Amish Foodie

I just got back from a week-long trip to the Homeland.

I know most of you believe that I made up this mystical place where mashed potatoes are piled high with egg noodles and served on a slice of snowy white ‘Wonder Bread’, but I’ve been there. I have pictures. I brought back 10 pounds to prove it.

The family I stayed with are Amish. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Amish, they’re a religious order that practices simplicity and separation from the world in their day-to-day lifestyles. They reject being on ‘The Grid’ and power their machinery with propane, generators and dangerous looking patched-together systems of car batteries, jumper cables and tiny wires. The women wear dresses and head caps, the men have beards and use suspenders to keep their homemade trousers up.The don’t have cars but commute using bicycles or horse-drawn buggies.

I tried on their dresses, ironed with a terrifying butane iron (fire and cloth – ummm), washed my clothes in their outside washer/ringer set up and bathed my little bear in a large wash tub on the front porch. We took a dusky buggy ride along a few old back roads just as the lightning bugs were waking up and making their first appearance. I thought my heart was going to choke on itself; I had forgotten just how beautiful the sight of a thousand neon stars twinkling in the cornfields could be.

One delightful dish my friend prepared was Honey Mustard Swiss Chard. Chard is a tender-leafed green that has a mild, ‘earthy’ taste I find works well with strong flavors. Martha fried up a bit of bacon (of course) until it was crispy before adding honey, sugar, mustard, cream and Miracle Whip to make a sauce. The chard was chopped then simmered in the dressing until it was thoroughly cook and then it was served on top of – you guessed it – mashed potatoes.

Now, I had never heard of such a thing in my life, but it was pretty tasty. I decided right there and then to make a version of this when I got home – here’s the result.

Creamy Honey Mustard Chard

1 large bunch of cleaned swiss chard, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1/4 nitrite-free bacon diced into 1/4 inch pieces

2 Tbsp local honey (maple syrup could be substituted)

2 Tbsp prepared mustard (such as dijon)

4 Tbsp chèvre goat cheese or thick greek yogurt

1/4-1/2 cup water or broth

 

If you can’t get your hands on any nitrite-free, regular bacon will work just fine. You can adjust the amount of bacon if you want, I tend to be a bacon hog (pun fully intended!!).

In a large skillet, fry up your bacon over medium heat until it is crispy. Scoop out the bacon bits and add your honey and mustard and then the water/broth. Stir well until everything is mixed together. Add your swiss chard and lower the heat a bit to keep things from scorching. Depending on how big of a skillet you’ve got, you might be able to put all the chard in at once, otherwise, add a little at a time, stirring and waiting until the chard wilts until adding more. It’s going to seem like your sauce is never going to be enough, but the chard is going to cook down quite a bit. Let it simmer for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. When the chard is cooked and covered in sauce –  add the goat cheese or greek yogurt and the bacon bits and give it another good stir. I figured chèvre was a healthy swap for Miracle Whip since they’re both white and creamy and tangy. If you have dairy restrictions, this dish will be just as tasty without the cheese!

You can serve this however you want, over potatoes (I can see the look on your face, it’s actually really good), as a side for a meat dish, with scrambled eggs (another odd but delicious option) or just as it is!

Eat it on a warm summer night as the lightning bugs are just coming out and slow down, for pity’s sake. Sit around the table with your family or friends or enemies – doesn’t matter – and enjoy a little bit of life at buggy speed. Life isn’t a race, after all.  Enjoy!

last column

I think it might sound more ‘normal’ to say that I am not good at goodbyes, but who am I kidding? I’ve never been the most normal person in the world and in all honesty I am actually quite good at saying goodbye. I’ve said goodbye probably a million times in my life and have developed a talent for it. I’ve had lots of practice and practice makes perfect They say and yet I sit here trying to fill this empty page with a goodbye for Brandon and am having an unusually hard time.

I moved to Brandon four years ago today. I remember it well because it snowed the day after we moved into the yellow house up on the hill. I woke up, looked out my window and saw that Spring had been dusted with Winter’s ashes.

