Saturday, May 30, 2015

Spring has Sprung at the Strawberry Farm!

Hello, everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back and we're heading into jam season here.
 We don't really have any cherries yet, or many raspberries, or blueberries, or blackberries, or really much of anything but we DO have strawberries!
I'm ready to wear this super cute apron my friend Christalee sent for my birthday! It matches my kitchen and the teapot she sent last year. Teal and red, my favorites!
  I saw on their facebook page that Klicker's, our local strawberry farm, was heading into production, and I rounded up the kids for an impromptu trip. My friend Mindy joined us and we headed out to get in line for the "first come, first serve" buckets of strawberries that arrived from the afternoon shift.
 Something interesting I saw there: morels! We find these in the mountains and although it's technically illegal to sell, trade, or give these away, I think Klicker's has a special permit to sell them. They've had problems with hunters staking out sites and actually shooting people who come mushroom hunting on their property, so the authorities are trying to cut down on the mushroom-related crime. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of morels, so I don't understand shooting someone over them or really, any food... maybe chocolate.
No, not even then.
 A view of the approaching clouds that turned into a storm a few hours later.

 So many preserves!
 I really love these cauldrons. I want one. I can set it up on our outdoor fire, me stirring it with a big paddle, muttering,
                                       "Double, double toil and trouble;
                                     Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
                                      Fillet of a fenny snake,
                                      In the cauldron boil and bake..." Etc.!
 MMMMM.... There were dozens of varieties of hot sauce.
 And so many pickled preserves!
 And lots of local sauces!
 And so many marinades. I wanted to try them all!
 I did buy some Walla Walla Sweet Onion Mustard for a friend of mine. But I tried to limit my spending to...
 The fruit! Ok, this isn't super impressive but it's all we've had for months so it was glorious!
 Young sweet onions for salads and fresh green beans looks especially tasty.
 Oh, and a random shot of my most recent book. That is six month's of work right there! And I love it. Just like all my babies...
 A shot of our clematis that's blooming...
And our sunset!
 Ok, it does occur to me that I didn't actually get any pictures of the strawberries in the fields. But I bought four buckets' worth and tomorrow morning, my friend Mindy and I are making jam! She's providing the pectin, sugar, and most of the jars. Stay tuned for updates! I'm excited!!

I hope everyone has a fabulous weekend and that fruit is making a comeback in your area. It's been a long, long winter and I'm ready! Are you??

Friday, May 29, 2015

Leftover Lunchmeat?? Try This!

Missy, here. We had my daughter's graduation last week and a house full of family here to celebrate with us. What fun!! But when everyone left and all the dust cleared, I had a ton of thin sliced ham and turkey left over.

What to do?? My friend Lindi suggested making something like chipped beef and gravy. Voila! Great idea!

Melt 3 TBS of butter in the skillet.

Add 3 TBS flour. You can adjust the amount, just keep them equal. Stir and let bubble for a few minutes to "cook off" the flour taste. Let it brown if you want a brown gravy.

Yes, that's a Christmas spatula in May. LOL

Add the milk. I always eyeball this. Don't get too much, or it won't thicken enough. Season with salt and pepper.

While it simmered, I chopped the ham and turkey.

Add to the gravy until heated through.

Serve over biscuits or toast. YUM! Notice the paper plate? Yes, I'm all about practicality when I have 12 people here for the weekend! :)

Did any of you grow up eating chipped beef and gravy?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Banana Bread, Take 5 or 6 or Possibly 7!!!

I love good banana bread and banana cake. It's like a thing with me, a flaw in my stars, to be this in love with banana products. Banana cream pie??? Oh be still my heart!

I found a great banana cake recipe online and I share it with anyone who mentions a love for banana cake! You'll find it here, and it's the best I've ever had. We like it with whipped cream frosting, not the cream cheese frosting, and I never have a bad thing to say about cream cheese frosting!

So back to banana bread. Beth had a clutch of Very Old Bananas. She wanted something baked. Now you'd think a mother of three could handle this, but she's expecting baby #4, a little girl to add to THREE BOYS, so we cut her slack. If she wants banana bread, we can make that our kitchen science lesson!  So we start with peeling and smushing the bananas. GREAT FUN! Notice that Elijah is eyeing the black banana with some reluctance!

