Wintery Day Is Just Right To Stay Inside and “Chill”

Morning greetings of winter white out the door--Lyons, Kansas.

Morning greetings of winter white out the door–Lyons, Kansas.

Just like family get-togethers and exchanging presents, snowstorms seem to be a tradition of every Christmas holiday visit I make back to my home state of Kansas.  This morning we woke up to a couple inches of the white stuff on the ground, with even more swirling around in the air.  The snow itself made for a pretty scene outside, but the cold blast of 7 degrees when I opened the door was more than what I’d call “brisk.”

The first thing I had to do was sweep a path on my sister’s patio and then out on the grass for Annie to take a “go.” Finally, she did, at lightning speed.

With the snow still coming down most of the day and the cold wind zipping at the skin, other than re-sweeping the doggy paths, I haven’t wanted to venture out.  It was just the kind of day to keep the house cozy by using the oven to cook up the pork roast and sauerkraut we got yesterday in preparation of a cold day.

Tonight the forecast is for 5 degrees, but I’m sure that the blankets and quilts on the bed will keep me–and Annie–warm.

Swept paths for a little dog to make a quick run outside.

Swept paths for a little dog to make a quick run outside.

Annie stays near--or on--a warm lap on these cold days.

Annie stays near–or on–a warm lap on these cold days.

A View from the Suburbs: Not All the Dips Are in Washington; Here Are a Couple That Everyone at Your Holiday Festivities Will Want To Socialize With

The counter was filled with recipes, and then later filled with the results.

In less than two weeks Christmas will be here. 

I know that I haven’t posted anything for over a month.  I’ve been bummed by the entire political scene and just haven’t even wanted to write about any of that, but there are many other sites that express my viewpoint (check out my blogroll–“Places I Frequent”–esp. Towleroad and AmericaBlog Gay), so “my two cents” would only be just that.

More than anything, I’ve been busy, and with the time change, it’s usually dark when I arrive home from work, so the evenings seem shorter even though the actual clock time is the same as before.  Then too, there was Thanksgiving and an entire Sunday afternoon putting up a storm door on the backdoor, the continual necessity of sweeping up the acorns, and now the leaves, dropping from the otherwise wonderful oak tree which shades my house and patio.  More recently, another birthday decided to pass my way.

But most of my time has been spent preparing and decorating my house for a holiday open house for my colleagues and friends.  I had never gotten myself together to have a party after I had bought my house and moved in, now more than a year ago.  So as my mom used to say, “It was ‘high time.'”

I think my house looks plenty “Christmasy,” not over-decorated, but something in every part to say “tis the season.”  The dining room window is just the place for the tree, a white one trimmed in red and gold.  (Take a peek at the banner above.)

This was my first big party in years, so, of course, I overdid it.  Every evening for more than a week, I was cooking or baking something–9 pounds of meatballs, a turkey, even a roast made on the barbeque, plus a variety of cookies, a sugar-free fruitcake, queso and chips, some dips, and who knows what else.

I had dug out my recipes, wanting to make things I hadn’t had the chance to for years.  A couple of the dip recipes are even better than I had remembered.  And if you want to try them both, you can make them both, one right after the other, and only have to clean up the food processor once!

This first one is so good it will knock your socks off!

Beau Monde Dip

  • 12 ounces sour cream
  • 12 ounces mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons minced onions
  • 2 tablespoons Beau Monde spice (I used Spice Islands brand)
  • 3-4 tablespoons fresh dill (my recipe calls for 2 tbsp. dry dill weed but I think the fresh dill is what makes this dip so good)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh or dry parsley (I used dry)
  • 1 large unsliced round loaf of pumpernickel rye bread (if you can’t find pumpernickel, any kind of heavy, coarse bread will do)
  • 1 small sliced loaf of pumpernickel rye bread

I used to mix this up in a bowl, but it’s super easy using a food processor.  Put a couple of green onions into the processor and pulse into fine pieces.  Add a generous handful of fresh dill and pulse again.  (If you’re using fresh parsley, pulse it in now.)  Add the sour cream and mayonnaise, then the Beau Monde spice and dry parsley.  Pulse until well mixed and the color is consistent.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Just before your party starts, hollow out the center of the round loaf of bread with a knife to form a “bowl”; be careful not to cut through the bottom of the loaf.  In fact, leave at least a couple of inches of bread on the sides of “the bowl.”  Put the “bread bowl” on a large plate or platter.  Cut or tear the bread removed from the center into pieces to be used for dipping and place them around the bowl.  Cut or tear more pieces from the second loaf for additional bread for dipping. 

