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Two weeks ago, we went on our annual apple picking outing with friends. Unfortunately, we had an early blast of winter the night before and woke to a coating of snow. Not exactly your typical apple picking weather. Undeterred and with the promise of a discount on u-pick, we bundled up and picked a peck of frozen apples. Ok, it was more than a peck and the apples weren’t actually frozen. We did, however, have to brush snow off of some.

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Over the course of the next couple days, Brad went to town with the apple peeler/slicer/corer and cooked up a batch of apple butter. He canned 6 pints with a smidge leftover that went into the fridge our bellies.

Let me just insert that the apple peeler contraption is one of the single best thrift store finds I’ve gotten. Knocked a large amount of time off of the apple prep process. I’m not always a fan of the uni-tasker in the kitchen, but I’m willing to make an exception for this one. Technically it isn’t a UNI-tasker. It does three different things, right?

The next Friday, the kids were off for the statewide teacher conference and we met up with a couple other families for the day. What did we do, you ask? We went apple picking!

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We tried to encourage the kids to practice some restraint so we didn’t go home with another bushel or more. We did, of course, end up with PLENTY. I was a little bummed that my schedule had not allowed me to be much help in the apple butter making of the week before, so this was an opportunity to redeem myself.

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A couple of days ago, I spent the day in the kitchen and canned another 5 pints.

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More generous people than we would plan to give these as gifts. I’m making no promises –  we love us some apple butter. It is possible that we’ll loosen our grip and share. Stranger things have happened. On the other hand, despite our efforts, the apple basket is far from empty. I may see a third batch (and half pint jars) in my near future.

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We finished the loaf of bread this morning. I kept thinking that I should leave work a little early so I could stop by to get bread and some whole wheat flour (the last of which is in that loaf up there). I didn’t end up with enough time before having to meet the big kids’ bus. I left work, met the bus, picked up Baby Girl from daycare and returned home. At this point, I was not interested in dragging myself out again. I decided I’d just make some bread. It’s white bread, but we’ll survive. I’m just too lazy to go to the store.

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Three of the hens are laying now.  Miss Red, here, is the most consistent layer of the brood.  Everyday by 10am there is a large brown egg waiting for us in the box.  With two of the other hens laying, we average 2 a day.  The eggs have moved beyond novelty to staple.  We didn’t get to the store this weekend, so I had to survey the kitchen and think on my feet to come up with dinner.  Eggs on the counter + veggies from the CSA basket = quiche for dinner.

Maybe the novelty has yet to wear.  I’m still pretty excited by our small sliver of urban sustainability.

As the school year was coming to a close in June, the month of August looked a lot like the Illinois horizon – stretching on forever without many points of interest. Color me shocked that it has flown by so quickly. I guess an unexpected change in jobs and a big road trip helped repaint the landscape a bit.

The big kids start school next week and I’m trying to reform the way I deal with lunches. I hate to admit that the kids ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, carrot sticks and a piece of fruit for 90% of their lunches last year. I’m not one to make lunches the night before. I really don’t like the texture of sandwiches that have been in the fridge, so I never think to make them for my kids. After reading about Melissa’s plan for school lunches, I was inspired to expand my lunch-making repertoire this year.

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After dispensing far too much mental energy (with a hefty dose of financial guilt), I went ahead and ordered LunchBots. I got an Uno and Duo for each. They are really nice. The Uno is the perfect size for a sandwich. The Duo just right for a couple of sides. They both fit in the kids’ lunch bags, with room to spare.

But what about what goes in the bags? Good question. We made a list of main course ideas. Some of the kids’ choices, like tuna salad sandwiches, will need to stay cool.  The lunch bags we have are insulated so I think we can handle that. We’ve included rice and tofu as an option.  We’ll have to see how the kids like eating their rice at room temperature. Given their crazy love for rice and tofu (including a song and dance) I am guessing the temperature should not pose too much of a problem.

I’ve also been trying out some recipes for treats that might find their way into lunches. So far we’ve tested and approved PB balls and homemade Lara Bars. Next up on the to-try list is baked oatmeal.

We went to back-to-school night and saw the new site.  The kids were excited to see teachers and friends and the school looks great.  They are so ready to be back and I am looking forward to the return of routine.  Let’s hope I can get the hang of a new lunch routine, too.

