Cooking through Farmer Boy

When I first became obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books, Farmer Boy and The Long Winter were tied for first place in my affections.

The Long Winter appealed to my love for stories telling of survival in the midst of adversity. Farmer Boy appealed to my love for food.

Whose mouth does not water as they read the description of those stacked pancakes, piled high with butter and maple sugar? Who does not long to be beside Almanzo, silently eating the sizzling ham, the stewed pumpkin, the mashed potatoes and gravy? And the pie, oh that pie!

I dreamed of the pies, of the ice cream, of the pound cake and taffy. I delighted in the descriptions of the familiar and wished to try the unfamiliar – Rye’n’Injun bread, apples’n’onions, wintergreen berries. Oh, how I wanted to try those.

Knowing that Farmer Boy was the next book in my re-reading of the series for Barbara’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge, I determined to cook up some of those toothsome meals.

Now, neither Daniel nor I are 19th century farmers and our calorie needs are significantly less than those of the Wilder family. Furthermore, Laura’s descriptions of the meals are often regarded to be hyperbolic, reflecting more food than even a well-off family like the Wilders would have at a typical meal. So I didn’t at all feel bad about paring the meals down to a more manageable size for our purposes.

We had fried ham, stewed squash (in lieu of stewed pumpkin), and mashed parsnips for our first meals – and then I read through chapter 2 again and discovered that it was mashed turnips they had rather than parsnips. Oh well, the parsnips were good – and I was reminded how much I like them.

We made twisted doughnuts (using the recipe in The Little House Cookbook) with lots of powdered sugar on top – and I decided that I liked the twisted technique even if it didn’t flip itself like Mother Wilder’s did. I think I’d like to try the technique again, only with a yeast dough (I prefer raised doughnuts in general.)

With our friend Ruth, we made stacked pancakes (with maple syrup instead of maple sugar), sausage patties in gravy, and apple turnovers.

I used the leftover pastry from the apple turnovers to make a pumpkin-pecan pie, which we ate with more ham and fried potatoes and apples’n’onions. I decided that apples’n’onions are amazing and I should cook them all the time (except that my husband only moderately likes them, so I should just cook them occasionally.)

I made baked beans using Mother Wilder’s technique – take boiled beans (I used Great Northern Beans), add salt pork (I used fatty bits left on the bone I’d boiled the beans with) and onions and green peppers, pour scrolls of molasses over top and bake at a low temperature for a long time. Daniel’s not usually a big fan of baked beans, but he actually liked these fairly well, especially after adding a bit of garlic powder and cayenne pepper. I’ll be using this as a jumping-off point to try to come up with a recipe he’ll really like for everyday use. With the baked beans, I served rye’n’injun bread (made using the recipe in The Little House Cookbook). I really enjoyed the flavor of rye and cornmeal together, but the bread ended up dry and dense (probably because of long cooking time at low temperature and not quite enough steam in my oven.) The next time I make cornbread, I’m going to try using my regular recipe but substituting rye flour for the wheat flour to make a modern-day Rye’n’Injun bread.

Finally, after the month was over, I got around to making roast beef and mashed potatoes with pan gravy, boiled turnips, and boiled carrots. I know I’ve had turnips before, but I was pleasantly surprised at the horseradishy flavor they have, and resolved to find more to do with turnips.

All in all, I ended up making some of the more mundane recipes from the book, holding off on all the pies and cakes and ice cream and taffy. And I discovered just how delicious meat and potatoes can be (and how many vegetables I forget exist.) Mother Wilder didn’t have fresh greens all through the winter, didn’t even have canned green beans or fruits. She had apples, onions, potatoes, turnips, carrots, and squash – but she used them again and again throughout the winter to provide her family with surprisingly fruit and vegetable heavy meals. I’m encouraged that I can do the same, using these root vegetables to round out my usual go-to frozen vegetables or fresh salads.

In addition to cooking from Farmer Boy, I did actually read it – and made some comments on the chapter on Springtime.

Head over to the wrap-up post for Barbara’s challenge to see what others have been reading, and what they’ve said about it.

Book Review: “The Pioneer Woman Cooks” by Ree Drummond

I caught the Pioneer Woman bug a little late, following a link from I’m not sure where and finding myself reading the story of Ree and the Marlboro Man’s romance into the wee hours of the morning.

I finally closed my internet browser when I remembered that I don’t read Harlequins any longer.

I chose not to follow Drummond’s blog because she was already big (so there was little chance that I’d develop any sort of relationship with her)–and because I don’t read Harlequins any longer (and her story rivals any Harlequin!)

What I didn’t realize is that The Pioneer Woman also cooks–and cooks pretty darn well.

I checked The Pioneer Woman Cooks out of the library and started trying recipes–and got rave reviews on every recipe I tried.

Maple Pecan Scones

First recipe tried: Maple Pecan Scones. Mmm-Hmm. Delectable. Maple, Pecan, and LOTS of coffee/maple flavored glaze. I could (and did) eat these for breakfast for a week.

