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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thursday Recipe - 84-Hour Pickles

I have an old pickle recipe book. This summer, for the first time in my life, I successfully grew cucumbers. So, of course, I made pickles. Lots of pickles. I pickled not just cucumbers, but beans and okra and jalapeƱos and relishes. My kids keep looking in the cupboard and asking me if we have enough pickles yet.

I have some really great recipes, definite keepers for future reference. This is one of those. Yes, it really does take five days, but most of that time is sitting on the counter in brine. It only takes about ten minutes a day except for the first and last day.

If you like these crispy, make a small batch and don't bottle them. Pack them in a jar, stick them in the fridge, let them sit for a week, then enjoy the crispy deliciousness. Just eat them within a month or two. They still taste good if you process them and seal them, they just won't be as crispy.

And be warned - they are a powerful brined sweet pickle. Loads of good flavor. A little goes a long way with these pickles.

A word about cucumbers - pickling cucumbers are a different variety from the ones you buy in the grocery store. They are lighter green, smaller, and have lots more bumps. They are also not treated with a wax spray. Grow them yourself or buy them from a farmer's market if you can. If not, make sure you are getting untreated pickling cucumbers. They make much better pickles.

84-Hour Pickles (more or less)

6-12 pickling cucumbers, washed and scrubbed really well (enough to make one quart of thick slices)
6 T pickling salt (kosher or uniodized also work, regular table salt will make your pickles turn dark)
1 quart water
2 1/4 c. vinegar
1 c. sugar
2 t. mixed pickling spice*
3/4 c. water

First Day, Morning - Slice off the stem end and blossom end of the cucumbers, discard. Slice the rest of the cucumber into thick slices. You should have about one quart of slices. Dump them into a large ceramic bowl. Plastic or metal bowls might react with the vinegar brine later. I have the best luck using a large ceramic mixing bowl for this. Next, mix the salt and the quart of water. Pour over the cucumber slices. Use a small stoneware plate or glass pie pan to weigh them down so they stay submerged in the salt water. Push the bowl to the back of the counter and let it sit for 36 hours.

Second Day, Evening - Drain the cucumber slices and discard salt water. Place cucumber slices in a large saucepan. Pour in one cup of the vinegar. Add just enough water to cover cucumbers. Cook over medium heat for 10-12 minutes, just simmering, DO NOT BOIL. Drain and discard the cooking liquid. Dump the cucumbers back into the ceramic bowl.
In the saucepan, mix 1 1/4 c. vinegar, 1/2 c. sugar, pickling spice, and 3/4 c. water. Bring to a boil. Pour over the cucumber slices. Let stand for 24 hours.

Third Day, Evening - Drain syrup into a saucepan. Add 1/2 c. sugar. Heat to a boil. Pour over cucumbers. Let stand for 24 hours.

Fourth Day, Evening - Drain syrup into a saucepan. Heat to boiling. You can remove the whole spices if you want, I like to leave them in the brine.
Pack pickles into jars. Pour boiling syrup over the pickles just until covered. If not enough syrup, use vinegar to finish filling the jars.
Process to seal or refrigerate as soon as the jars cool down.

Makes about one quart of pickles.

Whole Pickling Spice is a blend of spices. I like to make my own and keep it in the cupboard. If you don't want do buy the mix or want to try your own, this is what I use for just this recipe:
1/2 of one bay leaf
10 whole peppercorns
8 whole cloves
1/8 t. celery seed
1/8 t. mustard seed (about 20)
small piece of cinnamon stick OR dash of ground cinnamon
few flakes of red pepper
dash of ground ginger
dash of ground turmeric
And, if I've got it:
dash of mace, allspice or nutmeg
dash of cardamom

All mixed, it should be less than one tablespoon.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Flash Fiction - For When You Only Have a Few Minutes to Read

I enjoy writing flash fiction. It's a complete story in 1000 words or less. Very short story. It's a real challenge where every word counts, but it's amazing to me how much story you can cram into those 1000 words.

Bite-Sized Stories just released. It's packed with 33 of these short flash pieces, one of which is mine. I had fun writing "Aunt Ruby's Jam Cake" although the story really bothered my husband. It's horror and he isn't a fan. If you want to learn the secret ingredient to Aunt Ruby's famous Jam Cake, you'll have to download the book and read the story. While you're at it, try some of the other stories. They span all genres, not just horror. You might find more authors you enjoy reading.

The book is FREE. Why are you waiting? Go download it!

