30 July 2013

Recipe: Pork & Hot Pepper Hash

 First, I want to apologize for not being more attentive to my blog of late. Between cleaning out my parents' house, keeping up with my classes, and trying to clear a path through my own house, time is tight these days. I certainly intended to be back blogging more frequently by now, but I underestimated the amount of time and emotional energy it would take to sort and organize 60 years of stuff. The good news is that I am making progress and think I'm finally through the worst of it.

 As I've been coming and going so frequently, I've tended to rely on tried and true recipes, especially those I can throw in the crock pot in the morning and have ready when I walk in the door at night. But last week I was tired of the same dinner rotation, so I thought I'd try this new recipe I ran across in an older issue of Better Homes & Gardens: Pork & Hot Pepper Hash.

Now do not be put off by the "Hot Pepper" part. I didn't find this recipe to be very spicy at all, and you could certainly cut down on the peppers if you were concerned about that! I made a few changes to the recipe (some intentional, some by accident!) which I've noted below.

  Pork & Hot Pepper Hash
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 poblano pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/4 pounds ground pork
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 pound baby Yukon gold potatoes, halved or quartered
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper and/or crushed red pepper (I used black)
1/4 cup chicken broth (optional - I used it)
4 eggs, cooked sunny side up in 1 Tbsp. butter (I used scrambled eggs)
Sliced red and/or green jalapeno peppers (optional -- Oops, I forgot them!)
Fresh cilantro sprigs (optional -- Oops, forgot them, too!)
Bottled green hot pepper sauce (Spouse used some, I did not)Lime wedges (I omitted)

1. In a large bowl combine cilantro, poblano pepper, jalapeno pepper, and garlic. Add pork and lime juice. Gently mix to combine. Set aside for 15 minutes to blend flavors.

  2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan cook potatoes in boiling salted water, covered, for about 10 minutes or until just tender. Drain.

3. In a large skillet cook pork mixture until pork begins to brown. Stir in potatoes; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook 5 to 7 minutes more or until pork is cooked through and potatoes are tender, turning occasionally. For moister hash, stir in chicken broth, if desired. (I did end up using chicken broth.)

This smelled soooo good!

4. Serve eggs over hash. (The recipe calls for eggs cooked "over easy" but I scrambled the eggs instead, as anything "over easy" scares me!) Top with sliced peppers (forgot to buy red peppers, so I skipped this part!) and additional cilantro, if desired. Pass bottled green hot pepper sauce and lime wedges.

 Spouse suggested that you could add cheese to it, if you wanted the components to stay "glued" together. But I think a "hash" is meant to be loose and unstructured, so I'll leave the recipe as is. This yummy recipe is a keeper and will now be part of my rotation!

26 July 2013

Feline Friday: Cat-Fessions

Last week, we had our first Cat-Fession, my version of Cat Shaming. Now it's time for Lily to confess one of her YUCKIEST little habits. Don't say I didn't warn you! 

  Um, Happy Feline Friday anyway!


21 July 2013

Sentimental? I Think So.

 My parents' home is like a time capsule.

I'm quite serious about this. Many (I should say MOST) of the things I grew up with are still there, just as I left them. Every drawer, every closet, every shelf seems to evoke a memory. I'll write more about that later as it gets easier for me to put words to my thoughts.

In the midst of this sad process, I've had a few laughs as I've encountered memorabilia I saved over the years. This is one that made me smile. I've always been very sentimental but in case you had any doubt, here's proof: 

In this box, I found every corsage, bouquet, or single flower I received during my junior high and high school years, packed carefully away with a note documenting each one.

I'll show you just a few of the treasures in this box. Note that in these photos, I've removed the name of the giver to protect the innocent. Here's a bouquet I received with a box of Peanut Butter Cups.

Here's a lovely bouquet of red roses, given when I was hospitalized in 7th grade for a serious bladder infection traced to excessive use of bubble bath.

Awww, here's one of many prom corsages, this one for the theme "Southern Nights". Extra points here for thorough documentation.

 I'll admit that I did consider, if only for a few seconds, taking the box home with me. Then I came to my senses and, after taking pictures of all the now-crunchy flowers, I decided to let them go.

But those notes? I gathered them all up and brought them home. Sentimental? I think so.

20 July 2013

Summer Transitions

 The past couple of months have been filled with transitions, changing from one state of being to another. Change has never been easy for me, so I guess it's not all that surprising that it's not always easy for my daughter, either. But I believe that transitions (especially those which are painful or difficult) almost always bring growth. It's possible to emerge stronger from a period of challenging transition.

 Our daughter has experienced two challenging transitions this summer. The biggest transition was, of course, coming to terms with the death of my dad, almost five years after my mom's passing. We were very close to both of them. In the midst of working through her grief, Bailey also faced an important transition in her own life: Her first time being away from home for the summer.

Before leaving in early June, Bailey faced the very difficult task of going through her grandparents' house to choose keepsakes. She bravely spent a couple of days looking through cupboards and placing sticky dots on dishes, curtains, and all sorts of things I never would have guessed she loved. Now as I go through the house boxing things up, I frequently happen upon orange sticky dots. They make me smile and cry at the same time.