The “Breakfast Bowls” I made second seemed to please my New Year’s Day breakfast guests–although they took a little longer to bake then the recipe suggested (Good thing I already had some of those Maple Pecan Scones ready for my guests to much on while their eggs were cooking.)

Patsy's Blackberry Cobbler

I was a bit disappointed that my “Patsy’s Blackberry Cobbler” didn’t look quite as attractive as Pioneer Woman’s photos–but my Bible study still gobbled up every last bit (and sent their compliments to the chef. Thanks PW!)

When I made the “French Breakfast Puffs” for my Sunday morning Bible School “FLOCK”, I didn’t fully read the last step of the recipe (since my sister was looking at the pictures and reading the fun anecdotes). This meant that I rolled the puffs only in sugar instead of in sugar and cinnamon. But the cake-doughnut-like puffs still ended up tasting great.

Creamy Rosemary Potatoes

Finally, Anna made the “Creamy Rosemary Potatoes” to go along with our newly ripened steak. They were, UM-mazing. Creamy, flavorful, absolutely perfect.

This is one cookbook that I’d really like to own (which isn’t something that I say often, since I generally just copy out the recipes I like and send a cookbook back to the library.) As I said, I haven’t found a dud yet, and pretty much every recipe in the book looks good. The Pioneer Woman Cooks includes quite a few recipes from the website, but there are also some winning non-website recipes.

A few things to note about The Pioneer Woman Cooks:

First, Drummond breaks everything down into VERY detailed steps, with a photograph accompanying each step. This is a great plus for inexperienced cooks and people who like to look at pictures of food (don’t we all?) It’s not that great of a plus for someone who is an experienced cook and is trying to copy down recipes from the book (Another reason why I should just buy it?)

Second, as I read on a website somewhere “this woman LOVES her butter.” This is definitely NOT lite cooking–and eating this cooking every day is just begging for a burgeoning waistline and a heart attack at age 30. These recipes are light on veggies and heavy on saturated fat–I’d advise sprinkling them into your menu (along with some lighter and more veggie-heavy fare).

Third, if you’re a reader from above the Mason-Dixon line, you’ve probably never heard of self-rising flour. Or if you have, you certainly don’t have it on hand. Which means you might avoid making that amazing “Patsy’s Blackberry Cobbler”–or might run out to get some self-rising flour, which is completely unnecessary. Thankfully, you’re reading my review, so you’ll be able to learn my “Scientific Principles of Food Preparation” tip–just use 1 cup all purpose flour, 1/2 Tbsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt for every cup of self-rising flour called for. Voila! Instant self-rising flour, without the trouble of shopping for or storing yet ANOTHER bag of flour.

Rating: 5 stars
Synopsis:The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, cooks up some gourmet cowboy fare. MMM-MMM!
Recommendation: I can’t rave enough about this cookbook (except that the Dietitian in me insists that I offer a disclaimer about the calorie/saturated fat content of most of these recipes.)

Thankful Thursday: Clean, Warm, Well-Fed

Have you ever stopped to consider the great blessing of being clean, warm, and well-fed? It’s something I take for granted too often. But many people around the world and in ages past are not or have not consistently been clean, warm, and well-fed.

They might not have indoor plumbing or heated, running water. They might not have the soap, the toothpaste, the laundry detergent I take so for granted.

They might not have the money to heat their homes, or maybe they lack a heater. Their blankets may be thin and their homes drafty.

They may not have a grocery store nearby with a variety of nutritious foods. They may not have money to buy from such a store if it did exist. They might exist on a confined, unvarying diet–beans and rice day after day, for example.

So today, I am thankful that for those things.

Today, I am thankful…

…for the bathtub that lets me soak away my worries each evening in a pool of heated water

…for the washing machine that gets my clothes clean (even if the process is a bit more intensive than I’m used to)

…for the vacuum cleaner with which I prepare my home for guests

…for the heat pump that keeps my home warm by day

…for the heated blanket that keeps me warm by night

…for the car heater that keeps me warm when I venture outside my home in this brisk Nebraska winter

…for the free meals I get every day at work (for the small price of, well, trying everything and making sure it’s okay!)

…for my stuffed refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and cupboards. Even if I didn’t go to the store for weeks, I would not starve

…for Super Saver just down the road, with great prices and lots of good food

Beyond all that, I’m thankful…

…for the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from all sin. (I John 1:7)

…for the wings under which I find refuge (Ps. 91:4)

…for the bread of life who make me never hunger again (John 6:35)

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My students think I’m crazy

As many of you know, I am a teaching assistant for a couple of “Scientific Principles of Food Preparation” laboratories. For our first lab session, we discuss and experiment with sensory analysis of food–how our senses affect our perception of flavor.

I was lecturing as usual, and as usual, I was starting to get excited about the subject material.

