Author Archives: valerieck1

About valerieck1

I'm a lifestyle blogger, concentrating on cooking and entertaining, architecture and design, thrifting and table setting with my finds!

Norma’s Pork Tacos

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Upstate New York
Thursday, 11 February 2021

Original publication date: March 14th, 2016

My former mother-in-law, Norma, passed away recently. She was a great Mexican cook, and the one who taught me how to make these tacos.

They’re inexpensive to make, and pretty easy, but do require babysitting the second day they’re cooking, so pick out a time to make them when you’ll be around the house one evening, and into the next afternoon.

Her original recipe calls for a beef roast, but I discovered the kiddos like pork just as much, and it’s significantly cheaper. Chicken will work, as well.

Pick out a three to five pound pork roast, doesn’t matter if it has bones or not. Put it in the Crock-Pot on low, one night before going to bed, and fill it up halfway with water. Pour one packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix in the water.

The next morning, pull the roast out of the Crock-Pot, using tongs or a big meat fork, and put it on a large plate or baking sheet with a rim. The meat should be easily falling off the bones at this point, so discard them and any big chunks of fat you see. Reserve the meat juice in the Crock-Pot.

Using two long-tined forks, shred the pork into strings and put it all in a large, heavy pan (cast iron Dutch oven if you have one), mixed with a jar of salsa. If you don’t have salsa, some chopped onion and a can of tomatoes will work just fine.

Pour the reserved meat juice over the mixture and let simmer on the back burner for hours and hours, stirring occasionally, until the salsa and juice incorporate into the meat. Your house will smell sooo good!

Quickly warm some small corn tortillas in oil in a frying pan, draining them on paper towels. Serve the shredded pork on them with your choice of salsa, guacamole, sour cream, shredded cheese, and shredded lettuce. And don’t forget the limes!

[RELATED MY COPPER KITCHEN POSTS]
Double Decker Taco Bar
pix-of-double-decker-taco-bar

Simple Black Bean Nachos
https://wp.me/p8pd67-gn

Raj’s Black Bean Nachos
https://wp.me/p8pd67-177

Easy Guacamole
https://wp.me/p8pd67-gn

Let’s Talk About Drinks, Baby…
https://wp.me/p8pd67-gn

The Smell of Books and Coffee

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, NY
Wednesday, 23 December 2020

[REPOST OF AN AUTHOR FAVORITE]
Originally published from West Valley City, Utah, on Thursday, 29 September 2016.

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I’m nestled into my favorite corner of the cafe at Barnes & Noble, sipping a pumpkin spice steamer.

It’s not just any Barnes & Noble, it’s MY Barnes & Noble, the one I’ve worked at for over 12 years.

And it’s not just any corner of the cafe, it’s MY corner. The corner with the little round table with the burnt-orange top, with my back to the wall, a tucked-away spot where most people won’t even see me, where I can sit and write and think, all without interruption.

In one short week, it will all come to an end, and I will have my last day working for BN. Today I had a teary-eyed moment. Three of my regular customers came in and I realized I wasn’t going to see them any more: Vincent, Jason, and Antonio. I had to walk away and look out the window to regain my composure.

And then, then a woman showed me her leg. I work near the downtown shelter and she was thin, dentured, and homeless. She had a hole in her leg. She had gangrene and her ankle was very swollen and grey, discolored.

I was feeling very emotional after all this, so I sat down after work in my little corner to do what I like to do, something which brings me peace and recenters me. Writing.

I’ve seen it all here.

I watched a man with a black American Express card drop $1,000 on books like it was no big deal. I’ve seen professional women with sparkling fingernails and the longest of eyelashes, wearing beautiful suits and shining shoes, carrying luscious leather totes which cost more than I make in a week.

I’ve seen distinguished-looking men with blinding white shirts, fresh from the dry cleaner, wearing expensive gold rings from prestigious universities and sports teams, whisking around to important meetings.

And I’ve seen the other end of the spectrum, too: the heroin addicts, the people who steal travel blankets and booklights to use as flashlights, because they sleep on the streets. I’ve seen people with meth-pocked faces and women with dirty fingernails and cancerously dark shoulders bared from tank tops, the kind of brown you get from the heat of too many homeless hours under the harsh sun.

I’ve seen people with brown and decayed teeth, and people with the whitest of veneers. I never knew there were so many kinds of people in one small city.

And speaking of the city, I used to shy away from it. I used to not apply for jobs if they were downtown, because I’m a country girl, and I was afraid.

But now I’ve conquered this fear, and take pride in knowing I take a train to work, march confidently around city streets at all hours, and am afraid of no one and nothing.

But back to my beautiful store. There are so many things I’m going to miss.

The children and teen departments. Truly, those books were loved and cared for, in the five years I was department lead. It broke my heart when my manager transferred me to a different area.

The store’s shadows. The way the sun hits the chairs by the magazine area in the morning, the slats of those old wooden library chairs in shadow on the seats.

