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.

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.

Crazy for Corned Beef

OK that title is a little crazy, because I would not say we are crazy for corned beef, but we do enjoy it at our house.    We live near Butte, Montana a town rich in Irish history.  According the 2010 US census it is the most Irish town in the country with over 23% of the people having Irish heritage, as opposed to Boston where just under 20% of the folks claim their Irish roots.    I could talk about the crazy St. Patrick’s Day traditions, but being the foodie I am I will skip over it all to the Irish-American dish corned beef.   I call it Irish-American because it did not come from Ireland, but became a staple of the Irish who immigrated to the USA.

I grew up eating corned beef and cabbage.  The beef my mother bought in the Midwest was that nasty stuff you bought in a sealed plastic bag with brine and pickling spices.   It was salty, fatty, and well-preserved in that cryopack bag.   Not much nice I can say about it except it was dinner and it filled our stomachs.    Here in Butte you will find that the local meat shop actually brines the brisket in their own recipe.   The brisket here is fresh and lean.  If you have never had an opportunity to eat fresh corned beef it is  a completely different animal than that thing from the plastic bag.

We bought our corned beef on Saturday and we could not wait until today to fix it.    We made the “traditional” dish of corned beef and cabbage on Sunday.   Our version is a bit of an updated recipe.   We highly recommend the cooking of your corned beef with Guinness, though in a pinch a good stout will work.    We have also learned that unless you like your veggies cooked to mush they should be cooked separately in some of the juices.  A favorite recipe for this can be found on the website Steamy Kitchen, and here is a link to the recipe we use.

Guinness Corned Beef with Cabbage

So after doing the corned beef and cabbage we had some leftovers that we made in to a chowder to go with the chilly rainy day we had today.   It was a new recipe for us Corned Beef and Cabbage Chowder from the website The Foodie Affair.   It was a flexible recipe that could be made with or without leftovers.   We opted for the leftover version using our potatoes and carrots along with the broth and corned beef from Sunday.   We added some fresh onion, celery, some more cabbage and beef stock along with the milk base.   I serious had some reservations but I can tell you this is going to be a new favorite with us.   Both RangerSir and I agreed it was well season and worth repeating, though not as often as we would like due to the scarcity of corned beef.

Corned beef and Cabbage Chowder

What did you cook for St.  Patrick’s Day?   Did you include corned beef in your day?   If so how did it turn out?    If it wasn’t so great, might I suggest you bookmark this page for next year.

Menu Planning

I am one of those folks who does menu planning. I think like home cooking it is a bit of a lost art.  Menu planning is something that takes time and if changing things up bothers you can become a bit of an albatross around your neck; creating more stress when its purpose is just the opposite.   I do menu planning for one of several reasons.

First I don’t work in town and hence don’t grocery shop but once a week.    If I plan to serve interesting well-balanced meals that I need to have everything I might need in my pantry.  My pantry is well stocked with staples: flour, sugar, can goods and a freezer with beef, pork and lamb.    Perishables like milk, fruits, vegetables, cheeses and bread constantly need to be restocked along with what we have used up since our last time at the grocery store.   Shopping with a plan helps to ensure not only do I have what I need, but  I don’t end up throwing things out because  they have spoiled from lack of use.   It also helps keep us from going crazy buying things we really don’t need or are likely to use just because there is a sale.

Second I hate leftovers.   I can’t imagine eating the same thing two days in a row.    This for me means planning how to repurpose a meal so it is not the same.   I often cut my meat in to two or three pieces before I cook it.  If we have pork roast one night,  the leftover will be split and we will have pulled pork  or Cuban sandwiches then the next possibly chili verde.   It is highly likely one night a week will be smorgasbord of leftovers.   No matter how well I try I do end up with leftovers.   Usually it is a little of this and a little of that.  Sometimes it enough for another meal and that goes into the freezer for a future no cook night.   With my leftover tidbits, not enough of anything to make a meal, but when it is all served at the same time with a new veggie for fruit salad thrown in makes a nice meal.

Lastly we like to eat a wide range of foods and have an adventuresome palate.   We are always looking for a new recipe to try.   After work if we don’t know what we are going to make with the recipe handy , we have a tendency to fall back on the same old things.  Also Montana is not the place to come if you are looking for restaurants to sneak out to feed your need for serious ethnic cuisine fix.  Good authentic ethic foods is made in the home with ingredients you horde from online shopping or trips to the cities where there are ethic neighborhoods with grocery stores that stock what you need.     Montana is the place where beef is king, but don’t be surprised to be fed elk, antelope and lamb.   Our season are too short and growing many veggies that the rest the US sees as normal is hard here , as a result it is carnivore heaven.   Meat and potatoes is the main fare here.   We enjoy a good piece of meat, but it just doesn’t have to be roasted or broiled.   It can be wrapped in the spices of the world and served in ways that meat  is a piece of the total menu, not the over running piece of whole meal. Some nights we even do a meatless meal.

Menu planning is a Sunday evening chore for us.   RangerSir and I sit around and talk about what we are hungry for.   Possibly what one us has an urge to make.   Once that is decided the plan mode kicks in,  where we suggest what we might do with the other parts of the cut of meat if we make x or y.   We spend some time on our Kindles surfing the net for something that looks good and printing off recipes.   Once done we stack them in to make order, make notes about sides.   Look at the ingredients list and compare it to what we have on hand.   Monday night is shopping night, and we eat one of those frozen meals we have on hand.   The rest of the week we work our way through the printed out recipes, sometimes shuffling them base on time and preference.   Occasionally things really change up and the roast that was supposed to make three meals only makes two then we move in to full comfort food mode, making a simple soup, burgers or dinner salad with what we have on hand.

Menu planning isn’t for everyone or every family, but if you have thought you might want to try it, I hope you will give it a shot.   Like  every other kind of planner, customize it up and get it to work for you, not the other way around.