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I’ve been called many names like perfectionist, difficult, and obsessive.  I think it takdes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good. ~Barbara Streisand

I turned SIXTY this past September.  That’s a big 6 and an 0.  Six DECADES of life.  And I still feel like I’m 17 with the whole world at my feet and eternity to explore it in.  As my birthday approached I became increasingly reflective, contemplating the past and what I have accomplished and musing about how much time I had left to accomplish anything,; whether I could accomplish anything that mattered,  and what I wanted that to be.  What kind of legacy did I want to leave behind?  How could I be the best me I could be?

These musings were very private and personal so they didn’t get written about.  At least not for public consumption. They consumed a great deal of time and energy and as a consequence this Blog and many other things were neglected.  It was a downright obsessive compulsive period that lasted much longer than I would have thought  but in many ways I am glad I took those long months off and engaged in more than a little self indulgent navel gazing.  It was good for me because I realized that I had been shambling  through life like a tumbleweed blown hither, thither, and yon at the whim of whatever breeze blew the hardest.  I need to focus.  I need to narrow down what I will give my precious little available head space  and physical energy to and set some goals.

I don’t usually make formal New Years Resolutions because when I do  I usually set such lofty goals for myself that I can’t possibly live up to them.  But then that leads to vague, unfocused rambling semi-goals  that are seldom really productive.  Every year I do choose a few  new to me things to learn.  Usually something difficult and something not so difficult and something easy. I really enjoy learning to do new things and I have learned a lot of things over my lifetime.  I’m proud of this ability and I’m proud of the many varied interests I have.  I think it keeps me young and my mind alert.  (I may be kidding myself about that part.)  Most of all it means that I am very rarely bored.

However, where I get into trouble is my expectations for myself.  For instance last year I vowed to learn to play bridge and I did learn the basics but bridge is a complicated game and there was so MUCH to learn that I became overwhelmed so I quit.  I wanted to be able to jump into a game with people who had been playing Bridge for years and be competitive.  I was not content to BE a beginner.  And that is my hubris.  I expect too much of myself.  I’m too competitive.

The same thing happened when I decided to learn to crochet before my daughter was born.  I didn’t just want to learn to crochet, I wanted to crochet her coming home from the  hospital outfit and when I was a couple of months along I chose a lovely and not too complicated  pattern. I managed to accomplish learning how to crochet and I did manage to make my daughter’s coming home outfit before she was born but I didn’t learn some things that were essential for crocheting a truly lovely garment.  And my disappointment in my effort led me to quit putting in any more effort to learn.   I couldn’t do it perfectly so I didn’t want to do it at all.  I realize now that it really was too hard to learn more than the basics  all by myself.  What’s more, I wasn’t willing to do the dull practice of crocheting simple scarves and hats that didn’t require complicated turns and counting stitches to get to the point that I could point with pride at what I had made. If I cannot produce a garment that looks as if it had been made by someone with 20 years of experience crocheting then I lose interest.  I want to be an expert in 3 easy lessons.

Of course that doesn’t  happen.  My expectations for myself were and always have been too high.  If I can’t be an instant expert, leftover tapes from my childhood begin to play in my head and I  abandon whatever didn’t come easy immediately.  So this year, late in life, I have decided to learn how to lower my expectations and learn something difficult one baby step at a time and not let my failure to be perfect at doing it right away get in my way. After all, over the years whenever I wanted a new scarf or a hat, I have picked up the yarn and needles and crocheted one and now people see my work and offer to pay me to crochet for them.  I have finally become an expert in scarves and hats. I’ve decided after all this time to learn to be a beginner. Not so difficult things usually comes pretty easy for me so I felt that the key to correcting this flaw in my character was to break something down into its simplest components, to begin at the beginning  and become an expert in one small piece at a time before I allowed myself to move on the the next small piece.

So these are my New Year’s resolutions.

1.  Find a teacher to teach me how to do something difficult the right way and quit expecting myself to be able to learn new things without help.

2. Accept that I cannot become an expert in something until I have finished the business of being a beginner.

3. Put my ability to be obsessive to good use and learn to deal with the boredom of the repetitive details of being a beginner until I have ceased to be a beginner at step one before I move on to step two.