I had lived here for two years before Alex came into the picture. I held the position of world’s dorkiest clerk at Aubuchon’s and he came in to buy a snow shovel. It was February and he was getting ready to start at the police academy. He came to Brandon that weekend to get a feel for the town and it had snowed the night before. I don’t remember seeing him but he ‘set his cap’ on me right there, right then, in spite of all my dorkiness. It took six months and a hurricane to finally get us together. The town split down its middle, buildings were rearranged, streams burst their bounds and removed the ground beneath our feet and he and I stood there at the edge of the mess and exchanged looks and thoughts and even a few words. I remember seeing the kindness deep in his sparkling dark eyes as he told me how much he enjoyed talking with the towns people who had come out to view the damage. My skirt was dip-dyed by muddy sewage and I clomped along the broken side walk in oversized rubber boots, my crazy hair tied back in a bandana, and he decided he was going to ask me out on a date.

Four months later we got married under a full moon. It was deep in December and snowing again, the ground cracked and groaned under my feet as I walked out of the chapel as Mrs. Gaylor. The next day we came back to Brandon and I moved from the yellow house up on the hill to the white house in the heart of town. We returned to our jobs Monday morning, the cop and his waitress, and I bought coffee for the regulars at the diner, holding my own sort of wedding reception with any one who cared to be a part of it. It was perfect.

We brought our first baby home to Brandon in the middle of a blistering heat wave and received our parental ‘baptism by fire’ within the walls of our cozy apartment. Our little bear has learned to love this town as much as I have, enjoying leisurely strolls downtown on Sunday afternoons, wandering in and out of the shops where the people have come to know us by name. I’ve eaten more pastry than can be good for any human being and decorated our home with little things I’ve collected on our walks. I will miss Sunday afternoons. And the people. And the pastry.

I fell in love with a man who had fallen for the Sea long before he met me, and that’s where we are moving this weekend – to the ocean, the coast of Maine.  I am excited about this new chapter in our lives, but it hasn’t quite started yet and I am lingering on the last page of this part of the story. A part that you have been a prominent character in, dear reader! I’ve met some of the kindest, most original and wonderful people here in Brandon who have been so willing to reach into my own life and swirl the waters. I can only hope that I’ll be leaving a generous smudge or two here and there when I leave.

I’m generally pretty good at goodbyes, but this one is stumping me. Perhaps I’d better just say thank you and leave it at that. Thank you for coming in and teasing me at the hardware store, for tipping me generously when I was your waitress. Thank you for remembering my name and drinking coffee at my impromptu wedding reception. Thank you for waving at us when we walk down town and for stopping me and telling me that you enjoyed my last column. Brandon – you’ve been great and will not be forgotten. I am honored to be have been a part of your story even for a little while. Take care!

not the captain’s salmon patties

I remember the summer they opened a Captain D’s in the parking lot of the local home improvement mega-store.

For those of you unfamiliar with Captain D’s, well then, thankfully, you have been spared thus far. Captain D’s is, was or posed as a fast food seafood restaurant chain. Yes, you read that right – a fast food seafood restaurant. Chain. In the parking lot of a home improvement store. In Northwest Ohio.  Yum.

Construction on the place continued through the Spring and early Summer and we speculated and talked and wondered and doubted and finally decided that we would scrape together some money and go there when it opened. It was such a strange sight, a small building decorated like a seaside cabin complete with buoys and fake lobster traps, wooden posts falsely aged to look like old piers tethered around the parking lot and to complete the mood a large, plaster figure dressed like the man on the fish stick box waited to greet guests at the door. It fit in perfectly with the corn fields and Tractor Supply Store across the street! I remember feeling all tingly inside at having our own small piece of the coast right there in Defiance, Ohio.

It took us some weeks, perhaps even months before we could afford to go there but we finally did. It was seafood designed to at once please the natives and mask an undeniable lack of freshness – everything was thickly battered and deep fried. Everything. “Do you want hush puppies with that?”

Oh, hush puppies. Delicious little balls of salty, greasy, corny goodness and by far our favorite part of the seafood meal. I don’t remember much about eating the food, but I do remember that we were violently ill for the next 48 hours. My brothers swore off seafood for life (a bad hush puppy will do that to a fellow) and I still cringe inwardly when I hear the words “hush” and “puppy” in the same sentence. “Crab fritter” and “popcorn oysters” do the same thing. Lesson learned.