A couple friends mentioned making pickles recently and I just could not shake the idea.  Despite the fact that we are off on a 2000+ mile adventure soon, I insisted on going to the farmer’s market on Saturday to get cucumbers.  Must.  Make.  Pickles.

A lot of people I know would turn their noses up at the thought of bread and butter pickles.  Sweet pickles?  No way.  Pickles should be dill and garlicky.  I love a good dill pickle, but the sweet and tangy bite of a bread and butter pickle takes me back to my grandma’s kitchen in East Texas.

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Not having my grandma’s recipe, I used the recipe in Ball’s Blue Book.  The smell alone took me back 30 years.  I canned two quarts and they are supposed to “ripen” for a couple weeks before we use them.  There were a few that didn’t fit, so I had a chance to taste test.  Who needs a time machine, when you have a pickle?

For you dill pickle aficionados, never fear, the vinegar has been replenished and the other 5 pounds of cukes are all queued up with their buddies dill and garlic.

Several years ago, we were introduced to a truly unforgettable dessert.  Let’s call it a twist on a classic.

After enjoying a lovely dinner, we were relaxing and readying ourselves for dessert.  Our friends, Chas and Amanda, proceeded to bring out a package of Peeps.   Now, I love candy far more than the average person, but I was ready to take a pass.  But, with little marshmallow chicks and skewers in hand, our hosts directed us to the fire pit.  At this point, I’m sure hubby and I looked somewhat befuddled.

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We were skeptical, but the result had us convinced.  A slightly crisp, caramelized exterior and a soft and gooey interior.  It is a fine use of the Easter treat that typically lingers at the bottom of the basket, pushed aside in favor of the chocolate bunny or jelly beans.  As Chas put it, “they are the creme brulee of marshmallows”.

Time to scope out post-holiday sales and stock up for camping season.

Oops.  I forgot to announce the winner of the shameless ploy:  #7 Sarah (Lewis)!  Don’t start checking the mail just yet.  I have a couple ideas that I need to hammer out first.  I think you’ll like it.

My days have been filled with lots of non-crafty things lately.  Work.  Reading.  Exercising.  Baking.  Chickens.

What?  You don’t think about chickens?  We have been talking about getting chickens for well over a year.  Now, it’s serious.  A friend is placing her order for chicks and we have claimed 6 of them.  Meanwhile, we need to get our permit process going (including getting signatures from neighbors) and get the coop built.  Just a couple minor details.

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A couple of weeks ago, I tried the Light Wheat Bread from Smitten Kitchen and now we are hooked.  We’d been making no-knead bread for so long, that it was kind of an adjustment.  You mean I have to knead this?  I’ve decided that kneading bread dough for 10 minutes can count as exercise.  It makes such a lovely (and tasty) loaf of bread that it has become our standard sandwich bread.

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Although progress on Mr. Greenjeans feels slow, I did start on the first sleeve the other day.  Good thing we’ve got plenty of winter left around these parts.  Definitely enough time to finish and use a new sweater.

Just before Christmas, I was listening to MPR and heard a snippet about a cookbook called Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans. I was immediately intrigued. Apparently, I was not the only one because the book was out of stock everywhere I looked. It wasn’t even available from the publisher. After Christmas, I finally found a lone Amazon seller who had a copy and I pounced.

It arrived in the mail today and I have never been so hungry in my life. As far as cookbooks go these days, it is fairly lo-fi. No glossy photos, no detailed techniques. It’s more like a treasure trove of recipes from your grandma. If your grandma is from Louisiana, that is.

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I grew up in Tennessee, but have a deep and abiding love for the food that comes from Cajun country. My grandmother, of Cajun lineage, was born in Louisiana and grew up in SE Texas. I really cannot think of my grandma without thinking of food. She embodied home cooking. Smothered potatoes, chicken fried steak, creamed corn, pie, pie and pie. But it is her gumbo recipe that has been passed down like an heirloom.

