A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Best Meatloaf Ever

I found this recipe many years ago and it has any other meatloaf I have ever eaten beat! Don't even try to make it without the brown sugar and mustard. You would just have a hamburger. If you've got something against brown sugar, cook something else.

Best Ever Meatloaf

2 pounds of ground beef.
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
Bread crumbs - I process 2 pieces of bread in processor for this.
Garlic powder
Black pepper
1 egg

Mix together in large bowl.

Pour 1 large can tomato sauce in a small bowl. Add 3/4 to 1 cup brown sugar and approximately 2 tablespoons of plain yellow mustard. Mix together and add all but approximately 1/2 cup to the meat mixture.

Spray pan with no-stick cooking spray. I use a 9 x 13 pan and make 2 small loaves, but you can make 1 large loaf if you prefer. The smaller loaves cook faster. 
Pour the remaining tomato sauce mixture over the meatloaves. If you want, garnish top of each with strips of bell pepper.

Bake at 350 degrees until done, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on size of loaves. 

If a lot of liquid accumulates in the pan, you can spoon some of this off during the cooking time. Leave some of it, as it cooks off, and keeps the meatloaf from becoming too dry and burning the bottom of the pan.

Serve with mashed potatoes and English peas!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Green Green Grass of Home

At this holiday time of year my memories always take me back to growing up in my little town in northeast Louisiana. We were poor but, fortunately, we didn't know that as all of the crowd we ran with was also poor. It was not until I moved to Houston in high school that I discovered we had been poor. My dad drove a tractor then and graded yards for a living. My mom worked as a bookkeeper at a shoe store and went to college part time.

We lived in a little asbestos sided duplex (photo is of our duplex) with my parents and us seven kids on one side and my mom's parents on the other side. I took a trip down memory lane via Google Maps and discovered that my little house is still there. One of the two pine trees my Papa planted in the front yard for my brother David and I is also still there.

My sisters and I had our bedroom in the front left corner of the house as you are looking at it. We had two double beds and my baby brother Lee had his baby bed in there with us. We had one tiny closet for all four of us girls and we kept a lot of stuff under the bed! Outside our window on the side of the house Papa had planted bottlebrush bushes with pretty red flowers. I fell in love with the Beatles living in this house and spent many a night dreaming of Paul and many an evening playing the Beatles records that belonged to my sisters and I.  

When we were first in the house we didn't have air conditioning. Our window over the bottlebrush plants had a giant window fan in it. If you got close to it and opened your mouth and made an "aaahhhhh" noise loud it would increase and vibrate the sound. It didn't take much to entertain us, as you can see! Later we got a window air conditioner and we sure did love it, but I kind of missed the vibrating noise from the fan!

Across the street from us was a little fire station. On hot summer days, my siblings and I would go over and buy cokes from the machine. One of those ones that you slide the cokes down a little maze so you can get them out! We quickly got used to the loud siren going off at all hours. We felt somehow that the firemen were part of our family and were always glad when they came back safely. (Photos - the fire station and our backyard)

We had what seemed to us a big back yard. Having only our imaginations to pass the time with, we spent many summer days playing Tarzan and cowboys and Indians back there! 

There were empty fields behind us and my Papa always had a big garden outside our fence with corn and vegetables. He always had one row of gigantic sunflowers. He had been a farmer and he loved to grow things.

A couple of blocks from our house there was a little store where we would sometimes walk to get candy. It was run by a lady named Josephine and she was a very large lady. We were, of course, little then and she was very impressive sitting behind the counter.

Across the street from us was the little church we went to. It was not like the churches of today, the mega-churches concerned with tennis courts and television audiences. It was a place where everyone knew us and we had our own pew at the front of the church on the right hand side. My sister Kathy was the church pianist, even though she was a child. At the church was the only time my Mama ever sang. My dad would burst into song all day long but Mama only sang in church. Sometimes I would stop singing and just lip sync so I could hear Mama sing.  

On summer evenings before going to church, I would sometimes sit in the grass in the backyard, all dressed for evening church services and make flower chains out of clover blossoms. 

I'm deeply disappointed in churches these days, but in my little church in my little town, I knew peacefulness and love.

