Thursday, November 25, 2010

A new painting and really cheapy casserole

Well, folks, da-ta-ta-da, it's finished...
My first experiment with the painting style known as "trompe l'oeil", the French phrase for "fool the eye." Really fantastic, seasoned trompe l'oeil artists can create works that give the viewer such a convincing sense of reality that one feels as if the objects can just be pulled off the shelves. I'm not at that level yet, but I am fascinated by the pursuit of making things come alive in a very different reality through paint.

The first baby quilt for Twin A (we thought about calling them Twin 1 and Twin 2, but it just sounded somehow wrong) is finished, and I will be displaying it just as soon as I can. I have this REALLY annoying character flaw (among many) and this is that I don't ever remember to bring a camera to ANYTHING! So, here I am at the baby shower for my first granddaughters, and of course, no camera. My daughter-in-law has promised me pictures though, thank God one of us has a practical head on her shoulders...I figure that I put well over 100 hours into it, but it was well worth the time.

I am the casserole queen, perhaps not the prestigious title in the world, but at least I'm the queen of somethin'! Tonight's offering is one of my favorites...one of those "throw whatever's in the fridge and hope for the best" recipes. Tonight I sauteed some onions, some diced celery, and a chicken breast together. I added a can of cream of mushroom soup, and about a half cup of my homemade refrigerator salsa, which I admit is heavy on the cilantro. I added some chili powder to taste, some pepper, some parsley, and some powdered garlic, as well as some leftover rice. Popped it into the oven at 325, and I'll top it with some leftover cheddar cheese as it begins to bake.

Nothing else much to report, except that I'm still in the midst of my homemade Women's Studies plan. The book I'm reading right now is not the most stimulating one I've read, but it is a basic, nuts and bolts view of the history of women's rights. It's entitled "Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women's Rights Movement". The thing that strikes me as I read about Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among many others is that so few of these women were ever working class housewives. They appeared to have come mostly from privileged families. I find it interesting that they were so passionately against a lifestyle for women that in many ways they really didn't live. And I also think that in an age before the washing machine and the electric range...well, somebody had to do these tasks for them, and most likely it was a poor servant class of women. But I'm only partly through the book, so perhaps this observation will change.

I'm also reading "The American Woman's Home" by Catherine Beecher. Her sister was the famed Harriet Beecher Stowe of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" fame. Catherine Beecher was the Martha Stewart of her age. She wrote many books on how to effectively manage a home of the time, and was instrumental in developing further education for women and training teachers to move to the West. She was an anti-feminist, believing strongly that the most important job for women was to create stable, productive, loving homes in our country as a springboard to create good citizens. Despite this arguably antiquated stance, much of her advice is strangely pertinent even today. Just goes to show that women are women-- whether they're in hoop skirts or blue jeans. I'm looking forward to putting together a review of her book in the near future.

(Image: "Aunt Ethel's Shelf" Acrylic on Canvas, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2010.) 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Projects!

In the last couple of years, I've started to reframe my concept of home. I'm starting to think of it as a production center--rather than a consumption center. This is slow going, because I grew up like so many of us out there, in a suburban wonderland where milk and meat and cheese magically came into the world encased in cellophane. The ironic thing is this: my parents and extended family come from a strong farming background. My mom is an expert gardener and my dad the consummate repair man and carpenter, who by his own admission, "can fix anything but a broken heart." I think as kids, my brother and I were far more interested in Scooby Doo and riding banana-seat bikes than hoeing weeds, and our parents just didn't seem to be bothered by that. After all, we were children of the 60s and 70s. We watched movies about starships and figured the cars we would drive would look a lot like George Jetson's. And weren't they going to build us Rosie the Robot Maids, ready to serve at our beck and call? It hardly seemed like churning butter was very compatible with being part of the Brady Bunch.

So...here are some of my projects in action. Right now, I'm harvesting  tomatoes. Yes, those misshapen things ARE tomatoes, and tasty ones at that. But I have no idea, why they look like pears with these long peaked tails...I have been reading about ripening green tomatoes in the house. It sounds like one effective method is putting them in a single layer in a darker area of a room, covered with a couple of sheets of newspaper. Fingers crossed, I plan to do that in a week or so, once I gather all the green ones.





We are thrilled to announce that hubby and I are going to be grandparents for the first time!! I had my boys as a teenage mom, and although I wouldn't trade a moment, it was a rather bumpy road. Blessedly, my son and his lovely bride are not following my example. I've been working on this quilt, the image based on a childhood toy of my son's. Imagine my surprise when that same son called with the news that it isn't one grandbaby, but two! TWINS! So, needless to say, I'm hustling to get this puppy done and start right away on another one. There's just something so sweet about thinking about these lovely children and stitching, one stitch at a time.



It's not finished, not by a long shot. But this is my first adventure into trompe l'oeil, a form of painting that focuses on illusion and still life. You literally can create any fantasy environment on your walls, using some of these techniques. I hope to get this piece completed within the next couple of weeks. The little figures on the top shelf will be the little figures on a wedding cake, and a china cup and saucer will be added. I don't care for the salt and pepper shakers behind the apron, and will be changing them. Also there will be either some fresh flowers or some vegetables draping from the bottom level of the glass platter. The color balance will also be refined and changed. My paintings go through so much in process that I'm always hesitant to show them before they're finished--because this work will look very different once it's done. But it's been so fun--I just couldn't resist giving you a sneak peek. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Long time, no see

Well, finally I'm back to joining you in cyberspace. Jeez--a month since I've posted anything!! I wish I could show off new tan lines, shopping bags from French Rivera giftshops, and tales of my mimosa-inspired adventures...but my time away has been far from that chi-chi, dahling.

