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Archive for July, 2010

I told you in my previous post that we almost never do “supper in a bag,” as my mother-in-law calls it.  Today, though, we did picnic lunch in a bag.  We went to KFC.  Yep, you read that right.  Neither my husband nor I had had KFC in years (I think it was still Kentucky FRIED Chicken then), but my mother-in-law wanted it, so we got it for a picnic at a park about an hour from here.  The chicken was okay–not great, with those fishy undertones I’ve come to associate with mass-produced chicken–and the cole slaw was a bit sweeter than I like but still fine.  The biscuit was sort of tasteless and a bit gummy, with a flavor like wallpaper paste (which isn’t surprising, considering that wallpaper paste is also made from white flour).  What blew me away was the “butter” and “honey,” to which my husband said, “yes, thanks” when the clerk offered it.

The clerk put a pile of “butter” and “honey” in our bag.  Too bad all of them ended up in the trash.  The “honey” was labeled “honey sauce” and actually had never seen a bee but instead was made of high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and caramel coloring.  That was it.  The “butter” had never seen a cow either; it was labeled “buttery spread,” and, despite KFC’s bold statement on its web site that it uses no transfats, two out of four of the first ingredients (which I had to really hunt for and found on another blogger’s site) are transfats.  The other two of those first four ingredients are water and salt.  Everything else is a chemical except for beta carotene and Vitamin B.  And finding ingredients on KFC’s web site for everything else was impossible, because the “ingredient statement” had no link and just the cryptic note in parentheses “currently being updated, check back soon.”  I wish I’d packed a homemade picnic instead.  I will next time.

An old Yiddish expression is, “Don’t pee on my back and call it rain.”  I’m sorry to be crass in quoting it, but it seems so apt in this case.  Don’t give me high fructose corn syrup and call it honey, KFC.  Don’t give me hydrogenated, chemically treated oils and call them butter.

Are you and your family watching ingredient lists more carefully?  What processed foods have surprised you recently with their ingredients?  (I wrote about a few of the ones that surprised me in “Overeating Processed Foods?  Look for These Key Ingredients.”)

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  All rights reserved.

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My 83-year-old mother-in-law is visiting this week, and it’s been a real lesson in how folks used to do things versus how they do today.  She has talked a lot about what it was like growing up in rural Arkansas as tenant farmers in the 20s, 30s, and early 1940s.  Some of her brothers and sisters weren’t able to finish high school or even 8th grade because her father needed them in the fields.  They ate a lot of beans and cornbread.  And she didn’t know you could buy a loaf of bread already made until she was in her late teens.

Several times since she got here, she’s commented, “If you keep feeding me like this, I may never leave.”  You see, after being raised on home-cooked meals, which we have most nights, she got out of that habit after my husband’s father died several years ago.  And even more recently, splitting time between my two sisters-in-law’s homes, she has become accustomed to “supper from a bag.”  When I asked her what she meant, she replied, “Oh, you know, McDonald’s or something.  I’m going to have to re-learn how to eat out of a bag when I go back there.”

I reminded her that we live a dozen miles or more from the nearest fast food, and that by the time I go pick something up, it’s not fast anymore.  Our local groceries don’t carry those pre-roasted little chickens nor the pick-up-and-bake pizzas.  We can’t get anything delivered here–except Lou Malnati’s (and, no, they aren’t paying me; we just splurge on their pizza packages  about once a year when they go on sale.) Our really good meals are also a lot cheaper than take-out.  Tonight, for example, we had wild salmon simply grilled with a butter-dill sauce, corn on the cob, and an old-fashioned squash casserole (for my mother-in-law), all for much less than a bag of burgers would have cost.  It also took me about the time to make everything from scratch that it would have to get the infamous, unhealthy bag.  And I got to stay here and chat with my mother-in-law and husband and drink a little wine while I cooked.

