National Doughnut Day, Country Style

donuts 5As I perused Facebook this morning to see what had happened in the world while I slept, I was alerted to the fact that today, June 5th, is National Doughnut Day.  I have no idea who decided to have a national doughnut day, but I am suspicious that somehow the culprit is connected to a national doughnut shop chain.  Nevertheless, this was all the reason I needed to justify indulging in this sweet doughy treat.  But the idea of standing in a long line at a donut shop with dozens of other hungry fans didn’t appeal to me.  Suddenly, I had the perfect idea – today I would dig out Grandma’s recipe and attempt to make her donuts that I  loved so much as a child.

Duane and wife 1a copy

My grandma and grandpa (several years before we made doughnuts)

On every spring break from school, my mom, sister and I would take a drive through the country to Grandma’s farm and spend the day making donuts.  The farmhouse kitchen was everything you would dream it to be -a large farmhouse table, lots of cupboards and counter space, wide windows overlooking both the front yard and cow barn as well as the backyard with an iconic outhouse from years gone by and Grandma’s flower beds.  When we arrived for donut making, Grandma would have already started the dough and most likely it was rising globe-like above the rim of her large kettle.  After punching the dough down, my sister and I began to cut out donuts with Grandma’s donut cutters. Grandma and Mom would manage the frying with great skill.  Then, when the donuts had just cooled, they were dipped in a sugar glaze and stacked on large trays all around the kitchen.  Eating those donuts while they were still warm and gooey was amazing!  After filling our stomachs, we would pack the remaining donuts into containers that would be delivered to family members so all could enjoy.

Some years later, the farmhouse burned to the ground.  Grandma never did make donuts again, though we still went out and spent time with her every spring break.  However, I did get the recipe from her, and several years ago I attempted to make them, without much success.  Thinking of Grandma today,  I determined to give it another try.  Some of the recipe’s measurements are unfamiliar to me. What is 1.75 lbs of flour?  How much is 1/2 ounce of salt?  This time I had the Internet to help and I was able to get the precise measurements I needed.  Also, I believe Grandma fried her donuts in lard.  I decided on the next best thing – a can of shortening.

After making the dough, letting it rise twice, and rolling it out,  my daughter and I began to cut out ddonuts 2onuts. Soon we were frying these delicacies and dipping them in the sugary glaze, impatiently waiting for them to cool enough to eat.  It was worth the wait! The crispy donut shell with the soft interior was perfectly highlighted with the glistening glaze of sugar, causing the donut to melt in your mouth.  Not only did I enjoy the taste of these treats,  I found myself laughing out loud at the sheer amazement that I had managed to make Grandma’s donuts almost as good as she did.  I was a little girl again, sitting on a stool in Grandma’s farmhouse kitchen, with sticky fingers and a happy heart.

donuts 4

Thank you, Grandma!  I think you are smiling down on me as I eat this treat in my suburban kitchen, sharing with my daughter the story of your farmhouse kitchen donuts.  I think we may have started a new tradition for National Doughnut Day.  And that’s a good thing!

Simple Pleasures: Porch Happiness

screened in porch 1 Life can be hectic, as we all know.  Even family life at home can be hectic.  Sometimes finding a place to be alone or to be quiet when everyone is home can be a challenge.  One of my favorite things about this time of year is being able to set up my screened-in porch for the season. Once the weather is even remotely warm, I sweep away the layer of dust and wood chips from a winter of stacked logs and get the porch ready for spring.  Today, after a busy day of teaching and yard work, I am relaxing on my porch, soaking in the sounds of birds chirping and leaves rustling softly in the breeze.

screened in porch 3Our screened-in porch has a whole lot of country built into it. When we put an addition on our house in 2003, this porch was included in the plans. But I wanted to give it a distinct look and feel. So we drove about an hour away to a place in the country that repurposes barnwood and barnstone. Upon arriving and inspecting the supply, we found the perfect match: stacks of tongue-in-groove barn siding from an old Ohio barn, still in tact and displaying remains of its traditional red paint. Soon we were on our way home with this treasure. My dad came over and helped us cut and install the siding on our porch.  It is still beautiful today.

screened in porch 2

Oops – the dog isn’t supposed to be there…shhh, don’t tell!

