Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Good Luck for the New Year, Southern Style


As we approach the end of the year and the end of the holiday season, I always reach for one certain pantry staple.

If you grew up in the South or your family has Southern roots, you probably know that black eyed peas are considered lucky in this region of the country. People serve them on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in many different ways. My mother used to make black eyed peas with ham and serve them with cornbread. My Southern grandmother served Hoppin' John with hush puppies.

According to my family, black eyed peas should be the first thing you eat as the year changes and we leave behind the old to take up the new, which is the reason I always serve them New Year's Eve. I have made my mother's recipe and my grandmother's recipe. My children would never eat them, not even a bite. Come to think of it, I didn't eat them readily as a child, either. I experimented to find a way to prepare black eyed peas that my children might enjoy. For the last five or six years, this recipe has been a staple of our New Year's Eve celebration:


Black Eyed Pea Salsa

olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped ham
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 15 ounce can black-eyed peas, drained
1 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon seeded, finely chopped jalapeno pepper

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, ham, and garlic. Saute until onions are tender, about five minutes. Stir in cumin and next three ingredients; bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro and jalapeno. Spoon salsa into a bowl; cover and chill one to eight hours.

Serve at room temperature with pork or chicken or as a dip with crusty French bread or tortilla chips. Yields about 3 1/2 cups.

Those of you who have recently indulged yourselves (you know who you are) will be happy to know this is a healthy, filling treat. Plus it's tasty and lucky to boot.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

already longing for spring





The last roses of the season bloom in the autumn air. The dogs run in the back yard, barking their little fool heads off at a squirrel, a bird, the neighbors' dogs, or perhaps a passing pedestrian. The mornings are cool, the afternoons warm, and the nights clear and cold.



Autumn always incites a bit of longing in me. While I enjoy the cooler weather, the shortened days do not agree with me, the bleak winter looms, and my beautiful vegetation begins to succumb to the cool of the night. Already, I've lost my clematis, the lantana, the candymint, and the prairie daisies. The cool crept up quietly, gradually and nearly unnoticed, and I think my gardenia bloomed its last this summer.



From November to February, I live for the spring. Christmas hasn't held much excitement for me since the days of my youth. As an adult, the holidays are too often spoiled by the rushing, the tension, and the hassle. As I woke this morning, I heard birdsong in the back yard through the window above the bed. In the dawning morning, the sound of the bird singing sweetly filled my head with visions of greening grass and blooming flowers. Only upon full awakening did I remember the date.



But the promise of the coming spring, so near and yet still distant, will sustain me through the dark months, keep me hoping and longing for the new life that will surely greet me there. I'll pass the winter reading, planning, and yearning for the moment the crocus peeks through the cold January ground, a harbinger of the delicious spring joy only weeks away.



I'd never make it in Minnesota.

Friday, October 30, 2009

pumpkins, cats, bats and ghosties


This is not a food blog, and yet...another recipe.


Perfect Sugar Cookies
a la Martha Stewart

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons brandy, or milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Directions
Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar; add dry ingredients, and mix until incorporated. With mixer running, add egg, brandy (use the brandy, people, don't wimp out and use the milk), and vanilla; mix until incorporated.

Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape into 2 discs, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes, and transfer to prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch in between. Leftover dough can be rolled and cut once more. Bake until lightly golden, about 10 minutes; do not allow to brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Makes 2 dozen.


White Chocolate Ganache Glaze
a la Kim

2/3 cup cream
1 tablespoon Karo syrup
6 ounces white chocolate
powdered sugar, for thickening

Coarsely chop white chocolate, place in a small bowl and set aside. Combine cream (don't wimp out; this is not the time to watch your diet) and Karo syrup in a small pan. Heat over low heat until steaming. Pour over chocolate and let sit until melted. Stir to combine. Let cool. If the glaze is still a bit thin, add powdered sugar one heaping tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency. I think I used about four tablespoons. I colored the glaze orange with yellow and red gel food coloring, the kind used for cake decorating.
Makes more than you'll need.

Assembly

To ice the cookies, place a wire rack on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat. Place cookies on rack. Spoon ganache over the cookies, allowing excess to drain onto cookie sheet. Let the cookies sit until the glaze is firm, dry and no longer sticky.


