Sandy’s Special 10

According to the National Weather Service, we are in the path of  Hurricane Sandy (whom we affectionately call “Frankenstorm”).

If you are reading this, and it is Tuesday, I may be clinging to a bent-over tree in the backyard surrounded by flood waters.

Here are Ten Other Things I Might Be Doing During The Hurricane

1) Eating the remains of our ‘hurricane stash’ of Kashi cereal (just because it’s an emergency doesn’t mean we need to eat crappy stuff – I stocked up last week)

2) Rafting down Otter Creek on my Volvo accompanied by my handsome hubby and a banjo

3) Using the hurricane force winds to parasail my way West

4) Seeking higher ground

5) Cooking bear meat over a fire I made in the street wearing skins and dreadlocks because I’ve gone a day without a hot shower

6) Digging a community latrine in the backyard (because there’s no water)

7) Finally using that gorgeous hurricane lamp Mr. Brown gave us for a wedding present

8) Lighting All The Candles and eating the emergency chocolate reserves

9) Playing air guitar on our silent electric guitar

10) Knitting

Hunter’s Breakfast

Here I am, cuddled away under layers of flannel pajamas and an over-sized hooded sweatshirt. The sun is just coming up and the quiet beams of light illuminate the icy stars etched on the window next to my bed. The frost has outlined the glass and framed the world outside like a perfect picture, crimson and orange leaves are waking and shaking off their night’s worth of ice and I can’t help but think of the determined people out among the frost, hunting. My next immediate thought concerns breakfast.

It’s the time of year when people don a contradiction of blaze orange and woodland camouflage and no one thinks anything of it. We see them at gas stations with large, hot coffees, at the diner grabbing a quick bite to eat, or walking along the outlying roads of the town.

I’ve known many hunters and they each have their reasons for gearing up each fall and winter and heading to the wilds. Some like the sense of getting their meat ‘the old way’, some enjoy the solitude, some are thrilled with the sport of it, and then I’ve known some who just really like the taste of wild game.

My husband and I were up visiting some friends in Northern Maine and they served us this delightful breakfast casserole made with moose sausage. It was incredible. Not only was it simple to make and good for a crowd, but it could be made ahead and cooked up when it was needed. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a breakfast so much, accompanied by fresh, hot coffee and a cinnamon roll – I felt ready to go out and conquer the wilds myself!

Hunter’s Breakfast Casserole

1/2 pound game sausage

4 eggs

4 slices of bread, cubed

1/2 cup milk

1 cup shredded cheese

1 Tablespoon flour

1 Tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon basil

1/4 – 1/2  teaspoon each salt and pepper

 

*You could very easily substitute regular pork sausage for the game, if you so desired.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8×8 baking dish.

The first step is to brown the sausage in a frying pan, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. Once it is thoroughly browned, turn off the heat and scoop out the sausage  onto a plate that has been lined with paper towels. This will help to absorb any excess fat from the sausage, especially if you are using pork. I don’t believe game is as greasy and you might be able to skip this step if yours is dry enough already.

While the sausage is draining and cooling, beat together the milk and eggs in a mixing bowl. Add the flour, salt, pepper and basil, stir well, and then add the bread cubes and shredded cheese. Once everything is mixed, add the cooled sausage and stir once more. Pour the whole thing into your waiting baking dish. Cut the butter into small pieces and place around on top of the casserole.

I usually put the baking dish onto a baking sheet before putting it in the oven, just because the eggs can be a little bit excitable and spill over the sides sometimes. The casserole needs to bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the center of the dish is rather firm.  Remove and let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

If you are saving the dish for another day you have two options; you can bake the casserole and let it cool before covering with foil and keeping in the fridge until it is wanted – in which case you would gently heat it up in the oven, covered, at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or you can assemble the casserole and *not* cook it, but cover and keep in the fridge to bake in the morning – uncovered.

This meal could easily switch ends of the day and be served as a dinner, just add a cup of cooked spinach, broccoli florets, sauteed onions or bell peppers – you are only limited by your imagination!

Happy Hunting!

 

a ten in the bucket

I hear a lot of people talking about their bucket-list.

Well, not being one to be willingly left out of a conversation, I want to talk about it too.

It was one of the things Alex and I first discussed when we started to court last year, “What’s your list?”

I guess you can learn a lot about a person by hearing what they want to do before they die, and I also suppose that he liked whatever it was I said because he answered, “Well, I’d like to do all those things too, with you.”

*awwwwww*

I also feel like I should mention that we have pretty tightly wrapped-up my bucket list, having done most of the things that were on it in the past year. True, I didn’t have anything really crazy like “skydive over the grand canyon”, but it’s still been a wild year of incredible happenings. Skinny dipping totally, absolutely and completely included.

