Superhero squash

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What do you do when you buy a squash half as big as Batman?

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You make soup. And more soup. And baked squash. And more baked squash. And enjoy.

I bought this beautiful Butternut for a whopping $3 when I took the littlest ones on a field trip to the apple-less orchard. (This year’s apple crop in eastern Michigan was nil thanks to that nasty late freeze in the spring.) But the pumpkins and the squash were bountiful, so I loaded up before packing up the car with kids who were all sugared up on a fair share of those yummy fresh cinnamon-y donuts that only seem to exist at cider mills and orchards.

Giant Squash

I should have put a human by that box to you can see how long that one squash is. That would be two-arm carry for sure.

The thing about a giant squash is, it’s giant. You have to put it somewhere before you’re ready to have at it, and when you are ready, you better make time. It takes a long time to slay the thick-skinned beast. You need a plan of attack and a really sharp, and strong knife. And a Butternut is not like a Hubbard squash. I have no qualms throwing an ugly monster Hubbard on the ground for quick breaking and not-so-quick roasting.

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I peeled, sliced and diced for about 25 minutes. I don’t have top-chef knife handling skills, and I’d like to keep my fingers. So, speedy, I am not; but careful, I am.

That one big squash yielded enough meat to make a double dose of my favorite squash soup recipe from Greenfield Village’s Eagle Tavern, and a full 9×12 of baked squash with butter, brown sugar, lemon zest and nutmeg.

My only deviation from the Eagle Tavern recipe is that I used chicken stock instead of veggie, because that’s what I had on hand.

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The most careful piece of advice I can give with that recipe – and all other squash soup and sauce recipes – is do not overcook the squash. The color seems to change from a soft orange to a more mustard brown. It also seems to diminish some of the “squashiness.” In other words – don’t boil that beautiful squash.

The soup was delightful, as always, and I shared it with anyone who would take it. As much as Richard and I love it, the kids, not so much. But, they did devour the baked squash, which carried us through a left-overs night, too.

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I used about a 1/4 cup of butter, slicing it and just placing it evenly on the squash. Sprinkled with 2 T of brown sugar, a sprinkle of sea salt and then a light dust of freshly ground nutmeg. I covered with aluminum foil and baked at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes (until the squash could be easily pierced with a fork). Then I baked another 10-15 minutes uncovered, for a little more browning and bubbling. It came out perfectly.

I much prefer the convenience of smaller, dainty squash – not that a vegetable named squash can actually be considered dainty. But for the price and the energy, this squash was super.

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The magic 8-ball

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Late this summer, I became obsessed with these magical little zucchini called “eight ball” squash. The price was right during our Saturday Eastern Market trips so I picked them up frequently. I sliced and grilled them or I halved and sliced to sauté with a little butter and olive oil.

Then I decided it would be fun to stuff them.

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I carefully scooped the insides, trying to leave a uniform but thin wall. The outer peel on these squash seems a little tougher than traditional zucchini. I used a melon ball spoon to get close but keep control.

I set aside some of the inside for the stuffing, but it was much more than I needed.  I mixed the left over little zucchini balls with other fresh veggies for a side during another meal.

I stuffed them with a ground turkey mix. In olive oil, I sautéed two garlic cloves, a half of sweet onion, red pepper in a pan, and then combined it with some of the zucchini insides and 1.25 lbs. of ground turkey. I added some (not enough) chopped fresh basil, 1/2 cup of Parmesan, sea salt and fresh pepper. (I use the 85/15 fat turkey. I’m not a fan of the lowest fat ground turkey.) I covered and baked at 350 for about 45 minutes, and then uncovered until the turkey reached 165 and the skins looked slightly browned.

In the future, I’d brown the turkey a bit beforehand and rub the outsides of the zucchini with oil so it looked less dry. They were very tasty and really looked great. Plus they were well-received by the kids. I look forward to some new stuffing adventures next summer – maybe Quinoa with Gruyère cheese and wild mushrooms and roasted peppers. Something a little more exciting.

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Scenes from a Sunday

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Sunday was a glorious day – in spite of a moment of complete failure.

Richard made breakfast. French toast, fresh fruit, sausage. And as always, he makes the best coffee. Perfection from a coffee press with bit of Godiva chocolate powder.

We headed downtown to mass at Sweetest Heart of Mary. Since I have tried hard to reduce some of my singing obligations, one of the by-products is that we can occasionally visit some other churches (although we miss our own when we don’t attend).

