Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Almost Fair Time

Both the Lancaster County Super Fair, and Sarpy County Fair are this weekend. I like to attend as many fairs as possible over the summer. The Douglas County Fair (our new county) and the State Fair both  come late, so we still have a bit of time for Danny to perfect his mixed, pickled mushroom recipe. So far, what we've tried has been exceptional. I think he has a winner, but you know my kid-perfectionist. He wants that Best of Division ribbon in the worst way.

I am planning to enter a bread. The State Fair is 150 miles away in Grand Island, though there is a drop-off in Lincoln. I need something that can withstand that journey, and still be baked a day ahead. That rules out most artisan (god, I hate that term) style breads. I may just enter my buttermilk white bread. I make killer buttermilk white bread. That seems like State Fair material anyway. You can't get too exotic on these judges. If anyone has a favourite recipe from the blog that you think has ribbon potential at a fair, please feel free to suggest it. I've been doing this blog so long now, I've forgotten half the things I've baked.

A strange thing has happened with my sourdough starter since moving. I know it sounds impossible in such a short time, but everyone insists it tastes different. Not better or worse, just different. Mr. ETB thinks it tastes more like a San Francisco sourdough. Danny thinks it has a more pronounced sour flavor. We always bought bottled water (refills, mostly) on trips to the city as our well wasn't good to drink, so the starter is getting the same water, more or less. It has to be something different in the air, but hell if I know what it is. I'm not shocked this is happening, but I never expected it to be so quick.

Anyone have experience with moving a sourdough starter to another city?

Fennel Baked Tofu

Want to make your kitchen  smell like a distillery? Try my fennel baked tofu recipe. I served this with linguine, sautéed courgettes, rainbow carrots, preserved lemon, and a handful of mint. I skipped alliums altogether-something I hardly ever do, That was a good call.

The dinner went over well, as there were no leftovers (which I was planning on, but eh, whatever).

Fennel Baked Tofu:

1 block extra firm tofu
1 heaping tablespoon fennel seed
2 tablespoons salad oil (I used sunflower as I wanted a neutral flavor)
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Golden Syrup (or honey)
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt (OR 1 teaspoon table salt)

Cut tofu into fourths. Press between kitchen towels until mostly dry. Grind fennel seed into a fine powder. In a small bowl (or measuring glass) combine everything but tofu. Mix well. Place in a heatproof casserole dish (I prefer to use glass, or ceramic when cooking with vinegar, but that's probably a hold over from when most pans were aluminum). Add the tofu, turning to coat all sides. You can marinate this up to a day ahead, but I don't find it makes much difference. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Turn the tofu and bake another 30-40 minutes or until nicely browned.

The tofu will keep for a few days, tightly wrapped in cling film, and makes a delicious cold sandwich.

Bird Watching Picnic

Admission has been waived at out favourite haunt, the Aksarben aquarium. While the aquarium is nice enough, the birdwatching station is fantastic. Add in the beautiful grounds of the state park, and you have a prefect summertime destination for a picnic.

The weather was being cooperative, so we brought our bird guides, binoculars, blanket and lunch out for the day. I very nearly fell asleep watching the birds, which I attribute to a wonderful state of relaxation. We noted around twenty species in the few hours we were there, though we have yet to see a bluebird. 

A picnic need not be a fancy affair (though it can be). Cheese, crackers, and dried fruit were our fare today, and I'm told cheese tastes even better out of doors.

If you find yourself driving through Nebraska on I-80, the aquarium is worth a stop. Just a few miles off the Gretna exit (follow the signs) and you don't need a park pass if you only go to the aquarium. Day passes are available for the rest of the park for a small fee.

The staff are wonderful and extremely patient with children's questions (or my child's anyway). We're going to try and make it a weekly visit so long as the weather cooperates, though the place is also fascinating in the winter.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Before Noon

The gigantic cabbage I bought last weekend (and I mean, alien species huge) kept giving me the evil eye from the fridge, and if you know anything about gigantic cabbages, you know they ain't nothin' nice to anger.

