Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It's Too Darn Hot!

There are very few activities that sound enjoyable when temps are in the triple digits.  I can think of three off the top of my head:
  • eat ice cream
  • have friends over for dinner
  • go swimming.

We did all three on Friday.  Friday is Sam’s “first Saturday” during the summer, so we slept in as late as we could.  We were relaxing in the living room, talking about how sleepy I still was and how exhausting this heat is, when Jono knocked on our door.  Jono’s work schedule makes him nearly impossible to see for the average person (3 to midnight, I think), but he couldn’t sleep as late as he normally does, so he came to hang out with us before work. We caught up with him for a while and argued about whether Zooey Dechanel or Ellen Page is better looking until he had to leave.  Not long after that, we got the call from Matt and Becca so we hurried out the door.  

The water at the pool is getting hot, so swimming isn’t as refreshing as it used to be, but it still better than most things.  Violet met us there and we spent the afternoon getting some sun and catching up with friends we don’t see often enough.  After about two hours in the water, I left to go sell ice cream at the Altamont farmers market.  When we finally gave up on the chance of selling much more, Sam and I went home to prepare for the third enjoyable activity of the day.  

Matt is a vegetarian, so we always enjoy the challenge of creating a delicious, filling meal, using no meat or dairy.  Sam thought veggie fajitas sounded good tonight, and I agreed, so went to work on that.  Sam made the fajitas and the rice and I made some flour tortillas.  Sam roasted broccoli and cauliflower with some olive oil lemon juice and fajita seasoning and he cooked onions, green and red peppers in a skillet with some oil and fajita seasoning. It was a delicious combination of flavors!  We also had black beans, mexican rice, sour cream and cheese.  It was such a fun night.

I know you’re all wondering how I made the tortillas, so here you go!  This is basically the easiest recipe ever.  It’s also really delicious!

3 C Flour (white or wheat)
1 C water
⅓ C Applesauce
1 t Salt

Mix and divide into at least 12 balls, let rest for a while.  Roll out as thin as possible on a floured surface.  Heat a dry cast iron skillet to medium heat.  Place a tortilla in the skillet and let cook for about 30 seconds-1 minute.  Turn over and let cook on the other side.  It will start bubbling when it’s done.  If your skillet isn’t quite hot enough, you might have to turn it over again.  Don’t leave them on too long or you’ll get dry, burned tortillas.  

The camera on my phone was being obnoxious so I didn’t get very good pictures of the tortillas. I think these are both before the first flip.  They still look pretty doughy.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy these tortillas! They’re tasty, easy, and vegan. :)

In other news, I got a job at Ernestos today. It’s a mexican restaurant.  I’ll be waiting tables during lunch and one night a week.  It will give us a bit of an income boost, without making our lives totally insane (hopefully).  I think I’ll enjoy working again, but I’ll miss all my free time and flexibility.

I should probably go give the dogs baths. They’ve been super itchy lately, so hopefully that improves the mood around here.  Have a good one!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Phyiscal and Emotional Exhaustion

I’ve been dragging all day.  I’m pretty sure I got enough sleep last night, but yesterday was too exhausting for even “enough” sleep.  Yesterday was the first Monday at the Oswego Farmers Market.  They’ve been busy enough on Thursdays to open a second day, and it was busier than one might expect for a first day.  After groceries, I made about $50, which I wouldn’t say is terrible.  I had a lot of fun, and I have a better idea of what to do next week.  I made Cheddar Garlic and Cinnamon Apple yeast breads, and I made Pumpkin Chocolate Chip, Poppy Seed, Banana Nut breads and muffins, and Blueberry Muffins.  Yeast breads sold way better than sweet breads. This is probably because yeast breads seem more intimidating. Next week I’ll make more than 2 kinds, and we’ll see how it goes.   

