Saturday, January 25, 2014

If You're Not Hungry And Love to Waste Money - Do Not Read this Post!

 There are some things you can't get by whacking a tube on the side of the
counter while some guy made out of dough giggles.

Actually,  I shouldn't poke fun at the Pillsbury guy. At Halloween, when Partner in Grime went to a party as a World War I "Doughboy" (with authentic gear). . .

World War I Bacon Ration Tin

I WENT AS A DOUGHBOY AS WELL.

But as I prepared breakfast this morning, I thought about something I saw on the news the other night, where they were interviewing folks wanting $15 an hour for an unskilled minimum wage job. One young woman (single with children and living in a family member's home) stated "I can only afford to eat fast food, and can't even buy breakfast some days".

That just hit me, not the struggle to survive on minimum wage, as that would be a struggle for a single adult with children. What bothered me was the statement about only being able to afford fast food.
Home on the Range Dollar Value Menu Burger

You can make a really good lunch or meal at home, per person, for less than the $5 -8 average fast food meal. Not convenience food and not prime meats.  But real food with real ingredients is not so hard you have to be a slave to the kitchen or a Martha Stewart.  I don't know how many times I've been behind someone  in line at the discount food store, and their cart is FULL of frozen pizzas, waffles, breakfast sandwiches and bagged, frozen meals, chips and pop and precooked, prepackaged cooked meat, canned and packaged biscuits and bread. The cost of their food was 3 times what I was paying for things to prepare food from scratch and eat really well, not just beans and rice every meal, and at the crash pad, where I don't have much storage or a big freezer.
Case in point, Last Saturday's Dinner

4 large chicken leg/thighs - on sale at a grocery with a butcher, a special at  $3
1/2  bag of frozen store brand veggies and half an onion $1.50
biscuits  from scratch  (about 10 cents a piece)
spices and a little dab of  Aldi Italian salad dressing.. Less than 50 cents, assuming you season food regularly and buy them when they're on sale.

Total  for food used  - About  $5
It made enough to feed two with leftover chicken for another meal, the remaining biscuits frozen for a quick biscuit and gravy or breakfast sandwich meal some other time. And it was really, really good. the chicken especially flavorful and incredibly juicy from the brazing process which also is great on inexpensive and tougher cuts of meat.

Cast Iron Braised Chicken

Early the next morning  .  What's in the fridge?  I have a 3 slices of deli lunch meat left from sandwiches for work, a couple thick slices of Swiss, a dab of mayo left in the jar, hot sauce and the sad and lonely remnants of a loaf of homemade bread.   I don't waste anything.  Add some hot sauce to the remaining dab of mayo, assemble and lightly butter the bread. Throw it in the George Foreman style grill I got for $5 at a yard sale (who needs an expensive panini maker) and you have breakfast for two with about $2 worth of leftovers.
Lunch the next day, the leftover braised chicken, shredded on salad with a bit of that Italian dressing. With Aldi Romaine and Garlic Bread made from the remnants of "make lunch for work" Italian sub rolls bought on sale at the grocery, and iced tea, a meal for two for about $3.

Afternoon snack was an apple,  less than a buck  from the Aldi bagged ones.
With not a lot of prep, you've fed two people, per person, basic meals for a whole day (24 hours in this case) for the cost of  two value priced fast food meals.  This takes budget minded shopping and making it a point not to throw anything out (unless it got shoved to the back of the fridge and turned into a science experiment).

I realize there are times you need something you can just pop in the oven to heat or microwave, especially if you are a household with multiple jobs and/or kids. I also realize, not everyone has, or can afford, the freezer space to buy and store in bulk.  But these recipes didn't require that.  I'll admit, I have more than one Home Run Pizza in my freezer, just because I like the ones with sausage and jalapenos and Partner in Grime and I eat out at an ethnic restaurant, someplace family owned,  inexpensive but fun, once or twice a month, like this place we found when we were checking out a location for an upcoming  model train event. 
Baba Ghanoush and fresh made pitas at Falafelji Mediterranean Cuisine.
 The lunch Steak Shawerma platter with tahini sauce with grilled veggies and salad.
The combo platter, steak, chicken and spiced kafta made with minced lamb and 
beef and spices with garlic mayo, tahini and jalapeno garlic sauces 

With leftovers boxed up (there was no way we could finish all this, even as delicious as it was) and put in the travel cooler in the truck, we had lunch material with some extra pitas for two more days. Your Mom may have told you to clean your plate, but if you do that with the size of some restaurant portions Greenpeace will soon be showing up to roll you back into the water.  Don't be embarrassed to ask for a "to go" bag, and use it all up.  I've done that in the finest of restaurants and not had the Wine Sommelier come over and taunt me in French.

