Sunday, June 7, 2015

Food Network Inspirations and Sloppy Joes

I've become a bit of a Food Network junkie.  It's always on.  Even when I'm not paying attention.
Good Eats.
The Barefoot Contessa.
The Pioneer Woman.
American Diner Revival.
Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives.
Mystery Diners.
Anything with Rachel Ray...


It's been really rainy and quite cold here lately, very un-summer-y.  Which just kind of perpetuates my crockpot cooking.  Don't get me wrong - I am obsessed with the crockpot!  I love making one meal that costs less than ten bucks and eating for nearly a week.  But it really does get old.  I want to cook.  To make something on the stove.  Something from beginning to dish-washing in one kitchen trip.

And then suddenly, the sun came out.  The rain stopped.  And it got H-O-T hot here!  Finally!  The warmth. The sunlight. Oh, I've missed this.  I got outside and laid by the pool for some color yesterday, and the band played right on the lake last night.  There's no denying it!  Summer has officially taken stage!

A couple days ago, Ree Drummond, affectionately known as The Pioneer Woman, featured a show about cooking outdoor foods indoors.  It really felt like summer everywhere - both on the tele and out the window.  I wasn't really interested in cooking what she made on the show, but it did get me interested in summer-y foods.  I don't always think the point of watching the Food Network or reading blogs like this or losing a few hours on Pinterest is so much to make what I see in front of me, but to kick up my senses and fire my imagination.  Find my own voice.

Meat and peppers
I started thinking yesterday about macaroni salad.  I've never made it.  Then, I started thinking about potato salad - again, never made it.  As I looked at recipes, I realized that, without the basic ingredients, attempting either/or of them would be quite costly.  And it would not make a complete meal.  Well, it might - but not for a few days at a time.  I might die - simply of from eating solely macaroni and/or potato salad so often in succession.

Adding Sauce
But then the idea of sloppy joes popped into my head.  My grandma taught me to make sloppy joe sauce when I was a little girl - before the idea of cooking for myself ever existed.  I grew up in a small town where the grocery store only has six isles and one cash register - and closed at 6pm everyday, and closed on Sundays.  So if it's some random hour and you want something or get a craving for something - you have to make it yourself, with what is in your house.
Homemade sauce

So my grandma taught me to make sloppy joes for that reason (and probably because she doesn't believe in Manwich).  She told me that all you need is ketchup, mustard, and anything else you want to put in it.  Over the years, I've made it with many different ingredients.  Everything from spices to hot sauce, to just pepper.  Make some hamburger meat, chop it up, done.  Bun or bread.  Cheese or no cheese.  It really doesn't mater.

All mixed together!
I started a new housesitting gig yesterday, so I went to the grocery on my way here.  I decided to throw caution to the wind and make it with only what they have available to me in their kitchen.  I bought small bottles of ketchup and mustard, peppers, buns, and cheese.  As I was waiting for the cheese to be sliced, I saw the macaroni and potato salads pre-made in the deli.  I bought some.  I couldn't resist!  Sometimes, pre-made is cheaper than making it yourself.  And just as good.

Today, I put it all together.  Spices from the pantry, ketchup, mustard - and a new experiment - balsamic vinegar and some wassabi sauce!  Delicious!  Put together on some Hawaiian Rolls and cheese, right next to the store bought side salads - it made a perfect lunch.  And will make a perfect dinner.  And a few more meals this week.  I couldn't be happier.

By the way...I used muenster cheese, which is amazing.  And horseradish cheddar.  This. Is. Heaven.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Grandma Pope's Pantry

This is going to be a post of pictures.  Back to words later.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I was gifted an amazing and old pantry from one of my clients.  She told me it was her grandmother's - Grandma Pope - and it was over 70 years old.  Rusted, discolored, it had certainly seen better days.  She had no use for it.  I was excited to take on the project.  This blog is a timeline in pictures of its restoration, from unloading it at my parents' house to set up and full in my house.

