I have a tomato problem. I didn’t think it would come to this, but it has. There are just too many tomatoes in my garden. Every day the children are bringing in buckets of them.
I thought that having six tomatoes plants would be manageable because I treated them so poorly. In fact they’re just lying all over the ground in a tangled mess.
But I guess one can mistreat tomato plants, and they’ll still produce.
This is a problem because I don’t “can.” I don’t know how to can, nor do I have any desire to can, but I do hate wasting good produce, so lately I’ve been making fresh salsa every day.
But that still didn’t get rid of all these tomatoes.
So I sallied forth and made my very first pot of homemade tomato soup. I did this by roasting a bunch of tomatoes, onions, and garlic first.
Then I blended them all in batches with basil from the garden.
My husband loved this soup, but the children thought it needed a little cream cheese. Me? I don’t care, I’m just trying to decide what I’m going to do with these:
In the meantime, what have I been listening to while chopping tomatoes? The Patrick Coffin Show. Have you heard his September interview with Joseph Pearce? It’s soooo entertaining! He and Pearce talk books for an hour and a half. It’s delightful, especially because they’re mentioning such great books like Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Belloc’s The Path To Rome.
Speaking of good books…if you’ve never read Joseph Pearce’s autobiography Race With the Devil, you should. I have a tremendous respect for that man. He went from being the leader of white supremacist group to writing Catholic biographies and editing a series of literature books for Ignatius Press.
Incidentally, my local Saturday Morning Book Club will be reading Pearce’s book Unmasking of Oscar Wildein a few months. I can’t wait for it.
Today I’ll continue the minimalist discussion with a look at my kitchen.
I’ll say it again, always be careful about comparing yourself to other families. We are all different and are called to different stations in life. No two families will look alike! I am only offering one way that works for us. Maybe an idea or two will stick out for you in the following.
So here we go. The above is my kitchen, which you can see is one big room with the dining room to the east and the living room to the north. (You can’t see the living room, as I’m standing in it to take the photo.)
I probably don’t need to say that our kitchen is used for preparing food, (I do have 7 perpetually hungry children and 1 husband who is grateful to eat anything) and the dining room is for eating in. Except that I feel that I do have to mention it. Not all families cook and eat together. We do. So this space is important.
A Note on Beauty
Beauty matters. Beauty is objective, and it affects us. I learned this in grad school, studying art and reading what St. Thomas Aquinas and others had to say about it. But really, I didn’t need to study those great thinkers to know that I am influenced by my surroundings. Walking into a clean and simple room has a calming, peaceful effect on me. Walking into a dirty and chaotic room will instantly overwhelm me.
Since I am at home all day, with 7 loud children, I find it very important to live as neatly and simply as possible. And if I can, I add a touch of beauty. Maybe it’s a candle; maybe it’s a few flowers for the table. Wild flowers are readily available where I live in the warmer months, and during the rest of the 10 months of the year, my husband can pick them up from a florist very cheaply, if they’re bought by the stem. (It’s only arrangements that are expensive.)
I’ll say it again, beauty matters, especially in our culture of throw-away, plastic ugliness. We are not utilitarian communists after all. We are Catholics. Do you suppose Jesus ever picked a bouquet of wildflowers for his mother? I’ll bet he did.
Back to the Kitchen
So in the kitchen, I’ll point out 3 things I try to do.
I try to put very little on the countertops. In the above photo, you’ll notice that only the items that get used daily get a place there. This is for both practical and aesthetic reasons, for it allows for more space to cook, and it makes the space seem cleaner and bigger.
Everything in the kitchen has a place. If it doesn’t have a place, then it doesn’t belong. And I try to put things in a logical spot. For example, since my husband and I drink a bottle or so of wine per week, these items need to be easily accessible. (See the photo below.) Of course if wine isn’t your thing, then get rid of all those wine glasses taking up space!
And lastly, #3. If I haven’t used something in a year, then I get rid of it. I’ll highlight that for you again.
If you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it!
Seriously, if you haven’t used that egg separator in over a year, get rid of it. If you’ve never used that brand new juicer, get rid of it. If you have two ice cream scoops, get rid of one. For that matter, how many large, cooking spoons do you have? Or when’s the last time you used all those cook books crammed in your cabinet? Or how about those 52 water bottles?
