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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Salty, Carby Goodness: Pretzel Rolls

Browsing through my "dough" board on Pinterest looking for my next baking challenge, my eyes rested upon one from une bonne vie: Pretzel Rolls. Warm pretzels are pure ecstasy to a salt and carb lover like me, so I decided to make this my next baking adventure.

I had an ulterior motive for making pretzel rolls aside from my rabid drooling. Right now there are only two places in town I know of where you can buy pretzel rolls: The Fresh Market and Schnucks grocery. After hearing some friends wail on Facebook about having to wait for their next trip to Cincinnati to stock up on some decent pretzel rolls, I figured I should try making them and see if I can't become their favorite in-town supplier. So I got to work on these right after I finished all my Christmas cookie baking.

Here is the recipe direct from Une Bonne Vie:
________________________________________________________________
Pretzel Rolls
The Dough
6 - 7 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups milk, slightly warmed
1 cup water, slightly warmed

Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

The "Bath"
7 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons baking soda

In a small container, mix yeast with warmed milk and let rest for 10 minutes. Whisk 5 3/4 cups of flour and teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. 

Add canola oil and warmed water to yeast mixture. Pour into bowl with flour and salt. Knead in the bowl until dough is mostly smooth. Only add more flour if your dough cannot be easily handled. The dough will be somewhat stiff. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and put in a warm place to rise for one hour.

Punch down dough and knead in bowl for one minute. Cut dough into 15 pieces. (Cut more pieces if you would like smaller size rolls.) Form balls by pulling the dough under. Place on a well-greased surface. Let the dough balls rise for 15 minutes.

While the dough balls are rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and get the pretzel "bath" ready. In a large pot, bring water, salt, and baking soda to a rolling boil. Plunge three dough balls into the water and let them "poach" for 1 minute total. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to a well-greased baking sheet. With a serrated knife, cut 2-3 lines across each roll and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until pretzels are a rich brown.  These are best eaten the same day they are made.
_______________________________________________________________

Here are my notes and results:

Since it was pouring down rain the day I made these, I think I ended up using about 9 cups of flour before getting the dough stiff enough. (Tip: Humidity affects yeast goods. The damper it is outside, the more flour you're gonna need inside that dough.)

The Big Guy and I scarfed a couple down while still warm, and they were sooo good. I went easy on the sprinkling of sea salt on the top, and I think they could've done with more. But maybe that's just me and my salt craving talking. They were also delicious lightly warmed in the microwave the next day. But after a couple days in a Ziploc bag on the counter, they were definitely not good anymore. I have a bag left in the freezer to test out how they are frozen for later use. Will report back on that in a future post.

The true test, though, was in giving a couple of these rolls to those Facebook-ranting friends. We delivered a roll to each of them along with their bag of holiday goodies, and a few days later I checked in for an opinion. According to Friend #1, who gave me his brutally honest opinion (as always), there was not an even enough distribution of salt throughout the dough, and they were a bit uneven in bake. The center was too doughy to work properly as a sandwich roll. Overall, though, I think he thought I did well for my first attempt. Persnickety bastard.

I appreciated the candid feedback, though, and now I know what to do differently next time. I'll be more diligent in whisking the dry goods together, and I'll make them smaller to try and avoid the doughy center. I think because of the amount of extra flour, the dough was probably larger than the original poster's, so my rolls were probably larger than hers. They did seem pretty big - like a VERY large hamburger bun. But boy, were they pretty. Check it out. *drool*




Saturday, December 28, 2013

Family Traditions

Christmas has come and gone, and it was all such a blur. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season, whatever you may celebrate. Ours was quiet and peaceful, just the way I like it. Bonus: I managed to revive two family recipes this year.

This year I continued my tradition of making homemade gift baskets and bags for family and friends, though weather and illness prevented me from doing all that I wanted to do and delivering all the finished goods within the necessary timeline. Here's to better success next year!

I tried some new cookie recipes and was sadly disappointed. If any of you have any tips or tricks for successfully using a cookie press, please share them! I just ended up with a glob of cookie dough hanging from the end of the press without releasing to the cookie sheet. It reminded me of the old Play-Doh Fun Factory...minus the fun. Maybe it was the dough I used (though the recipe specifically stated it was for use in a cookie press), but I ended up so frustrated I quit and tried rolling and cutting my shapes instead. That was spectacularly awful as well. My dough spread out into shapeless blobs of chewy grossness instead of the light, buttery, whimsical shortbread cookies I was going for. This photo I saw on Pinterest kind of depicts my cookie strife:

Disclaimer: This is not me. I am not a skinny blonde. (Though my kitchen is exactly this shade of green. Weird.)
This is some random chick from Imgur: http://imgur.com/dcY336C

So, in true Krista fashion, I got pissed off, threw it all away and moved on to the next recipe.

One family recipe I revived this Christmas was my grandmother's sugar cookies. Again, they spread out more than I wanted, which I didn't understand. Mom and I used to make them every year, and every year they were beautiful. This year not so much. I might try them again for Easter or something and see what I did wrong. But they were tasty, if a little flat. My goal for this year had been to learn to make royal icing. I had visions of my grandmother's sugar cookies lovingly decorated with fancy hard icing, but as happens so often, life got in the way and I ran out of time.

Our freezer cooking group had planned to meet mid-month to make goodies to swap for our homemade gift baskets and help one another with some larger tasks, like making my grandmother's Swedish meatballs - my favorite family food tradition. Sadly, sickness and work got in the way - though surprisingly it wasn't MY illness or work this time! My mom also lacked the spare time to make these delicious bites of meaty goodness as well, so for the first Christmas in memory, we didn't have them, which made me very sad. We still had the cocktail wieners and some frozen meatballs in grandma's traditional beer/chili sauce, but it wasn't even close to the same. I may have to schedule a game night just as an excuse to make some damn meatballs. They are so time-consuming, with all the rolling and browning, but every savory bite is worth the effort.

In an effort to make up for the lack of meatballs - and in the spirit of trying new yeast recipes - I reached out to my Great Aunt Ethel for her yeast roll recipe. I've heard about these light and fluffy "biscuits", as she calls them, for decades, but I've never had the opportunity to taste them. When my grandmother was alive, she and my Pa hosted dozens of extended family and friends on Christmas Eve, and according to Mom, Aunt Ethel would bring her delicious rolls to town with her, already risen and ready to pop in the oven for dinner. After my grandmother passed away (before my second birthday), our family's Christmas Eve traditions changed and slowly each part of the extended family began to form their own annual traditions closer to their homes across Indiana and Kentucky. I know how much my mom misses these Christmases that pre-date my memory, so I decided to bring a piece back to her.

