The Times We Find Each Other

Made some peanut butter cookie bars yesterday and they were not bad. Pulled the recipe from the front of the box where I keep “yet-to-be-tested” recipes and this one got Mr. S in from the garage before I pulled it out of the oven. I told him to come back in a few so I could frost ‘em and I had to send him out two more times before they were ready to sample.

I miss baking every day. When the kids were home, I baked at least one thing each day, often two or three, but now that it is just the two of us for most days, I have had to cut down the amount of baked goods I produce. Mr. S has been watching his sugars and carbs (I did impress upon him that peanut butter has a good amount of protein in it), and I don’t need as much food in a day as I used to.

What is interesting is how the ritual of baking always leads to conversation, and now that conversation has somewhat filled in baking time. When Mr. S and I finally sat down to coffee and fresh cookie bars, we spend nearly a good hour laughing and talking about our day. I want to say “our respective days” as we each have our own plans and things to do, but really, when you live with a person, you share the day – even if you tend toward hours in separate parts of the house or even out of the house for errands and such.

Truth be told, the times we find each other and sit down awhile and talk are my favorite parts of the day. Mostly it’s a random thing, but has become a ritual in the evening as we cook dinner. I say “we” even though I do most of the cooking. Because I want to. Because I love it. But Mr. S is always near, sometimes working on a crossword puzzle, sometimes reading news stories aloud to me as he peruses his laptop, sometimes lending a hand with chopping lettuce or pouring drinks or setting the table. He is good at seeing what blanks need filling and doing so, and all the while we carry on conversation about who we saw today, how the shelves in the garage are shaping up, how the new saplings have taken root, how the dog seems to be limping less. We speculate about neighbors and friends and the weather, and we share our feelings about this or that political thing or religious event. He tells me about the coyotes he saw in the woods; I tell him about my talk with our neighbor Lulu a few doors down. And then the food is ready – grilled chicken and corn on the cob, some baked beans and potato salad.

And we continue our conversation, some silences here and there, and when we finish, he asks whether there might be any more of those peanut butter bars left. And of course there are, and we share one, and then another, on the blessed eve of yet another summer day.

Here’s a recipe for the permanent bar section of your recipe box. Good especially for neighbor kids and grandchildren and grownups who need a bit more protein.

Peanut Butter Cookie Bars
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups peanut butter, divided
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
½ cup milk + 2 T, divided
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
4 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a large cookie sheet. Mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Whisk together ½ cup milk, vanilla extract, eggs. Set aside.

In a saucepan, melt 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter and 1 cup peanut butter, bring to a boil. Remove from heat and slowly add flour mixture, followed by milk and egg mixture. Mix well.

Pour batter onto cookie sheet, spreading evenly to edges. Bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

For frosting: In a saucepan, bring 1 stick butter and ½ cup peanut butter to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons milk and slowly mix in powdered sugar until well combined. Pour frosting over bars, spreading evenly to edges. Allow frosting to cool and set before serving.

Enjoy!

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!