The weather finally feels like winter here in Nebraska–sleet! Freezing rain! Snow! Drizzle! Deep fog! Wintry weather advisories! Et al!–and it looks as if it may stay that way for awhile. Well, hello. It’s . . . ah . . . December. . . last time I checked . . .
I heard some people—three times, three different groups, three different places–in one afternoon–complain bitterly about “this crap,” meaning the wintry weather.
I looked a bit askance at them, and really, really wanted to say “This ain’t Hawaii, did you not realize that for the past several decades that you’ve lived here?” but I kept mum. I am not a sarcastic person, at least not on the outside. Inside? Maybe just a little. Or maybe I was just a bit miffed at the clerk who had just asked me if I wanted the senior discount.
I laughed merrily, in a youthful manner, and said “oh, no, I’m not 55–not even close!” but honestly, it hurt just a bit. Gosh. Isn’t that like asking the plump woman when her baby is due? Yes, I think it is. Clerks, everywhere: if somebody appears close to the senior discount-age—-resist the temptation to ask if they want the senior discount! There. Rant over. *phew* Wait. I don’t feel better.
Let’s change the subject, okay?
Winter is the perfect excuse to jaw about pleasant things, like hot nourishing soups and thick slices of bread (heavily buttered, natch’) and–once the soup is simmering nicely on the stovetop, and the bread is rising–to get back into bed with a pile of books, a cup of hot tea and a satisfied expression on one’s face.
But, oh wait. Did I mention that Christmas is next week and I’ve just started working my way down my gift list? No, I rather think I didn’t mention that because who would admit it? But I am determined, Gentle Readers, not to get uptight about it
forachange or lose sleep over this, because it strikes me as anti-Christmas to get too wrought up over earthly things like a Christmas list and what there is or isn’t purchased or made, to stuff stockings with, and such fripparies.
Christmas, after all, is all about peace and joy and the hope we have in the Christ child, right? It’s not about stress and anxiety and sleepless nights wondering if I got enough gifts for Sven or too many for Olaf (to use totally random names, on the off chance that one of the kids will read this). And anyway, when you can skip down to a few excellent stores in your downtown area and purchase lovely things by the armload for everybody on your gift list, or (even easier when the winter weather descends) order something with a few clicks that will come in two days—what’s the big deal?
Speaking of shopping at the last minute, beyond the occasional mention of my new Blog Shop (because I’m so excited about it!) and the occasional Amazon link, I usually stay away from sponsored posts. I don’t wanna look like some money-grubbing, er, money-grubber! That said, folks do often ask me about what tools I recommend in my kitchen and beyond! and it just seems sensible to share this sort of intel with you, from time to time. I don’t think you need a bunch of fancy-schmancy tools to cook or bake well, (or to live well) but as anybody would know–it’s more fun and frustration-less to do the work of serving your friends and family from your kitchen if you have at least the modicum of proper kitchen tools.
So here are a few things that I love, for the kitchen and other vistas, too. These are the things I did not pack up when we packed up the kitchen four months ago at the beginning of our kitchen remodel, folks. That is definitely saying something.
These are the things–if I were to accept that offer that keeps coming into my email inbox to go to the moon for a few months–I’d take along. Here we go.
This baker’s twine is such fun to have on hand
and I can’t find my roll at the moment so somebody else has mine at their hand (Amaliaaaaa!) so I’ll just share this picture:
Once I have a junk drawer again, I’m going to keep my roll of Baker’s Twine in it, with a pair of scissors, natch’, and I’ll feel plenty neat and sophisticated about that, too. If you like to wrap up a loaf of bread here or a bag of cookies there to give to a friend, or even if you just feel a bit of pleasure at having some simple gift-wrapping supplies close at hand, you oughta have a roll of this. A huge roll costs very little, and I’m pretty sure this one will last me until I’m a little old granny . . . oh, wait . . . well, at least until it’s time to come home from the moon. Definitely taking this in my to the moon bag!