I’ve had to write up a new list.

Here it is.

Babe – you getting this?

 

1) Go to the West. By plane, train or automobile, it doesn’t really matter. I just want to see West.

2) Have a baby. Yup. It’s on the list and now that I have a husband, we might actually be able to make that happen. Wowsers.

3) go to hear a symphony orchestra

4) learn to make pastry

5) whale watching

6) learn archery

7) learn to fly fish

8) write a book

9) try snowboarding

10) create a home-based business that actually works

Ok, so a little odd, slightly lame, I get it – but these are the things I want to do. I actually had a hard time coming up with this list because really, before I got married my secret bucket list was simply to find someone to share every day with, and now that I have that, my list remains just as simple; Live every day, sharing it with my best friend, perfect lover and husband. What better adventure could one ask for?

How about you? What’s on your List?

The Easiest thing I’ve ever made

Crockpot Cookery.

That’s it in two words.

Imagine yourself at the peak of some forsaken mountain in a faraway country, seeking the answer to every reasonable American woman’s cry of, “Where will I find the TIME?!” Now imagine me, sitting there in a cave (with my knitting and some crackers and a few good reruns of Doctor Who on a solar-powered portable TV/DVD player) all wrapped up in cool-looking robes, just waiting for you to come. Because I knew you would.

So there we are. I pause my show, put down my knitting and ask,

Why have you bothered me just as The Doctor was explaining his Time Theory?”

Then you say, “But that’s just it- Time Theories! We don’t have enough time! What’s the answer?”

I lean forward, pull the hood on my super cool robe tighter around my old, weary face (because it’s taken you a really, really long time to find me) and utter these two words,

“Crockpot Cookery.”

From out of the very sky itself, bells of victory ring out over the forgotten valley as the sun breaks through the thick cloud cover and bathes us in warm light. You face is illuminated with joy and awe and satisfaction for a moment, but then a dark shadow races across your features as you suddenly realize something…

“I had to come all this way to hear that? You couldn’t have just stayed home and written a blog post about it? It would have saved so much time!”

End of Story.

I have no idea who invented this marvelous contraption, but I bless them – a thousand times – each time I pull mine out to use, which is fairly frequent these days. I have no cool history (imagined or otherwise) to share with you about it’s origins, but I can tell you this – it has saved me time and made my life inexpressibly easier, and I think that’s just wonderful.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to cook ‘at the moment’, I truly do, but I work 3 afternoons a week which means I’m getting home almost an hour after our regular dinner time. Alex has to get up at o-dark-thirty every morning for his job and therefore tries to be in bed around 7 pm. This leaves a very, very narrow margin of time for dinner in the evening. A very narrow margin into which a crockpot can slip with ease. If I come home from work and there is a meal hot and ready in the crock, I can throw together a side of rice or pasta and a salad right quick and we can be eating in 15 minutes. Yes.

This is what we had the other night – by far the easiest, best tasting pot roast I have *ever* made, and it didn’t even need another side to go with it since I cooked the potatoes in the crock. Oh, so clever.

 

Pepper and Herb Pot Roast in a Crock

1-2 lbs of roasting meat  (the piece I used was probably 2 lbs and we were able to have this meal twice)

1 onion, sliced

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

3 cloves of garlic

1 cup of water

1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

A sprinkling of salt

3-4 lavender sprigs (I just happen to have lavender on the window sill, you could easily use  1/2 teaspoon of rosemary or thyme or a mix of both – whatever floats your boat.)

3 medium sized potatoes, quartered

2 large carrots, cut into three or four pieces (or a handful of baby ones)

 

In the morning, I sliced up the onions, mushrooms and garlic and put them in the bottom of the crock pot, placed the meat on top and added the water, herbs, salt and pepper.  I put the top on and turned the crock pot to High. Then, I quartered the potatoes and carrots and put them in a bowl of water in the fridge. They don’t need to cook as long, so they had to wait to go in. I had laundry and other things to do before going to work that got done during the first half of the day. Before I went to work (about four hours later), I drained off the potatoes and carrots and then dumped them into the crock pot. I tried to get as many of them as I could into the broth that had surrounded the roast, covered it back up and left it on High.

I worked four hours, and when I came home – the veggies had cooked to perfection. The roast was tender and moist and flavorful – it was truly delicious. It surely didn’t taste as if it had cooked itself, even though it actually had!

So there you have it – my secret time-fighting weapon.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t go hide in a cave and make you find me to hear it?

 

 

Tuesday Presents…

Another Ten Things….

