Sunday, October 28, 2012

Thank God for dirty dishes.
They have a tale to tell.
While other folks go hungry,
We’re eating very well.
With home and health and happiness,
We shouldn’t want to fuss.
For by this stack of evidence,
God’s very good to us.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

6 Months Old!

Happy half-birthday, Katie Rose!  She is the happiest baby.  So chubby and cute.  We listen to her little squeals all day long.  She loves to blow raspberries and see everything that's going on in her little world.  She has smiles for everybody, as long as Mama is nearby.  Even when she is sad, she will have a smile for Daddy.  And nobody can make her laugh like her big brother.  She's very snuggly, and will give big hugs and nuzzle into me when she's getting tired.  We love you so much, little girl!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

To Roast a Chicken

I was planning to sit down in my solitary quietude tonight and write a thoughtful piece about trust and tithing and evangelical poverty.  Ryan's in Boston overnight, and the children are asleep.  But that would be bound to end up a rambly mess tonight, so another cooking post it is. 

Today I washed almost all of the windows in my house.  Pulled the screens out and scrubbed the frames with Q-tips.  We've been overrun by gnats.  We get them every fall, thanks to the hackberry trees lining our street, and they nest in the little spaces around the window frame and in the screens.  They die when the frost comes for good.  But with temps in the upper 70s a few days before Halloween, this is the worst I've ever seen them.  I've been saying I wish I had the energy to do a for-real housecleaning this fall.  I've always thought fall is the best time for a thorough housecleaning.  After the mess of summer outdoor life, and before the holiday rush sets in.  Well, now I've begun, energy or not.  More like not, at least at the moment. 

But the windows do look nice.  I'm hoping after a good night's sleep the windows will inspire me to the next step in next-to-godliness. Bedroom, definitely.  At least put away the baskets of clean but not folded laundry and dust before Ryan comes home tomorrow.  I think I can do that.

Anthony had fun washing the storm doors for me.  And you know what?  They actually are much improved!

He's getting to be quite helpful.    He likes to do fingerpainting at his little table, and afterwards he cleans up with his own little sponge and scrub bucket (a beach pail unearthed from the Basement of Death).  He's very careful to get every little bit of paint off the white tabletop.  It's one of the Montessori-esque things we've been doing a lot more of lately.  But that's another topic for another day.  See why I couldn't tackle philosophical subject matter tonight?  I haven't even mentioned chicken yet!

 Anthony's taken my roasting pan for a lentil-pouring tray.

Yes, chicken.  Rosemary and Christine both commented that they weren't really sure how to roast a chicken.  My first thought was, "You know, now that I think about it, I'm not sure either!"  I think it's different every time, 'cause I like to walk on the wild side like that.  I'm not going to be like a silly cookbook I have that often says, "Cook until done."  If Ryan understood things like cooking he could break it down so much better, but here is my method as well as I can analyze it.

First, if you have the time, wash and season your bird a few hours before you plan to cook it.  Remove the giblets, rinse it inside and out with cold water, and pat dry.  Drying it makes the skin crispier.  I use paper towels, despite being a dirty conservative hippie.  If you use a regular kitchen towel, hang it up to dry before mixing it with other dirty laundry.  And then wash it with hot water and bleach.  I don't really have a designated place for bacteria-laden laundry besides the diaper pail.  That's gross and I should remedy that.  But anyway, back to chicken.

Your bird is rinsed and dried.  Now place it in a shallow roasting pan.  Any baking dish will do, really, if you haven't got an official roasting pan.  Now for flavoring.  First grease the skin.  I like to use olive oil usually, but melted butter is fabulous.  Choose some herbs, about three tablespoons worth is not too much.  Mix them in a small bowl with pepper and loads of salt.  Coarse sea salt is a must.  Rub this mixture all over the outside of the bird and you can do the inside too.  Any herb or blend you like will do.  Inside the cavity, you can put in onion wedges, celery, carrots, half of a lemon or orange, garlic cloves, or apple wedges in any combination you fancy.  Or don't put anything inside, but it makes the chicken smell lovely as it roasts.

Some favorite combinations:
  • Herbes de Provence, lemon and rosemary sprigs inside
  • The Simon & Garfunkel:  Parsley, sage, rosmary, and thyme
  • Lots of garlic (stick slivers under the skin), rub with salt and red pepper flakes, drizzle the whole thing with honey and lemon juice.  More whole garlic cloves and lemon inside.

I don't usually find it necessary to truss the chicken.  As long as the stuff inside doesn't fall out, it's all good.  I usually make a smaller chicken; about 4 lbs is right for just us with a meal or two from the leftovers.