4. Do allow my compulsive nature to jump ahead to what I consider  the “fun stuff”  ruin the process of learning.  Learn to accept “failure” and frustration as part of the process of learning.

5. Relax and enjoy being  the best me I can be.

These are the new things I want to learn this year:

Making good light fluffy cream Scones

The Korean alphabet

Understanding and using Linux terminal  command lines

Oh, and one more resolution:  BLOG about my experiences

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One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.  ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story


Last Sunday I tried a new recipe and baked a Dr Pepper Ham for a feast for the “kids.” I’ve heard about soda pops being used to tenderize meat but had never tried it.  Then a ham recently came into my life and while I was googling recipes to be sure I had the oven temperature and stuff right,  I ran into the Dr Pepper Ham recipe on The cooking Dude website and I had to try it and tweak it to make it my own. 

Dr Pepper just happens to be my favorite soda pop.  I can remember the first time I tried it.  I was at the Pibel Bible Church Camp and Jon Zlomke bought it for me. Ahhh…sweet memories.  But I digress, back to my very tiny, very retro 1980s  kitchen:


Actually I tried FIVE new (at least for some of the family) recipes for that dinner since I’m trying to adapt tried and true family recipes to the dairy and egg allergies that have recently been diagnosed. Reinventing the wheel so to speak. The menu:

Dr Pepper Ham*

Garlic Mashed potatoes and Cauliflower*

Roasted Beets*

Steamed Broccoli

Corn Bread*

Grandma’s Dilly Bread**

Vodka Apple Pie*

Everything turned out great except for the adaptation of Grandma Iola Gavin’s recipe for Dilly Bread (**found in The Joy of Cooking recipe book). I’m not sure exactly what went wrong because I went off course and mixed the batter up the night before and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight in the interests of saving time and energy when I had all that other stuff going on. That might not have been a good idea for batter bread.  I substituted soft tofu with a couple of tablespoons of almond milk for the cottage cheese and added a tablespoon of vinegar and extra baking soda to substitute for the egg. The rise didn’t ever quite get there and when I took it out of the oven it fell. :^(  It was really dense and seemed too “wet.” 

The good news is that it tasted quite similar to Grandma’s Bread.  I’ll have to try again because Dilly Bread is a big favorite and a must for a ham dinner at our house. I’m thinking there was too much moisture—I didn’t adjust the wet ingredients to account for the vinegar and the almond milk may have been overkill.

After a big ham dinner, what comes next? Why Ham & Bean Soup*, of course! My friend Mark Zakula is responsible for the ham dinner because we bartered for services. He drove my dog Igor and me to the vet and requested a batch of bean soup in return. As happy coincidence would have it, ham went on sale at my neighborhood store, Capitol Centre Market, that same week and we scratched the Ham Hock & Bean Soup in favor of that coveted ham bone and my “kids” got a ham dinner. :^)

I was “talking” to Bebe, author of the French Twisted Woman  blog here on WordPress, about cooking, recipes, and food photography and mentioned that I had made bean soup but neglected to get a picture but maybe I should post a picture of the blister I got rendering all of the carrots I put into it into ¼ cubes. She said she’d post a picture of one of her failures If I would post my blister picture. So here you are Bebe:


It had already begun to heal and wasn’t full of water anymore so it’s not as dramatic as I would have liked but if you look closely you can see it at the base of my index finger on the right. <heheheh>

Then I remembered that I actually had a couple of bowls of that soup in the refrigerator so here’s a picture of the soup too!

 


*All recipes can be found by post date in the new Recipe pages found in the tabs at the top of every post or by clicking the links on the menu posted above.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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Nope, my good girl, Kerryn, came to my rescue! Since she voluntarily came to clean my oven for the stupid HUD Inspections, I made her a simple supper of Salad, Omaha Steak’s Pork Loin Cutlets (a gift from one of my neighbors), and Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Cauliflower which she had never tried. The Pork Cutlets were really, really good. Thanks, Richard!

