Wednesday, February 24, 2010

** Snow Day ** and Oatmeal Cookies

After the warm weekend we had, we thought spring was on its way. Wrong! It snowed yesterday! I left work early just in case the roads got icy. Coming out of Houston it rained most of the way then magically the rain turned to snow about 2 miles south of the house. Then it snowed all afternoon until dark. It was beautiful!

Unfortunately when we woke up the snow was gone..... But at least today it's sunny. I wish it snowed here in winter instead of the dreary rain! It was so nice watching the snow fall (from inside).
I decided oatmeal cookies would be a nice snack to enjoy while watching the snow fall. I'll share my recipe.
My favorite oatmeal cookie receipe comes from a little booklet that I bought at a yard sale for 25 cents. The original price was 20 cents. There's no date on the booklet anywhere but it looks like it was from the 50's or 60's. It's called Pillsbury's Best Butter Cookie Cookbook (Volume III). I've made several of the recipes which are all very good. The Peanut Blossoms recipe is great too. It's funny reading these old recipes because most of the women used their husband's name, for instance the lady who created the Peanut Blossom recipe is a Mrs. Chester Smith. Can you imagine??
This receipe is called Oatmeal Chip Cookies. Of course I always change a recipe somewhat so here's the way I do it:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In mixing bowl, cream together:
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • Aprx. 1-1/2 tablespoons of molasses (I think this is what makes these cookies moist on the inside. The recipe calls for 1 c. white sugar and 1 c. brown, but I always use molasses.)
Then add 2 eggs and beat well
Stir together in a separate bowl:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Then add to creamed mixture, mix well.
Stir in:
2 cups quick cooking rolled oats.
1 cup raisins OR chocolate chips
The recipe calls for 1 cup of nuts also, which I sometimes add and sometimes don't, just depends on whether I have them or not.
You can chill the dough if you prefer, for easier handling. Shape dough into balls, using a rounded spoonful for each. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 9-12 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly then remove to wire racks.
I like small cookies and I like them to be uniform, not only because they look better, but they also cook more uniformly, so I use a gadget from Pampered Chef that looks like a melon baller or ice cream scoop, but basically it measures out a perfect portion in a nice round ball. It makes easy and fast work of making cookies. They come in three different sizes. I have a large one and sometimes make cookies with the larger one also. You can see it in the picture below.
I also use an air-filled cookie sheet for even baking and parchment paper for easy clean up.
The wire cooling racks in this picture were Mom's. I can only imagine how many cookies and cakes she cooled on them over the years!! They're probably pretty old and still going strong. I also have 2 racks from Marc's Mom. They're a little different but also old and well made.
The other cookbook in the picture is the Betty Crocker Cooky Book. This cook book was Mom's also. The page that showed the copyright is long since gone. There's still a sticker on the front that says $2.95 so you know it's old! I think it came out in the 60's. A few years back they reprinted it exactly as it was then so I gave all my daughters a copy, along with a note about which recipes were favorites. (Note: Stephanie had it for years with the cellophane wrapper still on... only recently, after moving into their house in Navasota did she crack it open)
I remember as a kid making recipes out of that book (making recipes with friends with spent the night, and leaving the mess for Mom to find in the morning). Pages 22-23 are stained from use. On those pages you find Snickerdoodles (I won a ribbon in the county fair many years ago with that recipe) and Chocolate Crinkles, as well as Peanut Butter Fingers, all of which I've made countless times.
I like cookbooks and have collected many over the years. I finally had to purge my stash, I simply didn't have room for all of them. I like any cookbook from the 50's because it seems like life was so wholesome and simple back then (our grand kids will probably say that about 1999).
I have a cookbook that Kathy gave me in 1977 - The Joy of Cooking. It is tattered and stained and sections have come loose from the spine but I still use it all the time. I learned to cook with that one. Everything you could need is in there - from how to set a table to how to stock your pantry to how to cook any food you could imagine. I am sure that I've literally read every recipe in that book.