We decided to make it our mission to be sure the kids have an opportunity to attend mass at some of the old gorgeous still-operating Catholic churches in Detroit. We want them to learn a little of the neighborhood histories and about the folks who worshipped at them – especially in light the upcoming mergers, clustering and looming closures.

The pictures above are from Old St. Mary’s in Greektown.

But wait, you inquire (somewhat perplexed), weren’t you going to Sweetest Heart of Mary?

Let me just say that nothing says “you-Spring-ahead failure” louder than swinging wide open the huge center doors of a big old (full) church for 10:30 mass on a Sunday morning only to catch the eye of the celebrant as he recesses with his crew full-speed-ahead – to full organ music – right in your direction. Mass was over.

That’s when Richard looked at his phone and queried, “Why does my iPhone say 11:27?”

Don’t worry. It only took about .005 second for Richard and I to inhale the stench of our collective stupidity. A wide-eyed glance at each other, an about-face and a brisk walk of shame back to our vehicle made it almost seem like it never happened. The only breadcrumbs we left  behind were in the vapor trail of Lillian’s endless questioning (which I can only assume eventually dissipated).

By 11:32, we were headed across the freeway and closer to the river for noon maas at Old St. Mary’s in Greektown.

Mass was lovely. The homily fantastic. The priest used my favorite St. Augustine quote and said we were born with a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by Jesus. Two things I say in my St. Mom’s U program. So … it felt like Kismet. If you can call it that. (Probably not.)

The music — an a capella schola standing off to the right in the front few pews — was very nice. Some lovely voices, a nice blend and the acoustics were accommodating. Grant it, we were only four pews from the front so the sound was clear and full where we were. Kind of an interesting mixed bag of mass parts. But it was nice. So, as much as I was hoping to hear that beast of an organ, no such luck.

There are some interesting grotto spaces at the entrance to the church. I’m not going to lie: the kids thought they were creepy. Okay. And while, I’m being truthful: so did I. There are kind of scary statue heads of Christ and a few other less-than-settling images. I’m not sure if something can be equal in kitsch, charm and being the stuff of nightmares – but that’s where I’d put a few of the scenes in the grottos.

And, since going to one church and being completely embarrassed at another apparently isn’t enough for us, we also stopped at beautiful St. Joseph’s.

The organist was the only one left following noon mass, and he graciously let us in for a few prayers and photos. At our next opportunity, we’re going to go to mass there. It seems completely untouched by time. Richard and I are hoping to attend some of the Solemnity of St. Joseph Day activities on Monday if we can.

So, failings aside (which are always abundant anyway) all in all, our scenes from Sunday were sweet.

Embrace your inner girl

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My daughters and I were invited to a bridal shower – the first of my college friends with a child getting married. A lovely young woman with an excellent head on her shoulders … and one seriously beautiful head of hair. (She’s a hair-stylist. And obviously a good one. A quarter of the women there had their hair done by her, and there wasn’t a questionable “do” in the bunch.)

MC couldn’t come, but Helen was able to meet me there from school. It was an hour trip for each of us in opposite directions. I was looking forward to spending a few hours with her while celebrating the upcoming nuptials of this dear bride-to-be.

I was so eager to see my friend – it’s been too long since we’ve been in each other’s presence. (It’s funny – and sad – how an hour away might as well be the moon when life is so jammed-packed.)

I was looking forward to greeting her family and meeting the two little ones who have joined them through foster care. I was glad to share with her husband the story of our friends with five adopted children (soon hopefully six!) all through the foster care system.

When we arrived, it didn’t take long to notice that everything was just so completely perfect. Sparkly. Pink. Coordinated. Thoughtful. The best kind of party.

Every young woman, middle-aged woman and even older-aged woman had perfect hair. (I can admit, I was thankful that I put in a little extra effort on my generally unruly mop.)

The girls were all so fashionable and lovely. (And I’m sorry for saying girls. They are young woman. I know. But most were maybe a year of two older than Helen. I’m not ready to give up saying “girl” just yet. Being PC comes later in motherhood for me, I guess.)

Helen too was also acutely aware of the cute. She (admittedly, like me) is always a little apprehensive to embrace the sparkle – a trait not inherited by either of her younger sisters – they both thoroughly enjoy all that shines and twinkles.

She informed me that she texted her boyfriend and told him about all the pink and all the pretty.

His reply: Have fun and embrace your inner girl.

Smart kid. Good advice. And I can say she did. (And so did I!)

