Friday, February 27, 2009

Moose Hunting at the Hospital

February has been a little stressful. It brought a car accident - nobody hurt - just a slide off a snowy road and friendly telephone pole greeting. Somebody got wet feet and then a head cold, tromping around Point Pelee with leaky boots. I've been driving around Violinist's smarty pants car which lately has been a little balky, creating some uncertainty, particularly when sputtering along North America's busiest highway.

There were visits utilizing the Canadian Health Care System (bow down and kiss the earth) and tests canceled after hours sitting in public, while attired in jaunty spring-blue gown and matching reversible, deep mint-mist wrap robe, long sleeves demurely gathered at the wrist in soft elastic cuff - this, day-look completed with OR booties in baby sky. (And Von Furstenberg thinks she invented the wrap dress.) I think searching for the elusive Mother of the Groom dress is beginning to get to me.

My last foray into the Adult Day Surgery world, turned more ADULT than I care to think about. I got to sit for hours in a co-ed room of geri-chair recliners with other humans all attired in the latest OR patient wear, who seemingly had reverted to teenage behaviour patterns, perhaps on account of the way we were dressed or maybe it was the length of time some had been fruitlessly waiting. A hen-party heated up to include, "I can tell all the stupid ones in the bars, many times you got divorced?"
"Me and my buddies go moose huntin' every year, eh," proclaimed skinny, Elvis-haired thirty-something. I wondered if he had maybe already been sedated. Clearly, he had forgotten he was not wearing pants and reclined cross-legged with the foot of his geri-chair elevated to eye-level. "Give me a gun, Elvis. I could pick off a moose for ya'." All this and more, until my booking was canceled because as I overheard at the nurses' desk, "they are lined up knee deep downstairs, just like Timmies."

Pacing the hallway, reading my Katherine Hepburn, (yes, I'm still reading her), separated from the herd, a nurse approached, "just go back in there and tell them we can't help it, we are caught in the middle." She leaned into me, clip-board in hand, peering into my face like an old head-nurse - the ones who always wore Clinics. I was suddenly glad I was wearing pajamas. You must be nuts, I thought, smiling sweetly and rewinding what had been said upon arrival. They were treating me as an insider; dressed like the enemy, but still one of their own. Did I mention B/P, temp? Did I say script? Maybe it was meds? Gads, they know I'm an old nurse and are trying to recruit me to quell the riot.

I did not go back into the room. They seemed to take pity on me because someone found a private, women-only waiting area, which made me think, it's open season year round, in the adult day surgery co-ed waiting room. Half an hour later I was sent home like a good girl; one time-limited parking voucher, a meal ticket, two digestive cookies and a half-cup of juice stuffed into my hand. Next time I have to cancel last minute I'll try that with them. "Oh. You want money? Ha! How about some Cinnamon Raisin Sticky Buns, better yet, there is some moose steak..."

Glossary: Geri-chair: a wipeable lazy-boy recliner of sorts, often with an attached tabletop which during my time were only seen on the geriatric floors;
B/P: blood pressure
Script: nothing to do with theatre - is a prescription for drugs
Meds: slang for drugs
Temp: temperature
Clinics: fitted hard leather classic nurses shoes - painful to look at if you have big feet
Timmies: Tim Horton's Doughnut and Coffee Shops, located from Sea to Shining Sea in Canada established by who else, a hockey player.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Leek Potato Garlic Soup - Bonus - Making Gravy

An easy and quick soup, if you have some leftover mashed potatoes or leftover boiled potatoes, it's all the faster and better. This happens to be Violinist's favourite.

