In My Kitchen

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     The hot weather of a week ago has vanished and we had a light frost early this morning.  I didn’t even open up my house until after lunch time today.  It is, afterall, only April, and not quite time for consistently hot days.  Yet there are signs of spring, and signs of our lack of rainfall, everywhere.  

     There are so many birds of all types calling and singing, hawks shrieking and my hens cackling that there is constant, audible evidence of spring all the time.  The birds that nest in our attic every year have hatched their first batch of chicks for the year.  They are just above the closet in Dani’s room and it’s so fun to hear them.  What a ruckus they make!!  My dormant plants have all now begun growing again.  The Lantana bushes and Crape Myrtle trees are always the last to leaf out, but they have now done so.  The pasture, where our sheep graze, is already turning to a golden California brown.  Unless we have some substantial rain, we won’t see green out there again for a good many months.  I am so grateful that we have enough water to keep the rest of our property green and growing through the summer.  It is a lot of work and it takes a lot of time each day, but the results are worth the effort.

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     I took the camera out with me as I changed irrigation lines this afternoon.  I believe that our orchard and vineyard are preparing to give us a phenomenal harvest this year.  The trees that have already set their fruit are absolutely loaded.  Lord willing, and weather and pests not prevailing, this will be a banner year for us! 

 

 

 

 

 

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     The late apples and pears that are just now blooming are glorious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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     And the grape vines are covered in bunches and bunches and bunches of little, bitty grape buds!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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   Of course, all that is green, growing and flowering is not productive.  The weeds threaten to take us over every year, and this year is no exception.  My husband did the first weeding in our berry patch today.  He uses the rototiller to take care of the weeds between the rows, and then comes back along and handles the weeds between the bushes and closer to the vines with other methods. 

 

 

 

 

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     God’s creation is beautiful, though.  Some of our weeds are gorgeous right now!  This lovely patch will be allowed to stay until the summer heat turns this back end of our orchard into a fire hazard.  Then it will be carefully mowed down in the early morning (while the fire danger is low).  For now, though, I will enjoy our weeds!

     I added a few new things to my posted menu plan this week.  I added some “Prep” notes at the bottom of each day’s menu.  The notes alert me to advance food preparation that is necessary for the following day’s meals.  For example, today’s notes reminded me to:  make a loaf of Portuguese Sweet Bread in my bread machine for toast tomorrow morning,  hard boil some eggs for our chef’s salads for lunch tomorrow, and thaw the muffins and sausage we’ll need.  Some days there are only one or two advance preparation notes, and other days there might be three or four. 

     Perhaps some of you don’t need these little reminders, but I sure do!  I am forever getting up to make breakfast on Big Breakfast Tuesday and realizing that we don’t have enough, or any, bread for toast!  The little notes will keep me on track and able to stick with my menu plan.  They will also save me money by not running to the store to buy something I should have made, or causing us to make a fast food trip to town because I didn’t get the meal prep work done on time.  

     I was able to do all of tomorrow’s prep work today while I hard boiled some eggs.  I put the eggs on the stove to cook, and then loaded my bread machine and started it to work for me.  While the eggs continued to cook, I worked at my prep area and added the seasonings to the ground beef for tonight’s Chinese Burger Patties.  I worked it in well with my hands, and then put it in the fridge.  These are good seasoned just before they are broiled, but that are SO much better if I add the seasonings to the meat earlier in the day and let it set in the fridge for a few hours

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     One of the best things I ever did was pulling together this little cooking prep/baking center!!!  It has made cooking pleasurable again!  Most everything I need is right there, baking ingredients, seasonings, mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, spatulas.  I love to clip the recipes I’m working on up on the spice racks on the door while I work.  It keeps the recipe cards clean, and right at eye level. 