"Fine", I thought, "let's make vareniki."

Somehow in moving I lost track of the dry vermouth (the horrors!) so I bundled Danny into the car, drove the three minutes to the store, and bought a bottle. God, I love living next to a grocer. Life changing.

Danny loudly asks if I'm an alcoholic.

"Why on earth would you ask that?" I demanded.

"Because you're buying alcohol at ten in the morning. I thought if you buy booze before noon, you're an alcoholic."

"But...(I stammered) I'm not going to drink it, I'm going to make cabbage dumplings with it!"

I heard the laughing, but didn't dare look to see where it was coming from.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saturday Night Recovered Memories

My mother took forever getting dressed to go out. At home, she was content to live in a slinky nightie, and a full face of makeup, but going out required hair, nails, the whole bit. It didn't matter where she was headed, until the 60's happened she wouldn't go to the corner store without gloves, and a hat. I think she always resented the 60's-it meant more time at the beauty shop getting a roller set.

The beauty shop, Shear Genius was her Friday destination-that way her set would look good at the weekend. Making that set last a week was a challenge involving satin pillowcases, shower caps, and a large, blue can of Aqua Net hairspray. The aerosol type. She had a variety of setting gels, sprays, and what have you under the bathroom sink, atop the sink, on the tank of the toilet, on the poor dad with two daughters to boot, all sharing a bathroom never stood a chance. Sometimes he'd retreat to the downstairs loo for some peace and quiet, but no mater how long he ran the fan, my mother would still pass by the door and scream, "flush!" Really, the man never stood a chance. She had a cosmetics bag down there as well, with a tiny vial of pastel green smelling salts. I used to look at them, but never dared to try them. There was a good supply of bandages, mecurichrome antiseptic (because in the 60's slathering mercury on a wound seemed like a good idea) and whatever might be needed to deal with scraped knees, bleeding noggins, or other childhood injuries. She wasn't about to let a bleeding child traipse upstairs to the full bathroom, leaving a trail of stains on the stairs.

Mother organized her closet by colour. When she died, my friend Angela came to help me clear out her things, and stood marveling at the twenty or so white shirts all hanging the same way, on the same sort of hangers, the skirts by colour, dresses. I come from a long line of women that consider it normal to iron and fold the dust rags before neatly placing them away-that was normal to me. I didn't show Angela the linen closet-it would have freaked her out too much. took my mother hours to pull herself together, and it just got worse as she aged. If she'd lived past her fifties, it would have taken her more time to get dressed than she would spend out. There was always that, "One last adjustment." Lipstick, perfume, a last spritz of hairspray...except...once...reaching for a canister by habit (someone must have moved something, it wasn't me) proceeded to spray her head with foaming Lysol Tub and Tile Cleaner. It wasn't me, I swear to god. She never did make it to that PTA meeting.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Freeze for Later

Two things carried me through this move, when I knew dinner would come from the freezer, and be served on paper plates-tinfoil, and freezer paper. What follows are some techniques for having food ready-to-heat when life gets busy.


After the first rise of your dough, sprinkle paper plates generously with cornmeal. Stretch out dough. Add sauce, and cheese. Cut a round of freezer paper to fit the surface of the pizza (I prefer individual sized pizzas, but you could use a large, cardboard round instead). Place it shiny side down. Seal entire pizza in foil tightly. Stack pizzas, then store in 2 gallon freezer bags (that should fit about 8-10 pizzas). To bake, unwrap, remove freezer paper, and paper plate. Place pizzas on a baking sheet and bake at 500 degrees F. for about 15 minutes. Add toppings in last 5 minutes if you like.


In a pinch, store-bought tins of chili beans work great straight from the tin, and are usually seasoned OK. I've used leftover rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, roasted vegetables-anything goes here. Contrary to all the advice I've read concerning freezing, I add cheese, and a dollop of sour cream, and it works just fine. Sometimes I add a dash of hot sauce as well. The ingredients can go in cold, but the tortillas should be warmed as they wrap easier. Once you have your burrito rolled, wrap it tightly in wax paper, then tightly in cling film. When you go to microwave them, remove the cling film, and use the wax paper as a steamer. Parchment works ok as well, but costs more. Don't use freezer paper for this-it isn't heat proof.