Still, I try and cook from scratch most of the time.  Sometimes schedules and travel are such, it's just the weekends, something in the crockpot and the oven going to package up for the fridge or freezer for future meals. I've started making my own yogurt now that Greek Yogurt has gone popular (and hence, pricey). But it's worth trying, even a day or two a week to start.  For you can save a lot of money, with not a lot of time, if you just learn the basic skills to make things from scratch.

If you don't know how to cook this way, there are a ton of blogs out there on the subject and books you can get at Half Priced Books to learn. Sometimes you do so to  simply survive with a full stomach, sometimes it's the satisfaction of something hand crafted as you tuck those dollars away for when times get tough as they can for even the most prepared of people.  But it's a skill, I so wish the younger generation would recognize as one necessary to survive in today's tough economy.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lab Work

The Vet said to keep him from jumping on any sofa til his muscle strain healed.   He likes the "Soon to go to Amvets" Ikea couch frame (with home made dog friendly cushions), as there are lots of windows for solar lab heating. The old cushions, blanket and lamp shades make good sofa blocks, right?

No.  We just snoot them off and out of the way so we don't miss our really good afternoon sun spot.
Hey!  You're interrupting my tanning session!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Drop a Bomb on Me Baby - Cupcake Wars Winner

I couldn't resist a giant nuclear cloud of frosting.

Since chocolate was the overwhelming winner  in our poll earlier in the week (over something with bacon, check for pigs flying next) the recipe is here tonight as promised.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes With Buttercream and Salted Caramel


Cake for celebrations or for cheer is a tradition that dates back as far as the Romans, with the idea for the candle on top being attributed to both early Greeks and later, Germans. The origins notwithstanding, the cakes vary from region to region and even among families. Everyone has their own favorite cake for celebrations.

The first one I remember, was not a birthday cake, but an Easter one.  I can still recall that ranch house, the apple trees I was almost big enough to climb, Mom's rose garden that  she painstakingly kept up, that after her death, still bloomed without help or hindrance from any of us.  I can picture that moment as she brought out the cake like it was yesterday.  For at Easter every year, Mom would make a  two layer cake, then cut it in half, adding a nose, ears and tail to make a  bunny cake for each of us. Mine was yellow with chocolate frosting, and little marshmallow eyes and teeth with licorice whiskers.

 Betty Crocker Easy Bunny Cakes

We'd eat it at the very end of the day, after church, after thanks, after dinner.  There is an extremely faded  photo in a drawer here somewhere of them that always brings me a smile.


There were other cakes over the years, some plain, some fancy. Another family member  made me a cake one year that, well, was completely burned on the outside and raw in the middle (using that bachelor cooking time conversion  method of doubling the temperature and cutting the cook time in half). We still laugh about that.

Celebration cakes come in all sizes and flavors.  Everyone had a favorite, though mine has been, since the very first cake that I can remember, yellow with chocolate buttercream.

Birthday cakes range from "Oh, that's so sweet!" to a roar of laughter as Partner in Grime explained that he couldn't fit (mumble mumble) candles on the little cake he made from scratch so he just gave me one giant plumbers candle. I had tears in my eyes as I was laughing so hard.
He has a birthday coming ups shortly. Not sure how I can top the candle, but red velvet and cream cheese frosting might be a start.

Then there are wedding cakes. Cakes at weddings are often  intense elaborate affairs that can cost hundreds of dollars (seriously, do you know how much .223  and cast iron you could buy for that five tiered, looks like a swan thing?)

What were once traditional white cakes and frosting with the bride and groom toppers are now  as individual as the couples involved. 
But todays post is about my favorite- cupcakes.

The first mention of the cupcake can be traced as far back as 1796, when a recipe notation of "a cake to be baked in small cups" was written in American Cooker by Amelia Simmons. They're more than a dressed up muffin. They're fun, they're easy to prepare and share, and if they turn out too dry and overdone they make dandy replacements for sporting clays (pull!).  For lunch OR launching in a trebuchet, they're dandy little things
What kind?  Honestly, the simplest things are the best, and with a little work you can make a cupcake as good as any cupcake shop.  I hope you like todays recipe. This is a cupcake for grown ups, but even the kids will enjoy it and the vanilla butter cream, is good on about ANY cupcake.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Driving Mr. Barkley - The Faces and Memories of a Road

Mom,  that's like the third burger place you've passed up!
 
As the truck headed down south, into farmland, happy to be away from the thicker traffic, the snow was still piled high from the massive storm almost two weeks ago. The drifts looked so serene, waves tossed up against farm fence, but other signs told of the dangers that had been here, two cars still in ditches and the one jackknifed semi in the median, as well as spots where a Saturn  and a Smart Car shed their skin, bits of fiberglass and plastic strewn about, the rest of the remains removed in a bucket.
But we were even more happy to be past the outskirts of the city, that short stretch I must travel that makes me very anxious not to break down.  There's one stretch, where, but for the highway, and the knowing, you wouldn't know you were in a city.

