Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Party (or at least Eat) Hearty...Mardi Gras 2012

Cereal Muffins
We are once again upon another day before the start of the forty days of Lent~ Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday") which has traditionally been the day of partying, including eating a lot of food before Ash Wednesday the next day. I have also read that the foods people have typically eaten are ones they will give up for Lent. Our house is no exception as we have already enjoyed some delicious Cereal Muffins for breakfast, and we are looking forward to Chicken & Leek Casserole for dinner plus pancakes of some sort for dessert. Here's the recipe for the muffins. In order for David to be able to have them, I used half soy and half coconut milk instead of regular milk plus cereal that has no nuts. They turned out moist and yummy~ terrific breakfast goodies!

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for tin
  • 1 1/2 cups raisin bran cereal
  • 1 1/2 cups honey bunches of oats cereal (we buy the knock-off brand from Grocery Outlet)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk- use whatever kind you need, cow, soy, coconut, almond, etc. 
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses


  1. Preheat oven to 400. Lightly spray a 12-cup standard muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine cereals and milk; let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
  2. Stir oil, egg, and sugar & molasses into cereal mixture. Fold in flour mixture. Divide batter among cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in tin 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack; let cool completely, or serve warm. Store up to 5 days at room temperature in an airtight container- if they last that long.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Deliberate Housewives

Ah, the joys of housewifery!

“I enjoy doing housework, ironing, washing, cooking, dishwashing. Whenever I get one of those questionaires and they ask what is your profession, I always put down housewife. It's an admirable profession, why apologize for it. You aren't stupid because you're a housewife. When you're stirring the jam you can read Shakespeare.”  ~Tasha Tudor

SCF- a great place to work!

In the last 26 years of my life, I have discovered that no matter what else I was doing, I have always tended, like Tasha Tudor, to proudly write housewife when the occasion arose. Whether it was signing mortgage papers, tax forms, little league sign ups or church documents, I have always put down housewife even when holding another job outside the home. It seemed so easy when the kids were younger since my only outside endeavors were of the volunteer-kind. For the last seven years, I have been employed at Salem Classical Fencing- going from an instructional assistant, to an assistant instructor to a full-fledged certified instructor and coach. Even with this, I still am pleased to wear the badge of housewifery. 
Part of this has always been trying to instill in my kids the case of frugalness (I'd call it being cheap, but my dear husband always reminds me "frugal" is such a better word to use). Our long and winding road towards the frugal land has not always been smooth- there have been a few bumps and bruises along the way. I remember making my own baby food & wipes (easy) and going with cloth diapers instead of disposable (good, but not always so easy). There have been homemade mixes for everything from bisquik to my own spice mixes (great Christmas presents this year). I had even taken some of my homemade taco seasoning and ranch dressing mix to Africa on my first missions trip to give as a gift to missionaries serving in Guinea.
Great and inexpensive composter!
The homemade goodness of cooking items has always made sense to me, but I've never thought of homemade cleaning items until the beginning of this year. With two kids in college, I've been trying to come up with ways to save money in any little ways I can. Besides having gotten an Earth Machine composter last summer and just this last month having gone down a size in the trash can we use from our garbage company, we are producing less waste and recycling more. That saves a little bit each month, but I knew there was more I could do. I set out to find homemade "recipes" for everyday cleaning items as these tend to bite into our limited budget much more than they should. I don't take credit for creating any of the following concoctions, as there are a number of sites that come up when you search on the internet. I've been experimenting with a bunch of different ones, and I have found that I like the following the best~
Keatley Laundry Soap

2 cups finely grated Fels Naptha soap (found at Winco)
1 cup Borax
1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Powder (not detergent, but it's found by the laundry stuff)

Mix all ingredients together & store in sealed container. Use 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons per 
load (I was using 1 1/2 but have found 2 works better in our front load HE washer)

6 cups hot water
3 cups white vinegar
2 cups hair conditioner (I've used White Rain as it's cheap and you can choose your favorite scent- you can use whatever brand you want)

Mix conditioner and hot water well, until conditioner is dissolved completely. Add vinegar and mix well. Store in large container.
Use 2 tablespoons in washer per load.

4 oz. natural bar of soap (I've used the tea tree soap from Trader Joe's, but you can use anything that is all-natural)
1 gallon water
1 T. glycerin, if desired

In large pot, steam water over medium heat. Grate soap. Take water off heat.
Add soap to pot and let sit 15 minutes. Blend with hand mixer or immersion blender until well mixed; let sit overnight. Blend again the next morning, adding glycerin, if desired (I don't use it, but some people like it). 
Using funnel, pour into soap dispensers. Store remaining soap (I use a clean empty milk jug to store ours).

(This is the newest concoction to try- it looks just like the stuff you buy, but it's way less expensive)!

