Happy Thanksgiving

Last night I made the mashed potatoes and cranberries. Today comes roasting the turkey, sweet potatoes and heating up the mashed potatoes. Oh, and stuffing. And then we take off out of town to a water resort hotel, the whole family. And, by the way things roll, my Monthly Visitor has come to brighten the day.


Still, I am greatful for the day, blessed by family, health, and warmed in spirit. This is the first “vacation” we’ve taken that I haven’t used our credit card for. I purchased it months ago with cash and am taking cash with. I hope that is a preview of our finances to come – increased responsibility with our money, and the ability to live without being indebted to anyone. It is a big goal, but I don’t feel as if it is unreasonable.

The house is filled with delicious smells, sounds, and the excitement of a change, a ruffle in the regular mechanics of day-to-day life. It is pleasing, and I am filled with gratitude.

Italian Sausage Soup – AKA “Olive Garden® Zuppa Toscana Soup”

Tonight I made Lootie’s favorite soup: Italian Sausage Soup. He requests it on his birthday, and on other random days. It is a simple, tasty comfort foot that I don’t mind making at all. I can nearly make it in my sleep. Since I was grocery shopping, I picked up the ingredients, except for the broth, since I had that at home, and a crusty loaf of Italian bread – the perfect compliment.

As I cooked the sausage and sliced the potatoes, adding it all the the pot with little bit of salt and red pepper flakes, I had a moment of panic. Is that IT?! Was it really this simple? Am I forgetting something?

I ran into the computer room to search my site for the recipe and found it: Olive Garden® Zuppa Toscana Soup. It was in the archives from 2004. The recipe (a photo) was missing. Tragedy. This is a VERY yummy soup. I must repost it.

This is a homemade version of the Olive Garden® Zuppa Toscana/potato and sausage soup. And honestly, it’s actually better and super-dee-duper easy.

Here’s the exact recipe I have written down, with my subs in parentheses:

Serves 2 [my subs serve 7]

2 3/4 c. Chicken broth [2 large containers of chicken stock]
1/4 c. heavy cream [I don’t use nearly this much — I use 1/4 cup for my increased version and that’s plenty]
1 med. russet potato [3-4 red potatoes]
2 c. chopped kale [no measure, about 5 handfuls, whatever will fit to fill the pot]
1/2# spicy sausage [5 sausages, cooked and cut into medallions]
1/4 tsp. salt [to taste, I don’t measure]

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes [about 1/2-1tsp. depending on your taste]
1c. shredded Parmesan, if desired

Prepare the sausage by placing in skillet with 1/2 cup water. Cook on medium for 10 minutes, then uncover, turn and cook for 10 more minutes. Cut into medallions. If you use bulk sausage, brown it and break it up into chunks.

1.) Heat stock in large pot over medium heat
2.) Slice unpeeled potatoes; add to soup
3.) Add cooked sausage to soup
4.) Add salt, pepper, cream; stir
5.) Add kale; stir

Simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Garnish with some shredded Parmesan and serve with a nice hunk of bread. This soup is wonderful the next day and freezes well.

Grilling Adventure

I totally meant to expand on my Wordless post from yesterday, but then life and work got in the way. Well. I shouldn’t say they got in the way, like it IS life. Busy is life. This morning I got up, wasted as much time as I could trying to talk myself out of going to work out at the “Y” and finally succumbing to what I already knew: I wasn’t talking myself out of it.

Made it, did it (treadmill and bike), sweat like a pig in heat, took a shower, got my work clothes on and zoomed off to work. Did everything that needed to be done (bulletin done on a Thursday – what?!). Home. Took oldest boy freak to driver’s ED. Home. No clue what I did, then. Picked oldest boy freak up, took him to his friend’s for the night,  dropped the other freaks at “Y” for a bit, picked up Frank, got in a car accident (nobody hurt, not my fault, another entry will explain), picked up kids, got ice cream, went to Walmart. Home.

And now I write a Tell Me Thursday about my Wordless Wednesday, because, I’m just on top of things like that.

So it was just an impromptu grilling adventure. Nothing to do, but wanting – NEEDING – family time. Packed up what we had and set off to have an impromptu picnic with our grill. The main course was turkey burgers, but we also had a bagful of corn. The goal was to find a park with a permanent grill where we could cook the corn, and then we’d make the burgers on our smaller portable grill.

The boys grumbled for the first portion of our “adventure” as we drove around like blind mice looking for a permanent-grill-rendering-park. Finally I turned on the GPS, much to Frank’s disgust (he’s anti-GPS). He remembered a little park tucked away and we plugged it in. By this time, it was pretty much going to be the tucked away park or nothing, and if they didn’t have a permanent grill, we’d trash the corn.