There are the houses, some farm style, probably erected when this was just farms, fading and falling, some windows shuttered or broken, some still lived in, overgrown plots littered with the broken and the unused, buckets, tools, machines, things that once were crafted to serve a purpose of function or work, left to lie idle by those that either abandoned these places or live idle within.  Even the trees, bend down as if tired of making an effort, blossoming each year in the sullied impiety that is a once thriving place that dies through uncaring neglect, its burgeoning, nothing more a bitter and tenacious scrap of another season's memory, than a desire to grow and thrive.
It is with a sigh of relief, that I take that final dogleg south.  

This stretch of highway has been driven a hundred times, yet each drive I notice something different.  It's not the obvious, the giant "HELL IS REAL" sign (we're on I-65, we already know that) or the XXX Family Restaurant (sorry, when I think "XXX", family restaurant just doesn't spring to mind). Rather, it's an old barn, now razed, it's a river that's left its banks, it's a tiny little cross with a name by the side of the road.

I don't listen to books on tape for these drives. Sometimes, music plays, sometimes it is silent. Mostly, I keep my senses on the road, for this is a treacherous stretch of large trucks, often as inattentive as they are massive. Sometimes you have one in front and one behind and gaining, no place to go if the one in front decides to stop, the Bat Truck only the Oreo filling between several tons of steel, and I retreat to the slow lane, where I'll happily let teenagers give me that "look" as I do the speed limit.  I've driven this stretch often enough to know that the opposed forces of a semi's mass and my will, if drawn suddenly together, would be a meeting that could be irremediable.
Sometimes they give you a warning, before they try and kill you, a signal before they suddenly dart into your lane,  just feet in front of you, making you slam on your brakes, so they can pass the truck going .3 mph less than them. Usually though, danger is inarticulate, not knowing it's danger. So I listen as well as watch.

There are always the signs, fast food, gas stations, some bright shiny new, an Arby's and a Super 8 that's been a welcome respite from this road in bad weather for many people. There's a new McDonald's, advertising large clean restrooms (a welcome change from the ones further north where they have to lock them because someone might break in and clean them). Then there are old signs, weathered, leaning away from the wind.  Failed businesses dot the landscape, "Boom City", a faded but futuristic looking abandoned  fireworks place that stands in isolation in a landscape of cornfields. So out of place in a remote, rural area, it looks like some alien craft that just landed there and built itself a parking lot as they waited for the mother ship.
What is there to look at, some of you may be likely thinking?  It's Indiana, flattened out by giant glaciers millions of years ago.  It's flat, there's corn, that's about it.  But beauty can be like that, as subtle as a whisper, yet as strong as faith.  Beauty isn't always young, perfect skin, vast mountains or the vivid colors of velvets and fine gems.  Beauty is there, on an open road, in the sky, in a vast field of ripe corn,  in a church with a crucifix that likely came out here on a wagon, the serene and battered Christ upon it, transcending the marks of time and generations, a visage to which you can only lower your eyes in humility and ask forgiveness.

Yes it's flat, but there are roads that stretch and glisten like jewels  in hard rain flowing down as if to wash the landscape clean.  There are weathered homes and stubborn farms, there is a sudden rise to a river that has carried more than history to its silent end.  There are miles and miles of fields, with nothing but corn and fence rows, a barn and silo jutting up like one of those pop up greeting cards, set there, flat on the very edge of the earth's table. It's the windy sunlight of space and summer, a morning filled with bells, an afternoon filled with grace, it's the church of God's own creation, as farmers tend to its Host and our history.
As I drive and look, I think.  To the phone hopefully not ringing at 2 a.m., to the days ahead, to the days past as I see the Indianapolis 103 miles sign and realize I'm  more than halfway there and smile as I relax into the seat.

There's a time in every trip, no matter how long, where you settle into the drive.  As a family, and for my Dad, when we were kids, the driving on our vacation trips seemed almost effortless, as we watched the landscape change from green to brown to mountains and back to brown and we'd hear stories of his youth, of he and Mom growing up together in Montana, the radio off, the only music the sound of my Mom's relaxed laughter, a laughter I can still sometimes hear. For I hear her voice in mine. I'm told we sound alike, and there are days I can crack open the window and the warmth of the wind will blow in and around me, warming my cheeks and the back of my throat and as look up to a contrail that has caught my eye, our laughter will echo in the wide spaces ahead.
What I recall of those long ago trips, other than the laughter, was just sitting and looking out the windows for miles, for what was most memorable were the landscapes, stopping when we got tired or thirsty and actually looking and touching the wonders we'd read about in school. The Grand Coulee Dam, the drive through redwood tree. Then back in the car, with postcards and maybe a souvenir baseball hat. I saw mountains and tumbling landslides, and fish leaping against gravity up a ladder, and once even a buffalo, kept on a small piece of range on which resided a little restaurant.

