26. The H’s Chicken Pot Pie

The whole H family have been in and out of my life since I met Husband. They are his aunt, uncle, and cousins, and they are fun – always with a smile, a story about recent travels, a kind word. I took a few meetings to really get to know them because I always saw them during a huge family gathering where I would be introduced to many people, often for the second or third time: by the time they were attending our wedding, though, we had the pleasure of speaking various times, and I knew they were passionate folks with lots of interests and plenty of travel stories to tell. I have to admit though, I was grateful for how homey the pot pie was, not a flight to an exciting new place but instead a walk through memories instead.

 

The process of making this pot pie was simple, as much comfort food is, but it makes a lot of food and it heats up so nicely the next day. The best part of fresh out of the oven is definitely the crust, which is out of a box and I don’t begrudge it that, because I’ve messed up a decent amount of pie crusts in my time. The combination of crisp and creamy is excellent and I am also comforted by the piles of veggies that go into this pie (alongside the creamy potatoes and milk).

 

I’ve been overstretching myself quite a bit lately, telling myself I’m never doing quite enough. Pot pie tells me that I’m fine, and that even if I need to clean some things while it is in the oven, and probably missed an email or a text message while I was stirring the mixture together, but lately, the prospect of getting to cook, especially soothing processes like making a pie, bring me to a place of not caring quite so much about all the things I should be doing. Providing food, at least, seems to be enough for a little while.

The H’s favorite easy Chicken Pot Pie

about 2 cups of cooked cubed chicken (occasionally check with can of chicken!) 2 cans cream of potato soup 1 bag frozen mixed vegetable (corn green beans carrots and peas) about 1 soup can of milk (mixture should be of moist consistency) 1 tsp thyme (important spices!) also pepper to taste.

Roll out Pillsbury pie crust. Oven 400 degrees; mix above and put in pie. Bake 50-65 minutes. Delicious.

A and J = Gardening Goals!

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This is part of a row of fall greens planted by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law – don’t they look luscious? Husband and I got leaves of salad greens, but never big, lush heads of lettuce that we could use. A and J have developed 8 or 9 100 foot rows of veggies behind their house, and they work awfully hard to keep the veggies and fruits coming all spring, summer, and fall – between the three seasons, they provide veggies for their own vegetarian lifestyle, local veggie restaurants, and a tiny farmer’s market they host in their hometown! I don’t want my life to be quite as garden-ful as theirs, but they sure do remind me how much more is possible! Will be spending some of the drive home today daydreaming about how to expand and improve for next spring. 🙂

Food Memory: Cafe Cortado

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In Grand Rapids, Michigan, I drank a cafe cortado made with almond milk and was grateful that little bits of my Spain experience were still possible in my journey in the States. Cafe cortado is simple despite the fancy-sounding name – it’s a shot of espresso with just a little bit of foamed milk, which means its smaller than a cappuccino but less harsh than taking a shot of espresso alone. Cortados on break from teaching in Spain were a quick pick-me-up – I don’t make espresso at home but small coffees still make me smile.

The Refreshment of Gratitude

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Last Friday, Husband and I helped out with a friend’s pop-up fundraiser; he’s hoping to open his own business and he turned a cool loft space into a real party atmosphere, complete with band. Husband and I were mostly there to be at the party, but we volunteered for one chore: helping to wash out glasses after people finished their drinks. We ran into the back, scrubbed up the glasses, and got them ready to be used again. It was a nice break from socializing with a bunch of people we didn’t know well, but it was also so nice to see R’s face when the whole place was packed and people were enjoying the atmosphere so much.

I remember thinking that rather than being tired, I was enlivened: so energized by the feeling of gratitude we got from having friends like this, from knowing a few folks in town and feeling included. This is how I feel this Thanksgiving: like my gratitude to the world, to friends and family and the school that employs me, propels me forward and keeps me grounded. Gratitude reminds me that everyday problems are solveable, and that by almost any comparison I care to come up with, I have so much more love in my life than I could imagine.

The propelling makes me want others to share the riches of having a growing community, of knowing others deeply and connecting in spite of differences. I am not outgoing every day of the week… or even any day, if it gets bad. I think that so much of what our nation and our world need are people finding ways to connect to each other, finding the common ground they have or, failing that, building some common ground through sharing activities, experiences, and food. A lot of people are getting together with family today who don’t agree with them on much, but hopefully they can agree on the deliciousness of cranberry relish and the satisfaction of a tummy full of turkey. I hope that ground can build some gratitude in a year when we all haven’t been behaving that well; that gratitude can carry us, I hope, into 2017.