Bite-Sized Stories 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Vegetable Pakora (Wheat-Free Gluten-Free Dairy-Free)

My go-to order when we end up at an Indian restaurant is vegetable pakora and butter chicken, hold the cilantro on both! Love the flavors and the crunch. My daughter is excited about both because the pakora is like tempura except it doesn't have any wheat. It uses garbanzo bean flour instead.

I've been trying to re-create it and I think this version comes close. I found garbanzo bean flour at our local grocery store in the bulk food section, but our local grocery store is weird. It has a section that is almost like a mini health food store with all the gluten-free and dairy-free and "healthy" foods as well as a bulk food section. I love shopping there because I never know what I'm going to find.

You definitely want the garbanzo bean flour, not something coarser. I tried this with corn meal and it was a total no-go. If you have a grinder and want to make your own, you could if you can find dried garbanzos. My grinder is full of wheat so I didn't go there.

A word on the newari spice - I found this recipe and mixed it up. It's like a mild curry powder, sort of. My kids like it better than curry powder. Use what you've got and what you like in this recipe.

I just need to figure out how to make the plum chutney sauce they serve at the restaurant...

Anyway, on with the recipe.

Vegetable Pakora

1 egg
2/3 c. garbanzo bean flour
1/3 c. cornstarch
1 c. milk or substitute milk (rice milk worked great)
2 t. newari spice mix or curry powder
1 t. salt
1/2 t. baking powder
3-4 c. fresh vegetables - okra, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, carrot, onion, potato, whatever you've got
oil for deep frying

Get your oil heating in a deep saucepan. You want it a medium hot temperature, similar to what you'd cook french fries or fritters.

Wash and trim the vegetables. Slice very thin for zucchini, carrot, potato, and similar vegetables. Cut cauliflower and broccoli into small pieces. Slice onion into thin strips. Wash and dry spinach. Set them aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat the egg until smooth. Stir in garbanzo bean flour, cornstarch, milk, spices, salt, and baking powder. Beat until smooth. It should be like a thin pancake batter. You can add a little more milk if it's too thick or more garbanzo bean flour if it's too thin. Dip one slice of something and test fry if you aren't sure. It should mostly coat the vegetable with a thin layer.

When you are happy with the thickness of the batter, add vegetables and stir gently to coat.

Drop into hot oil by smallish spoonfuls, you want enough surface area that the batter can get thoroughly cooked and the veggies will get tender. But don't worry about getting just one piece of veggie per spoonful. Several at once is just fine. Cook for 3-5 minutes, turning every minute or so, until nicely browned. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels for a few minutes.

Serve with your favorite dipping sauce. We used sweet chili sauce and pineapple habanero sauce. Like I said earlier, I'm still working on a recipe for the plum chutney sauce. The cilantro one ain't gonna happen at my house, not unless I'm dead and long gone. But if you like cilantro, feel free to add it to your dish at your house.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Book Review Time!

I've been reading again, mostly paperbacks because my eyes can't handle screen reading for very long at a time. I've dug out some old classics and enjoyed them again, but I also picked up some new books to try.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Kris Longknife series by Mike Shepherd, aka Mike Moscoe. I just finished book 7 and I'm having a lot of fun. The writing occasionally makes me twitch, mostly it's using the wrong word that sounds the same or similar to the right one, but that's about it. The stories are space opera - high adventure, lots of interesting characters, villains threatening all of human space - that type of thing.

If you're looking for a fun book series and enjoy science fiction adventure, check out the books. I give them a solid A.

Rating: PG mostly for violence, occasionally PG-13 for subject matter, G- for language (very little swearing and that's usually pretty mild).

He has several other series that tie into this one that are also great fun.

Just for full disclosure, I've met the author and he's a hoot to talk to. No, he didn't give me the books. No, he didn't pay me to review them. He did convince me to give them a try.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Seasoned Salt

I love seasoned salt. You know, that reddish stuff from the grocery store that is kind of sweet and kind of spicy and mostly salty. Much of it uses MSG, though, a big no-no at my house. I'd rather not eat than deal with the migraines it triggers. And the rest is just too pricey. I was digging through my spice cupboard a while back and realized I could make my own seasoned salt. I had all the spices.

So I experimented and came up with a seasoned salt I like. It goes well on meats of all kinds and anywhere else you'd use a bit of seasoned salt. Like on cottage cheese spooned onto crackers. Not that I do that very much. Cottage cheese triggers my lactose intolerance so I rarely have it in the house. Okay, TMI. Moving on.

This recipe is very simple. You just dump everything into a bottle and shake it up. I just re-use my seasoned salt bottle. Feel free to change up the spices to suit your personal tastes. And don't be afraid of experimenting. It's not like this stuff is going to explode on you.