Today, I put away two containers of curried chicken for future freezer meals, along with two batches of Tex-Mex breaded chicken fingers--also for the freezer. I also froze three breasts plain for future use, probably cut up in casseroles. I figure that the package of chicken I bought for $9.00 will go for 6-8 meals. I'm sure that there are folks out there that can do even better than that...coupons seem like such a bother to me, and I don't do the warehouse stores...but I thought it was pretty economical, just the same. Check out the book, "Fix, Freeze, Feast" by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik. So far, every recipe has been a winner at our house...and my hubby can be picky.

I'm attempting another cut to the grocery budget. My goal is to spend an average of $30 a week for the two of us, including toiletries and extra non-perishables here and there to put in the cupboard for 'just in case'. We have a store in our town that sells dented cans and other slightly 'off' merchandise, and I have sticker shock every time I go in there--but in a good way, if you know what I mean! Last night, I made goulash (a quick skillet dish of tomato sauce, browned hamburger, onion, chili powder, and macaroni), a fresh zucchini and tomato salad, courtesy of our own garden, and crockpot tapioca pudding. I roughly, and generously, estimate that we spent under $2.00 a plate--if even that. Yeah...this frugality thing is really making us suffer...chuckle, chuckle.

We are still waiting for more of our tomatoes to ripen. Darn it, it's hard to garden in a northern climate! This year I've learned: how to make a compost container out of a garbage can, that tomatoes often have 'cracked shoulders' when they are left to vine-ripen too long, and that tomatoes and cucumbers really shouldn't be planted together. Our tomatoes turned into mutants this year and choked out every little trace of cucumber out there...

Last month, we received the stunning news that not only are we going to be grandparents, but that we are going to be grandparents of TWINS! I am embroidering a baby blanket for each of these shavers, and having a blast doing them. I was taught how to cross-stitch and such when I was about nine years old--and it's still just as fun as it was then. (But I do think that bi-focals might be just around the corner.) I'll post pictures of it when they are done. Along with the five or six paintings I've always got going on in the studio, it makes for enough projects to keep the days full. It's weird, maybe it's an age thing, but although my art is still such a part of me, it's becoming more of a companion now than a taskmaster. I'm not so driven to get the shows, the accolades, the attention any more. I just want to make good work, and live a good life. I know many artists that reach this point, of just being happy, healthy people--but unfortunately, the media loves to celebrate the Picassos, the Basquiats, and all the others who live and die with needles up their arms, a string of abusive love affairs, and their cars wrapped around trees. Makes me think I might be a bit boring, but I'll take it.

I ordered a book for my recent birthday called, "Never Done". It's a history of housework, that also includes many of the old advertisements for products and appliances used in the kitchens of long ago. I can't wait to get it...Lordy, Lordy, I'm such a wierdo....

(Image: "Sustenance #1" Acrylic on Canvas, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2010.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Misconceptions of 1970s feminism


I wrote this in response to a discussion held on a blog entitled Dreams of an Everyday Housewife. The discussion, regarding the modern housewife was thought-provoking and forthright, and I encourage you to check it out.


We have the feminists of the 70s (and note, there have been other feminists in other time periods, even going back to the 1700s), to thank for really giving woman the power of career choice in their lives. However, what the 1970s feminist did that was utterly damaging is that they fiercely deprecated and devalued the woman's role in the home. It's as if they thought that biology and eons of evolution could be wiped away by simply donning a business suit.

The feminist movement made several core assumptions that were not universally true.
1. That all women at the time were 'trapped' in the traditional housewife role. The thing we need to realize is that many women went into this role joyfully. Remember, they were survivors of World War II. They had seen brothers, high school sweethearts and other loved ones killed in battle. Many thought that marriage and settling down might not even be a possibility. And after growing up in the "dirty 30s", a streamlined kitchen with a modern fridge and all the other conveniences would have, indeed, made a housewife's heart sing.

2. Following the traditional role keeps a woman from growing up and having a meaningful life. Many of these women were the backbone of their communities. They were powerhouses in charities, church functions, and politics. They were actually around to discipline their children, and kept a close watch on the other children in the neighborhood. My mother's talents were/are enormous. She sewed all of my clothes until I was in high school (including underwear), quilted, canned, gardened, baked from scratch, and actually knew all her neighbors, just to name a few.

3. A meaningful life can only be found outside the home. As a career woman most of my life, I can tell you that this isn't true. How many of us have office jobs that suck the life out of us? And what could be more meaningful than raising good, well-rounded human beings and building a solid home for them? I believe that sometimes feminists confuse meaning with difficulty. It is powerfully difficult to deal with kids day after day, to feed them, clothe them, listen to them, clean up after them. Those so-called menial tasks are hugely important...and yes, meaningful.

4. That the feminist movement knew best for the next generation of young women. In this belief, where they silenced the views of women who might want to be homemakers, feminists stiffled women as much as the repressive Freudians and other patriarchal institutions.

5. And lastly, that men hold women down. Personally, I have found that many housewives run the finances in the home. My husband gets an allowance, and he is truly happy with the arrangement...as he loathes paying bills. My father was the same way. Ironically enough, I think that my husband respects and honors me even more now that I am back home. It seems like we have more quality time together because we are not frantically, and wearily, cramming household tasks on top of our already exhausting work day. I think this notion of men suppressing women has much more to do with individuals, and should not be a wide-sweeping label for the genders.

Just some thoughts. I am certainly not telling anyone what they should do. However, as an artist, home business owner, and yes, proud housewife, I can tell you that I've never been happier.