For my Denver friends reading this, farmers markets out here are really different.  In Denver, you had to have a ton of paper work showing you were a licensed kitchen and you had to pay “rent” to whoever ran the market.  Rent over there is usually a minimum of $25 a week. Down here, Oswego and Altamont don’t require any paper work or rent money.  You just show up and sell your stuff.  It takes a lot of the pressure off of markets and everyone is really relaxed.  Yesterday, the only other people selling things were a family of friendly Amish people selling their produce and a few baked goods. I enjoyed talking to them and they even traded with me!  I got  a little watermelon and a cantaloupe in exchange for a loaf of bread.  They also gave me a cup of yellow pear tomatoes.  They’re tasty!

The farmers market  was somewhere above 100 degrees, making for a physically exhausting day.  I forgot to bring water with me (well, I remembered to bring water, but I had nothing to put it in, so I skipped it), and by the end of the day I was really thirsty!  The Amish family had brought two jugs of water with them, and the dad had gone to the grocery store and brought back cans of pop for the kids.   They gave me the last glass of water from their jugs.  They were a very friendly family!

The other half of the exhaustion was brought on by a phone call while I was baking.  My Aunt Joneke down in Texas called to tell me mom was in the hospital.  Mom has been doing her chemo treatments in the same town where my Aunt and Uncle are temporarily staying (my Uncle is an engineer for Ball Can Companies--the guys who make pop cans--and he’s working at a new plant I think).  Aunt Joneke has been helping mom during her treatments and giving her rides to the doctor, airport, and wherever else.  Apparently, mom was reacting weird to fluids and insulin before her chemo treatment and her Dr. realized something was wrong.  They found out she had an infection and they admitted her to the hospital.  That’s all she knew when she called me.  She said depending on what kind of infection it was, it could possibly be pretty dangerous.  Waiting to find out if your mom is going to live or not is a horrible thing.  I guess we’ve been doing that for a while now, but it always seemed so far off.   There has always been another treatment to try, another doctor to visit, but this was just right in front of me.  

I finished baking, took the stuff to the market, and had my phone sitting with the volume turned up as loud as it would go so when there was news, I would hear it.  Finally it came.  Mom send a text message to say she was feeling better and that the antibiotics were working.  “Keep praying, but don’t worry,” She said.  “God has my back.”  Apparently she had sepsis, but it hadn’t damaged any organs yet.  If her Dr. hadn’t caught that something was wrong, she probably wouldn’t have made it through the chemo treatment.  She would have gone into septic shock.   It sounds like she’s in a very good hospital, surrounded by people who know what they’re doing.  Hearing how God is protecting her over and over again, I think He probably has more in store for her than just dying of cancer.  It is scary to go through this, though, even with faith that God “has her back.”  If you’re the praying type, keep my mom in your prayers.  We would all appreciate it a lot.

So, today I’ve been resting, mostly.  I did get the laundry done and I did some cleaning around the house, though, so I haven’t been totally useless.  Tonight we’re going to dinner with Sam’s old friends.  It should be a good evening.  I guess I’ll leave you with something I was pretty excited about yesterday.  I found/changed a recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip bread that rivals the deliciousness of the Great Harvest recipe I’m not allowed to use.  So, enjoy!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

3 cups white sugar
1 large can pumpkin puree (24 oz maybe?)
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips

I mix the dry ingredients together first (minus chocolate chips), then add wet ingredients and mix well.  Mix until you don’t see any more globs of flour.  If you don’t get those totally mixed in, you’ll find white chunks of flour/baking soda in your bread and that doesn’t taste very good or look very good.  Once you’ve got it all mixed well, add your chocolate chips.  Pour into three 9x5 inch loaf pans. (or 4 smaller loaf pans and make some muffins with the left over batter. That’s what I did!)  Bake at 350 for an hour (or less if you’re using smaller pans).  It turned out really good! I was excited.  Here’s how it turned out.  (Lets be honest... I mostly cut this piece so I could eat it, not so you could see how it turned out!)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Spending Time With Mom

I am a Westerner once again for a week, but it seems that the South has followed me here.  The pastures are more green than I’ve ever seen them this time of year.  The air and my hair are full of moisture.  Dad has been frustrated and anxious since before I arrived because the wheat fields are still full of wheat.  And they are full!  The field in front of my parents’ house was averaging 70 bushels an acre before they had to quit cutting due to mud.  Ruts about a foot deep are full of water now, but today’s heat is slowly drying them out.  They are cutting today for the first time since Sunday.   Dad is happy to be doing something.