I’m afraid it’s not going to be very imaginative this week. I’ve had the flu and it has wiped me clean of any decent creative energy… or any sort of energy for that matter.

10 Things I Don’t Have the Energy To Do

1) Make myself Lunch… can we say, “Yogurt”?

2) Exercise… even though I so faithfully started walking last week

3) Fall Cleaning… it shall have to wait a few more days, sorry dirty windows

4) Laundry… the thought of hauling the washer out of it’s little corner is enough to make me pass out, just saying.

5) Go for a ten mile bike ride like I was planning

6) Enthusiasm… it has left me… utterly

7) Get out of bed… nope, not happening, lunch has just been cancelled

8) Brush my teeth (my strength is fading even as I write)

9) Finish This Post.

The End

this is what rehab looks like

 

No, this is not a cup of coffee. It’s a cup of Hot Chocolate – the addiction which has replaced my coffee habit.

As some of you may remember, I gave up caffeine about three months ago (wow- it seems much longer than that…). I didn’t go through headaches or withdrawals, but I sure do miss the habit. I miss walking to work on chilly mornings with a warm cup in my hand. I miss having something hot to sip when I am thinking hard or feeling dreamy. I miss the taste, the scent, the hipness, the comfort it gave me in uncomfortable social situations because as we all know – there is nothing more acceptable nor mysterious as a slightly withdrawn sort of person drinking coffee in the corner of the room.

I loved coffee, and now it’s over.  Gone.

I walked about in life with a hole in my heart and empty hands. Chilled by every breeze, not able to concentrate when I needed to be creative and my politically correct mysterious attitude was replaced by blatant social awkwardness.

I don’t think rehab has done me much good because that gaping chasm in my life has been filled with torrents of steamy milk chocolate. I thought surely I was going to become a decent tea-sipping gal, but then I was introduced to Hot Chocolate.

It’s not that I never had it before, but I could easily *not* drink it. I’m not sure I would have even said I ‘liked’ it. But now, boy howdy, I like it.  I seek it out, I drink it, I scrutinize different brands and feel that a little of my mystique has been returned to me. I’ve always thought of coffee drinkers as being hard-core, where chocolate drinkers always seemed… fluffy. I feel like I’m bringing a little hard-core to the hot chocolate scene, in my own way, and try not to purr when I drink it. We’ve both benefited from the transfer in addictions.

**BUT** chocolate has caffeine in it!! Yes, good point, it does, but not enough to count. So there, I’m safe.

Anyway, in case you were wondering how the whole “No Coffee” thing was going… that’s how it goes!

perfection bread for beginners

I have a *pearl* of a Mother-in-Law, have I ever mentioned that?  I have never met someone so generous with praise and encouragement. She is, without a doubt, the most positive, upbeat and open soul I’ve ever known – but she’s not candy coated. She’s not icky sweet – she stood right next to me and agreed that the trunk of my Volvo would be perfect for hauling groceries… or dead bodies. She’s lovely and smart and interesting and vibrant – and she loves my bread. So I made her a loaf of the bread Alex and I eat week to week and she, true to her self, went wild.

“Ann! This bread is perfection!”

I didn’t have the heart to argue that it was slightly overdone, which means that it would be drier than one could desire – far from perfect. I doubt she would have seen it even if I had pointed it out. So I quietly accepted her big hug and wished that everyone could have someone like her in their life – someone who is just tickled to death with them. Everyone needs an Elaine. Lavish praise, encouragement – however dark the prospects look, someone who always believes that you did your best and is thrilled that you tried.

You would think – or at least I would – that such a reaction would make someone loosen up, be sloppy, not do as good of a job since they knew it would nearly always be accepted with thanks and a smile, but I find it helps me to do even better. I check the bread more often so it *doesn’t* get over done, I knead it more thoroughly – I truly want it to be as delightful as it can be when my loved ones have a slice. It’s a special event for me, not a chore or a test.

So now, on Tuesdays when I get out the ingredients to make my bread for the week, I have to smile because I think of Elaine and how perfect she thinks it is. She has helped me to look at life a little kinder, be a little more patient with myself and others, to be a little quicker to be thrilled and excited than nitpicky and obsessive, to be a little bit braver to get in there and do my darndest.

Perfection Bread

2 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1/3 cup honey

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups warm water

2 1/2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

2 Tablespoons flax seed

1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill 10 Grain Cereal

3 cups Whole Wheat Flour (I use the King Arthur brand White Whole Wheat)

3 cups White Unbleached Bread Flour (again, King Arthur is what I use)

Extra flour for kneading, about a 1/2 cup

 

Notes:

I buy Bob’s Red Mill Hot Cereal, which can usually be found in either the baking aisle or the specialty foods aisle. The flax seed I use is usually whole, but you could definitely use ground. To make a simple, plain white loaf, just skip the whole wheat flour and use all white, don’t add the flax or cereal mix. You will have to use a little more flour (1/2 cup) to make up for the missing grain, that is all.