Seasoned Salt

1/2 c. salt
2 T. sugar
1 T. paprika
1 t. turmeric
1 t. onion powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/2 t. mustard powder
1/2 t. ground thyme

Mix everything together. Store in an airtight container.

1 t. sesame seeds
1/2 t. poppy seeds
1 t. dried oregano, crushed fine
1/2 t. dried basil, crushed fine
1 t. dried parsley, crushed fine
1/2 t. cayenne pepper powder, if you like it spicy
1 t. dried lemon peel, ground into powder

Experiment with other dried herbs or ground spices. Maybe a dash of ground allspice would make it sing for you. Try it and see.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The SuperWoman Myth

I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, usually called Mormons. In my church, especially in Utah where I lived until recently, the culture for women in the church is that you are expected to be superwoman. Before you start throwing rotten tomatoes and castigating me in the comments, note that I said "Culture", not "Doctrine." There is a huge gulf between the two. Doctrine comes from God by revelation. Culture is what grows up around doctrine, sometimes it is helpful and good, sometimes it is destructive. The superwoman expectation fits in the second category.

I felt this pressure for years. I was "supposed to" bake bread every day, cook healthy meals from scratch using produce I grew myself in my yard that would make a professional chef salivate, sew all my kids' clothes and bonus points if it was from old garments that I recycled, keep my house immaculate and ready for a magazine photoshoot at a moment's notice, create artwork of lasting beauty from trash to decorate my gorgeous home, and on top of all this, study the scriptures for hours a day, read to my kids, cater to my husband's needs, make things to donate to the needy, volunteer for every good cause that came my way, serve in my Church callings, and stay pleasant, cheerful, and energetic. The recommended way to accomplish all of this was to arise at 4:30 am every day and keep going until after midnight.

Yeah, not gonna happen. Not that those are bad things, just that the list is overwhelming. It was more than I could do, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I just couldn't do what I felt was required of me. I felt inadequate, unworthy, a failure, because I wasn't checking it all off my list every day.

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1992. I had four small kids at the time and spent most of my days curled up on the couch berating myself for being lazy. If I just got up I could do everything I was "supposed to." I was exhausted, mentally, physically, and emotionally. I was spiritually drained by trying to fit this perfect superwoman mold I'd been taught was expected of me. That ideal was the most damaging idea presented to me. In order to cope with the fibromyalgia (think of chronic fatigue with lots of muscle pain that never goes away), and take care of my baby, toddler, and two preschoolers, I had to change my ideal image of the perfect Mormon superwoman. I spent a lot of time coming up with my necessary to-do list. If I accomplished that list, I could call it a good day where I did what was needed. I finally came up with four items—two physical and two spiritual.

1. Change diapers when needed - I had two in diapers. That is not something you can ignore or wait until someone who feels better is home to take care of it. Same with my own bodily needs. Some days, it is a chore to get up and go to the bathroom. It takes energy which is in very short supply on a bad day. But it is one task that cannot be ignored or delegated when you are the only one in the house capable of doing it.

2. Feed everyone three meals a day - I never specified that those meals had to be healthy, balanced, organic, home-cooked, or anything else. There were many days that those meals were cold cereal. When I had the energy, I did my best to make them healthy and balanced, but when my energy was gone and I ached, we ate what we had that required little or no prep work. I made sure I included myself in that "everyone," too. It hit me how horribly I was treating myself when I realized one day that it was three pm and I hadn't eaten breakfast yet. No wonder I was tired and cranky and grumpy. There are times when Mom has to take care of herself first.

3. Read my scriptures - this is essential to keeping myself grounded. That scripture time was many times snatched a verse or two at a time while nursing the baby or going to the bathroom. The amount wasn't as important as my attempt to read. I was doing what I could, and it was enough. Now? I don't have the same excuse. I try to read much more at a time, as well as spend time pondering the meaning. My baby is a teenager. I have lots more uninterrupted time and all my kids can use the bathroom without help. Most of them can cook, too. It makes my life easier.

4. Pray - this was the most important thing to do, but one of the hardest for me. I had to humble myself and ask for help. And you know what? It was always there, even when I didn't recognize it. With that help, both physical and spiritual, I made it through the worst of those years and through even worse ones later. I'm in a good place now, my heart overflows with gratitude to my Heavenly Father for the blessings I have.

Those four items are still on my list. If I do only those four things, I can call the day a success. I can put on my superwoman suit. Because I've done what I needed to and that's all it takes to be superwoman.

I let go of the damaging expectations and replaced them with ones that uplift and heal and nurture not just me but those around me.