Planning ahead for cooking at home takes a little time when you first start doing it, but the longer you do it, the easier it gets. I try to think of creative meals while I’m walking, showering, whatever.  I bought a little blackboard at a craft store and put magnetic strips on the back, so I can keep it on my fridge.  I take it down and write out menus based on what we have in the garden and the freezer and fridge.  It makes it easy for my husband at a glance to see what I’ve got planned for my cooking nights, and I don’t lose track of good ideas or food that we need to eat.

If you eat out of the bag more often than not, why?  Have you considered making more home-cooked meals?  (I’ll bet if you’re reading this blog, you have!)

If you cook most of your meals at home, what inspires you?  How do you manage it?  Do you have a simple planning system?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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This is the third in a series of what will be more than a dozen posts on rafting the Grand Canyon:  19 days, 280 miles of adventure.

When you go rafting in the Grand Canyon, you have lots of options for getting through it, most of them involving outfitters and even motors.  That’s not the kind of trip we did.  We did everything, from getting ourselves down through the rapids by our own muscle power and know-how to mundane activities like preparing food and handling human waste.  Of course, the commercial trips have their advantages. Trippers have few worries except avoiding sunburn, but they also lose a lot.  Their lives are not in their hands and friends’ hands.  They do not choose with whom they travel.  And they pay some outfitters $5000 for a 16-day adventure.  We, on the other hand, laid out a few hundred dollars in vehicle shuttle fees and the permit fee plus food–little more, actually, than three weeks at home would have cost us.  And it’s the people that really make private-permit trips work, so today I’ll talk about our cast of characters, who came from the East Coast to the West Coast and some places in between.

Introducing the Boaters

Permits for private trips on the Grand Canyon are notoriously difficult to get.  Our permit holders, RS and LS, each had tried their hand in the permit game for 15 years before the system changed a few years ago, allowing for a weighted lottery.  They pooled their permit attempts to get credit for a 30-year wait in the weighted lottery and got the permit.  RS, by the way, used to work for one of those giant international delivery companies.  In his late 50s, he’s now retired and was the oldest person on the trip.  LS, his wife, is in her 40s and is a teacher.  Each had done a few Canyon trips in the past, but I think they were on commercial trips.  They have an adopted daughter, AS, who is 14 and was the youngest member of our expedition.  The S family were in a cataraft for the trip.  As permit holders, they got all of us on the trip, but (as I’ll discuss in a later post), every permit holder needs to know that once the trip starts, he or she shifts into an unenviable position.

LS especially wanted AS to have company on this trip, so she tried to find parents with kids who’d like go, using a whitewater boater forum to find them.  LS’s search yielded SC, a 50-something, home-schooling mother of 8, and her 17-year-old daughter, ZC.  SC has past canyon experience and thus brought knowledge of camp sites and hikes.  Mother and daughter paddled a Shredder, a mini half-raft/half-cataraft and thus carried none of their own gear.  In the most maneuverable boat, they were, loosely speaking, our safety boaters.

LS’s call for parent-daughter teams also yielded SJ, an environmental engineer, and his 17-year-old daughter AJ.  SJ is in his 50s and AJ is one of three daughters.  If the other two are anything as wonderful as AJ, they must be astounding.  AJ rowed some of the most difficult rapids herself, yet she was also kind, hard-working, and generally humble.  Because SJ had Canyon experience, the J family’s raft was our sweep boat–that is, the boat that went last, watching for stragglers and problems.

RS years ago paddled with a group of men who went by a nickname I won’t repeat here, not because it’s lewd (although it is a little suggestive) but because it would identify RS so quickly.  Among his old group was fellow Arkansan DB, a sewage treatment expert, who brought with him his wife KB, a union rep, and their daughter VB.  DB and KB were two of the hardest workers on the trip.  They pitched in for every meal clean-up and just about everything else.  We know DB and KB from rivers in Arkansas but really got to know them on this trip and feel truly honored to call them friends now.  VB was in a tough spot.  She’s a college girl in her early 20s and has been on her own long enough that she’s pretty independent, but on this trip VB was grouped with “the girls,” who were all teens.  The B family traveled in a cataraft.