I had never in my life been next to an animal that big. He was old, and completely tame, raised by the husband and wife with the restaurant, with a few acres to roam, and enough wild memory to twitch in running freedom in his dreams. I was afraid at first to approach him, almost blind in my fear, but I crept up, drawn by soft eyes the color of earth, and the warm flank. Judging by his breathing, the slow, patient release of air, that great steam engine of sound, I knew he would not hurt me and I reached out through the fence rails and touched the giant soft velvet bloom of nose  as he looked back with those knowing eyes,  set in ancient bones as enormous as the future, a countenance as powerful as history, as motionless as memory. And we stood there, together, a little auburn haired girl and that lone remnant of a past that's faded to nothing but dust and cornered thought, all alive, yet still alone.
But on this drive, all am thinking about is what I have in front of me, the tumbled landscapes of glacier stone and great pristine rivers, thin as a rope from the air. Anything that really requires my mind, the gas and engine instruments, a scan for traffic, occurs in brief, unhurried intervals as the truck carries me with it, all those memories and thoughts of past road trips, of tears, of childlike bursts of laughter, of family, mechanical, rhythmic memory of the past that I carry with me forward.

Everything that I  might worry about, whether the phone will wake me at 2 a.m., that case I have to finish, a washer that broke beyond repair and needs to be replaced, lies suspended for this time as the sun creeps back inside the earth, driving the shadows forth.
Open road, a dimension free of time and space that flows from childhood to the trembling, secret ardor of the future. It's a road little changed from a child's hand out the window in the breeze, to the older foot on the gas pedal of an old British car, on a Summer day,  pressing down, carrying with it the echo of childish want, the passion and unrest of adulthood. The road rushing under, rushing on. Way too quickly.

As we near where I will live during the work week, Barkley leans into me, as if recognizing what is going past the window, flowing smoothly from left to right, buildings and doorways, a small expanse of marsh, each in its ordered place, there in the dimming light. Perhaps he recognizes those things as we draw near. Either that or he is listening to something much further away then the small dimensioned vehicle we are riding in. Perhaps he only pretends to be listening, because in his heart, he already knows the sound.

I listen too, not just look, to the whoosh of the garage door, to the creak of a door, to the falling into a simple place with old Mission furniture, a framed photo on the shelf and a Cross on the wall, reminding me that I am all alive, but never alone.
 - Brigid

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Light and Dark, Good and Evil - Cupcake Wars

There is an endless battle between light and dark, goodness and evil, those that prefer vanilla or chocolate.

I couldn't make up my mind, but wanted Partner in Grime to have a sweet treat with leftovers for when I leave to go back on duty  (as well as for me to take to work tomorrow) so he gets both.

And if there's any doubt, you can never have too much ammo or too much frosting. (Especially with a huge piping bag and the Wilton Extra Large  Round Decorating Tip)
Light:

Vanilla  cupcake with maple-vanilla buttercream and candied bacon.
Dark:

Darkest Chocolate with vanilla buttercream and salted caramel.

Let me know your favorite and I'll post a recipe this Wednesday  for the one most people would prefer.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Rescue Me



Held back
You can't
You shouldn't
Held back
Shame and rules
Held back
Afraid to love

Held back
Afraid to love
more than you could lose

Let it run
You can
Held back no longer.
For it's your life
your rules
No longer afraid

Let it out
even if it hurts
Don't be afraid
you've nothing left to lose
- Brigid

Mom is busy working, so for you all, a story from the past - Barkley

A few years back, in another life, another employer, one night late, I got a phone call. The caller was LEO, female, a friend. We chit chatted regularly but a call this late was not good news and I was afraid it was professional in nature. She said "B., I need you to help me rescue a dog."

Apparently, the deadbeats who'd been living in an old rental house down the road from their farm booked out in the middle of the night. She saw the vehicles loading up and leaving, good riddance, she thought. Then, late at night she heard, carried on the wind, the pitiful cry.

A coyote? A dog? The neighbors are gone, it must be someone else, she thought. The next night she didn't hear it over the cold wind, the third night she did, a high pitched whine of a soul's abandonment. The house remained dark, the utter stillness, utter silence, a testament to the tears outside.

Her husband away on business, she crept over, no sign that the residents were anything but gone, house empty of belongings, yard covered in trash. It was a pup, a retriever, purebred from the looks, left chained up in the backyard with a bowl filled with rain water and no food. Left to die when they vacated in a hurry. She called - "I need back up." Off the clock, just civilians, I knew what she meant. So off I headed, no purse, just a  personal weapon, my  ID, some cash and dog treats in my pocket. I got there; the house definitely vacant, no meth heads coming back and surprising us.

