Not Your Mother’s Tuna Salad

 

I don’t make tuna salad like anyone else I have ever known, not even my own mother. I don’t remember having tuna salad sandwiches much growing up, probably because my small herd of younger brothers considered it to be a ‘Girl Food’ and disliked tuna in general unless it was thoroughly hidden in a thick casserole of egg noodles, creamy white sauce and cheese.

I moved from my family’s home to my husband’s without a lot of thought thrown towards cold salad sandwiches, I was more intent on trying to impress my dearly beloved with good roasts and fluffy pancakes. One day, early on in the marriage, he requested tuna salad for dinner. Thinking back on it now, I do believe it was the first food he asked for as a married man and I remember my wifely heart sinking a little.

“Tuna salad – really?” I didn’t even remember how to make a tuna salad.

“Oh yeah, tuna salad. With pickles and artichokes…” My husband licked his lips and wandered out of the kitchen, leaving me in dumb bewilderment. Pickles and artichokes? In a tuna salad? But how? What’s an artichoke?

Let me remind my dear reader that this was slightly before the Great Revelation that he didn’t really care for Butter – something which he very neatly announced at dinner one evening and nearly made me choke on my own life’s breath – so I wasn’t yet *fully* acquainted with my new husband’s eating preferences. There’s so much adjusting that goes on in those first few months, it’s a little dizzying and love truly makes the dance worth while.

I got out my mixing bowls, some cans of tuna and anything else in the cupboard I thought seemed appropriate. In the very back I found a can of quartered artichoke hearts, and hidden in the far reaches of the refrigerator I found a half-eaten jar of pickles, some mayo and then I had at it.

Fifteen nerve-wracking minutes later (give or take a few) and I was serving Alex the strangest tuna salad that ever was seen on this or any other planet and let me tell you what – it was awesome. I’ve been making tuna salad a’la Alex for over a year now, almost monthly as it is one of his most favorite things to eat, and we’ve tweaked the recipe into a true Gaylor Family Heirloom.  Are you brave enough to try it?

 

Tuna Salad with Pickles and Artichokes

2 cans of white tuna (packed in water) – drained

2 spears kosher dill pickles, chopped into small pieces

1/4 cup finely diced onion

4-5 quarters of canned artichoke hearts, chopped

1/2- 2/3 cup mayonnaise  (make sure to use the real stuff – no Miracle Whip!)

1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning  (generic, salt-less blend available at the grocery store)

*anything else*

This includes (but is surely not limited to):

Chopped tomato, diced celery, chopped sweet pepper, chopped olives or avocado chunks. Instead of the seasoning, you could use a tablespoon or more of your favorite salad dressing – Italian, Caesar, French, Balsamic… the sky’s the limit. We’ve tried about every combination of additions and find it hard to make something that isn’t tasty.

Dump ALL of your ingredients into a bowl and mix them together well. I usually add the mayonnaise last because depending on what else we’ve tossed in I might need a little more or less. We are not ones to like our tuna salad on the sloppy side, so I tend to go light on the mayo, but that’s just us.

There are about as many methods of consuming this food as there are of preparing it. We like to eat it late at night, squeezing too much between two slices of homemade bread – what a mess! Or we eat it on top of a green salad, or stuffed in a hollowed-out tomato, or scoop generous bites of it up with crackers while watching movies. It’s an easy, satisfying sort of meal that I would never have truly appreciated had it not been for my husband’s rather odd request. So there you go!  I suppose there isn’t anything “too strange” to try, at least in the kitchen…

 

A return, A revelation, A response; Tuesday’s Ten

Alright, alright – I fell off the blog bandwagon there for a bit and now I’m back.

I think.

Let’s just take each day as it comes, shall we? With tea and happy thoughts and much lower expectations on my end.

You see, I’m absolutely, totally, utterly and incredibly Pregnant.

Yuppers.

That’s me. Oh, so preg-O.

I’m going to have a baby. There’s a tiny person inside me *right now*, growing away and making their mum long for naps and salty carbs.

Did you hear the shouts at about 7:45 AM last Monday (eastern standard time) when Alex and I found out that we are the delighted parents of a poppy seed-sized baby *someone*? Obviously, we’re not sure what the little boot is, though we keep inadvertently referring to him as, well, ‘him’, but just knowing that someone is really *there* is enough for now.

How do you describe it? I will attempt to do so with this Tuesday’s Ten Things…

1) Shocked; it worked! I know they *said* it would – but it did. Really. We did it. We made a baby. Um, ta-da! Is it weird to feel really accomplished?

2) Thankful; God worked! Sure we happened to be in all the right spots at all the right times, but do you have any idea what a miracle this is? How can there possibly be pregnant atheists?! This is so obviously the work of the Lord, it’s overwhelming because it’s happening IN ME. Someone exists now that didn’t before. There is a tiny soul inside me, placed there by God Himself. Incredible, absolutely incredible.

