Busy Kitchen Today

Ready to dress some pizza pies

My daughter is into making cupcakes lately. She got a cupcake cookbook for Christmas and has been busy crusting its pages with flour and eggs and confectionary sugar. She wanted to make some chocolate cupcakes today but did not want all of them to be chocolate. She was making half a batch (I mean, we can only eat so many cupcakes) so had to halve the ingredients to start with. Then she split the batter and planned to add cocoa to one half. She had to halve twice to figure out how much cocoa to add. It was a good math problem. And what a mess.

That got cleaned up. No problem. The kids have friends over for the night so we made homemade pizza for dinner. I spent some time slicing and sautéing and grating toppings so everyone could make their personal pie. I made the dough, even though we did not have enough flour when I started. I didn’t know we were short on flour but I found out soon enough. My wife was out and so eventually brought more, but the dough sat for a while before I could finish it off. It was quite the sponge.

Making individual pizzas takes lots of counter space. It was a respectable mess to attend to, but I cleaned up most of it before dinner and the rest after those pizzas were consumed. Dishes done, pots washed, counter wiped down. We’re good. Then it was time to make breakfast.

As a treat for the weekend and the sleepovers, I figured I would make waffles. The problem with that is that I need to start the day before. I used to make your usual baking powder waffles but once I tried yeasted waffles there was no going back. You make them with yeast instead of baking powder, as you may have guessed, which means they need to rise. Of course, if I let them rise on the counter I would have to get up a 3:00 am. Not happening. So I whipped up the batter and stashed it in the refrigerator. Slow rise, ready for breakfast.

This, of course, was one more mess to clean up, which I accomplished with a rosy attitude. I like a clean kitchen. I think I’ve got all the loose kitchen accoutrements and plates and spatulas washed at this point. I was thinking I might have a little ice cream. But that would mean another bowl to clean. Nah. Who needs ice cream anyway?

Day of Food

I spent a good deal of time on food today. It was well worth it, but I am ready for one last trip to the kitchen, to scoop a bowl of coconut chocolate chip ice cream I made a couple days ago, then a sit with a book. I baked bread in my running clothes, after I lit a fire in the stove. I ran 7 1/2 miles this morning in the twenty degree grayness. It was a heck of a beautiful morning and I do that again. We had friends planning to come over and I was on kid duty (four of them) while my wife and company ran. I had to get started.

I was dressed in proper duds by the time our guests arrived, and I also had cut carrots, celery, potatoes, turnips, peppers, and onions. Soup was on. Since I was at it I decided to make some soup stock. The soup and bread were for lunch, along with the apple crisp I whipped up. I froze the stock, along with the remainder of the last batch of stock I made. I also spent time outside in the garden, digging and pulling the weeds that snuck in at the end. I turned compost and worked on making more with leaves and weed bits. I added compost from our kitchen scrap pile to some of the garden beds. And I covered several beds with silver maple leaves that were starting to decompose. It was a productive day.

I wish I could spend this much time on feeding our family more often. I would love to have fresh healthy food every day. We do almost every day, but we do sneak in processed food now and again, in the form of crackers and granola bars and such. Frozen meals almost never make their way to our house, and those boxed ready to prepare meals I feel like I hardly know. I was asked to do a survey recently of instant type meals. There were probably a dozen of them they asked about. I didn’t recognize any of them. I stay away from those center grocery store aisles.

I also baked up a pumpkin and a squash at the tail end of it all. I pureed them in the food processor and popped that in the freezer. The squash was a mystery plant that grew in the compost pile. We had sweet dumpling squash plant last year and this one was sort of like it. But it was orange and green. It think it may have been a cross between a pie pumpkin and the sweet dumpling. Inside it was bright yellow. It tasted sweet but different. I saved the seeds and will plant them in the spring. If it grows again as it did this year, we may have a new variety. I named it after my son.

That son of mine is asleep, along with his sister. He got tuckered out helping me spread dirt and leaves this afternoon. Now is the time to have that ice cream. I am a little tuckered myself.

Kitchen Frenzy and a Soup Recipe

I got home from an all day meeting today about 4:30.  I headed right to the kitchen.  Last night I was going to make a tomato corn chowder.  Then I got working and didn’t stop until way too late.  So I planned to make it tonight.  And I did.  It meant I had to get cracking.  And I did.  It was, how to say this, tasty as all [insert expletive here].