The recipe I’m sharing this week is for Salmon Patties, a sort of peace offering to my memories of Captain D’s. My mom makes these and even my brothers eat them, if that tells you anything. They are everything they should be; flavorful, light and terribly easy to throw together. The fish is not masked with a lot of fancy ingredients or pasty batter, nor is it flaunted and overbearing, it just IS, and it’s great.

Salmon Patties

1 can pink Alaskan salmon

1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp dried parsley

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

2 eggs lightly beaten

4 Tblsp oil or lard for frying

Empty your can of salmon into a mixing bowl. If you want, remove the bones. This isn’t a necessary step, but I know some people who are a little unnerved at the thought of eating fish bones. Break up the fish with a fork before adding your bread crumbs, salt, pepper, parsley, garlic powder and eggs. If you wanted, you could throw in a little minced onion or celery, but I like mine Pure. Mix everything together and then heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil and scoop some of the salmon mix into the skillet. I use a large spoon and ‘shape’ them into patties in the pan. You will probably have to cook them up in two or three batches, but it will be worth it. Let them cook on even heat for 6 minutes or so, until they’ve gotten a nice, brown crust then flip them over and let them cook a few minutes more. Once the flip side has a nice crust you are ready to fish them out and serve them with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce or even – dare I say – hush puppies! Enjoy!

 

March Bible Reading Schedule: HOPE

Happy March, dear readers!

Winter is almost over here in the NorthEast, there is hope yet for warmer weather and sunnier skies.

I felt that HOPE was a very fitting theme for this month’s Bible reading as we’re preparing to leave the dim, cold winter behind and spring up with new growth and life…

The month begins in Song – heartfelt expressions of Hope from the book of Psalms. We read of the expectation of the Lord’s goodness and mercy and are encouraged to look towards His hand for the dispensation of blessings.  David “hoped continually” in the Lord, not once in a while, not once a week, not only when things were rough or well but Continually.

The passages in Jeremiah and Lamentations (written by the same man) are two of my favorite in the whole Bible. Jeremiah declares his hope in the Lord during times of desperation and abject despair and clings to the promise of sustaining life during times of draught and trial.

Entering the New Testament, Hope is given a Face and a Name – our Hope is founded in, secured by and tethered to One, Jesus Christ, our Savior. We hope in His life, His death, His resurrection and triumphant return. We have hope because of Him.

Enjoy, and may the Lord bless you through the reading of His word. May it dwell richly in us!

 

“But I will hope continually…”

Psalm 33:14

 

1) Psalm 22:9-10

2) Psalm 33:20-22

3) Psalm 42:11

4) Psalm 71:5-6

5) Psalm 71:14-17

6) Psalm 119:114-116

7) Psalm 130:5-6

8) Proverbs 10:28

9) Jeremiah 17:7

10) Lamentations 3:21-26

11) Romans 4:17-22

12) Romans 5:1-5

13) Romans 8:24-25

14) Romans 12:12

15) Romans 15:4

16) Romans 15:13

17) 1 Corinthians 15:17-19

18) Galatians 5:4-6

19) Ephesians 1:17-18

20) Ephesians 2:11-13

21) Philippians 1:20

22) Colossians 1:27

23) 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

24) 1 Thessalonians 5:8

25) 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

26) 1 Timothy 1:1

27) Titus 1:2

28) Titus 2:13; 3:7

29) Hebrews 6:18-20

30) 1 Peter 1:3+13+21

31) 1 Peter 3:15

baby food for non-babies (aka adults)

The biggest development in our small world these past days are the two stubby teeth in the mouth of our seven month old. With these tiny pearls has come the desire to ‘taste and see’ with an emphasis on the ‘tasting’ part – our son is biting everything. Everything. If it’s a thing – be it his dearest mama’s finger or the head of his beloved stuffed cow – he’s biting it.

