Romance Days

Made some flan on Saturday and it was not bad. I have a thing for custardy desserts and this was a new recipe from an old friend and I thought I’d give it a whirl. So I did, and I made some fried chicken, too, and potato salad and coleslaw, and opened up a can of my favorite Bush’s baked beans. It was a gloriously simple meal and just right after a day out working in the woods.

Yup. It’s that time again. Mr. S has been out cutting up dead ol’ trees and hauling the wood up to the house where I help him with splitting and stacking it all. Sometimes, when I’m feeling up to it, I help out with the hauling part, but I prefer the satisfaction I get running the smaller pieces through the splitter. It’s good, hard work, woodgathering. One of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday if I must be honest.

Unless it rains. Then my favorite thing on Saturdays is to clean the house and bake something good. Satisfaction again. Something productive and forward-moving is what I like. And I like the whole idea of getting ready for winter, and I love the feel of a clean house, and the smell of something baking in the oven. Occasionally, though, Mr. S and I have what he calls “Romance Day” on Saturday. Instead of working together, we find a way to play. Sometimes we hop in the car and drive to a town and find a restaurant we’ve never been to before. Sometimes we pack a picnic lunch and head for a state park for some hiking and forest bathing. And sometimes we order a pizza or some pad Thai and stay in and watch movies all day and just enjoy laughing and eating together. And sometimes we spend the day reading and cook dinner out on the grill together.

They’re important, you know. Romance Days. They bring two people back to each other so they might remind each other who they are. They aren’t restricted to Saturdays for us (though that’s the most common day). Like Mr. S will say, on a Tuesday, “How’d you like to romance it today and go to the county fair with me?” Or he’ll leave a note on a Friday, “I’m romancin’ you with homemade pizza tonight.” Or occasionally on a Sunday afternoon, “Let’s go find a mountain to climb.” And I’ll reply, “Right on.” Sometimes I say, “You bet your bippy” and sometimes I just smile, and nod, and get myself ready to go. And of course I make my own suggestions. My Romance Day suggestions recently have included a symphony orchestra evening, a road trip to the Duluth Grill, a day at an amusement park and a trip to the zoo. Yes, indeed.

If it’s been a while since you’ve had a Romance Day, I highly recommend it. It’s good to laugh, and it’s good to switch things up a bit, and mostly, it’s good to love. Sure is.

Here’s the flan recipe, and it will go with pretty much any meal, or, in my case, may be a meal in itself.

Baked Flan

2/3 cup sugar
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
5 eggs
2-3 tsp vanilla

In a small nonstick saucepan, heat the sugar over medium heat. Swirl pan occasionally to distribute sugar until it is dissolved and begins to brown. Stir only a bit. Lift the pan over the burner a few inches and continue to brown the sugar until it becomes a dark golden brown. Pour caramelized sugar into a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish or a large loaf pan, and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan evenly.

Blend together sweetened condensed milk, cream, milk, eggs and vanilla. Blend on high for one minute. Pour over the caramelized sugar.

Place the filled casserole dish into a larger pan filled with an inch or so of hot water.
Bake at 350 for 50 to 60 minutes, or until set.

A Life Given to Simple Things

Made some sangria on Saturday and it was not bad. Funny, I just woke up that morning with two cravings: one for lilacs, and one for sangria. I went out and picked some lilacs and arranged them in an old milk bottle and set it on the dining room table. Craving satisfied. And, oh, that smell. The scent of blooming lilacs.

Then I went and dug into my recipe box and pulled out a sangria recipe. Had to run out and pick up a mango and some rum, and the pitcher is now full of sangria in the fridge. After that, I went outside and picked up rocks and threw them back home into the landscaping, and I planted some flower seeds (which means I threw the contents of a few seed packs up into the air on the edge of the lawn where the swampy grass begins) and I made a pan of bars and a meatloaf for dinner.

That’s how it goes. I wake up every morning with something on my mind and it almost always gets done. There’s a Japanese word, “Ikigai”, whose meaning is pretty much “a reason for being”, and a sense of meaning and joy and purpose with some well-being thrown in there. I didn’t know there was a word for this until I ran across it in an article, and I have to say that “ikigai” is something I feel most days a few minutes after my alarm goes off.