Potato Leek Garlic Soup
  • 3 large leeks
  • 1 - 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 stalk of broccoli, diced (optional)
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • mashed potatoes, 2 cups, more or less
  • 2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. parsley, flakes or chopped fresh
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper or to taste
  • 1 tsp or more of salt
  • 1 tin of commercial chicken gravy or a cup or two of your own
  • 6 - 8 cups chicken broth or water and likely more
  • 1 tin - 370 ml. - evaporated milk (optional)
  • dollop of butter or chicken fat to saute the onions
You will notice that ingredients are a little slip changey here. Soup is like that. This soup is nicer with pre-cooked and mashed potatoes, but don't get excited if you don't have them on hand to do that. I've made the soup without the mashed potatoes and thickened it with corn starch, but it is better to wait until there are some leftover mashed potatoes to make this soup.

I've never been one to make food that takes a lot of prep work right off. My style is to make a square meal. If there are left-overs then make something else with the leftovers. I grew up on hash-brown potatoes. But we didn't call them that. We called them, fried potatoes and thought nothing of it. It was simply the next thing to do with the day before's left-over boiled potatoes. It wasn't until I got to college that I found out they were called hash-browns and that people go ga-ga over them.

I take the same approach with most of my cooking today. Today's Beef Lentil soup becomes tomorrow's Chili. Today's mashed potatoes, becomes tomorrow's Shepherd's Pie or Leek Soup or Potato Bread.

Chop onion, mince garlic and saute until golden in melted butter or chicken fat, which you remembered to keep and freeze for this purpose. I get my chicken fat from the broth left over when pressure-cooking chicken.
Wash and clean the leeks. Do this in the sink. Cut the root ends off and slice the stalk in half lengthwise, cutting upwards from the white root end and only do one stalk at a time because,
you are going to find mud in between the leaves on the leek and don't want that mess getting into the other leeks or spreading down into the white part.

Separate the leaves gently and wash the mud out by holding the leeks, darker green part down, for the mud to run in that direction. The mud does not usually go further down into the white part, so let's not contaminate it if we can help it.
Chop the leeks. And I'm going to get farmy on you here - use all the stalk. What the heck is wrong with the whole stalk? Fancy schmancy cooks will say, "Cut off the dark and use the tender, luscious pale part." The vitamins are in the dark end. Use the whole thing. I paid for it and it tastes good and is filling. It will be just fine in soup. I have men to feed.Add the leeks to the soup pot and let them wilt down by stirring around with a spatula and adding the gravy or some broth. Once wilted down, add the rest of the gravy, broth or water. I get my broth from keeping the liquid and freezing it after a summer of pressure cooking chicken for the barbeque. Let simmer.
Broccoli. This is up to you. I sometimes add it, not always. Small dice a stalk of broccoli and the florets. Peel the stalk first. Learned that from GG's Mom. Toss into the pot.
Peel and dice up some potatoes. Toss into the pot. Add more broth or water to cover the vegetables.
Add the salt and pepper and parsley. If you have pre-cooked mashed potatoes, add them once the other vegetables are tender. I have about four cups here. I know the ingredient list above says 2 cups. I added all of it, okay? Mush them up and add to the pot.
If you want, add a tin of evaporated milk. It makes the soup creamier. You don't have to add it, but I usually do.
Let the soup kinda' simmer a bit longer and then turn off the heat. The mashed potatoes will provide thickening. If you don't have mashed potatoes on hand you can skip them and use corn starch to thicken. Do this exactly the way one makes gravy.

How To Make Gravy or Thicken Soup - Take a teacup or coffee mug. Put 1 - 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in the cup - depending on the amount of the liquid you want to thicken. I use a literal tablespoon - a spoon from the drawer generally meant for eating soup.

Go over to the sink. Add some cold water to the cornstarch and stir it in. Now take a few spoonfuls of hot broth from the soup or liquid left in the bottom of the roaster if you are making gravy and start to mix it into the teacup. Stir. Now pour that into the soup or roaster over heat. Stir and heat until thickened. If you heat too long, the cornstarch will actually begin to thin things out. I don't know why. Some chemistry going on there. Anyway, the liquid will thicken and that's how you make gravy too. And as an aside, don't use flour for making gravy. You need to use far too much, it makes the gravy cloudy - and I can always taste it. Same with soup.

