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Monday, February 28, 2011

Curing Cabin Fever: Tomato Soup

At some point, it happens every winter.  I'm going along just fine and then the day finally comes. 

Last Thursday was the day. 

I opened my door in the morning to let the dog back in and saw, for the 1,436th time this winter, this:

And that was officially It.  I am SICK OF WINTER.

I am sick of having to bundle up and step out into the cold to untangle my dog's leash.
I'm sick of shoveling.  I'm sick of sloshing through slush and slipping on ice.  I am REALLY sick of water leaking into my boots.
I'm sick of walking into work in my nice clothes only to find I've kicked up dirty snow water on the backs of my legs.
I'm sick of eating stews and roasts and squash while I shiver under a blanket on my couch. 
I'm sick of looking out into my backyard and seeing this:
I've got Cabin Fever and I've got it bad.

But there's March, April, and most of May to get through before it's officially spring in Wisconsin.  So, in the meantime, I've got some projects planned to get me through. 

First, is tomato soup.  Which doesn't sound like much.  Unless you have REAL tomatos.

And I don't mean the pink, hard, tasteless Faux-matos that are in the grocery stores now. 
I mean these:

Those are REAL tomatoes picked from my garden last summer.  I grow more than I can eat while they're fresh.  So I toss the ones that are ripe into the freezer for later.  Thursday was officially "later". 

I took them out to defrost over night in a pan. 

Aren't they beautiful in their Real Red goodness?  I love homemade tomato soup but peeling tomatoes is a pain.  I like freezing them because they get gooshy when they defrost and I can just squeeze the meat right out of the peel.  Here's what they looked like in the morning. 
You can really just rip into them wih your fingers a bit and let the meat plop out into a bowl.  I was left with this in skins:

But more importantly, I had a beautiful bowlful of this:
{Steps onto soapbox}:  People open my freezer in the winter and see the big pile of tomatoes and exlaim, "You just throw tomatoes in your freezer?!?"  Yup.  Let me tell you, even after these babies sit in the freezer for months, with no plastic wrap or anything to keep them sealed, the minute I start squeezing out the meat, it smells like I just stepped outside into the hot summer sun to pick them right then.

Does a storebought faux-mato do that? 

THAT is the difference between real, homegrown produce and the plastic crap they sell at the grocery store.
Any food that can maintain it's natural scent - even after months of unprotected freezing - is REAL FOOD.  Why would you settle for plastic? {Steps off soapbox}.

Back to the soup.  To the bowlful of meat, I added about 2 Tbsp sugar, 2 tsp salt, 2 Tbsp basil, 2 tsp oregano.  I stirred it, covered it, and let it sit while I went to work.

After I came home, I sauteed a bit of spring in some olive oil:

Mmm!  Leeks are pricey now, at $2.49/pound (and you only use the bottom part!).  But I didn't care.  I'm sick with cabin fever and food is my medicine.

When those were sauteed, I poured in the tomato mix and also added:
a tsp minced garlic, a cup of canned broth, 3 Tbsp blue cheese, 2 Tbsp srirachi sauce.  (The srirachi adds a wonderful kick and the blue cheese smooths out the heat - fabulous!!)  Once that all cooked, I used my immersion blender to smooth it all out then stirred in 1/2 cup of cream.

To help bring more summer in, I used my indoor Lodge grill to fry up some lamb burgers:

I put out a simple sauce of Greek yogurt mixed with lime juice and dill.

And, while I was defrosting summer, I also took out the last of my bucket of frozen raspberries.  After defrosting I was left with this:

Enough raspberries to mix with apples for a pie and just over a quart of pure raspberry juice which, I gotta say, is like ecstasy in a glass when you drink it straight up.

A Greek salad, some oven roasted potatoe "fries", and some rolls rounded out a delicious REAL summer meal in the dead of winter:

Stay tuned for more Cabin Fever relief! 
As a sidenote, I'm drinking Pepsi with my dinner mom never, ever allowed soda water with dinner.  Even though I'm a grown-up and I can do what I darn well please, I still feel like I'm doing something bad when I'm having a soda with supper.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bowl Full of Lemons - House Binder

You can see by the button on my sidebar that I'm participating in A Bowl Full of Lemon's newest challenge.  (Click on the button to get to Toni's write up).