And then we move to assembly:

Here's the recipe as found on, and it deserves every one of the 5 stars it's been given!

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
4 bananas, smushed completely
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup miniature chocolate chips (we use Ghirardelli Barista chips because they don't sink to the bottom! Well done, Mr. Ghirardelli!) They were cheaper when I bought them last year, so watch for them on Amazon. I got them for under $5/lb. That's a big difference, and they're amazing. We've had our bag for about 10 months, and I store them wrapped at room temperature. Of course that room was a little cold this winter... :)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (my degree symbol isn't working tonight!) Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and bananas. Mix well. Add dry ingredients. Add vanilla. Add chocolate chips, if desired. Or add 3/4 cup chopped walnuts. Or add both!

Mix well and pour into greased and floured large loaf pan. Bake at 350 for about 45-60 minutes, depending on size of pan and your oven. Bread is done when toothpick inserted in center comes out dry with just a few moist crumbs hanging on.

Slice and serve warm or cool. To keep fresh, wrap in plastic wrap.

Cuteness ALERT!!!!! Mary Ruth and Joslyn, bakers extraordinaire!

Chocolate chips. YES!!!!

Xavier wants you to know that he put the chocolate chips in, and then Mary mixed them. Accurate reporting is what we do best!

Must get the pan ready!

One loaf pan and 3 big cupcake/muffins. Waiting is always the hard part! (Yes, that's a new stove. We had an appliance meltdown in the kitchen, the dishwasher and the old stove... Meet Shiny, the new stove. Double oven, Unlimited Potential! Shiny thinks he rules the kitchen, but he's wrong. As much as we love him, Ms. Dish ranks high on my preference list, because after 4 days of washing all the dishes by hand again I realized that I can write books because I now have a dishwasher. It all started with that first dishwasher, twelve years ago! Who knew???

The three amigos. (aka muffins)

And here Beth has arranged the beautiful loaf on one of our new plates. Please know that we can't take the new plates out of their boxes because the cupboards are DIRTY... and I won't put the new plates in there until I have time to scrub them. It would be wrong to do otherwise...

But we unpacked one plate to give us incentive! Not enough incentive, clearly, because the other 11 plates are still boxed up! But one of these days... :)

So that's what we've been up to this week, a little banana recycling! And yes, this is my favorite banana cake recipe so far!

(This is Zee Zee, showing you that he's got the big job of adding the chocolate chips! Stinking cute kid alert!) He's so proud of being a big boy now!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Berries: For Brunch and for Books

I love berry season. As we approached Memorial Day, our local strawberry fields were starting to give out. Blueberries were coming in. And the grandkidlets and I took advantage as much as we could. 

I started thinking about some beloved books I read as a child involving berries of all kinds. I mention all the time one of the highlights of my life was picking blackberries on my maternal grandfather's farm. But I also picked huckleberries up in the mountains with my dad and his parents. Berries meant adventure. So, that's why I gravitated toward berry books.

First there was Blueberries for Sal which reminded me of my huckleberry adventures. It's considered a classic.
Here's where you can find a description and ordering on Amazon. 
Then, when I was upper elementary age, there was Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski. This was a book that touched my heart as a child, made me want to read Grapes of Wrath when I was older.

And here's another classic with ordering and description info. 
Now I've read a lot of books in my lifetime and I don't remember all of the children's books I read. But I do remember these two every berry season.

Now that you've let me go down memory lane, here's your reward.  A little dish I whipped up for Memorial Day weekend and will make again for the Fourth of July.  Plenty of protein and low sugar so you can enjoy this brunch dish/dessert without guilt.

Patriotic Muffin-Style Quiche

1 cup Pamela's Gluten Free Baking Mix

2 whole eggs
2 egg whites
1 cup fresh blueberries

whipped goat cheese (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Mix one cup Pamela's baking mix with whole eggs and egg whites. Stir with a whisk, adding a small amount of water to keep the mixture from becoming stiff. Be sure to combine well but don't over mix.

3) Add blueberries, gently stirring until combined.