More Pretty Face Scrubbies

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With my new varieties of yarn, I made some delicate white face scrubbies and some more fun blue and green print scrubbies – it takes a little while to make them, but a large pile are for my aunts, cousins, in-laws, and sister – soft scrubbies for their pampering Christmas gifts! I might throw in some kind of fun face wash and make it a full present. 🙂 For the pattern, refer back to Pretty little face scrubbies and my inspiration, The Stitchin’ Mommy. 

Adult Children and Family Holidays

I’ve never “hosted” Thanksgiving – it seems like quite the undertaking, from the outside. There’s food to prepare, spaces to clean, and all the many little things to account for about the guests you have – these are family members, and you know their quirks, and you want them to feel comfortable and at ease. I would probably be preparing for ages before hosting Thanksgiving, and who knows? Someday I might. The closest I’ve come was hosting a pretty family-filled New Years Eve party, and even that comes with very few expectations, food-wise. For Thanksgiving, there are so many iconic foods that folks expect to see!

My husband’s family… so, you know, my family too… is in an interesting spot. All the children are grown, with the youngest in their 20s and married, with parents in their 50s and the grandparents “generation” in their 70s; it’s an entirely adult family. Sure, most of us 20-somethings have friends with babies, but the family itself doesn’t have any yet, and it makes the role of being the “youngest” generation a bit surreal: I’m old enough to be hosting but instead, I’m being hosted by the older generations again.

I want to contribute, though, in a way that I haven’t before: last year, I was in such a tizzy about the wedding (which was the Saturday after Thanksgiving) that I was extremely grateful to leave everything about Thanksgiving to them. However, this year, I’m thankful that I have the space, time, and ability to be (at least a little) helpful. To that end, here are my ways of trying to be a useful daughter/granddaughter-in-law in the yearly Thanksgiving celebrations.

  1. Bring some desserts/breakfast stuff: People don’t love having other people hone in when they are making a dinner masterpiece, but it never hurts for there to be more dessert/breakfast food for the many additional people in the house. It’s also nice for hosts not to have to get up early and figure out some kind of breakfast plan; instead, guests can fend for themselves and everything is more restful for us all.
  2. Bring a game or a fun new activity: This is Husband’s realm; when he and I find out about a cool game or a fun activity to share with family, we try to save it for the next time a ton of us are in the same house. We’ve spent hours in tournaments of backgammon (not a new game, but one that had a heyday with us), downloaded the same trivia app on our phones just to play against people in the same room, and written up our own versions of charades. It keeps everyone who isn’t thrilled about football busy and happy and making memories together.
  3. Bring what you’ll need and make time for yourselves: I try to pack well in general, but I tend to forget things and need to borrow or buy them – I try harder to make sure I’m well-packed when I’m staying as a guest in someone’s home, because it’s one way to make my stay with them less of a burden. I also like to plan, if I’m going to stay for a while, for Husband and I to take a little time for ourselves somewhere in there, just to get out of the hosts’ hair. In this case, our anniversary will always fall around Thanksgiving from here out, and so we’ve got reservations for a nice dinner Saturday night; by then, we’ll have had lots of family time but still have time to reconvene on Sunday morning.

Most of all, noticing when there are opportunities to spend time with someone while helping them out – doing dishes, carrying chairs, setting out silverware. These aren’t fancy and it doesn’t make the work of hosting much easier, but it does give you a time to connect while spending time together.

Thinking about Hospitality

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In the wake of the Presidential election, I’m even more thoughtful about community building and neighborliness than before. It’s easy to assume the country is close and united when we have two moderate candidates in the running, but throughout this election cycle, I’ve been stunned by the differences in mindsets among the candidates, and by the closeness of the races: the country is divided.

I know that there are some disagreements that getting to know each other cannot solve. I know that being political is not a good way to run a food blog or host a dinner party or any of the things I claim. But I do think that talking to each other, knowing people whose experiences are different from our own, seems to be one of the only chances for getting out of this mess. Half of America is a stranger to the other half; they need to have each other over for dinner.

For this reason, part of my upcoming thoughts on the blog are going to shift toward discussing modern hospitality and how people talk to strangers around them. I want to keep talking about food, because I think we are all so united when it comes to food and wanting to belong. However, I think that the ability to be isolated and self-reliant but miserable is higher than it ever has been in the United States, and I want to be a part of figuring out where we need to come together. So many books talk about how we are desperate to connect to each other, that disconnection causes so much pain and ruin. I would submit there has to be a place where people are brought together who disagree with each other, who can eat together and maybe let down some of their most emotionally-held beliefs for a little while.

