August 2008

Danny and I both love quiche, and his mother makes really good ones, but he and I have never tried to make one. Tonight I was at a bit of a loss as to how to use up more of the overabundance of zucchini in our fridge (note to self: do not buy 2 kilos of zucchini. It is too much for the two of us to eat), and I proposed a frittata, but Danny wanted to try making quiche instead. We used this crust recipe, taking the “quick and easy” route of not refridgerating the dough and then rolling it out, but rather pressing it straight into our only approximately suitable pan, an 8″ square metal baking dish. We used this recipe as a general guideline for the filling, although we didn’t have Gruyere, heavy cream or whole milk, so we used a mixture of a Turkish aged sheep’s milk cheese and cheddar and 2% milk instead.

Given all of the adjustments, I was a little fearful for how it would turn out, but it was actually quite lovely! We ate it with a green salad. Definitely not a healthy meal given the copious amounts of bacon and butter, but certainly a nice treat. I didn’t get a picture of it before we dug in, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Last night I made tuna noodle casserole (at Danny’s special request). I used my mom’s recipe (included below, thanks Dad for sending it!), but had to make some substitutions. Per my mom’s advice, I cut way back on the amount of fat…I think I probably used a tablespoon or a tablespoon and a half. We didn’t have green peppers, so I grated up a zucchini (are you sensing a theme to this week’s meals yet?), and I didn’t have pimentos so I finely grated a carrot for color. The carrot, by the way, did not actually add color once it was cooked, but I was comforted by the thought that it added a little beta carotene to our meal. We used whole wheat spirals instead of elbow macaroni. Such a good comfort food!

1 can tuna
1 1/2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
3 Tbsp fat (original recipe called for bacon grease)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped green peppers
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/3 cup milk
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
1/3 cup chopped pimento
Sprinkle thyme

Sauté onion & green pepper in fat. Blend in flour. Stir in milk & soup. Cook until smooth. Combine with Tuna, macaroni & pimento. Pour into 1 quart greased casserole & bake covered 30 minutes in 350 degree oven. Remove lid after 20 min.


I try to limit the amount of time and energy I spend ranting, but I just can’t resist saying something about the absolutely ridiculous news we got yesterday about our household goods shipment. We were told our stuff was being shipped via a new, improved system that had two primary benefits: 1) we could track the status of our shipment and see exactly where our things were and when they were scheduled to arrive, and 2) the shipping time would be considerably shorter – under the old system it typically took 2-3 months, and apparently the new contract specified a 60-day maximum timeframe from pack-out to delivery.

We finished our pack-out on 27 May. 60 days after that was 26 July.

Of course, as of 26 July no one had any idea where our stuff was. NO ONE. We called the company who did the pack-out, who told us to call the shipping company. The shipping company told us that they had no record of a household shipment for us, only a vehicle. The track-it-yourself system told us that our stuff arrived in Turkey on the 21st of July, along with our car, but when we contacted the people at the port they assured us it most certainly had not.

So yesterday, we finally got word that they had located our shipment. In Antwerp. Yes, that’s right, Antwerp, Belgium. Where our shipment has been sitting since 22 July. It’s now scheduled to arrive in western Turkey on 6 September, and will then supposedly take another 15 days to arrive in Ankara and clear customs. Which means that IF everything goes as scheduled, we will get our things on or about 22 September. Which is, if I do the math correctly, 118 days after we packed out. And that’s assuming everything goes according to schedule, which I can virtually guarantee will not happen. For one thing, Ramadan goes from 1-30 September this year, and almost nothing ever gets done during Ramadan. I mean, would you want to move furniture if you were fasting from all food and drink during daylight hours? I certainly wouldn’t.

Okay, now I’m done. I swear, no more ranting or whining about this issue. I will say that even though I’m incredibly annoyed at how screwed up this whole process has been, I feel better having a timeline in mind. At least now I know not to expect our stuff before the end of next month, so it’s not like I get my hopes up every week that maybe they’ll find our shipment and it will turn out to be here in Ankara ready to deliver…

I try to do a few “green” things, like using cloth diapers and drying them on the line instead of in the dryer, but I wouldn’t say that I’m a total hard-core earth mother. Like a nice spring green or chartreuse even, not really a deep forest green. I have been experimenting with making my own nontoxic cleaners, though, both for environmental and economic reasons. Also, I like not having a ton of toxic chemicals around the house that Stephen could get into once he’s mobile. Some have been more successful than others, but here are a few things I’ve tried that actually worked pretty well.