I have lived in many houses and many places since the days of growing up in this little house. I could not tell you the addresses of most of the places I have lived in but I never forget this address. I have lived in much bigger and better houses than this and in more upscale neighborhoods with pools, golf courses, walking trails, tennis courts, and country clubs. But other than the little cabin I have now, this is the house I think of when I think of a home. 

Two of my three children are in the process of buying homes as I write this. For my daughter it is her first home and for my son it is a move to a new home with more room for his family. For them and for my other son (who lives in a home he bought several years ago), I hope that within the walls of their houses and the streets of their neighborhoods they have what I had in my little house and neighborhood. Times change and memories dim but that feeling of the warm comfort of home remains.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Super Easy Ornament Wreaths!

A couple of years ago I bought some incredibly inexpensive wreaths at Walmart. I paid $2.00 each for two of them and after the season got another one for $1.00. These cheaper wreaths are best for this project since they are not as full as more expensive ones so you have more room for your ornaments. 

One wreath has ornaments that my now grown kids made when they were young. One has a woodland ornaments theme and one is just a mix of some of my favorite ornaments.

Just hang them on the wreath, bending the greenery stem up to keep them from sliding off. You can wire them on for added security. 

I hang them from a wreath hanger on my bedroom and closet doors.

What I like about displaying the ornaments this way is that they are at eye-level and you can see them better than if they are buried in the tree. This would be a good way to display a collection or series of ornaments. You could even make one with all those Happy Meal toys! 

At the end of the season, just take them off the door and store them in one of the plastic wreath boxes you can also get at Walmart. I got mine on markdown after Christmas and I think I paid $5.00 each for them. You don't have to remove the ornaments. Next year just take them out of the box and hang! So easy and stress free!

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Fence Post Christmas Tree

If you take 3 cedar fence posts and wrap them at the top with fencing wire, spreading the posts at the bottom to make a tee-pee shape, you have a good form for Christmas lights. (Use pliers to twist the wire tight.) Wrap outside the posts with the lights and when you get to the top, wrap all the excess there. This creates a star tree top effect. This star method was suggested by my grandson, Zac. 
The little tree is made the same way but using 3 short pieces of rebar instead of the posts.
If you get energetic, you can make a whole forest of these fence post trees at very little cost.
After the holidays, you can return the fence posts to the pile of them your husband has handy for fence repairs! 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

DeckThose Halls

Getting some of the holiday decorations out while I have time! Saving the outside ones for when Zac comes out this weekend to help me. You have to do small scale decorating in the little cabin. This weekend we will cut a little cedar down and put on the back porch with some lights, make a cedar wreath for the front gate, and maybe one for the front door. Also hang the lights on the porch. Nothing fancy, just Christmas in the country!
The Santa pillow was a gift from two of my friends. The Cabin pillow also was a gift from a group of my friends that we call The River Ritas; so called because we like to tube down the river and we like to drink margaritas! haha!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

My mom and dad taught us many things but the one thing we learned mostly by example was to help others.  My dad was a plumber and worked long hours almost every day of the week. He loved his job and would often go out on holidays or weekends whenever he got a call. He could have been well-off financially except that he helped so many people. I don’t know how many times he would tell me about doing a repair or putting in a new hot water heater for someone and not charging them. He would say “you know, sweetheart, that lady was old and had no money, so there was no way I could charge her.”

My mom started college after her eighth child was born. She worked full time while going to school plus had the duties of being a parent. It took her ten years but she got her degree. For some years she taught school then decided she would rather follow her minor and be an accountant. I think with all of us kids at home, she was ready for a break from kids at work!

My parents worked, raised seven children (one of my brothers died when he was 3 days old), and raised 1 grandchild and helped raise another grandchild. My cousin came to live with us when I was in high school and they welcomed him as their own child. Mama’s parents also lived with us and she did all the things associated with parents that don’t drive, such as doctor’s appointments, shopping, etc.

Mama was always helping someone, giving people money to pay their bills, taking food to someone that was sick. At the holidays she would stay up late after working all day and bake candy and cookies to take to others, along with barbecue or a roast.  Anytime anyone called her for help, she did. Daddy stopped on the road to change tires for people and worked on anyone’s car if they asked him to help them. The ways they helped others are too numerous to list. And I should point out, it's easy to help people by giving them money when you have plenty. But when you have to do without something to help them, that's when it's a real gift.