As Bailey prepared for her summer transition, she also had to come to terms with leaving her kitties for the longest stretch of time ever. If you're a cat person, you understand what I mean.

 It was especially hard for her to let go of Lily for the summer.
 Even Tinsel, our somewhat aloof kitty, realized that Bailey needed some cuddle time with her.

Bailey also had to prepare herself for a summer without seeing her good friends from home. Sure, she knew she'd be making new friends at camp, but leaving familiar friends for new ones can be tough.

 In the face of uncertainty, Bailey follows in her mom's footsteps: She plans and organizes. She created cabin decorations, including these flower die cut name tags for each camper's bunk. Planning and organizing helps us both feel less anxiety while working through stressful transitions.

 By contrast, her bears seem to handle transitions pretty well. They've been lots of places and weathered many storms, yet they keep on smiling. Well, the ones with mouths do, anyway. ;) Perhaps it's because these are no ordinary bears. Two were special gifts from Grandma. And after Grandma taught Bailey to sew, she made the bear on the right using one of Grandma's patterns.
With any transition, the hardest part is letting go. Once she started to pack the SUV, reality set in for all of us.

Of course, it will take us a very long time to come to terms with the loss we've experienced. This type of transition can take years.

But Bailey has adapted well to her first summer away from home. Like other transitions, this one has brought incredible growth. She's had a host of new experiences she wouldn't have had if she'd stayed in Iowa. I'm very thankful for that. 

And now that she's looking at this life transition in the rear view mirror, I'm pretty sure that she's thankful, too.
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19 July 2013

Feline Friday: Cat-fessions

 Have you heard of Cat Shaming? This is yet another cat-related trend on the interwebs. Cat Shaming pictures feature cats with a printed description of some naughty behavior. The idea here is that cats are almost never remorseful, so their humans have to "shame" them publicly.

I take issue with the word "shaming" because I love our kitties unconditionally and would never want them to feel scolded. But I do like the idea of confessing naughty behavior. Cat-fessions, so to speak.

Tinsel will take the first confession, which is absolutely 100% true! YUCK!

Happy Feline Friday! Please don't eat your own fur.

12 July 2013

Feline Friday: Miracle at the Vet!

Lily had to visit the vet recently for her check-up and shots. She is the sweetest cat in the world at home but at the vet's office, she turns into a snarling, hissing creature that no one can touch. Her chart is marked "feisty" and she has to be given light sedation in order for the staff to handle her. Last time she was there for her (*ahem*) anal gland expression, the vet had to sedate her while she was still in the carrier! Although it is safe, I would much rather she didn't have the sedation so frequently.

Getting her into the carrier isn't a problem. As usual, she climbed right in as soon as I brought it out. I told her that she was going to be NICE to the doctor so she didn't have to wear the sleepy mask! Lily is such a smart kitty that I hoped she would listen this time!

 I talked to her all the way to the vet about how she needed to be nice...no biting, hissing, or snarling!

 As soon as we pulled up to the vet's office, those beautiful eyes got quite large! It was a busy day in the office, with several dogs coming and going at the time we arrived. I turned Lily's carrier so that I could reach inside with my hand to scratch her head. Normally, even I can't touch her at the vet's office. But she stayed very calm and did not hiss...a first! 

Back in the examination room, she let the tech take her out of the carrier. This was huge, as they usually have to either dismantle it or tip it to pour her out! Once out, she even let the tech put her on the scales. This was also a first, as they usually weigh her in the carrier then subtract the weight of it. And, miracle of miracles, she let the vet examine her with no hissing, snarling, or biting. He even poked around on her belly! He was shocked and very pleasantly surprised. Of course, I told him that I'd had a little talk with her on the way there. He suggested that perhaps I should have the same talk with some of his other patients! :)

Lily was such a good girl for listening to her mommy that she got a few extra Temptations when we got home!
Hope your day is also free of snarling, hissing, and biting! :)
Happy Feline Friday!

10 July 2013

Crock Pot Recipe: Pork Chops & Mustard-Sauced Potatoes

I'm a sucker for anything with "mustard" in the name. I love mustard so much that I used to eat plain mustard sandwiches as a kid. Yes, mustard on bread with nothing else on it, except perhaps dill pickles. I especially love country-style mustard, the kind with lots of grains in it. I first tried it as a student in France many years ago, before it was widely available in this country, and I was hooked. In fact, when it was time to fly home, I filled my suitcase with large crocks of mustard!

 So when recently looking through my binder of crock pot dishes, this recipe for Pork Chops and MUSTARD-Sauced Potatoes caught my attention right away. I don't know how I overlooked it for so long! It's a great one-dish dinner...and it includes MUSTARD! What's not to love?

Pork Chops and Mustard-Sauced Potatoes 
6 pork loin chops, cut 3/4 inch thick (TIP: Use thicker pork chops, as thin cuts will dry out!)
1 T. cooking oil
1 (10 3/4 oz) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/4 C. dry white wine or chicken broth
1/2 C. Dijon style mustard  (I used a combination of Dijon and Country-style)
1 t. dried thyme, crushed
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 t. pepper
6 medium potatoes, cut into 1/4 inch slices (I used new potatoes, because I'll go to almost any length to avoid peeling potatoes!)
1 medium onion, sliced

In a large skillet, brown pork chops on both sides, in hot oil. Drain off fat.