Visitors to the Farm

Twice now we've had a flock (or whatever you call a group of turkeys) come to visit. They appear to be wild turkeys, but they are very tame so I suspect that they belong to a neighbor. The flock consists of a male and three hens. The first time I saw them I heard the rooster and ducks making quite a bit of noise and when I went to see what had upset them I saw several large birds that at first glance resembled buzzards. I realized they were turkeys when I heard the male gobble. The three hens were right next to the electric fence eyeing the scratch grain Marc puts out for the chickens and ducks. The male had somehow managed to get stuck in the adjacent pasture and couldn't figure out how to get through the fence so he was pacing back and forth gobbling and ruffling out his feathers.

The second time I saw them they came across the field from the adjacent woods and headed straight for the garden. I thought - great, they're going to eat all the plants. But instead they headed for the chicken pen, again eyeing the grain. We ran outside to snap some pics and Marc threw them some grain, which they enjoyed.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Perfect Day

For those of you UP NORTH... the temp was in the mid- 70's today! I wore flip flops outside! I managed to get a lot done:
  • laundry (all of it!)
  • clean the kitchen
  • organize the laundry closet (yes, I know it's not terribly exciting but it needed doing and I can get more STUFF in there now)
  • sewing
  • pruned all the fruit trees, crepe myrtles and other assorted trees
  • Marc tilled up a flower bed around a crepe myrtle and we planted some daffodils, daylillies and irises that we've had in pots for THREE YEARS in the new bed and around the well house
  • enjoyed the sunshine (right now I'm sitting in a rocker on the front porch looking out over the pond enjoying the sound of the birds)

When we sold the house in town we potted up some plants that I had in the yard. It never dawned on me that three years later the flowering plants would still be in the pots. What's really cool is most of those plants were in the yard when I bought that house, but had been neglected for so long they had pretty much quit blooming. I divided them and moved them and they took off. The irises were salvaged from some trash bags that someone had set out for collection after digging up flower beds in their yard. One man's trash is another's treasure.

I haven't had flowers in so long - I am really excited about that. I loved having roses and other flowers in the yard. I vowed that I wouldn't plant anything until I had my picket fence. Marc says he's going to tackle it soon....

Meanwhile, the trees are budding out. The fruit trees will have blooms soon and the bees will be buzzing. If we don't get another freeze, I may have some apricots!

Babies on the Farm!

On February 18th our chickens and ducks turned one year old. On the same day they turned one they became parents. Marc got an inexpensive incubator (at Tractor Supply of course) and after reading and researching all we could, he placed 14 eggs in it.

He also got an automatic turner so he wouldn't have to mark and turn the eggs daily. The turner holds about 40 eggs, but he only put 14 in for the first experiment (now we wonder why we didn't fill it up...). Basically you plug it in and adjust the heat until you have it at 99.5 degrees and place the eggs in, small side down (the head develops in the big end). You keep water in the incubator so the air is humid. You make sure the water level stays constant and that's pretty much all there is to it for the first 19 days.
You're supposed to "candle" the eggs to see if an embryo is forming, but since we have dark brown eggs, we really didn't have much success with that. Thankfully we didn't have an exploding (rotten) eggs. As it turns out, we had two eggs that didn't develop. Next time we will try harder to candle them to make sure we don't have any accidents.
I marked the calendar on the day we put the eggs in the incubator and counted 21 days (or so I thought). Actually I miscounted. Thursday night we heard a strange - chirping - sound and ran to the incubator and saw this:
I looked at the calendar and realized I had miscounted.... Three days before the eggs hatch you're supposed to take out the turner so the chicks can position themselves for hatching. I hoped I hadn't screwed it all up! We quickly moved the eggs onto the wire (after placing muslin on the wire to catch any nastyness) and waited. The first chick came out about 1-2 hours after we first heard the chirping. I could hardly go to sleep that night, it was so exciting.
We figured we'd get about 1-2 chicks out of the deal, but we have 10 chicks. We would have had 12 but we learned, too late, that you're not supposed to open the lid until all the chicks hatch because the humidity drops. But even so, 10 out of 14 is great. Now if only all of them would be hens!!
We have a huge brooder cage in the shed, but it seems like a lot of work to set that all up for 10 chicks, so Marc put a plastic tote in the clawfoot tub and clipped a heat lamp on and that's where they'll stay for a week or so. Aren't they cute?