Staying with mom has been really good for both of us.  She’s been resting a lot, which gives me a chance to rest too.  I’ve been able to do dishes, clean the kitchen and the living room, get her refills of ice water, make her food.  It has been so nice to be able to serve her.  We’ve watched a lot of TV and a few movies.  She’s felt much better this week than she has the past several weeks.  She hasn’t been sick, just tired.  

Wednesday was the real adventure of the trip so far.  Mom was going to the hospital for a new treatment which is supposed to shrink tumors.  We didn’t know as much about the drug as we thought we did, which added to the adventure.  Connie, the oncology nurse and the wife of one of mom’s old teachers, hooked mom up to some saline and began telling her the possible side effects of the drug, one of which was congestive heart failure!  She said to tell her as soon as mom felt weird at all, especially pressure or tightness in her chest or in her lower back, as the drug usually attacks the kidneys before the heart.  We put in a movie, but I paid more attention to mom’s pulse on the monitor than The Blind Side.

About a half hour into the treatment, mom asked me to get Connie because she felt something weird in her lower back.  Within a minute, it went from weird to extremely painful.  The doctor ran from across the street and started giving orders to the nurses and I got out of the way as much as possible.  I’ve never experienced such a feeling of helplessness in my life.  After a few minutes, they had the Herceptin drip turned off, and began giving mom an epi shot, benedryl, and some pain killers.  Not long after that, she was relaxing and the pain was dying down.  After they said she was okay to leave, we celebrated surviving the craziness by getting ice cream at the Dairy King.  The crazy part is that even after all of that, when we got home and she could lay down on the couch, she still seemed more like herself than I’ve seen in months.  

She leaves for her next treatment on Sunday, so I’ll probably head southeast that morning.  I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to be here for her, especially with all the excitement on Wednesday.  It is so good to see her feeling better, having energy, eating real food, and making jokes.  Speaking of eating real food, here’s what I made for dinner on Wednesday night:

Easy Alfredo Sauce:
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese
1 pint Heavy Cream
3 C Italian Cheeses (Parmesan, asiago and/or romano especially, but also provelone, maybe mozzerella.  I think it is best to stay  away from the more stringy cheeses.  
3 T olive oil
½ C milk, as needed to thin sauce down.

Heat Cream and cream cheese in sauce pan, add cheese and let melt.  Stir until the cheese is totally mixed in and melted.  Add olive oil and milk and stir until slightly more thin than you want to serve.  Then let simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently.  Salt and Pepper to taste.

That sauce is super easy, and very tasty.  We made that as part of the meal at my wedding and everyone loved it. I hope you enjoy it!

Well, I’m in the middle of making bread for mom and dad, and I want to get back to hanging out with mom in the other room.  I hope you’re all having a great week!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Heading West

Yesterday we finally got bored.  Sam and I had been hanging out at the house for five days.  We watched several TV shows, five movies, had friends over for dinner, and rested.  It was lovely to rest.  I asked Sam if he wanted to have Drew and Jono over to play cards and he said he did.  Neither of them answered their phones.  We gave up on them after a while and called Vi.  She didn’t answer either, and we started to wonder if our friends suddenly decided they hated us, or if they all left town and no one told us.  We eventually got bored enough that we just got in the car and drove around to see if anyone was home.  Luckily, Parsons is small enough that takes about 5 minutes.  Jono and Courtney were home.  We went to Shredders (BBQ) for dinner and it was delicious.  Then we came to our house and I ate too much ice cream.  It was tasty, but I definitely over estimated the amount of free space in my stomach. It was a good night, though, and I’m glad we got to spend time with them.

