Sunday, July 29, 2012

PB&J Grandma's Way {Deluxe PB&J}

Put 500 words on a page about anything food related and I'm likely to read it. Very likely. Case in point, earlier this spring I came upon an article about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that forever changed my take on the lowly workhorse of childhood lunches.

We've begun calling it the Deluxe PB&J around these parts, which is kinda funny because ever since the first one was crafted, we've not gone back to the dark days of plain ole PB&J, it's just too easy to go  Deluxe.

The difference maker? The ingredients.

Though a thick piece of homemade white bread would probably be ideal, bagged wheat is more realistic in the middle of the day. Onto that bread, spread a thin coating of butter, just like my grandma always did. No matter what was going onto that bread she began with butter, do likewise.

Just as you'd expect, follow with peanut butter on one of the slices. It takes a quick minute to get the hang of skillfully spreading peanut butter over the butter, but you'll be glad when you've succeeded. After you've added a nice amount of peanut butter, reach for the kosher salt and sprinkle with a conservative hand onto the peanut butter's surface. Don't be too zealous here, we're talkin' about twenty grains of salt, evenly spaced.

Now the sweet to offset that salt. It's very important to use jam instead of jelly and honestly, red jam is the route you want to take if you really want to aim for the stars. Strawberry is our jam of choice. Spread an amount that you feel is just enough to be extravagant but that won't create laundry issues for you later on.

Introduce your salted peanut butter slice to your gleaming red jam slice and cut into two pieces, triangles are lovely but trickier to place into sandwich bags, and simple rectangle shaped sandwiches are solid, but lack the whimsey that Deluxe PB&Js deserve, but cut it you must.

{Ruth Reichl, the author of the original PB&J article suggests that cutting the crusts off of the sandwich is necessary, do what you will here, but my Grandma wouldn't approve. Also, Ms. Reichl suggests placing your assembled beauty into the microwave for 8 seconds which she says will, "melt the ingredients into a texture so [alluring] you will barely recognize the innocent sandwich of your childhood. It will transform the flavors too, marrying them into perfect harmony.I haven't tried this yet, but once more, I'm pretty sure Grandma wouldn't approve of an alluring PB&J at all. It's just too much to ask of a sandwich. Please, feel free to make your own call here though, as my Grandma is likely (except in a few circumstances) not your Grandma.} 

If you're really bold, you'll take your fancy Deluxe PB&Js, pack them into a medium-sized soft-sided blue cooler-bag, toss a wet cloth in there too in case you went overboard with the strawberry jam, load your children in the car, and call your Man at work and say, "Picnic in the park in 30!" 

"Man cannot live by bread alone, he must have peanut butter."
James A. Garfield
20th President of the United States 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dinner in a Bag(gie)

I'd promised to deliver deluxe peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for their dinners and Cole and his friend hopped out of the car and with thanks and a wave they were off.  I was oddly excited about preparing a snack-supper for these two. Feeding them seemed the only tangible thing they needed from me. They could even have walked to their destination on their own, but I insisted on driving them, because I was sure they wanted my company on the drive.

Also absent from our dinner table that evening would be my Man, so I decided to go the easy-does-it-dinner route and declared deluxe PB&Js for everyone. Meg entered the kitchen after I was four sandwiches deep in dinner prep and offered to lend a hand.

"Super! Grab four baggies and load these sandwiches into them."

"Mom, we're out of sandwich baggies."

"OK, we'll wrap 'em in parchment paper, hand me some scotch tape."

"Mom, we're out of tape."

"Run to the garage and get that blue painter's tape."

"Mom, the blue tape isn't sticking to the parchment."

"There's packing tape in the bottom drawer, try that."

"Hey, that worked!"

"Ok, now go get some brown lunch bags from the pantry and bring 'em here."

"Mom, we don't have any brown bags!"

"Are there any white ones?"


"Get two gallon sized baggies, we'll just have to put everything in those."

"TWO GALLON bags? That's pretty big."

"No, two, comma, gallon bags, two, one gallon bags. Two bags total one gallon apiece."

"Ohhhhhhh OK, I got 'em."

Finally, we added cookies and apple slices to the bag with the PB&Js and I grabbed the two, one gallon bags and 

...headed out the door to deliver dinner as promised

...and arrived just

...after pizza had been delivered to them by their youth leader.

"Thanks anyway Mom," said he with a grin toward me and his eyes toward the hot pizza, "do you mind leaving the apples and the cookies?"

There I stood, unnecessary once more. 

A wave of sentiment was just about to knock me to the sand until certain images began floating through my head. 

Then I decided that maybe,

just maybe...

he still needs me...

just ...

...a little bit!

{Deluxe PB&J HERE}

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Have books...will travel!