The way the sun slants into my cashwrap window in the afternoon, casting the shadow of window frames in brilliant squares, or the pattern of the balcony’s wrought-iron table on the padded green carpet behind my cashwrap.

The magazine stand. I will miss browsing dozens of gorgeously glossy cooking, house and home, current events, and travel magazines each month, without having to spend a penny. But trust me, I do. Some of them are so pretty I have to take them home. So. Many. Mags.

The gift department. I will miss seeing new and lustworthy stationery come in, cards made of colorful cotton that soaks up the ink of my black felt tip pen. 

I’ve had a thing for stationery ever since I was a teenager, buying it by the boxful at the Greenport Hallmark.

The journal wall. I will miss it. What writer doesn’t love the promise of blank books? Leatherbound, smelling like a tack shop. My favorite elastic-closure journals which lay flat. Peter Pauper journals with secret pockets in the back. Bombay journals with leather straps to tie them shut.

Tote bags. I will miss the temptingness of totebags. Whenever I purchase a new one, I’m convinced. Convinced, THIS is the tote bag which will finally organize my chaos into some semblance of order.

I will miss the excitement of seeing summer tote bags come in every spring, with comfy rope handles and nautical stripes, and then, end of summer, the fall totes, charcoal grey and squash-orange felt totes.

The books, oh the books! I will miss leatherbound Barnes & Noble editions with titles stamped in gold and silver, heavy to lift, gold leafed edges.

Trade cloths with dust jackets and embossed and foiled lettering. Trade papers with thick stock covers, cool covers designed by Penguin.

And yes, even mass markets. I will miss mass market paperbacks by Signet, with thoughtfully designed covers.

Bargain books. I will miss the unexpected thrill of seeing a book I coveted at full price be reissued at bargain price. Like Barbra Streisand’s My Passion for Design, total and complete satisfaction, in knowing I got a book which was originally $60 for the low, low, Litko discount of $7.

The cafe. I will miss the anticipation of each August, knowing Pumpkin Spice is coming, and with it the unmistakable following of fall. And then, eggnog arrives!

I will miss going to the ice chest in the counter of the cafe each morning, pulling back that stainless steel cover, and filling a cup with ice water, so I can make it through a day of required questions and chatty conversations with customers.

I will miss the burnt-orange of these cafe tables, scraped up against the scuffed mahogany brown walls, and the familiar clunk, clunk, clunk of the opening barista putting chairs down to the black-and-grey tile floor for the day. I will miss the smell of maple-walnut scones baking, and the distinctive whir and whine of the espresso machine.

The music department. I will miss rummaging in the discount bin section of the music department, finding classic CDs for $4.99. I will miss learning about artists I might never have discovered, like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Gnarls Barkley, Lukas Graham, and Keane.

I will miss the familiar phrases, the ones I probably mumble in my sleep:

“The bathroom? Head to the polka-dotted wall.”
“The Rite Aid is on Main Street, right by City Center TRAX stop.”
“We don’t carry Bic pens.”
“We don’t sell Sharpies.”
“They have gum and mints at Rocket Fizz.”
“We don’t carry postage stamps.”
“The food court is at the south end of the mall, down near the movie theatre.”
“I dunno when they’re gonna put some more stores in this mall.”
“Thaifoon has been gone for a few years now. I miss it too.”
“The souvenir shop moved nearer to the convention center.”
“See the Gone With the Wind poster on the wall back there? Travel is in the little room to the right.”

I will miss the crazes. Harry Potter, Sudoku, adult coloring books, manga, Pop figures, blind boxes. I wonder, what will be next?

I will miss the customers. My favorites.

Craig, the distinguished, silver-haired estate attorney, who loves children’s books like I do. One Christmas season, after purchasing his books, he, face flushed, dropped money over the counter to me, then almost ran out of the store.

Dianna, the financial advisor, with her long black wavy hair and pink lipstick, who bought her grandson’s groceries while he attended college downtown.

Bree, the energy plant owner, with her short blonde hair, she ate a whole watermelon every day, and had the prettiest complexion.

Mike, the grey-haired, retired musician and cement truck driver, who came in the morning for his USA Today, after he got his coffee at McDonald’s in the food court.

On my last day, I kissed him on the cheek. He turned his face and kissed me on the mouth, hard. He loved me, I knew it all along…

Randall, the grey-haired Vietnam vet, who rode his bike to the bookstore for years after his cancer diagnosis, and bought history books. I wonder where he is now. Is he still alive?

Vincent, the African American UTA bus driver, who once sung Motown to me. He was the first man to notice me after I left my husband. I kissed him on the lips for the first time on my last day, and he bought me Ashes, by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Antonio, the burly Indian who wears plaid shirts the size of picnic blankets, loves manga, and has a strong, beautiful, regal face like a brave chief…

Jason, the photographer and Fidelity guy, who’s seen BOSTON as many times as I have. I kissed him on the cheek my last day, and he ran from my store, blushing. I know, my coworker saw him on his way back to work…

Sharon, the white-haired older lady who buys Architectural Digest and Vanity Fair, wears the cutest brimmed hats, and calls me Vicky. I don’t have the heart to correct her. I think her husband emotionally abuses her…

And dozens and dozens of others.