I try to stay ahead of the game and offer a variety of baby teeth-friendly items for him to chew on and sometimes I’m even on top of it enough to give him actual foods to chew. Yes indeed, lovely readers, we have entered the bewildering world of baby food. Once upon a time I thought it was going to be rather simple – you take food, you make it into a paste, you insert it into the infant’s mouth. Rinse and repeat.  Not so. Turns out that while my little one will *bite* anything, he is a little more particular about the things he will actually eat. Go figure.  Before he was born, I stocked up on organic baby food in those adorable jars, tucking them away in the very back of the pantry, hardly believing that I might have a little person someday to eat them. When the time came and I excitedly opened one of the mini jars, warmed it to the perfect temperature and then dumped a decent-sized spoonful into Bru’s open mouth. He acted as though I had forced him to eat dirt. The gagging, the eye twitching, the entire body convulsions that followed this and subsequent organic Gerber meals convinced me that jarred baby food – no matter how lovingly gathered and hopefully offered – were not his thing. He wants Big People Food. Lesson learned. The End.

Of all the Big People Food we’ve tried since, without a doubt his favorite is stewed apples with coconut cream and exotic spices. I know, right – I’ve unwittingly produced some sort of infant gourmet. Honestly though, I can’t blame him. I tried the baby peas and the word that stuck in my mind was, “Yuck”.

If sterile, one dimensional, Little People Foods are at the far side of the infant menu, this creamy concoction has brought us up close and personal with delightful Big People Food. It’s awake, it’s alive, it’s deep and reminiscent of apple pie filling…oh, so tasty

 

Little Bear’s Big People Stewed Apples

 

4 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples of your choice (can be substituted for 3 cups of readymade, unsweetened apple sauce)

1/2 cup water (omit if using applesauce)

1/2 cup coconut cream

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp  ground cardamom

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

optional maple syrup to taste

 

In a large saucepan, stew down the apple slices with the water on low heat until they reach the desired constancy. I like mine a little chunky and it doesn’t matter for Bru because they’re going to be pureed anyway, so I usually let them cook 15-20 minutes. If you are using applesauce, simply pour into a pan and warm on medium. Once the apple slices are softened and melting, or the sauce is warm, add the coconut cream, spices and maple syrup if you want it sweetened. Stir well and let simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Serve at the perfect temperature.

There are several variations that we’ve played around with and they’ve earned a full stamp of approval from everyone who’s tasted them. The first is to add 1/2 a cup or more of fresh cranberries cut in half to the apples while they are stewing down. This adds a delightful tang that makes the little bear pucker up but come back eager for more until the bowl is empty. Something the Big People enjoy is spooning the warm, stewy goodness over ice-cream after the Little Person has gone to bed. It’s a delightful reward after the sun has set… Enjoy!

 

 

smothered chicken… and I mean *really* smothered chicken, but not with gravy because I’m on a fancy diet

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes. Ever.

“Smothered in what?” I hear someone from the peanut gallery holler and I understand completely – it *does* sound rather violent. Let me explain; traditionally and in its simplest form, Smothered Chicken is chicken that has been simmered in and then served under or ‘smothered’ in a seasoned gravy. And when I say ‘smothered’ I mean, of course,  ‘comforted to death’. Isn’t that nicer? Let’s call my recipe “Comforted Chicken”.

I am a girl who loves her gravy and given free reign and unstoppable arteries I would consume it on everything from oatmeal to ice cream (eew). But, happily, I am reigned in by my vow of health and well-being and so am constantly on the look-out for delectable dishes that won’t comfort me to death. This is one of them. It’s my loose adaptation of Smothered Chicken; chicken simmered in a silky, tangy, lemony-oniony Sauce. It is easy, satisfying and tasty. And when I say ‘tasty’ I mean, of course, ‘lip-smacking, plate-licking, go-back-for-thirds GOOD”.