Tamales should be fully cooked, and cooled before freezing.

Those can be wrapped either in parchment, or in a pinch, coffee filters. As they are steamed, this works well. I've had good luck microwaving them. If you choose to bake them on a sheet, do about 20 minutes at 375 degrees F.

Dumplings, ravioli, gnocchi, etc.:

Freeze uncooked, on a plate first, then transfer to freezer paper in serving sizes. Fold them securely closed, then tape, and label the number of servings contained. It seems silly, but knowing exactly how many ravioli you have is helpful for planning. Store the packets in large freezer bags.

Breads, pastry:

I dislike freezer bags for bread. For loaves, wrap first in wax paper, then in cling film. Keep breads covered as they defrost to prevent them drying out. For pastry, use the freezer paper-being able to pull out four sweet rolls at a time on a weekend morning is really great. For pastry, doughnuts, and sweets, avoid icing them before freezing, doing this instead before serving. Bagels can be stacked, and rolled together in freezer paper, taped tightly shut. These make tidy parcels in the freezer.

Other hints:

Those mini snack sized zipper bags are perfect for single servings of tomato, pesto, etc. Keep some handy for quick, Pizza Bagels.

Ball jars are great for freezing fruit curds, juice, and pureed fruit. Remember to leave double the typical headspace as things expand in the freezer.

You can freeze milk right in the paper carton. I know this because my grandmother saved her individual cartons of milk they served with meals at the retirement centre. She didn't like milk, so she saved them for me. I'd come back from a visit with a month's worth of frozen milk because she was still traumatised by war rationing. She saved the sugar packets for my dad to have in his coffee. We'd get a month's worth of those as well. It didn't seem odd, as we had a pair of aunts that still had stockings and lipstick they'd hoarded during the war. The point is, you can freeze milk, and if it separates a bit, just stir it and all will be well.

Popcorn should not be frozen. In the old days, it helped retain moisture, but newer, self-defrosting fridges suck all the moisture out. I think that's a small price to pay for not needing to thaw the damned freezer-I hated that.

I'm slowly re-building my stash of frozen meals/breads/etc. If you're cooking anyway, why not make a bit more, and freeze some? I don't know how I would have made it through the last month without my freeze3r.

I Need Some Swag...


For you kids, a swag lamp hangs on a chain from a ceiling hook (or two or three if you have a long chain). The really fancy ones have velvet covered shades, and beaded trim. Our place has virtually no overhead light save for the kitchens, hallways, and bath-but the hooks are still in the bedroom, dining room, and everywhere else. It looks like the previous inhabitants used the three hook kind, which would have been pretty elegant in the early 70's.

I'm envisioning a matching set to hang over our nightstands in the master bedroom. My parents had brown and navy striped shades (in velvet, of course) which matched the bedspread. I busted the blue raw silk and gold embroidered bedspread out of mothballs, and cleaned it. I can understand why my mother eventually moved on to covered duvets-the bedspread weighs a ton. It looks nice though, on the king sized sleigh bed even if the skirting at the bottom is lost. That thing has to be over fifty years old. So of course, I need matching swag lamps. Yes, I need them. I don't ask for much, but I'm holding firm on this.

In the absence of swag lamps (oh Etsy, why don't you have what I want, when I want it?) I ran over to Big Lots, and bought a $16.00 torch lamp that seems to do the trick. If you touch the shade, you can tell it is plastic, not glass, but in the corner of the room it blends right in.

For the dining room, I think I want some sort of painted wrought iron thing with flowers, or whatnot. If it has the fake candles that you screw teardrop shaped bulbs into, all the better. In reality, I'll probably go back to Big Lots and buy another torch. And more potato chips, because you don't go to Big Lots and leave without a few bags of potato chips. I don't make the rules.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Blueberry Cobbler

Blueberries finally came down to a reasonable price, so I stocked-up ( I wouldn't want to drive three minutes over to the grocery store if I don't need to). I looked at my clean butcher-block counters and thought, "I'm not rolling pie crust on these". Honestly, I may just stop cooking altogether.