Much of my art deals indirectly with this topic, from paintings of retro hats, to hard-edged views of the American Dream. It can be found at my website, Loud Colors online gallery.

A book that I am finding of some great interest is "Radical Homemakers" by Shannon Hayes, that examines the political, economic, and sociological aspects of working in the home.

* One more thing I wish I had added to this blog post. It is also important that the majority of the suffragettes of the 1900s were fighting for the vote, not for equality with men in the career sphere.

Friday, July 16, 2010

So, what are we really saying?

Type in the words "retro housewife" on youtube, and you might be in for a surprise. There are a plethora of homemade videos out there, mostly lampooning the June Cleaver-in-pearls-and-an apron-waiting-at-the-door-with-the-pipe-and-slippers image we so associate, for good or ill, with post-War America.

I chose this one because it's obviously made by young people who very likely have never even seen an episode of "Leave It to Beaver." And the narrative in the video is taken from an actual 1950s era article, which I believe comes from "Good Housekeeping" and made the email rounds a few years ago. It's a list of tips advising women how best to run their households, and (*gasp*) "serve" their husbands. The clip is a strange mixture of cute and cuttingly sarcastic, a brew of the Greatest Generation meets the college Goth. You can almost hear these kids waxing indignant whenever the camera is shut off, declaring "Can you believe that people EVER lived like this?"

Don't get me wrong. There were gender roles in the 1950s that needed a bit of a stretch. Repression and perfection were the order of those days...but my theory is that it was more to be found as a message in the media than in those actual suburban neighborhoods. And the video did make me chuckle. But it also made me think.

What's the hidden things that are being mocked here? Could it be a well-ordered home? A woman who cares enough about her husband to cook his favorite thing for dinner? The very concept of giving to others? Could one even say that it was mocking of women/wives/mothers in general?

Caitlin Flanagan, in her insightful and controversial book "To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Your Inner Housewife", comments about this same narrative:

"[It] advises the housewife to prepare for husband's arrival at the end of the day: to have dinner ready, to minimize household noise and clutter, to avoid assaulting her man with a litany of domestic problems and disappointments, and to inquire about his day. There was a sense back in those innocent years that a day at the office was a tiring event that required a bit of recuperation: a cold drink, a sympathetic companion, a decent meal--all of which, I suspect, functioned as a sexual tonic."

Tonight I'll have homemade Chicken Parmesan waiting on the table when Dave comes home. Our evenings are cozily predictable, marked by good conversation about daily adventures, favorite books, and curling up on the couch. My husband works a dangerous job, and to me, it is a special occasion every time he walks through the door. He even says, "Honey, I'm home!" If he wore slippers or smoked a pipe, I'd bring them to him in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pasta Salad--My Hero!

Yesterday was one of those days. You know...those days where you're running around like a spastic chicken working your tail off before your real 'work' begins. I have my own art studio, and a home cleaning business for people with special needs. And I just so happen to pride myself on providing a thrifty, happy little home with dinner on the table--even when I'm not around to putzy in the kitchen.

And it was the day before payday--the day when there are hardly any pennies left to stretch. And, to top it off--it was HOT, already nearly 80 degrees in our little 1930s house. I looked in the fridge, and suddenly epiphany(!), I had all the ingredients for a cool, colorful pasta salad for dinner.

First, of course, I boiled up some pasta in olive oil. We prefer the thin spaghetti, and sometimes angelhair. Easy peasy.

There was some cilantro in the crisper drawer that wasn't at it's freshest, but certainly wasn't bad, either. I chopped up the rest of it with my cleaver, which really needs a sharpening. It was worth it, though, I love the lemony clean taste of cilantro!!

Then the fun part, raiding the icebox for this and that. I chopped up a couple of tomatoes, really impatient for our garden ones to be ready. Chopped up an onion, and some celery. Cleaning the fridge and cooking something (ahead of time, no less!)--now that's the way to go.

Some salami was sitting neglected in the corner, just begging to be included in the pasta party.

The dressing was simple, and something do-able for even the emptiest cupboards. I took a scant 1/4 cup of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of vinegar, some garlic to taste, 1/8 teaspoon of powdered mustard, 1/8 of a teaspoon of basil, a pinch of tarragon, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, a sprinkling of paprika and pepper.

30 minutes, and my sanity was spared, and the leftovers gone! We served this lovely salad with icy cold red grapes, chilled glasses of water with lemon, and the last of the orange sherbet for dessert. Three cheers for the day before payday!

A Home Altar

Home is sacred. And because it is a sacred place, I believe that we create altars all over inside and out of it--sometimes without even being consciously aware of it.

The objects on the bookcase in our living room all have meaning to us. The vintage print on the wall epitomizes our view of the simple blessings of family. Dave and I were certainly not in a good financial place when we bought this piece, but we counted out the change we had accumulated in jars--we wanted it that badly. The Korean bell and the Buddhist monk figurine are souvenirs from my husband's world travels. I adore stones in any form...I believe that they give a sense of being solid and safe. And the photo on the far left is one of our son's marrying his lovely bride.

Even the bookcase has significance. I bought it as my graduation present from college, one of the few things I've ever purchased on payments. I wanted it desperately, because although I am a book fanatic, there is just something about books behind glass, that not only makes them look tidy, it also makes them look classy. This bookcase has been moved a handful of times and even jostled around the back of a semi across the country TWICE, and--knock on wood!-- the glass is still perfect.

Here is another photo, that shows just a minute fraction of our books. Most of our books are still in storage. Some people look for houses with guest rooms for visitors; we are looking for a house with guest rooms for books! We fantasize about having a formal library with hunting scenes in gilded frames and deep wing chairs. And considering my husband devours classics and political science, a library with busts of the founding fathers would be more than appropriate.