The food was casual and just right. The menu consisted of the Detroit original J.L. Hudson Maurice Salad, rolls, little stuffed pastry appetizers, tasty warm meatballs (turkey), chocolate-dipped this and that, drinks with frozen raspberries and mint leaves, glass jars filled with pink and white candies  and a fabulous array of cupcakes. All was all a very girlish and quite a bridal delight.

We had a lovely time. And I’m sure I looked like a nut job taking photos of the food with my iPhone. But I’m used to that.

And wait, did I say cupcakes? Yum!

Yo! That was easy!

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I bought this thing a little while ago …

Yogurt maker

… and wanted to share.

I posted about making yogurt a couple years ago, and I’ve been using my little yogurt maker since then, enjoying it. But then in December, I saw a  TV clip for this EasiYo contraption. Of course, since it was around Christmas, I couldn’t get my hands on the thing. I finally go a hold of one in mid-January from (oddly) Sears online. Amazon is still on backorder.

From what I saw on the clip, it addressed all the things that kind of irked me about my traditional maker. So, I’m chiming in my two cents.

I love it. When it arrived, it came with two packages of EasiYo brand yogurt powder. We tried those, and sure making it with the powdered “yogurt sachet” is easy. But they are expensive — which defeats the purpose. And my kids didn’t jump up and down about the yogurt. And wait, did I say this already? They are expensive. I like to use organic milk for yogurt, too. Not freeze-dried milk or whatever it is. And I want to be in control of sugar content, etc.

I need to first clarify (which I mentioned in my first post on the subject) for all the make-your-own-yogurt newbies out there — that any yogurt maker isn’t actually a yogurt maker. It’s more like a yogurt incubator — a device that keeps the milk and cultures warm enough for the cultures to work their magic and grow.

The traditional maker I have (by EuroCuisine) has seven small jars with lids and a warmer. I still have to heat the milk, cool it to a certain temp, add the starter (I use a tablespoon or so of already prepared yogurt), then keep it warm for a designated period of time.

Too long=too tangy. Too short=sometimes not set enough.

For me the magic amount of time seems to be 5 hours. Which is tough. It’s not long enough to make it overnight. The EuroCuisine has a timer, but it still seems to stay a little too warm in there. Every overnight batch I attempted failed. And trying to make it in the morning is a pain. We’re hustling to get out the door, and I’m standing by the sink trying to cool the scalded milk to get the darn stuff in the jars so I’ll be home in the afternoon (hopefully) when the five hours is up.

My life isn’t that schedule friendly.

My biggest complaints are that the jars just don’t want to come clean in the dishwasher, so I have to clean them with a bottle brush, and if I want to make another batch, I have to scoop the yogurt out of a bunch of little jars.

Plus, I’ve melted two lids on the dishwasher heating element during the drying process. So I don’t even have the satisfaction of seven uniform cute little jars of yogurt. (I know: What difference does THAT make? A lot. Sue me.)

I had high hopes for the EasiYo. I wanted a little more convenience. I got excited about the idea of one jar — so I could just scoop out what the kids wanted, and there was only one jar to clean.

The process is simple. I prepare the yogurt in the same way as before: scald the milk, cool it, mix in a starter, sometimes a teaspoon of vanilla and two tablespoons of sugar. (Most often, I make it plain and the kids add honey or a half of a teaspoon of grape or strawberry jelly.)

Yogurt eater

Once it’s all mixed in the jar, I just pour boiling water up to the designated spot, plop the jar into the maker  — which is really just kind of a giant thermos-type thing. It’s very convenient. It’s nice to thoroughly mix the starter with the milk  in the convenient lidded jar; it seems I get a smoother overall consistency. The best part is — I can let it sit in there for up to 12 hours. (Actually, I’ve read some folks have success even longer). Eight hours is plenty. So it’s perfect to make before bed. One jar. Easy to clean. The only con is that it is a rather big container, so you need space for it (it’s about the height and width of a half-gallon jug).

I found this decent video on YouTube of a lady making homemade yogurt. All the steps are the same — but you don’t have to make your own warmer with a heating pad or whatever she uses. But if you’ve never made yogurt and aren’t interested in the expense of buying some kind of a warmer — her method is good if you want to give it a try. Once you start making it, there’s really no comparison.

I have to include one of the commercials for the EasiYo, too. And really, making yogurt with your own milk isn’t just for hobbyists. It’s really not that hard. Sheesh. You can heat the milk in the microwave. (If you know how to press start, you’re good to go.)