I have very few expensive tools in my kitchen, but my Bosch Universal Plus Kitchen Machine is one that–God forbid it would break on me–I’d replace it immediately. Actually a few years ago, another model that I had then (and which I used up, mixing up 80+ loaves of bread every week from May through October) broke, and I had ordered a new one before the day was out. I don’t like to contemplate being without a Bosch, honestly. Even up on the moon (something to go with the cheese, of course!). People need bread! Well, most people do.
When Amalia and I were baking for farmer’s market every week, I almost felt guilty when people would gush over the artisan loaves that I made. I typically made around 80 loaves of bread in one intense period, from about 5:30 a.m. until 2:00, on market day. Don’t be shocked. I reveal all my secrets, by the way, in the ebook you can see in the sidebar, about how to make dough at your farmer’s market with artisan breads, if you are so inclined.
One secret: I made the dough the day before, and the way I could do it without so much as a faire-thee-well was because of two things: 1. a simple recipe and 2. my awesome Bosch. It’s is a wonderful tool for any baker; it can handle large amounts of dough–cookie dough, bread dough, anything-dough–and also has attachments that you’ll get wildly attached to. I use my blender (attached to the excellent Bosch motor, so it’s great for any blending tasks you may have, including ice cubes and other hard items that will jam an ordinary blender) daily for bulletproof(ish) coffee and smoothies, and the food processor comes in handy quite often, too. I don’t even own a blender or a food processor, besides the ones that come with my Bosch. One handy appliance instead of three.
If you spend lots of time in the kitchen, you need one of these. It’ll make you happy. I promise.
(Hint: not as old as me). Confession: I’ve had my trusty white KitchenAid stand mixer for over 30 years. Yes! And it just broke. No!
My dad took a look at it, and announced that it was only a problem with “the brushes” and that I could get it repaired, so (to Amalia’s chagrin–she would really rather have a pretty new one in one of the pretty new smashing colors) I’m going to try that route before I buy a new one. But I’m missing it heartily in the interim. We use this mixer nearly every day, too, for smaller jobs like whipping egg whites for macaroons, or mixing up quick-bread dough, or a hundred other daily mixing tasks. I’d never, ever, go back to a hand-held mixer. This stand mixer is superior in so many ways. And cute, to boot. Mine is on my counter 24/7. I’d be lost without it. Yay. Wait. I am lost without it. Boo.
I have had an immersion blender for some time. Mom gave it to me, but I didn’t really know what to do with it, so I stuck it in a cluttered kitchen cabinet and it sat there, unfulfilled, unused, and unloved, for a couple of years probably, until my friend Jamie enthusiastically raved about how many ways her hand blender enriched her life. You can use it for gravies, she enthused. Cream soups. Sauces. Et al!
So when I got home, I pulled it out of the cluttered cabinet and determined to learn the wonders of this handy kitchen tool. I’ve never looked back. It is all that, and more.
It’s quick and reliable and–contrary to intuitive feelings on the matter–you will not get electrocuted by sticking this plugged-in appliance into a liquid. *phew* So rest easy on that one. The ones they make today–the stainless steel ones–are so much prettier than my plastic one, but I’m not going to buy a new one until this old one wears out. Sue me. I’m cheap.
. . . and gosh, I’m so glad that they did.
Consequently . . . we drink good coffee at our house, or we drink none at all. That is to say, we grind our coffee beans as close as possible to the time that we make coffee, that is to say, seconds before, if possible. I used to use a little hand grinder the night before, until one of my three grown-up coffee-savvy sons shared with me the joys and wonders of this electric grinder. Fancy: you load several days’ worth of freshly-roasted coffee beans into the hopper at the top, adjust the little dial to indicate how many cups of coffee you are making, and then—here’s the cool part!–you push a button, and walk away. Voila. In seconds (or at most a minute or two) you have just the amount of coffee you want, ground to your specs, ready to use.