We are certainly not where we would have dreamed at this place in our life. Life has thrown us a few curve-balls, and my husband nearly died a few years ago of a dreaded MRSA infection. That infection devoured our savings and really forced us to pare down to the basics. I look at the painting on the wall, and I never fail to get a warm feeling, noticing that the living room in the piece is also spare and uncluttered and cozy, like ours. I know that we are not living big, like so many Americans, but we are living well. And I know that the family in the painting is close and warm, like ours. And I have just enough.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sunshine and Chocolate

Today, I've got homemade spaghetti/zucchini sauce in the kettle on the stove that will go over penne pasta.

Just finished making a "Chocolate Mousse" cake, which I think is essentially a minor souffle. This cake is made of egg whites, folded with dark chocolate, and it is supposed to rise high in the oven (which it did) and fall rather quickly (which it also did.) It is served chilled.

I learned today that you don't need cream of tartar to whip up fluffy, heavenly meringue. Instead, lemon juice substituted in the amount of cream of tartar the recipe calls for, makes even higher peaks, and it's something most cooks have on hand.







And speaking of eggs...here is my latest painting...a fun study of light, shadows and texture. Like my art professors used to say, there's really no such thing as "pure white" in nature, and upon close observation, one certainly can see all the reflected colors in an egg shell.
Here's to spring! I'm starting to scrub out all the dirt and crud out of our ancient windowsills--that is when I can pry the window open! Unfortunately, I think many of our windows were painted shut a few years ago, and combined with the settling of this quaint little cottage, many of our windows just may be sealed for life. I welcome any suggestions that are accessible even to such tool-impaired folks as myself.

And finally, finally, the rain and chilly weather has ceased enough that I've been able to put my container tomatoes, peppers and zucchini out for a sunshine bath. I could swear that I heard them let out a sigh of joy, as soon as I placed them in the grass...

Talk to you again soon.;)

(Image: "Nestled" Acrylic on Canvas, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2010.)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Just wishing...



A few things from the past that I really, really wish would come back into fashion:

1. Punch cups and crystal cake plates for parties. And place cards.

2. White gloves.

3. Hats with loads of fluffy tulle veiling.

4. "Hello dear, how was your day?" Accompanied with a peck on the cheek and the table set for dinner.

5. "Allow me, ma'am, to open that door for you."

6. Children told to go outside and play, and the children actually doing what they are told.

7. Fedoras--and suits that smell faintly of Old Spice, Camels, and hair oil.

8. Fathers raking leaves on the weekends, and washing their cars in the driveway.

9. Pot roasts, casseroles, dishes washed, and beds made every day--even on the weekends.

10. Dinner hour, getting dressed up to go to the grocery store, clothes hanging on the line.

(Image: "Reception Line #2, Acrylic on Canvas, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2010.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Angel Biscuits

No matter how simple the meal, it just seems that homemade bread makes it something special. And is there anything more like a hug than the scent of baking bread? Here is a recipe that I discovered this past year and I probably make at least once a month. I just love this recipe because it makes a lovely, almost fool-proof dough that can be made ahead, popped in the refrigerator, and used over a three day span. (The recipe recommends that you discard the dough after three days.)

I use this dough for biscuits, but I have also had great success using it for Saturday morning cinnamon rolls, either frosted with a basic powdered sugar frosting or a citrus glaze. I have also used it for caramel rolls. Simply substitute this dough and follow your usual roll/bread recipe. For additional convenience, I like to bake cinnamon rolls during a weekday afternoon and freeze them for the weekend.

Most of the time, I divide this recipe in half, because there's just two of us at home these days. But if you make the full recipe, you'll have a generous amount of bread to either freeze or feed a large family.

Angel Biscuits (from Betty Crocker's Cookbook 1986 version)

1 package regular or quick-acting active dry yeast
2 T. warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 c. shortening
5 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 c. sugar
3 t. baking powder
2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
2 c. buttermilk (I don't use buttermilk because I never have it on hand. A good substitute is to take 2 cups of milk and add 2 T. of lemon juice OR vinegar. The milk will sour and work perfectly. )

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Cut shortening into flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda with pastry blender in 4-quart bowl until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in buttermilk and yeast mixture until dough leaves side of bowl (dough will be soft and sticky.)

Turn dough onto generously floured surface. Gently roll in flour to coat; shape into ball. Knead lightly 25 to 30 times, sprinkling with flour if dough is too sticky. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate no longer than 3 days.

To make biscuits right away: Right after you've kneaded the bread, roll or pat dough 1/2 in. thick. Cut with 2 1/2 -in round cutter. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Cover and let rise in warm place until double, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Heat over to 400 degrees. Bake until golden brown, 12 - 14 minutes. Immediately remove from cookie sheet. Makes 2 1/2 dozen biscuits.

Odds and Ends




I'm just too tired to do anything too structured with this blog today. Hubby has been home for several days with kidney stones, and, I ask you, is there anything more exhausting that taking care of a sick man? Florence Nightingale has my complete and total admiration...

Here is a photo of the "chop suey" dish that I made the other night, using a bit of leftover pork, half a head of cabbage, a can of bean sprouts, and a few dashes of garlic and soy sauce. Delish--especially served over Japanese rice. Thrifty, and it cleared some leftovers out of the fridge at the same time.







There's nothing more fun than watching seedlings make their debut. The zucchini sprouts are going crazy, and I think that the peppers aren't far behind. Wish I'd labeled these.... all I know is that I'm expecting zucchini, green onions, tomatoes, and peppers. Does anyone know if it's okay to leave these (covered) outside during the day? We're in Montana, and I think the danger of frost is over. I'm really ready to have my laundry room give up moonlighting as a greenhouse....


