Grandma

How do I grieve such an important person as my Grandma Gladys? I’ve felt a little disconnected from her death, as if her passing was an event that I hadn’t been invited to. We aren’t having a funeral for her…most people who she was close to are long gone (she’d have been 88 at the end of November) and are planning an immediate-family-only memorial early next year.

It’s very anti-climatic.

She's in heaven

This is my grandma with my son in 2006. She was 82 and still living a completely full, independent life all by herself on the farm.

I don’t deal with death very well. My mom died, suddenly, tragically, when I was 14 and my sister was 11. All sorts of bad shit ensued after that, including my sister just fucking falling off the deep end. For a long time. Some could say she’s still there. Though, I am reconciling myself to the fact that she’s doing the best she can with what she’s got. Just like the rest of us. Her human-ness doesn’t look anything like mine does but that doesn’t make her less valuable or less precious or less responsible for her own station. In mind-blowing lesson after mind-blowing lesson, I realize that I love her no matter what. No. Matter. What. And I still strive to have connection and meaning with her even if she still keeps herself as loosely connected as humanly possible.

I’m getting off track.

You see, mom’s death threw us into chaos that still swirls. Still effects generations of us.

Death is serious, crazy shit and I think my gut and my heart just want nothing to do with it. Period. Which is why I check out when people are dying. My mom’s dad died (of old age and lots of senility) and I mostly didn’t visit him in those final years. His wife, the only grandma on that side that I ever knew….barely saw at the end. My dad’s long-term girlfriend (who was twice widowed after two 20 year marriages, then was rewarded for her struggles with panceatic cancer around her and my dad’s 3rd anniversary)….I totally checked out. Then, my grandma. She was one of the best friends I have ever had. I barely saw her in the 5 years that her senility arrived and her body slowly departed.

I’m not shaming myself when I say this, though there are plentiful puddles and ponds of guilt laying about with regards to people I’ve loved and lost. I’m no psychologist, but my heart tends to know the truth most of the time, whether or not I listen to it. I step in those puddles, wade through the ponds and try to do better. Last year I had an elderly aunt (my mom’s sister) fall ill and pass away. I was grateful that I’d identified that whole “fear of death” thing by that time so I could just lean into it, go visit her and then be with her and other family as she faded and left. It was surprisingly profound to have that “let’s gather around to love and support each other” experience.

With my grandmother, though, it was really sad to see such a vibrant woman fade into a shell of what she once was. All of us were shocked to see the course of her life in the last few years. We figured she would live to be 95 and die of a heat stroke because she continued to mow her own lawn (she really did mow her own lawn with a riding mower until she was about 82). Or because she got bit by a snake (she kept a shotgun for snakes and other unwelcome visitors perched up above her back door).

It was selfishly uncomfortable for me to be around to see the bizarre decline. Her bizarre decline came during my own bizarre decline from a “happily married” to “enthusiastically divorced”. There was only so much my heart could take during those first couple of years and by the time the magnet was back in my compass, she was gone. Here… but gone. It sucks and I will forever feel guilt for all of the above. She started fading away but I faded from her faster than she faded from herself. Bleh. Death and dying sucks balls.

Let’s talk about other stuff about her. Let’s not talk about ways I failed her, but ways in which she gave to me. Ways in which I hope to give to my kids and grandkids.