It's been many years since Aunt Ethel (now near 90 years of age) attempted to make her biscuits but, bless her heart, she gave it a go after Thanksgiving just for me, since these rolls were never made from a written recipe. It was always just one of those "use about this much flour and knead until it feels like this" processes. Unfortunately, too much time and memory had faded for her to make them successfully, but she knew she had taught her daughter Pam to make them several years ago. Though she warned me, Pam makes hers differently now.

Hip-hip-hooray for Pam taking notes on the original process and then saving them where she could easily find them! A few emails later and I had Pam's notes on Aunt Ethel's original yeast roll method. They were loose, and I was a little nervous starting out, but as I carefully walked through the process I could see and feel what was conveyed in the notes, and I knew I was on the right track.

Once you start working with yeast recipes, you get a feel for what's right and what's not right. Like I talked about in an earlier post, your fingertips come to learn what "lukewarm" feels like exactly, and you just know it's right. So I credit my recent baking experiences with giving me the knowledge I needed to successfully make these rolls. They were so beautiful as they were rising.


When we baked the first batch up at Mom's house on Christmas Eve, though, they were HUGE (like Grands biscuits on steroids) and ever-so-doughy in the middle. But everyone agreed they were delicious, and Mom said they tasted "just right." Score! The Big Guy liked them so much he sweetly asked me to go through the entire six-hour process again on Christmas Day for dinner with his folks. I couldn't say no to those big blue eyes, plus I wanted to try again with smaller rolls and a little melted butter after baking. So, on Christmas Day, I made them half the size of the previous day, and when I pulled them out of the oven (at the Big Guy's suggestion), I brushed them with some melted butter before serving. HOLY YUM! We were so excited to tear into them (and the rest of the meal) that I forgot to take a picture until we were digging into the second pan. Now, mind you, there were only four of us eating these things, so I think I can safely say they were a hit!


So, here is a great big THANK YOU to Aunt Ethel and my cousin Pam for helping me bring back this yearned-for recipe and Christmas tradition in our family.

I hope all of you enjoyed your holiday traditions this year - and maybe even added a new one or brought back an old one. Here's to a happy and healthy 2014, y'all!


Top of page photo credit: Mukumbura via photopin cc

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Chicago Eats

This year the Big Guy and I decided to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary with a trip up north to his hometown: the Second City, city of big shoulders, Sweet Home Chicago...you get the picture. It's a city of myriad cultures, monikers, personalities and peoples - a true Midwestern melting pot. When you combine that many people from so many places, you end up with some seriously good eats.

One of my favorite parts of our trip was the mode of travel. This marked my first U.S. passenger rail trip. (I don't count the commuter rail from Princeton, N.J., into NYC. It was like being on a subway car.) And we traveled Business Class...oh yeah. That's how we roll. If you've never traveled Amtrak and you have the opportunity, I encourage you to look into it. We saved a boatload of money by driving 90 minutes over to the closest station and taking the rail, then using public transportation once we arrived in the city. You can get an unlimited seven-day bus and train pass from the Chicago Transit Authority (the actual government agency, not the band) for around $25. In a city where overnight parking can cost you $65/day and just a few hours can cost $10, public transit is the way to go. Add in the savings on gas to drive 600 miles round trip, and it just made sense all the way around.

We chose to take an afternoon train on our way up, which meant we didn't arrive in the city until late. Once we were checked in to the hotel and starving, it was almost 11 p.m. That late in the Gold Coast neighborhood where we stayed meant our dining options were limited. And the poor desk clerk was used to business travelers with bigger budgets than ours, so he directed us to the trendy dining district. Little did we (and he) know, there was an OUTSTANDING dive bar and hot dog takeout joint right around the corner, which we discovered a day or so later. More on that later.

On the plus side, we got in a nice mile or so walk that night - much needed after several hours in the truck and on the train. We ended up at a little Irish bar called Dublin's. It was just what you would expect - loud, dark, hot and jammed full of slightly intoxicated business people. And the food was just meh. A little on the pricey side as well. I had a breaded chicken sandwich with little to no flavor, but the Big Guy said his corned beef was pretty tasty. The portions were way too big for a midnight snack, but hey - beggars can't be choosers. The interior was kind of cool, though, if you don't mind a weird green tinge to everything from the rope lights against the stainless steel ceiling tiles. The place appears to have maybe been a diner at one time, and it retains some of that flair.

The next morning we went on a mission to find the legendary Billy Goat Tavern. If you've ever seen the SNL Cheezborger Cheezborger skit, you know what I'm talking about. We found this gem hidden underneath Michigan Ave. in a basement, serving up the cheapest and best breakfast in the city. What struck me most as we sat in the quiet, near-empty bar, long before most patrons would arrive, was how much it reminded me of our favorite local neighborhood bar - Fred's. I'll have to ask Fred the next time we're there whether he's ever visited the Billy Goat. The similarities are so striking that, in my mind, I imagine Fred modeled his place after this historic underground watering hole.

Our next stop after the Billy Goat didn't have any food for consumption, but what a feast for the eyes it was! When the Big Guy - not usually one for the fine arts - asked me if I wanted to go to the Art Institute of Chicago, my mouth dropped open. Big Guy? Volunteering to go to an art museum?? This is one of those times you just say yes. Don't question it too much lest he change his mind. So off we went to visit the lions and get some culture. Our plan of eating our way through the city actually married well with the featured exhibit - Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture and Cuisine. Sadly, this was the one place in the museum where photos were prohibited. But I'll forever treasure the memory of walking through the doors of the gallery and being greeted by Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want - the iconic Saturday Evening Post cover featuring a family sitting down to their Thanksgiving feast. Like so many infamous paintings, it was much larger than I expected. And the stunning photographic quality was amazing. I could've stared at it all day. But there was much, more more to see and explore.

