Saturday, 23 June 2012

Summer Randoms

A few things are scooting through my mind as summer begins.  Nothing of very great importance, however, things are on my heart.

If you remember last summer, my yard and I were having a bit of a summer tiff.  This summer, we're friends.  Enough said.  I'm so very happy to be home and enjoying the yard.  My flowers are getting pretty, my garden has been weeded, we have two (2!!!) hose boxes (finally after 14 years of wandering, snaky hoses), a new shed has been assembled, and the garden swing is ready to be re-painted.  I just have a couple of beds that I'm trying to rid of crab grass and, so far, I'm losing.  Here are my four approaches:
  1. Dig them out by hand - FAIL
  2. Use Round-Up - SUCCESS, but I'm always a little leery of such a nasty product.  However, it works.  But, I'm cheap, so.....
  3. Straight vinegar, as per Pinterest suggestion.  Very small success, not even worth mentioning.
  4. Iron tablets dissolved in water. NO SUCCESS WHATSOEVER.  At least, not yet.
I guess it's back to the Round-Up.  I want to bring in a load of gravel for ground cover on the large bed and I have portulaca patiently waiting to be transplanted in the small bed.  I need to get that small bed in shape SOON or those portulaca are going to expire.

Both boys have achieved their fair share of accomplishments at school this year.  The bottom line is that they are well rounded boys who achieve some accomplishments that others do not.  Ben's marks all year have been outstanding.  They have both done well in some sporting events.  At the end of the school year, Ben won the Grade 5 band award and Andrew won the Artistic Award for excelling in the arts of drama, art and music.  Andrew has had to really dig in this year to achieve any sort of academic success.  He has, unfortunately, brought a lot of stress home, with undone work, unrecorded "assignments due", etc., etc., with the odd email/phone call from the teacher.  He's smart, no doubt about it.  But I had an "AHA" moment when he won that artistic award.  This kid may never love the academics - he's an artsy guy.  I remember his Grade 2 teacher telling us that he'd hit his stride in Grade 7 or 8; a casual prediction on her part.  I always hoped that she meant his academic, organized brain would arrive then.  Maybe it will.  But this year has been a strong, strong year for Andrew's artistic talents to erupt.  So, at the end of the school year, I, all of a sudden, look at him and understand him a little better.  Andrew, the artist.

Okay.  I can work with that.  It helps me define his learning style and interests a lot more and that will be helpful.  Dean and I are both artistic in our own way but I wouldn't have thought of us as artsy people.  Are we?

Funny how school can be joy for Ben and torture for Andrew.  Random thought.

The end of the school year makes me melancholy.  I know.  I'm a sentimental sap.  I can't help it.  Two random thoughts in this paragraph.

Our youth group joined the Shellbrook youth group last night for a big end-of-the-year Amazing Race challenge that Shellbrook hosted.  Wow!  Creative level = excellence.  It was so cool.  A couple of things struck me - we arrived at the church to find at least a dozen bikes outside the church.  Not locked up.  And they stayed there all night and nobody worried.  The 14 teams had 20 some challenges to complete all around the town and the last team of 4 young girls arrived back at the church AFTER ELEVEN and nobody worried.  Small town life.  I know it's not all innocent but there was a casual, relaxed atmosphere.  Makes me want to move.  ;)

One of their challenges was to mix a batch of bannock and cook it on a stick over an open fire.  I woke up this morning craving this for breakfast.  I settled for toast.

I want to bump up our trailer from tent trailer to hybrid.  Hubby's not budging.  Harumph.

In the summer, I have an insatiable appetite for ice cream and ice cream treats.  Thus, the missing budget for a hybrid trailer.  ;)

This week I concluded that I'm a better winter cook than summer cook.  Winter can be full of all kinds of slow cooker meals, soups, stews, oven dishes, use-all-four-burners-on-the-stove meals.  Summer is warm.  My barbecue is located in the hot afternoon sunshine.  How much can you barbecue?  Help me out - besides burgers and steaks, what are you barbecuing?  Perhaps we need to move the barbecue...simple solution.

I spend all winter dreaming of things to cook while we're camping.  I want good taste with low fuss and I have a mild aversion to the overuse of hot dogs.  I found an idea on Pinterest and tried it out yesterday.  When it came time to eat, no one was hungry, we were in a hurry and it was hot.  Hard to judge the success of a recipe on that then, isn't it?!! 

"It Doesn't Have A Name" Supper Idea For Camping  (how do you like my title?)

In a large slow cooker, lay one layer of pork chops.  Cover with mushroom soup and sprinkle with onion soup mix.  Wrap 4-6 baking potatoes (keep them small) in foil and lay on top of the pork chops.  Cut 2-3 cobs of corn in half, and wrap in foil.  Lay them on top of the foiled potatoes.  Set slow cooker on "low" and walk away.

Results:  I let mine cook for 8-9 hours on "low" and we felt that everything was overdone.  However, my pork chops were very small. 

Next time: I would cook it for 6 hours on "low".  I think the results would be better.  The potatoes were very moist, not dry like an oven-baked potato.  The corn was great.

Possible Variation:  I think I would also try a small roast, and perhaps add the potatoes and corn halfway through the cooking time.

Conclusion:  For camping, a meal couldn't be easier than this meal.  Small tweaks will make it a "make again" for this family!  The slow cooker that I used this time is a large, oval one, 6-7 quart size.

Those are all of the printable thoughts I have for this time!  See you around!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Ben's Brownies

"Oh, I wish I could just stay home from school today and eat brownies."  Ben Dynna, May 2012.

Sometimes the simplest wishes are simply the best.  In hindsight, maybe I should have granted it?

