No Labor on These Days

Some of my happiest, most peaceful memories as a child come from our summer vacations spent in the woods.  My mother would prepare all summer long for the various escapes to our cabin in the cool, mountain pines.

Of our many trips to the cabin, some recollections stand out more than others….

Exploring the woods, toasting marshmallows at the campfire, waking to cold, summer mornings, chasing down and counting train cars, listening to the night radio waves, playing board and card games, drinking Crush soda, eating breakfast cereal directly out of those little individual sized boxes, tuning into the sound of raindrops during afternoon showers, picking wildflowers, studying the stars in the night sky, collecting lava rocks, riding our bicycles through the red cinder rock roads to the lake, skipping rocks, riding ATVs and just soaking up the sights and smells of the forest…These are all vivid memories for me.

Our family vacation season would invariably start on Memorial Day weekend and end on Labor Day weekend.  The bookend holidays were celebrated in the nearby small town with a rodeo and a much-anticipated parade.  Throughout the years, it became tradition for us to set up a spot and watch the parade action as a family.

Here are Mom and Dad waiting for one of the parades to begin.  I love the yarn ribbons in Mom’s hair and my Dad’s big smile.

This Labor Day weekend, we have no plans to leave town.  We are spending our time with precious friends and family, celebrating the symbolic end of summer, while swimming and barbecuing.  This has been my husband’s and my tradition, even before our BSFs, and so it continues.

The only difference is that this year, we will take in the Labor Day Parade.

However you spend your Labor Day weekend, stay safe and enjoy the special memories you create.

Happy Labor Day!

 

Always on My Mind

Last night, my husband and I saw Willie Nelson in concert.

What an amazing show it was.

Willie is one of my Dad’s favorite musicians.  And, although I didn’t own an album of Willie Nelson’s until albums were scarcely sold and CDs were the norm, I did know more of Willie’s music than I thought I would, thanks to my Dad.  In fact, while listening to Willie last night, I couldn’t help but see and hear my Dad singing along.

Music often conjures up memories of places and times that no longer exist.  For me, that was the case last night.

When Willie sang certain songs, in fact, images of my Dad and of my childhood home flooded my mind.  I could clearly recall the cerulean blue, textured carpet in my parent’s bedroom, the silver-finished Technics stereo system that would’ve played Willie over my dad’s floorstanding speakers, the morning sunlight streaming into their bedroom, the matching bedroom furniture set, the quirky, brass, half-moon shaped closet door pulls and the ham radio equipment in the corner.

I got lost in the music and the night. We’ve talked about seeing Willie for a long time now. Pardon the pun, but the idea has always been on my mind. I’m so glad we made it happen.

I just wish Dad could’ve been there to see Willie with us, too.

Peppermint Patties

Every blue moon, or so, especially when it is a warm night, I get a cool mint craving.  It sneaks up on me.  I don’t expect it, and then BOOM.  My mouth starts watering and I can almost feel a coolness when I breathe in and out.

My mother had a few favorite indulgences.  She didn’t indulge in them often, but when she did, she seemed to savor them and make them last a very long time.  She had will-power that I could not exhibit as a child.  She might purchase a special treat one day and wait a day or two before she even opened the package.  It was pain-staking for me.

In a household of eight, you had to fend for yourself when it came to treats.  If you had something special, you literally had to hide it in a very subtly secret place in the pantry or eat it before someone else did.  If there were one or two of something left, however, you knew better than to eat it.  The last of anything tasty was Dad’s…unless it was Mom’s.

When it came to Mom’s treats, no one thought about touching them.

Mom was saintly and to steal from a saint is just plain sinful.

Every once in a while, mom would get herself a peppermint pattie from the grocery store. When we’d get home from grocery shopping, she’d unload the groceries, and that peppermint pattie went straight to the ice box.  By the time all the groceries were put away, her candy was hidden behind some box or under some bag of frozen food, but somehow, that silvery, shimmery packaging would peek out and catch your eye when you opened the freezer door.  My mom would pull her candy out from the ice box and take one little bite, only to put it right back in the freezer for later.  It was torture to open the freezer at any given time and see that open peppermint pattie staring you in the eye.  Torture.

Nowadays, I try to keep candy like this out of the house.  I have my vices, but I generally only entertain the peppermint pattie when I’ve had one of those summer night cravings.

Which leads me to now.  Earlier this week, when I sat down at the very end of a long, hot day, BOOM.  I felt that cool air sensation in my mouth.  I’d like to think it was Mom, saying, “Hi.”