The promise of spring...I think that these tulips have been blooming every spring at the back gate for decades...Well, I think that's probably all for now. Hopefully things will be back to their normal craziness in the next few days!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Girl's Gone Wild

Sweet hubby-man is off for 48 hours on a business trip. Gleefully, this ultra-hip housewife is embracing two whole days where she will not be doing the following:
1. picking up dirty Hanes tidy-whities on the floor by the bed.


2. putting the TV remote in the place it's supposed to be for the 15th time in the course of the day.


3. making anything for dinner that resembles meat and potatoes.


4. making anything for dinner at all, unless it's peppermint ice cream and Capn' Crunch cereal.


4. putting books back on the bookshelf, putting dirty clothes in the hamper, putting anything away that's man-related.


5. even having to think about putting the toilet seat down.


6. watching "Chuck" (endlessly fascinating to Hubby, big yawn for wife), kick-boxing fights, (eew) and Harry Potter movies (when will that little wizard graduate, anyway??)

 


These are some of the things she is going to dive into:
1. Painting.


2. Painting.


3. Painting.


4. Napping and eating cherry cheesecake, eating cherry cheesecake and napping.


5. Web-surfing.


6. Polishing fingernails.


7. Watching every chick flick that can be found that involves brooding heroes with top hats and riding crops, girls in hoopskirts and bonnets, and lots of soaring violin music playing in the background.

It all comes down to this.
Sometimes, people that are madly in love need a chance to miss each other.


(Image: "Tea for Two #2" Acrylic on Canvas, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2005.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Making Do

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

I heard this saying recently, and was shocked that I hadn't heard it earlier, since I have lived my entire life this way. Making do, especially, is not only how we get by...it is how my family thrives.
Here are some of the miscellaneous ways we run our thrifty household. This will probably be a review for some of you ultra-hip housewives, but hopefully, you might have some tightwad tips of your own to share.

1. We enjoy a great "Hamburger Helper" around here by simply browning some ground beef, adding cooked macaroni, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and chili powder. Frozen corn is also great in this dish.

2. I make my own brown sugar, mixing 1 tablespoon of dark molasses into a cup of granulated sugar, then mashing and stirring it with a fork. I also make my own pancake syrup, using brown sugar, water, and vanilla. It's superb!

3. I don't use buttermilk in recipes. Instead I use a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar for each cup of milk. This sours the milk, creating a very worthwhile substitute.

4. I use powdered milk for any recipe that calls for milk, either in cooking or baking. Hubby hates the taste of powdered milk straight, so we drink acidolphilus milk if we want something in a glass. It's a bit more expensive, but I figure the health benefits are worth it. We also drink a heck of a lot of water, straight from the tap. We seldom, if ever, buy soda.

5. I buy potatoes in large bags, and am always doing KP duty, peeling spuds. Potatoes are high in vitamin C, and they are perfect for rounding out meals. We also like to make impromptu skillet dishes with fried potatoes, tossing in any kind of leftover vegetables or meats we might have on hand.

6. We don't eat boxed cereals because it's just too painful on the wallet. Instead, I make oatmeal, scramble eggs, or pop toast in the toaster. Once in a great while, I get indulgent and make my own granola.

7. Making your own pudding is almost as fast as making the "instant" variety.

8. We buy vegetables when in season, but also rely a great deal on those that are frozen.

9. I buy a great deal of apples and cabbage, because they keep for a long time and are great in so many dishes.

10. I freeze leftovers while they're still good, if I know that we won't eat them before they spoil. They make excellent mini-lunches for me. I also like to search the refrigerator, looking for leftover noodles/rice, vegetables, and meat. Combine them with a cream soup, and often you've got a unique, yummy casserole.

Well, that's ten that I can think of right now. I'm sure there will be more to come.


(Image: "OakTree Beauty" Acrylic on Canvas, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2000.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A sewing needle may have won a war

We've all known since we were bitty kids that Betsey Ross sewed our first American flag. But how many of us know about the contributions of Martha Washington--and how she played a crucial role in establishing America? I must admit that my impressions of her when I was a kid was a glimpse of a rather dowdy old lady in a lace cap. The more I read, the more I know that this couldn't be further from the truth.

It's 1777, Morristown, New Jersey. You know the 'freak' snowstorms that blanketed the East Coast this past year? Well, contrary to the global warming theorists, they were happening back in the 1770's. Snow on the ground was two feet deep, New York harbor froze for the first time in recorded history, Baltimore's harbor was frozen, and it was possible to cross the iced-over Hudson on horseback. I've lived back east, and the cold cuts you to the quick. The snow is unbelievably heavy--that's why houses in the region have steep peaked roofs because the snow can literally cave them in. I have also been frost-bitten before (long story), and it isn't a cold feeling...it burns and burns. Simply put, it's agonizing. I cannot imagine these colonial men going without shoes, shirts, pants, some of them virtually naked in that biting cold.