I always think of cobbler as a compromise-you want pie, but are too lazy, hurried, protective of a new kitchen-so cobbler it is. This is completely unfair, cobbler being superior to pie in many ways (a pie crust won't soak up all the fruit juices without breaking down into glop) but that reputation is hard to shake.

I won't claim this cobbler will satisfy a craving for pie, but it is a delicious way to make use of seasonal fruit without making a mess of your beautiful butcher block counters.

We prefer a juicier, less thick cobbler filling. If you like the thicker kind, increase the cornstarch by half a teaspoon.

This makes quite a bit, but it reheats perfectly in the microwave. Blast it, uncovered for about three minutes.

You Will Need:

2 pints blueberries, washed and drained
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch (cornflour)
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice, or nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.


1 cup plain flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 10 inch baking pan, casserole dish, etc.

In a large pot, combine sugar and cornstarch. Whisk in boiling water slowly. Bring to a boil, and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add berries. Pour into pan, and dot with butter. Sprinkle with mixed spice. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Cut in the shortening. Stir in milk. Dough should be quite soft.

Drop by spoonfuls over the berries. Bake 20-30 minutes, or until topping is golden, and berries are bubbling. Serve slightly warm, with whipped cream.

Washable Shelf Lining

Surely it is evidence I need to get out a bit more, but I'm ever so excited about the new washable shelf lining. I lined all the kitchen cabinets, drawers, etc. Then, because come on, washable shelf lining, I did the linen cupboard as well. I really like the softness of it, particularly for glasses. It does have a bit of drag, and there's a learning curve to using it (things won't slide across the shelf as they would with traditional lining) but personally, I feel this is worth the (small) effort. I haven't washed any in the dishwasher yet, but you can be sure I will post the results when I do.

I purchased Duck brand, and a store brand from K-Mart. Both seem nearly identical in weight, texture, and ease of use They were both under $5.00 a roll. The K-Mart lining came in a better assortment of colours (I found a blue, green, and white stripe for the cupboard) whereas the Duck was available only in neutrals. I bought beige, because my kitchen walls are beige, and I always try to coordinate my shelf lining with my walls. I really need to get out more.

I'm not being compensated in any way by either Duck, or K-Mart.


We're largely settled into the new house, save for the task of sorting, and organizing the library. I thought we were downsizing, but upon moving in, we realised there's more useable space than we had previously. I also realised, on my first night here, that we are living in my childhood home. The outside may look different, but the floor plan is identical-right down to the placement of closets. I knew there was a reason I felt comfortable here! No wonder all those pieces of my parent's furniture look like they belong...they were purchased for this house. There never really was any question where to put the piano...

I went grocery shopping this morning; three minutes-I timed it. I think I could get it down to two if I used Burt Street rather than Dodge. It took ten minutes to the comic book store, but we hit lights on Center. The last dozen years in the country required an hour drive to and from town, so getting home before my dishes dried in pretty impressive.

I haven't been to the library yet, and after moving 12,000 pounds of books ( I shit you not, we weighed a few boxes, then did the maths) I don't think I'll be bringing in any more books for a bit. We decided to move the books ourselves, leaving the furniture we cared about to movers-that turned out to be quite a savings, though we're going to be sore for some time. We had some help loading from friends, which helped tremendously.

There's a gigantic maple tree outside the back that reaches to the top of the house. It provides shade to the patio and upper deck, and keeps our bedroom cool and dark. Danny's room faces the street, but it is so quiet here, it hasn't been an issue. For the heart of the city, we have a beautiful, tree-filled neighbourhood. The only trees we had in the country were in windbreaks.