Pop it back in the fridge until an hour before cooking time. Letting meat sit on the counter might seem odd, but I find it helps it cook more evenly to bring it to room temperature first.  Otherwise your skin will be burning before the thigh meat is done.  Preheat your oven to 450.

When you put the chicken in the oven, turn the heat down to 375.  If it's a bigger bird, say 7-8 lbs, wait 10 minutes before turning down the heat.  This higher heat to begin with seals the juices in and helps with that fabulous crispy skin.  I think basting is optional.  At least I usually get distracted and forget to do it, and it's still yummy in the end.  But it does make it look pretty.  Every 20 minutes or so is plenty. 

A 4 lb. bird takes about an hour and a half to cook, but start checking the temperature well before that.  Getting the meat thermometer in the right place in the thigh is the hardest part to learn, I think.  It's done when the thermometer reads 180.  I don't have a picture, but here's one from the USDA:

You have to get a feel for it really.  If you can feel the tip of the thermometer hit the bone you've put it in too far and will get a falsely high reading.  Another way to tell if it's done is to pierce the skin with a skewer (or the meat thermometer).  The juice that comes out should be clear, not bloody-looking.

Once it's done, carefully move the chicken to a carving board to rest for 15 minutes or so before carving.

Roasting a turkey is this exact same thing, just longer.  The turkey I made last year was the Herbe de Provence version.  You are now equipped to host Thanksgiving dinner! 

See? This is you! But you have better hair.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Simple Autumn Food

I love fall.  It is definitely my favorite season.  The leaves, the pumpkin patches and apple orchards, sweater weather, and the FOOD!  I love comfort food.  I just really enjoy the homeyness.  As befits a lady aspiring to a housewifely ideal. :-).  Autumn food is simple in ingredients and preparation, but luxurious in time.   It requires you to just let the food do its thing while you savor the aroma of the meal to come and just being at home together.  Slow food is autumnal.  The harvest is done, and you can relax and partake of the warmth of the kitchen and the fruits of your labor.  Canada got it right by putting Thanksgiving in October.  I feel almost in a Thanksgiving mood, except here we're still getting a steady supply of tomatoes and green beans.  Not a large amount, but more than we had in midsummer when it was just too dry to fruit.

I've almost always done "from scratch" cooking since being married, but this fall I find myself just winging it and going recipeless more often than not.  I really enjoy just seeing what produce looks good at the market or is available at a good price.  Which really means eating locally and seasonally, if you want to get all foodie about it.  I've read a fair amount about our modern agricultural system and how unsustainable it is, etc.  But at the end of the day it's all about delicious food.

And you know what?  It's so easy!  And not expensive at all!  But it sure looks fancy.  Rustic chic.  You know, fancy-looking things like the garnish

 Roasted butternut squash and leek soup.  The rolls are a variant of The Best Bread Ever.  You know, fancy-looking things like the garnish on this soup really take very little effort when you're working with fresh ingredients anyway.  Just toss the seeds in the oven for a few minutes while the squash is roasting and save a few of the thyme sprigs from going in the pot.

Carrots (from the garden!  Yay for clay-tolerant varieties!), red onion, potato, apples, thyme, butter, and brown sugar. I didn't take a picture of it actually roasted.  I would go for maple syrup over brown sugar if you try this.  The brown sugar just kind of burned and slid down in the corner of the pan.  But the butter was a good decision.  Julia Child would back me up; when in doubt put butter on it.  I made this and a roasted chicken on "one of those days," when things were a mess and the children were cranky because we had done a lot of running.  Ryan appreciated what he thought was the special effort to make a"Sunday dinner" despite the busy day.  I didn't tell him then that there's nothing easier than to rub some salt and seasoning on a chicken and cut some veggies into chunks.  I was out of the kitchen in fifteen minutes and able to restore order and read a story while it cooked.  But now the secret's out, so enjoy your autumn cooking!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Already a DIY Kind of Guy

We had a day with several accidents on the way upstairs to the bathroom.  That evening at dinner I said to Ryan, "Maybe we should just get a little potty for the kitchen."

The next day, I was on the couch nursing the baby when Anthony said from the kitchen, "Pee-pee potty!" 

"Ok, just a minute," I said, preparing to break latch and take him. 

"Pee-pee potty!" he said, proudly, coming in pantless.

"Oh no," I thought.  But I said, "Show me where you went and we'll clean it up."

This is what he showed me!

And yes, he had used it successfully.  Then he lifted the yellow block on top and said, "Pshhhhhhhh." So funny!