Daddy hired many young men and trained them. He treated them all as family. Daddy developed macular degenerative disease in his last years and was legally blind. For a while he continued to work and had Mama drive him to the job site. She would then either stay with him or one of the guys working for him would be there. Eventually his eyesight got so bad he couldn’t continue to do this. He always worried about what would happen to the people with no money in his town. He said the other plumbers would not work without charging them.

Without doubt some of the people my parents helped did not deserve it. And certainly they helped people that did not work as hard as they did. But they never worried about that. If someone was drowning, they did not say “well, you should have taken swimming lessons when you had the chance” or “you should have built a bridge over this water when you had some extra money instead of spending it foolishly”. They just reached out a hand and pulled them in.

I have seen my siblings and my children and nieces and nephews do the same. I know that Mama and Daddy would be proud of us. I am saddened to see so many people, even doctors who take an oath to help, complain about helping others. They only want to help people they consider deserving of help. But my parents taught us it was not up to us to judge who was worthy. It was only to judge who was in need.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Donuts and Army Tanks

When I was a little girl my Papa would sometimes take me to work with him on Saturday. Sometimes he took me and my brother David and sometimes he took each of us by ourselves. Papa had been a farmer most of his life, but that was before I knew him. We lived in a duplex house on Orange Street in Monroe, Louisiana with Papa and Mamow living on one side and us living on the other. When you are one of seven children, you rarely get any special treatment; you tend to get lost in the crowd! So these trips to work with Papa were a treat.

My Papa was one of the crankiest people I have ever known. He had a terrible temper and verbal fisticuffs between him and my mom, his daughter, were not a rare occurrence. But he thought I was special. Every evening after supper, I would go to my grandparent’s side of the duplex to watch television. None of my siblings ever went; I was the only one.  I had a big chair there that I would sprawl out in with my feet hanging over the arm and listen to Ed Sullivan talk to Topo Gigio, the little Italian mouse, or follow Dorothy as she made her way to Oz. I was fascinated by a house that had places not taken up by people and felt I had room to breathe there. Our big family took up all the room and sucked up all the air on our side of the little house. 

After Papa gave up on farming he worked part-time as a custodian at the National Guard building in our town. This is where he would take me on Saturdays. We would ride the bus to town. I was a little scared of the whole bus process. I knew that I would never be able to navigate my way anywhere on the bus without Papa. He knew all the mysterious workings of what bus to get on and when to get off it. Papa held my hand and I felt safe with him. Our town was not that big and when we were older we sometimes walked downtown from our house. But I was about 5 years old then and our town could have been the size of New York City for all I knew! Not that I had ever heard of New York City at that point in my life.

The National Guard building both fascinated and scared me. It hung precariously on the crumbling edge of the riverbank beside the Ouachita River. Carefully and slowly, I crept up to the huge windows with many panes that opened on the river side.  I felt that one wrong move would send me and the whole building into the river. Peeking over the window edge I could see the tangle of vines and plants that grew on the riverbank just below the windows. While Papa swept the floors with the gigantic push broom, David and I wandered the floor and watched the river flow by. Once Papa finished his work we knew we were in for a special treat; the main attraction of the building and the reason we wanted to go! There was a real live army tank on one floor and we were allowed to climb on it and look inside!

Once we had used the tank to defeat our enemies, we headed down to the first floor offices. Papa would open the door to the street and visit with people walking by. A ceiling fan turned slowly overhead as we sat in the desk chairs and explored the desk drawers. The offices had gigantic desks with soft rubber desktops, all darkened with age. There was a wonderful smell of old furniture, equipment, oil, and a general mustiness to the room. I can close my eyes and still smell it.