I will miss the tourists. The giggling Japanese girls who invariably buy calligraphy pens and ink. The Europeans who buy maps of Montana and Wyoming and Idaho, as they’re headed off to Yellowstone Park.

The people on the way to the airport, who want to pick up a quick paperback to dull the pain of flying in cramped quarters, seated by strangers.

The conference attendees who come from all over the world, seem flummoxed by our American money, and want to know:
Where’s a good place for lunch?
How do they get to the train?
Where can they buy medicine?

I will miss the familiar, resounding thunk of the break room door. The employees here, they’ve kept me young(er). Each one different like a snowflake, dozens and dozens of employees. I cannot go there right now, or I will surely cry again.

I will miss the Nook counter. I stood behind it once with someone I deeply loved and admired. There was just enough room for the two of us…

Maybe, just maybe, when I walk into a Barnes & Noble in the future, I will be able to smell the books and coffee. Sometimes, customers come in and stop suddenly, just after the front doors, and breathe in deeply, exclaiming, “I love that smell! Books! And coffee!”

And I’m sad and a bit jealous, because I haven’t been able to smell it for a very long time. I come home and my children tell me they can smell it when they hug me…

I’m looking forward to so many things, one of them being the smell of books and coffee. Again. When I visit Barnes & Noble, I will be able to smell the books and coffee, again…

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[RECOMMENDED LISTENING]
Hopes and Fears, Keane, 2004.
St. Elsewhere, Gnarls Barkley, 2006.
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, 100 Days, 100 Nights, 2007.
Lukas Graham, self-titled debut album, 2012.

[RECOMMENDED DRINKS
FROM THE BN CAFE
FOR THE NON-COFFEE DRINKER]

Passion iced tea.
Not with lemonade, and with no added sugar. This is an herbal tea and served over ice, so it’s a great low-calorie alternative and really refreshing when it’s hot out. (You can buy a tin of large Tazo tea packets from some grocery stores and make a pitcher of this at home.)

Pumpkin spice steamer.
A steamer is warm milk with flavoring. Most people drink their pumpkin spice as a latte, but I take mine as a steamer. A steamer can be made with any flavoring the cafe has on hand. (If you want to make one of these at home, pour a little sweetened condensed milk into a mug and dust in some pumpkin pie spice. Microwave until it’s liquidy, fill your mug with milk, microwave again, and stir.)

[REFERENCES]
“The low, low Litko discount” is a line taken from the movie About Last Night, 1986, TriStar.

Quarantine Cooking in the Year 2020: Fried Apples-n-Onions-n-Potatoes

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Upstate New York  I  Sunday, 1 November 2020

[AUTHOR’S NOTE]
This is a repost of a recipe originally published Thursday, 19 July 2018.

Yes, I did get a parking ticket, for forgetting to feed the meter, while writing the original post at a fabulous coffee shop called Rev, on Warren Street, In Hudson, NY.

It was worth it. A writer’s gotta write, and when inspiration strikes, you don’t let silly things like quarters and parking meters get in your way, to distract you.

This recipe is worth more than $35 to have finally documented, anyways. Ha!
(End of Author’s Note. Original post follows.)

If you’ve ever read Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you already know about fried apples and onions.

Farmer Boy is the story of Almanzo Wilder, the boy who grew up to become Laura’s husband. It takes place in 1866, in Malone, New York, which is on the eastern side of the state, very close to Canada. (Cold, brrr!)

Almanzo’s family was quite comfortable, especially when compared to Laura’s family, but they also worked very hard to make a success of their farm. Mrs. Wilder was a provident housewife, and Mr. Wilder was a smart and prosperous farmer. The children did their part, as well, and there was much work to be done.

The Wilders ate very well, and there was never a shortage of food at their house. As Laura writes the story, she takes great care to describe the food Almanzo and his family ate, and there was always a bountiful feast.

Compared with Laura’s family, Almanzo’s family was quite wealthy, and she describes their meals in dreamlike, wistful detail.

One of Almanzo’s favorite dishes, when he was a boy, was Fried Apples and Onions. In the book, Laura describes one time when he’s working very hard in the barns and fantasizing ahead to breakfast, just hoping his mother will make his favorite dish.

Then, when he finishes his chores and goes inside the farmhouse for breakfast, voila! His mother has made Fried Apples and Onions!

I’ve made this dish quite a few times before, starting with when I discovered The Little House Cookbook, by Barbara Walker, at my local library, while still living in Salt Lake City, Utah.

But then, many years ago, I started thinking about Grandpa Darrel’s Sheepherder Potatoes, which is a combination of fried potatoes and onions. I wondered what would happen if I combined the two recipes? Well, it turned out great!