This is exciting because we can now add to our flock without having to order (and pay for) chicks. Marc is now collecting duck eggs. It will be interesting to see if we have a similar success rate with the ducks. I am envisioning an Easter picture of Journey with ducklings all around....

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

A few years ago when Martha Stewart was released from prison, a reporter asked her what she was having for dinner. She replied "Risotto!" I had never had risotto before although I'd heard of it. I figured that if Martha Stewart was having risotto for dinner on the first night she was released from prison, it must be something special. So I decided to make it. I couldn't believe my taste buds. I made the simple, classic recipe on the package of arborio rice. It was delicious.

Since then I've experimented with other combinations. Since I had an overabundance of butternut squash this fall I've made Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto several times. Since the first time I've made it I realized that it's one of those dishes that you can make substitutions and cut corners and it still turns out great. So, here's how I did it.

First, I cooked the butternut squash. Most recipes tell you to peel it first, but that is a LOT of work and I am looking for the Easy Button whenever possible.

I cut the squash in half, remove seeds, place cut side down on a stoneware pan with a little olive oil and bake till done. Then I scoop out the innards and discard the peel. This is a good way to do it when you have a lot of squash and need to get them processed quickly, which is what I had to do. I then packaged it in recipe-sized portions and froze it. Of course this only works when you will be mashing the squash. Ok, back to risotto...

In a heavy saucepan, saute 1 medium onion in a combination of olive oil and butter (about 3 Tbls. total) till tender & transparent, but not brown. Meanwhile, in another pan heat about 6 cups of chicken stock and keep it hot. Add 1-1/2 cups arborio rice to the pan with the oil and onions and saute for a few minutes.

Here you can add a little wine if you want to. Otherwise, begin adding the chicken stock, one half cup at a time. Cook at a strong simmer till the stock is absorbed, then add the next one half cup. Keep doing this till the rice is tender (or al dente if that's how you like it), which will take about 20 or 30 minutes. You're supposed to stir constantly, but hey, I don't. The rice will be creamy when done. Add the mashed squash, salt to taste, and add 1/2 cup or so of parmesan cheese, grated.

The thing that's neat about this is so long as you don't burn it you really can't screw it up. Also good - mushrooms and spinach instead of the squash.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

2010 Garden

Here in Texas gardening is a year round activity. Right now we have lettuce ("Spring Mix" (leaf lettuce) and Red Romaine) and radishes in the garden and we're having salads just about every night. We also have carrots, broccoli, swiss chard, cabbage, cauliflower and who knows what else growing right now. I just cooked the last of the butternut squash the other night (I'll post a couple of my favorite recipes soon).

While it's nice to have fresh winter vegetables, it's more exciting harvesting vine-ripened tomatoes. Marc has started enough seed trays to plant 1/4 acre of tomatoes! Like Blue Bell we plan to eat all we can and sell the rest.

Here's a picture of the seed starting stand he built using PVC pipe and grow lights holding about 12 flats of seeds. We need about 2 more of these units.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My $5 Cardigan & Tank Set

I love fabric stores but there aren't many left in these parts. Most of my purchases these days are online. I heard that even Wal-Mart is discontinuing sewing departments in its stores. No matter whether I'm online or in a store, I am compelled to browse the clearance section and every now and then I find something worth buying. Recently, I found some interesting fabrics at Wal-Mart on clearance for $1.00 per yard.

The price of patterns has gotten ridiculous so I only buy them when they're on sale for 99 cents each, then I usually get about 10 at a time. If I don't ever use the pattern I can sell it on Ebay and recoup my cost.

Here are a couple of pics of my cardigan & tank top set that only cost $5 including the cost of the pattern, made from my $1/yard clearance fabric. The fabric is a knit with several different colors and has a slightly nubby texture, very lightweight and comfortable.

I've been sewing on and off for 30 years and recently came across something that I'd never heard of before and now wonder how I ever lived without it - double needles. I always thought you had to have a special sewing machine to use double needles. Now that I know I can use them on my sewing machine I've bought every one I could find, including one for stretch knits. You can see the topstitching on the closeup of the tank top done with the double needle. There's no way I could ever top stitch so precisely without it.