Tomorrow morning at 8:00 am (hopefully), I’ll be heading West on my second solo trip since marrying Sam.  This one won’t be totally solo.  I’m bringing Ralph and Huck, on the eight hour drive.  Ralph loves driving.  When he was a puppy he was incredibly spastic and he barked all the time (okay, so not much as changed, really), but when we went for a drive he sat still and just watched the world go by.  The trip from Denver to Parsons for Thanksgiving was the only trip I can think of that he didn’t enjoy.  I think that was mainly because he only had ⅓ of the back seat and I didn’t want him sitting on my lap the whole time.  I’m not sure how well Huckleberry will do.  He usually enjoys drives well enough if he has a window cracked so he can stick his nose out and feel the breeze.  If it is over 100 degrees tomorrow, he may not get his window, but he can have some air conditioning.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year and a half ago.  She has tried various treatments, trying to stay away from traditional chemo because of the relatively low cure rate, and how it destroys so much aside from cancer.  A few months ago she was told her cancer had spread and stronger, more intensive treatment was needed.  She is doing a few different treatments now, one of which is a low-dose chemo.  Even though it is a low dose, it is still making her a little sick after each session.  I’m planning on staying with her for at least a week just to help out in any way she needs.  I’ll do the laundry, clean the house, make meals, and help her if she gets sick.  I am so excited to hang out with her, spend hours talking and watching TV,  and I’m really looking forward to serving her.  She’s a cool lady, and I’m glad I have the chance to be there for her.  

Sorry this is short, but I’ve got a few things I need to do before I leave.  I’m sure I’ll get the chance to write while I’m down there.  So, in following with tradition (if you can call something happening twice a tradition), I’ll leave you with a recipe.  This is what I cooked for Chris and Sarah when they came for dinner on Wednesday.  It is incredibly easy and very delicious.  

Honey Mustard Chicken

½ C Honey
½ C Dijon Mustard
2 T Olive Oil
A bit of Salt and Pepper
4-5 Chicken breasts

Mix up the honey, mustard, oil, salt and pepper in a bowl or liquid measuring cup.  Place chicken in the bottom of a baking dish and pour the honey mustard over the top.  Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes or until chicken is done.  I turn the chicken over a few times just to make sure it gets nice and coated with the honey mustard.  Every time I make this, everyone loves it. Sorry I don’t have pictures this time, but trust me, it’s good!

Well, I’m out for now.  Sam made dinner so I’m going to go eat! 

Friday, July 8, 2011

6 Months of Liking Sam

“Aunt Hannah!” Gloria whispers as she leans on the air bed.  
“What?” I whisper back.
“I think you kind of like Uncle Sam!”  She covers her mouth with her hand and giggles quietly to herself.
“I do kind of like Uncle Sam.  How did you know?”
“I just did!” She giggles again.
“Well don’t tell him!  I don’t think he knows yet.”  

That conversation is in honor of mine and Sam’s 6 month anniversary today.  Gloria, my 7-year-old niece is hilarious and sweet, and is convinced that I kind of like Sam. She is right.

I had a great weekend with my sisters, my niece and nephews.  Having my house full of so many people I love was fantastic.  They rolled in on Saturday night and left early Tuesday morning, and even though they were barely here, I enjoyed every minute.  We went to Big Hill lake on Monday morning.  I made 26 (or so) turkey and cheese sandwiches on my home made bread, and brought a sliced loaf of bread for PB&J sandwiches if we ran out of the others.  Everyone loved the bread.  My cousin’s husband, Ted, told me I could open a shop and just sell that bread. Someone else said it was the best home made bread they’d ever had.  So, if you try the recipe I’m guessing your families or friends will like it too.

Sam has been off work all week.  The college decided to give everyone a summer break this year, so he has been free since Friday. This has been the perfect week to have him home every day.  I haven’t been feeling that great, so just being able to lay around and “vacation” with him has been perfect.  We have rented movies, watched Netflix and Hulu, had friends over, and relaxed.  Sam asked if I wanted to go on a date tonight to celebrate our first 6 months of marriage and I’m excited to go out with him.  We decided to try selling ice cream at the Altamont farmers market this evening to try it out and to pay for our dinner!  Last weekend, Abby brought me a ton of frozen cream, so today’s venture will cost us a total of $4.08 for milk, plus tax.  I plan on selling the ice cream in foam cups for a dollar a scoop.  I’m bringing chocolate and vanilla, and maybe the left over cheesecake ice cream from last weekend.  Hopefully we make enough for a tasty anniversary dinner.  