The glaze is much easier to use than traditional icing. I got the idea to use glaze on the cookies from the Magpie's lovely black forest cupcakes. I adapted the chocolate ganache recipe for white chocolate. The boys loved these. The husband, not so much, but he's not big on sweets. I adore them. Hence the blog post. Make them. They're worth it.
Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bob Dylan at the Brady







Set List:


Gonna Change My Way of Thinking
The Man in Me
Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
This Dream of You
Cold Irons Bound
Po' Boy
Honest With Me
I Feel A Change Comin' On
Highway 61 Revisted
Workingman Blues #2
Thunder on the Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man



Encore:


Like a Rolling Stone
Jolene
All Along the Watchtower





A view of the "Old Lady on Brady" from Brady Street.





A view of the west side box office entrance from the car.



The marquee.



A single production bus on the west side, stage left. We watched the caterers load their vehicle here as we left after the concert.



Production buses on the east, about 5pm. By 7pm when the theater doors opened, they were gone.



We arrived early, parked the car in the Brady's small lot and walked to The Mexicali Border Cafe for a quick dinner before the concert. After eating, we walked the half block back to the Brady. The crowd had arrived, forming lines at both the east and west doors. To say the crowd was an eclectic mix of people is an understatement. The youngest fan, aged about eight, seemed just as excited as the oldest fan in the crowd. We saw another mother-daughter there. Just in front of us, a pair of sisters, we thought, and to our left a charming older couple who were seeing Dylan for a second time. We saw a tattooed, pierced, flamboyant couple aged around 25 in the center section enjoying the show just as much as the old-timers who were a little slow getting to their feet when the up-tempo tunes began. One young man with a head of curly hair and a pretty face clearly had his eye on our lovely daughter, though her mother's presence probably inhibited his approach.

The Brady Theater is a 1914 Western Classic Revival building with a spot on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. It seats about 2,800 in an auditorium and balcony. The acoustics are magnificent, and there isn't a bad seat in the house. Our lovely daughter purchased tickets before sale to the general public began and our seats were quite good, one section from middle toward stage right about eight rows back and right on the aisle, just as the floor starts to rise. Whether we were standing or sitting, we had a great view of Dylan all evening.

We entered as soon as the doors opened, bought souvenirs (a sweatshirt, a t-shirt, a poster, and a keychain), and found our seats. For about 45 minutes, we watched the crowd and waited. As the auditorium filled, taped music played in the background. The stage was set and lit an ethereal blue. Right on time, the house lights went down, the stage lights darkened, and the announcer said, "...the poet laureate of rock-n-roll, the legendary Bob Dylan". As the music started, we stood, we clapped, and we yelled. The atmosphere was electric.

Dylan began strong, enthusiastic and energetic. During the set, the bulk of the audience stood, only sitting for perhaps two songs early on. Stage left on keyboards, he sang as only Dylan can, and if you weren't familiar with his lyrics, it might have been tough to identify the song. Every piece was restyled, almost unrecognizable, yet still somehow familiar. It is a testament to the man as a musician and a writer that regardless of the arrangement, the songs still impress.

The stage lights were cut between each song; the pauses were long enough to shift positions and instruments without time for anything else. Music rose, fell, and rose again in a satisfying, regular rhythm. Five musicians took the stage with Dylan, two on guitar, one on bass, one on percussion, and one on keyboards. Enough instruments for ten musicians graced the stage. Dylan sang, played keyboards and an electric harmonica (or perhaps just a miked harmonica) but never touched a guitar. The band was simply fantastic. And oh, did Dylan sing. Up front with just the harmonica and his famous throaty, scratchy voice, Dylan bobbed his head in that familiar way, smiled, danced and distinctly fed on the energy of the audience. I've often heard him described as a musician, not a performer, but I'd have to disagree. The man entranced the full-house audience without ever saying a word. When the lights when down after a spectacular Ballad of the Thin Man, I could have gone home happy.

The audience whooped, hollered, clapped and stomped to an empty, dark stage for a good five minutes. Grown men could be heard yelling "Bobby!" Someone beat the arm of a chair or a wooden column, producing a hollow, regular thump. When the band re-took the stage, the applause was deafening. Dylan introduced his band, thanked his friends in the audience, and tore into a completely unfamiliar, absolutely fabulous rendition of Like a Rolling Stone, moving seamlessly into Jolene, then racing into a fantastic All Along the Watchtower surely influenced by the Jimi Hendrix cover. The lights went down briefly, and when they came back up, Dylan stood center stage, all in black, flanked by his band in taupe suits and black shirts. After a moment, the house lights came up and the crowd went wild. Including our lovely daughter and me.




