Tuesday, January 28, 2014


My Dad

My dad's birthday was last week. He would have been 105. It seemed like the weather was always beastly when his birthday rolled around. It was either frigid or we had a big snowstorm.
In the photo above, he is doing one of his favorite pastimes.
He loved to sit in the swing and watch the world go by.
Today we are facing a very real disaster which makes me think about him even more. The polar vortex has us in it's steely grip and won't let go. 
When I was a young child, we lived on a farm. The old farm house was heated with a wood/coal burning furnace located in the cellar, and a small heater in the kitchen.The walls had little, if any, insulation.
A large, metal, floor register, located above the furnace, was the main source of heat.
Dad often talked about the long, cold nights, when he would sit up to keep the fire going. He would dress in layers of warm clothing and sit at the edge of register. His face would be hot, his back freezing cold.

Today, the scene is the same, or even worse, for many in the Midwest. We are facing a serious shortage of propane gas, needed by many to heat their homes, warm their water, cook their meals.
Families are closing their homes and residing in shelters to stay warm. Businesses are closing early, or completely, as they do not have a source to obtain  the fuel needed. For those who have found a source that will provide them fuel, the prices are astronomical. Why does human nature dictate that when the supplies are low, or in demand, the prices must rise and make the situation even worse than it already is? The rich get richer, the poor get poorer.

As we check our tanks, cut back on our usage, face the harsh realities of life, I understand what Dad faced all those years ago as he tried to keep his family safe and warm.
I envy the scene in the photo above. How I long for the days of enjoying the outdoors, when there are leaves on the trees and the lawns are green.
I look forward to those days, even if I need to slip on a jacket before stepping through the door.
How well I know that that day will come, and even more days when it will be so hot that I all I will do is complain about the heat. Perhaps a frigid breath of air will blow  against my cheek, reminding me of today, when I worry about whether I will have enough fuel to keep me warm for the coming days.
Perhaps the weather is a way to remind us of how fortunate we truly are, and how spoiled we have become. We  take so much for granted, then feel panic set it when we're threatened with losing it.

I pray for warmer days,more fuel, warmth, shelter, safety for those in need.

I'm sure that's what Dad prayed for all those years ago as well.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

From The Kitchen-Outside The Nest

Comfort Food
A friend and I discussed comfort food recently. I had made a recipe that reminded me of my childhood, giving me that warm, fuzzy feeling.
Today's cooking lesson gives that same feeling, even though this is not a food from my childhood.
We're talking Cube Steak. Plain, old, ordinary, inexpensive, Cube Steak. Well, ok, the old part shouldn't be in there. You should use new cube steak.

Let's start with the prep work.
One side note. For anyone who is a relative or close friend of mine, you have heard me say time and again, 'I do not eat fungus!'
I'm making an exception here. Diced baby bella mushrooms, sweet vidalia onion, roughly chopped.
Food fact: Baby Bella's contain potassium, B Vitamins, dietary fiber, anti-oxidants. One study shows that they reduce breast-cancer cells.
Bring on the Baby Bellas.

Dredge the meat in the flour mixture,

Brown it in olive oil. Olive oil is good for you, as in healthy.

Add the water, seasonings, vegies, 

throw a cover on it, let it simmer 2 hours. This is not a quick "prepare and sit down to eat in 30 minutes" recipe. Nosiree Bob, this is one of those  that you walk away from and let the flavors meld slowly. The house smells yummy.

And there you have it. Cube Steak 101. How easy is that?  Little fuss, little prep, not a lot of dishes to wash. Oh, and great flavor. No, I did not pick off the mushrooms. I ate every tiny morsel.

Was it ever good.
Happy Saturday

Cube Steak

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tsp salt
1/4 Tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 (2 ounce) cube steaks
1/2 C rough chopped Vidalia onion
1/4 C chopped fresh Baby Bella mushrooms
1 Tsp beef soup base powder
1/4 Tsp chopped garlic

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Combine flour, salt and pepper on a plate. Dredge cube steaks in flour mixture, coating both sides. Brown in oil 3-4 minutes on each side. Pour enough water in skillet to almost cover the steaks, about 1 cup. Add remaining ingredients in the water, cover and simmer 2 hours. 2 servings

Saturday, January 18, 2014

From the Kitchen-Empty Nest

Chunky Bean and Chicken Chili

It's that time of year again. 
I mean, last week 35 below zero.
This week, snow 4 days in a row.
Next week, who knows.
Here's a recipe that will thaw those icicles.
I'm taking this one from my Empty Nest Cookbook.
Which is why it's listed that way in the Post Title.
Did you know that if it say's Outside The Nest, then it will appear in my next cookbook? Just a little fun fact for my readers.

This one is so easy to make, and so tasty.
I start with the usual soup base powder, some mild green chiles, and cannellini beans(aka white kidney beans).

I put it all in my crockpot, add some water and a skinless, boneless chicken breast.
And I let it cook awhile.

Then I pluck the chicken out and shred it into nice bite-size pieces. I slide it back into the soup to keep it nice and hot.

I cut up several slices (3 to be exact) of Pepper-Jack Cheese, and crumble a handful(15 to be exact) of tortilla chips. I toss it all in the pot with the soup and let it cook and heat and melt.

The peppers in the cheese add a bit of a bite. The melted cheese adds a nice velvety softness.
The chips give it a boost of extra flavor.