Dr. Suess always claimed,
"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you'll learn, the more places you'll go." 
I've found those statements especially true this summer. I've learned so much from my reading and the more I read, the more I'm learning. The funny thing is, the more I learn, the more I want to know.  As a result, no matter where I can be found this summer,  traveling, amusement-parking, parent-porch-relaxing, or picnicing, I've had close at my side, various forms of reading materials. 

Unlike last summer's selection of fiction, this summer has me knee-deep in non-fiction territory.

I've been enjoying a steady diet of cookbooks, some plucked from the library shelves, some arriving via UPS, and some happily discovered on the shelves of the used bookstore a few towns away.  

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila was introduced to me by my favorite book podcast "Books on the Nightstand" where the male host said,
The thing that makes this book so special are the stories that she tells and the writing, the writing is so strong.... Each recipe has a full page essay about how she came to develop [the food] or even something tangentially related to the food that she's making....The book is also beautifully illustrated. It was just such a joy to read.

I've read this book and I've cooked from it. It is all that was promised and then some! Worth your attention even if you don't enjoy cooking at all. The reading is the thing here. {More about this book on the Goodreads site here.}

A few other cookbooks that have hit the spot are:

Chicken and Egg by Janice Cole is the story of a suburban couple who fill their empty nest with three chickens. I was sad to see the story end but thrilled to find that of the 125 recipes (each of which involves chicken and/or eggs) my family would easily be thrilled to sample at least 100 of them. 

I pre-ordered Dinner a Love Story and awaited its arrival much like children await Christmas morning. I'm a fan of the blog by the same name, Dinner A Love Story which has at its center two subjects that make my heart beat a little faster: family dinners and children's books. An odd combination to be sure, but it certainly works for me! The writing in this cookbook/memoir is also skillful.

The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket was a fun find for so many reasons. It's a family cookbook with out all of the same old nuggets and mac n' cheese fare.  Variety is the name of the game, and the pictures are fun and quirky to boot. 

In other news, I've been doing some traveling too, just like Doc Suess said I would, via a freshly downloaded book entitled Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson. Chef Samuelsson was born and orphaned in Ethiopia and then, along with his older sister, was adopted by a loving family in Sweden. It was under the tutelage of his adopted maternal grandmother that he nurtured his love of food.

From Amazon's synopsis...
Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelsson’s remarkable journey from Helga’s humble kitchen to some of the most demanding and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, from his grueling stints on cruise ships to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a coveted New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelsson’s career of  “chasing flavors,” as he calls it, had only just begun—in the intervening years, there have been White House state dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs and, most important, the opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fufilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room—a place where presidents and prime ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus drivers, and nurses. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home. 
I've not finished this one yet, but I'm very smitten with the engaging writing style that fills each short chapter.

And finally another memoir whose cover gets the vote for my favorite...

Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is about the author who found herself reeling from her mother's death, a pending divorce from a man she loved, and a family that had scattered. Cheryl Strayed made the most important and most impetuous decision of her young life.

Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her
I'm only to the end of chapter two, but I got that far while standing at the kitchen counter, book opened in front of me, bowl of cereal to my side. I never sat down, I was too focused on the book to take time to sit. Finally at midnight I closed the book and set it aside to look forward to the next day.
**{please note: after posting this review I came upon a section of the book which contained some strong language and actions, I'm reading on in hopes that as the author makes her physical journey up the Pacific coast, her personal journey will also be transformed!}

So, there ya have it. What I'm reading these days. If you need me, you'll probably be able to find me somewhere between Wild's Pacific Crest Trail and Yes, Chef's homelands in Ethiopia and Sweden.

If you should need to find that pastor-Man I'm married to, you'll need to look toward a little North Carolina town.  My Man is reading a book that causes him to say each time he opens and closes the pages, "THIS is such a good book!"

We discovered The Devil in Pew Number Seven on and were hooked immediately by the review (click here to read the review). Darrin downloaded the book and we were shocked to discover that the true story takes place just 30 minutes drive from our former home and that the author was born at the same hospital as Cole and Megan.

I'd love to know what you are reading! Drop me a note at thewrightplaceemail [at] gmail [dot] com and let me know or share with everyone in the comments below!

Wishing you wonderful books with captivating plots and fascinating settings where the characters become your very best of friends! Happy reading!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Ode to the Onion

I have such memories of onions. My first is of eating entirely too many little green onions from my grandparent's garden when I was very young. I remember the taste of the 7-Up that my mom administered to combat the belly ache that followed.

I will forever think of the onion sandwiches, crafted and adored by my mom, thickly spread with butter on white homemade bread with a fat slice of crunchy white onion grinning out from the middle. I never asked her to share that particular delicacy with me.