By midmorning, Papa locked things up for a while and we took off walking down the street to Smitty’s Café. Ms. Smitty had the best donuts and we knew Papa was going to treat us to some!  We didn’t normally get donuts at home. With Shipley’s Donuts and Krispy Kremes and local donut shops on every corner now, this doesn’t seem so special but to David and I then it was something out of the ordinary. On the way to Ms. Smitty’s there was an empty lot that had access to the river. David and I always ran to the river’s edge here to get a closer look and to see if there were any turtles there. Papa let us dawdle a while before he rounded us up and herded us on to the café. As we walked through the doorway, Ms. Smitty would call out to Papa, “Hello, Gene! Come on in! How are you doing?”  I was amazed that someone knew my Papa and called him by his first name. We didn’t really think he knew anyone but us and I was surprised to know that he had a life outside our house. Ms. Smitty was an exotic looking woman with her coal black hair and square jawed face and big open smile and manner. I always thought she was a gypsy woman. She and Papa would visit over coffee while David and I focused on the donuts.

Many years later when my Papa died we were living in Houston and had been for years. We took him back to Monroe for the funeral and he is buried in a little community called Chase in northeast Louisiana. We are a big family and most of the attendees at the funeral were either family or friends of our family members. I was a grown woman then with children of my own. As we stood around greeting and visiting with everyone, an older dark haired woman with a square jawed face came up to me. It had been a lifetime since I had seen her but I knew right away who she was. She took my hand and squeezed it and said “you’re that little girl that used to come into the café with your grandfather.” We talked for a while and then she left. My mom asked me later who she was. It was then I realized that no one knew her but me and David. I looked back on the little girl I had been, holding her Papa’s hand and going off to spend the day with him at work. And I wondered what all he and Ms. Smitty had talked about in the years they were friends. And I wished I had sat down and asked my Papa what his life was like and asked him to tell me some stories about it. Maybe he told Ms. Smitty stories about his life, about losing his only son in World War II and about his daughter dying when she was 13 years old. Maybe he told her about farming and how hard that was. Maybe he told her about his grandkids and how he loved to take me to work with him. I hope so. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Braid Found

Nature has provided us with a great supply of composted oak leaves! It is several inches deep under the trees and just ready to be scooped up with the shovel. I spent 3 days with my shovel and wheelbarrow taking it to the garden to mulch the rows. Purple asters, known as Michaelmas Daisies to you readers of English novels, and native Maximillian Sunflowers, are blooming in the garden, along with some red and orange zinnias. The sweet peas are just starting to bloom with pretty pink flowers. Leeks are coming up slowly and the Russian Kale is recovering from the grasshopper attacks!

On the second day of my compost shoveling, as I flipped the compost into the wheelbarrow, a small length of rope fell from the shovel. I said to myself, I’ll keep that. I am like a raccoon, gathering odds and ends of stuff I find to save. But when I picked the rope up and looked at it, I was surprised to see that it was what appeared to be horsehair braided into a length about 2 1/2 feet long. Each end was knotted and there was a piece of broken ceramic pottery on one end. On that end the braid was finished with loose hair. Well, curiosity had me wondering what I had found. Hair does last for years in our area because of the low humidity. The pottery piece was glazed, not a piece of Native American pottery. It had half of a finished hole in it where the braid had originally been attached to the whole piece of pottery.

I consulted with my knowledgeable neighbors. They recommended that I talk to Gary in town as he knew a lot about local artifacts. So off I was, on my hunt for information! Gary said he believed it to be human hair, not horsehair. He told me that he used to scout around in some local caves for old items and that one time a friend of his found a leather pouch containing a fish net made from human hair.  He said he had also found remains of straw mats used for sleeping. The braid has a thin copper wire braided into it. Gary speculated, as my neighbor had done, that it looked like it could have been connected on both ends to some type of pottery bowl or container with the braid forming a handle. Since one end looked like it had been worn or torn off, this could be true. The hair is black and coarse, so I am doing a little speculating of my own that it might be either Native American or Mexican or Hispanic hair. There is no gray or brown in the hair. It appears to probably be some type of decorative piece. I don’t think it is ancient, since the pottery is a glazed piece, but I don’t know how old it might be. We have had the place for 21 years, so all I know for certain is that it is older than that!