Well, it made me wonder if I could make homemade peppermint patties that might rival the ones in the foil package.  So, I decided to learn how to make these little morsels myself.

They are so simple to create and really delicious.

I enlisted the help of my oldest BSF.  She has played with play dough, but this was a new substance to roll into balls.  Because the mint mixture melts easily, she had a hard time finding the right amount of pressure to employ without having a melty mess.  Much to her chagrin, she enjoyed licking off the mess, washing her hands and doing it all over again.

We rolled the mint mixture into little balls, about 1 inch in diameter.

After making little round perfections of minty-goodness, we pressed down firmly with the palm of our hands and flattened those babies out.

Once they were chilled for an hour (or more), they were ready to be dipped in the chocolate mixture.

Here is our end product.  The peppermint patties turned out petite and adorable.

This recipe takes about three-four hours from start to finish, if you do it all at once.  I like to take my time.  I started the night before and finished them up the next day.

Peppermint Patties

Ingredients

2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/4 tsp peppermint oil (labeled for internal use) (do not use peppermint extract)
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp evaporated milk

Chocolate Coating

8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chips or chopped
1 Tbsp shortening

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.  Lightly dust the foil with powdered sugar.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the sugar, butter, peppermint oil, vanilla extract and evaporated milk on low until combined.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until very creamy (about 2-3 minutes).

Cover the bowl of peppermint mixture with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill until firm enough to roll into balls (about an hour).

Roll the batter into 1 inch balls and place on the foil-lined pan.  Flatten each ball with the palm of your hand until the patties are about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick.  Cover and place in the refrigerator until the patties are firm (at least one hour or even overnight).

For the chocolate coating, melt the chocolate and shortening in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water.  Remove the patties from the refrigerator and dip, one patty at a time, into the melted chocolate, making sure both sides of each patty are completely coated with chocolate.  You can use two forks to help you dip each patty in the chocolate.  Let any excess chocolate drip back into the bowl and then place the patties back on the foil.  Once all the patties have been dipped in the chocolate, return them to the refrigerator to chill until firm (30-60 minutes).

Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container (separate layers with parchment paper or wax paper) for up to one month.

Makes 15-20 patties.

My Source:  www.joyofbaking.com

Chewy, Gooey, Chocolatey, Peanut Buttery, Butterscotchy Cookies

I’ve been craving some very specific flavors this week…something chewy and chocolatey with the essences of peanut butter and butterscotch.  I couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted to make, but whatever it was, it needed those flavors and texture.  The ideas of what to create continued to swirl in my mind until I realized that it was a cookie I craved. So, I searched for recipes until I found something close.

Since my BSFs don’t particularly like cookies…how that happened, I do not understand… I thought I would make exactly what I wanted instead of compromising and making something “safe”.

Here is what I concocted.

I know the name I gave it is a bit long and overly descriptive, but really, that is just for me.
If I leave any of those words out, I might forget how scrumptious and flavorful these morsels are.

With most cookies, I like to make hot, fresh batches every time, so I only make a few (or half a dozen) cookies at a time and keep the rest of the cookie dough in the refrigerator until I’m ready to bake another batch.  I try to use up the cookie dough within 2-3 days.

Chewy, Gooey, Chocolatey, Peanut Buttery, Butterscotchy Cookies

Ingredients

    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/3 cup natural, unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli)
    • 1/2 tsp baking soda
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1 stick + 2 tbsp butter, softened
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • 1/3 cup smooth (or crunchy, if you prefer) peanut butter (I used Jif)
    • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
    • 1/2 cup butterscotch chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar; add eggs and vanilla, mix well.
  4. Beat in 1/2 cup of the flour mixture.Add the peanut butter.  Mix until incorporated.  Add remaining flour mixture slowly until fully incorporated.Then add the semi-sweet and butterscotch chips.
  5. Drop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto baking sheets (I used parchment paper but I don’t think it is necessary).
  6. Bake 10-12 minutes; let cookies rest on baking sheets for 2 minutes before removing with a spatula to wire racks to cool completely.

Yield:  approx. 2 dozen

My inspiration:  www.food.com

Sink or Swim…or Float

My BSFs are thick in the summer swim mode.

We don’t have a pool, unless you count the itty-bitty Dora play pool in the backyard.  Still, the kids are around friends’ pools enough that they need to know how to safely find their way out of a pool, just in case, God forbid, they fall in unexpectedly. So, they are in swim lessons this summer, learning the basic survival skills.