     I get asked a couple of questions quite often.  They really are the same question just asked in different ways.  They are, “Are you a neat cook?” and “How are you able to be such a neat cook?”.  I cannot function in a mess when I am cooking.  The area I have to do my food preparation in is very small.  I’ve done all that I can to make it as efficient as possible, but keeping things neat and clean is not only necessary for sanitary purposes, but it’s necessary to keep things running smoothly, too.

      Having one place to do most of the food preparation and having most everything that is ever needed right there, is a huge help in keeping things neat and tidy.  Once I’ve finished with the flour, I put the lid back on the container and back on the shelf it goes.  Sometimes a few small things might be left out while I finish up, spice containers, the bottle of honey, etc., but for the most part I put things away as soon as I’ve used them.

     Once my preparation is complete, I put everything that might still be out away, any dirty utensils that are still on the counter are put in the sink, and I clean my counter.  If my dishwasher is empty, or only partly full, I put all dirty bowls, utensils, etc., right into the dishwasher after rinsing them off.  If the dishwasher is running, as it was today, I will usually fill the largest dirty contaner with a couple of drops of liquid dish soap and then fill it with hot water.  All of the smaller things are then put into the soapy water.  When I’m ready to load things into the dishwasher, there is no scraping or scrubbing of dried on gunk!

     I also keep my sponge handy and wipe up spills as they happen.  If there are no major spills, which is pretty much a miracle when I’m cooking, then I still spray and wipe my counter clean when I am done.  It takes about 5 seconds!  If I’ve used my mixer, it is wiped down with a damp cloth and buffed dry with a towel.  If the side of the fridge got splattered, that’s taken care of, too.  I also try to remember to look down to see if anything fell onto the floor and wipe that up, too.  All of this takes just seconds, and it does make all the difference in the world.  All of these same rules apply whether I am baking mid-day, or whether I am cooking dinner for my family.   

     Green salads.  Yes, we eat a lot of green salad!  We have green salad on the menu most every day.  How do I keep variety in that?  Honestly, it’s not hard, and you all know by now that my food budget is limited.  I can’t afford to buy specialty items for our salads.  When I do the mega-shop every two weeks I look for the best buy on lettuces and greens that I can find.  Most often, the best buy is packages of hearts of Romaine.  Now don’t get excited, let me explain.  Your markets might be different, but in the stores I frequent whole head Romaine is, generally, more expensive than the hearts of Romaine.  There might be a bit more on the whole head, but not enough to make a noticeable difference.  Sometimes packages of already cut up greens or bagged salads are so discounted that they are the best deal.

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     This past week, our Costco had a 3 pound bag of mixed salad greens for $1.99.  That was the best buy for the weekend.  For the next two weeks, I will dress up the mixed greens in various ways.  Tonight, for example, I added a small can of mandarin oranges and a handful of sliced almonds.  I used some of Dani’s homemade sweet oriental salad dressing (with poppy seeds) and tossed in some crunchy Chinese noodles for texture.  Other evenings I might add a sprinkling of grated cheddar and bacon bits, slice in some cucumber and dress the salad with Ranch dressing.  A chopped apple, chopped pecans and a creamy dressing is another option.  Dani makes a phenomenal salad with greens, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, chopped pecans and her oriental dressing.  A few sliced or chopped black olives, a bit of shredded cheese and some crushed tortilla chips, with a creamy dresing with a bit of cumin mixed in, is a nice salad to accompany a Mexican meal.  Those same greens will be topped with lots of shredded cheese, sliced honey ham, and chopped hard boiled eggs for our chef’s salads tomorrow.  

     Tomatoes right now are very pricey and they are flavorless.  I’ll wait for fresh tomatoes from our garden.  I love avocados but can’t afford them right now.  I use things from my pantry to add variety to our salads.  I also watch for other salad-type items to be offered at a good price, buy those, and work them into my salads for that week.  This week, the bag of sugar snap peas at Costco was a good buy.  We’ll use them for snacks, but also to add to salads from time to time.  Sliced cucumber is also a favorite snack and good salad addition.  Next week spinach might be a good deal.  If it is, I’ll add a bit of spinach to most of our salads, but I’ll make some all spinach salads.  