  1. She taught me how to sew.
  2. And how to bake.
  3. She kept a few drawers of old dresses and slips for us 4 granddaughters to play dress up. And a big plastic shoebox full of retired costume jewelry (which I inherited and is one of my prized possessions).
  4. When she’d make a pie she’d let me work up the crust scraps with cinnamon sugar into cookies (kind of)
  5. She babysat me and my sister nearly every single Wednesday night for years. YEARS.
  6. She loved to watch M*A*S*H at 10:30pm and mostly fell asleep before it was over.
  7. WTH?! Does that mean that she was letting me stay up until at least 10:30pm on a school night? I just now realized that.
  8. Her pantry was this closet without a door in her kitchen and where the door should have been there was a bamboo curtain that I used to play with constantly. I’d lean against the door frame with the kitchen to my right and an insane amount of canned goods to my left (no, really) and fiddle with that bamboo bead curtain.
  9. She kept a big ceramic tea kettle (ornamental) on top of the fridge and it was full of quarters. I still don’t know why.
  10. For a very long time the running water in the house was hard well water and salty. So, they’d have to haul drinking water in and there was a shelf adjacent to the kitchen that held a enamel bucket full of fresh drinking water and enamel ladle from which to serve it. Sometimes I’d drink from the ladle just like my grandpa did, not realizing it was rude.
  11. I’d give my eye teeth for that bucket and ladle.
  12. She was somewhat of a food hoarder, as many people who survived the depression were. A coat closet-sized pantry full of stuff, a fridge and two deep freezers full. Plus a cellar of canned stuff she’d put away.
  13. She loved to compete. Every year she’d enter into the Lincoln Country Fair and win oodles of blue ribbons and a little prize money. The money helped her try to break even. I think she just liked the purpose and activity and competition and recognition.
  14. And I mean she’s enter over 100 categories with her GAME FACE ON. I loved August because it meant her house was loaded with all kinds of confections.
  15. She made perfect pecan divinity. It was “her thing.”
  16. When I make toffee and people love it I feel close to my grandma because now I have a thing like she had a thing.
  17. But she was a homemaker for 60 years. She had a LOT of things.
  18. She loved to play cards and, when I was little, she and grandpa often had friends or family over to play. I don’t remember which games but I’d guess gin and spades.
  19. She’d serve sliced kielbasa and cheese and crackers and pickles and I’d think that was the greatest thing ever.
  20. She made the best Swiss Steak.
  21. And the best mashed potatoes.
  22. And HOLY LORD, the best potato salad. With American cheese chunks, tomatoes, red onion, bacon…everything.
  23. A cornbread salad that was very similar and to die for.
  24. When I read The Pioneer Woman I am often transported back to my grandmother’s kitchen and that’s one reason I love Ree. She’s keeping that part of Oklahoma alive.
  25. She always, ALWAYS gardened. I mostly remember the tomatoes.
  26. She’d grow these big, beefy tomatoes and would serve them at every supper. She’d peel, then slice them in 1″ rounds. Sometime they were still warm from the sun and I get weepy that stuff like that exists in my memory and not in my present.
  27. She made great hot rolls. One Thanksgiving I made hot rolls that were killer and everyone raved. I think she got jealous and I took that as a huge compliment. All I did was follow a recipe and I wouldn’t have even known how to follow a recipe if it weren’t for her. AND the recipe was in a cookbook she’d given me as a wedding gift.
  28. She inscribed it and had the most beautiful penmanship.
  29. I have her edition of that same cookbook and it’s totally beat to hell.
  30. I also have a clean and unused edition of that cookbook that I’d like to give Gabi or Tanner when the time is right.
  31. She used to help me throw tea parties for me and the baby dolls when I was a preschooler. I still have the tiny table on which we’d dine.
  32. She wrote my name on a tag on the bottom of the table 10 years before she started declining.
  33. I hope I’m that thoughtful when I begin thinking of my end and who gets what.
  34. She helped run a dairy farm and I can remember walking out to the barn in the late 70s/early 80s to watch her check on “the girls”.
  35. I can remember her lifting me up to look over into the massive vat of milk in the big silver holding tank thing.
  36. She used to pack picnics for us (me and the other granddaughters) and we’d eat creekside on a small offshoot of Deep Fork Creek.
  37. Mostly I remember sandwiches and baked beans served out of a mason jar. Chips, too, I’m sure.
  38. She sewed my freshman winter formal dress.
  39. She sewed my junior and senior prom dress. (Same dress. I loved it so much and just did one modification between the two years to make it “different”.
  40. I was SO overweight that she really had to alter the pattern to make it work. And she did it like it was no big deal. I remember her making the bodice out of muslin to test her pattern so that it would fit well. It did and I felt very pretty (which was quite the feat in those times).
  41. She fried french toast. Floating-in-oil fried.
  42. Every Wednesday night I made and ate an ice cream sundae. She always made sure that there were ground peanuts, ice cream, carmel sauce and chocolate sauce in the house.
  43. She’s prolly a big reason I was a fat kid.