Here's a paragraph that really gives us a picture of how really bad our American soldiers had it, taken from "The General and Mrs. Washington" by Bruce Chadwick:
"Men began to sneak out of camp to steal food, kitchen utensils, clothing, and anything they could find from area farmers. Washington ordered a halt to this behavior, writing that his men were 'becoming a band of robbers [rather] than disciplined troops.' But he looked the other way and let them do it. They had to keep themselves alive because the army could not. Finally, on January 3, the commander was told by Nathaniel Greene that there was no more money left to purchase supplies and that the army had run out of food. The money for clothing had been depleted, too. Then, in the first week of January, a double blizzard hit New Jersey, dumping over four feet of snow on the ground. Accompanying winds created TEN-foot high drifts. "

Enter Martha Washington. She is not only the wife of Washington--she is his dearest friend and support system. The General has chosen well in his life partner. She is incredibly strong and capable, a woman able to smile and embrace the joys in life, despite a life haunted by tragedy. In a span of less than a year, she has lost her former husband, three of her siblings, and two of her children. She is, by all accounts, the kind of woman, who asks you how you are doing, rather than sharing her troubles. She makes everyone feel special. She's rather plain, struggles with her weight, and likes understated clothes, but she has lovely white teeth, and her smile lights up her face. She has suffered recent economic privation, despite her wealthy background, and now that she has found love again in George Washington, he has been torn away from her for years of war and public service.

Washington has sent for her, as he often does during the war. He needs her beyond words. One could easily argue that Congress is as ineffective and apathetic as it is today, and he cannot convince them of the dire need for supplies. And besides, the fledgling government is as broke and desperate as he is. He is completely worn out, both physically and mentally.

First of all, she nurses the General back to health. He quite literally is on his deathbed when she arrives. He had been shoveling for days along with his men, and has contracted another devastating sore throat, a condition that plagued him his entire life, and eventually did kill him. Bed-ridden and weak from his physician's constant attempts to bleed him, his troops hold out little hope. When Martha gets there, she treats him with wifely TLC and certainly her molasses and onion tonic, and Washington survives. She immediately sets to work establishing sewing circles with the officer's wives. She orders all of her seamstress slaves at Mount Vernon to sew for the war effort, and coordinates circles of paid female laborers. She organizes get-togethers for the officer's families and generally raises the morale of every soldier there.

This work continues tirelessly into the infamous camping at Valley Forge. After returning to Mount Vernon, to take care of affairs there, she again rejoins her husband on the battlefield. Contrary to popular belief, the winter was not nearly as harsh as it had been in Morristown. The men were still woefully lacking in basic necessities, including shelter. Martha resumes her punishing days of sewing, everything from shirts to knitted stockings. She visits the sick daily, and probably was the first USO, as she constantly organizes dinner parties, choral singings, prayer services, and plays. She also understands that if she takes care of her man, she is taking care of the troops, and she makes sure that her husband rests, and takes moments out for leisure. Her sacrifices, among them being away from her surviving children and risking her life in a war zone, are inspiring, starting a chain reaction and galvanizing the women in the country. In fact, women from around the country raise $300,000 (imagine, how much that was in those times) to give to Martha, not to the General, for the sewing of soldier clothing. Hundreds of women huddle over their needles sewing and sending clothes. In fact, many of them embroider their names along a seam, so the soldier will know their hearts are with the man wearing it. Keep in mind, clothing was such an imperative in those days, because it wasn't like one could go the local store and buy a bolt of cloth. The colonies had been boycotting all ready-made fabric for some time, so all of these pieces of clothing were completely constructed from "scratch", so to speak. The cloth was hand-woven on a loom, and the item was hand-stitched.

Martha balanced the operations of an enormous plantation with handling the needs of an army, and this showed women all over the nation what they could be capable of. Most of these women were tending their own farms while their men were away, and working far into the night to support the war.  As Bruce Chadwick puts it:

"From Anne Terel, the wife of an American soldier...in a letter published in 'The Virginia Gazette', 'Women [are] part of another branch of American politics which comes immediately under our province, namely, in frugality and industry. [Women] raise their crops, make clothing, run their husbands' farms and stores, and secure the home front so that their husbands could continue to fight in the fields."

I wish that I had learned more of this in my history classes. In an age where textbooks are so sensitive about providing role models for women, it's so sad that the backbone, elegance, and grit of our new nation's women is so completely overlooked. Heroes do come out of kitchens, and yes, they can wear an apron.

Monday, March 8, 2010

As Easy as Pie

Recipe from Taste of Home, October/November 1996 "Perfect Apple Pie"

I don't know where the saying, "As Easy as Pie" came from. Probably from some smug pastry chef of long-ago that could sift flour in his sleep... I love to make pies, but I make them because in all my years in the kitchen they never get any easier. They are to me the Mount Everest of baking--and what's better than scaling the heights with hardly any oxygen and danger of tumbling off a ledge or getting frostbite at any moment? It's thrilling stuff, let me tell you.

Our first step is to add 3/4 of a cup of shortening to a mixture of 2 cups of flour, and 1 teaspoon of salt.
Then it's time to "cut" the shortening into the flour until the mixture begins to look crumbly. Some recipes suggest mixing the shortening into the flour, by using two table knives. I definitely prefer my pie cutter gadget, as I cannot hope to have such coordination in my lifetime...:) Add 4 to 5 tablespoons of ice cold water and mix. I often add a couple of tablespoons of water if it's still dry, but don't go overboard. It's important that the water be very cold, as this, along with a generous amount of shortening, makes your pie crust tender. I just keep balling up the mixture in the bowl with my hands until it sticks together in a ball.


After this, it's time to get out the rolling pin. I take out half of the dough, and gently roll it, while also pressing it to the table with my hands. My pie crusts tend to be very flaky and so this is the touchy part.






I am always amazed at the bakers on TV that roll out such pliable pie crusts that they breezily lay into the pie pan. With mine--and I can't tell you how many countless recipes I've tried-- I invariably wind up usually molding it to my pie pan, after fixing places where the pie crust has torn. It's kind of like my form of dessert "sculpture". Oh, and by the way, that metal spatula works like a charm to slide beneath the crust on the table and loosen it, once I'm done rolling.