One baseball diamond, a whole bunch of grass, long driveway, a shelter, park, horseshoes (for crimminy sake) – it was just too perfect. Oh, and – a standalone grill. Oh, and a bathroom. With soap pumps. We hadn’t been to the park in years. I was so glad we revisited it. We basically owned the park for the duration of our visit. It was great.

Frank grilled, I watched the boys beat each other up. Dinner was served, and everyone enjoyed the family time despite being initially bent on trying NOT to enjoy it and label it a completely fruity idea.

THE CORN: We put it on the grill, in the husk, over ready coals for about 30 minutes or so. I don’t mind a few darker parts. It adds to the flavor. Seriously, I could have just eaten the corn it was that good.

The boys played, ran, kicked balls, kicked each other, ate, laughed. The food was super simple and fantastically delicious. It was nice to just be alone, as a family, encapsulating some time for us together, even if only for a few hours. A mini-vacation here and there among the regularity of the days, weeks and months, doesn’t always have to be jetting off to another country or even visiting another state (a luxury that right now, we simply can’t afford). An impromptu picnic in the park does just fine.

Mulberry Blueberry Pie

We have a mulberry tree in our backyard. It has been growing now for a few years and bears a decent amount of fruit. The kids love to run out back and pick the berries at random times. The other day Franny was outside long after the others had tired of picking berries, and came in suggesting that I come out and pick berries to make a pie.

There was no bone in my body that felt like whipping up a pie on a warm summer day. But he was so enthusiastic and sweet, it felt completely wrong to give into my own lazy desire to play sloth. I examined the tree, as he washed out a container for our pickings. He was the holder, I was the picker. Slightly taller than Lootie, who had the farthest reach of the three boys that were picking earlier, I was able to get to spots that still had some nice, ripe berries on them.

Not enough for a whole pie, but I had a bag of frozen blueberries in the freezer to supplement, and was pleased to have the opportunity to put them to use in a pie. Frozen blueberries are a common staple at our house, but I’ve yet to have actually made a pie with them. I used this recipe from Crisco for a Bluebbery Pie as a base for the pie we were making. I say “base” because of my inability to stick directly to the recipe when baking. I did my best to stick close to this one, though.

I had about 2 cups mulberries and the rest blueberry.

Franny was in charge of stirring, but he got sidetracked by the guinea pigs. I picked up the scent of bubbly, boiling fruit on the verge of burning, and ran to the rescue. It had started to scorch on the bottom, but thankfully not enough to taint the flavor of the filling.

I used the double crust recipe, but it didn’t seem make enough for the bottom and the top. So I enlisted in my standard oatmeal topping (oats, sugar, molasses, butter, cinnamon, salt and a dash of vanilla).

Initially I started to roll the dough for the crust, but that didn’t last long and soon I was using my preferred method — my fingers to press the dough into the dish.

Franny helps with the filling.

Top me off!!!

Ready for the oven…

Franny holds up our creation.

It was fantastic, and I’m not a big fan of fruit-filled pies. Thank you Franny for suggesting we make pie. I’m so glad we did.

Dinner at the Supper Club

Wordless (sort of) Wednesday

Frank’s brother took us out to dinner tonight at their favorite supper club. Somehow it took us five years to finally get around to doing it. Scrumptious. Shrimp cocktail for appetizer, wine, bread, salad, and then, bring on more food!!

I ordered two lobster tails with a potato (something-er-other) on the side, and Frank ordered steak and a lobster tail. I LOVE how the butter came melted in the dish with a candle to keep it warm. I haven’t had dippable butter in way too long.

Enjoying some grasshoppers after the meal, my lovely sister-in-law and myself.

Our oldest son babysat all of the cousins while we enjoyed dinner — three boys and three girls, all under the age of 12. Bless his heart!!

Frank’s dad came along with us, which was nice. That makes two dinners out in the past year for the five of us. We had a fabulous time. Yummy food and slow time spent with people you love. Joy.

Breakfast With Daughter

Sophia (who will be 18 next month) called me the other day and asked if I’d like to come over and have breakfast with her. She’s staying with my parents right now (with the hopes of acquiring a JOB and moving into her own apartment), gaining her “independence” and sparing her brothers some of her teenage angst. The first week was… questionable. She spent most of her time there avoiding all responsibility and hanging out with friends. This second week, though, has gone better. She’s applied for some jobs, went to youth group, and is working on being more responsible. Baby steps.Very tiny, wobbly, and sometimes messy baby steps.

