Friday, October 26, 2012

A Taste of Thai

We are blessed to have many friends and family members that are excellent cooks.  JP grew up in Hispanic communities all over the U.S., and consequently had a bit of Mexican food thrown into his daily diet.  I grew up eating your basic Mennonite food - meat and potatoes.  While it wasn't terribly exciting, it was delicious...definitely comfort food even today.

So, throw the 2 of us together, and add a dash of the Food Network (which we were basically addicted to in the early years of our marriage), and you come out with a couple of wanna-be foodies.  Luckily, I can follow a recipe fairly well, and we are die-hard subscribers of Cook's Illustrated, so we've come up with a bunch of great meals.

One of our friends is an amazing oriental cook, mixing up incredible curries and stir fries and Thai Basil Chicken.  One memorable evening, he worked a miracle with left-over chicken from a luncheon meeting, that has remained unrivaled to this day.  Unfortunately, he now lives all the way across the United States from us, so having a wonderful Thai meal with their family at the last minute is not so easy to do.

The girls have been begging to watch cooking shows lately, so we sat down one evening last week to watch a couple of episodes of "America's Test Kitchen."  We watched what looked like an amazing recipe for Thai Chicken Soup.  Tonight I was feeling the pressure of twice weekly soccer practice and all day Sunday games starting to lift.  Add that to the fact that both of our vehicles had oil changes and passed inspection today, and it made me nearly giddy.  I felt like cooking!  I found the recipe for the soup, and in the process, one for Pad Thai.

The soup was delicious - creamy, bright, and not too spicy.  I'll share the recipe below because it's a keeper.

I was a bit disappointed in the Pad Thai (in which I substituted shredded carrots from our garden in place of bean sprouts, which are not available in our town.)  I found it to be a bit too sweet and gummy.  


We finished our meal with a Key Lime Pie, which I "made" by opening the Schwann's box.  Over all, it was a delightful dining experience, although it would have been 100 times better if our West Coast friends had been here to share it with us.

Thai-Style Chicken Soup
-recipe from America's Test Kitchen

SOUP:
1 tsp vegetable oil
3 stalks lemon grass, sliced thin (optional)
3 large shallots, chopped coarsely (about 3/4 cup)
8 sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped coarsely **
3 T fish sauce
4 cups chicken broth
2 (14 oz.) cans of coconut milk
1 T sugar
8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced 1/4" thick
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast sliced on the bias into 1/8" pieces
3 T lime juice
2 tsp Thai red curry paste (or more to taste)

GARNISH:
coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Thai, serrano or jalapeno pepper, sliced thin
scallions sliced thin on the bias
lime wedges

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over med. heat, add lemon grass, shallots, cilantro, and 1 T fish sauce and cook, stirring frequently until just softened, not browned (2-5 min.)

2.  Stir in broth and 1 can of coconut milk and bring to a simmer over hi heat.  Cover, reduce heat to lo, and simmer for 10 min. to blend flavors. Strain solids from broth and discard.

3.  Return broth to a simmer over med-hi heat.  Stir in the remaining can of coconut milk and sugar, and bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to med, add the mushrooms, and cook until just tender (2-3 min.)  Add the chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until meat is no longer pink (1-3 min.)

4.  Remove soup from heat.  Whisk together remaining 2 T fish sauce, lime juice and curry paste and stir into soup.  Garnish individually as desired.

I'm all cooked out.  The kitchen was a wreck when I was finished cooking.  I'm looking for a good sous chef, anyone interested?

**The cilantro can be safely left out if you have those amongst you who call this herb a "vile weed."

Autumn Blessings

JP came home with his weekly load of 200 gallons of drinking water, and found the cistern almost full.  It appears that the cooler weather has allowed our well to catch up.  Of course, it probably helps that there have been 2 fewer people using water for the past week also.

This last week has been BEAUTIFUL!  The weather has been in the 70's, and (believe it or not) the low 80's with gorgeous blue skies.  Yesterday, the girls and I took the opportunity to play in the leaves briefly. 


For some strange and unknown reason, our town schedules Trick-or-Treat each year on the Thursday BEFORE Halloween.  Each year, for some equally unknown reason, we don't go in to town on the Thursday before Halloween.  We go Trick-or-Treating at a little village up the road from us, where they actually celebrate on Halloween.  Our friend, who was dressed as Chewbacca, nearly had a heat stroke last night.  Next week, J will likely freeze her tootsies off in her little gypsy dress.

In the meantime, we'll enjoy the beautiful colors of Autumn...until Hurricane Sandy comes along and blows all the leaves down.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cleaning Out the Basement


L and I decided to tag along with our buddies on their Pre School field trip to the pumpkin patch this morning.  She seemed to enjoy seeing her teachers again, and didn't mind hanging with the wee ones at all.  We went on a hay ride, picked a pumpkin, played in the hay bales and on the slides, tried out the sorghum maze, ate a picnic lunch, and had an ice cream cone for dessert.

We went to Sam's Club before heading home, then finished up her schoolwork in record time.