As we approached her, even in the dark, we could see the  poor animal was starving and cold, temps reaching down in the 40's. Tonight was grey and  even more cold, with a forecast of rain or freezing rain, but still the sky held in the moisture, refusing to release it.  But  it was supposed to go below freezing; she wouldn't have survived the night, it's only companion, the smell of water and blood.

Blood?  Why do I smell blood?

My friend, crouched down over it as I stood watch, pointed at something, hard nosed law officer that she was, with tears in her eyes. The dog had outgrown her collar, and it was actually was cutting deep into the flesh, leaving bloody tracks in would have been the soft fur of contentment. She had to be in terrible pain, but she only licked our hands and tried to snuggle up. My friend said "can you get it out?" I always have some first aid/medical type implements in my bag but I had to say "I've never cut on anything still breathing". I expected the dog to bite me as I worked, gently, with small tools to free it. She just continued to nuzzle our hands, even though in my attempt to remove this tiny round torture device, I had to be causing her more pain.

I looked up to the sky, thinking for a moment the clouds had finally given up their rain, when I realized, what was on my tongue was the taste of salt as I worked away.

When finally we stood, the dog in her arms, the remnants of that collar laying on the ground like a broken mirror, we heard the crunch of tires, both of us putting our hands near our weapons There was the flash of red and blue, of a bright flashlight, the glint of a shield, as we smiled, thankful for assistance and she was recognized with a "What are you ladies doing out here?!" My friend called out "hey D.!" He replied, calling her by her LEO title ". . . . What ARE you doing out here? I was keeping an eye on this place in case they were back and up to no good."

She said, "I'm just stealing this dog Sir" He looked at the dog , a puppy really, and looked at me (I was not a local) and said "who's this?". She told him who I was, his eyes widened a bit in recognition and he chuckled and said "and what are YOU doing out here?" I said "HELPING her to steal this dog, SIR!"

He just laughed. Calling the local animal officer was suggested, but we told him, given this rural area, that might take an hour or more, the pup was in bad shape and had lost blood, she could die if we didn't do something. My friend told him we'd take him to the vet, pay the bill ourselves and get her a good home. The dog clearly was a "stray" in the eyes of the law, abandoned to die. The Sheriff just said "Dog? What dog? I didn't see any dog", and tucked $30 in our hands to help towards the vet bill before he helped us load up and drove off.

The dog was cleaned up at the vets, an after hour emergency call, the wound not causing any permanent damage, but serious. In a few hours, that gentle little retriever was bandaged up and home at my friends, after an amber toast in crystal goblets, recognition among tired friends, as she curled up to sleep near the fire, joining a household that already had two spoiled, well loved dogs.

I hadn't thought of that in years, until the day some time back, another time, another city.  A friend told me of a couple of stray dogs spotted by her office building, a place I often drive past on my way into work. The dogs were obviously dumped, she said, skin and bones, and she couldn't lure them close to her. A couple others had tried, with no luck. She was almost in tears as she told me, having a soft spot for strays (though we agreed stray cows do make tasty cheeseburgers). Animal control was called, then, and later, but the dogs ran off into some extended woods behind an old building nearby.

A few days later, driving by her office on my way back into the city, I saw, along the side of the road, a young woman pulled over, petting the form of the dog laying on the grass next to the curb. I pulled in behind her, and put on my emergency flashers, my work I.D. hanging around my neck as I approached, saying "can I help?"

 It had to be one of the dogs my friend described. At first I thought that perhaps she'd accidentally struck the dog with her vehicle, but I could see as I approached that the dog was just too weak to move.  It was emaciated, probably less than a year old, a bulldog/perhaps a little pit bull/mystery dog mix with a too small blocky face and low slung, long body.   It was hard to tell, the dog so malnourished, the coat so worn away and mangy to not even be recognized as fur.
She said "another woman from that office there (pointing) was by, she got food for the dogs and is fetching a car to transport him, someone else has already taken the other dog to the humane society, this one is in bad shape."

The lady who had brought the food was my friend, another employee in a nearby building taking the other dog to the dog shelter. The dog remaining had eaten the half dozen or so burgers that my friend had brought and a lot of water, and just lay there, panting, as this young women stroked him and talked soothingly. Yet he had an expression, as bad off as he was, as if he knew no one was going to hurt him ever again. I called my office to let them know I'd be late returning and would do a leave slip for payroll when I got back.

I called my friend, back over at her office on the phone trying to find a vet. She said "if I take him to the humane society as bad as he is, they'll just put him down". She had called several vets, no one could get him in right away. She said she then called one animal hospital, not super close, but within driving distance. They could see him. It was Barkley's vet, not just one of the many vets there, but HIS vet, the pretty little blond he adores.