It’s marvelous. I daresay, on the moon, drinking endless cups of good coffee while gazing down at the green and blue loveliness of the earth so far away, and musing about the sorry mess that we left behind—not to become depressing but you don’t know if I’m talking about my house, or our earth, do you, so you can’t really be depressed by this–will be a given.
A given. I do hope some of you Gentle Readers received that invite to the moon, also, (surely you got the email?) so we can sit together up there, drinking our excellent coffee, eating bread and the proverbial moon-cheese, and sighing with inevitable delight. (Perhaps the kitchen remodel is beginning to wear a bit thin . . .)
While we’re there, of course we’ll want to make pie. Good thing I have a slim handmade French rolling pin, for ease of packing.
My Dad made me this one years ago and I have come to prefer to use only this one. No handles to gunk up with dough, and a smooth tapered surface that is just perfect for any dough-rolling need you might have. And guess what–now my Dad makes these lovelies for my blog shop. There’s still time before Christmas to order one for yourself, and one for somebody special, too. Handmade in his own wood shop, you won’t find a prettier rolling pin.
I’ve wanted one of these for so long, but (in my typical tightwaddery style) I clung to the smallish sorry stainless steel Dutch oven that I already had, until something snapped in my heart. It wasn’t the Dutch oven, either. I don’t know if it was the day that it boiled over for the nth time (it is rahther small) or the fact that the bottom wasn’t completely flat and so it would rock on the burner when I stirred, or maybe it’s because I bought each of my sweet daughters-in-law a beautiful enameled cast iron Dutch oven, like I had been wanting for so many years, last Christmas and then sat in quiet longing as I watched them open them.
I thought: This is silly. I’m buying myself one. There’s certainly no law in the land that says I can’t buy myself something pretty and so useful like that, is there? Why no, there isn’t. And so I did. I love it, just as I knew I would. It’s great for soups and casseroles, and also you can make bread in it! It works on the stovetop or inside the oven.
This bit of sweetness is hanging above my party kitchen counter and is exactly what I wanted. You know how exhausted you get, when you are doing a messy remodel and you are having to make decisions right and left and hither and yon . . . and sometimes you make a bad choice? Well, I got it right with this decision: these lights are simply the cat’s meow. Not literally, you understand. Figuratively. They make me so happy. And the bulbs? How could you not fall in love with these?
Our contractor told us about Edison bulbs, and (since I live under a rock) I hadn’t discovered them yet but now that I have . . . I can’t stop looking at them. They put off such a pretty, warm light, and they are such a fun detail in these old reproduction lights.
. . . and I totally agree. I would have lots of new things to draw and paint on the moon, so of course my sketchbook would have to come along. And some very sharp pencils. And this one really is the only one for me. For you artist types: the paper is 93 lb, acid free archival quality drawing paper, and it’s cool that the paper has two distinct surfaces. The top side of the sheet has tooth for dry media and works well as a cold pressed watercolor sheet, and the bottom side is fabulous with pen and ink and works well as a hot pressed sheet for watercolor and other mixed media. I’ve lost count of how many of these I’ve given to other creative types as gifts, too. At the risk of sounding like a commercial, they’re the perfect gift for the artsy person in your life.
- They are chunky and heavy and feel good in your hand.
- They come in different sizes–for little hands and big ones.
- They don’t break–honestly, they don’t.
- Get this: they come with lids!
- They’re cheap!
What we are reading right now:
- Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time because: hey, spring is coming!
- Anything by Jan Brett: The Turnip is her newest book, and it’s charming, especially if you love turnips (as I do!). Amalia works in a wonderful small bookstore in a little town nearby and she got to meet this prolific author/illustrator. I so want to be her: Amalia, and Jan Brett. Her books are wonderful and beautifully detailed.
