Friday, September 19, 2014

The Sandwich Box

"What in the world is a Sandwich Box, Jess?????"

I'm so glad you asked!  My Sandwich Box is possibly my favorite thing in my kitchen!  I've had one in my fridge continuously for at least the past 15 years.  It all started one summer when my teen stepsons were staying with us for the summer.  My husband and I both worked full time, and we needed something quick and easy for the boys to make themselves lunch while we were gone.

We didn't want them using the stove or the oven without adult supervision.  Frozen things were fine for a while, but they got tired of those very quickly.  Also, since they'd eat 2 or 3 at a time, those things got pretty expensive.  They loved sandwiches and hot dogs, so I had the idea of putting all of the sandwich fixings in one place in the fridge.  That way, they didn't have to rummage through the fridge either.

I found an unused plastic sweater box in the closet, scrubbed it clean, and The Sandwich Box was born.  I cleared off room for it in the fridge and filled the box with anything that I thought they'd like to have on a sandwich.  I put hot dogs, ham, cheese, mustard, mayo, pickles, bread, and hot dog buns in the box and told the kids to look there first for lunch.

Over time, I also began putting in any leftovers that I wanted them to eat.  They knew that anything in the box was golden.  All they had to do was pull the box from the shelf and go to town!  They loved it...Ron and I loved was great.

I've had some form of this box in my fridge since that very first day.  Recently, I rearranged our fridge and I asked Ron if it was time to retire The Sandwich Box.  I thought that it might be easier to have all of the cheeses together with the lunchmeats and the condiments in a separate container.  He vetoed that very quickly.

I always knew that if the kids were hungry, they could find something quickly and easily.  That was comforting to me as a mom.  It occurred to me that The Sandwich Box is a source of comfort for him too as a dad.  He likes that it's always there.

Our current Sandwich Box looks like this:

Nothing fancy, it's just a plastic basket that I got at the dollar store when we got our new fridge about 5 years ago.  It's a little beaten up, but it's holding its own!  I like that it's a basket as it is pretty flexible.  I can stuff a ton of things in it, and it stretches as it goes.

As we are a foster family, the contents of the box vary based on the likes and dislikes of the kids in our household.  I have a variety of mustards and spreads...cheeses and lunchmeats...sauces and name it.

I clean it out and change it up weekly before I do my grocery shopping.  If I notice that they're not eating the lunchmeats, I may add Nutella or PB&J.  I stuff in baggies of lettuce, tomatoes, and anything else they might want add to their sandwiches, and all they need to grab is the bread.  

I don't keep the bread in there any longer, because, quite frankly, with four teen boys, the shelves of my fridge are prime real estate.  I simply don't have the room.  Besides, with all of the lunches that are served out of this kitchen weekly, I never worry about a loaf of bread going stale before it's all eaten.

I've thought about building a Salad Box, but I don't think it would be as popular as The Sandwich Box.  :)

Thanks, and welcome to my world!

Healthy After-School Snacks

When my kids get home from school, they're famished.  Well, they're actually famished all of the time as most teen boys are.  But, it seems as if they are even more so right when they walk in the door from the bus.  I'm not sure what happens to them on the ride home from school, but it's like they've never eaten before in their lives!!!!

Immediately after walking through the door, they go straight to the fridge in search of leftovers or the sandwich box.  (I'll post later what my sandwich box is....It's AWESOME!)

The problem with that approach is that they fill up at 4:00 and then I can't get them to eat dinner at 6:30.  Ron and I will force them to eat something...just a little...and before the dishwasher finishes running after dinner, they're lurking in front of the fridge again.

I just can't bring myself to have a bunch of chips and candy available for them for snacks.  I'm a believer in moderation.  This is a foreign concept to a ravenous teen!  I've taken to separating those kinds of things out into little baggies so that they can have only small amounts at a time.  I have to keep my eyes peeled, as it's easy for the sneaky little devils to grab 4 bags at a time.

If I try to go healthy, they'll turn up their noses.  Any other time, they love hummus...when they're with their friends right after school, they look at me like I have three heads when I pass the luscious "bean dip."