Picture notes: All of the shots here are by me except for the poster, which was lifted from the Brady Theater website. We have a shot of Dylan on stage, but it is in our lovely daughter's camera which remains, at this time, in Tulsa. Will share it later if it is any good. Cameras were not allowed inside the theater. Somehow, our little one made it inside concealed in a high-heeled cowboy boot. I'm not saying whose.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Happy, Happy Birthday Baby



Today my youngest child turns eleven. He is in his last year of elementary school. Sam is a voracious reader, a good student, and an expert at video games of all kinds. He is a sweet, good-natured boy and quite sensitive. This is a hard age for kids in many ways, and one of the hardest for me to deal with as a parent. The little boy is still there, but he is beginning to grow up. Sometimes I baby him too much, and he lets me know. Other times, he needs that little bit of extra attention from his Mom. He is pulling away and coming back, advancing and retreating, in that familiar childhood dance. This is not the first time I've been a partner, but the long promenade changes with every child. I wouldn't miss a beat.


Happy birthday, sweet Samuel.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Simple Weekend Brunch



Last weekend all of my children were home for a Sunday morning meal. I wanted to whip up something a bit special without leaving home, and I hadn't planned anything at all. I opened the freezer to a box of puff pastry I'd purchased for I-don't-know-what and my menu was set. Everything else in these recipes are pantry and refrigerator staples in my house.

These recipes are simple and nearly foolproof. I've made them half a dozen times each. With no more than twenty minutes of effort and the addition of a green salad, you have the makings of a home cooked brunch that appeals to everyone.

Ham and Cheese Stromboli
(adapted from Pepperidge Farm website)

Ingredients

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1/2 pound sliced cooked deli ham
1/2 pound sliced cooked deli turkey breast
1 cup shredded Vermont White Cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
1 tsp herbs de provence
salt
pepper

Directions

Heat the oven to 400°F. Beat the egg and water in a small bowl with a fork or whisk.Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a 16x12-inch rectangle. With the short side facing you, layer the ham and turkey on the bottom half of the pastry to within 1 inch of the edge. Sprinkle with the cheese. Season to taste with herbs, salt and pepper. Starting at the short side, roll up like a jelly roll. Place seam-side down onto a baking sheet. Tuck the ends under to seal. Brush with the egg mixture.Bake for 25 minutes or until the stromboli is golden brown. Remove the stromboli from the baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.




Apple Pecan Pastries
(adapted from Pepperidge Farm website)

Ingredients

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups peeled, diced Jonagold apples
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into pieces
Confectioners' sugar

Directions


Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.Stir the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Add the apples, pecans and butter and toss to coat.Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a 15 x 10-inch rectangle. Brush the pastry sheet with water. With the long side facing you, spoon the apple mixture on the pastry to within 2 inches of the long sides and to the edge of the short sides. Starting at a long side, roll up like a jelly roll. Tuck ends under to seal. Place seam-side down on baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Remove from baking sheet and cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Slice into serving portions. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.

Tip: You can substitute chopped walnuts for the pecans if you like.


Pictures from Pepperidge Farm website. These were devoured before it occurred to me to snap a photo.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

the art of surrender


I have been thinking about relinquishing control. A favorite blog sparked my contemplation this morning, with a post exploring the natural ebbs and flows of life and the ways one can interrupt the organic progression of life by clutching and grasping at a place in time.


I have been struggling. Life fools us into believing we are settled by falling into distinct patterns but life is simply change incarnate. The departure of our lovely daughter dramatically altered my daily ebb and flow. I talk with her, I communicate with her in writing, and I see her somewhat frequently. I know if my heart aches at her absence, I can be at her side in under an hour. Mother and daughter relationships embody complexity; her physical and emotional absence is not my struggle. I miss the challenges she added to my daily existence, the very challenges I thought would be last on my list of cherished moments.


Family time has never been orchestrated. We have always preferred a spontaneous togetherness. I began searching for reasons to draw the entire family together, whether it is a weekend meal or some type of event. Before this school year, if I prepared a simple meal, set the table, and called to everyone in the evening, family fellowship happened instantaneously. Now I find myself purchasing tickets to see Bob Dylan at the Brady as much for the 90 minute drive as for the concert.


This morning my thoughts ambled along until they lit on Countee Cullen (pictured).


If You Should Go

Love, leave me like the light,
The gently passing day,
We would not know but for the night
When it has slipped away.
Go quietly; a dream
When done should leave no trace
That it has lived, except a gleam
Across the dreamer's face.