 

After digesting all of that rich history and beauty, we were starving again. Our breakfast sandwiches were good, but we'd missed the lunch hour in the museum and needed to refuel. Being in the city and relying on public transit burns calories, yo! So we made our way back to that trendy dining district near our hotel, where we had seen a location of our favorite Chicago-style pizzeria the night before: Lou Malnati's. A former Anthropologie store, this location has more urban flair than the last location we visited, down near the Merchandise Mart. And it being mid-afternoon, the joint was empty. No three-hour wait like at dinner time! A small deep dish is all two people need - leaves room for a fantastic stuffed spinach bread appetizer.

After a little post-pizza nap, we headed down to the Daley Center - you know, the plaza with the Picasso sculpture - for the city's annual Christkindlmarket. Cozy little Bavarian huts are lined up all through the plaza with vendors selling their handmade wares - from painted glass ornaments to beautiful wood carvings. And in between in a throng of people drinking, wandering around lost, and generally getting all up in my personal space. About halfway through, I needed some hot cocoa and a break. Thankfully, I got both. One in a tiny $7 souvenir mug and the other in the form of benches outside the plaza being entertained by a couple of super-talented street musicians. Christmas carols on the tuba, anyone?

Now, remember that dive bar and hot dog joint I mentioned earlier? At some point in this day, we had discovered it while walking between the hotel and the "L" (train) station. It's tiny. It's loud. It's cheap. It's open until 4 a.m. Its menu is from the hot dog joint next door. And it may just be the best little slice of heaven in Streeterville/Gold Coast. It's Pippin's Tavern. Go there, get a drink, get a dog, and just sit back, listen and enjoy the show of locals and regulars.

The next morning, we ventured down to the Merchandise Mart just to see what was there. Much to our delight and surprise, we found a food court location of the Billy Goat! I had the best Monte Cristo that morning. Not exactly what you would expect to eat from a food court version of a tavern known for its greasy cheeseburgers and surly Greeks, but there you go. After wandering around a bit looking at ridiculously gorgeous kitchens and baths we'll probably never have, we decided to head up to the River North area and stroll around the neighborhood near the old Cabrini Greens housing projects. The Big Guy remembers this area well, as his dad was a student at Moody Bible Institute when my guy was a kid. He knew the old projects were gone and the area had come up, but we were both blown away by how decidedly hipster this neighborhood had become. One of the things that drew us to the neighborhood was a chance to sample the Truffle Fries at BIG & little's - a cool little sandwich shop featured on our favorite Food Network show, Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. Foie Gras & Fries might seem like an odd menu item at a place with picnic tables and a walk-up counter, but being located next to Le Cordon Bleu brings it all into perspective. Good eats at this joint. For sure.

I'm not sure how many miles we walked this day, or how many calories we burned, but I promise you it was a lot. We decided to check out the store windows and beautiful Christmas decorations at Macy's - the former Marshall Field department store. The giant tree in the storied Walnut Room did not disappoint. And neither did the stroll through the candy shop in the basement or the touchy-feely turn we took through the Fur Vault. Mmmmm...furrrrrrr. (Animal lovers, don't hate.)

That evening brought the opportunity for a night out with friends and some delicious burgers, fries, and fried green beans up in the Andersonville neighborhood. We met up with one of my old college friends and his partner to catch up and chow down. Hamburger Mary's was the destination - a little bit gay sports bar, a little bit restaurant, a little bit drag show venue and a whole lotta good eats. We hung out in Mary's Rec Room - the sports bar side - so Steve could catch the Blackhawks game at the same time. Priorities, you know. Andersonville was a long bus ride up from the hotel - nearly an hour - but worth it. We had planned to meet up again a couple days later with my college buddy to check out the Swedish festival, the Swedish bakery, and explore the neighborhood a bit more, but the weather report back home was looking bad and we decided we needed to cut our trip a little short. We'll definitely be checking this area out more on a future trip. In addition to the cultural draw (the Big Guy has Scandinavian roots), two of the most historic cemeteries in the area are along the same bus route and are on our list of sites to visit during warmer months.


Slightly hungover, we started our next (and sadly, final) day in Chicago with an incredibly decadent breakfast at Toast, near DePaul University. This tiny breakfast and lunch spot with way-cool signage is just across from Oz Park - a nice green space featuring statues of characters from the Wizard of Oz. The coffee was strong, and my stuffed French toast was out of this world. The guy who decided to fill a piece of bread with mascarpone cheese, dunk it in egg and fry it is a frickin' genius. Another piece was loaded with Mexican chocolate, and the third featured pureed strawberries. The strawberry one was ok, but the other two blew my mind. Definitely going to visit this place again. I'm glad I ordered the ridiculously overpriced side of Applewood bacon to go with it, though. The salt and smoke kept the sweetness from becoming too overpowering.

We spent the rest of our final day - not yet knowing it was to be our last - wandering around neighborhoods and checking out more local food establishments. One of these some might even call an institution. Dinkel's Bakery opened in 1922 in the Lakeview neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago. And though they've moved a few times (all along the same street), the store looks much the same now as it did 80 years ago. Glass case after glass case displaying mouth-watering delectable desserts and pastries. The shelves behind the counter are home to dozens of loaves of freshly baked bread, and a little dining room off to the side is a haven for breakfast or lunch on a cold winter's day. Walking through the doors, my nose was filled with the scent of memories. My mind was flooded with thoughts of being seven years old, walking with my mom to our now-extinct neighborhood supermarket, Great Scot, and smelling the fresh bread and donuts. Until that moment, I had forgotten Great Scot even had a donut counter! Scent memory is a wonderful, amazing thing. The Big Guy and I ordered a pastry each and cups of their house recipe hot cocoa to try to warm up, while my mind was still spinning with nostalgia. We sampled bits of Christmas cookies they left on a tray near the register, and I have to say - not to brag or anything - but my cookies are way better. No contest. I'll give them credit where credit is due on the hot cocoa and pastries, though. Delicious! And I can honestly say I've never made a cake as beautiful as theirs. But they've been at it a lot longer than I have.

After another nap to sleep off the sugar coma and rest our weary legs, we took another look at the weather. A nasty winter storm was moving in to our home area, and I was beginning to dread that 100-mile drive back home from the train station more and more with each ice warning. So the Big Guy and I decided it was time to call Amtrak and see what could be done. We changed to a much earlier train, leaving just after daybreak the following morning, and started packing. We still had a few places to explore that evening, so it was time to kick it into high gear. The first stop was dinner at Wow Bao in Water Tower Place. My first bao experience was a bit disappointing, but the side of Thai curry noodle salad wasn't half bad. The Christmas lights in the mall were pretty, though.