Mom mix a lot

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I made martinis using these.

Multi taskers

Don’t worry, I rinsed out the thermos before I give it back to the kids.

I think.

And since the cupboards are bare with regard to the breast milk, those little storage bottle things are handy.

And no, that’s not booze in the background. It’s olive oil. Sheesh.

Yogurt

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I bought a yogurt maker a few weeks ago. The thing about a yogurt maker is … it doesn’t make yogurt. You do. You just put the milk in the maker to keep it warm until it turns into yogurt. But, I also discovered, you don’t need a yogurt maker to make it. You can do it very simply in a wide-mouthed Thermos.

It’s really very easy and hands down, the best yogurt I’ve ever consumed. Even people who aren’t really yogurt fans like it. So here goes … This recipe is for two cups (that way you can fit it in a small wide mouth Thermos).

Here’s what you need.

  • 2 cups of milk (whole, skim, you choose)
  • 1 Tablespoon of store-bought active culture yogurt (that’s plain old, plain yogurt. It can be Greek yogurt, organic yogurt, lowfat Dannon plain, you name it. Not sweetened and not thick and creamy)
  • A candy thermometer
  • Saucepan (with higher sides, if you have one)
  • A wide mouthed Thermos

Heat two cups of milk in a tall saucepan. Bring it to a boil (so it climbs the sides of the pan) for two minutes. (Watch it! Because it will happily bubble over and make a mess.) Stir it occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. If it does, just scoop it out and discard. This is only a few- minute process with only two cups of milk. You can use whole milk to skim milk. You choose.

After the milk has boiled, let it cool to 110-100 degrees (use a candy thermometer. $3 at Kroger). You can just let it cool on the stove top. I put the pan in a bath of cold water and stir. If I let it cool on the stove, I’d get distracted and then it would cool too much, then I’d have to heat it again … blah, blah.

While the milk is cooling, I fill my Thermos with warm water (to prime it). I just use water from the tap. Not boiling hot water but from-the-tap-really warm water.

When it reaches 110, you need to stir in one tablespoon of live active yogurt. That means plain yogurt. It can be Greek yogurt or any variety of plain yogurt with active yogurt culture. Use a milder yogurt, you’ll get a milder yogurt, etc. I’ve discovered it’s better to stir the yogurt with a few tablespoons of the cooled milk, so I can be sure it’s all dissolved, then I stir it into the rest of the milk.

I then empty the water from the Thermos. Wipe it dry and pour in the warm milk and tightly close the cap. That’s all the work. Now you just let that yogurt do it’s thing. In about 4- 5 hours, check it to see if it’s getting a custardy consistency. If it’s not thick enough, let it sit longer. Check it every hour or so. After you’ve done this once, you’ll know how long to leave it when you make future batches.

That’s it. Here’s key stuff to know.

  • All your utensils need to be really clean.
  • Don’t add your yogurt starter to milk higher than 115 degrees. It’ll kill it. Under 90 degrees will make it inactive, so it won’t repopulate and firm up.
  • Skim milk takes longer to get to the right consistency than whole or two-percent milk.
  • Refrigerate for four or so hours before you eat it.
  • It’s good for about 5-6 days
  • And … you can use one tablespoon of your homemade yogurt as a starter for your next batch.

Give it a try. If it’s too tangy, you used too much started yogurt or let it sit too long prior to refrigeration. The nice thing about the yogurt maker is I can make 4 cups at once in separate little jars. I make organic whole-milk yogurt for the baby and include a little heavy cream when boiling the milk. The cream then settles on the top, it’s beautiful and so rich and creamy. (Babies need all that fat for brain development. I just want the fat … because it’s yummy.) Lowfat works beautifully, too.

I buy frozen berries from Trader Joe’s, put about a tablespoon in a bowl, heat for about 30 second on high in the microwave, then one teaspoon of brown sugar, a small handful of walnuts and 1/2 cup of yummy homemade yogurt. Heavenly. You can add honey or jelly or whatever. The nice thing is, you’re in control. The texture is beautiful and makes me wonder what the heck is in store-bought yogurt that makes it so springy. Yuck.

Basil the Great

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I know, you’re expecting something about St. Basil, but no. I’m talking about this.

Basil the Great

Basil the Great

 A family can only eat so much pesto and pasta sauce. Any suggestions? Because this monster has nothing on the other two in our veggie garden bed. I’m happy to share. Want some?