Learning to let go, to release that emotional grip, comes naturally through parenting, sometimes leaping, sometimes retreating, sometimes limping along. Slowly, oh so slowly, I am clutching less and yielding more, aiming to walk rather than crawl toward finding peace.

Friday, October 2, 2009

October in Oklahoma

Yesterday dawned bright and beautiful, with mostly clear skies and a light, cool breeze. It was the perfect day for a drive. On Old Route 66 driving from Edmond to Arcadia, you can escape from suburbia into the rural countryside of Oklahoma County. Ten minutes after leaving the city limits, there is scant evidence of the urban center mere miles away. The public perception of the land here tends toward flat, but the truth is that the hills in central Oklahoma roll and undulate over the landscape in quite a lovely, respectable manner.




Wildflowers are still blooming in the pastures and alongside the roads. The wild sunflowers, standing six or seven feet tall with flowers the size of softballs, are just beginning to go to seed.





The cedar trees you see here aren't native to Oklahoma, they are invasive due to the favorable climate and considered a nuisance. The large yellow splashes of prairie goldentop and the prairie grasses (I think the one pictured is little bluestem) grow wild. When they grow in fields like this, farmers and ranchers sometimes bale them into prairie hay.




Rural roads, even the blacktops, are lined with little shrubby sumac trees. The grasses, the larger trees, and the flowers still look like summer, but those little crooked sumac trees are beginning to blush red.



Coffee Creek runs through Arcadia under State Highway 66 (old Route 66) in a northwest direction up toward the old state capital of Guthrie. Coffee Creek doesn't make it quite to Guthrie, ending about two miles south of the Oklahoma/Logan county division, which happens to be a couple of blocks from where our house sits.




Baled, dried prairie hay sits in the sun next to a little pond in someone's pasture. Because the large, round bales were used, the hay can sit in the elements unharmed for months, no hay barn required. Barbed wire fences are quite common in rural Oklahoma. I grew up with them and can't count the number of times the back of my shirt got hooked by a barb as I scrambled through a fence.




Below you can just get a glimpse of the largest attraction of the town of Arcadia through the trees. Arcadia is an old town for Oklahoma. The post office predates statehood, and although a large fire took out a good portion of the town in the late 1920s, many lovely historical buildings still remain. Nowadays, there are about 250 residents.




Arcadia Lake is quite beautiful, located near gentle, rolling hills and the Deep Fork River. Hiking, boating, swimming, fishing and camping are all offered in the Arcadia Lake parks. The lake itself is over 1,800 acres with about 25 miles of shoreline. The lake, like most (if not all) of the state lakes, is man-made. The lake opened in 1987 and in addition to the recreational aspect, it is a part of the water supply system for the city of Edmond.



The
round barn in Arcadia dates to about 1898. It housed livestock, hay and supplies and was a meeting place for townspeople. In the 1980s the roof of the barn collapsed. Since that time, a group of retirees worked to restore it to its original condition. Upkeep is ongoing; you can see a man working on the roof in the picture I took yesterday. Today the loft of the barn can be rented for special events. It's such a popular tourist attraction among travelers on old Route 66 that the town constructed a little area beside the road to pull onto for picture taking. When Paul McCartney drove The Mother Road to celebrate his birthday in 2008, it's said he took pictures there.


The area around Arcadia still boasts acres of pasture land, but there are recent additions, too. A local businessman recently built a roadside store just up a piece from the round barn that sells 500 varieties of bottled soda pop and boasts a retro diner serving old fashioned milkshakes, burgers, sandwiches, and chicken fried steak. Outside the front of the establishment, he erected a 66-foot pop bottle just so you won't miss the turn. In between the round barn and the store, you'll find a large tree farm owned by that same businessman (who happens to own the company that provides my husband's livelihood). You might have heard of this guy. His name is Aubrey McClendon and he had a hand in Oklahoma City's new NBA franchise team.

Just turn your head the other way, and you'll see we Okies haven't gotten far from our roots.


This part of the state is still a bit unfamiliar to me, but I am exploring and learning the area around my new house. I may never get used to the red dirt, but this place is starting to feel like home. If you ever visit, October is a beautiful time to see all the beauty central Oklahoma offers.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

the only way beer ever passes through my lips




On Thursday night the kids asked me for something quick and simple. I hadn't felt well on Thursday, nothing terrible, just tired, cranky and headachy. "Make something you don't have to think about, Mom, but I'd like something warm," said my sixteen-year old boy. This fits the bill perfectly.