Gumbo is one of the only things my Daddy cooks (gumbo and Saturday morning pancakes). He learned from his mom and she learned from hers. It all starts with the roux. Not the light, butter-based roux of French cuisine. This is dark roux, cooked over medium heat for half an hour. Roux the color of chocolate. Roux is the heart and soul of gumbo. If you don’t cook it long enough, the gumbo ends up weak and flavorless. If you cook it too long, it is bitter and worthless. Get it just right and it is the taste of home (my home, at least).

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This is actually a shade or two lighter than it was by the end of cooking.

If you manage to track down a copy of Cooking Up a Storm, you should try the “Turkey Bone Gumbo” (p. 74). It’s pretty close to my family’s recipe. It won’t be as good as mine, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it almost as much. 😉

Meanwhile, I’ll be busy trying out beignets, grillades and grits, red beans and rice, Mr. B’s crawfish risotto, praline cookies, and at least a couple of the 6 different bread pudding recipes.

Laissez les bon temps roulez! Let the good times roll! (I may be rolling too after all this good food!)

P.S. In case you were wondering, now you have an idea of where the blog name came from.

Apparently, I had a serious case of first sock syndrome. Poor, long-suffering hubby has been waiting patiently for new wool socks for months. Luckily summer fell in the middle of that period and he didn’t need wool socks. Not even in Minnesota.

I cast on last winter and got just beyond the heel before I set it aside. Knitting the required length for the foot was more than I could deal with. He wears a size 13 shoe. His foot is literally a foot. Maybe it was our recent camping trip and the need for wool socks that prompted me to revisit the sock on the needles. I powered through and finished the first sock.   I’ve even gotten a good start on the second. I’m in the middle of the gusset decrease. Let’s hope that I don’t stall out before the end this time.  It’s getting to be wool sock weather around here!

Last night, I made apple crisp for dessert. I followed Erin‘s lead and used Ina’s recipe. So yummy! It was hard for me to resist having some for breakfast this morning. The only thing stopping me was that fact that my children would want some too and I didn’t want to share.

Between the apple butter (btw, here’s the recipe), crisp and each family member eating multiple per day, we have officially finished our haul from apple picking. I am kind of disappointed that they are gone. I didn’t make a pie. Or applesauce. Surely, we need another crisp soon. Guess I’ll have to get a couple bags from the co-op. There is more cooking with apples to be done!

Let me count the ways:

  1. the start of school makes me giddy (sorry kids, but you know you love it too)
  2. being outside without sweating or shivering
  3. can you think of a better time to be a knitter?
  4. hot tea
  5. fall foliage
  6. sweaters
  7. curling up under a quilt (to knit a sweater, while drinking hot tea)
  8. apples (apple picking, apple cider, apple butter, apple crisp, apple pie, etc.)

A couple weeks ago, we made our annual apple picking foray with friends. It is not the cheapest Saturday folly, but it is truly fun for the whole family.

Sarah was downright giddy as she walked among the trees, yelling “apple” at every turn.

She seemed to enjoy the tasting portion of the day, too.

The big kids enjoyed searching the trees for the best looking Honeycrisps.

Brad was a few rows over filling a bag with Haralsons.

Honeycrisps for eating. Haralsons for baking and apple butter.

Brad spent quality time with the Haralsons while watching the debate last night. (I was too busy trying to get Sarah to sleep while simultaneously swearing at the t.v.) He cored, peeled and quartered about half of what we brought home. The apples went into a pot and onto the stove for a few hours to end up as apple butter. Brad canned 3 pints and 1 pint went straight into the fridge for (almost) immediate consumption. You’ve got to love a man that cans!

We’ve been making apple butter each fall for the past 10 years. The smell of apples simmering with cinnamon, ginger, clove, cardamom and nutmeg may surpass the smell of fresh baked bread in my book. You can argue with me on that point, but you definitely can’t go wrong with a combination of the two!

A few years ago we earned quite a reputation with regard to our apple butter consumption. We had spent the weekend with a group of friends and cooked apple butter over an open fire in a huge cooper pot. It was a friend’s family tradition and a glorious one, at that. A beautiful October Saturday spent sitting around a campfire, taking turns stirring the pot of apples with a giant wooden paddle. What could be better?

I can’t remember how many jars we put up that day. It was A LOT! Anyway, we came home with around 10 pint and 2 quart jars. I think we were the only family to finish our share before the next October. The next year, we came home with a few extras. 🙂