  44. When I was in elementary school we had something called the junior olympics. I only chose a couple of places to compete because I was SO not an athlete. I ended up coming in somewhere near dead last in my competitions and was mortified. Luckily it was a Wednesday so I was going to her house that night. I remember being way too grown up for her lap but sitting on in anyways and bawling. Cried my little eyes out to the person who most loved and understood me.
  45. I tried to write a book one time in my early 20s. The protagonist was based on her.
  46. Her middle name was Irene.
  47. Gladys Irene Siebenaler. She has a Catholic name in there somewhere but I don’t remember it.
  48. She married my granddad and became a practicing Lutheran, so I guess it doesn’t much matter.
  49. Her and my granddad met in the mid 1940s during war times.
  50. He was in the army, but riding around in big planes away from intense combat.
  51. But when they met, he was stationed near Alliance, Nebraska. I may have my military designations wrong. For all I know he was in the Air Force….I just know he wasn’t a pilot.
  52. She was working as a beautician and had put herself through school to do so.
  53. Her dad was an alcoholic.
  54. I never, ever, ever saw her drink a drop of anything. At all.
  55. Her mom had something like 13 pregnancies but only 4 babies. And only raised 3 children. I can’t imagine living through times like that.
  56. There was a diner in Wellston, OK right along Route 66 when I was really young. She’d take me there to get a dip cone.
  57. In junior high, she gave me perms. I wanted them kinky curly so she gave me tedious perms, often piggybacked, on 1/4″ rollers. She got so good at those that I’d only need them every 6 months or so when my hair just plain grew out. The curls never faded.
  58. For a few years she had a church organ on her back porch. She bought note labels to cover the keys so that whoever wanted to learn them, could. I don’t remember what happened to it, though I kind of assumed she was borrowing it or holding it for our church. Or someone’s church.
  59. We sat on the second to front pew on the left side of the sanctuary. Only. If we ever were anywhere else, it was because so many were in attendance that bled onto the next row back.
  60. She mowed her own lawn on a riding mower until she was probably 80.
  61. The year my mom died she drove in from the farm to bring my sister and I dinner at least a few nights a week and to be there when we got home from school.
  62. I don’t remember how long that lasted but I remember how comforting it was.
  63. My dad took her to Hawaii on one of the trips he’d won.
  64. I do think that besides kids and grandkids, it was the highlight of her life.
  65. She often worked into the conversation, “When Gary and I were in Hawaii” 20 years after she and dad were in Hawaii.
  66. I was her favorite, or at least perceived to be.
  67. When I was young it made me feel special and when I was older it made me incredibly self-conscious and feel guilty. But she was just being herself and the notion of favoritism makes me a better mom.
  68. One time, when I was a poor college kid, she slipped me a $20 and told me not to tell my grandpa.
  69. On my way out the door that same day, my grandpa slipped me a $20 and told me not to tell my grandma.
  70. She sewed nearly all of her own suits, skirts and non-jeans pants.
  71. I have one of the suits hanging in my closet. It is a million years from fitting but I kept it anyway because I’m as sentimental as they get.
  72. I also have a lot of her brooches. Mostly they are cheapie things she picked up at Wal-Mart or JCPenney, but I still like having them because she always wore one.
  73. Her favorite perfume was Opium. She almost never bought it, though, opting for the knock-off scent called Ninja.
  74. I stayed with her for a week when I was a high school freshman 5 because I had mono.
  75. I couldn’t figure out why her chocolate milk was so much better than any non-commercial chocolate milk I’d ever drank. Eventually figured out that it was because she used whole milk, chocolate syrup and a teaspoon of sugar. Of course.
  76. She liked swinging on the porch. For all of my childhood (and probably before) she had one almost identical to this. I’ll own one like it someday.
  77. She had two daughters, a son (my dad) and four granddaughters.
  78. Most of us went to her house on Sundays just to hang out. This happened for at least a decade, probably two.
  79. If we got there and she was at church, there would be a note left on the cutting board for whoever got to the house first. It let us know where she was, when she was returning, and what we could do to start or finish lunch if she’d already prepped it.
  80. She never owned a dishwasher.
  81. She drank a metric ton of coffee everyday. Always had a cup nearby.
  82. She always wore gradually tinted eye glasses.
  83. When she sat at a table she always had an arm crossed to the other and the uncrossed arm up so that it looked as if she were resting her chin/cheek. I often do the same thing.
  84. She started a free clothes closet every August for back-to-school. Or maybe she just ran it…I can’t remember anymore. But for years her back porch would get BURIED in garbage bags of clothes that got sorted and distributed to people who wanted to come and shop.
  85. She sang alto in her church choir for decades. Sometimes she was 1/3 of the choir but did it anyway because she loved it.
  86. She practiced her songs by playing a cassette tape of piano music that her choir-mate had performed while grandma recorded it on her portable tape deck.
  87. She made quilts for money and for fun. She made me one as a a wedding gift. She made a lot of simple ones for kids in foster care (think sewn and yarn tied). The most beautiful one is with my cousin in Seattle who when asked, picked the Hawaiian quilt grandma had made after her return from the island. It is gorgeous and took an eternity.
  88. Man, alive. I miss her.