It’s freeing, living with less. And who knows? Maybe someone will be overjoyed at finding your mini-muffin tins and champagne flutes at the secondhand store.
Lastly, I’ll point out a few other practical things that I do in my kitchen.
Here’s a shot of the island.
Like the countertops, I keep this as clear as possible too, so that it is a space that can be used throughout the day. Children will do homework here, work on a puzzle, or just sit and watch me chop vegetables.
The other notable thing about the island is that I put all the plates, cups, and bowls in the lower righthand cabinet. I did this so that the little children need not climb the cabinets to set the table.
The other thing I’ll point out is a shelf by the dining room table. (See photo below.)
We keep our laptop here, so that we can listen to audio books during lunch. (The speakers are on the middle shelf.) My husband I also enjoy listening to jazz music in the evenings too, so it’s nice to have it readily available.
Next to the laptop are our prayer books for meal times. This includes the Magnificat for the Mass readings and Butler’s Lives of the Saints. I also keep the children’s current poetry there too, since we review them at breakfast.
And next to the speakers, you’ll notice a white basket. This is where we keep our cloth napkins during the day. After supper, Child #5 empties it into the laundry.
That’s all for today. If you have any questions, be sure to ask in the Comments Section below. Others may have the same question! Or if you have any great ideas to live more simply in the kitchen, post them for us to see.
*Two notes here. 1. We enjoy drinking wine out of proper wine glasses. Hence all the different stemware. 2. Did you notice all the glass bowls? It also may seem ridiculous that I own that many. And I agree with you. I think I’ll give away one or two. But I’ll also have you know that I’ve made progress in this department. I used to own about 25 beautiful glass bowls. Not kidding. People were very generous to us at our wedding.
Awhile back a friend gave me a great recipe for Lentil Stew, which we loved, but had to modify a little to feed everybody. As it’s one of our favorites, I offer it to you today.
Here’s how I made it. (See the bottom of the post for the actual recipe.)
Step 1: Chop up your vegetables and sauté them for a few minutes in olive oil.
Step 2: Start dumping stuff in your crockpot while the vegetables cook.
Step 3: Add 5 cloves of garlic to the vegetables and sauté for just a minute or two longer. (Don’t burn the garlic!)
By the way, do you have a garlic press? No? You need one.
Step 4: Add the vegetables and everything else to the crockpot.
Step 5: Bring it all to a boil, and then let it simmer for about thirty minutes. Then turn your crockpot down to warm until you’re ready to eat it.
And what to serve with the stew?
Most days I make my own salad dressing, but if I’m in a hurry or feeling lazy, I go for this because it comes with dressing.
But I have to dress it up and add more so that it feeds my family. I usually add spinach, dried cranberries, and unsalted cashews. If I’m not feeling so very lazy, and if I have it on hand, I especially love to add green onion.
Now the children generally set the table, and I always fill the salad bowls at the last minute, before we pray and sit down to eat. I’ve found this to be much less chaotic, than attempting to pass around the salad bowl with everyone making a mess. It’s just better to have the salad waiting in everyone’s bowls.
And here we are, after the salads, eating our soup.
A Note About the Wine
This evening we drank a Petite Sirah, which is not my favorite, but it paired well with this soup, because of its strong, spicy flavors.
And because I wanted to know the difference, I’ll share this with you too.
A Petite Sirah is not a Shiraz or Syrah. A Petite Sirah is the American name for the French Durif grape, which is a cross between the Sirah and Peloursin grape. It is not a lighter version of Syrah. In fact, from what I’ve read, it’s higher in tannin, making for a bolder taste.
Shiraz and Syrah are also full-bodied red wines, but these are made from the Syrah grape. Shiraz is made exclusively in Australia.
Shiraz and Syrah wines pair well with barbecue and barbecue sauce, especially spareribs. Petite Sirahs need rich or fatty foods with exotic spices. (Hence, the Lentil Stew did do nicely.)