The french onion soups of my childhood have ruined me for most soup offerings in my adulthood. The smell of beef broth and sautéed onions still carries me back a few decades and makes me hungry for soppy croutons and thick broiler-kissed cheese.

And then...

I married a man who can stand neither the taste nor the smell of an onion.

Such is life.

I'd since cooled my relationship with the lovely onion, using it only as a minor character in soups and sauces and then, only diced and chopped and cooked so that only the faintest hint of taste peeked through. How awful, I reasoned, would it be to greet my Man at lunchtime or at the end of a long day reeking of the scent he loathed?

And then...

I found a way to have my onions and eat 'em too, and oh how I've welcomed these little beauties back into my life.  You need 'em in your life too, I'm sure. Very sure.

What you see, are red onions, sliced and tamed and kissed with just a whisper of sweetness.  They've made such a difference in my summer. drama, or exaggeration. When I wake up each morning, it's not long until I am thinking about what I can have for lunch that will be worthy of topping with these babies. After lunch, I begin similar plans for dinner. 

Enough jabber, here's how you too, can begin your onion obsession...

Recipe by Mollie Katzen in Salads

First, gather the equipment you'll need: 
two decent-sized bowls
(one for the sliced onions and one for discarding onion skins)
one quart jar (or two pints) for one recipe 
(or a tightly sealed container that you are confident won't make a mess in your fridge should it tip over!)
your favorite sharp knife
a cutting board placed atop a slightly damp towel (to prevent slipping)
a tissue or are working with onions!

Ingredients for a single batch:

a teapot of boiling water
4 red onions
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup room temperature water
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns 
(or a teaspoon of freshly ground pepper if you can't find your peppercorns)

 Cut the top and bottom off of the onions and remove the papery skin. Then slice the onions in half, making half circles of the rings.
 Then, lay the onion on the cut side, and slice into the width that you'd like to enjoy on your salads, beans, soups, barbecue, you get the idea.
 My slices always end up in various widths and that works just fine. 
The ideal is probably less than 1/4 inch.
 Set the onions aside while you prepare their "bath". 
First, put a kettle on to boil, or a pitcher in the microwave. All baths need really hot water.
While water boils, combine the rest of the ingredients except the onions.

 Vinegar and water...

and brown sugar which can be adjusted to your liking, my liking is 3 tablespoons.
Finally, the salt and pepper. Stir until the brown sugar has dissolved.

Place sliced onions in a colander in the sink and pour the boiling water over them slowly. This causes them to wilt just a little.
Allow them to drain well then remove them to the quart jar or pint jars (or very trusty sealable container).
You'll want to smush 'em in there pretty tightly because they wilt a little more as they absorb the vinegar and you want a full jar. A really full jar. I'm sure.

 Pour the vinegar mixture into the jar until onions are covered then add the lid.
Now for the hardest part...
Allow the jar(s) to sit on the counter for 3 to 6 hours. 
After about 6 hours you can enjoy your onions, but they are at their peak after an overnight soak in the fridge. So, tuck 'em into the fridge and tell them good night.  
Then when you wake up in the morning, you may begin planning for your lunch...

These are super on salads, pulled pork barbecue, tomato sandwiches, pasta, beans, rice, the possibilities are endless as is their shelf life in your fridge. The recipe says they "keep practically indefinitely" but that's not true here as they are a happy favorite of Kate, my most challenging eater!

Monday, July 16, 2012

On a technicality...

The same piano notes played over and over, eventually those five notes became cha cha dancers on my last enduring nerve...

"Kate," said I in a sing-song voice, meant to communicate long-suffering, "I don't think I can take anymore of that."

Immediately, and to my great astonishment, the notes continued and maybe, possibly, unbelievably they grew a bit louder. I paused and listened to the series of notes repeat themselves once more. I wondered for a moment...had I only made the desperate plea for silence in my head and had not spoken the words aloud? No, I was confident that I had said it with my actual voice to my actual daughter who was sitting at that actual piano playing those same five actual....

"KAAAATTTTEEEEE!!!!  I told you to STOP, that I couldn't take it anymore! Why are you still playing that piano?!?!?!"

"Mom," she explained with an audible grin in her voice from the next room, "You said you didn't THINK you could stand it anymore."

(She had me, if only on a technicality.)

"Thanks then, for helping me make up my mind, do NOT play another note, NOW I AM CERTAIN that I cannot take anymore!"

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dear Mom...

First of all, thanks for being so excited when I called to tell you that the little girls and I were coming to visit while the big kids and my Man are at youth camp for the week. It does seem kind of fitting that I'll turn 40 while at your house, since we were together on the same date 40 years ago.

Also, thanks for not saying, "Oh, I see, since all your help is leaving, you're coming home for help!"