Kitchen equipment advice needed

I need a food processor.

My last one, may she rest in peace, was burned out from one too many batches of hummus. I bought her in great condition at a thrift store for $10 ten years ago. I need a new one. I’ve needed a new one for almost a year. I thought my Vitamix could perform some of the same duties but….it’s just not the same. (Y’all, I overheat that thing nearly every time I use it.) I need a food processor.

Halp!

They come in all sorts of capacities and I have zero idea of which one to buy. There’s nothing worse than having one that’s too small…but it seems that one that is too big would be a mistake, too. Here are some of my contenders (each pic links to Amazon for more information):

Cuisinart, 11-cup. It also comes in an array of colors ranging from purple to red to stainless steel. $160 to $200 depending on color. It also comes in a 9-cup version.

Old-school style Cuisinart, 11-cup. $129. There’s a 9-cup version for $99.

Big ‘ole 14-cup Cuisinart. $199.

My needs

  • Right capacity for my workflow. (Mentioned in my intro.)
  • A workhorse. (I make my own tahini and hummus about once a month.)
  • Inexpensive. (Meaning, I can’t buy whatever is the “Vitamix” version of a food processor. Unless one of these are that….then…..rock on.)

I’m open to suggestions or additional considerations I seem to have missed.

Cooking soap

One of the things I love about Pinterest is the craftiness it has returned to my life. I grew up making all sorts of things. Little Sheri loved crafts, cooking and sewing. She made cookies, pies, hook rugs, doll clothes and all sorts of things with her grandma when she was 10. When she was a teenager and had many more responsibilities, she reveled in making dinner from the Lincoln County Home Extension anniversary cookbook she found in her dad’s cookbook collection.

Strangely, that all went away in my 20s when I got married and started my family. I think the “making things” for me was less about domestication and more about how I expressed my creativity. When my “spare” time was filled with matrimony and children (and the rise of The Internet), I got diverted from making things. Then I started my career path and any spare creativity at that point was spent at work.

Fast forward through several years of life shifting. Fast forward all the way to last year when Pinterest sprung onto the social-whatever scene.

I LOVED IT!

And because of it, I’ve rediscovered and just-plain-discovered new things to create.

And 9 months ago I created a big batch of body soap for about $3. I just now ran out. So…this weekend…I made another batch. I love that I can save so much waste and avoid a teensy bit of the plastic bottle consumption that is too big a part of my life.

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Cast of characters! 2 bars of soap, bottle of glycerin, a stock pot and a gallon of distilled water.

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Grate the soaps on a cheese grater.

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Pour in the water and turn on the burner to medium or medium low. You won’t be boiling anything. You’ll be heating the water and occasionally stirring the mixture until the soap melts. At some point, add the glycerin. Preferably add it in the beginning so you don’t forget.

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The recipe I found said to get vegetable glycerin but I just bought the first bottle I found and it works just fine. For all I know it is make from virgins and kittens.

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Heat and stir occasionally until you don’t see any soap bits. Just a soapy soup the color of whatever you put in your pot.

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Look, Ma! No hands!

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Look, Ma! Extra hands!

Once slightly cool (only so you don’t burn yourself), pour your soap into containers. I reuse a bodywash bottle and then the rest have in the past gone into glass jars. This time I’m trying the used gallon jug for storage to see how it fares. I’ll keep you posted.

