Friday, September 27, 2013

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real: Fall Fever Edition

round button chicken
Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life.  Every Thursday at Like Mother, Like Daughter

It's Fall, y'all!

And I, for one, couldn't be happier!  Fall, besides being probably the best season of them all, means that we have survived another obnoxious, sweltering Summer and are the farthest from it that we'll be all year!  Nine months before we have to suffer the next one!  Huzzah!

This cool, crisp weather, especially when accompanied by the glorious sunshine we've been enjoying, makes me downright giddy.  Makes me want to add apples or pumpkin spice to everything.  Tonight, for dinner, I made a salad that contained apples and pears, with a dressing made with apple cider and apple cider vinegar and poured glasses of apple cider to drink with our pork chops and roasted asparagus and all The Vicar could say was, "Hmmm, it's quite appley."  He doesn't share my appreciation, apparently.


I've been busy as a bee decking the halls with leaves and pumpkins fa la la la la la la la la.  It's always fun decorating a new house for the first time.  And here's what I've come up with (keep in mind I'm making do with what I have--though I did spend about $10 at a dollar store for a few small extras).


I neglected to get a photo of the front and side doors of the house, which have been festooned with corn stalks and mums.  You know, the usual.  But just inside the front door, is this small table (honestly, I just needed a place to stash this table and something to fill this small space--decorating by convenience).  That's an early shot of me and The Vicar back there, many many eons ago.  Like last century.

Dresser in the foyer.  A handy place to stash a bowl to hold our keys and sunglasses.  And an epi-pen, apparently...

I admit, I got this idea from Pinterest.  I've had all this stuff for ages but I never would have thought to put it together this way.  Also, another positively ancient photo of The Vicar and me, taken during a college production of Romeo and Juliet in which he and I were Lord and Lady Montague.  One of my favorite mementos ever.

Ah, the mantel.  The amount of time I've spent arranging and rearranging this slab of wood is probably sinful. And I'm pretty sure I'm not very repentant.  I had a ball doing it.  At one point whilst I was fussing over it, The Vicar wandered in and said, bemusedly, "You've been waiting all your life for a mantel of your own, haven't you."  And he's right: I have.  Additionally: ancient photo hat trick!

Finally, the dining room table and another Pinterest idea.  I found this tray at Goodwill for $2.  I bought two candles at Walmart for a few bucks each.  The rest of the stuff I had in my stash.  In the Summer, the candles were surrounded by river rocks and in the Winter I plan on using pinecones and maybe a few paper snowflakes.


Yes, more field hockey stuff.  It's Fall.  It's field hockey season.  And Redheaded Snippet is happier than she's ever been.  I can't help it.  The above was taken at a team dinner the night before the game against Columbia.

I never would have guessed that my first visit to Harlem would be for something as preppy and suburban as a field hockey game.  But so it was.  As well as being the fastest, smoothest trip in and out of New York I have ever experienced.  Let me tell you, we were pretty happy about that!

In addition to loving the coaching staff and her teammates, our Snippet is also having a pretty wonderful Freshman season.  I'm not supposed to brag too much about it; it gets on her nerves when I do...

...but I'm not the only one who thinks her performance has been noteworthy!  She was named Rookie of the Week of the A-10 conference this week!  As an added bonus, one of her teammates was named Player of the Week.  It's all been very exciting!


Ok, I didn't plan on having mugs as my Funny selection two weeks in a row.  It  just happened.  A friend posted a link for these on Facebook today and they're just about the funniest thing I've seen all week!  And, yes, they're real!  You can actually buy them!  When I showed them to The Vicar he said, "So, should I start buying these for you, piece by piece, and put the Le Creuset collection on hold?"  Because it's like $80 for the set!  They must be purchased in stages for people like us.  $80 for a set of mugs is ridiculous.  But I told him yes anyway.

I think my favorite is, "I am figuratively dying for a cuppa."  Drives me NUTS when people throw the word,"literally," around all willy-nilly and incorrectly.


Finally, this is what your car looks like when it's the first day of Fall and you're out gallivanting with your mom and you find/remember thar produce stand that has the nice, gorgeous mums and big, beautiful, full cornstalks at truly incomparable prices (the cornstalks are tied to the roof).

Happy Fall!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real: Cackalacky Edition

round button chicken
Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life.  Every Thursday at Like Mother, Like Daughter
South Cackalacky, to be precise.

That's right, South Carolina! I was fortunate enough to be able to make a trip down to visit Dharma & Co. last week. For no reason whatsoever other than I wanted to and could. How revolutionary is that? All thanks to my new life with my new schedule.

Let me 'splain.