Barbequed Meatloaf
(adapted from who knows how many recipes)

serves 4

1 pound ground beef, preferably ground chuck or my Daddy's if you can get it
1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 small onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, diced or pressed
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 cup barbeque sauce (we like Sweet Baby Ray's) plus extra for top

Mix all ingredients together except the extra sauce. Form into a loaf (I use a bread pan). Spread extra sauce over the top in a thin layer. Bake at 350 degrees F for about an hour. Be sure to pour off any fat before plating.



Baked Macaroni and Cheese
(adapted from Southern Living's The Ultimate Cookbook)

serves 4 to 6

2 cups pasta, such as small shells
1/4 c butter
1/4 c flour
2 c cold milk
1/4 t dry mustard
salt to taste
pepper to taste (freshly ground is best)
4 ounces shredded Vermont Sharp White Cheddar

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Melt butter over low heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Whisk in flour and cook for one minute. Slowly whisk in milk. (It is important to keep it cold to keep from forming lumps as you add the milk to the roux.) Season with dry mustard, salt, and pepper. Bring flame to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens. Stir in cheese until melted and well combined. Pour in cooked macaroni and mix well. Turn into buttered two quart casserole. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 to 35 minutes.

And now for the beer:


Blue Moon Beer Bread
(adapted from a friend's recipe)

Serves 4 at my house

3 c self-rising flour
1/2 c sugar
12 ounces Blue Moon Belgian White

Combine all ingredients until a soft dough forms. Turn into a buttered loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 50 to 60 minutes.



Now, you can use any kind of beer you want, but the Blue Moon is wheat ale and I really prefer the flavor over anything else I've tried. I have no idea whether the beer is good for drinking, it just makes good bread. You can also stir in half a cup of your favorite cheese. Delicious.

This is a simple, satisfying meal, and very boy-friendly. The flavors work well together. I usually serve buttered corn or roasted baby carrots alongside for a complete meal (growing boys, you know).


This time, the picture is mine, but was taken on the following Saturday when hubby and I decided we wanted a repeat of the macaroni and cheese with the bread sans meatloaf.






Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall Comfort

Fall air started to creep into Oklahoma about two weeks into September. It was a gradual change, just the way Mother Nature meant. By Monday afternoon, our days were in the 70s followed by nights in the 50s. After all the infernal rain passed through, the sky shined periwinkle blue. Perfect fall weather put me in the mood for comfort food.

Honestly, some of my comfort food probably isn't what most people automatically turn to when seeking mental as well as physical nourishment. Over the past two weeks, I've prepared normal comfort food such as pot roast with potatoes and carrots, baked potato soup served with Blue Moon beer bread, and meatloaf with baked macaroni and cheese. Potage d'Oignon with Croque Monsieur -- better known as French Onion soup with ham and cheese sandwiches -- was my hands-down favorite, partially because it required a trip to La Baguette. On Tuesday night I made poulet en cocotte bonne femme or chicken with bacon, onions and potatoes roased in a casserole.

These meals have been so delicious I decided to share them with you. First up, soup and sandwiches.







Potage d'Oignon
(Onion Soup)


From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I

The onions for an onion soup need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavor which characterizes a perfect brew. You should therefore count on 2 ½ hours at least from start to finish. Though the preliminary cooking in butter requires some watching, the actual simmering can proceed almost unattended.
Serves six to eight

1 ½ pounds or about 5 cups thinly sliced onions
3 T butter
1 T oil
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
3 T flour
2 quarts boiling brown stock or beef bouillon
½ cup dry white wine, such as chardonnay
Salt and pepper to taste
3 T brandy
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread
1 ½ c grated Swiss cheese

Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in covered pan for 15 minutes. Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep golden brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for three minutes. Off the heat, blend in the boiling liquid (I use broth made with Knorr bouillon). Add the wine and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning.

Just before serving, stir in the brandy. Pour into soup cups over rounds of bread. Top with grated cheese.


Now, I know wine and brandy in one dish may seem a bit over the top, but trust me, don't make this without them. It is more than worth that trip to the liquor store. I used a 2007 Dancing Bull chardonnay which is pretty cheap. The brandy, not as cheap. I bought an E & J V.S.O.P. which ran about $20, but it is a pretty big bottle. The brandy is stirred in right at the end, so quality is important. Never cook with something you wouldn't drink straight. Since neither my husband nor I actually drink brandy, it will last a long time at 3 tablespoons per use.

This is really a simple soup, it's just time consuming. At the end you can run the soup cups under the broiler for a few minutes to melt the cheese if your soup cups are oven proof. I personally do not find this necessary.