Recipe for Lentil Stew
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
5 stalks of celery, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
6 cups of broth
3 cans petite tomatoes
2 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (16 oz.) package of lentils
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
3/4 tsp salt
Sauté vegetables in olive oil for a few minutes. Add garlic for a minute or two more. Combine everything else in a crockpot and bring it to a boil. Let it simmer for about thirty minutes or until the lentils are fully cooked.
Note: This is a great recipe for meatless Fridays. I will, however, frequently add meat, if I’ve got some on hand. For example, today I added a few cups of chopped ham. I’ve also done sausage and bacon too.
*No wine, of course! (I hadn’t poured it yet.) And the silverware does not match, but that cannot be helped.
Some of you have expressed interest in how I plan for meals. Meal planning a big deal for my family. There are 9 of us after all. I can’t just wing it every day, unless we want to eat frozen pizza and corndogs for supper. So, a few years ago, I began intentionally making a weekly supper menu. And let me tell you, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. About anything. Seriously.
Today, I’m going to break it down for y’all.
But first, this is where the menu is posted:
Each day gets a clothespin, where I slip the paper into. As you may or may not be able to see, I begin my week with Friday because that’s the day I get groceries. I actually make the menu out on Thursday and put any recipes I may need in the clothespin next to the meals, as seen above.
Here’s a close up of a pin:
And here’s a look at the back side.
As you can see, I bought some little square magnets from Hobby Lobby and stuck them on the clothespin. On the back side of the paper, I’ve put an abbreviation for the recipe book where that particular meal can be found with the page number.
At first I wrote up new slips of paper every week after discarding the old ones, but then I quickly realized that that was a stupid waste of time, as I usually make most of the same things anyway. So, I started saving the slips and putting them into jars.
I have one jar for main dishes and one jar for sides, like salads or vegetables. I store these jars in the same cupboard that holds my recipe books and my recipe box.
And there you have it!
When Thursday morning rolls around, I take all the clothespins off the refrigerator and pull last weeks’ slips of paper off. I grab my two little jars. I flip through the main dishes and select 7 new entrees, which I arrange next the most suitable days. Then I add any sides.
I then pull the corresponding recipes from my box and start writing down any ingredients I need to buy on my Grocery List. I do the same for the sides. Then I put the new menu back on the refrigerator, for all to see (and sometimes to complain about). I put the recipes that I’ll need into the Recipe Clothespin and put it also on the refrigerator for easy access.
Lastly, I stuff my Grocery List in my purse, so it’s ready for grocery shopping on Friday.
The Eldest turned 12 last week, and it’s a custom in our family to choose what kind of cake one would like to celebrate. Of course all birthday cakes need to be reasonable. Like the recipe had better be in my Betty Crocker cookbook or forget about it, for I’m no gourmet chef.
Now Lemon Cakes are not in my Betty Crocker cookbook, but because I love my daughter very much and was feeling very sacrificial,* I went out of my way to look up a recipe online. I printed the first recipe that didn’t have any obscure ingredients in it. You know, like butter milk. Who has that on hand?
What I found was this, so I went at it. If you look at that recipe, however, you’ll notice that it’s ridiculous because all the measurements are in Tablespoons, which is stupid. I can’t be trusted to count out 10 Tablespoons accurately with 7 loud children running around and begging to lick a beater. But then, if you look even closer at the recipe, you’ll notice that it requires a 7-inch bundt cake pan. Who has that? Not me, so I had to double the recipe, which is actually a good thing, as it means more lemon cake to eat.
In the end though, out came my trusty and sensible Betty Crocker cookbook anyway because it has an Equivalent Measures Chart in it. Just how many cups is 20 Tablespoons of sugar? I found out that 1 cup has 16 Tablespoons, which leaves 4 Tablespoons left over for 1/4 cup. Whew, that’s a lot of math.
Well, after zesting and squeezing lemons, I threw it in the oven.
When I took it out of the oven, here’s how it looked.
And then here it is inverted on the cake platter…
And after sprinkling it with powdered sugar and placing store-boughten candies on it…
And finally with all the candles and most of the children…
*This was not very sacrificial of me at all. I love lemons so much that I always have them on hand. I mean, you never know when you might need a Lemon Martini.
Do you enjoy Chinese take-out? Then you might try making it at home.