The gift of this pantry has given me new motivation in many ways!  First, I have never done anything DIY other than cooking.  So the idea to enlist my dad and his amazing skills gave me a sense of accomplishment and pride that we worked on it together.  I actually held and used a power tool!  Also, the history and love I can feel from a gift like this inspires me to cook.  I mean, what's the point of having something this amazing if you aren't going to be a cook!?!?  Along with cooking, comes the need to write again.

This is the true definition of the gift that keeps on giving...


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Back at it. For a lot of reasons.

I've been cooking.  You wouldn't know it, though.  I've been oddly absent from here, from writing in general.  No excuses.  It's just the truth.
This is bad.  I love to write.  I always have.  I just...I just...I just

...lose it sometimes.  Motivation.  Will.  Drive.  Desire.

It's always in me, though.  I narrate everything in my head, see sentences in everything that happens around me.  I come up with story lines, song lyrics...

..that just don't go anywhere.

As of late, my cooking has also gone the way of the wind.  I've started cooking less for passion, more for necessity.  My pinterest is now full of affordable, dinner-type foods rather than the usual daring, creative, and fun desserts.  I became best friends with a crock pot. (So much so that I have not one but two - yes, TWO - crock pot boards on pinterest!)  While delicious, I haven't really been inspired by beauty and uniqueness of the dishes I was creating.  I took pictures - yes - but they were more for my personal reference than awesomeness and art.

No matter what I am cooking, I still get the fire in my belly and the silly smile that only comes from pulling a knife out of a block or a turning on an oven (or, um, lately, a crock pot).  It felt amazing.  Even if the goals had changed.

...So why am I back?  A few reasons.

12 new likes this week!
And it's only Wednesday!
First and foremost, I belong here.  I belong with words and food and this is exactly that.

Then, out of nowhere, I started getting notifications on Facebook that people are liking my cooking page.  I mean, lots of notifications.  As in, two, sometimes three a day.  Why???  It's not like I've been active on it at all.  And I don't know these people.  How are they finding me???  I started to feel like I owe them something.  These people have found me (again - HOW???), they obviously expect something in return, some kind of food talk.  Some kind of interesting tidbit.  Anything for crying out loud.

It was a weird nudge that maybe I should be saying something.

And finally, I have been helping the nicest woman move into a retirement community.  We hit it off immediately.  She has never married, doesn't have kids, is a fellow Beatle-maniac!  She's everything I want to be in 25 years!

In the process of downsizing, she gifted me a few very amazing items.  She gave me a Post magazine from 1964 - the first interview the Bealtes ever did for an American publication.  Wow. Seriously.  Wow.

Grandma Pope's Pantry
Workin' the sander
She gave me a pantry.  Literally.  This is a 70-plus year old piece that belonged to her grandmother, who passed it on to her, and she has passed it on to me.  It has some rust spots, so my dad is helping me refinish it - sand it down and paint it.  Unfortunately, it has done nothing but RAIN here lately, so we have had to hold off on the painting.  But very soon, I will have a pantry!
Hand-typed over 40 years ago.
Then, she handed me a pile of cookbooks. YAY!  At the bottom of this pile, I came upon a binder.  It is the binder of hand-written, and typed (on a typewriter!) recipes her own mother gave to her when she got her first apartment over 40 years ago.  Recipes from her childhood, that her mother made for her and she has made over and over through the years.  It is hands-down the most sentimental and loving gift one could give.  And she chose to give it to me.

Seven Layer Cookies Cooking
And in a gift box.

I decided to make something from it and take it to her.  I chose a seven layer cookie.  It felt so good to be in the kitchen, baking for fun, not for necessity.  For someone, not for myself.  When she bit into it, she closed her eyes and said, "That tastes just like mama's." with a big smile on her face.

Egg Custard
I also made an egg custard.  When I showed the binder to my parents, my dad made a comment that my grandma used to make that and he loved it.  I don't really like milk - and it was really milky.  He said it was delicious, though.  So I'll take that compliment.