With The Vicar working mere steps away and available at almost any point in any given day, Calvin back in public school, and Redheaded Snippet (formerly my biggest schedule packer) five hours away and responsible for her own schedule now, I have a lot more time on my hands. Well, not really on my hands, you know. I still have the household to run and there are more things involving church (living here and all) and, really, it seems my schedule before was kind of borderline nuts and now, well, now it is actually nicely balanced between busy and relaxed. I feel like a normal person, able to accomplish what I need to and keep everything running smoothly without too much angst. I figure it will go back to chaos mode once Calvin starts high school in two years but, for now, I'm enjoying the heck out of it.

Beginning with gadding about down to So Car with Daria (who came to visit after Redheaded Snippet left in an effort to keep the house from feeling too empty), staying for a few days, husband- and child-free (it was weird, but nice), with my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces, and taking the train back up to Philly by myself.

It was an adventure. Not really, it was peaceful and relaxing.  And pretty, happy, funny, and real.

And I can prove it.

Just look at sweet Lulubee!  She is the sunniest, sweetest, most sociable baby!  I had a blast holding and playing with her every chance I got!


Silly time with the nieces.  'Nuff said.

And is there really anything quite so happy as having a baby fall snuggly to sleep on you?  Especially if you managed to lull her to sleep just by singing to her?


This is what I discovered when I opened one of Dharma's kitchen cupboards to get a mug for tea.  Vance is a mad-scientist chemist (Doofenschmirtz Evil Incorporated anyone?) and, apparently, they have their own swag mugs.  With elements on them.  Dharma says he has lots of them.  I wonder if he has one for every element?  I dunno, I didn't ask.

Also, in the funny department, though this didn't happen while I was there (I WISH IT HAD), is this silliness...

Apparently, today was International Talk Like a Pirate day and, in celebrations, Krispy Kreme was giving away a free donut to everyone who talked like a pirate and a free dozen to anyone who dressed like one.

So, Dharma did what any mother who has a tight budget and great need for something fun to do with young children (not to mention donuts) would do: dressed everyone up and got in the car!

Argh, thar be treasure, mateys!  That's quite a few donuts!  And I totally love the fact that Dharma took the time to paint a mustache on Fidget and a big, nasty scar on Rosebud!  Hilarious!


And, finally, guess who is having the time of her life going to college and playing field hockey?  And guess who scored the first goal in the first game of the season?  And guess who has played every game and started in all of them but the first?  And who leads the team in goals scored?  And who is, more importantly, taking every opportunity to share the love of Jesus with everyone she meets and being a light to those around her? Why, that Redheaded Snippet over in the far left of that photo.  She is so incredibly happy (almost put her in the Happy section) and we are so relieved and proud of her that we almost have to pinch ourselves to make sure this is real.  But real it is, and for that we are incredibly thankful!

Where have you been able to find contentment lurking this week?  Sniff it out and show it to us!

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Wits' End Cookery: English Cottage Pie

Mmmmmm, cottage pie, another English dish that is now one of our family favorites. When I asked Redheaded Snippet what she wanted me to make for dinner before she left for college, this was the first thing she mentioned.

I make this often in the autumn and winter; rarely in the spring or summer. It's one of those hearty, cozy, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meals. Pub grub. What I call Peasant Food.

And I almost always make it as a planned leftover. Whenever beef roasts are on sale, I buy one big enough for two meals (4-5 lbs). I braise it one night with carrots and potatoes (sometimes with glazed carrots and mashed potatoes but sometimes just thrown into the pot with the roast at the end) for a typical roast beef dinner. Then, later in the week, I use the leftover beef, carrots, and potatoes (if there are any) to make the cottage pie. It's delicious and always makes me feel like a rock star.

Incidentally, cottage pie is what most of us think of as shepherd's pie. But, strictly speaking, shepherd's pie is made with lamb while cottage pie is made with beef.

Also, incidentally, I have now made this without it being a leftover and it really is just as good, if a little more time-consuming.

English Cottage Pie
*note* all measurements are approximate

2-2/12 lbs leftover roast beef
2 T butter or extra virgin olive oil
1 cup beef broth
1 cup red wine
carrots (I often keep frozen bags of peas and carrots--either mixed or separately--on hand but fresh is great)
leftover potatoes, mashed or otherwise

I don't measure anymore so bear with me.

1. Dice the leftover beef, removing any fat.  Heat butter or oil in deep skillet and toss in beef to warm it up.  Add beef broth and/or wine.  I've used cider, hard cider, cranberry vodka, and cranberry pomegranate juice when I've been out of wine.  All are good.  You just need some sweetness and acid in there for flavor and tenderness.  Make sure there's just enough liquid to cover the meat about half way.  Add, oh, about 1 teaspoon each rosemary and thyme, but feel free to add more if you like.  IMHO, it's the rosemary that gives this dish its signature flavor, but that might just be me.