Croque Monsieur
(literally, crunch mister)

From Bon Appétit


Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 bay leaf
4 slices firm white sandwich bread
4 ounces thinly sliced Black Forest ham
4 ounces sliced Gruyère cheese
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives

Preparation
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Add nutmeg and bay leaf. Increase heat to medium-high and boil until sauce thickens, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat broiler. Place 2 bread slices on work surface. Top each with half of ham and sliced Gruyère. Top with remaining bread. Heat heavy large skillet over low heat. Brush sandwiches with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Add to skillet and cook until deep golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to small baking sheet. Spoon sauce, then grated cheese over sandwiches. Broil until cheese begins to brown, about 2 minutes.



These sandwiches took me back to Montmartre, where my lovely daughter and I ate these for dinner our first night in Paris. Delicious. Don't skimp and leave off the sauce. It's worth the little bit of extra effort.

As Julia would say, bon appétit!

Pictures are bing images; I did not have the foresight to photograph my own food.

Friday, September 4, 2009

the end of summer

I don't know exactly how the entire summer got away from me, but I haven't posted a thing on my blog since May.

Our lovely daughter is installed in her dorm room at the University of Oklahoma. She was accepted into the school of drama and is delighted with her schedule. Unlike most majors, the dramaturgy program sprinkles drama courses through all four years. This semester, she is taking costume construction, intro to acting, logic, government, and make-up. Believe it or not, this is the recommended course of study for a first semester freshman. Needless to say, the girl is in tall cotton.

I am having a much easier time than expected with her departure. That might have something to do with the fact that, so far, she's slept at home at least one night of her weekends. It's hard to miss a kid who's here weekly. She calls every other day or so to tell me about her days. I find it quite amusing that she usually tells me more about what she's eaten that day than what's being discussed in classes. Last night she called me because she needed to do laundry, which required that I deposit money onto something called a "Sooner Card". She planned to do laundry and study for her first test, which is in logic. When I took logic, it was a philosophy course. In OU's dramaturgy program, logic satifies her math requirement. I would have killed to sub logic for college algebra!

Middle son is a sophomore in high school and the little guy is a fifth grader this year. The house is quieter with just the two of them here. Who knew an 18 year old girl could cause so much ruckus? The boys ask about their sister and are happy to talk to her on the phone but don't seem to miss her much. One of them made the comment that she wasn't here much more when she lived with us. I think that's an exaggeration. Maybe.

So, life goes on without much change. I admit to being surprised.

I'll leave you with photos of my front yard as it looks today with fall just around the corner. The shots of the roses are just for you, Laurie.





burgundy cotton crape myrtle and daylilies

yellow queen gallardia, barberry and grasses



another shot of the gallardia, with burning bush and blue boy roses

purple fountain grass, yellow lantana, tri-color sedum


lily, painted fern, and ginger caladium


spurred butterfly pea


mandevilla

blue butterfly pea with double blossoms

climbing rose

shrub rose

the blue boy rose again

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sophie is Growing Up and Other Unrelated News

Puppies grow so fast. Take a look at how big our little Sophie has grown.







That's Maddy beside her. I do not know how to get rid of those eerie eyes. Maddy weighs about 20 pounds, so I am guessing Sophie is over 10 by now. Sophie is chewing on my lambswool duster, which I no longer own. It had to go directly into the trash by the time she finished with it. The joys of having a puppy in the house!






We now have a hidey hole! This is the shelter before it was surrounded by concrete and topped with its sliding lid. I tried to take video for you, but the little video camera needed a charge. Two guys arrived at 7:00am and immediately began to work.






They promptly removed a big chunk of garage floor using a wet saw and the tiniest backhoe I've ever seen (you can just see it in the background). Then the digging commenced. A trailer full of dirt was hauled away and the wonderful guy in this picture began to clean up the mess they'd made. By this time it was only 10am. While waiting for the concrete to arrive, he proceeded to pressure wash my entire driveway, saying, "Well, ma'am, I'd rather stay busy than sit here and twiddle my thumbs." After the concrete was poured and finished and the top set in place, we ended up with this:





There is room for all five human members of the family, three dogs, two cats, and a fishbowl. Actually, we could probably get two or maybe three more adults inside in a pinch. Inside, you can latch the lid with chains. If the worst happened and we ended up with a car, or parts of the house on top of the shelter, a come-along (or hand winch) is installed to save us from ending up trapped in a shelter. We also registered the shelter with local authorities, so in the event of a tornado in our neighborhood, the firefighters ought to know where we are. All in all, I feel a bit safer.