We bundled up tight and headed back out into the cold to catch the bus to our next destination - Christmas lights at Lincoln Park Zoo! I gladly paid for another overpriced cup of hot cocoa to keep my gloves warm as we shivered our way along the brightly lit paths. So thankful I bought one of those little headband/earwarmer thingies before we left town! We were icicles when we got back on the bus and headed for Michigan Ave. But the light display was worth it. Best part? Free.

Back down in Gold Coast, we were on a mission for Garrett's Popcorn. The line was out the door, but we made lots of folks back home happy with giant bags of the best cheese and caramel corn I've ever put in my mouth. By this time I was starving and needed to warm up. Those hot Asian buns didn't stick with me long. (I guess because I didn't eat more than a couple of bites.) So we ventured back around the corner to our new favorite tavern and dog shop for our last meal in the city. The bar was just too packed, so we ducked in next door at Downtown Dogs and pulled up a barstool at the counter to people watch and dig in to our insanely delicious Polish sausages and RC Colas (which I was totally shocked to find in Chicago, by the way).

We were sad to have to leave so quickly, but the trip was everything we had hoped and more. New places discovered and more to-dos added to our list for future adventures. Can't wait for our next trip in March for the St. Paddy's Day parade! I'll have another post for you then for sure. 





Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Chicago












As we left Chicago Saturday morning, these words of Carl Sandburg are what I envisioned in the Big Guy's head...

A TEAMSTER'S FAREWELL
Sobs En Route to a Penitentiary

GOOD-BY now to the streets and the clash of wheels and
     locking hubs,
The sun coming on the brass buckles and harness knobs.
The muscles of the horses sliding under their heavy
     haunches,
Good-by now to the traffic policeman and his whistle,
The smash of the iron hoof on the stones,
All the crazy wonderful slamming roar of the street--
O God, there's noises I'm going to be hungry for.


We've only been back a few days and I miss the city so much already. All the hustle and bustle, the variety of people and places and things and eats. Oh, the eats! A look back at my Foursquare check-ins makes it seem we ate our way through the city.

Check back in a few days for a breakdown of where we ate and walked and ate and shopped and ate some more. We've already decided on the dates for our next two trips to Chicago, and we're working on our list of things to do then. 


photo credit: Chicago Man via photopin cc

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Things to be thankful for

In Southern Indiana, Fall brings beloved "sweater weather" alternating with shorts and t-shirt weather. It's good times. Except when those alternating weather patterns bring tornadoes, like they did last week. Some of the little towns in Illinois where my mother-in-law grew up were hard hit by the killer storms, as were some Southern Indiana towns. It was a similar situation to November 5, 2005, when a twister cut a path through my hometown and many smaller towns, taking lives and destroying scores of homes - like that of my current next-door neighbors, who are blessed to have lived through it. I'm thankful that this time our city was spared, and I pray for those who were affected by this November's tornadoes.

I'm thankful for so many things that it would be hard to list them all. We are blessed beyond belief. But one thing I've been particularly thankful for recently is my friends. As you grow up and grow older, friends come and go. Those you thought would be with you til the end of time fade gently away; those you've been with through thick and thin suddenly decide there is no room for you in their lives anymore; those you quickly bonded with and shared laughs with in adulthood just as quickly move back out of the picture through physical distance or busy schedules; those you thought you'd lost in growing up come back into your life and bring a new and different joy; and those you've simply been acquainted with - sometimes for years - you wake up one day to realize have slowly, quietly become the ones you hold closest to your heart.

One of those old school friends (should I say imaginary high school nemesis?) helped make this freezer cooking adventure a reality. I'm thankful for my friend Christina and for her being back in my life. She's smart, witty, caring (no matter what she says), giving, a good cook, and a helluva mom and wife. And I have her to thank for introducing me to her neighbor and fellow freezer cook Kathi.

A fellow animal lover and all-around super-nice person, Kathi has been fun to cook and plan with, and I've enjoyed getting to know her. She was even nice enough to share her dad's chili recipe with me - which was used in last weekend's freezer cooking adventure. And even better - she's letting me share it with y'all. Enjoy!


My Dad's Chili
Courtesy of Kathi F.

1 lb ground chuck
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large can condensed tomato soup
1 15.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 medium can Brooks chili beans
Chili powder to taste
5 handfuls of elbow macaroni (optional)

In large pot, saute onion in oil until caramelized (fancy for browned). In a separate skillet, brown the ground chuck; drain. Add drained beef to onions. Add tomato soup, diced tomatoes, chili beans and chili powder. Fill tomato soup and Brooks cans with water and add to pot. Stir well.

Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to simmer for at least an hour, stirring periodically. (I do not cover because I like my chili thicker and not so runny.)

OPTIONAL: Add macaroni about 10 minutes before ready to serve. Chili is done when pasta is al dente.

TIP: For thicker chili, cook uncovered; turn heat off when done and let sit for a bit.


photo credit: Vox Efx via photopin cc

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What the heck is a "pilau" anyway?

I am such a dork sometimes.

There's this recipe I found in Southern Living magazine about 10 years ago and have been making ever since. It's called Chicken & Smoked Sausage Pilau. And for 10 years, every time I made it, I thought to myself, "What the heck is a pilau?" But I never thought until this week to just Google the damn word. Turns out it's just another variation of "pilaf." Which got me thinking, what exactly is a pilaf anyway? I know in general American restaurant terms it's just seasoned rice. But since general American restaurants have a tendency to generally bastardize everything, I looked up the term pilaf as well.

Here's what Dictionary.com tells me about pilaf/pilau:

pi·laf

  [pi-lahfpee-lahf]  Show IPA
noun
1.
a Middle Eastern dish consisting of sautéed, seasoned rice steamed in bouillon, sometimes withpoultry, meat or shellfish.
2.
rice cooked in a meat or poultry broth.
Also, pi·laff, pilaupilaw.

Origin: 
1925–30;  < Turkish pilâv  < Persian pilāw

Ahhh, that makes sense! The recipe is basically chicken, smoked sausage and rice. But the time, labor and seasonings make it so much more than what those three simple ingredients imply. And so it quickly became a favorite in our home. And since the recipe makes way too much for two people to eat - even taking leftovers and lunches into consideration - I always freeze half of it for later.