She came back with a coworker, while the young woman that had been there on my arrival went back to work. We rounded up a blanket and a box from our vehicle supplies and the dog was loaded into the back of an SUV, one person driving, one person, continuing to pet it, off to the vet.  The exam was done and the dog admitted. A few hundred dollars were left for vet bills, my friend securing any additional payments with her credit card, which likely will be more. The dog had fleas, ticks and numerous bloody scrapes in a coat that was badly in need of care, the fur almost gone. They'd have to check for heart worm and Lyme. One eye had an injury but it was fairly clear. An IV was set up and my friend stayed with him while they got him settled in for a night or two stay. My friend was widowed and recently had to put down the very elderly dog they'd bought together. I remember too well when she told me that, everything leaving her eyes but the loss and her statement that she was not going to get another one, she was done with loss. That day, again she said she absolutely did NOT need another dog but wasn't going to let him die alone and in pain along the side of a road. She was NOT going to get attached to him.

She said "I wanted a lab, a healthy, pretty dog". I looked at her and said "Sometimes God doesn't give us what we think we want, sometimes He gives us what we need" and just waved as I drove off. We've all learned love, we've all learned loss, sometimes we have to learn hope.

Now, years later, that dog is firmly part of a home, sleeping peacefully, breathing slow into the darkness, leaving their touch upon a heart.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bar Scheeze Mac and Cheese

If you've not tried Win Schulers Cheese in a Crock, do yourself a favor.  It's available at stores in the upper Midwest, Florida and Virginia and is available by mail elsewhere.

The first time I had it was a few years back from Beef Mart, When Midwest Chick and Mr. B introduced me to it and  it became a house favorite. My favorite is the original cheddar, the original secret recipe made famous at Win Schuler's Restaurants in Michigan. The Cheese spread production was sold to Campbell's a while back, who wisely did not "improve" the recipe.  Schuler's restaurant is in its fourth generation of fine food and great service. That's pretty impressive as according to the Family Firm Institute (FFI), nearly 70% of family-owned businesses fail before reaching the second generation, 88% fail by the third, and only about 3% survive to the fourth.

Visit the restaurant (Schuler's Restaurant & Pub) if you get up to Marshall Michigan (hint, try the barbecued meatballs) but definitely look for their famed cheese spread which will make another well known specialty store's "Pub Cheese" hide in the closet in shame.  The unique blend of cheddar cheese and spices   is wonderful with crackers, breads and veggies.  It's cheddar with a kick and became known in the beginning to the many patrons of his restaurant who got a complimentary small cheese crock as they waited for their meal as "Bar Scheeze".

 I had some left from a little dinner party.   Hmmmm. Time to do something a little different with it.

Bar Scheeze Mac and Cheese. I didn't have any bread crumbs or crackers for the topping, and just put a little bit of the cheese on the top after assembling, with no crumbs, but it was a hit.  I used some really good quality cracked pepper from Penzey's, real, unsalted butter, and whole milk and it was a hit.

For the story of a great American family business and some more recipes go on over to Win Schulers
Macaroni and Cheese (recipe from Win Schuler)

6 Tbsp. butter or margarine
½ of a 1 lb. box elbow macaroni (2 cups uncooked)
5 Tbsp. flour
3 cups milk
Pepper to taste
16 oz. Win Schuler's Sharp or Original Cheese Spread
 ½ cup plain breadcrumbs or crushed buttery crackers

Preheat oven to 350°. Put a 2-quart baking dish  (I used a 11 x 7 pan) with 1 Tbsp. of the butter in the oven to melt. Remove and set aside. Cook the macaroni per package instructions and drain. Melt the remaining 5 Tbsp. butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour, stirring until blended. Using a whisk, add the milk until it becomes a little thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add pepper and 14 oz of the Win Schuler's Cheese Spread and stir. Add the macaroni to the cheese mixture and stir until blended. Pour into the 2-quart dish. In a separate bowl blend the breadcrumbs and remaining 2 oz of Win Schuler's Cheese Spread. Sprinkle evenly over the macaroni mixture. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes. Serves 4 - 6.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Teaching My Fingers to Fight -

Blessed be the Lord, my strength, who teaches my hands to war, and my fingers to fight. - Psalms 1"44

On my last trip out West, I took Big Bro to Breakfast one morning while Dad was at the doctor. Not feeling so good, he wasn't sure about going, but he went, if only to please me.  Before we dug into our plates we prayed. As we bowed our heads, the entrance door opened,with a waft of cold air and light arriving with the murmur of pouring rain. I looked up. I noticed the people at the next table were not looking at the door, but rather, at our table, either the gun on the hip of my dark blue pants, or our prayer. They seemed more intent on our action of prayer.