2 cups Borax
2 cups Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
2 cups lemi shine (Brian bought at Target)
1 cup Kosher salt

Mix all ingredients well and store in airtight container. Use 1 tablespoon per load in dishwasher.

I read on a bunch of sites about using white vinegar in place of Jet Dry in the dishwasher. I was a little skeptical, but it totally works. The dishes come out clean and don't smell like 
vinegar, either. Obviously, this is a whole lot less money too!

This last one is a bit of a bonus~ you may not want to take the time, but I was getting desperate one day, and so I tried it. Not only was it inexpensive, but it worked great.
You simply take 1/2 cup baking soda and 1 cup white vinegar and pour it down the drain (whether it's backed up or not). Let it sit for 1 hour then pour 1 teakettle's worth (about 6 cups) of boiling water down the drain. Your clog should be gone!

I hope you try some of these ideas. We housewives are often overlooked unless we are somewhere other than home fulfilling our first calling. The next time you feel frustrated when it's time for another load of laundry or another meal to be made, remember this quote from Saint Frances of Rome~

“It is good to be devout as a housewife but sometimes you need to leave God at the altar to find Him at home. ”

We must remember our duty to the Lord is duty to our family. I know I haven't always done this as well as I could have, but thankfully that is why there is grace. I continue to be encouraged by others as I travel on in this journey of being a deliberate housewife.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rolling Along with Our Heritage

So many times I don't even think about the long line of good cooks that are part of my heritage. It is at times like this past Sunday dinner when the reality of just what I have inherited hits. Mary had wanted to invite our dear friends, the Fords~ Mike (author of some great novels of ancient times), Cristina, Isabel and Marie~ over for a Sunday meal. We had originally thought of breakfast, but due to David having to be the MC during 10:00 AM Mass as well as Cristina having to cantor at the noon Mass, the schedule for a dinner worked out much better.
Mary had also been wanting to try her hand at Syrian food (passed down from my maternal grandfather's side of the family), and so on Saturday we started preparing a small feast to share with our guests. This was only accomplished after Mary and Brian had spent quite a bit on what lamb they could find at our local Roth's. The menu would consist of Syrian Pizza- a family favorite with lamb, pine nuts (except for David, who is still having to go nut-free), onion and spices; Green Beans with Lamb and Tomatoes to be served over rice pilaf and Cabbage Rolls stuffed with lamb, rice, onions and more spices. As the aroma wafted out when taking the lid off the cabbage rolls, I had the flashback of being a young girl at my grandparents' home on Sundays when we would head over for dinner with my extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. It always amazes me how smells can take one back to a specific time or place. For me, it's generally food- spices & baked items are the ones that do it the most.
Anyway, back at the meal, we enjoyed this with some sparkling blood orange soda and lemonade for the kids along with some Eola Hills Reserve Pinot Noir. We all enjoyed the delicious food as we also video-chatted with Joshua, who continues to relish his time in Italy. What fun it was to have dinner "with him" as he was able to talk with his Godfather (Mike) and the rest of us about his adventures in Roma and recent trip to Assisi. We ended the meal with Cari's amazing gluten and dairy free brownies plus some ice cream along with a great dessert wine~ Chocolate Shop Wine. It was all so satisfying and made for quite a relaxing afternoon.
Cabbage Rolls ready to serve!
If you haven't thought about having Sunday dinner lately, you should really think about doing it. Grab your family recipes or find some to start your own tradition and get cooking. It's a lot more fun when you do it with friends, so be sure to invite some over. To help you get started, here's a recipe from our meal~ Cabbage Rolls. Even if you are not a huge cabbage fan, I think you should give these a try!

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls 
(Mihshi Malfouf)
2 heads of cabbage
Pot of boiling water
Meat & Rice Stuffing (recipe follows)
1 box Chicken Stock (I use Pacific Foods brand)
salt and pepper to taste

Start with a solid smooth head of cabbage. Core with knife. Put head in boiling water for approximately 5 minutes. The purpose is to soften so leaves will peel off easily & bend. DO NOT cook the cabbage.
As the leaves loosen from the head, stack them on flat pan. When they get to small to use for rolling, take head out. Put small, unusable leaves to the side to use for something else.
With a paring knife, trim or shave off the stem (thick part) of the leaves. When rolling leaves, use a plate for the working surface. Place one leaf on the plate with the stem facing you. Place a small amount (about 1/4 cup) of filling 1/2 inch from the bottom of the leaf. 
Fold up from the bottom first, then fold sides in towards the middle. Roll from bottom to top. Place finished roll in dutch oven & repeat until all leaves and mixture is used up. Add stock and salt & pepper to taste. Bring to boil; turn down to simmer and cover with lid. Cook for approximately 1 hour. 