My husband–let’s just call him DH, in line with some message board abbreviations for for “dear husband”–was also an old member of RS’s whitewater group.  That’s how we got on the trip.  We were in cataraft we borrowed from a friend with whom we own a smaller raft.  (When we heard about our invitation on the trip, I said to my husband in classic Jaws style, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”)  Oh–occupations?  As I say in my “about” post, we’re both educators, and my husband was the second oldest person on the trip.  I swear he robbed the cradle.

DH recommended that RS call GH and his wife BH, both in their 50s and recent retirees, him as a firefighter and her from retail management.  GH had the most trips on the Canyon and brought with him the core of the “kitchen” and toilet system.  BH was always there to make sure the kitchen was in good shape and gear put away and has a sweet disposition and modesty.  GH and BH were in the largest raft, and it is safe to say that GH was the biggest storyteller on the trip.  He had lots of them.  As the boater with the most Canyon experience, GH rowed in probe position–that is, first.  GH is also a swift-water rescue instructor and paramedic, which meant he’d be good for handling things like medical emergencies and flipped rafts . . . .

Finally, RS also called on two single male boaters he’d met on a previous trip.  These guys, in their late and early 30s, each rowed gear haulers (with extra bags from RS’s family, the shredder’s gear, and the groover).  JS was in a raft, while JD was in a cataraft.  They too were easy to get along with, just generally nice guys and excellent boaters.  They both work in construction.

A Preview of Group Dynamics

The saying with company  goes that “even the best fish starts to stink after a few days.” Had this trip ended like most western trips do at eight days, I would have said it was the best group with which I’ve ever traveled.  Even at thirteen days I probably would have said that.  Sure, everyone has eccentricities, but I can live with most of them.  By nineteen days, well, let’s just say that a few people were getting on each other’s nerves.  Still, that’s normal, right?  And this group had by far the largest percentage of women and girls I’ve ever been on a whitewater river trip with; usually it’s many more men than women.  I liked it this way!

Meeting in Flagstaff

Anyway, on the afternoon we arrived in Flagstaff two days before launch, we met all of the folks we would be traveling with except for GH, BH, SJ and AJ, who were coming from north of the Canyon and would meet us at the launch site the nextday.  Those of us in Flagstaff introduced ourselves to those we did not know, compared last-minute shopping tasks, and enjoyed the hotel’s happy hour.  (Mmmmmm.  Free, good adult beverages.  Mmmmmm.) We also received our trip mascots, blow-up dinosaurs of various kinds.  Yes, a lot of trips like this have mascots. (Look back at my previous post about getting to the Canyon.  Can you tell from the animals stenciled on the rocket boxes in our trailer what our mascot was for our Middle Fork trip in 2004?  Feel free to answer in the comments section here!  The first person to figure it out gets two automatic entries in my first give-away, which will be coming up this fall and will most likely be cast iron cookware.)

Then we went off to finish shopping, and my husband and I finally landed at a Flagstaff microbrewery, where we had a wonderful dish of mussels in a spicy coconut sauce–I just knew the foodie regulars would want to know! Back in the hotel, I started tossing things out of my gear bag left and right.  How many shirts?  Did I really want to bring those shorts?  The hiking boots came out and went in repeatedly.  Oh, well, I could wait another day finally to decide.  It was off to bed for us, for the next day would be one of the hardest working days of the trip:  rigging.  I’ll talk about rigging, orientation, and finally getting on the river in my next post.

A View from the Rim

Meanwhile, look closely at this view of the river from the South Rim.  Do you see that green river?  That’s where we’re going.  We even stayed at a campsite that’s in the far right of this picture, on river right (figured by looking downstream).  Now look more closely.  That’s a pretty easy rapid, but even from a few miles away it looks pretty big.  I didn’t see the river like this until we were already done with our trip.  Had I seen the bigger rapids from the rim first, I might have chickened out!

Now look again, a little closer.  Can you see three little yellow spots just downstream (left as you view the photo) from the rapid?  Do you know what those three spots are?