I was born to a Catholic mother. As my regular readers know, I  was taken in from foster care and later adopted, by an older couple in a small lumber town that was probably 80% Scandinavian. Their ancestors came west via Minnesota and North Dakota and Indiana after arriving in America, both of their parents originally  homesteading in Montana. My Mom's mother was from Sweden, her Dad form Norway so the Lutheran church is what we were raised in. And so, I spent my early early years with the stories of Lutheran Basement Church Women, creamed peas and toast, and that bastardized offspring of a can of cream of mushroom soup and leftovers, the Lutheran Supper Hot Dish.
We didn't have the Saints of my birth, but in a Scandinavian town we had stories of the Nordic Gods as told through books and stories-Frigidaire- god of ice fishing, Lesfse, the goddess of unseasoned food, and Inclement, the god of school closures due to all the snow you betcha. The homes were warm, and full of the scent of coffee cake. On our kitchen walls were brightly painted plaques with sayings in Swedish that probably translated to "Keep making fun of the lutefisk and we'll ship Socialism over there".

It was a good place to grow up, community both inside, and outside of the church. I remember Sunday service, the Communion cup glinting like a newly minted coin, the people around me that loved me like my own family, as from above, the bloodied and life sized Christ crowned with thorns looked down on us with forgiving eyes that had seen too much, his face, smooth and impenetrable. I'd take a sip of the cup, taking in the blood that contained an indomitable spirit which came from the fire that exists in us all, looking up at Jesus there on the cross with a conspiratorial nod and a silent thanks, having no other words.
I was raised with meals taken as a whole family, except for one night a week that we ate on TV Trays,  in front of the TV, a special treat on Friday if we'd behaved and performed well in school that week. It was always the same meal. A small piece of steak (from the steer we'd butcher each year), oven baked french fries, buttered toast, green beans and milk and a few slices of orange for dessert. I'm not really sure why we always had buttered white toast with our steak, but it would have seemed wrong if it was missing.

Even for those meals, as we set about to watch cowboys or spies save the world, we said Grace.

"Why pray?", someone asked me not too many years ago, "you did, and look at everything bad that's happened to you, people you loved whose days were numbered too few?" Can I say I never questioned God, in anger, wishing that he felt the same pain that I did, shoving my fury into the sky like a fist.
I married too young, to a Catholic, returning to my roots, I guess, and remember studying the many Saints, St.Wulfric, St. Fina, St Barbara. I looked St. Barbara up and it said that after her father whom she had loved and trusted had tortured and killed her, he'd been struck down by lightning. That likely explained why she became the patron saint of artillery and the protectress against sudden death. Years later, watching my then  husbands business fail yet again through inattention and excess and sporting bruises that hopefully did not show, I prayed to St. Barbara for some lightning, but my pleas went unheeded.

When I go back to my hometown now, I return to that same church I was raised in, with my Dad.  The people who loved me as a child, for the most part, are still there, though elderly. My piano teacher, in a nursing home now, but always open for a visit, my best friend's Mom, now widowed, another woman who sat by my Step mom's bed for days with Dad and I as she struggled in her last days, the people that drive my Dad to his doctor's appointments when we can not. There's comfort there in that community of saints.
As I sit in the pew, I look at my Dad, who has lived a life of total love, service and honor, sensing how his heart will soon fail him. It's a strong heart, a good heart, a railway station of life and blood, blue lines in and red lines out, switching tracks flawlessly for nine decades until one day there will be a derailment and the tracks will be silenced. He sees me looking at him and puts his hand on mine as we bow our head in the silence that is not silence but is innumerable.

Is that fair? Yet, he's had nine decades more than his first daughter, born in extraordinary perfection, simply too early and too small, the awful perfect prayer of his firstborn, who breathed only days, my mom rendered barren from the travail of the birth. Yet from that death came life, adopting children no one wanted, and soon the table was filled, with small hands, small hearts and much laughter.  "Bless us, O Lord, for these Thy gifts. " and ""Mom he took my garlic bread!" and "May I please be excused?"

Had my parents closed off their hearts in that original loss, that table would have been silent.
I  believe that the Divine, force and free will are all intertwined. I have to bite my tongue when I hear of someone speaking of one who left us by other than natural causes, "it's so bad the Lord took him early" when all I can think is "you know, if he hadn't intentionally busted several laws of the State and physics he'd still be here, the Lord notwithstanding".  I don't dare say such things out loud but it makes me remember why Darwin was not made a Saint. God may watch over us, but he doesn't direct our every single thought and move. nor protect us from them.  We make choices through our own  free will, the bad ones we get through and carry with regret, hopefully still intact. God did not force those choices, he simply forgives them.