So, in case you’d like to try this at home, here’s my ice cream recipe!

 2 C sugar
2 T cornstarch
¼ t salt
7 C milk
7 egg yolks, beaten
3 C cream
2 T vanilla

Stir sugar, cornstarch, salt and milk together over medium heat until slightly thickened (do not allow to boil).  Separate the eggs (I give the whites to my dogs, but you can find something else to do with it), beat the yolks, and quickly stir into the milk mixture.  Cook on medium again (keep a good eye on it this time), stirring constantly until slightly thickened again.  Stir in the cream.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Let the mixture cool and then freeze in your ice cream freezer.  This is enough for just about a gallon of ice cream!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Fourth of July

Six months after moving to Parsons, Kansas I still feel like an outsider.  The houses, the trees, the people, the habits all seem so different from what I’m used to.  I think I’ll eventually get used to the differences between Parsons and everything that had been a part of my life before January, but it hasn’t happened yet.  The differences are subtle enough I never barely noticed them on my various visits to Southeast Kansas, and they are subtle enough I have a difficult time explaining them.  Life here is so different from life in Denver or even St. Francis but I find it hard to tell my friends why.

The Fourth of July is a holiday here in a way I never experienced in the West.  Both St. Francis and Denver are so dry that fireworks are usually banned because the risk of fire is so high.  Also, my family was almost always harvesting over the Fourth, so we were working from early in the morning until after dark.  Here, the Fourth of July is a time for huge parties, extravagant fireworks displays, spending time with family, and eating good food.  I had so much fun last year (that may have been partially due to seeing Sam after five weeks of separation), and this year will be even better!  This year, Katie, Abby, Abby’s four kids, Aunt Becky, Janessa, Alex, and Papa are all coming to celebrate with us.  

My parents have spent the night in Parsons, visited for a few hours, and then headed back on the road.  They were the first to see my house, but they haven’t yet had a chance to really see my life.  The family members coming this weekend are the first to spend several days with Sam and I.  They are the first people to see the differences first hand.  I am so excited to show them my home, my life, the places I go, introduce them to my friends, and I can’t wait to spend time with them!  Also, I am excited for them to experience a Southeast Kansas Fourth of July.  I am sure they will love it as much as I did.

We are almost ready for the chaos, but (because this is half a Parsons blog and half a cooking blog) I’ve been making a lot of food for the weekend.  I made 4 gallons of ice cream for the party at Phil and Julie’s on Sunday, and I’m making several loaves of bread for toast and sandwiches while the kids are here.  Maybe I’ll tell you my ice cream recipe sometime, but today I’ll tell you my bread recipe.  I’ve been baking in a toaster oven so I can only do one loaf at a time, but you can do several loaves at once and make your life easier.

1 C Warm water
⅓ C Sugar
1 T yeast
2 T oil
¾ t salt
2 ½-3 C bread flour

Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water, let sit around 10 minutes until a creamy foam covers the entire top.   Here’s a picture so you can see what you’re looking for:

Stir in oil, salt, and 2 C flour.  Put 1 C flour on a clean counter top, dump dough onto the flour and knead until dough feels elastic and smooth.  Don’t clean up your flour mess. Spray mixing bowl with cooking spray or pour a small amount of oil in the bottom of the bowl.  Place dough in oiled mixing bowl, and completely cover dough with oil to prevent the dough from sticking as it rises.  Cover the bowl loosely with a towel, plastic wrap, or lid and let rise until doubled in size (about an hour--or less if you live in hot, humid Parsons).  Once dough has risen, dump it back on to your floured counter top and knead again.  Shape into a greased 9x5 loaf pan, cover again, and leave to rise.  You can clean up your flour mess now.  Once your loaf has risen to about ½ or 1 inch above the top of the pan, bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.  Bake until top is golden brown and when you push the top down it feels like bread, not dough.  Remove from pan and let cool.  Enjoy!

I’m off to go make some more bread.  I plan on having about 6 loaves for the weekend.  I should also get the beds made and sweep the floor. Our dogs produce more hair than I do, and that’s impressive!