Meat and Rice Stuffing
(Hashwit Mihshi)
6 cups lamb, coarsely ground
3 cups long grain rice, uncooked
4 t. salt
4 t. pepper
2 t. allspice (True middle eastern allspice is a mixture of spices, so I use 1 t. allspice, 1/2 t. cinnamon & 1/2 t. cloves for my stuffing)
1/2 cup water
Combine all ingredients in bowl. Mix well using hands. DO NOT cook mixture beforehand. It should be uncooked, ready to stuff into the rolls.
Buono Appetito!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Food and Fencing...in San Francisco

Citizens Band Restaurant
These past four days Mary and I (along with two other SCF teaching staff)  spent in San Francisco at a United States Fencing Association Coaches' Conference. Now, most people go to California's bay area to sightsee~ the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Lombard Street, Fisherman's Wharf, etc. Not us~ nope...the only parts of San Francisco we saw were situated between our apartment, the BART station and Halberstadt Fencing Club (the clinic venue). Wednesday evening found us taking a bus, the Bart and then walking for what seemed like forever (in reality about 1/2 mile) before hitting the streets in search of something to eat. Thanks to the internet, we had scoped out a few places before we left & thought we'd try Citizens' Band, a "fine diner". It was comfort-food haven for four weary travelers as we sat at the counter and enjoyed a wonderful meal of poutine, a wedge salad and a cheeseburger along with a great glass of  Bokisch Vineyards' Albarino for me and an Izze blackberry soda for Mary. Mike and Emma (our fellow travelers) indulged in mac & cheese topped with onion rings of which I would have gladly eaten a bucketful, if I would not have already been "stuffed to the gills" & having enough on my plates to take home leftovers to snack on another time.
We left the restaurant, this time in search of the local Trader Joe's. Imagine our dismay when we were told the building had lost power, so they were having to close early. Not only did it mean no shopping for grocery essentials TJ's is so popular for, it also meant we had walked a lot more than any of us felt like. We did head back towards our apartment (seeing & hearing some interesting sights which I will leave to your imagination), stopping before at Harvest Urban Market where we found all we needed plus a few extra goodies.
The SCF team at dinner in "our apt."
Taking a little detour~ I need to tell you about the kitchen in the apartment which we stayed. It was a third story flat (thankfully, we only had to carry our luggage~ including 3 hard-sided golf bags filled with fencing equipment up the stairs once) on one of the small streets in the SOMA district. We found it using AirBNB (highly recommended for anyone wanting a great non-hotel lodging experience), so we weren't sure what to expect. As it was quite old, the decor and fixtures were a mixture of vintage and IKEA. Anyway, back to the kitchen...our hosts had left a note saying we were welcome to use anything in it, including dry goods & whatever other people had left. I was skeptical until I started digging through the fridge, cupboards & freezer~ what a treasure trove of supplies to make this gourmand's heart skip a few beats! Some of the items on hand included: harissa (a middle-eastern spicy chile paste), tomato paste in a tube imported from Italy, white truffle oil, spices of all types, sea salt, not to mention a total of 2 half gallons-worth of high end ice cream (making Mike, our ice cream connoisseur, very pleased). Upon finding these delights, I thought, "Wow, who has these kind of things in their kitchen?". To which I answered back, "At home, you do, silly girl." As the above items were used throughout the weekend, I was very grateful for travelers who had come before us and left us such a cornucopia of kitchen kickshaws.
Mary's Mac & Cheese- yum!
The rest of our meals found us eating at the apartment~ I made meatloaf with green beans (drizzled with truffle oil & sea salt) and bread from Trader Joe's (we had made another trip back happily finding them open) for Thursday's dinner. Mary amazed everyone with her version of macaroni & cheese Friday for dinner along with salad, carrots & more bread from TJ's. Breakfast was fairly mundane- cereal (hot & cold), Luna bars, scrambled eggs on Sunday morning. Since we packed our lunches most days they were fairly simple~ peanut butter & strawberry jam sandwiches, carrots, pretzels (part of the apt. stash), & always bananas. We ate dried & juicy mangoes~ discussing whether they could be both dry & juicy, even if that's what the package said and also enjoyed some chocolate toffee from TJ's one day. Yesterday found Mary, Emma & I wandering up the mission district looking for Pancho Villa's, a highly recommended taqueria. Not finding it (due to not enough sleep and no hanging signboard in front like all the other shops), we found, instead, Truly Mediterranean, where we bought a falafel sandwich & two lamb shawerma sandwiches to take back to the fencing club for lunch. They were all very good & gave us fuel for the coaching exams Emma & I would be taking when we had finished.
Emma, Maitre D'Armes Peter Burchard & Mary at Halberstadt Fencing Club
It must have helped some as we both passed and are now USFCA Certified Moniteurs D'Escrime ~ translated in English - certified fencing instructors (it just sounds so good in French!). Finished with what we had come for, made one final BART ride, got to the airport, boarded the plane & headed home- filled with memories of what we learned, what we saw & what we ate...altogether good souvenirs to bring home from any trip.