It was a nice shift to have her be making me breakfast. I thought for sure there was some catch. Come for breakfast… andtakemeshopping or Come for breakfast… and borrow me some money or Come for breakfast… and — wait, money, shopping… what else is there?

No catch though, and I checked myself for assuming there would be. Skeptical mom. She simply wanted to make me breakfast.

I’m generally a picky breakfast eater. I don’t like too many carbs (at least not “bad” white ones), and if I do allow myself a treat (generally waffles), I bang up on the protien and fiber.

White bread, Honeybun, eggs with bacon and cheese, yogurt with blueberries and strawberries and coffee.

I was hesitant to even touch the “white death” bread or honeybun because of my carb/breakfast issue. Do it for the kids, I told myself. Do it for Johnny!!

And I did. And… it was good. Not the honeybun, gosh those things are like eating sugar-speckled chemically processed carpet fibers in the shape of a doughnut. But the eggs? Yummy. Toast — everyone can benefit from some nutritionally-void buttered white bread now and then. Coffee, good (surely made by my mother or father before they left), but whatever.

Conversation was nice, the food was good. Finally. Finally a respite between the head-butting that has become so common over the past few years. Just as it was years ago, watching her take baby steps, make friends at the park or accomplish other rights-of-passage as a baby/toddler/pre-teen, it is also satisfying and gratifying to see her making those same steps into adulthood.

Now if I could just get a picture of her that doesn’t look like it fell off of Myspace.

Making Old-Fashioned Doughnuts

I found this recipe for doughnuts and we’re making some.

Quick Doughnuts
4 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
2 tablespoons shortening
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour milk or buttermilk

Sift together flour, salt, soda, cream of tartar and spices. Cream shortening and sugar; add eggs and beat until light and fluffy. Add milk and then sifted dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly until smooth. With as little handling as possible, roll dough out on floured board 1/4 inch thick. Let stand for 20 minutes. Cut with 2 1/2 inch cutter or glass bottom, and use a small cutter for the middle. Fry as above. Makes about 3 dozen doughnuts.

Below are some pictures of our doughnut adventure; don’t expect perfection.

cutting the circles for doughnuts

frying doughnuts

sugared and finished doughnuts

They turned out pretty good, although I was a little nervous because some were a bit doughy in the center and the recipe involves eggs. They are darker, too, because I used a majority of whole wheat flour (a staple in this house), and a bit of cocoa powder. And I don’t have a picture of use eating because it was a regular old feeding frenzy.

I’d like to make these again at some point, but boy, my stomach feels like lead and I’m sure to have a heart attack within the hour.

(reposted from 2005)

Chorizo For Lunch

I had a package of Johnsonville Chorizo that needed to be used up, and a menu that was void at lunchtime. After having omelettes for breakfast, I wasn’t quite feeling chorizo and eggs. I had just bought a loaf of Brownberry Buttermilk (white) bread. We don’t usually buy white bread, like ever; I figured it would make a tasty bun for chorizo, though…

When I’m at Whole Foods, I like to pick up their frozen pepper strips. They are very versatile.

Chorizo in the pan (I some Schlitz instead of water to cook the sausages).

Franny requested macaroni and cheese for lunch. I don’t usually eat “instant” mac and cheese, but every now and then it is nice on the side.

It was a very tasty lunch. Simple, too.

German Chocolate Birthday Cake

Our middle son turned 12 this month. His “wishlist” was pretty simple: Dinner out with grandma and grandpa, and dinner in with family. He posted a menu for me.

I had made everything on his menu before, except the German Chocolate Cake, which I wanted to make from scratch. And I did – with this recipe for German Chocolate Cake. I printed out the recipe, went shopping for the ingredients and got to making the cake.

Layers, cooling.

Frosting, which I set out in the snow for a faster cool-down.

Frosting the layers (which was a bit tricky because the frosting is a bit hazardous with the coconut and nuts, which have the potential to ruin the surface of the cake layers. It was still warm enough to spread, but not cold enough to stick. I had to trim the first layer to make it more even.

I couldn’t help but taste the frosting. Delicious. I was excited for Lootie to come home and see HIS cake.

Frosting the entire, assembled cake was the trickiest part. The frosting kept sliding down the sides. I did frost it completely, and the put it in the fridge to settle. After about and hour (or maybe a half hour), I was able to take it out and smooth up the rough or droopy spots. I was glad that I made a double-batch of the frosting. There was a tiny bit leftover, which I spread on chocolate graham crackers – yum.

Layers of ooey, gooey, yummy German Chocolate Cake.

The cake was a hit. We feasted off it for days. I stored it in the fridge, which Frank liked – he likes cold cakes, cold pudding. I thought the cake at room temperature was at its best.