Body Soap
1 gallon distilled water
2 bars grated soap 
2 Tbsp glycerin oil

Put all this in a stock pot over medium heat. Stir occassionally until soap is melted. Pour into containers and dance a jig that you’ve just saved yourself about $40 in soap expenditures and kept at least 7 new plastic bottles out of the whole waste system.

Food Science

So….my son and I started a little project earlier this year.

His favorite meal is a plate of plain pasta, cut up fruit and maybe some shredded cheese. Homeboy likes to keep things simple and while I would love for him to keep that life skill, I do think he needs to branch out with regards to his nutrition. And by branch out I mean Eat Things That Are Green But Are Not Candy.

Thus….the Scientific Journal was born!

I told him that he needed to eat vegetables so that he could grow up strong and healthy. He was hesitant in every way a typical 7 year old would be, but after hearing The Plan he was on board, or at least as on board as a 7-year-old skeptic could be.

The Plan: We would go to Whole Foods every couple of weeks to gather specimens. He would pick a new vegetable to try and pick a vegetable or fruit for ME to try. Then, we would take our specimens home for cooking, testing and journaling.

On our outing he picked broccoli for himself and dinosaur kale for his mom. See…his hook, his tipping point, was that he could pick ANYTHING for Mom to eat. The uglier the better, I suspect. He chose Dinosaur Kale for Mom. Broccoli for himself.

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We decided that trying it in three different preparations would give us a good idea of what broccoli would be. Raw, steamed and sauteed/seared is what we went with.

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I was sure to have him help cook.

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In the end, he had a preference.

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With all the business this year, we haven’t journaled very much since this first experiment (we’ve only added purple potatoes to the list), but looking forward to more. I assume that as a result of this project, he now will eat broccoli in any simple form but preferred it to be a little bit roasty/toasty.

P-Dub!

I can’t believe the miracle of Ree’s invitation being for a Saturday when my kids were gone on vacation and my boyfriend was busy working and my house wasn’t having a tantrum. She told me to be sure to bring a friend and I called up my aunt who almost peed herself when I told her where she was headed on Saturday. It was a wonderful drive up and a (bleary) wonderful drive home as we got really good and caught up on life.

We got lost, of course, because I thought I could remember how to get there even though I’d never come in from the east side of the ranch. Upside, I got to meet Walter briefly as we stopped at the main house.

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Shortly after we arrived cooking class commenced. Rebecca from Foodie with Family was our teacher and she bestowed upon us three new items for our kitchen: Fresh Mozzarella, Braided Semolina Bread and Roasted Red Pepper Jam.

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I volunteered to work up a batch of boccaccini, which are little mozzarella balls. I figured turning milk into cheese would be strenuous but getting cheese into cute little balls would be a cinch. It was opposite. Overall, though, it was a surprisingly simple procedure. From the time the gallon of milk was open until we had a finished ball of cheese was 30 or 45 minutes.

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TOTALLY making a homemade pizza with the kids from complete and total scratch sometime soon. Realized this morning that in Oklahoma right now we can source every single ingredient locally, too.

I’ve made a lot of bread in my life, but it was cool to pick up a new recipe and learn about a couple of ingredients I haven’t ever heard of or thought to use. Malt powder instead of sugar and whey instead of milk/water. (Many, many, MANY whey jokes were made, too.) Rebecca pointed out early on that whey contained a lot of protein and she uses every drip of her leftover whey in all sorts of kitchen projects.

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Roasted Red Pepper Jam was made AND canned like a boss!

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Just like last time on the ranch, it was an unbelieveably awesome day. Last July was a macaron lesson and a food styling/photography lesson. Notice last year’s photos were much prettier… Last year was more of a meditative day as we focused on our cameras and our French sweets. This time was more lively and chatty, likely because all the women there knew each other from the blogger universe. I was a stranger but it was so much fun to meet so many new people at once. In the evening before dinner, we loaded up for cattle gathering.

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That’s Marlboro Man getting Georgia squared away on her horse.

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She’s probably in this pic, too. MM and kids rounded up some cattle that were being picked up by a shipper. They bravely let three horseback bloggers at a time tag along on the round ups (there were two).