Our first task was for me to take all of this:
and turn it into a useful house binder.  I've been meaning to do this for years and Toni's challenge was the kick in the pants I needed. 

I used a small 6 x 8 binder so that it fits in my errand-running purse

Because I take this binder shopping, I put a funny reminder on the inside cover to keep myself in check

The caption reads "Remember:  Today's must haves often become tomorrow's what was I thinkings!"

Toni has a linky party set up so we can see the work of other participants. Lots of others are moms so their binders include pages for keeping track of doctor appointments, extracurriculars, and weekly meal plans.

But I'm single with no kids so I don't need to track those things. My binder will look a little different but I hope the tabs I use inspire moms and non-moms alike:

ROOM TABS - I have a separate tab for each room.  Whenever I'm shopping I inevitably find a cute knick-knack, picture, pillow, etc. that catches my eye but I"m never quite sure if it will fit or match.  These tabs will help me out.  Each has a similar page that works like this:

First, I designed the page layout and printed it on 8x11 paper.  I cut an inch off the right side, and hole punched the left:

Then I folded the right side towards the back.  Cutting off the the far right edge allows each page to be folding back in such a way that the hole punches are exposed.
  The grid is where I colored in the floor layout for each room.  I'll show my kitchen as a sample:

I wrote in the measurements.  The diagram also shows the way each door opens, and where counters and windows are.  Lastly, there are symbols showing where each electrical, phone, and cable outlets are. 

Second, I measured each physical feature of the room - door and window sizes, shelf height and depth, and closet floor space and wrote them next to the appropriate symbol. 

This page is also where I'd note measurements of things I always forget.  For example, my Basement tab would have the measurements of the furnace filters I need. 

Third, You can see how this page looks like it flips open.  Indeed!  On the inside I put the paint chips and fabric swatches for each room.  Now I'll know for sure if what I want to buy will match or not:

Other tabs are:


Those familiar with The Tightwad Gazette books will know how much the author stressed taking a price book with you to the store to ensure that you're truly getting the best prices.  Living in a big city, my shopping choices are overwhelming so I wanted to add this tab so I at least have a point of reference in the stores. 

When I do find a good price, I buy a lifetime supply. That's food, hobby supplies, hardware, anything.  Here's PART of my pantry

(um...yea...and I'm single with no kids).    I added a tab for a running inventory of these types of things so I can shop at home before I run out to the stores and use up what I've got first.

COLLECTIONS - I added a tab for lists of various items I collect, such as old Nancy Drew books, so when I'm out thrifting, rummaging, or antiquing  I have a ready list of which parts of my collection I have and which I still need.

DIRECTIONS - This tab is for when I'm out and about and can't remember how to get where I want to go

KNOW-HOW - This tab is a catchall tab for such things as measurement conversions, and other shopping helps.  The picture below is a picture list of various nuts, bolts, and screws.  The directions for a project may say "five cartirdge bolts" but heck if I know what they look like.  This tab will show me the way.

And if we ever geet rid of this:

I want to add a tab for my yard and garage as well. 

And while I don't have a typical "mom binder", I did notice that a lot of moms in the party have a section for phone numbers.  I need to add one of those - I'm too reliant on my cell phone for storing numbers.  So thanks to the many moms in the party for that good reminder.

I'm ready to see what the next week's challenge is.  But there's another challenge I have to deal with today.  I live in Wisconsin.  We have a little town here called Green Bay.  And they have a football team playing a game today.  Here's my contribution of Oreos baked inside brownies with green and gold sprinkles on top. 
Go Packers! 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day!

No time to work on the home binder for the Bowl Full of Lemons Challenge today.  We had a Snow Day of epic proportions here in Milwaukee.  The Interstate was even shut down! 

There's the Conductor getting  his shovel from his car that was buried in the snow on the street.  We woke up to snow drifts as high as five feet in some places. 
Here's me in the backyard.  Look how tall the drifts are!  (Don't look at how goofy I look in my un-matching winter garb).  It took us almost an hour just to clean the back yard walks out. 

Here's the Conductor, waist-deep in the backyard drifts before we got it cleaned out.

In a bit of irony, the sunshine I had hung on the side of my garage was blown down and fell in a snowdrift.

And here's my hero again.  I absolutely couldn't have tunneled my way out of the avalanche without his help. 

Ugh.  But we're still not done.   Half the alley to go, and it's already 3:30!