Continue reading

Quarantine Cooking in the Year 2020: Grandpa Darrel’s Sheepherder Potatoes

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Upstate New York  I  Sunday, 1 November 2020

Idaho russet potatoes, or yellow potatoes
Onions
Butter
Salt (Redmond RealSalt is preferred)
Pepper

I’ll leave the quantities up to you, since I don’t know how many you’ll be feeding, and I never ate his cooking. I DO know he loved onions, and so did my mother, so I used one medium onion: to one large potato: to two tablespoons butter.

Do NOT use margarine in this recipe, or Grandpa Darrel will come back from the grave to lecture and haunt you, just like all the other farmers I know. He died in 1970.

Bake the potato, stabbed with a fork on two sides and wrapped in foil, in a 350 degree oven for around an hour, or however long your oven takes make a potato that’s easily pierced with a fork.

Carefully remove the potato from the oven and unwrap, being careful not to give yourself a steam burn. You can let the potato rest, as it’s much easier to slice when it’s cooled.

Slice the potato in half, so you can always have a flat side down on the cutting board.

Choose your sharpest knife. If you can’t slice easily through the peel, pierce the potato with your knife point first, and then place the blade of the knife in the slit and then slice as thinly as you can, without the potato crumbling.

Once your potato is sliced, chop up an onion. The pieces don’t have to be very small, as they will cook down.

Choose a metal spatula, NOT plastic or wood, one with a flat end. You’ll be using the spatula not only to stir, but to turn the potatoes, and to chop any large bits of potato and onion into smaller pieces.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a frying pan. I don’t know what type of pan he would have used, but I’m guessing cast iron, based on the time period he would have been making this recipe, and the type of stove or campfire he was might have been cooking on. I use vintage Revere Ware.

When the butter is mostly melted, add the onions all at once into the pan, and stir them around in the butter until they start to soften and take on a clear appearance. (This is called sweating an onion.) Push the onions to the sides of the pan, leaving the center open for potatoes.

Next, add your potatoes, making sure to only add as many as you can place in the pan so most of one side of each potato is touching the pan and will get nicely browned.

Once the potatoes are crisply browned around the edges, you can stir the onion and potato together. Continually stir them, until the potato pieces are brown and white and the onions a dark brown.

Remove from pan to a warm ceramic or stoneware plate. I suppose if you had a small cast iron skillet, you could place it on the table on a dishtowel, and eat directly from it.

I don’t know what Grandpa and his kids put on top of Sheepherders, other than the infamous salt and pepper. I love to streak ketchup across mine, and eat them with a slightly runny over-easy egg.

I think a glass of orange juice tastes best to wash them down with, but I also like to have a mug of milk on the table, too.

Grandpa Darrel, the farmer, would want it that way. Enjoy!

 

FINDING 50: Like It’s 1999!

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Upstate New York  I  Tuesday, 7 October 2020

PRINCE: 1999 (official music video)

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post was originally published on 31 December 2016, New Year’s Eve. (Much Chinese food was also eaten that night.)
The dates have not been updated. Minor edits have been made.]

In April of this year, when Prince died, I played his music like crazy. His album, Purple Rain, was new when I was a senior in high school and it was pretty much the anthem of our Friday nights, cruising around the boat docks, trying to find people to hang out with. Guys from G-town, guys from C-town, we met them all to the strains of Purple Rain.

But in 1982, two years before Purple Rain, Prince came out with an album called 1999. It seemed so far away, the year 1999, we couldn’t even imagine it. Would robots be doing all our housework? Would humans be living on Mars? It would be the cusp of a new century!

I remember how we all fantasized about where we would be on New Year’s Eve 1999. We were SURE it would be someplace fabulous.

And then, I remember being on a plane once in the mid 90s, reading an article about it in the flight magazine, and wondering what I myself would be doing as we ushered in a new century.

Would I be hosting a fabulous dinner party at my sparkling center hall colonial, with my adoring husband and four perfect children?

Would I be living it up at some trendy restaurant or rocking concert in New York City?

Would I be someplace exotic with my husband, maybe an amazingly luxurious hotel in a gorgeous location, while our kids were being babysat at home by dutiful grandparents?

None of these things happened.

To tell the truth, I can’t even remember now what I was doing on New Year’s Eve of 1999. I’m sure it was much like all my other New Year’s Eves when I was married. I probably made some Chinese food for everyone to nibble on (egg rolls would have been a sure thing) and watched the ball drop in Times Square on TV, me on one end of the couch and my husband on the other end, struggling to stay awake, with Thing 1 already fast asleep. Not very exciting, huh?

I remember the Y2K scramble, when everyone was sure computers would crash, our water systems would become defunct, and it would be the end of the world.

We had a bunch of boxes of bottled Dasani water in our storage closet (my husband worked for their distributor, Coca-Cola, and we got a deal) in case all the doomsday predictions came true, but that was the extent of our preparations for disaster.