 The mashed potatoes and cauliflower combination is a fairly new discovery for me and Kerryn liked it so just for her, here’s the recipe for six to eight servings:

Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Cauliflower

Cook until tender:

1 head of cauliflower broken into small florets

4 medium-sized unpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes cut into 1 inch cubes

I usually start this process with the potatoes in a pot that has a steamer insert and put the cauliflower in the steamer until the potatoes are beginning to get soft. Then I dump the cauliflower in with them and finish them together.

While that is cooking peel, smash and mince 3-4 good-sized cloves of garlic and saute it in 1 TBS of butter until it smells good and is tender. Do not brown. OR if you’re busy and rushing things, use 1 tsp garlic powder in the next step. More if you like garlic.

When the vegetables and garlic have cooked put them in a food processor with a bit of the cooking liquid and add:

2 (or more) TBSP butter
1/8 cup of whole milk to start.
½ tsp salt
A few cranks of the pepper grinder

Turn the food processor on and let it do its thing until the potato peels are still visible but the potatoes and cauliflower look like mashed potatoes are supposed to look in your world. I like mine a bit lumpy. (What can I say, my mother was not into doing whatever it took to make smooth mashed potatoes when I was growing up so in MY world mashed potatoes are a little lumpy with chewy little chunks of potatoes in them.)

Turn it out into a serving bowl and stir in 1 TBS of parsley. Fresh is a nice touch but I seldom have fresh on hand so I use the dried stuff. Plop about a TBS of butter in the middle and crank some pepper over the top. Good with beef or pork gravy on it, too.

If I was going to make this dairy free I would substitute a good margarine for the butter and use plain soy, oat or almond milk instead of Cow’s milk. Maybe coconut milk.  I’ve been reading good things about the health benefits of coconut oil.

Since I live alone I halve this recipe and I’m inclined to use instant potatoes. Just follow the recipe on the box for 2 servings and dump everything into the food processor with half the cauliflower. It keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days

That’s Kerryn.  She doesn’t look much like a kitchen drudge in that picture does she?  But let me tell ya, she can clean an oven and not make a mess of the floor.  I don’t know how she does it. 

Thanks for helping me out with that odious chore, Sweet Pea. You rock!  Love ya a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck!

Addendum:  It is 9:30am. The inspectors have come and gone.  I got the bathroom and kitchen mostly done, the windows washed, and my bed made.  I had the couch pulled out and the equipment and cleaning supplies to vacuum and steam clean the pet messes on the carpet (wouldn’t you know one of my brats puked on the carpet in two different spots yesterday) scattered around so it was obvious I was getting to them. 

They weren’t even going to look in the oven or refrigerator but I insisted they look at the oven since I stressed over it so much and Kerryn made a special effort to help me.  Jill said it was obvious that I kept up with the housekeeping so she just checked things off her list.  I guess that’s a compliment.  They did test the fire alarm and made sure all the other mechanicals were working–flushed the toilet, turned on the fans and all the lights. I pointed out that I cleaned the windows because if the windows are clean and the kitchen counters are cleared off, the dishes are put away, the kitchen floor is mopped and the carpets don’t have a bunch of crap littering them,  then the house looks clean to me.  The dust can be an inch thick but if those things are done, it looks clean.  Just don’t look too closely.

Honestly, I don’t know why they send that damn letter telling us that we have to do this long list of stuff to pass these things if they aren’t going to check to be sure they are done.  On the other hand, I still have nightmares about living at Shirley’s House of Recycled Virgins on Whitewater Avenue in Fort Atkinson when the kids were young.  What a PITA that stick-up-her-butt woman was when she did inspections.  I guess I won’t complain about the young ladies here and try to remember they aren’t Shirley…

Wikipedia: floor definition: the level base of a room.

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“Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”  –Harriet Van Horne, Vogue 10/1956

“Fat gives things flavor.” –Julia Child

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”Julia Child

My daughter, Kerryn, grandson, Gabe and my son-in-law Mike’s recent discovery that they are dealing with food allergies as the cause of a variety of maladies they suffer from has started me on a quest to adapt or develop family recipes that are dairy and egg free as well as a few other things they can no longer eat . Here’s the latest:

 Hearty Savory Pumpkin soup (Dairy Free)

Fry one pound of pork or turkey sausage until browned in a large skillet on a medium high burner, breaking it up into bite-sized chunks. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon. If your sausage is low-fat (why bother), melt 1-2 table spoons margarine or butter (this is NOT diet food people!) and saute:

  • 1 large onion minced.
  • 2 ribs of celery diced (you may substitute 1 tsp celery seed)
  • 2-3 carrots diced
  • A large pinch of sea salt
  • a few cranks of the pepper mill or 1/8 tsp ground pepper

until the onion and celery are beginning to get soft. Add

  • 1 tsp thyme
  • a couple of large pinches of rubbed sage (¼ to ½ tsp?)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes or one dried hot pepper (Jalapeno, Habanero, whatever…) crushed.