So, for my freezer cooking friends, here's the recipe - with my modifications from over the years. 

Chicken & Smoked Sausage Pilau
Adapted from Southern Living
(Cook time: approx. 1.5 hours; Serves 8-10)

Photo source: MyRecipes.com
5 lb whole chicken or whole chicken cut up
2 lb smoked sausage, sliced into 1" pieces
1 large bunch fresh thyme (or 2 tsp dried)
2 bay leaves
2 carrots, cut in half
3 celery ribs (including leafy parts), cut in half
2 large sweet onions, chopped
1-1/2 Tbsp seasoned salt
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
8 cups water
4 cups long-grain rice

In a large stockpot, bring all ingredients EXCEPT rice to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 1 hour. Remove from heat and let stand 15 minutes. Remove and discard celery, carrots, thyme stems and bay leaf from stock, reserving stock in stockpot.* Remove chicken and cool slightly. Remove skin and bones, then coarsely chop chicken.

Saute sausage in large skillet until browned. Drain, if needed. Add chicken and sausage to reserved stock in stockpot and bring to a boil. Stir in rice and return to boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 20 minutes or until stock is absorbed and rice is tender.

If you're not serving an army or are unwilling to eat leftovers of the same thing for a week, freeze some! Cool half of finished meal completely, place in gallon freezer bag, squeezing all excess air out of the bag as you close it. Press contents out to flatten bag and freeze. To reheat, thaw in refrigerator overnight and nuke for a couple of minutes. If rice is too dry for your liking, add a splash of chicken stock.

*I often get the veggies and herb stems out of my stock by placing a colander or sieve over a large mixing bowl and straining the stock into the bowl. Then dump the stock back into the pot. It can be downright maddening to chase soft pieces of carrot and those ninja bay leaves around in hot, murky chicken stock with a frickin' slotted spoon.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Freezer Cooking Adventure #2

It seems like Fall is the craziest season of the year for me. At work, clients are wrapping up their programs for the year and beginning to plan their Q1 initiatives. In Tupperware, it's vendor fair season with lots of craft shows and Christmas bazaars. And in the Masonic organizations the Big Guy and I are members of, there are numerous Fall fundraisers and events, our annual Shrine circus on Thanksgiving weekend, and week after week of Christmas parties on the horizon. It seems that every weekend is jam-packed with activities, and the weeknights aren't much better. Folks like to think couples without kids have all this free time on our hands, but life is what you make it. And the Big Guy and I make our non-working days and nights full of friends, fellowship and opportunities to give back to this world that has given us so much.

All of these long working hours, meetings, events, and activities make for busy weeknights and the temptation to grab takeout or go out to eat, because even though it takes just as long to drive to a restaurant and eat there as it does to cook at home it just seems easier to let yourself be waited on than to stare into the fridge wondering what the heck to make, spend a half hour on your feet in the kitchen preparing something and then deal with the clean-up. Add to all this the fact that we both now go to bed by 8:30-9:00 each night because we're getting up at 4:30 for work (Big Guy) or the gym (me), and our evenings are maddeningly brief. But all this eating out and takeout food gets expensive! Plus, I'm trying desperately to lose all the weight I accumulated in my 20s, so I really want to gain more control over the type and quality of food I'm putting in my body.

As I wrote about before, these factors led a few friends and me to try the freezer cooking method of dinner planning. Our first session was a little crazy and we learned a lot of valuable lessons about what worked well and what didn't. So when we started planning session #2, we went in with all our notes about our previous experience and worked hard to make this session go more smoothly. The biggest lesson I learned from our first experience was that, even though freezer cooking days are long and challenging - and your body tells you about it the next day - it is so worth it! I came home with a couple of weeks' worth of heat-and-eat meals that were much more nutritious than takeout and nearly as easy. The Big Guy is a fan because neither of us is stressing out over dinner, and it's budget-friendly. Yes, the initial investment is high because of the volume of food being prepared at once. But spread out over all the meals you end up with in the freezer, the savings are incredible - especially if you plan your shopping right and take advantage of major grocery store sales on meat and staples.

Here's a summary of the lessons learned and applied from Freezer Cooking Adventure #1:

  • Planning sessions are a must! 
    • The first go-round, we did have a planning session that went very well. Where we hit a bump, though, was that only 3 of the 4 planned participants attended, so the fourth person was not quite up to speed with the game plan. 
    • Tip: Planning sessions don't have to take much time. Our first one was a couple hours long, but we were all new to this and there was lots to discuss. Our second one only took one hour early on a Saturday morning. We all met at a centrally located Starbucks, had coffee, mapped out our plan, and then went our separate ways to kick off our weekends.
  • No additional participants may be added after the planning session.
    • Part of what made our first freezer cooking day awkward and difficult was that the person who did not attend the planning session decided to invite one more person to join us. No big deal, right? Wrong. During planning, we carefully multiplied and divided to ensure we were making the same amount of each recipe for each family. We shopped for exactly the right amount of ingredients. We showed up for cooking day and were surprised to find one more person there expecting to exchange meals when we had not planned for her. She was a lovely person and we enjoyed cooking with her, but the division of meals ended up being off. Some people were shorted and everyone was a bit uncomfortable. 
  • Create a place for online collaboration and tweak it until it works for your group. 
    • We began planning our first session through Facebook private messaging. This was good because it allowed everyone to be in on the conversation, but the downside was that if you added anyone after the conversation started, the new participant couldn't see the conversation history. Plus, all the scrolling and back and forth was hard to keep up with. 
    • For the second go-round, we created a private Facebook group. This allows us to share recipe and planning files under a single tab, have separate conversations under individual posts, create events with maps (helpful when not everyone knows where everyone else lives), share recipes and ideas, and add new people without having to recap information for them. Once they're in the group, they can see the entire group history and all files.
    • If you're Pinterest-obsessed (like me), create a group board to share recipes and ideas. Click here to visit ours!
  • Pay attention to grocery store ads and "loss leaders," then plan your recipes accordingly.
    • Loss leaders are those incredibly deep discounts stores offer from time to time to bring shoppers in the doors. If you have a large freezer, stock up on expensive items like meat when they're on sale cheap. For instance, Schnucks had leg quarters in 10 lb bags for 49 cents/pound several weeks ago. I bought 20 lbs and separated them into gallon freezer bags for later use. Later they had whole chickens cut up for 99 cents/lb. I bought three packages and did the same thing - flash froze the pieces and individually bagged each chicken. I kept the wings and backs out separately and put them all together in their own bag to make chicken stock later. So, when planning this latest freezer cooking day, I had the 20 lbs of bone-in chicken I needed already on hand. Just thawed in the fridge before cooking day and I was ready!
    • Tip: Do not freeze, thaw and refreeze raw ingredients. It diminishes the quality and taste. Only freeze your meat before cooking day if you're going to thaw and COOK it like I did. Once it's cooked, you can refreeze it without hurting the quality or taste.
  • Create multiple work areas to keep from tripping over one another.
    • Last time we had one very large table in the kitchen for all of our ingredients, prep, assembly and packaging. There was no counter space, and while the table was enormous, it just wasn't sufficient or effective for our needs. We were constantly on top of one another.
    • This time we had four distinct work areas: 1) stove and surrounding counter space - for cooking and cooling; 2) sink and surrounding counter space - for keeping up with dishes throughout the day; 3) prep table & snack table in the kitchen - normally a breakfast nook, the existing kitchen table was pushed to the corner and became the snack/drink zone, the big bay window became the equipment storage area, and a small folding table became a prep station for cutting meat and chopping veggies; 4) long folding table in dining room - for staging/measuring ingredients, labeling bags/packaging, assembling meals and planning.
  • Start planning your next freezer cooking day during downtime in your current cooking day - like when you stop for a lunch break. You may or may not work out all the details at that time, but it helps to get a jump start to keep you on track.
Kitchen prep area - small folding table and
big bay window (and wine, of course!)
Stove prep area - remember to take into consideration
how many large burners you will need!
Dining room staging/assembly/planning area






