Everything worked out fine. Just fine. At least with Y2K, but not with my husband.

And now, 1999 was 17 years ago. 1999 is smack dab in the middle of it all, equidistant from 1982 and 2016:

1982+17=1999
1999+17=2016
See what I mean?

So, how was my holiday this year like my holiday of 1999?

I did not work retail this year, compliments of my generous patron saints. When, you ask, was the last time I had a Christmas season when I wasn’t working in a store through the holidays? 1999, in fact. I began working in a bookstore April of 2000.

So, what did I do with myself? All the things I love!

I took umpteen photos of trees. Trees with golden leaves, trees stark and bare. Trees dusted with snow. Trees draped with colored lights and sparkling, colored ornaments. Trees, trees, trees.

Grandma Sweetie, our ancient maple tree, covered in gold, then blanketed in white.
Same vantage point, different seasons.

Barren trees look so beautiful against a winter sky. The first photo is B’s Hill, above the pond I used to ice skate on with neighbor kids. The second photo is taken across the street from our Christmas tree farm.

These trees are on Main Street. The first photo is a daytime tree, decked out with colorful ornaments. The second photo is three of the five perfect pines next to the town’s memorial for veterans.

And finally, Grandpa Blackberry, our ancient oak tree, in the white of winter, then under an azure sky of summer.

I also took photos of houses, many of which you may have seen in prior blogs. My favorite ones on our road, my favorite ones in an architecturally picturesque town we pass through to go shopping. I drove by some houses so many times, trying to get perfect lighting for just the right shot, I’m sure my license plate has been duly recorded in case the furniture comes up missing.

I also made cookies and candies and cakes. I baked Buttermilk Chocolate Sheet Cake twice. I made Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies at least four times. I braved Jo McCall’s Toffee three times (it turned out great the second and third times) and white-chocolate pretzels twice. I made Celestial Chocolate Chippers many times.

And then, we made cookie plates and delivered them to neighbors.

Making Buttermilk Chocolate Sheet Cake. C’mon, you know you want to lick that bowl…
Also, please admire my Red Linen Formica counter, and yellow Pyrex mixer (404).
Thank you, I knew you’d like them.

My third batch of Jo McCall’s Toffee, which I made by myself, against my better judgment. It’s much easier when you have a helper to scrape the hot toffee from the pan.

Batter for Celestial Chocolate Chippers, my boys’ all-time favorite cookies. This recipe card is the second draft of my quest for chocolate chip cookie perfection. The oven mitt was purchased at Sur la Table, to look period-appropriate in my red vintage kitchen.

A cookie plate, all ready to go to a family we love from church.

I helped host Thanksgiving dinner at my new place.
I attended a Winter Walk and my paper-cutting artist friend Pamela’s open house.
I went to the church Christmas party.
I attended Christmas concerts at Thing 2’s school and at my church.
I went to a volleyball game one of my young friends was playing in, and attended a basketball game at Thing 2’s school.
I went to dinner the day after Christmas at my friends’ house.

I was relaxed and happy.

And I’ll tell you what I didn’t do.

I did not get sick. I remember Christmas 2011, when I collapsed in an exhausted heap downstairs at my parents’ house, and slept for three hours, sick with a sore throat from contact with so many customers and their dirty money, sick from the stress of driving through a dark, slippery canyon on Christmas Eve, fighting with my husband the entire way.

The Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait sent me off to slumberland, and I woke up feeling so much better. Was it the rest or the music? You decide for yourself. I know my answer, and it was both.

I did not work at unreasonable hours while everyone else was out shopping or home relaxing with their families. On Black Friday, I shopped at one place, and one place only, the Christmas tree farm. I did not go to Wal-Mart (or any other store) in search of a really great deal. I did not have to be to work at 6 am the day after Christmas, to set up holiday clearance and make the rest of the store look like Christmas never happened.

I did not sit there in a fog on Christmas Eve and wonder what happened to all those days between Halloween and Christmas. I enjoyed those days and spent time with my own family. This year I did not help everyone in tarnation find just the right book/Lego set/stuffed animal for the people on their list. They were on their own.

I was in the dollar store a few days before Christmas, where one of the sales ladies was consolidating all the holiday items and lamenting to me, “My boss wants me to have all this stuff gone the day after Christmas.”

And I understood. Because I had lived her pain for 16 years.

So, what will I be doing New Year’s Eve this year, 17 years after 1999? That’s easy. I will be celebrating with my family, at home here in upstate New York, while nibbling on homemade Chinese food.

I’ll probably be falling asleep early on the couch, too, with a satisfied smile on my face, knowing this year I enjoyed the holiday season even more than in 1999.

PRINCE: Baby I’m a Star (official video)

Carol’s Corn Chowder

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, NY  I  Saturday, 14 January 2017

Lately, I’ve felt like eating soup all the time. It’s sooo comforting, after Christmas is over and the bleak, grey, bitter-cold reality of January sets in. I only know how to make one kind of soup, corn chowder. This, of course, isn’t counting a brief foray into French Onion Soup in the 90s. (When my date wasn’t super impressed, I moved on. From French Onion Soup and him. Ha!)