For the first time in over twenty years I don't feel like I'm roughing it. Central air, a dishwasher, city water (yay, I can drink from the tap!  No more lugging gallons of water home from the store.) someone else to do the lawn care, and snow removal-I didn't realise how difficult our day-to-day life was on the farm, until I left it. I am very, very happy( fingers crossed as I don't want to jinx it) . I'm also happy I don't need to shop for two weeks at a time, and can run back if I forget something.

We haven't been in the pool yet, as we've been in a heatwave and air conditioning beats a pool any day. This week should be cooler, so as soon as I find where I packed our swimsuits, you know where we'll be.

I'm going to have Danny film a little video tour for a later post.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

That's Not A Good Name

So the falcon chicks that hatched above the State Capitol have been named; Goldenrod and Meadowlark. I swear to god. They named a Peregrine falcon, Meadowlark.  I know it is the state bird, but that is just, wrong, wrong, wrong.

I imagine the falcons from the Woodman tower in Omaha (with proper names like, Hera and Zeus) coming over to taunt him.

"Come out and play Meadowlark. We can go sit on a fencepost and sing. Ha, ha!"

I live in Idiocracy.


Because I'm a good, efficient, homemaker and had the majority of the packing done in the first week after we decided to move house, I treated myself to a couple vintage handbags today. I promise there will be photos as soon as I can download a photo-editor that works with the new computer.

The first bag (the pricy one at $38.00 USD) is late 1940's, dark brown leather that has been buffed to an almost metallic sheen with gold hardware, and inset silver leather design at the top. I love silver and gold together, and with the bronze effect of the purse's body, it will match (nearly) anything.

The second bag is beaded milkglass with roses made of coloured crystals every few inches. The beaded handle is in need of some sewing, but it is otherwise beautiful. I couldn't understand why the inside was beaded as well-in solid white, until I realized it is reversible-so technically, I bought three handbags. The beaded one cost $13.00

Funny, but I've been searching for a new summer bag for ages, and had pretty much given up as I'm somewhat particular. I sort of wish I could get back the hours I spent searching Etsy, but let's be honest-you never really *waste* time searching Etsy.

Now if someone would just make an attractive, beaded Eppi-pen carrying case!

Friday, July 05, 2013

No-Bake Soybutter Bars

The recipe comes from I cannot seem to get Blogger to do a link today, but then it has been that kind of day, but please, go over there, and have a look at all the wonderful recipes, and type "No bake peanut butter bars" into the site search engine. Oh, just stop making faces and do it. )  It worked perfectly with soybutter, and allergy-safe chocolate chips (Enjoy Life brand). I like to have a dessert made on Friday to see us through the weekend, but with moving, most of my baking materials are packed already. Enter, a bowl, and a microwave. I only had one bowl available, so I melted the chips in a measuring cup. Sometimes you have to improvise.

I ruined an entire bolt of fabric today attempting to make slipcovers for the dining room chairs, and just because it wasn't working...well, that seemed like a good reason to keep cutting! Yeah.  dunno, this really shouldn't be a priority at the moment, but you know how disruption of a routine can send a person to some odd lengths (actually, the odd lengths were kind of the problem...). I'm sure the new neighbours won't be standing and looking as the movers bring in my dining room chairs and whispering, "Oh she should have made new slipcovers before the move." If ever a day screamed out for comfort here we are with the nut-free peanut bars.

I have baked beans, and a salad for dinner, which admittedly ain't much to write home about, but I'm going to hope that is quickly forgotten when they sink their teeth into the taste of school dinners circa 1973. Oh, how I wish I had a tin of Chef Boyardee right now.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Give It, or Toss It..

...but I don't give a toss about it.

I'm not sentimental about belongings (though I have saved Danny's baby blanket and things of that sort) and as moving day closes in, I'm determined to unload as much as possible. I've donated so many items at the local thrift store I'm on a first-name basis with the employees.  Unfortunately, there are the items I cannot toss due to the power of guilt, and yet again the box is opened, sifted quickly through, then re-sealed for yet another move. By my count, I've been lugging a box of my mum's personal papers through five moves or so across more than twenty years.