I've certainly had to ask for that forgiveness in my talks with God. For I talk to Him regularly, in the woods, hunting with my Browning, when the light has a weary quality to it, like a backwater pool of light lying low, winter's light is crisp, clean, illuminating everything so clearly.  The words are less than wishes and more than regrets, and even if I didn't state them out loud,  I could hear them with my breathing as they gathered within the intent of breath and came forth in a rush of cold air, invisible words going up to an invisible God.
Sometimes He and I  talk as I'm sitting in a vehicle in the middle of a scene of dark desolation, ash in my hair, red smeared on my boots, as bold as if painted on a door frame, a sign, that for tonight, I was to be spared.  Perhaps this one time I did not save His sparrow which He perhaps neglected to mark, but I am here to reconcile the remains. It's just talk, but it's still a prayer; prayer being more than the order of words, the conscious calling of the mind that is speaking, or the sound of the voice praying. I do not expect to hear anything back, the communication between us tongued with fire beyond the blaze that is dying next to me. But it's comforting, words spoken into the void, penitence and belief, as all around hope is falling into embers. He may not respond, but He is there, Never and Always.

So I do not care if someone looks at me oddly if I bow my head. I only smile when someone says, how can you do that with all that you've seen, the pain and harm that man can inflict on one another?
But I can, for I have come to realize that the same God that seemed to sit silently while hearts ceased beating, also blew life into everyone else around me that I love deeply, now shaping their strong hands and putting spark in their vision. So it is, I don't clench my hands in anger in all that I've witnessed, have borne, but simply give thanks. God writes death on all our hearts, just as he writes life, our story penned as much by our actions as His creation, our heart a journal that only we keep, it's entries scribed by both man and God, it's ending as much as a mystery as we are.

I, for one, am thankful for the words.

It's time for a call to Big Bro. A year ago he was handed a death sentence and he is still here, despite all odds, fighting daily.  For how much longer we do not know, but this day is our day and we will cherish it.  Perhaps tonight, after we talk, I'll cook up a steak with some buttered toast and  we'll eat on a TV tray watching old Westerns. I look at the table on which rests my pistol, sitting quietly, waiting to protect me and others, when higher powers can not. I am blessed that I live in a country where my God given right to have that protection is recognized. But then again, I am blessed in so many ways.

With the meal I will say a prayer, of thanks for that and many things. For my Dad and his brave heart. For my brother, for healing, or comfort as healing is not likely.  For forgiveness of sin, for the blessing of the one that love mes, even in my imperfections.

Bless us oh Lord for these thy gifts. . . .

Monday, January 13, 2014

Weekend Adventures - Be It Ever So Crumbled. . .

. . . there's no place like home.

Day One.

This was the weekend of the plumbing project for the hallway bathroom, now that Snowmagedden was past and temps in the 40's had melted almost all of the snow.  I'm not sure if the plumbing here is original (almost 100 years old) or if it just looks like it (though I think the  first floor bathroom plumbing was redone when it went "pink" in the Sixties). There is always work in renovating an old house, but if you pay a professional to do it all, it also gets very expensive. But I wouldn't trade the charm of this place (and the shop) for the biggest of pre made McMansions.
The water was going to be off for the weekend, but there was plenty stored for all of us to clean up with and drink, including Barkley.

He was looking none too happy when I got in from work. He came up limping slightly Friday and went to the vet Sat. morning.  He was eating well, and didn't seem in too much discomfort but it was best to check it out as the Vet is closed on Sunday, had it gotten worse.

The paw and toenails were good, it was just some muscle strain on the shoulder, likely when he was skittering around on the ice rink that was the driveway (when it's that cold the salt does nothing).  The vet gave him some safe doggie equivalent of Ibuprofen and said to keep him quiet for a few days, minimal stairs and jumping up on furniture and he'd be fine.

He certainly sulked though when I refused to chase him around and throw toys in the air for him, urging him to his doggie bed, and putting a baby gate up on his favorite spot to snooze when no one is looking, the futon in the office where I write.
I'm not even going to play with the power tools you left me. 

OK, spaces in the walls are open where need be and things moved from a closet that will be used for access..

Where to put a nest of bow ties?  (The 11th Doctor has nothing on Partner in Grime)
To the basement!
It's not just a waterfowl, it's a warning.
Yes, another pink bathroom, just like the original Range.  But this one is in good shape, and the handrails the previous elderly owner left served me well after knee surgery to repair the meniscus, which unfortunately, would NOT buff out.  This will be the last room renovated, once the plumbing is updated so there's more than a little thin spray of hot water.
I know another tool I'll need.
Whenever things don't go so well
and you want to hit the wall and yell
Here's a little dammit doll
that you can't do without
Just grasp it firmly by the legs
and find a place to slam it
And as you whack the stuffing out
yell Dammit!  Dammit!  Dammit!
On the plus side Mom, this is greatly reducing my chances of having to take a late night bath.

Day Two
OK, there's a little more work to do, but there's homemade banana bread with Cardamom.

Road trip!

 Why yes, I have been in here before!

Day 3

The pipes are all shiny and new, there is hot and cold water, and Barkley is feeling his old self again.  And even with paperwork and supplies we probably saved one or two thousand bucks (plus the cost of replacing one Dammit Doll).

Thanks for visiting!  I'll be back with a gear review and more Range stories this week.