I’ve also felt like eating soup a lot lately because I got a fabulous set of gumbo spoons for Christmas. (Gumbo spoons are big, like soup spoons, but rounder.) They’re in the Oneida Evening Star pattern from 1950, which was one of my mom’s wedding silverware designs. They’re so pretty and shiny, I just want to use them all the time!

I just made a big batch of corn chowder recently, because my local, small-town library has a soup sale every Wednesday evening in January. Patrons donate big batches of soup and the Library Director sets up the large community room with all kinds of Crock-Pots to keep the soups warm.

The soup sale is eagerly anticipated each year, by staff and patrons alike. It’s something to look forward to when the post-holiday blues try to creep in.

You can buy a pint of soup for $4, or a quart for $7, and they even throw in some French bread slices, too. Isn’t that a great idea for a fundraiser?

I don’t really have a recipe for my corn chowder, I just wing it. And I call it Carol’s Corn Chowder, because my mom says she liked to have a pot of this on in the church kitchen when she knew there were going to be visitors who had a long drive home. It’s easy and filling, plus you can easily stretch it if more people show up than you expected.

All I do is saute some diced onions in butter in a medium-sized Revere Ware frying pan while I’m boiling some diced, skinned potatoes to about halfway done. I cut up some hot dogs, or Smokies when I’m feeling rich and fancy, and put them in with the onions.

Everything goes into a large pot at this point.

Then I dump in some cans of creamed corn and drained regular corn, along with the drained potatoes. I stir the mixture a lot, and try to get it thoroughly warmed through before adding some milk and/or half and half. I don’t add any salt, because I figure canned corn already has plenty of sodium.

The only way you can really go wrong is if you boil the soup after adding the milk and get that creepy milk skin. So, after you add the milk or half and half, keep the heat low and stir it constantly, just until warmed through.

Voila, Carol’s Corn Chowder! It’s cheap, easy, and delicious, a great prescription for the January blues.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE]
This post was originally entitled Churchy Corn Chowder, when it was first published 14 January 2017.

Post name was later changed to Carol’s Corn Chowder and light edits were made.

Carol passed away 25 September 2017. This post was republished 25 September 2020, in her memory.

She was a wonderful cook, and is sorely missed by her family and friends. Rest easy, Mama.

 

July Is Berry Month!

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York  I  Friday, 31 July 2020

I’ve been picking raspberries and blackcaps all month, and they’re such a treat!

Okay, I admit it. In years past, when I’ve gone over to the big, old, sprawling raspberry bush, I’ve picked straight into my mouth.

But this year was different. It was a little easier than in past years to get into the center of the huge, old bush, so I could get more berries, and I decided to pick into a container. I wasn’t sure what kind I should use, but I settled on one of those big plastic mugs with a handle, the kind you get at the gas station and fill up with soda.

Why this, and not a bowl, you ask? The key word is HANDLE. It was easy to put my fingers through the handle and grip the mug with one hand, as I made my way over uneven ground, through thorny brambles, and along the foundation of an old chicken coop, all while wearing a pair of old rubber fishing boots. I would have been very upset if I dropped a container full of hard-earned berries, especially since it was blazing, swelteringly hot, which tends to make me…cranky. The mug worked out really well.

This year, for the first time, I also discovered a good place to pick blackcaps! It’s because of the fawn, you know. We saw a beautiful baby deer, but it was sick and died. And no, I really don’t want to talk about it, or it’ll make me sad. But, looking on the bright side, a good thing to come out of finding the fawn was it was in an area where I rarely go. As I was snooping around this spot, I discovered there were lots of blackcaps, and they were larger and more plentiful than on the other stray brambles I’ve found in random spots.

Now, around here, blackcaps grow wild, without being purposefully planted, but most of them are kind of small and hard to come by. I think the blackcaps in this newly discovered area are larger because there’s a lot of afternoon shade, maybe? I’m not quite certain. Picking blackcaps in this shady area is a lot more pleasant than picking raspberries in the full sun, that’s for sure!

So, the first day I went berry picking, I got a full mug of raspberries, and a partial mug of blackcaps. I poured them into two clear Pyrex Colonial Mist bowls, without washing them, and put them in the fridge for later. (It’s best to rinse your berries right before you use them, they last longer this way.)

I bought a small lemon poundcake (it’s way too hot to bake right now), a can of spray whipped cream, and we enjoyed some berries that way.

But next time I picked berries, I bought a beautiful vanilla cream brioche from Aldi, and made my own whipped cream! I’ve done this before, but it’s been quite awhile.