I tried to find a recipe but just couldn’t scrounge one up.  That was probably for the better.  It would have taken me longer to keep referring to a book and then half forgetting what I just read as I chopped garlic.  Here is what I did:

  • Sauteed three small leeks in about a tablespoon of butter and a splash of olive oil in a large pot and then set that aside
  • Cut up two medium size carrots (small cubes), a couple pounds of red potatoes (cubed), two sweet peppers (diced) and sauteed all that in the large pot in about a tablespoon of butter and a splash of olive oil
  • Added four cups of water and two teaspoons of salt to the pot and brought that to a boil
  • Removed the pot and then removed a couple cups of the potatoes to keep them in chunks, then pureed the rest in a food processor
  • Tossed three small tomatoes (OK I used the one weird large tomato I picked yesterday that looked like three small tomatoes attached at the hip), diced, along with four cups of corn I had removed from the cob (already cooked) into the pot.
  • Heated the tomatoes and corn gently for about ten minutes, then added the chunks of potatoes and the puree
  • Added a teaspoon each of chopped fresh oregano, chives and thyme
  • Added a cup of whole milk
  • Topped with freshly grated black pepper, heated for another 10-15 minutes (stirring to keep it from sticking to the bottom)
  • Ate it up

The children chowed it, even my son, who has been pretty picky lately.  I have to admit, and my wife said this aloud, it was worth the hour spent preparing.  The vegetables and herbs were all from our garden or from our CSA.  Even the milk was local.

Item two was making the base for coffee ice cream.  I whipped that up while the soup heated and stuck it in the fridge.

Then I went out with the kids and picked basil.  We have more basil than I can handle.  This is first year that the basil has really just grown.  I clipped it pretty well not long ago and it really grew back well.  I cut 12 cups of the stuff with my eager children who lost interest when they decided to mow the lawn with their scissors.  They didn’t get all that far on that project.

I made three batches of pesto (it is supposed to get pretty cold the next couple of nights–basil doesn’t like cold), froze two and popped the other in the fridge.  By now the children were off to bed with their mother, and I tried not to make too much noise with the food processor.  They did fall asleep eventually, even after the delivery truck woke them up.  Late delivery.

I just polished off the small bowl of ice cream from the batch I made after the basil was stored away.  I probably shouldn’t have coffee ice cream this late–it is made with coffee after all, which people drink to stay awake.  But I had to try some.  What kind of cook would I be if I didn’t taste what I made?  Plus, I didn’t have that much.

I waited to eat the ice cream after I had cleaned up everything (except the ice cream maker bucket–that thing was way too cold to wash).  Cleaning too far too long.  I was ready to be done when the counter was still covered with dishes.  My wife still is healing from her sliced finger, otherwise I am sure she would have offered to do all the cleaning.  I cook, I clean, I eat.  All after a day at work.  Not bad, eh?

Some Positive Economic News, At Least for Me

I used to listen to National Public Radio a whole lot more.  When we moved to this house we did not put a radio in the kitchen, and that is a place I like to listen.  When I am whipping up some tasty meal, I can hear what they have to say.  This morning I was whipping up four-berry muffins and I wanted to listen.  But no radio.

Actually, that is not true.  We have a radio in the kitchen.  It is a wind-up generator radio.  Wind the crank and it charges the battery.  It works great, but the battery does not last long.  I need to keep winding it.  And winding it.  I want to use this radio.  I like the idea of listening to an electronic device without using electricity from the grid.  But, I admit, I rarely do.  I don’t want to keep winding.

There is another option, however.  This radio has the option to charge the battery with electricity from the grid.  Plug it in and charge and off we go.  I could keep it plugged in and listen as long as we have power.  This morning I decided that I was ready to choose that option.  The problem, however, was that I haven’t ever used the power cord.  And I had no idea where it might be found.

This took me to the basement.  Our basement is still full of boxes and baskets and bins from when we moved to this house two and a half years ago.  We slowly empty them and slowly bring new ones down.  The result is clutter stasis.  So when I go to look for a power cord, and I know I just saw the box full of them down in the basement recently, I get stymied.  I can’t find doodly-squat down there unless I get lucky.

I searched and searched to no avail.  I did bring up a mason jar to use for the bulk popcorn I just purchased at Healthy Living, so the voyage to the underworld was at least worthwhile for that, but I never did plug in the radio.  And, to bring this around to the point, I saw an envelope on the floor.  The envelope contained two $50 savings bonds.  Why it was on the floor was a mystery, but I figured that was not the ideal storage location for paper that had any value, due to the occurrence of mildew on such floors.  And so, in my wisdom and readiness to take action, I picked it up.