Once J was home and working on her homework, and while L painted a picture for Art class, I headed into the storage room to sort through the pile of give-aways that has been collecting there for the past several months.  I usually do not have problems letting things go, especially once they have trickled so far down the significance ladder to be jumbled in a pile in the corner of the basement.  Today, however, I had a decision to make...continue to hang on to the Nursery set that I used for both of the girls, or not?
 
I actually tried listing the entire set on Craig's List twice, and on eBay once, without a single bite several years ago.  I was ready to sell it to a cute little family, but not quite so ready to send it to the Hospital Auxiliary where who-knows-what will become of it.  The really strange thing is that I can not pin point exactly WHY I am so attached to these things.  They haven't been used for at least 5 years now.  The set is cute...Noah's ark, done in cream, red and blue, and I searched high and low for EVERYTHING...diaper hanger, crib bumpers, lace window valances, a throw rug...before J was born.

So, you know the analogy about just ripping the bandaid off?  Well, I ripped.  It's gone.  I had to look at everything one last time, and then put the box in the back of the van.  I only felt queasy for a couple of minutes, and then realized it was almost time for soccer practice.

Rush, rush, hurry, hurry, eat dinner in the van, kids in the shower, story, bed. 

Now, in the quiet, I can almost hear the elephants calling to me, "Keeeeeeeeeeeep meeeeeeeeee!"

detail from crib comforter...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Grab Bag

Another week has flown by.  My parents are unexpectedly in California right now.  My Great-Uncle Howie, who was actually no blood relation to me, but a foster child who grew up with my Grandma and became family that way, passed away this week.  Mom and Dad flew out to be with the family for his funeral, and are taking a couple of days while on the Left Coast to visit my Mom's brother near LA (I think that's where he lives - JP says San Diego.)

Uncle Howie was a mortician before he retired.  I remember visiting when I was Jr. High School age, maybe even a Freshman in High School.  He took me on a tour of the Funeral Home in which he worked, and talked to me about the things he did.  I was completely fascinated, and was seriously pursuing that career choice for about a year and a half.  In the end, I decided to work with the people that are still living, and it suits me fine!

We missed a soccer practice this week due to torrential down pours, and that brings our total soccer commitment down to 6 remaining games or practices...just one more week!  It really seems to have flown by this year, and thankfully I have not been so incredibly stressed out as last year during the whole season either.

Last weekend, in The Great Garden Clear Out, I pulled the jalapeno plants that were still covered with peppers.  I had a 2 gallon bucket full of peppers sitting on the counter all week, trying to decide what to do with them.  I canned a bunch of hot peppers a couple of years ago, and they were very disappointing:  mushy and flavorless.  JP uses lots of canned jalapenos on his weekly tacos, so I really wanted to be able to use these instead of having to buy them!  I did a bunch of internet research, and finally stumbled upon a comment about a recipe for canning hot peppers.  This person said that they used the "inversion method" of canning so that the peppers would stay more crisp.

A-ha!  A bit more research revealed that this method is safe only for jams and certain pickles.  After sterilizing the canning jars and lids, the cold, sliced peppers are packed in jars, and topped with a boiling mixture of water and vinegar, salt and garlic is added, and the lids are screwed on tightly.  Following this, I turned the jars upside down and left them sitting on their lids on a towel for 5-6 minutes.  After righting them, every single jar sealed!


All of the recipes recommended waiting for 7-14 days before trying them, so I am not certain of the potency yet, but I got 8 pints and 7 half pints of sliced jalapenos canned.  They look beautiful!

Our friend, C, spent the day with us today.  We tested the maximum capacity of the tree house, and found that 3 girls with paint rollers and 2 adults with a paint brush fit with room to spare, although it gets kind of messy!


We got a primer coat of paint on the walls inside the tree house.  I also started staining the tongue and groove boards for the soffits under both porch roofs.  We are planning to paint the walls the same pale green of the girls' rooms, and then use other bright gloss colors to paint the windows, doors and trim.  The ceilings inside will also be tongue and groove, but I plan to simply put a coat of clear poly on them and leave them blond in color.  JP also installed the ceiling insulation today, so that the Hickory nuts falling out of the tree onto the metal roof no longer sound like gun shots from the inside. 

JP and I set an old telephone pole into a 4 foot hole just down hill from the tree house today.  This will be connected to the tree house post with a beam, and will serve as the swing set.  This project keeps evolving.  Now we are looking for the perfect name for our tree house, so let us know if you have any good ideas.  We have thought of "Hickory Haven", "Martins' Floating Castle", "Motel 46", and a few others...but none of them quite flow off the tongue like we'd like!

Last night I spent the night at the Hospital for a sleep study.  Although I did sneak a sleeping pill in, and took it right away before they hooked me up to about 47 different tubes and wires, I slept very little.  I hit a wall about 3:00 this afternoon, and plopped down on the giant bean bag with the girls to try to figure out a Halloween costume for C.  At this point, after coffee, iced coffee, black tea and various other caffeinated beverages, I have been awake as long as I can possibly tolerate.