Continue to saute, stirring occasionally for another 3-5 minutes until the onions are translucent and the celery is soft. Meanwhile in a large stock pot over medium heat melt, stirring constantly:

  • 1 TBS margarine or butter
  • 2 TBS creamy peanut butter

Slowly add, stirring constantly with a whisk:

  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • Another large pinch of sea salt
  • the sausage and sauteed vegetables

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for about 10 minutes until the carrots have softened. Stir in:

  • 1 can or 2 cups of pureed pumpkin
  • 1 can of coconut milk or 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream

At this point taste your soup and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if it needs it and pepper flakes if you like the heat. Be careful with the pepper flakes because they take on a life of their own. Add a very few at a time and let it cook for a minute or two and taste again before you add more. Heat slowly just until it starts to simmer and reduce heat to the lowest setting. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

You can skip this step but it really will help to improve and intensify the flavors. Turn off the heat and let it sit until it becomes room temperature then refrigerate it for 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Be sure you cover it so it doesn’t pick up any flavors from the stuff in the refrigerator. Bring it back to serving temperature and stir in 1 TBS of chopped parsley. Ladle into a bowl and drop a dollop of imitation sour cream, greek yogurt, or the real thing (if you aren’t doing dairy free)  to float on top.

I made this last night to taste test with Kerryn to determine if we liked it. We figure if SHE likes it then more than likely the rest of the Gavin-Lewellyn-Francis clan is going to like it. Namely the men in the family. They’ll pretty much eat anything that isn’t vomit worthy except for Gabe and he’s pretty picky–a typical kid who hates most vegetables. He and Kerryn both have food texture issues. Gabe doesn’t like “crunchy” onions in stuff as does Kerryn who also despises celery that has any amount of give to it in soups and things like stuffing. I learned years ago to saute onions and celery to the point of mush to get it past her.

We’ve decided it was a keeper. Kerryn said that it was the best soup she had ever had. I think that’s a little hyperbole on her part but it was pretty damn good. We decided that we wouldn’t tell Gabe it was pumpkin soup until  after he ate it. We don’t usually do that to him because it causes trust issues but she thinks I can get away with it. This would look great served in individual hearty artisan bread bowls (sunflower bread?) or a medium-sized pie pumpkin hollowed out and roasted until al dente used as a soup tureen or caldron, especially for a Halloween Supper. Toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds and some more fresh parsley sprinkled on top would be a nice touch.

This is my very own recipe that I came up with based on this recipe and this recipe from Cooks.com. Making up recipes that turn out as well as this one did is really gratifying. I also have to give kudos to my grandmother, Iola Gavin and my husband at the time, Skip Lewellyn who was a chef, for teaching me how to cook.

When I got married I didn’t even know how to cook cream of wheat, Skip’s favorite hot cereal, without it being full of lumps. Frankly, I thought cream of wheat was supposed to have lumps in it because that’s the only way I had ever had it. Let’s just say that while my Mother could and did cook some things very well she was an indifferent cook at best. She didn’t particularly enjoy cooking. It was just something she had to do as a Mom and Wife.

My Grandma Gavin, on the other hand, was a goddess in the kitchen. I can remember sitting at her kitchen table in the house on Brown Street in Clay Center, NE watching her bake bread, make donuts and cakes and fry chicken. I loved being there with her. I loved eating her food. One of my fondest memories of Grandma Gavin is of her making chocolate cake for someone’s birthday and pulling a jar of home-canned dill pickles out of the refrigerator and pouring some of the juice into a measuring cup with really thick fresh from the farm cows cream in it. She winked at me and said “Now, Barbara, don’t you tell anyone you saw me do this. This is my secret ingredient that makes the cakes taste so good.” Isn’t that great? I think about Grandma Gavin a lot when I am in the kitchen.