This was an incredibly long day, and more valuable lessons were learned (which I'll recap for you next time), but in the end we each walked away with 8 meals or meal components to make our weeknights or breakfast times easier. (Breakfast on the go turns out to be a big need for this particular group.) And many of them were HEALTHY. Added bonus. Here's what we ended up splitting between 4 cooks:
I'll try to share more recipes once I get approval from the group (some of these are personal recipes) and once I have the actual recipes in hand. That's another TIP: create a binder and use it to store all your freezer meal successes! That way, you'll have a handy resource for recipes you know work well and that everyone in your group likes.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cooking with homemade pumpkin puree

Oh my gosh! Time flies when you're having fun! I meant to publish this post within a day or two of writing about our homemade doggie treat adventure, but time just got away from me. And now that I've been sufficiently chastised by more than one person for not being quick enough about it, I'm committed to publishing this before I head to bed tonight! (Thanks for the prod, Angie & Steve-O.) :)

Because I've been making a serious effort to bring fewer processed foods into our home this year, I was determined to finally try making my own pumpkin puree this fall, rather than buying the super-convenient canned pumpkin like I've always done. (And I needed material for my blog. Hahaha)

I googled a few different options for making pumpkin puree and ended up with this approach:



  1. Buy two small sugar - or pie - pumpkins. 
  2. Using a large, sturdy knife, cut the stem straight off. 
  3. Then halve the pumpkins from the top down and scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff. Rinse off the seeds and save them for roasting separately. 
  4. Place pumpkins cut side down on a large, edged baking sheet and roast for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. 
  5. Let cool slightly and then carefully remove the skins, using tongs or a fork if needed. The skins will peel right off. 
  6. Transfer the cooked pumpkin to a food processor or blender and process until smooth.

My two pumpkins produced about 7-8 cups of puree.

Please do this. I implore you. It's so, so simple, and you're not eating all those preservatives from the canned stuff. Plus, the best part is that your whole house will smell like Thanksgiving. It's not a spice smell, not a turkey smell, not even really a PUMPKIN smell...I can't even describe it. It's just the smell of Thanksgiving and warmth and good things on the table. Do it. Make your own pumpkin puree. And then make these dogs treats.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ruff life

My dogs are like my kids. I won't deny it. These two rotten bastards stole our hearts the moment we first laid eyes on them. I mean, come on. How could you not love these faces?


Our sweet Cody was a hard case. Purebred perfection nearly starved to death and neglected in a small crate for the first 18 months of his life, he was a scared, skinny shadow of the dog he has become. We used to joke that he had a bellhop to cart around all his baggage. We adopted him on sight after the Big Guy's manager - who owned Cody's half-sister from the same breeder - had fostered him for a bit. Vinnie was a wandering stray who had clearly never been inside a home. He was happy enough and healthy but had zero manners and no concept of human authority. He nuzzled and cuddled with me for five minutes in his foster's home (a friend of mine) and stole my heart like the thieving bugger he is. We filled out the paperwork to adopt him from Animal Control days later. 

These guys are my heart. And yes, they're a bit spoiled. They love their "cookies", but I refuse to feed them crap food or treats. And while I can always buy treats from the local doggy biscuit bakery, I figured since I'm on this whole baking/blogging kick, why not just make them myself? Thanks to Pinterest, I found the perfect recipe to tackle two projects at once:
  1. Baking with fresh pumpkin
  2. Making homemade dog treats
The post on how to make your own pumpkin puree that DOESN'T come from a can - and what to do with it - is soon to come. Here's a teaser...


But right now our focus is on my furbabies. Here they are again while the Big Guy and I were working on their treats. They knew it was all for them.


I seriously cannot say no to those faces when it comes to yummy treats. The original author of this recipe said she started making the treats because her dog - Cleo, another lab - turned up her nose at straight pumpkin puree. I have a theory about that: it's because she was using the canned garbage! Or maybe my dogs just want anything they deem "human food," because we put a handful of fresh pumpkin puree (the homemade labor-of-love kind) in front of them, and this was the result:


I almost pulled back a nub. Here's the recipe, courtesy of epicurious.com. I won't link you back to the original blog because, since I originally pinned it, it's now producing some suspicious voodoo, according to Pinterest and my browser. Homey don't play that. Homey goes and gets the recipe from someplace else and repins it from there. So here, use my blog to pin the recipe for yourself. 