– 1/2 white vinegar, 1/2 water: this is a great all-purpose cleaner. I use it to clean almost any non-porous surface — to wipe down the kitchen counters (unless we’ve been cooking with raw chicken or pork, in which case I use a regular kitchen spray), to clean bathroom counters and mirrors, and to spot-clean the floor. It works great on mirrors and glass, our water is really hard and this solution removes hard water spots perfectly without streaks.

– baking soda and vinegar: I use this to clean our toilets. I flush the toilet, sprinkle baking soda all around the inside of the bowl, then pour full-strength white vinegar into the toilet and scrub it with the toilet brush while it’s foaming. It leaves the toilet really nice and clean.

– baking soda and dish soap: This makes a great soft scrub for really heavily soiled surfaces. I used it on our kitchen cabinet doors when we were getting ready to put our old house on the market. Put a small pile of baking soda in a bowl, and add enough dish soap to make a paste. Rub it onto the surface you want to clean. The only downside of this cleaner is that if you don’t rinse it off really well it does leave slightly grainy streaks, so make sure you rinse or wipe down the surface thoroughly.

– lemon juice and olive oil: A solution of 2 parts olive oil to 1 part lemon juice works pretty well as a furniture polish for varnished wood. Shake it up and put a little bit onto a soft cotton cloth. Make sure you rub it in really well, and go over the surface with a clean cotton cloth to get up any excess oil. It leaves the wood really nice and shiny, but if you don’t wipe up the excess you’ll see some streaks on the surface.

– baby wipes solution: I made a wipes solution for Stephen, out of 1 tablespoon apricot or almond oil, 1 tablespoon liquid castile soap, 2 drops tea tree oil, 1 drop lavender oil, and 1 cup of water. I shake it up before using it, and it works really well to clean his little bottom without irritating it.

– borax: I add borax to our washer with the detergent, as it acts as a natural water softener. I also put some down in the kitchen where we’ve had some black ants coming in, as I read that they take it back to their queen and it eventually kills them. So far it doesn’t seem to be working, but we’ll see if eventually they start disappearing.

I get a certain amount of satisfaction out of making something myself rather than buying it. I don’t mean that I’m going to start wearing all only hand-sewn clothes made out of hand-woven fabric or anything, but within reason I like to figure out how to make things for myself.

Today, for instance, I made my own pumpkin pie spice blend. I love this spice blend, and use it in everything from my faux chai tea that I posted on several months back to fruit compotes to oatmeal. I had used up the last of my jar of purchased spice blend, though, and decided that it would make more sense to make my own blend since I had almost all of the spices that go into it. I think the results smell amazing, and I had fun customizing the blend to include more of the spices I really love. Here’s the blend I came up with:

Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon grated nutmeg (I grated mine fresh)
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Most of the time I like the from-scratch version of things we make at least as much if not more than things we can buy — my knitted dishcloths, for instance, work so much better than most of the dishcloths we bought before since they’re knitted out of cotton kitchen twine so they have lots of good texture for getting food off of plates but the open knit pattern means they come really clean when we wash them. Danny’s breakfast sausage recipe is so much better than any breakfast sausage we’ve bought.

Some things, though, are not necessarily better when made from scratch. One year we had a bunch of pumpkins around and were determined to make pumpkin pie out of them. Maybe if we had owned a really big food processor to blend them smooth enough they would have been better, but I have to say that the results were really not any better than pies made from canned pumpkin. The texture was a little bit odd. We still ate them, but we haven’t repeated the experiment.

Okay, so this won’t actually be a real ode. I played around with the idea of trying to write this in iambic pentameter, but there’s no way I could actually make it work. Cut me a little slack, Stephen still isn’t sleeping through the night. 🙂

One of the things we eat almost every week is cornbread — we both love it with chili especially, but also with just about anything else. Now, I may not be all that southern in a lot of respects, but cornbread is one of those things the South just does better. I realize that some of you, my readers, may be Yankees who do such things as bake sweet, cakelike cornbread. I want you to know that God still love you and so do I, but if there is an event at my house that calls for cornbread I will not ask you to bring it.

Ironically, my favorite recipe for southern-style cornbread comes from my mom’s side of the family, who are not even southern. Most of them that I know of live in the Kansas City area. Go figure. But I kid you not, this is hands down the best cornbread I’ve ever eaten. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is key to making this correctly, although in our last post when we had foolishly neglected to bring a skillet I did make it in a glass Pyrex baking dish. The results were acceptable but only just. To really get the full effect, it’s crucial to get the pan good and hot (the oil or shortening should be just starting to smoke) so the edges are all nice and crispy and fried.