3) Full; I feel full. Full of love for my husband and our child. Full of purpose and intentions and hopes and dreams and worries and cravings and wonderings and supposings and plans and questions and deeper than usual thoughts. I feel full of life – which seems slightly contradictory seeing how my life now consists of barely more than eating, sleeping and trudging to the bathroom.

4) Happy; I’m a mama! I am so happy – purely, surely happy with all the gloss and shininess that goes along with it. Even when I get to feeling a little strained, just remembering *why* puts a smile on my face – I’ve got a baby.

5) Reverent. Life looks so different to me after seeing those two shadowy blue lines cross on that test – it really *means* something. Suddenly, I’m not thinking about ‘will this food make me fat’, but, ‘is this good for the baby?’. It’s amazing and surprisingly hard to describe, there is a deep part of me that feels very solemn and silent before the life that is  being woven together inside me. It’s so serious and fierce and strong.

6) Tired. Knock-down, drag out exhausted. So tired.

7) Hot. As in, literally on fire… I wasn’t aware that there would be hot flashes.

8) Preoccupied – Because I am not thinking about what you are saying, I am thinking about something else all together, probably baby-related. Sorry.

9) Honored. I am so honored to be the mother of Alex’s child, I can hardly say. He is the best of men and will be the very best of fathers and when I get to thinking about it I am overwhelmed. Overwhelmed, I say.

10) Out Of Control. In a way, at least, I feel as much a passenger as this little one. This being my first time around the block, I have very little idea of what to expect. I’ve read enough books to have some knowledge about it, but that’s not enough. Even if the knowledge is there, the *feeling* is still totally NEW. It’s so weird. It’s not just me anymore.

 

So there you have it, 10 Things from me about being pregnant. I’m quite sure this isn’t going to turn into some Mommy Blog, but I’m sure the kiddo will make an appearance now and again. We’ll have to come up with a cute nickname so we don’t have to call it “It” the whole time.

Any suggestions?

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?

 

 

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.

On hold

This week has been declared a week of rest for the old Blog-O. I’ve been sadly unable to keep posts scheduled and here we are – at the end of the line.

This week looks like it’s going to be pretty tight time-wise, so I’m going to just hit the ‘temporary hibernate’ button up there in the far right-hand corner and do what needs doing.

Fear not though, gentle readers, we will be back soon with more recipe flops and lists of random things to invade your days with.

Until then – take care, enjoy the Autumn and cook yourself something special!

I am,

your faithful (if a little busy) blogger friend,

Andi

Harvest Party

It’s coming into harvest time, and what a time it is! Probably my favorite of the year… but I say that about every season, I think…

Our modest little garden has outdone itself and far outreached our meager expectations of it, we’ve had tomatoes like crazy as well as four good pickings of green beans, enough cucumbers to keep us on our toes and all the salad we could eat in earlier months. It’s been wonderful. We planted three types of tomatoes, one was an early producer with well mannered plants and petite, perfectly shaped fruit and the other two are monster heirloom varieties that sprawled everywhere and literally ate one of their unassuming pepper plant neighbors. They produced frighteningly large, misshapen tomatoes and several green peppers (not really, it only seemed like that because I waded into them the other day and recovered the consumed plant, finding that in spite of its interment with the Amazonian tomatoes, it still managed to pop out a couple of peppers… amazing.)

I feel it only fair to mention that Alex took the lovely, well-behaved ones under his gentle wing in the Spring and tied them up nicely and cared for them, thus creating a lush tomato paradise, while the feral heirlooms were my territory. No tying, no gentle wing, just wild, uninhibited growth. One of us is a real gardener, the other is something of a impatient seed scatterer. It will be fascinating to see what comes of our children….

We didn’t grow any zucchini this year, I was banking on the fact that come August, everyone has zucchini in abundance and I would be able to get some for little or no money. I was right! A friend of ours donated three HUGE zucchini to our harvest cause and I was able to freeze seven quarts of shredded zucchini one morning. There is no room for anything else in our apartment-sized fridge freezer, but by golly – we’ll have zucchini coming out our ears till May.

I’ve made nearly two gallons of fresh garden salsa- all from our own tomatoes and peppers and ruined a huge pot of would-be spaghetti sauce, please don’t ask how – it was tragic and I haven’t really forgiven myself yet. Here me now – I will never, ever, ever, ever, EVER, ever again use identical containers to store salt and sugar. I will not forget to label said containers. I will not automatically assume that I have the right container and continue to add the WRONG thing to my sauce, ending with a salty, inedible MESS. Never. EVER. The End.

It’s been grand and we are so thankful to Alex’s mom for giving us her beautiful garden boxes, to our Landlord for letting us hog his tiny yard, and most of all to our Lord, who sent the rain and sun and gave the increase. Praise God from whom ALL blessing flow… Amen.