You are so gracious...remember that.

Remember yesterday when we got here and you showed me where the Sting Kill was just in case someone got stung by a bee? I rolled my eyes a little, thinking about what a worrier you were...

...well, when you went out to run that errand today, Kate got stung by a bee. I heard her scream from inside and got the back door opened just in time for her to come barreling through screaming, "BEE, BEE, BEE!" She threw that foot up on to your kitchen table and there it was, a stinger hanging halfway out of her long skinny foot. I grabbed the knife and tried to slice the exposed piece of the stinger off all the while explaining to Kate that I was not going to cut her foot, just like you did for me when I was a little girl with a bee sting.

Unfortunately, when Kate saw the knife, her hystaria kicked into a whole new gear and Molly came in to offer moral support by hovering as close to the patient as possible without getting near that menacing knife.

I'm not certain that I successfully removed the stinger from Kate's foot and may, in fact, have made matters much worse by giving up and pulling the awful thing out of her foot with my fingers so that I could get that Sting Kill into action post haste!

Kate decided that the sting kill needed some help and asked for the old fashioned baking-soda-and-vinegar-fizz trick. It was while I was gathering the fizz ingredients from your well-labeled pantry (thank you very much) that Molly spilled a very large glass of iced tea all over that lovely table runner that you sewed your very own self and which matches your kitchen perfectly. I've rinsed it out and laid it out to dry.

Growing increasingly worried about the possible bee venom surging through Kate's foot, I began searching for the Epsom salt. I called Sudeana and Dad (at work) to see if either of them knew where you kept that sort of thing and each suggested a few places to look, but I still couldn't find it.

I loaded a bucket with ice and knew all would be ok when Kate began to complain that the water was so cold that she couldn't feel her foot.

"Great!" I reasoned, "I guess that means you can't feel the sting anymore either. Keep your foot in there."

It was the onset of all of the jiggling, wiggling, and near thrashing about as a result of her frozen foot that caused Kate to spill Molly's cup of grape juice on your new patio cushions (that you made your very own self). I rinsed them out too, as much as I could. Perhaps you would consider turning the cushions over to hide the spot if it doesn't come out?

I know you've only been gone for forty-five minutes and the when you come back you'll be able to find the epsom salt and put the world back in order and the knowledge of that is so comforting. I'm also aware that this is only our first day here. Surely things will calm a bit!?

I'm so sorry for all of the destruction that was set into motion by one little bee, and one little girl, who, when she was told by her mother to put some shoes on before going outside

...rolled her eyes a little.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Olympics...Already?

Nothing on the schedule. Not a thing. Nothing for morning, nothing for afternoon, nothing for evening, nothing for nighttime. No children's activities, no lessons, no appointments, no NUTHIN'!   I made a full out run for the porch first thing with a stack of books and a journal and for one solid hour I soaked up all of the wonderfulness that empty time had to offer.

I stopped reading after a bit because there were so many things I wanted to accomplish with the rest of the day. Laundry, as always, awaited. Dishes too. I wanted to make pickles, clean off my desk, plan the week's menu, clean a nagging basement corner, and deliver some hand-me-down clothes to their next wearer, and maybe I'd have the time to listen to a sermon series that I think is worth my time.

"I've got more planned in my mind than I'll ever be able to get to." I told Meg early in the morning as we were celebrating our empty day. She too was inspired by all that the day could be and eventually gathered a meeting of her siblings to discuss the possibilities.

The meeting adjourned with all parties in agreement: "Today, we are having The Olympics," they announced with a certain gravity. "The events will be a running race, baseball, soccer, scooter races, and kickball."

Wow, I thought, they too have more plans than they'll ever be able to accomplish! I didn't say it aloud though. Kids need to dream a bit and to have big plans. The day itself would prove to them that their endeavors were a bit too ambitious. I figured that they'd maybe get two good events in before injury, arguments, and rain deterred The Olympic Games.

I headed inside to begin my list of aspirations and the kids began theirs...


The 500 meter dash...



Scooter race...


CHERRIES?! In the Olympics??

Yes...for the Cherry-pit Spitting event...

(the Judge)

I may have been a bit pessimistic about what the kids could accomplish in a day, or about the weather, or about their ability to get along for the entire series of events. They certainly accomplished what they had set out to and them some. They even wrapped up the day with a sort of...closing ceremonies...

As for my day? 
Did I get piles of laundry folded? No.
Pickles pickled? Zero.
 A couple of dinners whipped up and tucked away in the freezer? No.
Sheets changed on the beds? Nadda.
Any chapters read? Nope.
Clothes delivered? No.

What did I do with the valuable day laid out before me?

Mostly, I followed the Olympians around and took their pictures!

In short, we all counted the day a great success!

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