Most people love the dill taste and using the bread makes a nice change from chips.

This second dip recipe is a great alternative to traditional guacamole.  Not only is it easy–and tasty–but it will last in your refrigerator for a week and won’t turn brown.

Guacamole Cheese Dip

  • 2 large avocados
  • 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 green onions
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Pulse the green onions into fine pieces.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until smooth.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Memorial Day: Enjoy It But Don’t Forget What It Means

Memorial Day falls at a time when I can never get more than just the three days off from work, so although I’d like to go back to Kansas and my little hometown of Dorrance every year, the short time and the chunk of change I have to cough up for the airfare just doesn’t make that feasible.  (I’ve written about why Memorial Day is important to me before.)  This year I’m going to enjoy the still-newness of living in my house, putter in my yard and garden, and take advantage of some discount coupons to do some shopping.  I hope whatever you’re doing this weekend that you’ll take a few moments to remember those who have passed on, whether Veterans or not.

It’s still early on this Saturday morning, but though I was sure I would want to climb back into bed after taking Annie out even before six, I I was lured by the garden and other things I can do, having the luxury of three days before me.

With the sun a bit more up, I checked out the garden more closely and see that I will be able to pick my first beans in just a couple of days.  Altough all the plants in the garden look lush and full, I’m afraid that the poor soil keeps them from producing as many and as big of vegetables as they might if the soil were better.  This first year is a learning experience, and with the compost and more good soil, I’m sure next year’s crop will be better, but I don’t know if it can be any more fun!

This little garden seems to grow and change week by week. (5-29-10)

There are lots of blossoms. How many will become beans is a question.

This ruellia (ruellia elegans) was given to me by a friend and just keeps blooming and blooming. (And, yes, the grass will get mowed this weekend.)

Happy Veterans Day–Even If You Have To Work

veteransday2009A short gripe, then I have to go . . . work. 

Veterans Day was created to honor those who served their country in the armed forces.  Great!  But why is it that so many who get to take advantage of the day are people who aren’t veterans at all?  Wall Street is closed.  I wonder how many of those money grubbers who are getting the millions-plus bonuses are veterans.  Most of the banks and credit unions are closed.  Likewise, many government workers at all levels have the day off.  What percentage of these people are veterans?

If the government wants to honor veterans, why don’t they make it mandatory that all businesses give their veterans the day off?  Otherwise, if they want to give banks and government workers the day off, why don’t they just implement bank holidays like they have in Britain?

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)–No, It’s Not Really Mexican Halloween

calacasSome people think that El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is something like Halloween because it falls so near that holiday that was brought to America by European immigrants.

From what I’ve learned, it has more in common with Memorial Day than Halloween.  I suppose the connection between these two “dark” holidays comes with all of the artistic images of skeletons (calacas) that are used in connection with El Dia de los Muertos.  When the conquistadores from Spain arrived, like many other of the natives’ traditions, the invaders tried to put an end to this ritual; however, the best that they could do was to get it moved to the date of the Catholic All Saints Day.

The traditions vary by location in Mexico, but, in general, El Dia de los Muertos has been celebrated since pre-Hispanic times, with people going to the cemeteries, decorating graves, taking food and other gifts that their deceased loved ones might enjoy, and even spending time near the graves; all of this as a way to remember or perhaps “reunite” with the dead relatives.

candyskullOn a trip some years ago to Mexico City, I visited the Escuela Normal de Maestros (Normal School for Teachers) just to take a look at some famous paintings that are housed there.  It was just about this same time of year, and in one building on campus, the students had set up “Day of the Dead” exhibits, which showed a wide variety of rituals for celebrating this holiday across the whole of Mexico.  Everywhere in Mexico City, there were vendors selling little skull candies and ofrendas, which seem to me somewhat of the “Hallmark-ing” of the ancient event.