Growing up, we didn’t have a pool in our yard either.  We spent hours in our neighbor’s pool and at the city pool each summer.  Somehow, I learned to swim without a swim class. I’m sure I learned from my siblings or my neighbors or from the sheer need to stay alive amid a lot of good swimmers.

My favorite thing to do was float. I remember how excited I was when I finally figured out how to do it. I floated and floated in the pool just for the fun of it. As a teenager, I always thought it was a good way to stay cool and get an even tan.  I can’t believe how many years I went into the sunshine and into a pool without a drop of sunscreen…but that’s another story.

Today, my dad was asking about how the girls are doing in class…whether they can float or swim with ease.  I told him that they are both swimming and floating, despite the deafening cries for “Mom” or “Dad” or “Ziggy”, the dog.  Seriously.  Yesterday I had made a joke out of my older BSF asking for her Dad when Dad wasn’t even at her swim lesson.  I continued, saying, “Why don’t you ask for Ziggy tomorrow.  Maybe he will come running to the pool and pull you out.”  So, today, she cried for Ziggy.  Yes.  That’s my girl.

My dad reminded me that my mother loved the water.  She spent her summers at their family lake house.  The whole summer.  What a beautiful luxury that must have been. She was an avid reader all of her life.  She used to tell me that she’d bring a wheelbarrow full of books, checked out from her local library, to the lake each summer.  Her local librarian, Eva T. Canon, lent her the books for the entire time she was gone.  And, she read.  She read and she swam.  Not at the same time, I’m sure, but I gotta know she definitely read by the water.

Isn’t she beautiful here?

Her parents enjoyed the lake, too.

I don’t think they fished especially much.  They played plenty of games – yard games outside and card games anywhere.

The funniest thing about it all was that my grandfather didn’t swim.  I think just about everyone else in the family did.  However, my grandfather couldn’t.

My dad had shared that my grandfather probably would’ve wanted to swim, but he could never get deep enough into the water to do so.  The waters near their lake house were shallow enough to walk out for yards and yards. So, he didn’t really need to swim.  My grandfather could float, though.  And he enjoyed floating in that lake.  Which makes me think of my BSFs.  They prefer to float.  Float. Float. Float.

I’m thrilled that my BSFs are swimming and floating.  It hasn’t taken them very long to figure it all out, and these skills will last them a lifetime.  Maybe, one day, we can take them to their grandmother’s childhood summer vacation place by the lake.  Now, that would be something.

 

Patriotic Parade

Oh, how I enjoy a good hometown parade.  As a child, if there was a parade to attend, I was ready to go. I could almost always count on candy being thrown and plenty of great people watching. My proximity to the street was maximized by plopping down onto the best available curb seating. No lawn chair or seat pad was required. Those otherwise comfortable seating options would’ve created undesirable friction between me and the parade action.

As I was chatting with my dad about what we were doing this 4th of July, I mentioned that the family hiked over to the neighborhood next to ours to watch their 4th of July Parade.

We found a nice shady spot under a big oak tree.

It was smaller than last year’s parade with less than 10 cars winding around the neighborhood. Participating, there were a police SUV, an ice cream truck, a couple dozen walkers and a crew of very excited kids riding their festively decorated bicycles.

My dad told me that he always looked forward to the parade in town when he was a kid. He had a bicycle that he tricked out with all kinds of embellishments. There were twisted cords on every spoke. For the 4th of July, there were red, white and blue cords.  For other holidays, he would switch them out for a different color effect, such as all green cords for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which was a big day of celebration in his town of many proud Irish.  He hung streamers from the handle bars. He mounted three different horns, including one under the bike seat. He had shocks on the front fork, which made the fork longer. He was very proud of his bike and what he added to it. He couldn’t wait to have a car so he could do the same.

It is no wonder why I love parades so much.

Today, many adults and kiddos rode their bicycles in the 4th of July parade near our home. It was so neat to see their spirit and creativity. One kiddo added red, white and blue pinwheels to the ends of his handlebars. Another had a red, white and blue mylar banner attached to the front of her bike with training wheels.

The fanciest contribution was this one.

It made me smile.

I hadn’t heard about my dad’s childhood bicycle until today. The fact that my father, who contracted polio early in life, had a bike that he rode and rode in style was a joyful story to hear. I love hearing these tidbits of memories and moments from years past. The memories keep building. Just like these from today. Happy 4th of July, y’all!

4th of July Jello Jigglers

After such an awfully hot and humid 2011 summer season, I am rejoicing, to anyone within earshot, that the cooler weather this summer is an absolute surprise and a pure joy.