- I bought this for Mack for Christmas Doodletopia: Cartoons: Draw, Design, and Color Your Own Super-Fun Cartoon Creations and (shhhh!) he’s gonna love it. He draws all the time. In fact I suspect he is drawing me something special for Christmas, something secret. But I won’t let on that I know. 🙂
- Elizabeth Zimmerman is a knitter and an artist and her books are simply wonderful. I pull this one out often, Knitting Around, out often to be inspired by all things Elizabeth.
- Wow! How could you not love a book with this title: The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal Baking from Around the World not to mention that gloriously beautiful cover. This is Amalia’s new book, but we are all having fun reading it. It’s a beautifully illustrated bread cookbook, full of new baking projects for the new year.
- The specialist that Amalia is seeing right now thinks that her physical trials are related to autoimmune response, so we are learning as much as we can about that, reading this book. It’s an eye opener, to be sure, and worth reading if you suffer from any autoimmune problems (which a large percentage of us do) at all: The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body.
- The author has just come out with this cookbook, and I’m intrigued by it.The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook: An Allergen-Free Approach to Managing Chronic Illness
- A dear new friend gave me a very special gift: the big copy of The Whole Seed Catalog, The Whole Seed Catalog 2016 (From Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
and Epic Tomatoes Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time
by De Letouillier
One more thing: I bought myself one of these Beechwood Stock Pot 24″ Spoons . . .
. . . about the thousandth time I burned my fingers using a short, subpar, lightweight wooden spoon to stir soup in my huge stockpot. I got fed up. I thought “what the heck am I doing? These things can’t be that expensive!” And they aren’t. So I bought one. I love it. End of story.
I need another one.
And woe, woe, woe to the child or personage who drags this lovely spoon out to the sandpile to dig for buried treasure! 🙁 (Where is it, Mack?)
Oooh. Ooops. One More Thing. Coffee Joulies!
Timothy introduced these to us (yes–he’s back!) and they are pretty sweet. You drop them into your steaming hot coffee, and they do a nice job of pulling the heat down just a bit to make your coffee drinkable, and then keeping it there, at just the right temperature, for a long, long time.
Not that a good hot cuppa joe lasts long around here.
My, my, apparently I could go on all day with this! Don’t worry, I won’t.
After all, I have a great hamburger soup recipe to share with you! Because of Amalia’s health puzzles, everything I’m cooking these days is tweaked in such a way to make healing and nourishment at the top of the list. That’s why it’s such an absolute blessing when it turns out delicious, too. When I was feeding this soup to my family (our contractor condescended to eat with us, too) a couple of days ago, they had no idea that I used 3-day-bone broth instead of water for the soup base. Also that I chopped up a few carrots, but mostly the orange veg in the soup was butternut squash. Hehee. Sneaky me. Remember this old adage:
Actually, I just made that up. But you knew that, right?
- 1 lb hamburger
- 1 T olive oil (optional)
- 3 cups beef broth, or strong bone broth
- 3 cups water
- 4 cloves of garlic, smashed and diced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cups shredded cabbage
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 cups butternut squash cubes
- 2 Tb (or to taste) dried herbs of your choice
- salt and pepper to taste
- Fry up the hamburger with the diced onion and garlic, adding the olive oil if necessary.
- Add herbs, salt and pepper, bay leaves, and veggies to the skillet while you are heating up the broth and water in a large soup pot. Cook and stir until heated through, 5 minutes or so.
- When skillet ingredients are steamy hot, add to hot broth.
- Simmer gently for 30 minutes or so, and adjust the seasonings.
My only regret for this recipe? That I didn’t make a much bigger batch! It went fast and there wasn’t much leftover for lunch the next day.
And by the way, it goes well with some dense, chewy bread. And cheese. From the moon.
And by the way. I’d totally take a Thermos full of this soup to the moon with me.
So, make lots. Word to the wise. Of which you are one, I just know it. ‘Else why would you be still reading?
Thanks as always for popping in, Gentle Reader. You mean a bunch to me!
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