Wow, writing this feels so good.  I'll try to come back more often.  It's where I belong.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Very Oily and Musical Easter Weekend

Roadie work is glam!
Over Easter weekend, we had two gigs in North Georgia. (Did you know I’m a roadie for a band? I’m positive I've mentioned it before. If I haven't, well, I roadie for a band.) Anyway, given the opportunity for two back-to-back shows in one of the most beautiful parts of Georgia, and the unbelievable luck of getting into a cabin for the weekend for free, we decided to make a weekend of it!
Most of the time, roadies
appear to look like this.
We drove up Friday night, the boy and I got there first. We ran around the cabin, checking out all the rooms, playing ping pong, getting in the hot tub. I love hot tubs. I mean, I LOVE them. I used to think they were something for the rich, something for the playboys and playgirls of the 70s. That was before I injured my shoulder. Now, I live and breathe by the hot tub. Thankfully, I have access to one pretty much anytime I need it. Back to our exploration. This cabin, well, was n-i-c-e NICE! It was three stories, three bedrooms, I don't know – 4, 5? maybe 6? decks, a sun-room, the aforementioned ping pong table and hot tub, and so much more! I had initially believed that I would want the upstairs bedroom. Pam wakes up early. However, I saw the stone shower in the downstairs room and promptly claimed it! Wow! FANCY! Totally worth the risk of waking up before I’m ready...
Oh, and the view was breath-taking. Drivin' n Cryin' asked “Have you seen the Blue Ridge Mountains...” well, I have - I do live in Georgia but they never look quite like this where I live!

Morning.  In the mountains.
By the time Pam and Ric got there, we were pretty much settled in, relaxed (I was already in my pjs), and ready for the weekend ahead! How incredible to just be able to hang in a place with loving people and be yourself. There's so much to be grateful for.
Downtown Blue Ridge, Georgia

Saturday morning, we awoke and ate a homemade breakfast. The boys went off to play golf and Pam and I went to downtown Blue Ridge to shop and explore. First, we went to Mercer Orchards and bought jams, jellies, and various fruit-butters. Downtown Blue Ridge is all independent shops and amazing, unique finds. There was one store, though, an oil store, that caught us both off-guard and won our hearts and our bellies forever.
Oils for days. 

We looked in the window, and thought, well this is odd - but intriguing - at the same time. We entered. Why is all this olive oil and vinegar in these containers with little throw-away shot glasses next to them? Do they really expect me to do shots? Well, as a matter of fact, they do expect that. And do shots we did! We were in there for almost an entire hour and barely wanted to leave when we did! The owners, Tom and Donna, are so nice and full of information. And we couldn't stop tasting! That night, as we were setting up for the show, the boy ran over to the olive oil shop to buy some, just from us talking about it!

The gig that night was incredible. Music is always a spiritual experience for me, but you add the backdrop of the mountains and some fresh, non-city air, and I’m in heaven. The next morning we woke up and had another big homemade breakfast, and we were off to the Easter Sunday gig that was about an hour away. I think we were all sorry to miss church on Easter Sunday (I was, anyway), but there's something very spiritual about waking up in the mountains, communing with friends, and having love all around you that kind of makes up for it.

The next Friday, we had another show in Blue Ridge. This time, we just drove up for the show and back.  Tom and Donna from the Olive Oil shop came! During the show, the boy and I were able to talk to them about how to make chicken and veggies on the grill using what the boy had bought. We decided we would try their suggestions the very next day! A rare Saturday off, and even rarer to have an early spring day with no rain - we took advantage of the day and grilled our chicken and zucchini and squash. It was delicious!

For those of you who grill, it's simple. For those of you who don't, ask someone who knows how to grill, and then follow the application instructions! I don't really understand grills. He did all the actual cooking – er, grilling.