Now, I’m not talking about cooler weather such as that experienced in the Rocky Mountains at this time of the year.  Rather, I’m merely talking about temperatures below 100 degrees.

This is cause for celebration.

What better way to celebrate an occasion, any occasion, than with Jell-O?

When I saw this festive idea in my inbox, right before the 4th of July, I knew we had to try them out.

I got my BSF in the kitchen to help.  Since we spent a couple of days preparing and creating these treats, the excitement and anticipation grew in the eyes of my lil’ BSF.  In my book of moments-to-savor, this is golden.

These red, white and blue stars sure look pretty, if I do say so myself, and they taste light and sweet.  I think we’ve found a new traditional treat for our 4th of July celebration.

The details for making these jiggly, festive gelatinous delights are right here.

 

Grandma’s Rhubarb Pie

At this time of the year, I often reminisce about the major family vacations of my childhood. Growing up, we spent the two weeks surrounding the 4th of July holiday with my grandparents and our huge family in a small, rural town in the middle of America.  Our summer vacation with the grandparents was always filled with exciting adventures, loads of fireworks, seemingly endless fields of corn, herds of cows, fireflies, long lines for the bathroom, swimming, plenty of food and lots of family.

Our 4th of July was as American as apple pie.  Which made me think about the pie that my grandma traditionally made each year.

The pie was not apple, which would have made me most happy, but rhubarb pie, which made my dad most jubilant.  One of my dad’s favorite things in this world is rhubarb pie.

My grandma was a wonderful cook and baker.  She knew how to make a lot with very little.  Although I wasn’t savvy enough to know it as a child, that pie, made by grandma with fresh rhubarb from her garden, was delicious and made with a lot of love.

Despite the fact that rhubarb wouldn’t grow fresh in our part of the world, my mother used to make it for my father.  It was always such a big deal when my mom found frozen rhubarb at the market.  That meant that my dad was going to have a little slice of home, away from home.

I have never made my grandma’s rhubarb pie.  Well, that is, until today.  This is a first for me. Granted, my grandma made everything from scratch.  Maybe that is why I have put it off all these years. Or maybe it is because very few people in my life talk about and pine for rhubarb pie, me included.

Well, I decided that today was the day I would make my first rhubarb pie.  Instead of making my own crusts, which surely would’ve stopped me in my tracks, I got a little help from the refrigerated section of my local grocery store with pre-made pie crusts.

The rhubarb was so red and pretty that I had to include a picture of it, as well as the rest of the ingredients that I gathered to make this pie.

Since my grandma didn’t really bake with a recipe – it was all in her memory banks – I made sure to fill in the recipe’s missing gaps, for people like me who need a little more detailed recipe.

For example…

I forgot to add the milk to my picture above because it wasn’t in grandma’s ingredient list. I’ve added it to the recipe below.

Grandma’s Rhubarb Pie

Ingredients

2 cups fresh, cut up rhubarb (1/2 inch cubes)
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp nutmeg
2 crusts pie pastry
A spot of milk, sugar and cinnamon for sweetening the top crust

Fit one unbaked pie shell into a pie plate.  Trim off the excess pie crust around the edges of the pie plate.  Then, place the cut up rhubarb into the unbaked pie shell.  In a medium bowl, beat eggs well; add sugar and nutmeg to the beaten eggs; mix well. Pour egg mixture on top of rhubarb. Adjust top crust to fit over the pie filling, tucking the top edges over and on the outside of the bottom crust edges.  Using your fingers, flute the edges of the pie crusts to seal.  Using a knife, make a few 1/2 inch slits into the top crust for venting during baking.

Brush the top crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, to taste.  Bake in 400 degree oven for 60 minutes or until golden brown.

The pie smelled delicious while baking in the oven.  The kids couldn’t wait for it to cool before begging for a taste.  I’m so excited they enjoyed the pie as much as I had hoped.

I really wish that I had been a little more willing to try grandma’s rhubarb pie as a child. Boy, did I miss out!

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

Today, we met up with friends for an enchilada birthday luncheon.  The guest of honor has a thing for chicken enchiladas.  Me, too.  She likes to try new enchiladas recipes and make up her own.  Me, too. Although I am branching out and experimenting a lot more as a cook, generally, I stick to a written recipe that I know is tried and true.

Enchiladas are a different story.  There are so many ways to make enchiladas. And, I like just about all of the enchiladas I’ve ever tried. Ever.