Cleo's Pumpkin Dog Biscuits

2 eggs
1/2 cup fresh (or canned, if you want to be that dog-mom) pumpkin puree
2 Tbsp dry milk powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
2-1/2 cups brown rice flour* (you can get it in the gluten-free aisle)
1 tsp dried parsley (optional - I did not use)

Preheat oven to 350.

In large bowl, whisk together eggs and pumpkin, then stir in dry milk, sea salt, and dried parsley (if using, optional). Add brown rice flour gradually, combining with spatula or hands to form a stiff, dry dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface (can use the brown rice flour) and if dough is still rough, briefly knead and press to combine. (Note: I did need to knead mine a bit, but it all came together nicely with a spatula to begin with. It just needed some TLC from my hands to completely meld.)

Roll dough between 1/4 – 1/2″ – depending on your dog’s chew preferences – and use biscuit or other shape cutter to punch shapes, gathering and re-rolling scraps as you go. Or, if you're not feeling so fancy (which I wasn't that night), simply use a pizza cutter to cut into long strips and then go back across to cut into 1  2" squares. Place shapes on cookie sheet, no greasing or paper necessary. If desired, lightly press fork pattern on biscuits before baking. Bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully turn biscuits over, then bake additional 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely on rack before feeding to dog.



*Brown rice flour gives the biscuits crunch and promotes better dog digestion. Many dogs have touchy stomachs or allergies, and do not, like many people I know, tolerate wheat.

The original recipe writer claimed this recipe makes up to 75 small (1″) biscuits or 50 medium biscuits. We have to go with medium biscuits in this house, because these boys need a treat they can sink their teeth into. I only got 43 out of the recipe. Close enough! Your pups will love these treats. Ours sure did!


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rising to the occasion

Over the course of this food blogging journey, I've heard several friends say in response to my posts about yeast breads that they're intimidated by working with yeast. I'll let you in on a little secret: I was too the first dozen or so times I tried it. But then, through trial and error, I learned the trick to it. So now it's just a matter of having the time. Because I won't lie - baking with yeast takes time. I know, I hear you saying, "but I don't have time to fiddle around with yeast. Those recipes take HOURS...sometimes all day!" Guess what? I don't have time either. That has been my excuse many times for not trying a new yeast recipe. But I've discovered we do have time. I work long hours, have a second job, and I'm heavily involved in non-profit and social organizations, but I still have time. And so do you, if you really want to try. I'm not going to give you that old lame-ass line about how we make time for the things that are really important to us, because - let's be honest - unless baking is your career, experimenting with yeast recipes isn't REALLY important to anyone, including me. But it is fun for me. It's something I enjoy doing. And it produces beautiful, delicious, and sometimes impressive results. So I've learned how to make time for it, even with my crazy schedule. Its really not that hard. It's all about time management and advance planning. And not getting in over your head right away, thus scaring yourself off from ever trying again.

Start simple. Start with homemade pizza crust. I found a recipe on Pinterest that is simply amazing. And easy! It's now my default homemade pizza crust. Does this mean I'll never buy the little Jiffy or Chef Boyardee boxes again? No. That Chef Boyardee sauce is delish, and sometimes the $.50 box of Jiffy mix is just way more convenient. But if you plan ahead a little for your meals, you can enjoy a fresh, chewy, pizza parlor-style crust straight from your own oven. It bakes up best when you make and bake it fresh, but it works great frozen too. I currently have about four balls of this pizza dough in my freezer. It doesn't take any more effort to double the dough recipe when you're making it and then follow the directions at the link above for freezing it uncooked. Then, when I'm in the mood for pizza, I just grab one from the freezer, put it in the fridge to thaw overnight, and the next evening when I get home from work, dinner is done in 15 minutes.

So, what's the trick about yeast I've learned? Temperature. It is just that freaking simple. The liquid you add the yeast to must the right temperature. Too cool and the yeast doesn't "wake up" or activate; too hot and you kill the yeast. Use a thermometer if you must, but I just wing it. I've come to learn what the "just right" temp is for working with yeast. A lot of recipes will tell you it's around 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit. I dunno. It's like the perfect bathwater.

The Peter Reinhart bagels I've started making work almost the same way - make a whole bunch and store in the freezer! I made a batch this weekend and got tons accomplished at the same time. I made my sponge (or starter) Saturday morning (which took all of 5 minutes) and set it aside to work its magic for the next two hours. In the meantime, I baked a cake, took a shower, ran some errands and had lunch with the Big Guy. When we got home the yeast sponge was all bubbly and huge, so it was time to get to work on the second stage - making the dough. It took about 15 minutes to mix and knead the dough, which can be done a bit faster if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook. I usually go the mixer route, but this weekend I was feeling the "need" to knead. It felt good to work out some frustrations on a piece of dough and to actually feel this living food change texture and shape under my hands. Then it was time to rest the dough for 20 minutes (Facebook break!) and after that the Big Guy helped me shape the bagels. Don't tell him I said this, but his came out prettier than mine. Another 20 minutes rest and they were ready to be covered and put in the fridge until Sunday. When I finally remembered them this evening it was after 8 p.m. and I was fading fast (short night last night). But before my clothes were out of the dryer, the bagels were done. All it took was a little two-minute bath in some boiling water and 10 minutes in the oven. Voila! Three weeks' worth of weekday breakfast complete! I bag each bagel individually in sandwich bags and then shove as many sandwich bags as I can into a gallon freezer bag. I take a gallon bag to work with me, and when I get to work in the morning, I pull one out of the freezer, let it sit on my desk for about a half hour, and then it's ready to pop in the toaster. Easy peasy.

Since I've mastered Peter Reinhart's bagel recipe, the next goal I've set for myself is to tackle the ever-intimidating, always time-consuming Martha. I've always been of the opinion that Martha Stewart is a hack. Of course she can do all these dumb crafts and make fancy, professional-looking pastry - the woman has staff who do it for her! And if she's actually doing it herself, bully for her. She has staff to attend to everything else while she bakes! I don't have staff. I have a demanding full-time job, a second... never mind. We covered all that in the first paragraph. Simply put, she's a big old fraud. Ain't nobody got time for all that.


Enter my mother-in-law. She knows how much I love to bake and cook, so for Christmas a few years back, she thoughtfully gave me a huge recipe book: Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. I eagerly poured over the pages looking for my first recipe to make. And then Sweet Brown's words starting rolling through my head again: AIN'T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT! And it's spent the years since sitting on my recipe book shelf in my kitchen, taunting me. But now I think it's time to dust it off and tackle old Martha. I may not be a stay-at-home wife, but I know I can make time for this. I will not let this book continue to tease and berate me from the shelf. I can find the time to make croissants, dammit.