2. Cook over medium-high heat until broth is bubbly and begins to thicken.  If it's not thickening fast enough, make a slurry with cornstarch and warm water (just enough water to make a thin, liquidy paste) and add it to the broth.

3.  When the broth has cooked down and the beef mixture looks about how you remember cottage or shepherd's pie looking, add the peas and carrots.  Frozen veg are fine.  Whenever I have carrots leftover from the roast beef dinner, I add them: they're fabulous.  There have been times I spaced out and haven't had carrots and I've added frozen or canned corn instead.  Also good.

4.  Let the mixture kind of get comfy.  At this point, if you have any leftover gravy from roast beef night, ADD IT.  This will add tons of flavor to the dish!  If not, carry on...Spoon the mixture into whatever size baking pan you can fill.  When it's just us, I usually use a 9-inch square pan or my small oval casserole dish. If I happen to have a lot of leftover beef, I'll use a 9 x 13 pan.

5. If your potatoes are not already mashed, heat them up and mash them.  Plop them on top of the beef mixture and spread them around to the very edges of the pan.  You can sprinkle cheddar cheese on top of the potatoes but that is a most house-dividing issue over here.  I'll leave that to you...

6. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until beef is bubbly.

Best served with beer, ale, or hard cider.  Also good with a ginger beer or shandy.

Wits' End Cookery: Cream Scones

This is, by far, the food item I am most famous for, the dish for which I am most often asked. It was the first thing I was ever able to make without a recipe.

Cream scones are super easy, quick, are tween-boy-approved (I once had a quartet of them clean out a batch in less than eight minutes), and will make converts of anyone who says they don't like scones.

A word about that: most people who think they don't like scones have never actually had them.  No, wait, I think I must be more specific: most AMERICANS who think they don't like scones have never actually had them (If you're a Brit or have had scones in the UK and still don't like them, well, there's nothing I can do with you.  You win).  What usually is called a scone here in the US is a hard, dried up, hockey puck that looks like a sad version of an overcooked biscuit.  With raisins.  Over here, scones almost always have raisins.  It might be a law.  And, oh, I hate raisins.  Grapes shriveled up in shame, that's what they are.

These scones are what scones are supposed to be: moist, light, just sweet enough, and perfect for being spread with all manner of jams, preserves, clotted cream, Nutella (oh yeah), and so on...

The secret? There's NO BUTTER in this recipe. That's right: no messing with softening, melting, or creaming butter at all. Personally, I hate dealing with butter in baking. I love eating it (let's be real), but if I have to soften or melt or chill or cream butter, I am more likely to leave a recipe alone. As the name says, these scones are made with CREAM. Many recipes calling themselves cream scones still have butter, which I think is delusional and perhaps a bit deceptive, but these babies are butter free. And, yet, they're still good, heavenly even!

Oh yeah, and this recipe is not mine. It's my sister, Lobelia's. I'm not sure where she got it. Knowing her, she could have developed it herself, bakeress extraordinaire that she is. But let's get on with it...

L's Cream Scones
2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream plus extra for brushing (whatever you do, DON'T think you can simply use the same amount of milk, or even half-n-half.  Just...don't.  It won't work.  For once, you NEED the fat!)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  Trust me.  You'll regret it if you don't.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt until combined.  I use a fork to stir it all up.  It just needs to be mixed all up.

3. Add cream.  Make a well or don't make a well, whatever floats your boat.  It doesn't much matter.  Just mix it in well.  Use a spoon, fork, or rubber scraper just until it has come together enough to finish with your hands.

4. Finish mixing by kneading gently with your hands.  DON'T OVER MIX OR OVER KNEAD.  Be as gentle as possible and mix/knead as little as possible.  I always find the dough to be a little dry.  I'm always having to work those last few bits of flour in and I'm always worried that the scones will be too dry.  But they never are.

5. Shape the dough into either one large ball or two smaller ones.  Turn out onto a floured surface and pat into a circle, about an inch high.  I don't ever measure it.  Just press it out, it can be a little uneven.  If you're doing two balls, just do them one at a time.

6. Cut the circle of dough into eight even wedges.  Move the wedges onto the parchment-covered baking sheet and brush the tops with heavy cream.  You can use an egg wash but I never have so you're on your own there.

7. This is where you can do what you want.  Sometimes I dust confectioner's sugar on top (this happens to be Calvin's favorite).  Sometimes I sprinkle plain old table sugar.  Sometimes I make a glaze (but I'd have to look up that recipe...).  Most of the time I sprinkle them with cinnamon and then sugar.

8. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until starting to brown on top.  They'll be puffed up and sometimes they get a little misshaped.  But that's just part of the fun.

9.  Remove immediately from the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  They're best eaten warm but will last several days if stored in an air-tight container.  Or so I've heard.  Scones never last more than 24 hours in this house.  I have to hide them from the hyenas if I'm making them for church or company. They're just that good!