It’s important, purpose is. We need to feel our lives are meaningful, and purpose helps. Throw in some joy and well-being in there and you’ve got it made. Ikigai. You probably have it and don’t even know it, and it’s important, too, to take note of what you’ve got. As for me, on this lovely June day, I’ve got a lot. More seeds to plant, some rhubarb to harvest, neighbors for whom to bake, a partner with and for whom to cook, some picnics and grad parties down the road, and this lovely milk bottle full of lilacs on my table. Such abundance, I say, in a life given to simple things. How fortunate I am. And now the birds are singing, and the geese are back with their goslings, and the neighbor’s dog just wandered over looking for scraps. Which I also have. I saved a good bone just for her. Time to wind down the day now, and I think I’ll sweep the porch. Mostly because I can, and sweeping is relaxing, and who knows who might walk by and say “hello” awhile.

Here’s my favorite sangria recipe, perfect for entertaining on hot summer days. Give it a whirl. You never do know ‘til you try.

Sangria

1 liter rose wine
1 cup rum
1 cup pineapple juice
3/4 cup lemon juice
1 lemon (sliced into rounds)
1 lime (sliced into rounds)
1 mango (peeled and cut into chunks)
½ cup sugar, optional

In a large glass pitcher, combine the wine, rum, pineapple juice, lemon juice and sugar. Stir.
Add the sliced lemons and limes, and the mango. Chill. Garnish with lemon or lime peel and serve it on up!

The Best Kind of Comfort Food

05/23/19

Made an apple pie Saturday and it was not bad. I’ve never been great at pie-making, but I sure like pie. I like tarts, too, and crumbles and Brown Bettys and crisps and gumps. You name it. Pie filling with something on it is pretty near the top of my list.

The best pie I ever had I couldn’t tell you. Every pie is the best pie. My favorites include fresh peach pie, homemade key lime pie, strawberry pie with glaze, rhubarb pie, sour cream raisin pie, pumpkin pie, and of course apple pie. I’ve never been a fan of cheddar cheese and apple pie, but why not? People love what they love. I like chocolate and peanut butter pies, too, and shoo-fly pie, and I’ve had sweet potato pies that taste pretty dang good. I think if I were stranded on an island and could have only one kind of pie the rest of my life, it would have to be apple. Just because. I grew up eating my mother’s amazing apple pies, and they are healthful and filling and the best kind of comfort food.

Who knows when pie season begins? I think every season is pie season. Right now, we’re all about lemon pies and banana cream pies and berry pies will be what we crave soon. Autumn is all pumpkin and apple and mincemeat, and winter tends toward pies made with berries frozen in summer and rich chocolate cherry or mint pies and creations layered with cream cheese and ganache and whipped cream.

Pie, pie, pie. Thank goodness we have something so delicious in common. I’m all for chicken potpie, too, just sayin’, and I had a seafood pie with phyllo once that was memorable in the best way: shrimp, lobster and crab in a creamy sauce with peas. Oh my.

I forgot to mention pecan pie. Another winner. Sigh. I think I’ve a one-track mind today, and that is just fine by me. Sometimes keeping the main thing the main thing is as simple as “What kind of pie shall I make today?” And why not? Life is short, and pie makes it a more pleasurable trip, to be sure.

Here’s a cousin of apple pie which is, in every way, delectable. Serve it up with some whipped cream and perhaps a plate of cheddar cheese, if you’re so inclined.

Walnut Apple-Peach Crisp with Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Crumble

3 cups sliced peeled Golden Delicious apples (about 3 medium)
2 cups sliced peeled fresh peaches (about 3 medium)
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup cold butter or margarine
¼ cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease 11×7-inch (2-quart) glass baking dish. In large bowl, toss apples, peaches and granulated sugar. Pour into baking dish. In same bowl, mix oats, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Cut in butter, using pastry blender (or pulling 2 table knives through ingredients in opposite directions), until mixture is crumbly. Stir in walnuts. Sprinkle over fruit.
Bake 30 minutes or until topping is golden and fruit is tender. Cool 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Enjoy!

The Best Things in Life

05/14/19

Made some chicken yesterday and it was not bad. Chicken is never bad. It’s always a go-to for me when I don’t know what to make. It’s the kind of meat that goes with anything, really, and I like it so much for that reason. Even grapes. I had a chicken salad on Sunday on Mother’s Day, and there were green grapes and cashews in it, and I have to say it was pretty good. It’s good with curry, too, and barbecue sauce; gravy and red rice and beans, and alfredo sauce.

It’s a practical meat source, chicken is. I like practical. Always have. The kids know this, as my Mother’s Day gifts were all practical, and I was happy. They gave me a crock with “One Wild and Beautiful Life” written on it, and some wooden spoons, and packets for a facial and a foot soak. All good, simple gifts I can use and that have meaning, and those are the best gifts.