Another way to thicken soup is to take out a portion, put it in the blender and process until smooth. Then add that back into the soup. Whichever way you want. It's up to you.

Footnote: No photo of the finished product, although the top one is very, very close - it just needed the milk added. They all looked like porridge. Sigh. C'est la vie et Bon Appetit.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Learning About Lent

Lent is generally thought of as a time for giving up something to cultivate a deeper faith. I was raised Baptist and as Baptists we thought the orthodox got off easy. We gave up stuff all the time, not just during a special season like Lent. We gave up things like, dancing, playing cards and consuming alcohol. I once crossed the line by painting my nails. FOR SHAME DECADENT!!!!! I would paint my nails while riding to school on the bus and try to remove the polish while riding back home on the bus. I actually took a straight razor once and tried to shave the polish off my nails since I wasn't up on acetone. My life was very sheltered.
I could never see Lent working with Baptists. Food. It's about the food. Imagine a Baptist being asked to give up his food. "You mean I have to give up Tuna Supreme Casserole with Crunchy Cornflake Topping?" I suspect the fallout wouldn't be any prettier than what happens to Baptists during the annual budget meeting. Shrove Tuesday didn't even enter our thinking, except for the unusually high number of Pancake Suppers being announced on the radio. I just assumed it was the farmers getting a little bored with winter, since pancakes were always served at farm meetings too.
I likewise had no idea what Ash Wednesday was. Once in high school, I helpfully told a boy, "You have a black smudge on your forehead." He just blankly looked at me, which I thought was typical for him anyway. Idiot. Then I noticed his sisters all had black smudges on their foreheads too. Wierd family. And then I noticed a few other kids with black smudges on their foreheads. Conspiracy. And then I found out that they all actually got to miss the first few classes to go to church and have those smudges placed on their foreheads. Ha! Convert.

(The first photo is the marsh boardwalk at Point Pelee National Park, Ontario, Canada. The second photo just happened - well, a whole food fight could occur over that remark. Another time. I was reading and allowing my thoughts to wander pondering how to illustrate this post, when I looked down and saw "Lessons of Life." Ha! Again.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

More Pelee Postcards

Some of the prettiest and more artistic scenes actually seem quite messy at first.
Along the east beach of Lake Erie there are rocks, most of which I think were brought in to allay erosion. Not a lot of rock exists in this county - veins of gravel - but not rock like you see here.
There are unexpected twists and turns in some trees. Others appear quite dull and uninteresting, until you study them more closely. Some appear battered by storm winds. And yet, when viewed altogether, it works.
The trails are somewhat longish and not real curvy or steep and we can see some of the rocks butting up along the edge. The rocks aren't suppose to be in this landscape, yet, in serving their purpose, they acceptably add to the scene.
Winter storms have created interesting patterns of sand and ice along the east beach shoreline and over time have reconfigured the tip jutting into Lake Erie.
Sunday's sermon got me thinking about these things. God is bigger than neat and tidy. He's bigger than small and messy. He isn't stuck in a box.
If He is in any box, it's because He has promised to be always with us, and is in there with us, on account of that promise, not because He is stuck. Real life - the messy - has taken me outside the neat and tidy - religion. As much as I plan, do, am, cross the T's and dot the I's; I truly am not the real author, artist, director, manager, engineer of my life. God is.
Understanding that, I am able to rest, whatever my circumstances, and as Elisabeth Elliot once said, "just do the next thing." All these things came to mind during Sunday's sermon, "Messy Spirituality".

(More little scenes from Point Pelee National Park, Ontario, Canada.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hockey Day in Canada

Today is Hockey Day in Canada, because nine years ago, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) declared it so.
Linda Duncan, an MP from Alberta now wants Hockey Day in Canada taken off the sidelines and put into play as an official national holiday.
Given that the CBC is Canada's taxpayer supported broadcaster, the notion may not be too far off the mark anyway.
So we started off the week, Monday, with Family Day and end it today, Friday, with Hockey Day. Maybe somebody could come up with something for the Wednesday and make it a hat trick.
Happy Hockey Day everyone!