Now it's time to get the apples peeled--I like Granny Smiths for pies. I peel and slice about 7-8 cups and toss them with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. I combine 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg in a separate bowl. This sugar mixture gets stirred into the bowl of apples and tossed. I love the touch of nutmeg in this pie.



Here is the pie without it's top. Now we roll out the top crust and gently put it on top of the sugary apples.



Voila! ready for the oven! Beat an egg yolk, and brush onto crust. And remember to cut a slit into the center, something I obviously forgot to do. Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce heat to 350 and for 40-45 minutes until golden brown and the filling is bubbly. (And the bigger mess you make, the better it tastes!)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Well Worth Reading

Sorry that I haven't been in better touch. What is it about the onset of spring that brings out the flu bugs? Probably the warmer weather...but suffice it to say, I've been ill, and now I'm on the mend.

Anyway, I wanted to let you know about a book that I haven't been able to put down in the last few days. It's called "Just a Housewife: The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America" by Glenna Matthews. Ms. Matthews realized that in all the feminist arguments, the actual history of the housewife has been pretty much unexamined and ignored--which I find ironic, considering all of the speeches about the poor, oppressed wife coming from the podiums of so many radical feminists.

No matter where you stand on the feminist issue, this book will be enlightening. One of the things I've been learning is that there is a spectrum regarding feminism. There are feminists, such as myself, who want women to simply have equal opportunity under the law (known as equity feminists) and there are fanatical (gender) feminists who want to transform everything about the female experience...from our history (or as they term it--'herstory') to our family and social structure. This book is fascinating because it deals with the details of a woman's domestic life over two centuries, and how changes in politics, commercialism, and academia, all have molded how today's women clean, cook, and mother their children. It also shows how, in the so-called name of 'progress', we have lost something very precious in our society--the safety and sacredness of a well-run home, and the respect for those who keep it that way.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Things my mother taught me

It's a brilliant winter morning with only a dusting of snow. I don't have a cleaning job today, so I'm able to work in the studio...yippee! Got a new painting loaded on the Loud Colors website called "Cocktails and Salmon Colored Roses". It always feels so good to finish a painting. I keep looking at it, thinking I should tweak it some more, but sometimes I just get tired of being so darned perfectionistic. Besides, the woman in the work looks kinda quirky and kinda tragic, and the whole feeling of the piece is pretty and expressionistic at the same time. Does everything I do have to be so controlled, for Heaven's sake? I certainly hope not! Just got an email from a patron and I think two more small works have just sold.

On Thursdays, my husband's workout partner comes over for dinner. So after making the bed and putting away last night's dishes, (and tearing myself away from Facebook) I'm busy making cranberry meatballs, rice, and chopping up the last half of the remaining cabbage in the fridge for coleslaw. Oops-- out of chili sauce for the meatballs, so I'll just have to use ketchup. Improvised on the brown sugar, too, using white sugar with a small pouring of molasses. Nearly out of onion too, so dried minced onion went into the meatballs, and the remaining fresh onion will go into the coleslaw. I've never really thought a recipe should be followed like it's another Commandment--and besides I'm allergic to grocery stores(!) Tossed the meatballs into the crock pot to cook while I answer a few things on the computer, write out an invoice, and jot down my thoughts on this blog.

Puttering around in my kitchen makes me think about some of the things I learned from my mom (which is amazing because I avoided housework like the plague when I was a kid.)

1. Focus on the corners when you clean a floor--the middle will take care of itself.
2. Use what you have.
3. Don't add salt to your dishes--people use salt shakers often without even tasting the food, anyway.
4. Wash your dishes as you cook.
5. Figure out dessert and plan the rest of the meal around that.
6. If you don't cook enough, there will always be food left over--because everyone is afraid to eat too much.
7. Tea pretty much makes the day go round.

Well, I'm back to the easel. Catch you later.

(Image: "Cocktails and Salmon Roses" Acrylic on Canvas, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2010.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Time Travel Cooking

Hubby bought me "The Time Traveler's Wife" video for me for Valentine's Day...it was tucked under my pillow on Saturday night, because he couldn't wait until the actual holiday. Isn't that COOL?? And on top of it, when he buys me chick flicks, he even watches them with me. Now THAT'S a secure man...;)

Well, anyway, this isn't going to be a review of the movie--although I have to admit I liked the book better--isn't that the way it goes? But it does bring me to what's on my mind today--which is my fascination with the past, particularly when it pertains to home life.

I had an idea this year, based on some health issues we are both having. I wonder if people in my childhood (the 60s and 70s) were of normal weight because going out to eat was a major--and rare--treat. I remember how as a kid, getting a hamburger at our local hamburger stand (remember Sandee's?) was a HUGE deal. My mom, who labored tirelessly to serve us wholesome and home cooked meals, was forever in the shadow of anything that came of a greasy paper bag. I think back now, and I marvel how on a daily basis we were served vegetables out of our own garden, some sort of entree (my mom was, and is still, big on Campbell's soup casseroles), often fresh bread right out of the oven, along with homemade pickles and her owned canned fruit. Cookies, cinnamon rolls, and all sorts of pies were a staple. We thought nothing of it as kids, unfortunately. But I sure do now.
Anyway, I was thinking about the whole diet insanity in our nation. And I started to wonder if it might be that we simply eat out too much. And so at the beginning of January, I began to cook at home every night, including weekends. Believe it or not, we are starting to lose some of that not-so-lovely extra poundage. Hubby, who also works out at a gym, has lost about 13 pounds, and I've lost around 8. And get this, I'm still baking cookies and other yummy desserts! So, it's interesting to see how much we'll lose at the end of the year--or if my theory is a bust.