The next day as I worked in the same area I kept an eye out for more of the broken pottery but, of course, didn’t find any. I believe these things find us when they want to be found, as the braid found me, and so I didn’t jump in and start an archeological dig! But I am curious about it and who might have braided it so carefully and well that it survived relatively intact outdoors for years. Was it hair from a loved one that was gone or did someone cut part of their own hair to braid it? Was it intended to be utilitarian or was it just created to be beautiful? Did it remind the owner of someone each time she looked at it and did her heart hurt or did she smile at a memory? 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cedar Cutting Morning

The young Rio Grande turkeys with their 2 moms have spent most of the morning in the yard. They are kept company by two yearling does that spend a lot of time inside the fence. They’ve eaten all the bird seed on the ground by the water trough, had their morning drink, and are pecking around for grass seeds and insects. They stray further apart these days, sometimes splitting into 2 groups. 

One group, led by one of the moms, headed down the hill to check out the turkey feeder. One of the youngsters was trailing behind the group and spent a few minutes stressed as to how to get out of the fence. Of course, he could fly over, but for some reason they don’t always do that except as a last resort. The babies have been just walking through the spaces in the goat wire but they are now bordering on being too big for that. After much running back and forth and showing signs of panic, he squeezes through and takes off at a trot to catch his family. Which is good; I was starting to panic with him!

I’ve sat around drinking coffee and watching them for way too long now. It’s easy to get caught up in their daily lives. There is a rhythm to everyday life in the country. It causes you  to slow down and look around you. The seasons change, the harvest ripens, the deer lose their velvet, the baby turkeys grow up.

But I need to get going with one of my ongoing chores - cutting down little cedars with my Fiskars pruning stick lopper! (This is an awesome tool with a grip that slides and does the cutting.) It’s a constant battle to keep them from taking over the whole place. I love these cedars (technically, they are ashe junipers, not cedars). I love the smell of them, the way the temperature seems to drop 20 degrees when you get under them, and the beautiful blue berries they have. But they tend to want all the land and we have to share.

I like this chore. It takes me walking over the property to places I don’t normally go. There are so many beautiful spots; “the woods are lovely, dark and deep”. I see sheltered places, the ground covered with oak leaf mulch, a spot cleared and soft where a deer has been sleeping, and think if I was 10 years old, this would be my hideout! I find lace cactus and female Mexican persimmons, the ones with fruit that the wildlife love. And signs that men have left - fencing wire in the corners, a couple of pieces of tin roofing, faded beer cans with pop-tops, and Vienna Sausage cans. Some of the cans have bullet holes where some long ago youngster practiced his shots, getting ready for the “muy grande” buck to come into his sights later in the season. Or from some good ole boys just trying to see who’s the best shot.

I grab my cedar loppers and I’m off on my chore, wondering what I might run across out there today. Hopefully not the mountain lion that was at my neighbors the other night! And if I live to be so old I can’t walk I hope one of the memories I keep is walking this land that I love, with a cool breeze that promises fall drying the sweat from “honest” work, as my dad called it, following the trail home to the cabin.

(Photo - trail left by Woodrow, Gus, and the deer)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Remembering Deb

9/11 is a day our nation pauses and remembers the lives lost 9 years ago when we were attacked by terrorists. For my family, it is the day we remember when we lost my sister Deb 15 years ago.

Deb was only here with us for 37 years. She was a sweet and gentle person and the world is not kind to gentle people. It’s not kind to tough people either, but it’s easier to survive if you are tough. Not easier to handle, just easier to survive. We learn coping skills and hope that the coping skills will not kill us.

Life did not turn Deb hard and bitter, like it does so many of us. Whatever came her way, she remained faithful in her belief that people were good and kind. The fact that she was betrayed in this belief many times did not deter her from believing. When the father of her oldest daughter died, when her lover beat her, when her dependence on the alcohol that comforted her and the cigarettes she chain-smoked caused her health to deteriorate, she kept her gentle nature.

She developed this dependence in her early teens as my dad’s own alcohol dependence took our family through bad times of constant moving, verbal fighting between my parents, and money problems. It was easy for a quiet, loving child to slip between the cracks. We were all busy trying to save ourselves in whatever way we could. Deb turned to alcohol. It was an addiction she could never overcome. Her liver eventually gave out on her and her weakened body because victim to tuberculosis.

Deb loved her kids and she loved our kids. She went swimming with me and my boys and she tie-dyed shirts and mailed them to my daughter. When my life was falling apart, she was the first person to come to me, give me a hug, and say simply “I’m sorry.” I never walked into a room she was in that her face did not light up and a smile appear when she saw me.