Monday, March 30, 2009

It's Official: I've Totally Lost It

A week ago Saturday, we added another puppy to our family. I know, crazy. We now have three children, two cats, three dogs, and a fish tank. I spend all of my time feeding people and animals, then cleaning up their messes.


My husband, for some odd reason, is in the mood to acquire, which is quite out of character. He recently surprised me with a Kindle and about a month later, with a new laptop. I love the Kindle and am using it non-stop. There are so many wonderful titles available on Amazon for nothing at all; it's like having a lending library at my fingertips 24 hours per day. The laptop was quite overdue. It's nothing really special, just a Dell Inspiron, but it's brand new and shiny and fast. Then last Saturday, hubby took us shopping under the pretense of buying new collars for Jack and Maddy. The little guy and I had been talking about some cute schnauzer puppies we'd seen at our favorite pet store. Another customer had failed to spay in a timely manner and ended up with a litter of puppies. They asked the pet store to offer the whole litter for sale. There were three little salt and pepper puppies, like Jack and Maddy, and one little solid black female. I fell in love with her immediately and the little guy couldn't stop talking about her.


Not long ago, I bought my son a flip video camera from Amazon for $59, which is a steal. So, this morning I spent ten minutes taking a video of the dogs, new puppy included, uploaded it to the laptop and within two clicks, had the following movie. Please be kind; I have never used a video camera of any kind before. I left the original audio because I think Jack's play growl is so cute. The puppy, Sophie, is about ten weeks old and weighs all of five pounds. Jack is largest and is wearing a black collar. Maddy's beard is mostly white and she's wearing a pink collar. In the grand tradition of WillowTree, enjoy this immensely boring pet video:




video

Monday, March 2, 2009

spring comes for an early visit




As I'm sure many of you have heard, tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma on February 10. The storm was a bit out of season and completely unexpected, at least by me.


I had driven to my parent's house after dropping the little guy off at school. Middle son was feeling ill, and at 15, I thought, old enough to stay home alone with his cold and the animals.


My mother was injured this past Saturday (another story all to itself, which I promise to tell in the next day or so). I was driving the two hours up the turnpike to give Daddy some much-needed time for farm chores and wash Mama's hair. When I arrived, her injuries had worsened somewhat, so we decided instead to have lunch then drive to the doctor's office.


The appointment was scheduled for 1:30 pm at an office no more than five miles away. At 1 pm, I started getting mother ready and pulled my car up to the porch of their house. After much whining and maneuvering (and that was just me), we got her into the car. At the doctor's office, I went inside for a wheelchair even though Mama thought she could walk. When I came back to the car, she was sitting with her legs on the ground and said, "Maybe I could use that wheelchair after all." The doctor took a look at her, gave her a prescription and we made our slow way back out to the car. After returning the wheelchair, I drove down the road, filled the prescription and took Mama home. I commented on our good luck with the weather. It was a beautiful day with cotton ball clouds in a clear blue sky. We reversed the exit manuevers and got her into her recliner. Then I noticed the light on my cell phone (which I'd left on the coffee table) was flashing. I'd missed several calls from my husband.


A tornadic storm was ripping through Oklahoma City not far from where he works. The storm was moving quickly and violently in a northeasterly direction. On its current course, it would be no more than a few miles from our home and the little guy's school. At the time, my husband didn't tell me he had watched a funnel cloud flatten an apartment complex about a mile and a half away from his office building. Thank the Lord for small miracles.


Immediately, I called middle son's cell phone. He had dropped it from the top of a friend's back yard shed two days before and I had yet to replace it. It rang but he didn't answer. Turns out, he couldn't; we thought just the screen was busted but the entire phone was worthless except for the incessant ringing. Unbeknownst to me our power was cycling on and off. In between cycles, I got a call from him. After telling him where to find the corded phone, we lost our connection mid-sentence. Five minutes later, another call from him came. He had found the phone, plugged it in the laundry room jack, gathered the dogs and the cats, a bag of Milky Way bars, and his ipod, and shut himself into the laundry room. About then, the power went out, this time for good. I stayed on the phone with him, but had no idea where the storm was traveling.


The little guy was in lock-down at his school with no power and therefore no phones.


Our lovely daughter's high school is twenty minutes to the southeast and was never in any real danger. Thank the Lord she insisted on transferring back to her old high school when we moved.


