January 30, 2011

In Need of a Little Sunshine

We've had so much flat, white light this winter, and I'm craving a little sunshine! We have family that have evacuated their own winter scenes for AZ, FL, and Caribbean cruises, and maybe that's what has us craving the same! In all fairness, we have have had some open invitations for warmer climes, but it's just not in the cards this year.

Two years ago we took a trip to Hawaii, and that was quite a cure for the winter blahs! However, that's hardly in the realm of possibilities on a yearly basis, so as a band-aid I'll sometimes reach for this cookbook that we brought back from Hawaii, and cook up a little island cuisine!

This was my most recent choice, though clearly I wasn't able to purchase any Opakapaka in Iowa! I could buy Alaskan, wild-caught cod fillets from Trader Joe's, and that was a fine substitute.

The only change I made to the recipe was adding two teaspoons of natural cane sweetener to the marinade. I actually made the marinade in the morning and popped it into the fridge so that it was ready for the final prep.

I added a colorful salad to the fish and rice and had a nice, sunny meal. The salad has orange segments in it, as well as long shreds of carrot, and red onion sliced on a mandoline slicer, which helps keep the flavor nice and mild. I had a poppy seed dressing on hand, which worked nicely.

And one more bit of sunshine we brought home - good Hawaiian coffee, also from Trader Joe's. Just about transports me there - just about! Hope you have a sunny day, or at least a sunny outlook!

January 19, 2011

For the Birds

Since we had a live tree this year, I repeated what we did two years ago, and decorated it for the birds. We had a lovely Concolor fir this year and it went out to our deck after Christmas, where it was tied to the railings by my DH. Then I started making birdy treats!

I used some suet packets we normally use with our metal cage style suet feeders. I cut them into smaller squares to get started on the first ornaments.

Then I pilfered the netting from some red onions and clementines. This too was cut into smaller pieces.

The final product was secured with twist ties and is ready to go.

The next ingredients were some slightly around-the-bend oranges, that had also suffered a freeze in our second fridge, which lives in the garage. In the most brutal winter temps, it's not wise to store produce out there!

Once I sliced them, they looked much fresher than I imagined they would. I used twist ties on these as well and they were done in a flash.

The classic popcorn and cranberry string was a very appealing choice, since the 8-year-old who devoured every Little House on the Prairie book is still living inside me! I used the end of a spool of carpet thread, and that made a very sturdy garland.

I liked the effect very much and hope the birds find it and enjoy!

It's nice to look out on the deck in these dreary days and see something so cheerful. Once the birds start making regular visits, it will be even more pleasing. The new picture of the bluebird in the header of the blog is from our 2009 tree, and it was one of many birds that visited that year.

My husband took this picture and he really liked the view of the bird tree with the deer in the snowy background. I, on the other hand, saw this and thought about whether or not those greedy critters would have enough nerve to come up on the deck and eat the decorations right off of it, and then finish off the tree too!! I need to get a more positive outlook for sure!

January 14, 2011

Ingredients for a Happy Day

Start with a surprise package from a far away friend. Pictured here is a bar of "felted" soap. She made this - she is a very clever crafter on top of all her other talents! The wool is your scrubber in the shower and it shrinks down with the soap bar. In the package were also jars of lovely jellies made from things they grow in their garden. The grape jelly smells like the freshest grape juice you'd ever imagine, and I'm happy they didn't tear out their grape vines!

Continue the day with phone calls, emails, facebook wishes, e-cards (the kind from your kiddo that make you cry happy tears!), and even some real cards in the mail! Three of the phone calls included singing, and the most infamous has to be from my baby sister, who called the wrong number and sang to a stranger. That wouldn't have been too bad except that she used my goofy nickname in the song - jillypoo - and she didn't believe the woman when she was told she had dialed the wrong number! We have a rather sarcastic family sense of humor and she thought it was me being a wise acre, by telling her she had the wrong number! At least we know that she made some woman named Peggy, roll on the floor laughing!!!

Continue the day admiring the pretty flowers that your very thoughtful hubby brought you.

Admire too your newly repaired favorite bracelet that DH retrieved from the jeweler. It came from my MIL and it only took us 15 years to get it fixed!