At some point my dad won his fight against the dependence he struggled with and things settled down for my family. My mom and dad supported Deb and her daughters financially and any other way they could. The natural disposition of my dad that refused to judge others and accepted shortcomings in people was passed on to my sister. I never heard her blame any of her problems or failures on anyone else.

I have a couple of letters that my sister sent me when we lived in different states. In one she states very matter-of-factly in one sentence that she had been having a hard time since she got laid off at work. To anyone that did not know her, most of her life would have appeared as a “hard time”. To Deb, her life was a complete success because the result of it was her two beautiful daughters. She would never consider a life that included them hard.

She taught us to love, to forgive, and to be kind. She showed us that while we can’t always control what life dishes out to us, we can control what it makes of us. She taught us that we can keep a kind heart and to remember that others can’t always help that they are the way they are either.

I miss my sister Deb and the beauty of her soft nature. I remember her beautiful smile and I remember how even when she was going through pain most of us will never experience, she took the time to comfort me.

Peace and love, Deb

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sue's Roasted Tomato Chicken Soup with Jalapeño Cornbread

Today was a perfect soup day - rainy and gloomy! This is an easy soup and is very good. Serve it with homemade jalapeño cornbread. Yummy! Recipes below.

Sue’s Roasted Tomato Chicken Soup

Cook 3 boneless chicken breasts in chicken broth with salt and pepper.
Cut up into bite size pieces, then shred the chicken and return to the broth.

1 can Muir Glen Organic fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes (you can get these at Wal-Mart or HEB)
Chopped cilantro
½ tsp. ground red chili pepper (taste after soup has cooked a while and add a little more to taste)
Garlic powder
1 small can tomato sauce

Drizzle olive oil in a skillet and heat over medium heat. Add fresh corn kernels (from 2 -3 ears) and 2 small bell peppers or poblanos, chopped, to skillet and cook for about 2 minutes. Add to soup.
Simmer until flavors blend.

Jalapeño Cornbread
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 chopped and deseeded jalapeño pepper
1/4 can white shoepeg corn

Heat 1/4 cup shortening in a small 8" black iron skillet in 400 degree oven. When shortening has melted and is hot pour the cornbread mixture in the skillet and cook approximately 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.

Double recipe (except for egg - use only 1) if using large skillet.

You have to use an iron skillet for this to get the crispy bottom and sides of the cornbread and the oil needs to be hot when you pour the mixture into the pan.

Dancing Fawns

We have been watching several whitetail fawns at our place. There is a set of twins and some single fawns. They have grown rapidly over the summer and you can see the change in their behavior as they get older. They stray further from their moms and they are learning the cautious ways that they will need to survive.

In spite of this cautiousness they are acquiring, they seem very at home in the field near us and come to the water troughs to drink and to the longhorns' feed buckets to see if there are any tidbits left to nibble on. It has been a terribly dry August and there is not much for the deer to eat.

This picture was taken with a wildlife camera mounted near the deer feeders and shows two fawns that appear to be boxing. Or, as my sister Jackie says, maybe dancing! 

"There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good."  ~Edwin Denby

Monday, August 30, 2010

Homemade Caramel Corn

This recipe was posted on the Gooseberry Patch Facebook page. The nice lady that posted it said she makes it for her mom in the nursing home. It has no kernels so is easy on the teeth and easy to swallow. In fact, it melts in your mouth! I made a batch for my mom and she loved it! Only drawback - it is addictive!!! You have to make extra just because you eat so much of it in the making. It is super easy.
The corn pops in the recipe are not the corn pop cereal. They are in the chip section at the store. I have never seen the Better Made brand here (the recipe came from the back of the Better Made bag). I used the Frito Lay Chester"s Puff Corn and got it at Kroger. It is the one that says "butter flavored". Kroger has a store brand one also. (These alternate products were recommended by others that had used the recipe.)