4) Pour into a greased glass pie plate.

5) Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, watching to make sure it doesn't burn and is done in the center.

6) Remove from oven and let cool on the counter for fifteen minutes. Cut into wedges.

7) Garnish with strawberries or additional blue or blackberries. The goat cheese adds additional protein and a great tangy taste to go with the berries. 

8) Store leftovers, if any, in refrigerator.

Do you have any berry picking adventures to tell? What is your favorite berry dish or book?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Stormy Weather? Bring It On.

As I'm typing, this is what's going on outside.

For those of you who may not know, I am a weather junkie. If I were to change careers right now and go back to school, I would probably major in meteorology.
Whenever stormy weather is headed our way, not matter what the variety, you will find me with more than one radar at my fingertips. When things get really bad, I'll be at my desk with the local TV station on and radars on my desktop, laptop and Ipad.
No storm is going to sneak up on me.

As I said last week, our area of Texas has been in a five year drought and I'm learning that there are a few things I missed during that drought.

This is a given.

But how cool is this? Instead of a pool, we now have a lagoon.
So long as there are no creatures, I'm cool with this.

We have puddles!
And I will add that the dogs love them. Of course, we no longer have any idea what color our kitchen floor is. I have vague memories of it being something other than brown.

Ah, yes... These have become a familiar site. 
One I have most assuredly grown to love.

And all this rain means our Trumpet Flowers are blooming.
Pretty soon, our fence will be covered with them.

Occasionally, though, there's too much of a good thing, making life inconvenient for some.
This is an aerial view of Purcell, Oklahoma, where my oldest daughter lives.  Yes, she and her family are safe, their house situated on high ground.

And I'm sure you've heard about the devastation in the Texas Hill Country.
Needless to say, people in both of these areas could use our prayers.

What about you, do you watch the radar when it storms? Do you like to be prepared?
What's your favorite kind of weather?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Croque-Monsieur: a sandwich extraordinaire

First of all, Happy Memorial Day! Be sure to stop and remember what this day is all about.

And now for the food!

We have a new sandwich place in town that I fully intend to visit someday. It's called "The Sandwich Shop - Nummies on Second" (isn't that a great name?), and they serve specialty sandwiches and soups. A couple of my family members have eaten there and raved about their grilled cheese and their Reuben sandwiches, so I "liked" the restaurant on Facebook.

Big mistake. Seeing their daily specials when I'm at home with no car is pure torture on some days!

But one day their daily sandwich was "Croque-Monsieur." I had never heard of the dish (?) sandwich (?) soup (?) before, so I looked it up on the internet.

It turns out it's a baked ham and cheese sandwich with velvety bechamel sauce.

Oh. My.

The recipe sounded fabulous! So I put it on my menu for the next week.


ingredients for bechamel:

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 Tablespoons whole grain mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt to taste

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until foamy. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a whisk, until the mixture is pale and foamy (about 3 minutes). Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly until the sauce is smooth. Keep cooking and stirring until the sauce is thick and a bit elastic, about 4 more minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the mustard and nutmeg. Add salt to taste.

Note: the bechamel can be made one day ahead. Let it cool, then press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the sauce and refrigerate.


6-8 slices 1/2" thick country style or rye bread (to make 3 or 4 sandwiches)
3-4 slices ham, about 1/4" thick
about 1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese (or you can use swiss)
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence

Preheat your oven to 425° and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Spread three or four slices of bread with half the bechamel, spreading the sauce to the edges of the bread. Lay these slices bechamel side up on your baking sheet.

Top these slices with the ham and half of the cheese.

I used this Gruyere cheese from Sam's,

and these Farmland ham steaks.

And here are the sandwiches, half way through the assembly process.

Top these with the remaining slices of bread, spread with the remaining bechamel, then top with the remaining shredded cheese.

Sprinkle with the herbes de Provence, and slide the pan into the oven. Bake the sandwiches at 425° for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbling.

Here's the finished product:

So rich and creamy, and definitely a knife and fork meal!

Hmm, I think I need to put this on the menu again :)

And tell me - am I the only one who had never heard of Croque-Monsieur before?