Since that year, I have been looking for just the right piece of furniture for my porch. I  had some wicker chairs for a time. I tried a few other pieces. But nothing quite fit my dream, which was to be able to take a nap on my porch. Nothing, that is, until this spring. Just a few weeks ago I was looking online and came across the perfect piece of furniture for my porch – this indoor/outdoor settee from Walmart.  I ordered it online, got free shipping, assembled it in about 30 minutes, and have been enjoying it ever since.

As I sit on my porch now and write, I am looking at a peony bush with pink blossoms  soon to burst open. I am enjoying the lilac bush now gracing the outside corner, and I admire a growing clematis vine that will soon reach the top of the screen panel and cover it with purple blossoms. Though my porch is only 12 years old, it feels like it has been here for a lifetime. Even the screened door squeaks like it hangs on an old farmhouse. No place else in my house gives me such a sense of peace and joy. That’s porch life. And I think we all need a little porch life once in a while.

screened in porch 4On this Memorial Day weekend, I hope you can find time to do some porch-sitting. It does a body good. As I celebrate this holiday with my family, I am thankful for a free country where I can enjoy these simple pleasures, and I am grateful for all who have sacrificed so much to make this freedom possible.  God bless America!

Fresh Ideas for Fresh Foods

Since Wednesday, when I brought home my first Fresh Fork Market bag,  I have had a lovely frozen pasture-fed young chicken staring at me from my fridge. While I am not intimidated by a whole chicken, I usually use them for soup.  But the long hard Cleveland winter of 2014 included one too many batches of chicken noodle soup for me.  I needed to come up with another chicken plan. Fresh Fork Market recipe to the rescue! On their website (www.freshforkmarket.com) I found a plan for using a whole chicken in several meals for a week.

The chicken-for-a-week plan begins with roasting the chicken. I followed the recipe ???????????????????????????????instructions exactly – well, almost. Instead of softening the butter, for unknown reasons I melted it in the microwave. So much for spreading an herb butter under the chicken skin. I put my melted butter in the fridge, hoping it would harden up quickly while I chopped the veggies. A few minutes later, not much progress on that butter. I needed to keep things moving, so I opted to use some minced garlic, dried basil and dried Italian seasoning (not in the recipe) to make a very soft paste with my now semi-melted butter. Using the back of a large spoon, I was able to spread this under the chicken skin. In about 20 minutes’ time, I had this “spring chicken” ready for roasting.

While the chicken was in the oven, I did a little gardening, a load of laundry and even took a 15 minute power nap – no time wasted there! A little over 3 hours later, with the house smelling wonderful,  I pulled this juicy, tender chicken from the oven. Removing the legs cooked chickenand wings and slicing the chicken breast was a breeze and are now ready for a quick dinner and some chicken salad for a lunch. The bones and carcass will be used to make chicken stock tomorrow, which will go in my freezer for later use. (This is all explained on the FFM instruction/recipe sheet.) Not bad for about 30 minutes of actual work!

On a side note: Last evening, using the fresh  strawberries from my FFM bag, I made my daughter’s favorite summer bedtime snack – Strawberry Watermelon Slush. I’ve been making this refreshing easy recipe for so long I don’t even know where it came from.   Here’s the simple details if you want to give it a try:

  • 2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced in halfyummy-strawberries_2753390
  • 2 cups watermelon, cubed
  • 1/3 cup sugar or other natural sweetener
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (I prefer fresh squeezed)
  • 2 cups ice, crushed if possible

Process the first four ingredients in a blender until very smooth.

Add the ice and blend until ice chunks are gone.  Serve immediately in beverage glasses.

Garnish with a sliced strawberry if desired. Now that makes it feel like a Cleveland summer!