In a large mixing bowl combine soup, wine, mustard, thyme, garlic, and pepper. Add potatoes and onion, stirring to coat. Transfer to crock pot.

Place browned chops on top of potatoes. Cover; cook on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

05 July 2013

Feline Friday: Where's Lily?

No, Lily! As cute as you look sitting there, this is NOT a good hiding place! How soon we forget...

04 July 2013

Gardens in Early July

Goodness, what a beautiful stretch of weather we've been having! The rain finally let up, giving way to sunshine and low humidity. As a result of this nice weather, my flower gardens are looking pretty good at the moment. Rest assured, all of this will change as we get into the "dog days" of August in Iowa. But for now, I'm enjoying the blooms!

This year, the only annuals I have planted are in pots. Otherwise all the plants you see in these photos are perennials. I love the look, longevity, and ease of perennial plants!

I had some trouble with the photos in last month's garden post. The problem is fixed now, so you can see the changes which have occurred over the past couple of weeks.

The garage garden is still sort of a mess because I haven't devoted much time to it, but I removed a couple of sprawling plants to tidy things up a bit. It still has issues...

I finally have flowers blooming in the area off the patio but I have WAY too much coreopsis! Sure, it's pretty, but its spreading nature makes it hard to contain.

The rose bush in the lower left has grown considerably beyond what I anticipated. I thought it was a miniature rose bush. Instead, it's a huge sprawling thing which is taking much more space than I allowed for it. Other plants are going to have to move for it, because it's WAY too thorny to relocate!

There's a lot of yellow right now, but soon we'll have purple thistle and pink liatris in bloom.

I planted this lead plant last summer. This native prairie plant is going to be really interesting once it fills out!

One of the items on my summer to-do list is to re-do the garden edging. We used to have that black plastic stuff, but I hated it so we pulled it up. Of course, we haven't been diligent enough in taming the grass, so now the edges of the gardens are not tidy at all, as you can see below. This makes me crazy!

Due to the excessive rain, I've had trouble with some of the patio pots. I let them dry out thoroughly then gave them all a dose of Miracle Grow and most are looking much better now. Unfortunately, I lost all the dahlia plants and many of the vincas, so all of those had to be replaced.

This hanging basket was beautiful for a few days after we brought it home then it started looking very sickly, presumably due to the excessive rain. I let it dry out and cut it way back, then I fertilized it a couple of times. It seems to be recovering nicely, even though it has a "mullet" look right now. :)

 The daylilies have just started blooming, and the heliopsis plant is really taking off. This is another extremely hardy prairie plant. It's really tall but never needs much staking.

Here you can see some of that ugly black edging which needs to come out. You can also see some gaps and crowding issues in this area. Typical of my garden problems...
 But from a distance, things don't look so bad! :)

 Right now the spirea bushes are in full bloom. We have a LOT of them. They are dependable and very pretty, but I sure wish they weren't pink! I'm not a fan of pink.


The pots Bailey planted for me for Mother's Day are doing really well. As you can see from my June post, they've filled out nicely in just the past couple of weeks.

Because of all the rain we've had, the area in front of the house is looking good at the moment. The ground cover in this garden requires significant moisture and if we don't get it (or I don't water sufficiently), things go downhill quickly.

 Now that I've got a few things blooming, it will soon be time to pick some bouquets to take inside. That's one of the best parts about gardening. Here's hoping you are enjoying your gardens this summer, too!

01 July 2013

Lesson Learned: Tell the Story

 I've been spending days and days going through the contents of my parents' house. It is a very sad and difficult task under the best of circumstances. But it could have been much, much easier for me if we had only marked our family heirlooms.

One day last week, I sat on the floor of my old bedroom and sobbed because I have no idea who made the very old and beautiful quilt I held in my hands. And it's not just that particular quilt...I have a whole stack of unidentified linens, shelves of beautiful glassware, vases, teacups, silver bowls, and more. Most of these items came from my mom's side of the family and sadly, almost none is marked with its story. My parents collected antiques and, without this information, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to separate the family heirlooms from the pieces they just purchased on a whim while on a weekend trip.

 There are a few exceptions. On the back of this picture, I found a handwritten note from my mom indicating that it had been stitched by my grandma, as well as several other important details. This simple note was such a gift to me. Now I know why this piece needs to be given a place of honor in my home.

If I weren't an only child, I could ask a brother or sister for help. But as it is, I have only one aunt who knows just a fraction of the information I crave. Of course, I'll do my best to track down details about these beautiful pieces, but it makes me incredibly sad to know that the stories behind many of them have been lost.

So if you have family heirloom pieces in your possession (or anything at all that you want your children to keep), PLEASE take the time NOW to write notes detailing what you know about them. There is no way to take away the heartache of losing one's parents, but you can lighten the load considerably with this one simple act.