 I serve it in a fiesta bowl. It tastes even better that way.
Is it ever good.
Happy Saturday

Chunky Bean and Chicken Chili

2 C water
2 Tsp chicken soup base
1 skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 (4.5-oz.) can diced green chilis, drained
1 (19-oz.) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
3 slices pepper jack cheese
15 plain tortilla chips, crushed

In 6 cup crockpot, heat water and soup base on high for 1 hour. Add chicken, chilis and beans, cook 3-4 hours, or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken, cut into bite size pieces, return to crockpot. Add cheese slices, stir and heat until melted and blended. Stir in crushed chips. 2-3 servings

Saturday, January 11, 2014

From the Kitchen - Outside The Nest

Breakfast On The Go

Today I'm sharing a quick, easy, make-ahead recipe for a hearty, satisfying grab-and-heat breakfast.

I start with these little gems, aka: fingerling potatoes. I make a handful, enough to make about a cup of shredded potatoes after they're cooked.
I just poke a few holes in them with a fork and nuke for one minute. Done.

Then I get out this gadget and shred them into a nice fluffy pile. So easy.

As usual, I'm using my favorite liquid egg product as a base.

Add some reduced-fat shredded cheddar and milk.

Throw in the bacon, seasonings and potatoes, and give it a quick stir.

Aren't they pretty? They puff up so big and tall, all full of tasty goodness.

After they cool down a bit, they also deflate a bit.

I like to pair one with a nice warm muffin.
What a great, satisfying breakfast. I keep the leftovers in the frig. Wrap one in a paper towel and nuke for 30 seconds. Hot all the way through.
Hey, go wild. Try ham. Try Swiss. Try whatever seasonings catch your fancy. Try other vegies instead of potatoes.
One thing for sure. Are they ever good.
Happy Saturday

Breakfast Cups

1 C shredded, cooked potatoes
1-1/4 C liquid egg product
3 strips turkey bacon, prepared and crumbled
1/4 C lowfat or skim milk
1/4 C shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1 Tsp onion powder
1/2 Tsp salt
1/8 Tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat cups of a 6-cup muffin tin with cooking spray. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, divide into muffin tin. Bake 20-25 minutes, until puffed and cooked through. Remove from oven and cool on rack for a several minutes before removing from pan. Cups will be puffed up but will deflate as they cool. Eat immediately, or let cool completely and store in refrigerator. To reheat, wrap in paper towel and microwave 30 seconds. 6 cups.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Person of Interest

The Cleanest Blog You'll Ever Read
My friend, Judi, does a lot of things that keep her and her husband healthier. She's been an inspiration to me, in that she makes many food items that most people buy pre-made.
(If you've read my first book, 'Lost and Found', you might recognize similarities between Judi and Jules). 
Judi doesn't stop with the art of homemade food, however. She also makes her own soap, just for her personal use. I asked her if she would share the process here, and she was glad to do so.
Hi everyone. I'll walk you through the steps it takes to make a homemade batch of soap.
First, I start with my safety equipment. Heavy gloves, safety glasses, a mask.
I weigh out the sodium hydroxide(aka lye) and mix it with water. I do this outside. The reaction heats the lye to over 200 degrees, and produces strong fumes. Now you know why I need the safety equipment.

Then I have to cover my work area with plastic and measure the oils that I will need.
I combine my ingredients and heat all in a stainless steel pot.

Next I measure out my essential oils for scent, natural preservatives, extra nutrients and superfatting oils.
I use a stick blender and mix it all together.
Then I pour it into the molds that are lined with waxed paper.

I cover it with insulating foam, and tuck it in under a towel for 18-24 hours. It's important to leave it undisturbed. The insulation allows the soap to heat up and complete the soap making process.
After curing time is up, I unmold it and cut it into pieces. Then I lay them on plain cardboard and let them cure for an additional 4-6 weeks in a cool, dry place.
And then I have soap. We use this all the time, rather than buying the highly perfumed kind that lines the store shelves.
Thank's Judi, for sharing this process. I know that we all take soap for granted. The next time I see homemade soap in a store or at a craft sale, I will truly appreciate the time and effort that goes into making it.

Have a squeaky, clean week.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

From the Kitchen - Outside the Nest

It's the beginning of January.
I'm in search of that elusive healthy-eating diet that comes around once a year.
I'm sharing a great recipe for a smoothie that will start your day right, fill in for that quick fast-food lunch, or round out that evening meal.
I start with strawberry yogurt, a banana, and fresh pineapple.
I love the fact that I can go to the store and pick up fresh fruit and vegies. They're so much more healthier(wonderful grammar).
I place the yogurt and a slice of pineapple in my blender. Then I fill the yogurt cup with vanilla almond milk and add it to the blender.

Since I didn't have any fresh or frozen strawberries, I added a heaping teaspoon of spreadable fruit to the mixture. It adds a little bit more strawberry flavor.
I add a half of a banana(without the peel of course),
and give it a whirl.
a nice mug of smooth, creamy, fruity goodness.
This doesn't look like a smoothie?
OK, so I had my Panini maker out. I heated it up, tossed a couple of slices of fresh pineapple on it, and gave them some tan lines. Then I added a scoop of vanilla ice cream(frozen yogurt would work as well).
Was it, I mean, were they ever good.
The smoothie  and the dessert, that is.
Happy Saturday
Strawberry Smoothie
1 4-oz. cup of strawberry yogurt
Vanilla almond milk
1 slice fresh pineapple
1 heaping Tsp. strawberry spreadable fruit
1/2 of a medium banana
Add yogurt to blender. Fill empty yogurt cup with almond milk and add to blender, along with the pineapple, spreadable fruit and banana. Blend until smooth. 1 serving