Next week, I am planning to make healthy snacks for after school and I will post the results.

Why don't you give me some suggestions?  What foods do you have available for your children for after school?

Thanks, and welcome to my world!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Winter Squash

My neighbor gave me some Hubbard Squash, and I had never seen such a crazy-looking thing! What's worse is that I had no idea how to prepare it.  We're not huge winter squash eaters...actually, we're not big summer squash eaters either.  I do like to sneak butternut squash to my roasted vegetables.  My kids think that they're carrots.  Shhh!  Don't tell them.

I like to make butternut squash ravioli with brown butter and sage.  However, I had two containers of butternut squash puree in the freezer when my neighbor brought the second Hubbard Squash over a few weeks after she gave me the first one.

So, then I had two of these monsters and still had no idea what to do with them.

I decided that I'd try to dehydrate them since I didn't have any specific plans for them.  The first thing I had to try to do was figure out how to get into the darned thing!  This was no easy task...these things have very thick skins!!!!

So, I took a lesson from the butternut squash.  I learned a neat way to peel them, so I tried it with the Hubbard.

Cut the squash

Scrape out the seeds

Cut it into "fingers"

Peel with a vegetable peeler

Then, I cut the squash into chunks and steamed them until they were tender...about 15 minutes. After they steamed, I put them into ice water and onto my dehydrator trays.

All done!!!!

I dehydrated them until they were completely dry...It took about 15 hours on my dehydrator and with the humidity in my house at the time.  Just be sure to check them after about 10 hours.

This happened last fall, and before I knew it, my husband had grabbed the seeds and thrown them into the garden.  Of course, then, we forgot that he did that.  So, when it came in this the middle of a flower bed, we weren't really sure what it was.  When I started to see these weird looking things appear, it hit me.  

I read that they can be harvested when they're round, small, and dark green...almost like an acorn squash.  So, we picked them then.  After they were harvested, they turned orange.  They look like deformed little sugar pumpkins.  I have five of them...and I'm not sure what to do with them!  

So, what did I do with the dehydrated Hubbard Squash from last year?  I put it in a chicken pot pie! I'll make that again next week, and I'll post the recipe then.  I still have plenty from last year, and I'll have plenty more this fall!!!

Here's one from this year!!!!!

What do you do with winter squash?

Thanks, and welcome to my world!

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Do your kids have chores?  Do they get an allowance for doing them?  Do you have a chore chart or some other way to keep up with who does what?

We have a chore chart, but it's really not working right now.  We have four boys from various backgrounds (we are foster parents) that we are trying to teach to be responsible adults.

I'm curious about what other people do.

Thanks, and welcome to my world!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Deep Dish Fruit Cobbler (or what to do with those home-canned peaches)

My grandmother's sister, Lois, was the best cook I have ever known.  Don't get me wrong...I come from a long line of women who were masterful in the kitchen.  But, there was something about Aunt Lois...I loved just sitting in her kitchen.  It was always so warm, and it smelled so good!!!!  There was always laughter, too.  Aunt Lois was also one of the funniest people I've ever known.

I have a few of her recipes, some of them are in her handwriting.  Those are very special to me.  This is one of her recipes.  

This is a versatile recipe.  I love to make this with peaches or blackberries, but you can also use cherries, blueberries, apples, or even strawberries.  The fruit can be fresh, frozen, home-canned, or store-bought canned...all are delicious.  If you buy canned, don't get the ones that are labeled as "pie filling."  They have thickeners and other ingredients that you just don't need.  

I've made this recipe for years, and it just never seemed as good as I remembered.  The crust and topping just always seemed...I suppose that flat is the best word.  Something was missing. Thinking maybe that I had the wrong measurements, I changed it up.  That didn't work.  I asked my mom, and she said that I had it written correctly.  

I just couldn't figure it out...until I remembered my heritage.  Looking back through some of those old family recipes, it finally hit me.  In my family, "flour" was always self-rising flour.  Aunt Lois made biscuits every morning for her very large family.  I found out later that her biscuits are actually called "country biscuits," but we just called them biscuits.  