What I like most about El Dia de los Muertos are all the cartoon-like skeletons, almost always seeming to be having fun.  Maybe they are mocking death.  To me, these calacas make death seem much happier and bright, rather than the morbid, dark association that most of us north of the border have.

Simple and Delicious Squash Pie and Ice Water Pie Crust Recipes–Something You May Want To Try This Holiday Season

squash-pie1I got out my recipe box tonight, as I wanted to find my pie crust recipe; actually, I have two different recipes that I’ve used over the years, one that you start with boiling water, and the more traditional one in which you finally bind the ingredients together with a little ice water. Homemade squash pie has been on my mind, especially thinking about my mom and the pies she used to make from the squash we raised on the farm. Besides, the weather’s cooler here in Houston, and, it is, after all, Thanksgiving time, so heating the oven is something thinkable.

I made squash pies, and “mmm”, they are good; I just tasted one. I think squash pie has a mild flavor when compared to pumpkin pie. To be honest, I didn’t follow a recipe, but I did make everything from scratch, cooked the squash and all. My mom used to make squash pies, and her recipe has fewer ingredients than what I used. Here is my very own squash pie recipe:

mixer1-2 medium butternut squash, halved and the seeds cleaned out (a good melon baller is great for cleaning out the seed cavity). Bake in a baking dish covered with aluminum foil at about 325 degrees for 45 minutes.  Uncover and let bake for 15-20 more minutes so that some of the squash’s own sugar carmelizes and turns a golden brown. Test to see if the squash is done by poking the center with a fork Let the squash cool, and peel or scoop out the pulp with a big spoon. I used a hand blender to puree the squash in a large mixing bowl. Add the following ingredients and mix them in with the hand blender, a large food processor, or an electric mixer in the order given:

-1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk

-1 cup of half and half

-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

-3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

-3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

-3/4 to 1 cup dark brown sugar

-4 small eggs

-1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

This makes a lot of filling, probably enough for three large pies. I think by halving the recipe and using only one butternut squash, you’d still have plenty of filling for one large pie or two small ones.

If the squash after cooking is dry rather than soft and moist, add more milk to the filling mixture and puree well with the hand blender or food processor; the filling mixture needs to be somewhat “soupy” in order to have a smooth, creamy pie after it is baked.

Pour the filling into unbaked pie crusts and bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees and 30-40 minutes more at 325 degrees. (You may need to adjust the oven temperature and the time depending on the size of your pies and your elevation. Perhaps it’s just my oven, but I find I need to decrease the temperature about 25 degrees for most things I bake here in Houston.) Test the pie for doneness by inserting a table knife in the center and checking to see if it comes out clean. If it comes out clean, the filling should be cooked. Be careful though of over-cooking; otherwise, you’ll end up with a “rubbery” pie. Take the pies out of the oven, and let them rest on a rack until they are cool enough to eat. Squash pies are great warm or cold.

Here’s the Ice Water Pie Crust (nice and flaky, and also tasty) recipe I use:

-2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon salt sifted into a bowl

-2/3 cup Crisco at room temperature

-a small glass of water with 2-3 ice cubes in it (you won’t use it all)

Cut the Crisco into the dry ingredients (I just use a tablefork for this) until all the Crisco is combined well with the dry ingredients and the dough is of a consistency of small crumbs.

At this point, you can cover the bowl and refrigerate for awhile, but you don’t have too. Slowly, by about a teaspoon at a time, sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of ice water over the other ingredients and toss in with a fork. You may feel you want more water, but don’t do it, or the pie crust dough will get sticky. You should be able to “feel” the dough coming together as you toss it with the fork. Take half of the mixture in the bowl and form a ball with your hands. Flour your rolling pin and whatever surface you will be using to roll out the dough on. (I like to use a large plexiglass cutting board, which works even better if you chill it in the freezer or fridge before rolling out the crusts.) Roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick and place it in the pie pan. This recipe is enough for two regular crusts, so it’s good if you’re making two one-crust pies or one two-crust pie.


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