How To Make Homemade Whipped Cream
It’s pretty simple, really. Chill your mixing bowl and whisk first. Use one cup of heavy whipping cream, two tablespoons of sugar, and a dash of vanilla. Of course, you can use electric beaters. I like to do things the old-fashioned way, though, so I whisked the cream by hand. It took about 15 minutes, and then I had a small amount of glorious, fresh whipped cream!

I chose a pretty little plate and put a slice of brioche on it. Then I spooned on several clouds of white, pillowy, whipped cream, and topped it all with freshly washed raspberries.

I even broke out the good silverware and ate it with an Oneida Evening Star dessert fork!

It was such a treat on a hot July evening, and made the scratches, sunburn, and sweat all worth it.

 

New York Peanut Butter Cookies

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York  I  Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Believe it or not, I hadn’t ever made peanut butter cookies until recently!

While I was isolating during COVID-19, I decided to give them a try and work on them until I thought they were perfect. During eight weeks of isolation, I tried variations of this recipe seven times!

It’s like this, folks. The isolation of COVID-19 left me a bit worried and lonely and sad. New York was the hotbed of virus cases in the United States, particularly New York City, which is only a few hours away.

Lots of people who live in the city also have weekend houses up in my county, and they came here to escape. I don’t blame them, but it also made me nervous.

There is a nursing home a mere two miles from me, and they had 30 cases of the virus, with 12 deaths. I was too cautious to even go to my favorite sandwich shop in town, because I knew the nurses and CNAs and other workers from this nursing home were passing through there.

So, I asked myself, what could I do at this frightening time that was positive, to try and take my mind off all this?

I’m not a nurse, or a doctor, or a scientist, and I can’t treat people, I can’t cure them. I can’t figure out what causes COVID.

I’m not a musician, and I can’t put on a Facebook Live concert every Friday night to entertain people, and help them forget about their worries for awhile. I’m not a famous singer who can record another version of a beloved song from my living room which will make people happy, and score a million YouTube views in the matter of a few days.

But what I can do, something positive, one of the things I’m good at, is baking cookies. My cookies always turn out. They make my house smell good. They make my son happy. They make me feel smiley and successful.

Baking makes me feel a bit more in control of this crazy world. I can usually predict how things will come out, and if it’s not quite right, then I can tweak a few things until I’m satisfied.

I love making cookies. Cookies are one of the ways I add a little bit of happiness and beauty back into a world which is sometimes full of sadness and ugly, unpredictable things.

So, when I first started researching peanut butter cookies, I looked up a bunch of different recipes and background information online. I wondered why peanut butter cookies always have a crisscross pattern made with a fork. Have you ever thought about it, or just taken it for granted?

I discovered the main reason is because the dough is so dense, it needs to be flattened out before it bakes, so the cookies will bake evenly.

I also suspect it’s to make peanut butter cookies easily identifiable. Without the crisscross, they might be mistaken for sugar cookies, right? People with peanut allergies need to be able to identify them at a bake sale.

Then, I found out something even more fascinating. The very first mention in print of peanut butter cookies having a crisscross pattern happened right here in New York state!

On July 1st, 1932, the Schenectady Gazette published a recipe calling for the fork crisscross. Schenectady (that’s pronounced Skeh-neck-tuh-dee) is a city just about an hour north of here!

So New York, this what I did, to try and stay positive during such a scary time. I made delicious peanut butter cookies, and I named them after you.

NEW YORK PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. Beat in peanut butter.

Add egg and vanilla and mix. Dump in flour and sprinkle baking soda across the top. Then stir again, until all ingredients are incorporated.

Roll into small balls and place on greased cookie sheet. Using a fork with long tines, make a crisscross pattern on each cookie. Bake 8 minutes. Enjoy!

Helpful Hints
Save the wrapper from your stick of butter and use it to grease the cookie sheets.

I hate cleaning peanut butter out of a measuring cup. I think it’s a waste, because it’s hard to get out. I just place a one-cup measuring cup near my mixing bowl, and use it to gauge the amount of peanut butter I put directly into the bowl.

Speaking of peanut butter, I don’t refrigerate mine. It’s much easier to spread on a sandwich or mix into cookie dough this way!

[RECOMMENDED READING]
http://www.newenglandrecipes.org/html/peanut-butter-cookies.html

[RECOMMENDED VIEWING]
Dennis DeYoung singing and playing “The Best of Times” from his home in April 2020. Viewing time is under three minutes.

Dennis DeYoung and the Music of Styx, performing live in Los Angeles in 2014. Viewing time is 1 hour, 40 minutes.

One of Dennis’s guitar players, August Zadra, put on Facebook Live acoustic guitar concerts every Friday night during COVID. At this writing, they’re still happening. Check out his Facebook page at August Zadra Music.

[RECIPE SOURCE]
I used this recipe from Fannie Farmer the first two times I made the cookies, then adapted it to be more to my own liking.

In order to get a softer cookie, I increased the amount of brown sugar and decreased the amount white sugar. I experimented with baking times of both 8 and 10 minutes, and decided 8 made for a much softer cookie.