If something called for all-purpose flour, it was referred to in family recipes as "plain" flour.  The same goes for cornmeal.  Don't try to make hot water cornbread with anything but plain flour!!!!!  

Anyway, once I figured that out, my cobblers started turning out much better.  Now, if you don't normally have self-rising flour in your pantry (and I don't either,) not to can make your own with the following recipe:

  • For every cup of all-purpose flour, whisk in 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Use this exactly the way you would self-rising flour.

Now, on to the I'm using peaches.  When I took the pictures, I was making a double recipe for a huge family dinner.  I'd show you the pan, but it's all gone.  

Deep Dish Fruit Cobbler

2 cups sugar, divided
3/4 cup self-rising flour
3/4 cup milk
4 cups fruit, cut into chunks
1 stick butter

Place the butter in a 2 quart baking dish.  Put the dish in the oven and turn it on to 350 degrees. While the butter is melting, put the fruit in a bowl and add 1 cup of sugar.  Stir to coat and set aside. (If you are using canned fruit, drain off the syrup before adding the sugar.  If you're using your home-canned fruit, be sure to save the syrup for tea!)

Butter in the pan...yes, I know that my pan looks bad.  I've used it A LOT!!!!

Adding the sugar to the peaches

In another bowl, whisk together to remaining sugar, flour, and milk.  Set aside.

When the butter has melted, remove the pan from the oven.  Pour the batter over the butter, then top with the fruit mixture.  Do not stir!  The batter will bake up over the fruit and make a delicious topping!!!!

Pour the batter on top of the melted butter

Add the fruit to the top of the batter

Just before it goes into the oven

Bake for one hour.  Serve hot with vanilla ice cream on top.

Fresh from the oven!  YUMMMMMMM

Thanks, and welcome to my world!

Monday, September 8, 2014

"You Make Great Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches"

That's what my husband said to me a couple of days ago.  "You make great peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."  Really, Ron?  Gee...thanks.  Of all of the things I have cooked for you over the years, this is what you choose to comment on...?  PB&J????  Even if you don't know him or know his sense of humor, you'd have to know that he was just trying to irritate me, right?  I mean, what kind of a bozo can't make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?  There's no skill involved in that.

Actually, he meant that as a sincere compliment.  Here's why...  

Our son Erik had a cross country meet on Saturday, and I packed the cooler full of healthy drinks and snacks. The kids and my husband always pick at good fun...because I do make a production out of it.  In addition to water, real fruit juices, homemade granola, fruits, and string cheese, I usually always pack several PB&J sandwiches.

I've started making them the day before and keeping them in the fridge or making them several days in advance and freezing them.  (Yes, you can freeze PB&J...I'll post about that later.)  I make several because, firstly, I want Erik to eat at least half of one before we leave the house so that he can have something on his stomach a few hours before he runs 3.1 miles in 95 degree weather.  

Secondly, none of my kids wants to eat first thing in the morning.  My husband seems to be going through that phase too, but he's been going through it for at least 15 years.  :)  In other words, they'll all be starving before we even get the chairs set up along the course.  The fruit and healthy snacks simply won't be enough for them.  

My PB&J sandwiches are made with whole grain bread, although they are usually not very happy about that. I use my homemade jellies and jams when I can, and I plan to experiment with making my own peanut butter soon.  Sometimes, I even use my homemade sourdough bread.  I try to make them as healthy as I can.  

I make sure that the proportions of peanut butter to jelly are right, because no one wants to take a bite of a big glob of sloppy jelly, right?  I make sure that they are prepared and packaged so that they are not soggy. (That would just be awful.)  I make sure to keep them at the right temperature so that they are not only tasty, but they're also refreshing on a very hot day.

Why do I do all of this when it's easier to just give them some cash and send them to the concession stand or stop by a drive-thru somewhere?  Why do I put up with their ridicule just so that I can provide them delicious and healthy food at exactly the time that they get hungry and want real food?????

Ron knows why........even if the kids would probably rather have drive-thru.

So, he smiled, and said, "You make great peanut butter & jelly sandwiches."  I accepted the compliment for what it was.  I smiled back and felt very blessed!