     While green salad appears on our menu daily, it is not the same ol’ salad day in and day out. This is by no means a complete list of the salads I make during the week, but it’s a nice sampling.  Be creative!  Use what you have on hand!  Make a good deal from the store even better by dressing it up! 

      Ladies, would you all please pray for dear Lea’s son?  Lea stops by my blog here, from time to time, and she was one of the winners in the 100K giveaway awhile back.  Her precious son, Josh, is serving in Iraq and he has been injured in the line of duty.  His roommate lost his life in the incident.  Please pray for Josh, and also for Lea.  I cannot imagine how her heart must ache for her boy!  You can visit Lea’s blog if you’d like to know more.

God bless you as you look well to the ways of your household!
Proverbs 31:27
 

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13 comments to In My Kitchen

  • We eat lots of salads too. DH loves to have them as a snack.

  • Cheryl, HOW are you keeping a bag of greens fresh for 2 weeks?? I have so much trouble with that. Mine start to brown after 3 or 4 days.
    Thank you so much, Diana in Illinois

  • Oh Mrs. Cheryl, you may coffee an extra special delight this morning. It is so comforting to me to read your words, and realize that I am NOT the only one in the world to forget to prep ahead of time! I am also working on that more and moe, but it sure helped me to hear that a wise woman such as you, have been known to do the same silly think as I. Have a blessed day.

  • Oh Mrs. Cheryl, you may coffee an extra special delight this morning. It is so comforting to me to read your words, and realize that I am NOT the only one in the world to forget to prep ahead of time! I am also working on that more and moe, but it sure helped me to hear that a wise woman such as you, have been known to do the same silly think as I. Have a blessed day.

  • What a wonderful post! I love the salad ideas, but like Diana have trouble keeping it fresh. I love the spring mix and though it is more expensive, it also lasts longer. I buy a bag of romaine to add to it which makes it go further.

    I love:heartbeat:, love:heartbeat:, love:heartbeat: my baking area and thank you so much for the inspiration there.

    I will certainly pray for Lea’s son. I am so thankful for the sacrifices made by the young men and women of our country. Praise God, he is still here. I will alos pray for his roommates family.:cry:

  • Oh I think have a baking center is sooo important, if you are serious about baking. I am lucky enough to get a whole room. But even just a cabinet can make such a difference. Have a lovely day. Clarice

  • I have a hard time with the before prep work too! It’s comforting to see that even seasoned experts have the same issues. How do you keep your salad fresh for so long? I see that someone else had that same question. Mine always turns brown early too.

    Have a wonderful day!

  • Thanks for the post about the salads! As the days get warmer, they always sound like a good addition to the dinner menu rotation!  We made a great one last night with mixed greens, chickpeas, red onion, olives and a special treat- halloumi cheese!  It was delicious!  Your salad with the mandarin oranges looks like a great one too!

  • Wow yummy recipes and thank you for the great tips.
    My Family and I will be praying for Lea and her Son Josh.
    God Bless,
    CAGmomof2

  • I will of course be praying.

    You have a beautiful garden, the glimpses you have shown us in your posts. I love the pic of the grapes, and hope that my own will soon look as lovely as yours does. 🙂

  • Hi Cheryl,

    I love being in my kitchen. I am not a messy cook either. I like to clean as I go.I will pray for Lea. I sent her an email. Being there where she is we feel her pain. It is hard to beleive it has been 6 months since we buried Eric. We are blessed  Dave’s son is State Side for now. Thanks for asking us to pray for her.

    Have a blessed week.

    Hugs,

    Elizabeth

  • Your baking center is wonderful, Cheryl! I love all those little drawers. That salad looks delicious!
    ~Kelli

  • Have you posted Dani’ s oriental salad dressing recipe on your site? I’d love to try it.

    Kitten