this way he is much more informed because he was part of the cooking in a way.

Are you cooking more during these times? If you’d care to share I love to hear about what you are making.

Kitchen Workhorse

We have a Sunbeam Power Plus stand mixmaster that we got 38 years ago when we got married. It was a big splurge at the time.  Both RangerSir and I enjoyed baking and so we used some of the wedding gift money and got a little crazy.

The Sunbeam has been the workhorse in our kitchen that has outlasted every other kitchen appliance we have owned.   I have occasionally looked at the current Kitchen Aid with some lust, but the price has always made me step back and wonder what could it do, that my trusty old workhorse could not do.   My Sunbeam probably has more metal gears and a more substantial motor than what is found in today’s stand mixers.

I recently used it to make a new dinner roll recipe.   I enjoy making bread by hand and have done so for years.  I decided with this new recipe, that I was going to try using my stand mixer as called for in the recipe.    The directions called for me to knead the dough using hooks/paddle for 20 minutes.   I wasn’t sure that the old girl could handle the length of time and the challenge of a yeast dough.  I marched forward and the old workhorse did not fail me.

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The recipe was for flaky dinner rolls with many layers of butter and dough.  They turned out nicely, though I must admit I missed the process of kneading my dough.  There is something sort of calming and peaceful about it.    Do you have an appliance in your kitchen that keeps on plugging along?

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Joy of Cooking

In 2017 it was reported that for the first time Americans spent more money eating out that at home.  I am not sure if that means they also eat more meals out or not since dining out can be more expensive.  Surveys report that we also eat more meals today somewhere other than at a dinner table than ever before, be it a plate on our lap in front of the TV, or on a breakfast bar reading our emails.  I get it because when I worked the corporate life we too ate out or picked up carry out often because it was easier than getting home late and making something to eat.  I enjoyed cooking but it was restricted to free time, mostly weekends that I tried to pack everything else into as well.   Now that I am retired I find myself discovering once again the joy of cooking.

 

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I love to use the chef’s knife and chop.   It is one of those things I find relaxing.

 

I am experimenting with new and old recipes.  I am pulling cards out of the recipe box my grandma wrote for me in her handwriting all those years ago. I am looking at my collection of cookbooks and browsing them for something new to make.   Of course, we can not exclude the recipe apps and Google.   Some of what I am cooking is Midwestern comfort food, some dishes reflect the different places we have lived, other meals are ethnic foods from around the world,  some dishes are healthy, other times what I make is just for special occasion splurging,  some are fully from scratch and sometimes it will be a store box or can that I doctor up.

I invite you along on this journey as I share some of what I make.  Sometimes it will be a recipe, other times just a photo of the dish, or the dinner table.   I hope you enjoy and are inspired.

 

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I like to measure out everything now, as a way to make sure I have all the ingredients before I start.   I did not do that before, but now I am not likely to drop everything and run to town to the grocery to get a missing ingredient so has become an important step

 

 

 

Cooking for the Love of It

I love to cook .   I recently saw a survey that said people now spend more on dining out than at the grocery.   It is something I have a hard time getting my head around.   I think it is so because I not only love to cook, I love to feed people.    To me cooking is part art, and part escape.  Definitely an expression of love.  When I cook I get to vicariously by making a meal go to other places and make things that I might never get a chance to taste otherwise.  Today I had a roast and a busy schedule full of work,so I wanted a recipe that I could crock pot this and turn it into something fun.   I went  online and sought out a  new recipe using the ingredients I have on hand.    I found a recipe that I truly wondered how it would turn out, time was running out and because I had everything I went with it.   My rule of thumb is the first time  on any recipe is by the book, so I did just that.   By lunch time   I  had decided that pie was in order  to go with my roast dinner and put together a cherry pie.

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My baking creation today, cherry pie.

Tonight when RangerSir got home he was greeted by the smells of our crock pot roast and his eyes feasted on a cherry pie worthy of Instagram.    I put a dinner feast  on the table worthy of the love for RangerSir.

Patience and the Pie Lady

I have been making pies for Thanksgiving for years.   When I used to host Thanksgiving I would make upwards of 10 pies that my guests could pick from not only for dinner, but to take home, or if they were staying for future meals over the weekend.    Now that I no longer host dinner, I have been bringing pie for years to dinner that RangerSir and I attend.

To some pie making would be chore, a challenge, or something that you pick up from the local store or bakery.   For me baking pie is a favorite creative pastime.   I would rather make pie than any other sweet or dessert.   My Grandma Virtue was known for the pies she made when worked at the county home years ago.   My Aunt Leola always had pie with awesome flaky crust when we stopped to visit her and Uncle Sherm after a pilgrimage to visit the folks in Illinois.   So though I can’t remember sitting with either of them to learn about pie making I think I come by this talent honestly.

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RangerSir rolls out his pie crust

This year I nearly cut the tip of my thumb off and ended up in the emergency room.   I have been since been told to keep it clean and dry, and to function without a thumb, until it heals up some.    This has kept me from all sorts of things including pie making.

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He has it right and is putting it in the pan.

RangerSir, who enjoys cooking/baking, stepped up to the plate telling me he would learn to make pies.    It took a great deal of self-control and patience to not cuff him along side the head, while telling him pie crust is an art, and not as easy as they make it in the cookbook.  How did I tell him that making pies was a quiet time I reflected on Thanksgivings of past, and who we had been with and who was now missing.  It was my time and my art.   Yet  I agreed to help him through the process to make our pies for Thanksgiving.

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Adding the cherry pie filling.

Now the test of patience was on not only for him who thought I should leave him to his own devices, but also for me to not get caught up in what I was missing out.  How do you explain to someone what the mixture looks like when cutting in the fat to the flour or how much water you add to the crust, when I know it is right by touch?   He was a bit of a saint when he begrudgingly stepped back when I said can I touch it so I could put my good hand in to feel the pastry for just a few seconds and pronounce it right, even if we had put in twice as much water as the recipe called for.  We made two pies last night and I thought my hair  would catch on fire from my brain cells scrambling as he rolled out the dough “all wrong”, but overnight the pastry fairies worked in his brain and he was doing it exactly as I wanted the next morning when we made the last pie. He was a bit miffed when I told him we were mixing up two pie recipes to make this year’s mandatory chocolate pie, but he went along without complaint.    Though to him making a three-layer chocolate pie was unnecessary, but when the sprinkles went on in the end, he was pleased with his results.   We worked together as I coached him on the art of lattice pie and that it really was necessary on a cherry pie.

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He is a darn good lattice top maker.

The pies are all done now.   They look absolutely perfect.  Though we have not tested them out the crust looks flaky and is perfectly brown.   It was a trial, but also a reflection on how we can work together and support one another.   I asked him if I could take pictures and blog about the pie making.    He agreed knowing that I would not share this with the world if I wasn’t thrilled with the end.   He had my back on pie making and I was his partner into new territory.

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Here they are the pies ready to take to Thanksgiving dinner.