The Great Food Experiment

Today officially began The Great Food Experiment I have embarked on with Fresh Fork Market (www.freshforkmarket.com) for the next 22 weeks. Having fresh veggies, cheese and wheat bread on hand is motivation to consume them while at their peak of freshness.  My sister-in-law is visiting for a few days and loves to eat healthy foods, so I knew she would be willing to try anything I cooked. So here is where my food journey took me today:

Breakfast:  Vanilla yogurt with some fresh strawberries (both from FFM), along with a piece of wheat toast lightly buttered. I have to tell you, the wheat bread I purchased from the Fresh Fork Market truck on a whim yesterday is by far the softest, most flavorful wheat bread I have ever tasted!  Some wheat breads can be dense and a bit chewy, which is not my preference in breads. The ingredients for this bread are amazingly simple. I have a feeling this will become a regular on my weekly list.??????????????????????????????? The vanilla yogurt from Fresh Fork was delicious also.

Lunch:  Since the weather was a bit cooler today, it provided the perfect opportunity to try a soup recipe. I knew I needed to use the kale but didn’t see my family eating this in a salad just yet. So I found a recipe at Health.com (www.health.com) called Two-Bean Soup with Kale.  This ???????????????????????????????took about 30 minutes of prep time, including chopping the veggies, but I could begin cooking the soup while I was chopping, so it didn’t seem to take long at all. This vegetarian soup was filling and flavorful, though next time I would add a little more garlic and a bit more herbs for seasoning. I also ended up with about a quart of leftovers which will store well in the freezer. (By the way, I had a piece of that yummy wheat bread for lunch too!)

Dinner: Our plans changed for Friday evening, so I made the pizza tonight. I made a homemade pizza crust using the Betty Crocker pizza crust recipe I have used for years-only I added 1 cup of the whole wheat flour that came in my FFM bag yesterday. After baking only the crust for about 7 minutes, I removed it from the oven and brushed it with a little olive oil. I had already opened my jar of roasted cherry tomatoes and pureed ???????????????????????????????about 1/2 the jar for a little bit of sauce, which I spread sparingly over the olive oiled crust. Next I sprinkled it with the fresh mozzarella I got yesterday, which I had shredded. Then I spooned the remaining un-pureed roasted cherry tomatoes on top of the cheese, added a touch of freshly ground pepper and topped it off with some fresh basil and oregano from my garden. After baking it for seven more minutes,we were pulling out this gourmet-looking pizza, feeling like we were eating at an expensive pizza place.  Oh what fun!

I am not sure all of my recipe attempts in my Great Food Experiment will be this successful, but at least it was a good Day #1 – and I’m already looking forward to seeing what will be in my Fresh Fork Market bag next week!

CSA Wednesday

Today marks the beginning of a new adventure in food for me. Earlier this spring I committed to being part of a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture. Essentially this is an agreement which exists between a group of local farmers and a group of local citizens. I agree to pay them for what they provide and they agree to supply me with locally grown produce, meats, cheeses and other items every week. It is a win-win for the consumer who wants to eat healthy food from local sources and for the local farmer/merchant who either cannot or does not want to complete with the large food conglomerates that largely control the grocery store market of America.

I have come close to doing a CSA for the past three summers. I have also talked myself out of it for the past three summers. What if all I ever get are bags of cabbage and onions?  What if I get stuff I don’t know how to prepare? This spring, however, I found a CSA with a little different twist – the Fresh Fork Market (www.freshforkmarket.com). This CSA works with several local farmers and is thus able to provide a greater assortment of foods as well as additional items from local merchants that can be purchased with a weekly membership. The price is reasonable, the pick-up locations are convenient and the website has great resources – no more excuses for me. For the next 22 Wednesdays I will pick up a bag of fresh local food in Brecksville between 3-6 p.m. I still might get stuff I don’t know how to prepare, but their website is full of ideas. I have a hunch some of you share in my uncertainties, so I am going to post my experiences with this CSA so you can come to your own conclusions about whether this could work for you.

So, what did I pick up today? I pre-selected the “Small Omnivore” bag for each week, which is generally designed for a family of 4 or less and includes meat. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available, as is a “Large Omnivore” bag, etc.  Here’s what came in my Fresh Fork Market bag for about $25:

  • ???????????????????????????????1 whole chicken, pasture-fed
  • 1 dozen organic eggs
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 head of lettuce
  • 1 bag of pea shoots
  • 2 lbs. organic whole wheat flour
  • 2 lbs. organic black beans

Each week Fresh Fork Market has add-ons that can be ordered in advance and picked up with your regular bag.  Here are the items I added on this week:

  • ???????????????????????????????1 lb. grass-fed ground beef
  • 1 lb. sausage-bacon breakfast patties
  • 1 lb. smoked turkey slices
  • 1 lb. fresh tomato-basil linguine
  • 24 oz. vanilla yogurt
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella
  • 1 jar roasted cherry tomatoes
  • 1 jar heirloom tomato sauce
  • 1 quart strawberries

The total cost of these add-on items was $50.  So my total cost for this week was $75. When I arrived at the pick-up point, I paid for a loaf of homemade wheat bread as I had run out of bread today.