I'm sitting here on Sunday night reflecting over my weekend. This weekend I managed to do the following:
  1. Go to the gym
  2. Deep-clean my bathroom
  3. Bake a cake with this AMAZING strawberry cream cheese/buttercream/whipped cream frosting
  4. Make a batch of 16 bagels
  5. Do my grocery shopping and other errand-running
  6. Have lunch at a new restaurant with the Big Guy
  7. Go to a girls' night in party and have some fun
  8. Go to church
  9. Make pancakes for breakfast
  10. Visit with the in-laws, who dropped by to deliver some farm-fresh eggs
  11. Go to a Scentsy party
  12. Make pumpkin chocolate chip blondies (SO good)
  13. Fix meatloaf with mashed potatoes and corn for dinner tonight
  14. Fix a big pot of chili to eat throughout this week since it's Fall Festival week and I won't be home at all
  15. Wash and dry two loads of laundry and fold the leaning tower of previously done laundry
  16. Write this blog post
And I STILL got to take two naps, and I'll be hitting the sheets at a respectable 10:15 p.m. tonight. Not too shabby. See, it's all about having a plan and sticking to it. Here are a few planning tips that have made my crazy life a little bit more manageable:
  • Before going to the grocery store on Friday night or Saturday morning, sit down and plan exactly what you're going to cook for the next seven days. Assign a meal - or a dining out break - to each day. Then build your shopping list accordingly. Not only will you spend less money at the grocery store if you stick to a list, but you'll have less food waste at the end of the week if you stick to your meal plan.
  • On Friday evening, outline the "must-accomplish" tasks for your weekend. Jot them down on a scrap of paper or in your phone. Do those things first so you can have time left to play.  
  • Enlist your partner's help. This weekend's baking/cooking adventures were made possible only by the mad dishwashing skilz of the Big Guy. He kept the kitchen in tip-top shape between every recipe so I didn't lose valuable time on clean-up. And he left me alone during my naps. I love that guy. 

What are your tips for better time management? And what are your thoughts on baking with yeast? Do you do it? Why or why not? Comment below. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Now it's after 10 p.m. and I'm beat. Good night! Gym time comes early tomorrow!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Brains...BRAINS!!!

First, let me be clear. This is not a post about zombies. Christina, I know you got all excited, but just calm yourself down. No zombies here. Except this guy:


Here in my hometown of Evansville, Indiana, we are fortunate to play host to the second-largest street festival in the country. What's the first? Mardi Gras, of course. Let that sink in just a little bit. This tiny river city (not a small town, but not a large city, either) in Indiana is home to a festival that is second only to MARDI GRAS. I still cannot for the life of me understand why the Food Network and Travel Channel are not beating down our door. Heaven knows I've email them enough times. But I digress...

In its 92nd year, the Fall Festival draws more than 200,000 people each year and features parades, carnival rides and midway, talent shows, live music, and - of course - FOOD. More than 126 individual food booths, in fact. Each booth is run by local not-for-profit groups, such as churches, schools, private clubs, scouts, and fraternities. And many make it their mission to try to have the most outlandish, grease-laden or bizarre food item for sale on the street.

My fascination with the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival began in middle school, when my dad's Shrine unit opened a booth at the festival, selling hamburgers, cheeseburgers, Polish sausage, curly fries, pizza, and soft drinks (or "sody pop", as my dad was so fond of putting on the menu board). I would tag along with my parents when they worked their volunteer shifts in the booth, and I usually got put out front selling soft drinks - a thankless job. Some chilly October evening go outside for a few hours and fish cold cans of soda out of barrels of ice or ice water a few hundred times. It sucks. But the people-watching from the sidewalk makes up for it in spades.

Now a member of a Masonic- and Shrine-affiliated body myself, I have a booth of my own to work each year. And we don't have a menu of typical fair food. We, too, have an outlandish, grease-laden, and bizarre treat for sale. In fact, it's the ONLY thing we sell: Brain Sandwiches. Read it again if you have to: Brain Sandwiches. Little brains from fat little piggies all battered up and fried like a delicious, organ-filled fritter, served on a white bun with pickles and onions. And people cannot get enough of them. Although the Big Guy didn't seem to sure about it when he tried his first one a couple of years back.


Anywho, it take a lot of work to get all those little piggy brains ready for cooking, and that's just what we did this week. Every member of my unit - plus some outsiders who were nice enough to volunteer to help us out - spent hours this week sitting around tables "cleaning" brains. I won't go into the particulars, but you know how it is when you prepare an animal or cut of meat - there is some trimming, picking, "cleaning-up" to be done before you can cook it. Same with brains. For someone like me, who had to be excused from Biology class in high school before I barfed all over my group when we started dissecting a frog, this is a chore I dread every year. But it's all for a good cause, and it's only once a year, so I take the Big Guy's advice and "suck it up, Buttercup!" and get the job done. I do enjoy the fellowship that takes place during the cleaning, though. Sitting with a group of ladies for hours at a stretch with nothing to do but talk makes for some interesting stories and a lot of laughter. 


Midweek this year, though, we experienced incredible sadness in the midst of our fun and fellowship, and our time in the Brain Booth at the Fall Festival will not be the same. One of the originators of our famous brain sandwiches was taken from us. In a previous post, I briefly mentioned Miss Wilda, who was one of Miss Mary's dearest friends. After a day of cleaning brains, Miss Wilda went home for the evening and quietly passed away. I will never forget her or the impact she had on my life. Our organization owes much to the leadership and passionate dedication of this elegant lady. Always dressed to the nines, Miss Wilda was the picture of class and dignity, and I am honored to have been her friend these past few years. 

Next week we will honor Miss Wilda with walk-throughs and a memorial service conducted by the officers of our order. And the week after that, we will work our tails off in the Brain Booth and remember these two incredible women who devoted their lives to Masonic service and to their fellow man. We will laugh at remembrances, and I'm sure we'll shed a tear or two as well. It's going to be a grueling week, but I can't wait for it to get started. Check back for a recap of the Fall Festival in a couple of weeks, complete with photos of - you guess it - brain sandwiches.