Look a little more closely.

Have you figured it out?  Those spots are rafts–actually four of them.  One upstream, two clustered, and one downstream.  Go back two photographs and find those spots.  It’s a big river, and the rim is a long, long way up.  Come rig and launch with us in my next post, and a few days later we’ll be camping within site of the rim here!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  All rights reserved, including for photographs.  Short excerpts with FULL url and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.

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If you’re trying to live frugally, try buying a whole chicken.  A whole chicken has not only meat but the makings of wonderful stock, and the sum of its parts and the stock are worth much, much more than you’ll pay for the whole bird.  This is one of the ways that we afford to buy local, organic chickens.

Making Your Own Chicken Stock

To make your own stock, you can roast the chicken whole or do as I did recently and cut it into pieces and parts for different meals.  Then boil the carcass with aromatics like onions, garlic, celery, and herbs for an incredible stock to form the basis of soup and gravy–all for much, much less than stock-in-a-box and much tastier!  The meat left on the carcass after you break down the chicken into breast, wings, and leg quarters will make superb soup meat.  Take a few minutes really to pick the bones clean after you boil the carcass.  Your pets will also love getting a piece of gristle to gnaw on!  Just be sure not to give them poultry bones, which can splinter and choke them.

On a recent night we had stacked bean enchiladas on corn tortillas, but the star of the dinner was chicken tortilla soup, in essence a soup made of chicken leftovers and a handful of other ingredients.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • half a chopped onion
  • 1/2 – 1 sweet pepper, chopped
  • optional:  chile peppers, seeded and chopped (we used 5 jalapeno peppers, but then again we like heat)
  • oregano, dried or fresh finely chopped
  • chicken picked from a boiled or roasted carcass (or 1/2-3/4 cup shredded chicken from another source)
  • about a quart of chicken stock
  • cup of fresh chopped tomatoes OR can of diced tomatoes, drained  (I used canned and drank the juice.)
  • handful of corn (frozen if you don’t have fresh)
  • crushed tortilla chips (as in the bits left in the bottom of the bag)

Saute the onion.  Add the peppers and let cook a few minutes.  Add the oregano, chicken, and chicken stock.  Simmer to let flavors combine.  Add the chopped tomato or drained tomato and corn.  Stir to combine.  Heat through and serve with garnishes.

Garnish:

  • tortillas, slivered and toasted (spray with a little oil before toasting), or tortilla chips, crushed
  • grated cheese
  • cilantro
  • sour cream or plain yogurt.

Enjoy!

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Did your neighbor just surreptitiously drop a bag of zucchini on your doorstep and run?  Did you just uncover a zucchini club in your own garden that somehow escaped your notice for the past few days while it was growing into a gargantuan green nightmare?  Did your otherwise lovable CSA bury you in summer squash?  I have solutions, and they do not involve zucchini bread (which is good, but you can only eat so much).  Instead of lasagna noodles, how about using thinly sliced giant zucchini?  Instead of eggplant parmesan, how about using that same overgrown zucchini?  Are you trying to go low-carb?  Use larger (but not giant) zucchini to make ribbon strips of fettuccine!

To make zucchini lasagna, slice the zucchini fairly thinly across the club and fry in a shallow pan in just a little oil (as in a few squirts of spray oil), turning once as the zucchini browns.  Then layer marinara sauce (with or without meat) with the zucchini slices–evenly spaced across your baking pan and overlapped if necessary to get full coverage–and mozzarella and a thin grating of real parmesan cheese.  I’ll bet even the dedicated squash haters in your family will love it.  As one friend said to me years ago of a squash dish with cheese, “Well, of course I liked this squash.  You covered it in cheese!”

For zucchini parmesan, use thicker slices, and dredge the slices in egg and bread crumbs before frying if you want.  Layer as indicated for zucchini lasagna.  Add seasoned bread crumbs to the top if you did not bread the slices before frying.  It’s so easy!  Serve with a big salad and crusty bread.