.....11 days of school left.....we are all ridiculously happy about that.... ;)

Buttermilk Brownies

1 cup margarine
1/3 cup cocoa
1 cup water

2 cups flour
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla

Boil together the first 3 ingredients.  Meanwhile, mix dry ingredients in mixer. Combine eggs, buttermilk and vanilla; add to dry ingredients.  Slowly add the hot cocoa mixture and blend together.  Bake in a large greased cookie sheet for 20 to 25 minutes at 375 F.

1/4 cup margarine
3 Tbsp cocoa
3 Tbsp buttermilk
2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla

After the brownies have cooled, boil together margarine, cocoa and buttermilk.  Remove from heat and add icing sugar and vanilla.  Spread over cooled brownies.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

My Hardest Summer Job....EVER!

What was your hardest summer job? 

That's an easy question for me!

Sort of.

..."Sort of" because I did lots of hard work every summer, but I only got paid serious money for a couple of things from an outside source (outside of my dad).

One summer job (not my hardest) was one that my sister and I did together.  There is an official name for it, which I forget, but basically we had a neighbor that was growing alfalfa for SEED, not feed, so instead of baling it up like the rest of us did, he harvested it to gain it as a seed crop.  Compared to oats/barley/wheat, alfalfa seed is tiny and, when harvested through the combine, the combine decides to keep lots of small stuff that it thinks is seed but is actually junk.  Our job was to shake this junk which included valuable seed through a variety of sizes of strainers until the only thing that remained at the bottom of the pile was pure alfalfa seed.  The sifters were sort of the size of, um, extra large communion trays, and were stacked 4 or 5 high.  We had to shake the whole stack side to side and the good stuff fell to the bottom tray.  We kept that and discarded the rest.  We went through sacks of this stuff and stood in the garage day after day, shaking.  No wonder we were skinny!  Our employer - "Joe".

The job that I would consider to be my "hardest job ever" was also for "Joe".  Joe was a distant relative of ours, and a bachelor.  A Ukrainian bachelor.  He dropped in for meals often.  ;)  No kids, no sons to do these crazy jobs for him.  He had some crazy ideas sometimes and he was on this "alfalfa seed" kick for a few years so, on another summer, he employed my friend and I to clean up his alfalfa field.  I'm bad at estimating acres, but I'm going to say that he had a field that was 30-40 acres big and his goal was to grow pure alfalfa for this seed project.  However, in a landscape where clover and alfalfa easily grow together, there was clover in this field which would, potentially, ruin his alfalfa seed project.  So, can you imagine we actually did this, my friend and I walked up and down this field for DAYS and plucked out every single clover plant by hand.  We had little shovels or some sort of hand tool and we would walk up and down this field all day long, south to north, north to south, looking at every single grass plant that was growing.  If it was alfalfa, it stayed; if it was clover, we pulled it out.  The alfalfa would have been mostly grown by then so was probably mid-thigh height.  It was in the heat of July, and we did this all day long, sometimes going to my house for lunch, sometimes just eating our lunch at the side of the field.  I remember the heat and the helplessness of looking across the field, hoping to see purple flowers (alfalfa), cringing if we saw yellow flowers (clover) and the monotony of this routine that went on for days.  It was so hot.  It was dirty work.  There were bugs.  I think we each got paid $100.00, which seemed like a lot of money.  We earned it, though!!!

Those jobs with paychecks attached were few and far between.  As a farm kid, you just worked.  We grew up close to a beautiful lake but we seldom went there in the summer as there was too much work to do on the farm.  In addition to the large gardens that Mom had, we helped pick rocks and roots off the fields and we helped with haying.  This was in the days of square bales and stooking.  Poor dad only had daughters and there was never any gender inequality on our farm.  We did the work of farmers; being a girl was no excuse to not work.  Hay baling, however, was more than I was capable of.  My dad drove the equipment, which failed more than it worked, and mom and I (or mom and my sister) rode on the stooker behind the baler and, together, lifted those heavy hay bales onto the stooker to make a perfect pyramid.  It was dry and hot and incredibly itchy work.  You had to wear long pants and long sleeves to protect yourself against the dry, scratchy hay and, really, you hoped for hot dry weather to get the hay done in, but, goodness, that was unpleasant.  The wind blew the hay dust into your face and covered your whole body with dust that itched and scratched under your long sleeves and long pants while the sun beat down on your head.  Sigh.  Can hardly believe we worked that hard, but we did.

However, in my current work world of multi-tasking and balancing acts, head games and thought process continuity requirements, I find comfort and peace in a day of hard physical labor work.  When I can set aside the nurse in me, and get outside and work with my hands, there is some inner "me" that gets nourished.  And I like that.

I'd love to hear what some of your summer jobs were!  Care to share?

I'd like to record another rhubarb recipe here.  I went searching for rhubarb cake recipes this morning.  I found one, but it made a 9 x 13 pan and we will be here and there for the next little bit and I thought the cake would be wasted.  I resorted to hunting for another spring favorite recipe for a rhubarb loaf that makes 2 loaves (so we could eat one and freeze one).  And how's this?  When I compared the 2 recipes, the recipes are virtually identical!  So, here's a recipe that can be in cake form (9 x 13" pan), loaf form (2 loaf pans) or muffin form (18 or so muffins).  Cake form would be more in the line of a coffee cake.

Rhubarb Cake-ffin-loaf!

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk (or sour some milk with vinegar)
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups chopped rhubarb

Topping (rub ingredients together for a crumb topping):
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Grease selected pans well.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt.  Add rhubarb and toss lightly.
In a separate bowl, blend sugar with oil; whisk in egg, buttermilk and vanilla.
Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients, just until flour is incorporated.  Spoon into selected baking pan and top with crumb topping.

Bake muffins for 20-25 minutes.
Bake loaves and/or cake for 40-45 minutes.

Tell me some stories!!!