(Well. While speeding around The City today with Speedy, I learned that Hockey Day is actually, officially, manana. I won't elaborate by repeating the Speedy/Mom conversation here. However, let it be known that it included, "MOM, MOM!? you even know anything about hockey?" To which I nearly caused a terrible accident when replying, "I know what a Gordie Howe hat trick is...I just didn't get this new Hockey Holiday straight, even if my source was the CBC, and if you want my opinion, listening to CBC would lead anyone to believe that Hockey Day is the whole weekend." Which, of course it is.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tow Tales - Part 5

(Previous to this installment of Tow Tales, Decadent Housewife was finally home again after her harrowing experience of, towing cars, of course. Installments 1 - 4 follow DH freewheeling in Violinist's smarty pants car, directing traffic in the back forty and narrowly missing seeing herself enter widowhood. This installment is what happened just after Buff called for help with his own tow woes and is short and sweet, because that was all Decadent could muster up after such a trying day.)

Half an hour later I noticed a gang of teen boys in The Shop from Hell looking for, I suppose, a tow line or chain or rope despite the fact I had mentioned everything was snapped. I suppose now would be as good a time as any to mention that normal people would call The Shop from Hell, a garage, but I don't call it that because we have four cars in the yard, soon to be five and not a one of them INSIDE the garage. So, I call it, The Shop, without the added bit, "from Hell" and besides, that's what we called it on The Farm when we actually DID park a car in there. Can you tell I'm a bit stressed out?
Buff showed up several hours later to eat and drink and be filled and to tell me all about his tow tales, which I had declined to become a party to, making me feel simultaneously like a very bad parent indeed, and not remorseful one bit. that schizophrenic? At least I recognize that. Anyway, when finished eating, drinking and being filled, for the time being, Buff asked, "What did you do today?"
"...and I pulled the emergency brake, when in fact the cables to the emergency brake were the ones I realized I had never seen before and lay on the metal floor between the front seats. Violinist, apparently, took the brake cables out yesterday, but the van stopped anyway. Your dad remembered to leave me the keys to the presently only working vehicle on the property, upon hearing two horn toots from next door, which reminded him to check his pocket for keys, while on his way out the door to catch his commuter van to work. So. I'm not stuck to go and pick up Violinist and Fun, later tonight from work. And you just finished eating what I spent doing with some of the rest of my time. And, I hope you realize that football would have been less tiring for you and less stressful for me, than what you just spent doing these last three hours."

And then we hugged and kissed and called it a night. But not before I drove to pick up Violinist and Fun from The Winery and had another of our deep Parent-Child commuter conversations while driving in the dark and turned some unfortunate reddish Aardvarky looking creature into road kill and stopped for gas and fed The Cat, again, and fed Fun and Violinist until they were filled and packed lunches and cleaned up the kitchen and did some more laundry, again. This, unfortunately is not the end. ( be continued...)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Raspberry Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

A quick, easy, slightly fruity salad dressing, this came from the kitchen of an Italian woman who knows her stuff. It was obvious, the day I got to peek inside her kitchen. Oh be still my heart!...pots bubbling, dishes and bowls holding just a bit of this and a bit of that, interesting dark bottles with stoppers and corks. "Calabrese,"...a golden twist, together crusty and delicate..."Mrs. C sent that over, and she is going to teach me how to make meatballs." And I wondered what a miracle Mrs. C's meatballs must be since the ones I feasted on a few minutes later were amazing. Well, she entrusted me to make the dressing for a simple fresh green salad spiced up with sugared walnuts, hers, to accompany the Sugo and Meatballs and Ribs and Ravioli. It got better, but I'll stop. Another time. These were the instructions.
  • 6 Tbsps. good olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. Raspberry Vinaigrette
  • 1 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
Shake it up and sprinkle over the salad greens and mix to coat just before serving.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pelee Postcards