For zucchini fettuccine, cut ribbons of zucchini using a vegetable peeler.  You can blanche the ribbons in salted boiling water for a minute or two before using or just toss with hot marinara or alfredo sauce.

Do not fear the giant zucchini!  It’s an opportunity.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader. All rights reserved.

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When we moved to this place almost five years ago, the whizened but still productive apple trees in the back yard really appealed to us.  It took another year for us to discover the old grapevine, long since whacked back by lawnmowers that had no idea what they were hitting.  Then my husband coaxed it to produce grapes, but we discovered that timing was crucial; frost killed them one year, inopportune rain another, but mostly we had to beat the raccoons to the bounty.  This year, everything came together perfectly.  We had decent rain this spring.  We had a dry summer as the grapes were ripening.  We beat the raccoons.

Late last week, I tasted a few grapes.  Mmmm.  The ones with the golden glow were ripe.

Then I started looking for jelly and jam recipes and learned that the best grape jam or jelly is made from a blend of ripeness of grapes.  We picked the rest–about seven pounds total.

Then I had to pick my recipe.  I decided on a recipe for grape jam from an 1899 cookbook that belonged to my great-grandmother, plus pectin to make sure the jam jelled.  It was simple.  I could use some of the fruit but avoid having to deal with the thick skins.  I could feel the familial and historical ties.

I picked the grapes off the vines and then triple washed them to make sure they were really clean.  I then mashed them with a potato masher, cooked them with a little water for about ten minutes, and re-mashed.  Then I used a food mill to separate the skins and seeds from the flesh, yielding more than 10 cups of juice with pulp from about 7 pounds of grapes on the vine.

Next I added about one and a half cups of sugar.  Honestly, I didn’t want to add any, but I only had regular pectin on hand and thus added the sugar.  After tasting that low-sugar addition, I opted for a low-sugar pectin after all.  I added the pectin as recommended and processed the jars for 10 minutes.  I got 9 half-pints and one stubby jar plus a little extra that I refrigerated.  If you notice that we’re missing almost a cup from the juice measurement, you’re right.  We had to drink some!  Next year I’ll can more to drink.

Tackling a new canning project is easy, once you know the basics.  It’s an easy step from basic pickles to jams and jellies and canning high-acid vegetables like tomatoes.  In a few weeks, I’ll be posting a recipe and procedure for making marinara (spaghetti sauce) using a pressure canner, which is a wonder that will let you can low-acid products safely.

Now, for all of you horticulturists and viticulturists out there, can you tell me what kind of grapes we have?  They are a seeded, thick-skinned variety, which makes me think I should have made wine instead of jam.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.  All rights reserved.


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We’ve been fortunate to find a couple of local shiitake mushroom sources, and I find that I want to use them as often as I can.  A few days ago I made a small frittata with fresh fruit for breakfast, although with  salad, this frittata could make a tasty Meatless Monday dinner.  (Frittatas are traditionally supper food.)

Frittatas are egg and vegetable (and occasionally meat) casseroles that you start on the stove top and finish in the oven, making them ideal for cast iron.  For this frittata, I began by sauteing several washed and sliced shiitake mushrooms (stems removed).  Then I added two sliced tomatoes, three chicken eggs beaten with a little water (just a splash!),  and finally grated smoked gouda (less than an ounce) on top.   Finish the frittata in a warm oven (375 degrees F) for about 15 to 20 minutes.Cut into wedge slices as is, or flip the frittata and slice it that way.  Do you want a little more flavor?  Try adding snipped chives.

Frittatas are only limited by your produce and your imagination.  Do you have yellow squash or zucchini?  Saute it and then add your egg.  How about sun-dried tomatoes in the winter?  Try them.  The texture of sun-dried tomatoes with a smoked cheese is reminiscent of bacon.  Just remember to start with the items that need to be sauteed and save your eggs and, if you use it, cheese for last.  For dinner, try a leafy green salad as a side instead of the summer fruit.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.  All rights reserved.

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