Then I increased the amount of peanut butter, wanting a more peanut-buttery taste.

Here’s the recipe I started with:
https://www.food.com/recipe/fannie-farmer-peanut-butter-cookies-half-recipe-535344

 

Mom’s Meatloaf

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York  I  Thursday, 28 May 2020

MOM’S MEATLOAF
ground beef, 1 pound
ground turkey, 1 pound
egg, 1 large
ketchup, several squirts
grape jelly, several spoonfuls
Dijon mustard, several squirts
bread crumbs, 1/2 cup
Lipton onion soup mix, 1 packet, dry

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg, ketchup, grape jelly, and mustard. Stir in some bread crumbs and the packet of onion soup mix.

Add ground beef and ground turkey, mixing well to incorporate everything into the meat. Pack the mixture down into a loaf pan.

Make a glaze of equal parts ketchup and grape jelly mixed together, and spread HALF of it over the meatloaf.

Bake about 45 minutes, then take out of oven and carefully pour off fat. Glaze with remaining ketchup and grape jelly mixture, and return to oven for 15 minutes.

Baking time total is about 1 hour, until internal temperature of meatloaf is 160 degrees.

After baking, pour off fat again. Rest 10 minutes and cut into thick slices. Enjoy!

Helpful Hints
For this recipe, I like to buy my meat in 1-pound chubs. If you can’t find them in the frozen meat section of your grocery store, try checking the refrigerated meat section, as well.

Of course, you can use meat packaged in Styrofoam trays. I just find the chubs more convenient. Any combination of ground beef, ground turkey, or even ground sausage will work.

I like to save a clean, empty can to pour fat into. Once it’s solidified, I just throw the can away. Do not pour fat down your kitchen sink!

Recipe Source
This is not my mom’s recipe. I’m the mom here. Ha! This recipe is a combination of bits and pieces I’ve picked up along the way, throwing together a bunch of ideas from different sources.

Notes
You might notice I’ve left some of the potato peels on my mashed potatoes, about half of them. They’re more nutritious this way.

Pictured are some canned cut green beans. Try them with a little Lawry’s Lemon Pepper sprinkled on top. I think you’ll like it! Lawry’s Lemon Pepper also tastes great on chicken, fish, baked potatoes, and lots of things!

I also like Redmond Real Salt. It has a slightly sweet taste, and is the only pink sea salt mined in America.

 

Six Cans of Tuna

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York  I  Thursday, 30 April 2020

I went to the store on Saturday, 14 March, with shopping list in hand. One of the items on my list was tuna fish, and I wanted to get six cans. Usually, I have a decent stack of it in my pantry, but now I was low, because I’d been eating tuna sandwiches a lot lately.

I’d recently heard a lot of rumblings, and I knew COVID-19 was coming for us. I wanted to stock up a bit, thinking I might not want to (or be able to) go grocery shopping for awhile.

When I got to the store, they were out of toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins, but that was okay, because I was stocked up on all those things.

There were more empty spots on shelves than normal, no eggs, and definitely some bare spots in the meat case, the frozen section, and the pasta aisle.

I went to where the tuna was, to get my six cans, and there was none of the kind I normally buy, the kind packed in water. So I did what I usually do when a spot is bare, stand there and stare, hoping something will magically appear in its place.

And it did, kinda. Well, sorta. I noticed someone had discarded two cans of tuna in water in the back of one of the cases of tuna in oil, so I snatched those up.

It’s not like I hadn’t been to this store before and they’d been out of my kind of tuna. That’s happened to me a few times, but it’s usually not a big deal, because I always knew I’d be back again soon, and next time they’d have it.

But this time, I knew it was part of something larger, something longer-lasting which was coming, and I didn’t like it one little bit.

That night, my friend Patti posted a picture on Facebook which alarmed me. She’d gone to a different grocery store in town, a much larger one, in hopes of getting some chicken for next day’s Sunday dinner.

The picture she posted was of a long, empty meat case. I mean, there wasn’t one solitary package in it. Not even any of the weird stuff you would never buy, like chicken feet or cow tongue. Not even one $40 roast. Nothing. Empty.

In the next days, I began to see my friends all over the country post pictures of empty toilet paper shelves. It wasn’t just here, it was everywhere. I heard a lot of people talking about shortages of flour and yeast, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.

I have so many things to say about the scariness and shortages of this time, but my thoughts are so jumbled, I’m not sure I’ll ever make enough sense of it all to put my thoughts properly into words.

I’m not experienced enough to advise anyone about food storage, and certainly there are plenty of books, websites, and online groups devoted to the topic, so I won’t really attempt to go there. But I do know I have to start thinking a little differently about it.

Today marks the 39th day I’ve been in isolation. It’s been 45 days since Thing 2 has been to school.

I did eventually get four more cans of tuna, bringing my total to six. I know someday things will go back to normal, at least a new kind of normal. But I also know I will always remember the feeling of wanting to get six cans of tuna, and only being able to get two.