Sweet & Sour Chicken
Last night I made Sweet & Sour Chicken for supper. It’s a favorite of ours. Well, I should say a favorite for my husband and I, as the children are not wild about it, but they eat it anyway.
For this recipe, I begin by chopping three differently colored bell peppers, a red onion, garlic, and lots of ginger. Normally I cheat with the ginger by buying that tube of “freshly” chopped stuff in the grocery store, but this time I went through the labor of peeling and chopping it.
If you’ve never cooked with ginger, your nose is in for heavenly bliss. It smells so good. It’s sort of like freshly squeezed lemon. Both have lovely, distinct fragrances.
Anyway, after chopping the vegetables, I then chop up my chicken, which I prefer to be slightly frozen because it’s easier to chop and not as slimy. Then I throw everything into a pan and sauté it all with some olive oil.
While that’s cooking, I mix up the sauce which consists of vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and corn starch. When the chicken is cooked, I pour the sauce over it all and let it simmer for a couple of minutes. Then it’s done and ready to be served with rice, which I failed to mention ought to be cooking at the same time. (Actually, the rice takes longer to cook because I use organic, brown rice that requires about 45 minutes.)
Sweet & Sour Chicken Recipe
4 Chicken Breasts, Chopped
3 Bell Peppers, Chopped
1 Onion, Chopped
3 Garlic Cloves, Minced or Pressed
2-inch Piece of Ginger, Peeled & Minced
1/4 C White Vinegar
1/4 C Soy Sauce
1/4 C Sugar
1 Tb Cornstarch
Sauté chicken, peppers, onion, garlic, and ginger in oil until chicken is done. Add Sauce mixture and cook a few more minutes until it thickens. Serve over cooked rice.
Tonight we had a lettuce salad, Italian Minestrone, and bread.
Now I know that my Minestrone may not be true Italian Minestrone because it’s lacking cabbage and Italian sausage. The fact is, I didn’t have any Italian sausage because I’m not Italian. But I did have venison sausage because I’m a North Dakotan, and my husband hunts. Every fall he shoots a deer, hangs it, guts it, cuts it up, and then has his butcher process it for us. Hence venison sausage.
So maybe, I ought to call it North Dakotan Minestrone?
Now what to drink with this soup? I understand soup is difficult to pair with wine. I looked it up and came across two suggestions. The first was a sparkling red. Well, I didn’t have any sparkling red. Next, I read that a Sangiovese will do, with the most popular Sangiovese around here being Chianti. Alas, but I was fresh out of Chianti.
What to do?
Some of you may be wondering what I did have in the wine rack? Only a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. And when all else fails and one only has a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, one drinks Cabernet Sauvignon.
Notice the bread in the picture? I bought it from our local bakery, Bread Poets. They buy wheat from the farmers around here and grind (or should I say mill?) it themselves. It’s the best. This particular loaf is stuffed with tomato sauce and pepperonis. Who wouldn’t like that?
Recipe for “Italian” Sausage Minestrone
1 lb. “Italian” Sausage
2 large carrots, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
7 cups chicken broth
2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed & drained
2 cans fire-roasted tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 cup small pasta
shredded Parmesan for serving
In a Dutch oven, cook sausage over medium heat until no longer pink; drain.
In the same pan, saute the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in oil until tender. Stir in everything else, except pasta and Parmesan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Put the pasta in the last 5 or 6 minutes. Serve with Parmesan.
Dear Readers, you asked for it; you got it. Drop me a line, and let me know how it goes. (For those of you who missed the supper post, click HERE for it.) Enjoy!
1 package (16 ounces) linguine
2 pounds ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium peppers, chopped (I like yellow & red.)
6 tablespoons soy sauce
Cook linguine according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef, onions, and peppers until meat is no longer pink. Drain. Combine with linguine and toss with soy sauce and garlic.
1 package (16 ounces) of pasta
1 teaspoon parsley
6 teaspoons of grated lemon peel (about one lemon)
4 cloves of garlic, chopped or pressed
6 tablespoons of lemon juice (about one lemon)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
grated parmesan cheese
Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a skillet, sauté parsley, lemon peel, and garlic in oil until garlic is tender. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Drain pasta and combine with lemon mixture. Top with parmesan cheese.