Sunday, October 28, 2012

Frugal in the Kitchen & Books

Susan’s stroll down memory lane last week, revisiting Halloweens of her youth, rekindled a memory I have of reading science fiction, fantasy and horror stories as a boy living in a mobile home in the small community of Shiloh, located a few miles east of Mayodan. My love of reading and writing can be traced back to the summer of ‘69. Momma, ever the thrifty one, purchased a large box of books at a yard sale one weekend. She paid five dollars for the entire lot and I, due to her thoughtfulness, fell in love with reading. While I enjoyed and read every book in that box, I favored science fiction over fantasy and horror, probably because the genre made me think of things that could be possible given time and technological achievements.

While man left his mark on the moon during that summer, I was in no way confined to that mobile home in Shiloh. Those books carried me to mountain tops and ocean depths, beyond the confines of gravity to moons and planets, bridging vast distances between stars, worlds microscopic and macroscopic, through barriers of time and space. Asimov, Bova, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein, Herbert, Pohl, were but a few of my captains, who ferried me along with the characters in their books.

Those books piqued my interest in model rocketry. I worked odd jobs that summer, earning money to purchase a model rocket kit complete with a launch pad, rocket, and several small cylinder shaped solid fuel rocket engines. A few months later, one of my teachers at school asked me to talk to my classmates about rocketry. At recess, I was permitted to launch one of my rockets from a designated “safe spot” on the football field. My classmates counted “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0 liftoff!” and I pressed the ignition button. My rocket streaked skyward, leaving a trail of white smoke. A few seconds later we heard a distant pop and, soon after, my rocket drifted down via a plastic parachute several yards from where it began its brief journey.

Not bad mileage (for the imagination) for a five dollar box of books. In fact, I think I’m still ferrying along, fueled by my love of reading that began that summer.

Some of the recipes I post here are created while playing in the kitchen. I think I got my money's worth last weekend when I purchased four large chicken breast (2.88 lbs) for $5.75. After boiling the breast to make chicken salad, it suddenly occurred to me that I should do something with the left over broth. Here’s what I did:

Ad-libbed Black Bean Chicken Soup

I boiled the chicken, removed the breast, left the broth/water in the pot. I then added one shredded chicken breast, two cans (drained) of black beans, a jar of salsa, corn (drained), 16 ounces of veggie juice, sauteed onions, half cup brown rice, two teaspoons chili powder, two teaspoons cumin, two teaspoon onion powder, two teaspoons garlic powder, teaspoon sea salt, teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper and another can of chicken broth and two cups water.

I brought the soup up to a boil then cut it down to medium low and let it simmer for two hours, adding additional water as needed.

With the remaining three breast, I made chicken salad--diced the chicken breast, tossed the chicken into a bowl, added pecans, mayonnaise, red grapes (sliced), diced celery, salt and pepper, stirred everything thoroughly then put the chicken salad in the fridge to chill for a few hours.

My efforts made three quarts of the black bean chicken soup and one quart and one pint of chicken salad. I gifted my neighbor a quart of soup and a pint of the chicken salad.

There’s no fun in being frugal if you don’t share. :)

And finally, a poem for you to pause and consider. Have a great week!


Not so much
the fiery streak
that split the
autumn night
or the impact it made
miles away
as we watched
with awed delight
but the distance
the distance
only to sizzle and fizzle
in the deep

Magnapoets - Issue 5, January 2010

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Going, Going, Gone...

The frost isn’t quite on the pumpkin here in the piedmont of North Carolina but I’ve certainly felt its breath whispering across my nape lately.  Early mornings aren’t yet brisk, but they’ve sent me in search of a pair of socks to warm against my kitchen floor’s chill.  Autumn’s brilliance shows up in varying degrees depending on the type of tree I’m contemplating.  Inducing one reverie after another, careening flocks of migrating birds distract me from a pale daily routine, taking me with them in my imagination.  The pace of my days has changed from a flamenco staccato to a slow and soulfully stroked 12-string guitar’s cadence.  Time moves along just as it should and beautifully at that.  

Unlike other seasons, autumn lends itself especially well  to dwelling on what passes us by.  This week I talked with a young mother and was delighted to learn that her children would attend their grammar school’s Halloween Carnival later this month.  I immediately recalled the smell of my own childhood’s sweaty gymnasium carnival where the locker room had been decorated to pose as a Haunted House (I still jump out of my skin when anyone jumps at me from around a corner).  Someone’s mother dressed as a fortune teller and mused to us in an oddly convincing mix of a southern drawl and a bad composite of southern European accents as she peered into each child’s palm, predicting the great lives we would lead.  Children raced around that gym fueled by overdoses of sugar and their wildly vivid imaginations.  It was All Hallow’s Eve!  How fun that this mother’s children would get to enjoy the same experience I so fondly remembered from my own childhood!  But my trip down memory lane came to an abrupt halt when she told me that bobbing for apples was no longer allowed due to health concerns.  Oh, my.  I understand worries over communicable diseases as well as the next parent, but the death of the apple barrel has hit me surprisingly hard.  