Their words, however, meant the most. Written on cards, the sweet words of one’s children are the best part of Mother’s Day, of any day, really. All about love and gratitude and being the Best Mom in the World. I think every mom is the Best Mom in the World, to someone. That is the way of it. And all those Best Moms don’t care much what they’re given for Mother’s Day. Not as much as time spent together. That’s where it’s at. Time and space together, and expressions of love, and memories, and all those things to which we look forward. That’s what Mother’s Day is about. A pause where we think about our mothers and what they have done, and how hard they work, and all those meals they made for us when we were young and growing. Especially all the cookies they made, and the Christmas dinners, and the chicken stuffed with spinach and things we weren’t sure of that tasted so good after a long day at school with play practice afterward.

The best things in life are the most simple, I say. Flour sack towels, wooden spoons, recipes and the memories that go with them. What is better to celebrate on a Sunday in May than the simple things, our mothers, and the coming summer days? Here’s to all that, and to the next thing, whatever it may be. Perhaps there will be a crock pot full of chicken, coated in barbecue sauce, and a pan of bars fresh out of the oven. May we all have it so, and may we all know its worth.

Here’s a simple recipe for two, something delicious for a May evening under the sun-setting sky.
HASSELBACK CHICKEN

1 teaspoon olive oil
1¬½ cups fresh baby spinach
¼ cup ricotta cheese
2 – 1-pound chicken breasts
⅛ cup white cheddar cheese, grated
Paprika
Salt
Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and cook the spinach in it for 3 to 5 minutes, until it is slightly wilted. Stir in the ricotta and cook for a further 30 to 60 seconds. Allow to cool.
Cut slits into the chicken breasts, about 1 centimeter apart and 75% of the way through the chicken, so long as you don’t cut all the way through it! Stuff all of the spinach and ricotta mixture into the cuts. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the white cheddar cheese generously on top. Generously sprinkle the paprika. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the juices are clear.

Enjoy!

And Then I Took a Walk

05/05/19

Made some taco dip yesterday and it was not bad. And then I took a walk out in the sunshine, and did that ever feel good. It just did. The air smells so fresh and green lately, and the sun was not too hot and there were birds everywhere calling out each other. There were children at the playground down the road in the park, and were they ever laughing and having the best time swinging and spinning about on the merry-go-round. Their mothers and fathers were sitting on park benches and talking, and there were people out walking their dogs and pushing strollers and some just out for a run with music in their ears.

I’ve never been a fan of organized exercise. It’s just not in me to be a runner. It looks painful and I never get to that feel-good place people talk about. I like to swim, under my own terms, and I have always enjoyed dancing. Weight lifting and workouts have never really appealed to me, and why would they? I lift enough in a given day, and housework has always been my yoga workout. Think about it. Doing laundry, folding sheets and socks, raking, sweeping, dusting; it’s its own yoga and I do it every day. Even mixing and rolling out dough is its own exercise. I have some muscles to prove it.

But. A walk is its own beautiful thing, and seems the most natural, most real and all-around healthful form of exercise. It’s natural to walk, and you get the bonus of scenery and fresh air and conversation if you have a partner. It feels as if you’re helping the world turn on its axis to take a walk, and there’s no agony; only this kind of warm, quiet energy which rises up gradually and stays the rest of the day. Walking seems to benefit mind, body AND spirit, so it’s my exercise of choice and always will be. And whatever there is to do work-wise at home, I’ll take it. The chores and movements of an ordinary life keep a heart beating just fine. They sure do. Even dusting, on a good day, can feel like dancing. Give it a whirl sometime, and see if you don’t agree.

This recipe is forgiving if you’re missing something on the list. Add whatcha got and make it your own. Serve with a Mexican meal, or make it your lunch on a cloudy spring day.

7 Layer Taco Dip
1 16oz can refried beans
1 cup sour cream (you can use mayo if you don’t have sour cream)
1 package taco seasoning.
Salsa – to cover sour cream mixture (you can use chopped tomatoes)
Cheddar cheese – to cover salsa
Black olives
Green onions for garnish
Tortilla chips

Spread refried beans on bottom of a pie plate. Mix sour cream with taco seasoning and spread over beans. Pour the salsa over the sour cream mixture, and sprinkle shredded cheese and black olives over, and garnish with green onion.
You can also add guacamole, fresh lettuce, hamburger, etc.
Make it your own!
Enjoy!