I like to serve this dish with a side of wilted spinach and maybe a whole-grain pilaf. YUM. I’ve got myself all worked up for it… good thing I’ve got some chicken in the fridge because I think I need some comforting…

 

Comforted Chicken

6 chicken thighs or an equal amount of breast meat

4 onions

2 cloves garlic

1 lemon

1 cup chicken stock

2-3 Tablespoons butter, olive oil, coconut oil or other cooking fat

salt and pepper to taste

We’ve discussed the slicing of onions in previous columns and decided that ‘thinly’ is one of the most vague cooking instructions available. All the same, I am going to ask you to do it. Slice your onions thinly. Use your own good sense and just get them into slices. We can do this. Tears will ensue, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Once the onions are dealt with, slice up your garlic and then put a large skillet on medium heat. Once the skillet has heated up, add your fat and the onions. Let them brown up a little, stirring frequently to avoid any burning. Throw the garlic in with its cousin and then lower the heat. You want the onions and garlic to simmer *without burning* until they are all very limp, very translucent and almost saucy on their own – just this side of caramelized. This will probably take about 5-6 minutes.

The chicken has been patiently waiting for its turn in the pan and now is the time. Squiggie the onions around so that you can fit the chicken pieces, skin down, in the skillet. Let the skin brown against the bottom of the pan before flipping them over and adding the chicken stock. Let it simmer for 10 minutes or so. Boneless pieces cook faster than bone-in so be aware of that if you’ve substituted. If you want to speed the process up, you can cover the skillet with a pot lid.

Now it’s time for the lemon. You thought I had forgotten, didn’t you? Lay the slices around in the skillet and then let the whole thing simmer for another 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. If it seems that the liquid is getting too low, you can always add a little more broth – but not too much! The goal is to have the sauce work itself out as the chicken is cooking. You may need to lower the heat and just be a little more patient.

When the chicken has cooked thoroughly (use a thermometer to check – I always have to) you are ready to serve your masterpiece. It’s going to smell like heaven… oh boy! The onions will have melted away into savory goodness that will blend with the lemon and make a sauce that you will lick off your plate. It makes even I, the Gravy Queen, say, “Gravy? Who needs gravy when you have a sauce like THIS?”  Enjoy…

 

Bible Reading Schedule for February: Love

Hello!

I hope you all have been blessed this month in the Word – I know I have been!  I just finished the schedule for February and thought I would post it now before I forget.

I thought long and hard about whether or not to use a theme that coincided with secular holidays and whatnot, and in the end decided that our January readings about goodness would be followed up beautifully with scriptures concerning Love. It may seem a little cheesy, this being the Valentine’s month and all, but since our minds are already on the subject I thought – why not? These coming days will be drenched in glittering red hearts, chocolate boxes and sugary Hallmark sentiments, it should be at once sobering and exhilarating to remind ourselves what True Love looks and acts like.  This is an extremely wide subject in the Bible that we are seeking to cover in our shortest month so I found it necessary to group scriptures together. I find myself reading more than just the appointed verse for the day this month anyway so I think that will be OK.

May the Lord give us understanding in His word as we seek to know Him better through it!

Enjoy…

February Bible Reading

“Keep yourselves in Love”

1) Leviticus 19:18

2) Deuteronomy 6:5; 30:20

3) Psalm 11:7

4) Psalm 40:16; 119:97

5) Proverbs 8:17

6) Proverbs 10:2; 15:17

7) Matthew 5:43-46

8) Mark 12:33

9) John 3:16; 5:20; 10:17

10) John 13:34-35; 15:10

11) John 14:15; 14:21-24

12) Romans 5:5; 5:8

13) Romans 8:28; 8:35-39

14) Romans 12:9-10

15) Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14

16) 1 Corinthians 8:3

17) 1 Corinthians 13

18) Galatians 2:20; 5:6; 5:22

19) Ephesians 3:17-19; 5:2

20) Philippians 1:9

21) 1 Thessalonians 3:!2; 5:8

22) 1 Timothy 6:11

23) 2 Timothy 1:7; 4:8

24) 1 Peter 1:8

25) 1 John 1-2

26) 1 John 3-5

27) Jude 1:21

28) Revelation 1:5; 2:4; 3:19; 12:11

*What does this verse describe of the character of Love?

*Does this verse say anything about whom and what we are to Love?

*What does this verse describe about what Love ‘looks’ like when it is in action?

* Does this verse speak of whom or what God loves?

*What does this verse describe about the character and nature of God’s love?