This blog has always been about forming community with my friends and family; I just think that this election cycle shows that I need to move beyond that, to strangers and political opponents and people I don’t understand. We all have to live together, after all.

Seeing the world through rose-colored pasta sauce

I wanted to bake up some tri-colored rotini with broccoli this week, but after so many weeks of coming up with savory sauces, I was about to cave and use a roasted garlic alfredo sauce out of a jar. There’s no shame, after all, in jarred pasta sauce and I love me a good, consistent alfredo – my cream sauces too often end up just outside the consistency ranges I expect, despite still tasting good.

When I thought of how I could mix it up a little, I saw half of a bowl of tomato basil soup leftover from Sunday, and was transported back to college, when so many of my meals involved a pasta with cheesy sauce and some kind of added veggies. We had a dining hall station where you could get all manner of veggies sauteed with garlic and oil, poured onto a plate of pasta and covered in alfredo. Once, my friend LJ came over to our house our senior year, after we were no longer eating on campus as much, and she brought with her fun, winter-themed shaped pasta, and more importantly, a jar of pink sauce! It was called vodka sauce, and I don’t know if there was vodka in it, but she said it was like mixing marinara and alfredo together, a little bit (refined palates, we were not, clearly). Still, the sauce was wonderful and since so many of my favorite memories of college involved me eating pasta with friends, I decided that I would combine my jarred alfredo and tomato soup into a pasta sauce runny enough that it would help my baked pasta get nice and roasted.

With a layer of mozzerella on top, I put the dish in the oven for a while; when everything was melted and bubbly, I turned on the broiler for 2 minutes, at which point the cheese got very brown and I had to hastily remove it from the oven. The result was delightful: the sauce was less one-sided because of the tomato tinge, and the crisp cheese counterbalanced the broccoli, which was limp but soaked in sauce so I didn’t care. I recommend pink sauces whenever you just cannot decide between marinara and alfredo, or when you just want something a little different that day. 🙂

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Secret Family Recipes… Shhhh.

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One of the recipes I received last year I have yet to try. It’s time intensive, has a lot of ingredients, and requires constant vigilance in its creation. Thus, I had put it off until I realized that I really had to try it, but I had been asked, a long long time ago, not to put it on the blog. I was told that even though it was no secret within the family, it was special, a special part of the family.

I was honored, because I was receiving a recipe that was only for the close family members, and I was excited because it meant I was part of this close family, the people that Husband’s relatives trusted the most. Though I knew it would be hard, and Husband would inevitably think my version didn’t measure up, I tackled it this week. I cannot tell you what the food was, or what the recipe entailed, but suffice it to say that 1. it took a long time. 2. it was a blast keeping everything together and 3. my version was good,  but not as good as another family member’s.

I write not to tantalize you about a recipe I’m never going to share, but to advocate that you develop your own. Sure, you might originally have found your apple pie recipe on pinterest, but with your own flare, and a missing ingredient you had to substitute, and time and experience and memories of apple pie, it might become yours. Keeping that apple pie recipe secret, even if you actually share it with millions of other people via the internet, is one way to make it special, make it part of your family’s traditions. By doing that, joining a tradition, you make new additions to your family – kids, in-laws – feel like they’ve really “made it” when you pass on the well-worn card to them and they get to hang it proudly on the refrigerator. I love sharing recipes and stories that my friends and family give me, but once in a while, it’s nice to have a little secret. 🙂

Pretty little face scrubbies

IMG_4920.JPGI took a break from my latest blanket project to try out an idea that my grandmother-in-law, J, suggested. She was in a soaps-and-lotions-and-other-smelly-stuff store, and saw some crocheted cotton face scrubbies. They were soft, she said, and replaced the disposable cotton that people use to wash their faces so often. It saved waste, they were beautiful, and they looked like they would work up quickly!

I was right: I found a beautiful pattern at The Stitchin’ Mommy, and some lightweight wool (had no cotton handy, but I will order some!), and in 30 minutes, I had this lovely little circle! I had to learn the puff stitch for the first time, but even Husband commented that it looks even, professional, and quite functional. Success!

The ladies on my Christmas list are definitely getting some of these, especially since I can make one faster than I can watch most tv show episodes! I’m on a quest to make homemade gifts that my friends and family will actually use, rather than finding precious and then getting rid of them, and this seems like a wonderful first find!