I will try to write out the directions for someone who has never made bread before, so if you are a bread master, bear with us. Everyone starts at least once and I had a great teacher who was very thorough and informative (thanks Mom!). No one is born knowing how to do everything! Now, you beginner, go to it with a brave heart – whatever the outcome, we will applaud your hard work and willing hands.

Directions:

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Warm is the key here, you don’t want to kill the yeast by making it too hot, then it won’t work properly. A good rule of thumb is if you can stick your thumb (or any finger) comfortably in the water – it’s not too hot.

In a separate, smaller bowl, add the 10 grain cereal to the 2 cups of *hot* water. Doesn’t need to be boiling hot, just hot from the tap. It helps to soften the grains. Let that sit for about 5 minutes while the yeast dissolves. Then add the salt, honey, oil and flax seed. Stir well before pouring into the yeast mixture.

Now- get out a sturdy wooden spoon and measure half the flour into the bowl with the liquids. Mix well, until all the flour is wet. Add the rest of the flour, cup by cup, stirring well after each before adding another. When the dough gets firm enough that it’s hard to stir with a spoon, dump whatever flour is left from the 6 cups total onto a clean, smooth surface, turn the dough out onto it and begin to knead.

Ah, kneading. Is there anything more therapeutic than feeling a warm bundle of dough under your hands? The dough will still be slightly ‘wet’, or sticky, so incorporate the remaining flour in by getting the ball of dough real dusty with flour, put the heel of your hand on the center of the ball and push away from you, into the counter. Now, fold the stretched piece of dough back onto itself and push it again. Each time it stretches over the flour, it picks up a little more of it, and you’re working the dough so that it becomes glued to itself and makes a nice slice of bread when it’s baked. Every so many shoves, turn the ball of dough so that you’re pushing the opposite side. If your hands get sticky (as they might at first) roll as much as you can off your hands and keep them dusty with flour. I find they stay cleaner if I go quickly, almost smacking the dough with the heel of my hand and turning it quickly. It’s rather energetic once I get going! I don’t like to add too much extra flour lest the bread get dense.

You can knead as long as you like, but I generally go until all the flour is absorbed and I have a stretchy, smooth sort of ball of dough that doesn’t tear when I pull it. You want it to have a good deal of elasticity. Now clean out the mixing bowl and grease it up lightly, either with some spray oil or a rubbing of butter. Toss the dough bundle into it and flip it once so that the top gets some grease on it. Cover and let rise for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size. As unlikely as it seems- it will get there! That yeast will do it’s busy work and the dough *will* rise. It helps if the temperature is right, somewhere around 80 degrees. My kitchen is never perfectly heated or cooled, but it’s the closest to a consistent 80 I can get, so the dough stays there. If it’s cooler, it may take a little longer, in the summer – my bread will rise in 45 minutes! You have to feel as you go, somewhat.

** Fancy time lapse **

The dough – – it has risen. It smells sweet and yeasty and looks ambitious enough to take over the world. Punch it back before it gets the chance… really. Put your freshly washed fist right into the heart of it and push straight down. It will whine a bit, but you’re doing everyone a favor. Grease up two regular sized loaf pans and set them aside. Gently work the dough a little in the bowl and then split it. If you are *that* person, weigh each half so that they are equal. If you are me, just make a good guess and squeeze it in half. Form each half into a loaf shape and place them in their pans. These have to rise again, until they have gotten taller than the sides of the pan. Again, this is a little variable depending on the temperature.

** Time Lapse **

Turn the oven on to 350 degrees, place your well-risen loaves into the oven gently.

They need to bake for about 25 minutes, or until the internal temp is about 190 degrees according to a thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the loaf, *or* until the loaf sounds very airy and hollow when knocked on.

Cool by placing on their sides, every so often flipping sides until the loaf pops out after a gentle nudging.    And there you have it – Bread. It takes a few times to get it *down*, you know? I’ve baked tough loaves, dry loaves, doughy loaves – but a couple perfect ones, too. It just takes time and practice – and a lot of toast!

It’s a good skill to have, homemade bread is cheaper and tastier than store bought (when you figure on buying the special, all natural 10 grain variety which is still not as good as something you can make yourself) and there is nothing more appealing than the smell of baking bread in a home. It’s aromatherapy at it’s best.

Have fun, make bread, applaud. Repeat.