Thanks, and welcome to my world...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

How to Can Peaches

Earlier, I wrote about the beauty of home canned peaches.  As delicious and gorgeous as they are, you may want to know how to can them instead of looking at them in the pretty jars, right? Well, although it's a little late in my area (Middle Tennessee,) you may want to know how to do it for next year.

I am not canning expert.  It is a science and an art.  The art project side of canning peaches comes in when you add your own special touch to them.  Maybe you'd like to add some spices to change them up a bit. Maybe you'd like to put them in very pretty jars and make cute little jar toppers for them.  Maybe you like them plain like I do.

The science side comes from, well, science.  You MUST can properly.  You MUST follow the rules. You MUST do it the right way (and yes...there is a right way to can...) each and every time.  If you don't follow the rules, you risk your health, and possibly your life.  A few pretty little jars simply don't seem worth the risk to me to do it wrong.  I want to can my peaches and live to enjoy them.

Since I am not a canning expert, I won't go into proper canning techniques here.  There are plenty of good sources for correct information out there.  Unfortunately, there are also plenty of bad sources for incorrect information out there.  Stick to the folks over at Ball Jars or the National Center for Home Food Preservation...I have both sites bookmarked whenever I need specifics on something. to the peaches!!!!

Start with good quality peaches.  They are usually cheapest toward the end of June and throughout July in my area.  My dad's trees didn't produce for some reason this year, so I bought my peaches from The Peach Truck.  You'll want ripe peaches, but don't let them over-ripen.  Wash them well and cut off any bad spots. While you're doing that, get a big pot of water on to boil.  You'll also need a big bowl of ice water.

Peaches in the box
Getting ready for their bath

Once the water boils, drop in the peaches for a minute or two and then drop them immediately into the ice water.  Get your jars, lids, and rings washed and prepared according to the directions from your canning expert of choice.  Find a good place to sit for the next part.  

Believe it or not, I find peeling and slicing peaches to be very relaxing.  I know, I'm weird.  :)  Pick up a peach from the ice water and use a paring knife to gently nudge off the skin.  Be'll be a slippery little devil.  Then, see the little groove on the side of the nekkid peach?  Insert your knife there and slide it around the entire width of the peach.  Twist it apart and you'll have a beautifully halved peach.  This takes some practice, but it is so much fun.  Now, this works best if you have free stone peaches...a.k.a. cling-free peaches.  I'm not sure how it works with the other kind of peaches, so I can't help there.

I like to slice my peaches into sixths.  You can quarter them or leave them halved.  Whatever works for you is fine.  Sprinkle them with Fruit Fresh periodically to keep them from turning brown.

Peeling peaches
In the ice water

Once they're sliced, it's time to get the syrup ready.  I like for my syrup to be between light and medium.  My ratio is 3:1.  I usually do 9 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar because I like to have lots leftover for tea and smoothies.

Last year, I cold-packed my peaches.  They were good, but I'd heard that hot-packing creates a much better product.  So, I hot-packed them this year.  I was MUCH happier with the result this time.  Yes, it's a little more work, but I believe it's worth the effort.  They are also much prettier in the jars, and that makes me happy.

To hot-pack them, drop the peach slices into your boiling syrup for about a minute before you pack them into your jars.  Fill with hot syrup, remove the air bubbles, wipe the jar rims, seal the jars, and process them for the length of time recommended by the experts for the size of your jars and your altitude.

Going into the syrup...Please ignore the sticky note taped to the stove...It's a new stove and my kids kept accidentally turning on the wrong burners.  My husband decided to label them.  :)

Going into the hot jars

Finished packing and ready to go into the canner

Out of the canner and ready to cool

Another shot of my pretties
If you do want to cold-pack them, all you do is pack the sliced peaches into the jars without heating them in the syrup first.  Then, fill with syrup, remove the air bubbles and proceed as above.  Your peaches may float for a while, and they may not hold their shape as well, but they'll still taste awesome!  That's what matters anyway, right?

That's all there is to it, really. It's not hard to do, and it's so very worth the effort.  Nothing that you buy at the store will ever taste even close to your own home canned peaches.  The only downside is that canning makes your kitchen really hot.  In the south in July, I do most of my canning either very early in the morning or very late at night.