As a side note, the original recipe called for white cornmeal, my mom generally uses 1/2 white cornmeal and 1/2 yellow cornmeal, and I’ve done both half and half and all yellow cornmeal. The only difference is in the color and texture (yellow tends to be a little coarser).

Egg Bread Recipe

shortening or vegetable oil to grease the pan (enough to coat the bottom with no bare spots)
a 10″ cast iron skillet

1 1/2 cups cornmeal – NOT SELF-RISING
3 T. flour
2 T. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

2 c. buttermilk
1 egg

Put shortening or vegetable oil in the skillet (a tablespoon or two, enough to cover the bottom and a little to spare) and put skillet in oven while preheating. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. (If you forget, you can heat the skillet until the oil is almost smoking on the stove-top.) Sift together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Beat buttermilk and egg together in a small bowl; stir into dry ingredients just enough to moisten. Pour batter into preheated skillet (the edges should sizzle and puff slightly). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Ever have one of those you-can’t-get-there-from-here days? I had one this past week…everything I thought of that I wanted to do I couldn’t, either because we didn’t have a car yet (which will hopefully change today, hooray!) or because our household goods (HHE) shipment is lost in space. I thought of starting a new knitting project, and then realized that all of my yarn is in HHE and I don’t know where a yarn store is locally. I thought about baking something, but my mixer and most of my baking pans are in HHE. I thought about starting a new book, but all of our books are…you guessed it…in HHE.

I’m thankful, though, for friends here — in the midst of my frustration about not having access to any of the things I wanted, I got an invitation from a friend to go check out a local yarn store this weekend. The same friend let me rummage through boxes of books they were going to donate and I scored a few new things to read. Other friends have driven us around for weeks now, loaned us their extra TV, invited us to come places with them, and cooked dinner for us. Not having our stuff is teaching me to be more gracious about accepting offers of help from other people, I will say that. I usually hate feeling like an imposition so I’d prefer to just suck it up rather than ask for help, but as we start our third month without access to most of our stuff, I’m having to swallow my pride a little bit and take people up on their offers of assistance. If and when they ever find our HHE, I will certainly be motivated to a) unpack it and b) offer assistance/food/rides/books to people who arrived after we did!

One of the good things about buying too many vegetables at the market is that it forces us to find creative ways to use them up (and we thereby end up eating more vegetables). This past week, we had fresh cilantro, parsley, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and arugula that all needed using. So here’s how we did it:

– Tuesday night we made black beans and rice, with a homemade salsa (a hot salsa both in terms of temperature and spiciness, made with some of our excess tomatoes and with lots of fresh lime juice and fresh cilantro in it) with extra chopped cilantro sprinkled on top of everything. Danny made some chorizo meatballs to go with it, which turned out REALLY well (they had to be meatballs because we currently have neither a sausage stuffer nor sausage casings). For the chorizo we used an amalgam of two different recipes, this one and the “Spanish Chorizo” recipe on this page. We didn’t have aleppo pepper so we used cayenne, and we omitted the brown sugar and substituted some red wine for the white wine that’s called for, but otherwise we used all of the spices listed on both recipes. We also had to use a little bit of reserved bacon grease as we didn’t have any fatback (I know it’s not healthy, but come on, it’s homemade sausage!).

– Wednesday night we made a vegetable frittata. We grated up three zucchini and squeezed out as much water as we could, then combined that with some eggs, chopped parsley, chopped arugula, sauteed onions and sweet peppers and some blue cheese and baked it all up in our 10-inch cast iron skillet. I really liked grating the zucchini, as that way it didn’t take over the texture of the frittata but still added a bunch of fiber and nutrients. This was probably one of the best frittatas we’ve made in recent memory.

– Thursday night we were on a mission to use up the rest of the sweet peppers and our one lone eggplant, so Danny improvised a stuffed peppers recipe. We used this recipe as a guideline on seasonings, and made the stuffing out of ground beef, cooked brown rice, finely chopped eggplant, and fresh parsley. We poured homemade tomato sauce that we had prepared a few weeks ago with extra market tomatoes and frozen over the top of them and baked the peppers for a little over an hour. Okay, we baked them for 45 minutes, took out a few peppers and microwaved them because we were STARVING, and left the rest of them in to bake for another 30 or 45 minutes. We served them with green beans dressed with lemon oil, salt and pepper.

As you can probably guess from the number of times I’ve mentioned sort of using a recipe or two as a guide, we don’t really do much recipe planning or even really follow recipes all that closely most of the time. Although I love reading other peoples’ menu plans, I don’t know that I’m really able to plan that far in advance, so maybe doing this sort of recap of what we ended up cooking will work better than trying to predict what we’ll end up cooking!

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