Better Made Caramel Corn

One 8 oz bag of Puff Corn Pops (not the cereal) (Chester's brand is 4 oz, so half the sauce or use 2 bags)
Place in a large roaster pan (I lined with foil for easy clean up)

Caramel Sauce:
In 2 qt. saucepan cook together for 2 minutes:
1/2 lb. butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup

Remove from heat and add 1 tsp. baking soda to mixture. This will cause mixture to foam, so 2 qt. pan is necessary.
Pour caramel mixture over pops and stir until mixed.Place in 250 degree oven for 45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 mins. Remove from oven . Pour onto waxed paper and break apart. Enjoy!! This is great for Christmas gifts. Find some cute bags/containers and fill them with this easy treat. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Baby Turkeys and Mamas

For weeks Rickie and I have watched a large group of baby turkeys and the two mama hens that watch over them. When we first saw them they were about the size of softballs. 

(Photo - Mama watches over babies taking a dust bath!)

The two hens herd them around in a routine that brings them all around our cabin. Their stops include the deer feeders, looking for corn on the ground, and the turkey feeder down the hill in back of the cabin. 

They go to the water troughs, sometimes going in the longhorns’ pen to their water troughs. These are about 2 feet tall and circular and they perch side by side all along the rim and drink. Sometimes they go to the small trough in the yard where they might find some birdseed we put out on the ground.

This morning after drinking they went to the driveway and lay down in the caliche, fluffing their feathers to give themselves a dust bath. The little gobblers are starting to show off by spreading their tail feathers and strutting around. They are becoming teenagers!

The mother hens have watched over them teaching them the things they need to know to survive and keeping them safe from predators. One morning I watched them chase a buzzard up a tree. The buzzard was at the water trough in the yard, which is also where we dispose of our food scraps. He was after some bacon grease, one of his favorites, along with cream gravy. The mama hens apparently didn’t like the looks of him.

This morning I counted 14 babies. As the group moves from area to area, the mama hens seem to be counting them also. If one falls behind, one of the hens will go back to get him or her. No one is left behind; they move on together.

As I write this my mom is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know who we are or remember much about her life, past or present. My siblings and I go and sit with her. We take her the snacks she used to like and sometimes we take her out for ice cream. Then we go home and cry. It gets harder to go and see her this way. But we keep going and crying, remembering the times she came back for us. No one is left behind; we move on together.  

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer of Peaches

Seventeen years ago my husband Rickie and I were waiting on the call that would send us hurrying to Mississippi. My beloved stepfather-in-law, Frank, lay dying. Unsure if we were needed right away or if we would be needed for the long haul, we tried to fill our time working. We had the beginnings of what would become our orchard and garden. It was a big patch of prickly pear at that time with 2 small peach trees.

(Frank and grandkids in photo; Sarah is in the middle.)

Frank’s family had been peach growers. He wasn’t in this business when I knew him but some of his relatives were still growing peaches that they sold at roadside stands near Meridian. Never had I seen peaches like these. They were as big as small cantaloupes. On our summer visits to my mother-in-law Dot’s house we could count on some of her homemade peach ice cream and peaches to bring home for peach jam and peach cobblers.

Those were good summers with the days passing by slowly as they seem to do in the country. We would get up late and eat breakfast. Then Dot would ask Sarah, our daughter, if she wanted her nails done. That would fill another hour or so (nails were done at home then, not at a nail salon), then we would get dressed and make the trip to “town”. The afternoons were spent on the back porch as our ice cream churned away in the kitchen. We would usually begin to peel and put up for the freezer the peaches we had gotten to take home. I will always associate Dot with putting up peaches. She taught me the trick of putting them in boiling water for a few seconds to get the skins off. We talked and laughed and enjoyed the escape from the hectic city life we lived the rest of the year. If we were lucky Rickie’s sister would be there with her kids. Those were good times.

But these days before we lost Frank weren’t good times. Rickie and I worked furiously in the garden hoping that keeping our hands busy would shut down our minds. I dug prickly pear by the wheelbarrow full while Rickie worked on putting the irrigation lines in that would keep our little peach trees alive when we were not at the ranch. We were tense and short with each other. Sarah stayed out of our way lost in her own grief over the grandfather she loved so.

Finally we could stand it no longer and put our tools up, packed up and headed back home to get ready to go to Mississippi. Frank and Dot’s house was full of family so we got a motel room in Meridian. That call we had been waiting on came to us in our hotel room during the night.