The thing I like about living in this part of Canada is the thing that maybe some like least. Our scenic drama is low-key. One has to look carefully to find interest in the landscape. More often it is a palate and scene of graduating subtleties.
No soaring mountains here, and hardly a hill to be found. Colour is usually subtle too, softness blending into softness. In winter this often means the sky is gray, the foreground is gray, the horizon (when we can find some trees) is a smidge grayer.
Sometimes it seems as though we have but two seasons. Often our autumns are not cold enough to produce dramatic colour - suddenly it's winter and gray days are back. Spring sometimes is as indiscernable - suddenly it's summer and the white heat, blanching out colour is upon us.
During winter, I love those bright sunny days when the shadows create true blues across the white snow, because generally it is gray mixed with more gray, livened up with gray. These monotone medleys encourages one to appreciate and look for shapes, lines, form.

GG took this photo below. This is looking north off the tip of Point Pelee National Park. You can't get any further south in mainland Canada than this.
So, given the day GG and I went off to the Point last week was a typically gray on gray winter day, I upped the saturation just a bit in all but the third last of these photos. See what I mean? It helps wake things up and I think add a Group of Seven appeal.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Family Day

Depending on what province we find ourselves residing in, or, our place of employment, we do or do not get to officially call today, the third Monday of February, Family Day.
Their names are Seth, Clara, Slyvia, Stanley, Florence, Fanny, Forest, Alvin. The one in the upper left is my grandfather, the oldest of the bunch. The two in white are twins. Violinist today, plays the fiddle which belonged to the littlest twin. Aren't they adorable? Here they are again, fall of 1896, some with babies of their own. My grandfather is now the one rebelliously grinning in the center. Not supposed to do that. Their mother, the lady in the center, once chased off a "hobo," who foolishly entered her kitchen while she was in it. "Anybody see me come in?" he asked. "No. An' nobody's going t' see you leave, neither." She whirled around picking up a butcher knife to emphasize her point. I'm surprised she didn't take him out with just the skirts.
Among some of her belongings which I have is a book with her love notes - this is one of them, a tiny pocket Bible belonging to her father - John Campbell, the cable from Missouri informing her a son died and a huge wooden mixing bowl. I often wonder when I look at that bowl, what it has seen.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine Sweeties

Here's a happy Valentine
bright and clear and sweet,
lovely kisses
so delicious,
carnations at your feet.

Yes, I know roses would be more romantic, but see, look. Fold down the card bottom and a little carnation flower fans open. How cool is that? Oh, look! There's an apple in there too! Hmmm...wonder what that's all about.
Okay...try again.Here's a happy Valentine
crunchy, bright and sweet,
sugar kisses,
happy wishes,
remember, brush the teeth.
Okay, so I miss being Keats by a mile, again.

(The pop-up Valentine was addressed to my father's brother from their Aunt Sylvia. She was a Victorian lady, who moved from Canada with her family, to the American mid-west, late in the 19th century. Our families never lost contact and almost ninety years later, her descendants attended my wedding.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Oatmeal Bread

Delightful toasted, the oats impart a slightly nutty taste. Truly decadent when spread with butter fresh out of the oven; add a hot pot of tea with honey. Sometimes on a Saturday night I'll pull this out of the oven, place a carefully sliced hot loaf of it, along with pots of jam, butter and big mugs of steaming Ovaltine, onto a tray, leave it on the tea table in the living room and watch it all disappear within minutes.

If you only have large flake oats, just chop them up with a food processor or put into a plastic bag and vigourously rub together with both your hands to make smaller bits. If you don't want to do that, just use the large flake, however, the bread will be airy and less chewy. We prefer the bread a smaller flake produces.