Ree posted a lovely recap of the ride: Chocka Mocka Locka Wocka

Afterwards, we rode back to The Lodge for dinner, convo and goodbyes.

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Ree asked me that night who “Ninny” was to me after we explained where she fit in my family. She’s my dad’s sister, technically. But she’s our matriarch who organizes family dinners and makes sure that her brother gets all his doctor appointments scheduled and attended. She’s my kids’ grandma as my mom has been gone since I was 14. She’s my aunt and I can talk to her freely without any of those Mom politics I often hear others speak of. And she’s my friend. I was thrilled to be able to bring her to meet a woman she admires.

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Almond Jam Muffies

Breakfast was homemade almond muffins with porter peach jam in the middle.
I make my own almond milk (post coming soon) and it’s delicious. Being the miser that I am, I hate throwing anything away and store the pulp from milk making in the freezer. I recognize that not everyone reading this makes almond milk, so feel free to use almond meal or flour (find it with all the Bob’s Red Mill flours at your local grocer). You can make other substitutions, too, as you bake. The recipe called for regular white flour but I changed it to whole wheat pastry flour. About a month ago I used eggs instead of the replacer and stirred in chocolate chips after the final step while omitting the jam. Those were fantastic as well! Freeze the leftovers and reheat with swagger in the microwave.

Almond Jam Muffies

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup vegan butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup sugar
egg replacer for 2 eggs
1/2 cup almond milk
1 cup almond pulp
2 teaspoon baking powder
jam (I used porter peach jam I bought from Urban Agrarian)

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2) In a large mixing bowl, cut sugar into vegan butter with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly.  Whisk together egg replacer, almond milk and stir into sugar-butter mixture.  Gently stir in almond pulp, cinnamon and baking powder. Slowly and evenly fold flour into almond mixture.  The batter will be very thick….and that’s ok.

3) Fill a muffin pan with paper liners and spray with oil. Using a 1/4 cup measure, fill each muffin cup about halfway full.  Add a teaspoon of jam to the center of the batter for each muffin, then layer about a tablespoon of batter on top of the jam. My batter was so thick I could scoop and pat it into a little disk and lay over the jam-filled divot.

4) Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

*adapted from here.

Failure Muffins

Another Saturday came to pass and I decided muffins must be made. Because that’s how my kids know for sure that I now only love them, but am a passable mother. I assembled the usual* suspects…

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*I see at least 4 things in this pic that ended up not being a part of the recipe.

As the measuring and mixing went down I decided to adjust the recipe on the fly as a way not only to reduce the sugar in these muffins, but to illustrate that things don’t always have to be perfect. Lost in this clever thought of mine, about how we can start at one place and end up at another…and better for it….I noticed something weird. My muffin batter looked like pie dough.

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Ha, I thought. I patted it into a dish, adorned it with blueberries and sugar, shoved it in the oven and started over assuming I had been so lost in thought the first time around that I’d doubled the flour or something.

As I was saying, I started over….and the same thing happened. As 40,000 pounds of carbs happily baked away, Mr. Google revealed that blueberry muffin batter is often thick so that the berries don’t sink to the bottom. Huh.

Well, there you go.

Failure Muffins

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
Preheat your oven to 400. Fill your muffin pan with 6 liners and spray them with oil. Put the 1st 4 ingredients in a bowl and stir. Use a 1 or 2 cup measuring cup (the latter will give you more room to stir), add the oil, egg and the milk until you have 1 cup of liquid. Mix, then stir into the dry until there’s no more dry. Batter will be thick and confusing (much like my mornings before coffee). Stir in the berries. Scoop batter into muffin cups and bake 20 minutes or so.

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Resourcefulness

I’m not too lazy to go grocery shopping, I’m purposefully using up what I have.

Right.

For breakfast I scrounged up brown sugar oatmeal muffins (miraculously I had all the ingredients). Right now I’m making myself pesto quinoa and griddled peaches. Kids will have Chick’n sandwiches and French fries.

Another meal made, another shopping trip postponed.

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It’s like an episode of Ready, Set, Cook all up in here. Random things left to eat: brussels sprouts, okra and kidney beans. Noticeable voids: milk, bread.