Wait...there is another downside.  You may become addicted to canning.  You may begin to ask for canning jars for Christmas and/or your birthday.  You may start to drive very slowly by every yard sale you see hoping to score jars.  You may become friends with employees at Goodwill and other thrift stores so that they call you when they get jars into the store.  Your children may begin to worry that you'll start storing jars in their rooms.  Don't ask me how I may know these things.


Thanks, and welcome to my world...

Home Canned Peaches

There's something magical about a good peach in late June or early July.  When I take a bite of a sweet juicy peach during the heat of the summer, I am immediately transported to my happy place.

I love the smell...I love the colors...I love the fuzz...I love the juice dripping down my arm.  OK, well, maybe I don't love that last part, but I do love peaches.  

Ah, I really do love peaches in the summer.  I am not so crazy, however, about peaches any other time of the year.  When you bite in to something that is more akin to a raw butternut squash than a peach, well...disappointing is really the nicest word I can use.

Enter the humble mason jar...

Aren't they gorgeous???!!!!

I love to can.  This is a relatively new obsession of mine, but I am so glad that I learned this skill.  This summer, I transformed 100 pounds of peaches into these lovely jars of deliciousness.  I also made my favorite peach preserves.  We also had plenty to eat out of hand, and I froze some for ice cream and for smoothies.  I even canned some of the juice that I use as the liquid for our smoothies...or to add to a gallon of sweet tea (YUM)...or to add to a little BBQ sauce...I could go on...

These jars of summer also make great gifts in the winter.

Do you can peaches?  If so, how do you use them?  I'd love to hear!!!!

Thanks, and welcome to my world...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Any Foster Parents Out There?

I have four teen boys right now.  One of them is our adopted son, and the other three are foster children.  I try very hard to make sure that I have plenty of good food available for them at all times.  I'm trying to make healthy changes in my eating habits, and I want to be a good influence on the kids.

The hard part about instilling healthy eating habits in my kids is that I couldn't start early.  I've always heard that if you start kids out on healthy foods, they continue to make healthy choices as they get older.  That's not possible for our family.

For example, P is the oldest in the house now.  He's 18, and he's been with us for about a month.  He HATES vegetables.  I try to serve at least two vegetables every night, or at least one vegetable and a tossed salad.  Did I mention that P hates vegetables?  I made a beautiful chicken and vegetable stir-fry one night not long ago.  I included the best of the summer veggies that we'd grown and I'd purchased.  It was the best sauce that I'd made in a very long time.  I thought it was delicious.  My husband and son E thought it was delicious.  The other kids, C and I thought it was delicious.  P ate the chicken.  I think he may have had some rice, but he mostly ate chicken.

How do you teach kids with established eating habits to make healthier choices?  I hear from parents all of the time who don't really understand the situation.  There isn't much advice on the internet either.  I find that most of the articles are geared more toward parents of young children.  Sometimes I see articles and comments that almost admonish parents of teenagers for not teaching their children healthier habits way before their teenage years.  For us, that's just not possible.

Let's hear it, foster and adoptive do you teach your older kids healthier habits?

Even if you're not a foster or adoptive parent, but you have some good ideas, please comment...I'd love to hear your suggestions.

Thanks, and welcome to my world.

Getting Started...Again

I'm excited.  I've decided to get started (finally) with my blog.  I tried this a couple of times, and I've even posted a couple of recipes...but I could never get in the habit of it.  Now, that I have a little more time, I think I'd like to try it again.

I may change the name of this blog, because I really want this to be more about running a household and caring for a family in totality...not just cooking.  I think that I have more expertise in cooking than, say, cleaning, but I know that the cleaning has to be done.  I hate cleaning.  I love cooking!!!  :)

As a wife, a mother, and a foster mother, I know that there is much more to caring for a family than just feeding them.  Although, as we now have four teen boys in our house, I also know that feeding them is VERY important.  :):):)

I'm planning to start a YouTube channel as well soon.  Be on the lookout for that in the coming weeks.

Thanks...and welcome to my world!