Now I was fully distracted from finding the power cord.  I had a jar to wash and some savings bonds to check out.  With the savings bonds in the envelope was a letter from the Hartford Courant.  It noted how my service as a newspaper carrier was superb, blah blah blah, and here was a token of appreciation.  I only received one savings bond with that letter, as I recall.  The other came later.  I decided I should find out how much they might be worth these days.

I turned, as is the norm in our house, to the internet for answers.  Ten years ago I might have just wondered about it and found a better spot for the envelope, but now I’ve got Google.  Google led me to the government web site with information on savings bonds, including a calculator to tell me the value of my investments.  As I have mentioned, two of my traits are wisdom and readiness to act, so I used the calculator.  I found out the bonds’ values and also learned a few things.

One of the bonds, issued in 1981 (have I actually held onto the thing for that long?) is worth $131.  The other, issued in 1986 (same question) is worth about $85.  That seemed a big difference for issue dates only five years apart, so I read more.  It turns out savngs bonds earn interest based on when they were issued, and the interest rates can vary quite a bit.  I couldn’t find interest rates for the earlier one but I did learn that the one issued later has a minimum rate of return of 7.5%.

That made me look twice.  Did it really say 7.5%?  Who gets a guaranteed rate of return of 7.5% these days?  You’d be lucky if you could earn 4% on a CD these days.  The rate chart only went back to 1982 but the rate on the bond from 1981 must be higher.  Get this–the highest rate I saw on the chart was from 1982 at 13.05%.  And this is supposed to be a safe investment.  Safe indeed.

So the good economic news is that I have $216 worth of savings bonds, and I have two years before the first one stops earning interest.  Considering these were purchased for half face value, that is a fine rate of return, especially since I didn’t purchase them myself.  Now, we’re not talking a huge amount here, but by 2016 I can cash them both and do something with those earnings.  Of course I will probably just reinvest them.

So it is good to know that I’ve got something, a little buffer, sitting in that envelope.  I keep reading bad economic news.  Here, at least, is some good news, if only for me.  Now I need to go get that fireproof safe I have been considering for years.  Then I can really stop worrying.  At least about a few things.  Then maybe I get on top of all the crap in the basement and, finally, I’ll be able to listen to radio while I make muffins.

Thinking About Tea

Coffee or Tea

We used to drink a lot of tea.  We had a whole drawer in the kitchen devoted to tea.  We would have a dozen different types of tea in that drawer at any given time.  We don’t drink so much tea anymore.  It is too bad, really.  We drink coffee in the morning every day, not tea.  The drawer has turned into a plastic box.  The prominent location has shifted to inside the pantry closet.  Tea has taken a back seat.

I used to drink coffee only sometimes.  My wife spurned it, so I mostly drank it when she was not around.  Occasionally I would make some when she was home, but most of the time we both drank tea.  Then I got a good coffee maker.  I drank more coffee.  I then I turned her, somehow, into a coffee drinker.  Now she drinks coffee daily.  Some husband I am.

I still feel that tea is more civilised.  It seems more pure.  That is bogus, of course.  It is merely that I make it that way, like we make more of fancy jeans and colorful cell phones than is warranted.  Coffee has certainly become more chi-chi, but tea still has its quiet nobility.  It is healthier and simpler.  With coffee, you pick beans, dry them, roast them, grind them up and then pour water on them.  With tea, you pick leaves, dry them and then pour water on them.  In these dire times, who can waste all those extra steps?

Not that I am switching to tea.  I still drink some tea, and I have considered drinking tea instead of coffee.  Really, I don’t need to drink either, but a hot drink on a cold day sure is a fine thing where I come from.  So I will brew on.

I like the idea of drinking more tea, however.  I am going to start that right up.  I am going to have some tonight, in fact.  It is chilly.  The fire is out and I won’t start one this late.  I could use some hydration and coffee won’t do that.  I did have a foamy espresso drink this afternoon.  Boy was that good.  It was decaf, but still, it’s not filling the well, just flushing the pipes.

Anyway, I have been thinking about tea.  It is good stuff.  I wonder, if I can manage to take the kitchen real estate required to start the tea drawer back up, will I drink more tea?  That is an experiment worth trying.  But is tea more important than pot holders?  I’ll have to think about that for a bit.