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Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread – there may be.
David Grayson

My daughter’s favorite meal is Beef Bourguinon (AKA Beef Burgundy) and she has a good recipe for it. We made it together for our Holiday meal in December.  After making some beef stock last week, a process that took 3 whole days plus some, I made some for her for dinner Thursday night.  It was excellent, if I do say so myself.

I didn’t use her recipe though.  I started reading recipes at Cooks.com and realized there are probably as many recipes for Beef Bourguinon as there are cooks.  Besides, I’ve never met a recipe I didn’t think I could improve one way or another.  I love to tinker in the kitchen and I tend to consider recipes more like suggestions rather than prescriptions.  I’ve had some spectacular mishaps over the years but for the last 20 years or so, I’ve gotten the hang of improvising and I’ve become a good cook.  Or so I’m told.

For me, cooking is a labor of love and as I cook, I anticipate seeing the pleasure on the faces of the people I am feeding.  It helps if they make appreciative noises while they are eating, too.  I love feeding people who smack their lips, lick their fingers, and moan when they eat the food I prepare.  And the ones who eat a lot if they really enjoy what they are eating.  My son-in-law is one of my biggest fans and because he has a very physical job and works out daily, he can put away a lot of calories.

Kerryn (my daughter) doesn’t add the tomato or celery (she doesn’t like the texture of celery but I learned years ago to mince it and saute it w/the onions and garlic before adding it  to  soups and she doesn’t even realize it’s in there unless she’s told it is)   and I don’t think she marinated the beef.  This is labor intensive but well worth the effort.

Boef Bourguinon (Beef Burgundy)

Add the following to a large glass or __ bowl and mix together

2-3 pounds beef chuck roast cut into 1-1 1/2 inch cubes
4-6 medium or 2-3 large onions roughly chopped into small chunks
2-3 stalks of finely minced celery*
2-4  cloves garlic smashed and coarsely minced (more if you like garlic)
1 tsp salt
6 peppercorns coarsley cracked w/a mortar & pestle or several cranks of a pepper mill
1 bay leaf
1-2 tsp dry thyme or 2 Tbsp fresh thyme
large pinch or two of rosemary

*can substitute 1 tsp celery seed

combine and pour over the contents of the bowl:

1 cup Burgundy or other dry red wine
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup warm water
3 Tbsp olive oil

Marinate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight in the refrigerator. Drain through a sieve and reserve the liquid contents.  Add 1/8 cup of all-purpose flour to the beef mixture and stir well.

Melt 3-4 Tbsp butter or if you have it, bacon drippings (adds yummy flavor) in a large stock pot over medium high heat.  Add the beef, vegetables, spices and flour and cook until the onions and celery are starting to  become translucent.  Add 2 cups (or more)  of sliced mushrooms and continue to cook until they are wilted and have released their liquid

Add:

3-4 cups hearty home-made beef stock
reserved marinade liquids

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook covered for at least two to three hours.

One hour before serving add:

1 Tbsp quick cooking tapioca
4-6 carrots peeled and sliced
6-8 small unpeeled red or Yukon gold potatoes quartered
1 can tomato paste or 1 cup tomato sauce

Bring it back up to a slow boil then reduce to heat to low.

Just before serving add:

2 Tbs fresh chopped parsley

This can be done in a crock pot.  Add the carrots, potatoes, and tomato paste to the stew meat and vegetables 2 hours before serving and cook on high.   Or if you don’t mind your vegetables being well done, do it the lazy way and add it when you start the beef cooking.

I cook by taste and adjust all the seasonings according to how my taste buds respond to the ingredients in the pot so that’s why the amounts are approximate.

Serve this with a nice leafy green salad and fresh home-made bread and you have a meal fit for a king.  I made an artichoke heart, strawberry, spinach  and lettuce salad dressed with a white Balsamic Infusion.  It was so good, my daughter confiscated the Balsamic stuff and a couple of servings of the Beef Burgundy.

This week I am making split pea soup for my son, grandson, and  son-in-law.

 

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