The view from my front porch looks out over the peach trees we planted that year Frank died. We have had several other peach trees but only the two original ones still survive. As Sarah and I picked the best peach crop we have had in years, my thoughts turned as they always do to Frank and Dot and those summers when time slowed down and we laughed and ate peach ice cream and peeled peaches.

We processed 300 pounds of peaches from those two trees this year. I made peach jam and peach cobbler and put peaches in the freezer. Sarah and I sat on the porch peeling peaches, with Frank’s Rafter M brand on the shelf over our heads. For a while time slowed down again.

(Dot, Sarah, Kasey, Frank, and Sue in Dot's kitchen on a summer morning in photo)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese

There is nothing more comforting than a big bowl of macaroni and cheese. It doesn't matter if the box kind is your favorite or if your mom made a special kind for you. It conjures up images of home and family and childhood. My grandmother, Mamaw, used to make a simple homemade version. (Photo is Mamaw and Larry) It was cooked elbow macaroni to which she added some milk that she had thickened with flour. She layered this with slices of cheddar cheese and cooked it in the oven until the cheese melted. We were not raised on the box kind and I continued to make it the way Mamaw did after I had my sons, Larry and John. When they were little there was a time that I was trying to stay at home with them and make money working from home. One of my ventures was child care. I had a little girl that I kept for a while and she wanted some macaroni and cheese. I proudly made the homemade kind Mamaw had always made. When I served it to her, she started screaming "this is not macaroni and cheese! I want REAL macaroni and cheese!" She was referring to the box kind, I later learned from her mother. So, sometimes the easy way is the best way, moms!
One of the best mac and cheeses I have ever had is at the Limestone Grill in Boerne, Texas. Fantastic and more of a grown-up recipe! I don't think they serve it anymore though.
I have tried several recipes from top TV chefs and personalities and have been disappointed. They were all dry. So my husband, Rick, and I put our heads together and came up with this recipe that is both grown-up (no Velveeta or Cheese Whiz!) and creamy, not dry. I think you will love it! However, you may not want to cook it for the kiddos. Those cheeses can get pricey! And, hey, if they like the box brand, who are we to argue!

Special Occasion Mac and Cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray sides and bottom of casserole dish.

Grate a combination of cheeses into a large bowl before you begin. You can substitute what cheeses you use but you have to use some that melt well or your dish will curdle and not be smooth and creamy. Don’t use cheddars, they will curdle!! I use these ones or some similar:
          1 ½ cups grated Asiago
          1 ½ cups grated Emmentaler swiss cheese (this is a brand at HEB; melts well)
          1 cup grated Fontina
          ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano. (Don’t use the plain parmesan that is already grated. This will curdle sometimes.)
          1 round package (in the wooden container) Camembert cheese, cut into small pieces

Cook 1 pound of elbow macaroni. Don’t overcook, cook al dente. You can have this cooking as you are getting the pancetta and garlic ready.

Stack enough thinly sliced pieces of pancetta to equal about an inch of meat. Dice into small pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in small sauté pan over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until brown and crispy. Remove and drain on paper towels. Add 2 cloves chopped garlic to pan and cook until lightly browned. Remove and drain.

Add the cooked pasta to the large bowl with your grated cheeses. Add the pancetta and the garlic. Add 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme or crumbled dried thyme and ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper or mild red chili pepper . Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add 1 ¾ cans evaporated milk. You can add more if it looks like it needs it. Put the mixture into your prepared pan and cook about 10 minutes. Stir and add more milk if needed and add a little grated Parmigiano Reggiano to the top. Return to oven and cook another 5 to 7 minutes until heated throughout. Remove and let set 5 minutes for flavors to mingle.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My First Porch

When I was 4 years old we lived in a duplex with my maternal grandparents on one side and our family on the other. The only porch was a small rectangle of concrete where the two front doors opened. I had a little red chair and in order to 'porch sit' I had to place my chair right inside the screen door of my grandparents living room. I loved to do this, especially on a rainy day, even though all I could see was two fat pine trees. Papa, my grandfather had planted these - one for me and one for my brother David. (David and I in photo with sister Kathy in background) We had a small front yard and the trees took it all up and blocked the street view. Still, it was the beginning of my love affair with porches!