The types he bought were the pomegranate-quince vinegar, which we used on the veggies, and the wild mushroom and sage infused oil for the chicken. I simply brushed it on at each stage of cooking – er, grilling – starting with the first flip of the chicken. He put the veggies on a piece of aluminum foil and I brushed them down a few times.
On the grill.
The flavors were not over-powering, but they were there. It was subtle and sweet.

I had never known about flavored oils and vinegar before, and I feel as though my life was not complete! Now, with this knowledge, I fully intend to budget out for these types of things. Food tastes better, and the health benefits are out of this world! If you live within the range of Blue Ridge, I would certainly encourage you to budget your money, as well as at least an hour, and get in that store!
Dinner is served.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cooking with the Kid

Hello everyone! I've missed you so much. I'll spare you the gory details about where I've been, but let's just say it's good to be back in action.  In a nutshell, I moved, got sick, went to the hospital, laid in bed for a long time, got better, had a good time over the holidays, and then got this stupid cold that's been going around that knocks you on your butt for a week.  Oh, the land of the living...
Must. Stay. Here.

I've cooked very little.  I have really missed it.  But, as it was before (and I'm sure it will always be), cooking has brought a few lessons and a tremendous amount of joy.

BBQ Chicken Pot Pie
I've been cooking with a six year old.  Now, if you had told me when I started this that one day, I'd be cooking with a kid next to me, I would have laughed in your face and snorted in your cookies.  But things change. And here we are!

My move was into the basement of a family's house.  I love it! The basement itself is divided into two *huge* rooms, and there's another huge room that has become my closet.  I have a bigger closet than my mom! (I have arrived!)  The kid is six. He's adorable. And smart. And loves to cook and watch the food network.  He's the best roommate a girl could ask for!  I forget he's six sometimes, he talks and reasons like a short adult (not unlike myself).

Gingerbread Cookies
Other than high school babysitting gigs, I've never really had much time alone with kids.  So, I like to have activities planned.  What kind of activities?  The kind that will keep them focused and the kind that they will enjoy.  He likes to cook, I need to cook, so there you go!  How wonderful life is!

I picked him up from school, and we immediately started talking about what we wanted to make for dinner.  He's awesome that way - he gets almost completely giddy discussing it.  We decided on BBQ chicken.  And then got creative with it - let's make it a pot pie!  And then cookies.  It was Christmas time, so we decided on Gingerbread Cookies.

And off we went.  He's amazing in the kitchen.  He helped roll the dough into balls, he advised that the oven was almost done preheating.  He stirred the batter for the cornbread topping of the pie.  If I ever were to open a bakery, he'd be the first person I hired!  We made them a little big, though.  He told me the smaller ones that were the right size were the ones he rolled.  I had to agree.

A hat to keep the hair out
of the cupcakes.
Last Sunday, it was going to be the two of us again.  All the way to church, we discussed baking.  I wanted to make cupcakes for my mom's birthday, and he was more than excited to be a part of it.  We talked about recipes all the way.  We even talked about lunch.  He described a ham and macaroni and cheese that his mom makes (basically mac & cheese with ham cut up) so perfectly.  Even someone who doesn't know how to make mac & cheese could have made it after his description!

We decided to make Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes for my mom.  After church, we went to the grocery and bought all our ingredients.  When we got home, I made lunch and started him on the prep work for the cupcakes.  As you can see in the picture, he put his hat on.  He did this after asking me why I pulled my hair back!  So smart, so intuitive!

He helped with every step of this process.  It's amazing to watch a child do something, especially when he is good at it.  He has no fear.  He just picks up what you tell him to and does it.  It made me think of when I started cooking, how timid I was, and all I could do was pick it up and do it, whether I knew what I was doing or not.  I read and re-read directions on recipes, and continued to do as instructed.  And I learned.  The only difference between him (now) and me (then) is that he doesn't know enough yet to be afraid of screwing up the process.

Here's to that spirit of fearlessness!  Here's to cooking!  And here's to my little helper!

Mom's birthday cupcakes
My mom loved the cupcakes!  She was so excited that he helped make them.
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