I don't really feel comfortable reading letters from the 40's and 50's as I can't really be certain what I might find. I've got mum neatly categorised in memory, and I don't need reality screwing with that. I did find a number of rejection slips from various publications, and a couple acceptances. It is with a bit of pride to say her work was rejected by the Saturday Evening Post, but accepted by Collier's. I have no idea what was sent-the copies were not among her papers. I'm guessing it was illustration work. Anyway, the box gets stowed for yet another move, and Danny can deal with it someday. That's how guilt works.

It is somewhat remarkable how little I have in the way of knick-knacks. I keep china in my china cabinet, which I'm told is strange as they are really meant to hold figurines and such. A few things have survived over the years like small carved wooden bunnies I had as a child, and a squirting nickel which I handed down to Danny along with a plastic Easter egg with a squeaking chick purchased circa 1973 at Woolworths. Otherwise, I live a rather tchotchke-free life. I have books-that doesn't leave much room for much else.

I do have a few letters saved from friends now gone, but I doubt Danny will find anything too scandalous to read in those when I die. I've never submitted anything for publication to get a rejection letter, but Mr. ETB once made up an insane, over-the-top story and sent it to the New Yorker hoping to get an insulting rejection letter in return. It was so off the wall, I won't go into it here. The rejection letter came ( a relief because the New Yorker in the early 90's might have actually bitten) though without the hoped-for reaction. I have no idea if he saved it.

Other oddball things we found still in our possession:

-A bottle opener marked, "Fuller Brush Co" (Yes, we had a "Fuller Brush Man" in the neighbourhood)

-A pair of blue plastic scissors shaped like an elephant (ears are loops, trunk is the blade) my auntie bought me as a young child. These were the replacement pair, as my mother broke the first pair in a fit of rage because I wasn't living up to her expectations (or she'd had too many diet pills), and my auntie went out and replaced them because she was the lone, sane person in the family.

-A piece of the Berlin Wall encased in plastic as a paperweight sent to Mr. ETB by a friend living in  Germany at the time.

- Two cassette tapes by a band called, "Lubricated Goat." Those weren't mine.

-School papers from Grade Three where my response to "Describe the family in the story" on a test was, "They're insufferable." The teacher gave me a poor mark, and wrote, "Oh go on."  I had a few folders that *did* go on much in that vein, with me leaving clever answers such as, "How should I know, I didn't study", and " Pass." I suppose this would be an excellent opportunity to publicly apologise to my Grade Three teacher Mrs. Dilday whose name we also made several thoroughly inappropriate jokes about. If you taught elementary school in Skokie, Illinois in the early 70's and this sounds like it might be you, I'm so, so, so terribly sorry. I never imagined I'd be teaching Grade Three myself. So terribly sorry. I am.

-A photograph of myself with platinum blonde hair. Yeah, I don't know either.

-A year's worth of pristine issues of Harper's Bazaar from 1971 (the big oversized ones of old).  I still don't get the appeal of Ali McGraw. I mean, sure she looked good dying in that movie and all, but it wasn't like she was a great actor or anything. I swear, she was everywhere for about ten years.

Finally, the best find was a deteriorating paper bag from a long defunct fabric store containing several yards of extra fabric from a chair our housekeeper recovered for us forty years ago. This is great, as the matching footstool, and arms of the chair have worn through. If the fabric does not fall to shreds at the first unfolding, I'll be able to restore everything to 1970 glory (the chair was already an oddball Victorian piece (from the oddball Victorian aunts that lived together in a museum-like flat that gave rise to one of the best jokes my sister ever came up with: "What's the difference between Aunt Annie, and the Queen of England? One sleeps under a canopy, the other sleeps over a can of pee.") when she offered to fix it up for us.

Tomorrow is a holiday in the US which means Mr. ETB will be around to assign various move-related tasks to. I think it high time he learned to clean the oven!

Nearly over...I just keep reminding myself there's a patio, pool, and city water waiting for me on the flip side. And no flies. I am NEVER living next to cattle again.