I do have a couple of favorite enchilada standbys. However, for this luncheon, I decided to experiment, and I think this is my new favorite.  I set aside some of the enchiladas to serve for dinner at home, and my husband ate them all up.  He has declared these his new favorites, too.  Even the kids ate them.  It doesn’t get better than that.  I decided I better write this recipe down so I don’t forget how to make them again.

This recipe makes 16 enchiladas, more or less.  If you want to eat some now, and save some for later, they do freeze well.

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas
Ingredients

1/4 cup sour cream
1  tablespoon mayonnaise
1  tablespoon milk
1/4  teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder or taco seasoning
Juice of one lime wedge
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips for even cooking
3/4 cup of oil, vegetable or canola
1/2 – 1 cup canned refried black beans, depending on taste
1 cup shredded cheddar and monterey jack
16 six-inch white corn tortillas
1 14 oz. can Green Chile Enchilada Sauce (I prefer Hatch brand.)

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, mayonnaise, milk, cumin, chili powder and lime juice. Set aside.

Cook the chicken breasts with a 1/4 cup of water in a covered skillet. When cooked through, drain and shred the chicken meat. Add the shredded chicken to the sour cream mixture and stir until chicken is coated.

Prepare your assembly line of ingredients. Pour your enchilada sauce into a flat bottomed dish. Set out the sour cream chicken mixture, refried black beans and shredded cheese. Have a baking dish or two ready to receive the enchiladas.

In a frying pan, warm the oil over medium-low heat. The oil should not be too hot. Slip a tortilla into the warm oil for 8-10 seconds. I like to use tongs for this part.  The tortilla may puff up a little.  That’s ok.  It will deflate when you remove it.  Immediately dip and coat the tortilla in enchilada sauce. Remove the tortilla from the enchilada sauce and place atop a clean workspace, such as a cutting board.

Begin filling the tortilla, right down the middle, with a teaspoon of refried beans, a tablespoon or two of sour cream chicken mixture and top with a sprinkle of shredded cheese. Fold over one side of the tortilla and then fold over the other side. Place the enchilada, seam side down, into the baking dish.

Now, repeat the process with the rest of your tortillas.

If you prefer spicier enchiladas, pour the rest of the green chile enchilada sauce over the enchiladas.

Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese on top of the enchiladas.

Place the baking dish into the 350° oven, and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

If you want to prepare them now and serve them later, just cover the dish and place in the refrigerator. For best results, remove from refrigerator 15-20 minutes prior to heating. Bake in 350° oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until heated through.

Summer Heat Treat

Remember the Kool-Aid man?  Ok.  I know I’m dating myself, but when I was little and I’d see him on a TV commercial crashing through the walls of a roller rink or busting through a tall fence at the park, I’d feel the urge to hop up and make a pitcher of that liquid deliciousness.  That is if I wasn’t already drinking a tall, cool glass of it. The Kool-Aid Man was true marketing genius.  ”Oh Yeaahh”.

As kids, the summer meant playing and working outside in the brutal heat.  Despite the dry heat that made the triple digits somewhat bearable, nothing quenched a big thirst after delivering all of those afternoon newspapers on my bicycle than Kool-Aid.  The thought of cold, sweet, fruity Kool-Aid waiting in the fridge helped me through the roughest and longest parts of the paper route.  Since, Kool-Aid was easy to make, easy to share with the masses, and economical, it was a hit with our big family.

In the new millennium, I feel guilty even making a pitcher of sugary Kool-Aid for my BSFs. I mean, it has no nutritional value.  It is just plain tasty. One serving has 25 grams of sugar. That IS less sugar than a serving of M&Ms, but not much less. Still, as with everything, moderation is key. I mean, it isn’t as if they are drinking all 2 quarts of the beverage in a day. Well, I’m sure at least one brother of mine might have drank all 2 quarts of it in one sitting…once…or twice. Somehow, he survived, none the worse. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t done that recently. I’ll have to call him up and ask, though, just to be sure.

Then, I began to remember the days when we made popsicles out of Kool-Aid.  Now, that sounded like fun!

Making popsicles out of Kool-Aid is an easy way to keep the serving size smaller (often 1/3 of a regular serving). Plus, how much of the popsicle ends up in a mouth? In my experience, most of it melts down my hands or breaks off onto the ground before I even finish it.

So, after I had finally rationalized that Kool-Aid popsicles wouldn’t turn my BSFs into stark, raving lunatics, I picked up a packet at the grocery store. Serendipitously, I found a popsicle mold that would fit in my super-crammed freezer. Woohoo!

The popsicles are freezing in the icebox right now. I can’t wait to sit outside with the BSFs and let the popsicles drip all over our hands on this warm, first day of summer.