Because Fresh Fork Market sends out an email a few days before pick-up each week, I was able to make a menu in advance and then add on what I knew I would use. So here’s my menu for this next week.

  1. Wednesday: Burgers and a salad (using pea shoots with the lettuce)
  2. Thursday: Kale and Bean Soup for lunch, Roast Chicken for dinner
  3. Friday: Homemade pizza using the mozzarella and roasted cherry tomatoes
  4. Saturday:  Black Bean Enchiladas
  5. Monday: Breakfast for dinner – Eggs with the sausage patties
  6. Tuesday:  Linguini with the Heirloom tomato sauce with a side salad

(Lest you worry that we starve on Sundays – we usually eat out! )

Stay tuned for updates on whether my recipes and cooking skills work to make the most of this week’s products.  On to making my first salad with pea shoots – who knew you could eat those?!

A Country Girl in the City

This morning I scored big in my gardening project.  Having purchased seed potatoes a few weeks ago, I have been eagerly SONY DSCanticipating planting them.  After viewing several YouTube videos on the subject of growing potatoes in containers, I set out on a quest for burlap bags for just this purpose.  An online search revealed only rather expensive options.  So I headed over to the Wilson Feed Mill on Canal Rd. and discovered they sell burlap bags for $2.  After purchasing five bags,  I headed home, ready to fill the bags with dirt and get my Yukon Golds and Red Pontiacs started for the season.

I don’t live in the country.  In fact, our house sits on approximately one-quarter of an acre in a suburb of Cleveland, so gardening space is at a premium and livestock is out of the question.  My small garden is slowly creeping into more of the backyard as our kids have gotten older and need less outdoor space for toys.  I have warned my husband that someday he might come home and have no backyard left,  reminding him that then he wouldn’t have to mow it anymore!

Even though I don’t live in the country,  sometimes I feel like a country girl at heart.  My grandparents were cattle farmers, my uncle’s family are hog farmers.  I spent many a summer day in the barn, the fields, the creek, the flower garden, the granary, the milk house.  I helped Grandma take the milk and cat food out to the barn and watched her fill the large rubber black bowls with it as multiple cats mysteriously emerged from hay bales or the barn loft where they dutifully fulfilled their task of keeping the mice population under control.  I caught crawdads in the creek, rode the tractor with Grandpa, ran old field corn through the hand-cranked corn husker in the granary, played hide-and-seek in the barn and milk house. I got muddy, silly, itchy, dirty, and tired all in one day-and it was great.

So how do you know if you are a country girl at heart?  Here are a few considerations:

You might be a country girl if you would rather play in the dirt than go shopping.

You might be a country girl if your kids don’t have any room to play in the backyard because you turned it into a vegetable garden.

You might be a country girl if you dress up when required but would rather live in your blue jeans and boots.

You might be a country girl if you own a canner, a dehydrator and multiple gardening gadgets.

You might be a country girl if you dream all winter of being able to use your canner, dehydrator and garden gadgets next year.

You might be a country girl if you avoid grocery stores and look for farm stands on the side of the road.

You might be a country girl if you get more excited about getting seeds in the mail than getting a check in the mail.

You might be a country girl if you love the smell of fresh-plowed fields fertilized with manure.

You might be a country girl if you wish you owned a few chickens instead of a few cats.

You might be a country girl if you drool over farmstead real estate instead of a fancy new house.

You might be a country girl if you would rather have a tractor in a barn than another car in the garage.

I have no expectations of a life in the country being in my future.  But this doesn’t keep me from digging in the dirt, getting excited about simple things, and learning to live somewhat self-sufficiently.  You might even find me occasionally catching crawdads in the creek – hope you will join me!