“I was just reading a book about the senses called See What I’m Saying. It’s a fantastic book, by the way,” I told them. “And in this book, the author describes a psychological experiment in which…”

As my eyes swept over my class of 25 students, I realized that I had lost them.

They think I’m crazy.

How can I find descriptions of psychological experiments interesting? How can I enjoy the science behind cooking? How can I get so excited about food and nutrition and families and…

Few of them understand the thirst for knowledge, the relentless desire to know why and how and how to change things. They are in school because they don’t know what else to do. They have few driving passions.

They don’t understand me.

My students have generally been polite and respectful–but our interactions make clear that the majority don’t get it.

They do what it takes to get a grade from that crazy-enthusiastic, crazy-tough TA–but they don’t understand why I am the way I am.

But in every class, there are a few students who agree that I’m crazy, but make it their mission to dig a bit deeper. They listen intently, not just to get a grade, but to figure out why I find this so exciting. They start to ask questions, start to search out answers, start to find it exciting too.

This is why I love teaching.

Lecturing dead-eyed classrooms that couldn’t care less can be frustrating. Hearing half a dozen lame excuses as to why homework can’t be handed in on time can be draining. Dealing with students who can’t understand why they don’t automatically get As in my class can be exasperating.

Being considered crazy starts to get old.

But then one student looks a little deeper, discovers crazy can be good, and starts to go crazy for knowledge herself.

This is why I teach.

‘Cause the world needs more crazies.

Simple Sunday: Nachos

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~Thankful for the Mexican leftovers our church sent us home with after the work day yesterday. Nachos are one of my favorite foods, but my frugal outlook rarely allows for a bag of tortilla chips (and topping the chips with gobs of shredded cheddar, like I prefer it, isn’t exactly easy on the wallet either!) Nonetheless, thanks to LCF, I have some nachos to munch on as I read blogs (trying to keep my mind off the fact that I’M TEACHING MY FIRST LAB TOMORROW!)

Tortilla chips and nacho cheese with beans

(Yeah, I know that doesn’t look the most appetizing–but it still tastes pretty good!)

Visit Davene at Life on Sylvan Drive for more Simple Sunday posts.

Simple Sunday: Food

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~Thankful for food. After 15 months of unemployment for Anna (12 of which were clinical rotations) and 7 months of unemployment for me (7 of which were clinical rotations), both of us are out of money. But even though we might not have money for things like milk or store-bought bread, we still have plenty of food left in our pantry or provided by my mother’s garden.

Pantry full of food

(Okay, I’m also thankful that my insurance settlement from the accident is February is coming this month and I’ll be employed starting next Monday. And I’m thankful that Anna has a job interview that sounds hopeful in a couple of weeks. God always provides!)

Visit Davene at Life on Sylvan Drive for more Simple Sunday posts.

Local Bounty

My first job, more than a dozen years ago, was washing dishes for a woman who sold her produce and baked goods at a local farmer’s market. I went to her house across the street every Friday morning and worked all day washing dishes, saran wrapping cakes, and mixing sticky roll dough. She’d get up first thing Saturday morning and pick all the vegetables she’d be taking to the Saturday morning market.

Now, my job once again includes a Farmer’s Market; but this time, I have a completely different role. As a favor to the UNL dietetics student who manages the State Office Building (SOB, lol!) Farmer’s Market, the interns at the health department are helping out with the market. Which means standing in the sun (actually, under a canopy) for a few hours and talking to people about cooking and local food and nutrition. What could be better? I’m not sure. I love it.

And today I remembered to bring my grocery bag and some cash. So I brought home a bounty.

Produce from Farmer's Market

When Anna announced that she wouldn’t have time to make dinner tonight, I ended up with a nice surprise: a chance to make dinner on the fly. So, I put together a quick corn, tomato, and avocado salad (recipe compliments of Megan, the market manager) and tried to think of something to do with the hamburger Anna bought this afternoon.

Here’s what I came up with.

Meat-Wrapped Onions

They look like some sort of weird meat with the bone in–but they’re actually meat-wrapped onions. I washed off some of those beautiful long red onions you saw in the first picture, and wrapped them with meat and then grilled them over a low flame until they were cooked through. They tasted DELISH!

A little trick for whenever you’re trying to wrap something with hamburger: Add some salt to the hamburger and then mash it around with your hands really good. The salt causes the meat to stick together better.

Finished Meal: Meat-wrapped onions and fresh corn, avocado, and tomato salad

Items eaten in class today

Items eaten in class today:

  • One CapriSun juice packet
  • Small stack original Pringles
  • Small stack Lays take-off on Pringles
  • Small handful of Lays wavy potato chips
  • One “tattoo your tongue” fruit roll up
  • One chocolate covered peanut butter Kudos bar
  • Two “soft” chocolate chip cookies
  • One “hard” chocolate chip cookie
  • Two “soft” oatmeal raisin cookies

On days like these, I love Food Science. I just enjoyed enough junk food to last me all month–in one thirty minute class.