The children were brave. I was not. I talked to middle son with tears coming down my face. I could not get to him. My husband could not get to him. There was nothing to do but wait and hope.




Three tornadoes went through Oklahoma City and the surrounding metropolitan area that day, not to mention the devastating and deadly tornado that hit Lone Grove, Oklahoma later that night. Our house is just off Kelly past Waterloo Road. The square mile to our south is completed by Santa Fe Road on the West and Sorghum Mill Road on the south. The tornado crossed Santa Fe south of Sorghum Mill and proceeded to take out the fence of the horse ranch there. It moved northeast into Sorghum Mill Estates where it damaged upwards of twenty homes and completely destroyed at least one. Then it crossed Sorghum Mill Road and went through the corner of Oak Tree taking roofs, trees, electric poles, and the entire top of one house with it. On the same northeast track, it crossed Kelly and tore across the golf course taking out fences and the driving range backstop. Behind the country club, it took another four homes, one of them belonging to the head of my husband's department at work, before crossing Waterloo Road, wiping out a fence around a pasture, and flattening an auto body shop and three other businesses. Our vet's new building was spared, but his old building that he uses for storage is just gone. I don't know what happened after the tornado crossed the next road to the east, but it was on the ground for several more miles. Luckily a lot of that country is pasture land, and there were no more reports of destroyed homes.


When I drove home that evening it was about 6:00 pm. Kelly Road was completely closed a mile from our neighborhood. I drove west down Sorghum Mill and almost hit a tree that had fallen over the road. We were without power all evening but it came on sometime after we had gone to bed. We were so incredibly lucky. I cannot even fathom the alternative.






All the homes in our neighborhood are in some state of receiving a new roof. Ours hasn't been assessed yet by the insurance company. Even though our house is only two years old, I am betting on replacement. We had high winds, marble sized hail, and a tornado passed as close as a half mile away.


I was born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and grew up in Nowata County. I lived in Topeka, Kansas as a young adult. Tornadoes are not new to me. I am not afraid of them. But you can bet we're getting a storm shelter. Pronto.




All photos are images from news coverage of the February 10, 2009, tornadoes. The damaged home is in Oak Tree, just down Kelly Road.

Friday, January 9, 2009

simple pleasures




I am not on a diet.

I am eating healthy, varied foods that happen to be high in fiber and low in fat. More fruit, less cheese. More vegetables, less meat. I am exercising at least a bit every day.

I have given up Dr. Pepper.

Except for the Dr. Pepper, it happened almost entirely by accident.

It's funny how easily we can fall into patterns of behavior. Even though I stay at home, I spend many mornings running errands. After dropping the little guy at his school, I would drive to the 7-11 and buy a Dr. Pepper before commencing my shopping or what have you. On the way home, I would frequently get a snack or lunch at a drive through. I started to feel a bit run down and tired more often than normal. Then the holidays hit, which throws any routine I have into a tailspin.

Hubby had gained five pounds and asked me to cook healthy dinners and pack his lunch to help him take the weight off again. I pulled out the cookbooks and started planning dinners. I went grocery shopping and avoided the snack food aisle. The result in my own food intake is just a byproduct, but it's been stunning.

I had forgotten how much I love simple foods. Shirred eggs. Baked apples. Steel cut oats. Roasted butternut squash and asparagus. Whole wheat bagels smeared with a bit of peanut butter. Pasta with mushroom sauce. Yum.

Here are a couple of this week's favorite recipes:


Oeufs en Cocotte
(Shirred Eggs)

Grease a small ramekin with a bit of butter or olive oil. Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Break one or two eggs into the ramekin, depending on desired serving size. Sprinkle with good salt and pepper, a little paprika; you can add some fresh herbs, milk or cream, ham and sauteed mushrooms, or just about anything you desire. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and serve. I like mine baked plain then dolloped with sour cream and a spoon of salsa.


Mushroom Sauce

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 minced shallot
I minced garlic clove
4 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons sherry
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup evaporated skimmed milk
2 tablespoons low-fat or non-fat sour cream

In a large skillet, heat oil. Saute the shallot until soft, about two minutes. Add the garlic; cook one minute longer. Stir in the mushrooms, sage, salt and pepper; cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are tender, about six minutes.

Increase heat to high; cook until almost all liquid evaporates, about three minutes. Add the sherry; cook one minute. Stir in the flour; cook, stirring constantly, until smooth. Stir in the evaporated milk; reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about seven minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream.

Serve over pasta, chicken, or turkey.
Serves four.