Friday, January 21, 2011

No Country for Cold Women

I was up early this morning letting the dog out to get the paper when I noticed the full moon slipping away behind the snow covered pines. Quite lovely.

Snow in south is a BIG deal. The headline in the paper today is "SNOWMYGOSH." Pretty funny. We aren't accustomed to getting that much of the white stuff and it causes a range of reactions from excitement to fear. Children wait anxiously to see whether or not school will be closed, men check antifreeze levels and wiper blades. I think that is what they are doing, anyway it's car stuff and I can't pay very close attention to it since I have my own problems. Every southern woman knows what I mean.

The grocery.

If you are a woman living south of the Mason Dixon line I know those words strike terror in your heart; you know what I'm talking about. For everyone else, let me explain.

The forecast of snow rivals only Thanksgiving in having the power to sentence us all to grocery hell, which does have parts that freeze over. It's where they keep the pizza. We check the forecast again, hoping we've misheard or that perhaps the meteorologist has changed his prediction. Husbands begin to call with updates and the eventual "If you are going you'd better go now."

We can put it off no longer.

I love winter but I must say at this point in the story yesterday, while dragging out scarves and gloves, making a grocery list and warming up my frozen car, I longed (secretly mind you, to avoid my children reminding me how much I complain when it's hot) to be wearing shorts and a tank top.

But I digress.  Approaching the store I crane my neck to see the parking lot. Yep, it's full. People are running. RUNNING to get carts. I pick up my pace as panic, and the spirit of competition kick in. I enter the store with one of the last available carts and people inside are darting around like they are dodging bullets.  The scene resembles news reports from countries with unstable governments.  Winter has staged a coup, it seems and disrupted everything.

I make my selections quickly and head home for part two of the Female Southern Snow Ritual also known as cooking everything in sight. I have no reason why we do this unless it is an ancient part of our brain that snaps into action sensing that starvation is imminent. This part of my brain doesn't know that the men in my house could live for weeks on milk and cereal. Actually, in the case of the women in this area we remember all too well an ice storm several years ago when the power was out for many days. It was then that I learned that I could bake potatoes in hot coals and cook an apple pie in an iron skillet in the fireplace. The great thing about preparing meals under those conditions is that no one ever criticizes the cook. If you've never made French toast over an open fire I recommend it highly. You could even do when you are camping OUTSIDE sometime.

Here's a recipe for the soup I made yesterday. I created it from some leftovers I had. (Don't tell my family. They LOVED it only because ignorance is bliss) Take these measurements with a grain of salt ;) since I didn't keep notes as I was cooking. Perhaps The Food Maven can perfect it for us.

Italian Chicken Soup

1 stalk celery, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 can cannellini beans
6 cups chicken stock (I added some bouillon to amp the flavor)
Wide egg noodles, the amount depends on how "soupy" you want it.
1 TBS. Italian seasoning
salt, pepper to taste

Top with spinach and Parmesan cheese

Saute the first 5 ingredients together in a combination of half butter half olive oil until the onions are clear. Add remaining ingredients and cook on med. until the noodles are tender.  Simmer 10-15 minutes more and serve with a topping of fresh spinach and Parmesan cheese. I put these two ingredients on top of any chicken stock based soup in winter as a way to get extra greens when it is very cold and you don't want salad.

After that there's nothing to do but curl up with a book by the fire and wait for it to melt. Which if we are lucky, will be today.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Magic Cocoa

 This time of year my family has one question. Are you making hot chocolate? It's a family tradition and everyone's favorite.

Swiss Miss?


You can generally go by the recipe on the back of any cocoa tin and that'll be fine. Here's mine:

1 C. Milk
1 heaping tbls. cocoa
2 tbls. sugar
pinch salt
splash vanilla (even better if you have time is to infuse the milk with a fresh vanilla bean)
dusting of fresh grated nutmeg

Double, triple, or quadruple as needed!

Heat all the ingredients in a pan over medium heat on the stove, whisking constantly. Until all the ingredients are incorporated and the chocolaty concoction is steaming.

Pretty basic and delicious but why stop there? The secret is in what we are going to top it with.

You can go with marshmallows if you want, which are extra special and amazing if you roast them over a fire first. My personal topping for the grown ups, however is fresh whipped cream beaten with 2 tsp. of powdered sugar and a splash of bourbon.

I know.

I'm wondering how you lived this long without it too.

Pour it lovingly over the top and add the zest from an orange. The chocolate, bourbon, citrus combination is magical.

Honestly, are you going to be able to open a foil pouch and add hot water... EVER again?

Yeah, didn't think so.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pumpkin for Breakfast?

I'm always looking for simple ways to incorporate the healthiest choices possible when I'm in the kitchen.  One of the things that I find helpful is to have breakfast on autopilot which means I'm not reinventing the wheel every morning.  Usually I'm having yogurt with fruit and granola or oatmeal with apples and raisins. I toss walnuts and flax seeds on both because they are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and it's hard for most of us to get all we need from fish. But here's a holiday twist. I love pumpkin and this time of year I sometimes have some leftover from a holiday recipe. So how about pumpkin yogurt?

Here's an article about the health benefits of pumpkin. 

Don't make that face. You haven't tried it yet. Start by heating your leftover pumpkin in the microwave for 30-45 seconds.

 Choose the things you want to add. I added; raisins, granola, walnuts.'s complicated, I know.

Top with plain yogurt and fresh grated nutmeg.

Start your day feeling good about your healthy breakfast!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Paper, Ink, Love

 A shelf sagging under the weight of too many volumes begged to be relieved of at least some of them.

That's going to be a problem. I remember all too well a vicious culling I did at the end of my tenure as a home school mom and have pangs of regret over Teddy Roosevelt's Letters to his Sons, When Character Was King (Peggy Noonan's tender bio of Reagan), and my entire (what was I thinking?) collection of Vonnegut.

While making a bold attempt at sorting, I looked up and saw the afternoon sun illuminating a portion of Mr. Snarky's high school reading list.

                            Okay, these are keepers.

                            Oh no, not the classics...

The Red Badge of Courage. Okay, I hated it.
But, oh how I cried over A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Les Miserables.

The Elements of Style I'm sure you all wish I would reread until I get them right, perhaps weekly or so.

In the end I didn't make much progress except to reduce the collection on the shelf. They have however found other homes here and there, tucked in nooks and c

rannies, in baskets. I have recycled a precious few to other avid readers but even that is hard.

I do so like for them to find good homes.