Do I still bake bread? Sure. Do I sew my kids clothes and grow a garden and all the rest? Sometimes. When it is the right time and place in my life and I need that item on my list. When those things help me be a better person. When those things fulfill a need or want for me. When I can enjoy those things.

Is God going to grade me on the superwoman list? No, He's going to grade me on how well I followed Him, how well I loved my neighbor, how well I lived up to what I covenanted to do and be. He commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We need to be as gentle and forgiving of our own faults and weaknesses as we are of our neighbor's. And give up the superwoman ideal. It's a myth.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Fried Okra and Green Tomatoes

I'm feeling southern today. No idea why. I've only been to Florida twice in my life. Other than that, I've really never been to the South. But I love their cooking, their architecture, their whole idea of hospitality. Maybe it's genetic. My great-grandmother came from the South, after all.

Anyway, we have tomatoes and okra in our garden this year. My kids will only eat okra if it's pickled, their first choice, or if it's fried. We've bought the frozen fried okra before. It's not that great. So when we picked our first batch of okra, it wasn't enough to pickle. Five little pods aren't very many. But it was enough to try frying up a batch to see how they liked it. I was surprised how fast it disappeared. I think I'm going to have to find a local farmer who grows okra. Or else plant a whole lot more next summer.

Fried green tomatoes use the same method and stuff, so I'm including that recipe. If you've never had fried green tomatoes, it's worth trying. We don't do it often, but every once in a while, it hit the taste buds just right. Green tomatoes are firm and taste a little like lemons.

Fried Okra and Green Tomatoes

Fresh okra, washed and sliced into 1 inch chunks
Green tomatoes, washed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 eggs
1 T. water
2 t. seasoned salt
1 c. cornmeal
oil for frying

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick pan over medium heat.

In a large flat bowl, beat the eggs, water, and salt together until foamy. Pour the cornmeal into another bowl. I like to use pie pans for these steps. Dip the okra a few pieces at a time into the egg mixture. Dredge in the cornmeal, just until coated.

Fry in the frying pan for 5-8 minutes, until lightly browned. Make sure you use tongs to turn them over every couple of minutes for even browning.

For green tomatoes, dip each slice in the egg making sure to cover both sides. Dip both sides into the cornmeal to coat. Fry in the frying pan for about 2 minutes per side, just until browned.

Serve hot. We found homemade tartar sauce made the best dipping sauce, but that's our taste. We also love pineapple hot sauce for dipping.

Monday, September 5, 2016

You are Loved More Than You Know

A friend posted something on Facebook a few days ago that I just can't seem to let go. The only thing that helps is to blog about it, so here goes.

She was in a meeting where the speaker was telling teenagers they had to earn God's love, be worthy of it. That is so wrong. God loves us more than we can comprehend. We are His children. No matter who or what we are, He loves us unconditionally.

If you want a very humbling experience, try seeing everyone around you through God's eyes. That grumpy cashier at the store? She's His daughter, an eternal being of infinite worth. That homeless man on the corner? He is a son of God, too. That annoying child throwing a tantrum in public? Same thing. When I try to see others this way, it opens my heart to feel God's love for me. I am overwhelmed by how much I am loved.

The problem is that people conflate God's love with worthiness to enter His kingdom. That is something we do have to earn through obedience, but no matter what I may do or say, He will always love me. I will always be worthy of His love.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Pickled Okra

from WikiMedia Commons: User Manojk
My kids fell in love with this when I bought a jar as a joke. This summer, we grew our own okra. Not very much, but enough for a jar of pickled okra and a pan of fried okra. Okra has the reputation of being slimy and nasty.  If you handle it right, it isn't. It's crisp and tender and very tasty. It's also easy to grow, plus the flowers are really pretty. They look like little hibiscus flowers. I'm planning on growing a lot more okra in my front yard next summer. I can't wait to harvest more!

Pickled Okra
makes one pint

7-9 medium size okra
3-4 black peppercorns
1/4 t. dill seed
1/2 t. pickling salt
1/2 t. sugar
white vinegar

Wash the okra. Trim the stems to 1/2 inch long. I cut them in half so they would fit in the bottle better, but you can leave yours whole if you want. Stuff the okra into a pint canning jar. Add the spices, salt, and sugar. Add vinegar to fill the bottle about 2/3 of the way to the top. Add water to fill it the rest of the way.

Wipe the rim, screw on the lid, then process in a boiling water bath for 12 minutes, more if you live at a higher elevation. This seals the jar and it cooks the okra. Let the jar sit in a cool dark place for at least a week before eating the okra. If you can let it sit for a couple of months, it's even better.