Then, look forward to using other thoughtful gifts, like this replacement for one of my favorite Le Creuset pans that recently sprung a chip in the enamel. We purchased three at an outlet store in Maine a number of years ago, and though we saved in price by getting "imperfects", we took a gamble on whether or not they'd last as long as the regulars. Now there are lots of other companies competing with that well established brand and we'll see if they're as good.

Toward the end of the day, enjoy your favorite cake - mine being this pineapple upside down cake - so, so delicious. For many years, I've used an old recipe for "Dinette Batter Cake" from the Betty Crocker Cookbook whenever we wanted this treat. My new spin this year was using coconut oil in place of shortening. The nutritional contest between these two is not even close, and the flavor in this cake was outstanding.

The last ingredient for a happy day is a beautiful sunset, leading to an overflowing heart. Thanks to all of you who added ingredients to the day!

January 12, 2011

Where's the Beef?

Ours is just around the corner from us on this farm!

This retired doc is now raising cattle as a hobby and part of his herd is grass-fed. That's what we ordered from him and had processed right here in town. You can't get much more "local" than this! And one of the best parts of buying local is getting to know the people who grow your food. People in our part of the world are very chatty too!

And the cows are pretty friendly too - probably because they don't know why we're there!

This is a butcher right in town. You can see they've been around a while. We've gotten our bulk meat purchases from several different lockers, and each one seems to have their own style of cutting the meat as well as packaging it. In all cases the butcher calls and asks how you'd like your meat to be cut - do you want more hamburger or stew meat?, how many people in your family?( so they know the number of steaks to package together), and the special question - do you want the tongue?!! Uhh, no thanks - maybe next time! I have nothing against eating tongue meat, but the idea of preparing it is beyond my comfort zone!

This locker labels their meat very clearly and has a double wrap of plastic under the paper - much nicer when it comes to thawing it out!

And this label has me particularly excited! Our previous half-of-half-a-cow purchases didn't include the brisket. This was once a very cheap piece of meat to buy, but thanks to the way it's been popularized by TV chefs, it's value has increased. So arbitrary, isn't it? Here's a recipe link from Ellie Krieger for sweet and sour brisket that may just be the one we use for this nice piece of beef.

Next to market will be a little piggy with our name on it. Mmmmm....

January 5, 2011

End of the Year Re-cap

My blogger voice has been suffering from laryngitis lately. Sometimes it just goes that way. But, I have a few pictures and thoughts to share today about our Christmas and the New Year.

We enjoyed our Christmas Eve lunch with my grandmother. She was charming as usual and happy for the change in routine. Thankfully the ice storm was cooperative and didn't really bother the roads. Boy it was quiet in that nursing home. So many thoughts here...

Our Christmas Day celebration at home included this lovely duck from La Ventosa Ranch in Iowa. My husband made a perfect duck a l'orange using Julia Child's classic cookbook. It was a large, white, Pekin duck, raised free-range on a crazy farm that often has two kinds of "kids" in the house since they raise goats, as well as ducks, chickens, and pigs!

My DH is apparently hoping I'll keep cooking this year, since he gave me this wonderful new toy!

One of the funny gifts under our tree was this t-shirt. Are you a Big Bang Theory fan? Can you figure it out?!!!

And speaking of funny...
...this was Christmas at my brother's house! Poor old Nellie never saw this puppy coming - why Santa why?!! The French bulldog puppy is Grace, and she's a charmer.

We rang in the New Year sharing great conversation and good munchies with friends. My new favorite, and very easy hors d'oeuvre, is this little pickled piquant pepper stuffed with fresh mozzarella. I love the sweet and spicy flavor of these peppers on lots of things, but this combination was really good.

We also started 2011 with a trip to Pella, IA to hear our daughter's choir perform. My dear aunt came along with us. She has such an outgoing personality and it was charming to see her make a point of stopping various choir members after the concert to tell them how much she enjoyed them- so thoughtful! The choir was wonderful as usual and this was the last time we'll hear DD perform on tour, and probably the last full performance we'll hear too. Lord willing, the next time we hear them will be at graduation. What a joy, what a privilege for our family these last four years.

And last but not least, I'm starting this year off with a new job! It's part-time, local, and feels like a perfect fit. Best of all the job found me, and I believe it's an answer to prayer. I'll be praying for more and more desire to bring all things to God in prayer for 2011.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Phillipians 4:6-7