I’ll let the bandwagon of dissent roll right past me without leaving my footprints in its bed.  I’ll spare you the spiel I feel brewing over the apple barrel’s demise, of all those things we’ll miss when we’ve allowed, moreover, asked them to leave us.  How much further will we isolate ourselves until we realize our bubbles are so heavy they can’t catch a breeze?

autumn flannel -
the warmth
of my father’s shirt

Here’s to timely, nostalgic comfort food!

Pumpkin Pie

For Crust:  (best to work with very cold ingredients!)

1 ¼ c. all-purpose flour

½ c. (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter
½ c. powdered confectioner’s sugar

3 tbsp. whipping cream

For Filling:

¾ c. granulated sugar

¼ tsp (generous) salt
1 tbsp. packed brown sugar

16 oz. pumpkin
1 tbsp. cornstarch

¾ c. whipping cream
2 tsp. cinnamon

½ c. sour cream
¾ tsp. ground ginger

3 large eggs, beaten
¼ c. apricot preserves

For Crust:  Preheat oven to 350.  Blend flour and powdered sugar.  Add cold butter which has been cut into small pieces and working quickly so your hands will not melt the small pieces of butter.  Blend with pastry cutter or food processor until flour mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add cold whipping cream until moist clumps form.  Gather dough into ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate 15-30 minutes.  Roll dough on floured surface to 14-inch round.  Transfer to 9-inch pie plate.  Trim overhang to 1 inch and fold overhang under.  Make cut in edge of crust at ½-inch intervals, bending alternate edge pieces inward.  Freeze for 15 minutes.  Line crust with foil, pressing firmly.  Bake until sides are set, about 10 minutes.  Remove foil and bake until pale brown, about 10 minutes more.  Remove pie from oven and reduce temperature to 325.

Spread preserves over crust.  

For Filling:  Using a whisk, mix sugars, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger and salt until no lumps remain.  Add pumpkin, whipping cream, sour cream and eggs.  Pour filling on top of preserves.  Bake until filling puffs at edges and center is almost set, about 55 minutes.  Cool on wire rack; cover and chill.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Food Portions and Healthy Living

And we're back...

I was out of town last week and have had a few personal good things going on. Without giving the reader too much information, I’ll say that the move that my daughter and I made to Poet’s Cottage a year ago last month has been one of the best moves I’ve made in my life. We are happy campers and laugh frequently. Methinks life is often what you make of it, we must always strive to make it good.

Okay, an abbreviated post today, but one with a great recipe. Followers of this blog saw in my last post that I’ve started eating healthier, exercising and controlling my food portions--quite the opposite from my Food Portions post on April 1, 2012. So far, I’ve had little to no problem working-in a walk or workout during the course of a day. I’ve discovered that, if you use your imagination, you can be very creative when adopting a healthier lifestyle. Twenty minutes of exercise once or twice a day is easier to manage than thirty to forty minutes at one time during the day. I’ve learned that you don’t have to go overboard on a fitness kick to reap immediate benefits.

The mental benefits of healthier living is something that I’d forgotten about during my decade of inactivity. I feel better about myself. I’m happier, less prone to spiral into a chasm of negativity. While I’ve never been a hothead (seriously, folks, I’m an easy going dude), I’m less prone to become angry over small things now. Perhaps this is the greatest benefit one can reap from a healthier lifestyle. A sullen disposition, overtime, can have adverse affects on your physical and mental well being. And, if you think about it, you’re not doing the people around you any favors by sulking or brooding all the time.

Be thankful and savor the small things life has to offer.

morning prayer...
a wren chimes in
amid the amens

One of the foods that I used to gorge myself on is steak. I still treat myself from time to time, but what used to be one meal has become two or three meals (again, it’s all about controlling your portions). How’s that for frugality! Here’s how I cook a steak when I’m not grilling.

Skillet Seared Steak

Tony’s Creole Seasong
sea salt
garlic powder
olive oil

I firmly believe that a good steak does not need steak sauce. Season a steak properly and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Set your steak out on a counter. Allow the meat to rise to room temperature. This will prevent the steak from becoming tough and chewy.

Rub the steak in olive oil. Coat the steak with the first three ingredients (your dry rub).

Place a cast iron skillet in a 500 degree oven. While the skillet becomes hot in the oven, turn a burner on top of the stove on High heat.

After the skillet becomes hot, remove it from the oven and set it on the burner (leave the oven on).

Sear the steak in the pan for 30 seconds, flip and sear the other side for 30 seconds.

Put the steak in the 500 degree oven. Cook for two minutes. Remove from the oven, flip the steak, put it back in the oven for another two minutes. This will make for a medium rare steak. Add a minute to the level of desired doneness if you’re don’t want a medium rare steak.

By the way, the steaks featured here are chuck eye steaks. They are loaded with flavor and are a lot cheaper than rib eye.

And, no, I didn't eat both steaks. I gave one to a neighbor who was kind enough to share homemade English muffins with me.

I've got great neighbors. :)