Oatmeal Bread

  • 2 1/2 cups warm water - 1st amount
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar - 1st amount
  • 1 Tbsp. yeast or 1 packet of yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups warm water - 2nd amount
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar - 2nd amount
  • 1 Tbsp. salt, heaping
  • 3 cups quick cook oatmeal (this is just large flakes that have been cut to a finer meal)
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • approximately 2 and 1/2 scoops of all-purpose flour or enough flour to make a soft dough with which to begin kneading
Mix the first three ingredients into a large bowl and set aside.
Measure out the second amount of water, oil, second amount of sugar and salt.
Mix this into the first ingredients in the big bowl.
Add the whole wheat flour and oatmeal. Sometimes, if there is some left-over cooked Red River cereal or oatmeal porridge from the morning's breakfast, I'll add it. That can be added now. The most I've added at a time is 2 - 3 cups. More than this and the bread will not rise well. When the cooked cereal is added, the dough will take up more flour during the mixing on account of the extra water in the cooked cereal.
Add the all-purpose flour to make a nice soft dough ready to knead. My scoop is 32 oz.
Stir the mixture together until it looks about like this below and then scrape onto a floured work surface. Begin kneading. Go to DD Sourdough Bread - A Primer in Breadmaking to see more about kneading and breadmaking.
If it sticks like this, to the work surface,
add a handful more of flour and continue to knead. I added probably four more little handfuls of flour to this batch.
The dough is ready for it's first rising when it feels smooth and satiny to your fingertips. It also will not spread all over the work surface but will hold it's shape well.
Oil the bowl, slide the dough around in it to coat it completely, turn the dough smooth side up and pop into the warmed oven. Leave the oven light on. If the kitchen is cool flick the oven on just long enough to warm up the interior, then flick it off again.
Let it rise until doubled. Remove the dough by sliding your hands down alongside the bowl sides. The dough will gently deflate by itself. Lift out and place onto the work surface. Flip it over, finish deflating and decide what to shape it into.
We like this dough made into loaves for toasting and for lunch buns. I divided it into three balls each weighing 1 3/4 pounds to make the loaves. I could have divided each of the smaller balls shown above into 12 dinner rolls to bake 15 minutes @ 400 F.

After measuring off the dough for loaves, I had 2 pounds left over. This may vary depending on how much flour the dough took up while kneading but especially if you added leftover cooked cereal, the amount of dough will be greater. I needed some lunch buns so decided to make eight large buns.I could have turned the two pound piece of dough into 16 smaller buns and placed them into two eight-inch round pans, eight buns to a pan. One pound of dough works well for those size pans. Those pans would have baked 15 minutes at 400 F. Multi-Purpose White Bread has more on dividing up dough which can be applied to this Oatmeal Bread. If you find yourself with an odd weight of dough, ziploc the extra and freeze it to be added to a future batch.

Coat three loaf pans with lard and sprinkle with large flake oats. Shape the loaves and place into the pans. For the buns, dip each into some large flake oats before placing onto pans.
Put them to rise, until doubled, in the oven with the light left on. These below just came out after rising and were waiting for the oven to heat up for baking. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Bake the three loaves together. A rectangular pan of buns should bake one at a time. Two 8-inch round pans will fit in the oven together for baking. Rotate the pans half-way through the bake time for even baking.These buns were large and took as long to bake as did the loaves - 20 minutes at 400 F. 10 or 12 buns would have only taken 15 minutes at 400 F. Tap the bread. It will sound hollow when done. Remove from pans right out of the oven and cool on racks.Footnote: I just made this the other day and changed the whole wheat to 3 cups, which means I didn't have to add as much all-purpose flour. I also didn't have time to bake, so after the dough had risen once, I deflated it and put the dough in the fridge overnight. Next morning, some of the dough had creeped out of the ziplocs but I just kneaded it back in, let the dough rise again in the bowl and then rise after shaped, in the pans. It was delicious and the crust a bit more crispy and chewy.