Heading to bed now for some lovely ZZZZ's.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Surprises

Today was full of surprises.  This morning, on my way home from taking J to school, I saw a fox.  I've seen foxes around here before, but this one was beautiful...and playful.  He ran along beside my van for a short time before disappearing into the tall grass on the adjacent hillside.

This evening I got off work earlier than expected.  After the past 2 weeks working late, and then bringing home work to do as well, it was a pleasant change.

After we got home, L played with the kitty and discovered that she (Lizzie) lost her first tooth...at least the first one we knew about.  L put it under Lizzie's kitty pillow and is hoping the kitty tooth fairy will bring her a mouse.

The biggest surprise came when J came in from checking for eggs.  "I guess all that Egg Layer feed we've been giving Miney (the rooster) finally worked!"  she announced, and revealed the tiniest of all eggs ever.  Here it is, next to a regular sized egg and an extra large one for comparison:



I never know what to expect, but as long as life keeps throwing nice surprises at me, it's all good!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Take a Bow

The wind whipped Lazy Laura's skirt up, and now it appears that she is taking a bow.  This seems quite appropriate, seeing that she has watched over the garden (while looking quite exquisite) for another year.

Lazy Laura takes a bow
We have had a couple of freezing nights in the past couple of weeks, and I have covered the tomatoes, peppers and the girls' garden.  Today I decided that the rest of the tomatoes weren't worth saving any longer, so the girls and I pulled them out, after picking the good ones, and gathering all of the fallen ones for the chickens.  We also dug the remainder of the potatoes, and the few carrots, beets and parsnips that actually grew.

There is still a bit of color in the garden, although it has been nipped by frost.
My Marigolds
Pineapple Sage
Another colorful worker in the garden
The Asparagus is 5 feet tall and has red berries.
The garden was kind of a bust this year.  The dry summer, combined with the fact that our soil is mostly clay and we need to keep adding compost and manure, left us with few and early potatoes, withered corn, and cracked tomatoes that rotted before they were ripe enough to eat...pretty much like the rest of the country.  We did get some peas this Spring, some beans, and more small, super-sweet Grape Tomatoes than we could keep up with.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend helped me pull the remainder of the corn stalks, and with the tomatoes out of the way, most of the beds have been weeded and are ready to be tucked in for winter.  The plan this year is to cover the beds with a layer of newspaper (to stop weed growth), then cover them with manure.  Hopefully by Spring, we will be able to mix everything together with the broad fork and then plant...no more tilling.  That's the plan...

In the meantime, J had a long weekend for teacher in-service and parent/teacher conferences, soccer remains constant, and work is continuing on the tree house.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Composition

Yesterday, L had a Language Arts assignment to write a composition about something fun that she did recently, and the people she did it with.  We were having computer problems yesterday morning, so she ended up writing the composition with my Mom while I was at work.  I didn't see what she wrote until this morning.

Here it is:



L's teacher, Miss K, had this to say about it:

"I have never read anything like this before, but L did a fantastic job!!!  My dad grew up on a farm so I love hearing stories about kiddos who do things like this.  I give her tons of credit, because I sure wouldn't have been able to help out!"

Friday, October 5, 2012

The View From Up There

My Dad has continued to work on the treehouse all week.  I spent some time one night painting the exterior of 2 of the windows too.  At this point, the exterior is done except for staining the siding and deck railings, and putting the metal on the roof.


All of the windows and doors are from the Habitat for Humanity Restore, so we have more recyling going on here!  My Dad turned the front door into a cute little dutch door.


The interior remains only partially finished.  We are waiting for my friend to come back from Wyoming and drywall the walls and tile the floor.  I guess if all else fails, JP and I will finish it on the weekends.  The ceiling isn't finished, the windows need interior trim around them, painting, and finally something durable and waterproof on the floor.

There is a lovely view from the composite deck out front, especially this time of year.  Do you miss the Fall colors West Coast people?


Now all we need is a way to get up there...



Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Attack of the Stink Bugs

I've recently returned home from work, where I was double booked with patients several times because the surgeons were stuck in the OR with an emergency case.  I'm tired, so tired.  I've been fighting a cold for almost a week, which got markedly worse on Sunday.  My head throbs and feels packed full of goo.

Now I'm clad in my comfortable t shirt with the holes under the arms, stretch pants and Birkenstocks...it's a lovely look.  We are having some kind of pseudo-taco salad for dinner that the girls are excited about...made up of crushed Doritos and Hormel chili no beans.  I'm ok with it because it's quick and it contains veggies. 

The girls are on the veranda sweeping away the hundreds and hundreds of stink bugs that congregated there today.  I let the dogs out to join them, and now they are trying to eat the kitten.

I worked last night on my special applesauce...lots and lots of it.  It is laced with all kinds of good things.  I'm using my Grandma's applesauce press to make it, and wondering what she would think of the things I've adulterated the sauce with.  There are more apples to sauce tonight.

It's time to try this dinner.  After that, I still have 5 charts to do.

No rest for the weary.