Well, I'm enjoying this so much, I thought it would be a kick to take it one step further. Right now, I use my crock pot on busy days. I can't look at a crock pot and not hear the Helen Reddy song "I am Woman, Hear me Roar". To me, crock pots are all about 1970s moms in polyester pant-suits, frantically throwing in frozen ingredients before they scoot out the door to fight the male-dominated work place. I think, however, that I want to go back a little further with my cooking style, back to the alien culinary planet known as the 50s.

So, I think this year, I want to add these things to our menus. Stuffed peppers, shrimp cocktails, jello molds with grated carrot and artichokes, Rice Krispie squares, veal chops, porcupine meatballs, Chicken a la King, and even a souffle or two. And wouldn't it be fun to make a Baked Alaska? Just thinking about these foods brings me back to all the hours I would spend as a very little girl poring over my mom's cookbooks, favorites being "Fun with Jello" and of course, the grande dame herself, Betty Crocker. Some of those foods looked like they came right out of a spaceship. And they also looked so incongruous--imagine green olives suspended in lemon gelatin!--that they had to be delicious...right?? Right?? What a wonderful thing to imagine ladies in hats and chiffon that "lunched" on aspics and mousses and ladyfingers and spritz cookies. They certainly didn't live anywhere in my Brady Bunch neighborhood.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

(Image: "Cherries on a Chair" Acrylic on Canvas, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2010.)

My Bread

In an effort to lose a bit of the love handles, we are trying to eat more complex carbs. Here is the loaf I baked today. It's made of wheat germ, whole wheat, molasses, and oats. I feel like an earth mother right now. ;)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fun in the Freezer

I heard recently on a radio advertisement that the automatic washing machine ranks as the number one time-saver ever invented. I'm inclined to agree, but I would think that the freezer ranks close behind it.

I clean houses on a part time basis and I know--because I've cleaned many a freezer over the years--that people often use this nifty space as the repository for occasional tv dinners or a box or so of ice cream. But boy, oh boy, a freezer can be your best friend...well, maybe you're not THAT lonely, but it sure can save you time and big bucks.


Here's my freezer, crammed with stuff from my once a month shopping trip (we'll talk about that another time.) I have spent around $150 total (this includes all the canned and dried goods as well) for a month's worth of food for the two of us. Here's what we have that's on the cold side:
1 bag of popsicles...because those are a necessity!
1/2 ham
1 package of bulk pork sausage
2 packages of corn tortillas, 1 of white
a bag of onion rings
5 tupperware containers of homemade bean soup
10 chicken thighs
3 bags of zucchini that I grated up this summer
1 half of a cake, which I plan to make into a trifle
2 pork loins--these are so good!
a bag of frozen garden tomatoes--whole tomatoes freeze so well, and are as good as canned
1 bag of frozen bananas--I use these for banana bread all the time
1 bag of bread crumbs--can be used for meat-loaves, etc.
10 chicken breasts
1 brisket
a tupperware container of homemadetaco casserole
two containers of homemadeitalian soup
8 pounds of hamburger
4 pork chops
a tupperware container of homemade spaghetti sauce
Cool-Whip
two bags of mixed vegetables
a bag of turkey soup bones, recycled from Thanksgiving that make a great pot of soup!
4 salisbury steaks
a package of turkey lunch meat
a tupperware container of homemade chicken primivera
a tupperware bowl of homemade chicken and rice soup
a tupperware container of homemade pork and rice
a tupperware container of homemade sauerkraut and sausage

I buy most of my meats from a discount store that sells things that are slightly irregular, scratched or dented. We have seen no decrease in quality or safety buying these items. This is where I buy at least half of my meat--which is often already frozen, and most of the time, half the price of any store in the area.

I like to double up when I cook, and freeze half. Hubby and I have decided that this year we're going to work on eating at home at least 90% of the time, and these doubled-up meals really help me when I'm sick to death of cooking. I can just take something out the freezer, pop it in the microwave, and voila, a home-cooked meal!

I figure we've saved at least half on our grocery bill, just by using the freezer to it's full capacity and shopping more carefully.

So, I'm dying to know, what's in YOUR freezer?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Monday is Laundry Day

Today is laundry day for this hip housewife. Mondays have been laundry days since I began to run my own house at the age of seventeen. Mondays were laundry days for me back when I was in college, loading up my banged up blue Cavalier with sometimes up to thirteen (!) baskets destined for the laundromat. Did you know a laundromat can actually be a great place to study? Well, then again, not the ideal...but it worked at the time.

Mondays have been laundry days for generations of women long before I came on the scene. All the way back to covered wagons and pioneer times, when wrestling soaking heavy dresses, overalls, and petticoats on a washboard demanded the renewed energy--and faith--gained from a day of worship on Sunday.

It is a curious joy today to step into my narrow washroom, just off the kitchen. The room was definitely built for one. Winter coats and gear on wall-hooks grab me as I go past, and we'll hopefully ignore one corner, where empty moving boxes, bags of potatoes and onions, and a vacuum cleaner all squeeze for space. I can't keep that spot neat no matter how I try.

Sun sparks off the snow on this record snow-fall day, diamond dazzling through my curtainless window over the washing machine. It occurs to me that I like to do my laundry on Mondays for many reasons. First of all because it works. Monday laundry day insures that we have fresh bedding, towels, and clothes for the entire week. But it also ties me to women throughout time, to women with washboards and clotheslines, to women stirring clothes in vats of boiling water and lye, to women pounding clothes on rocks in cold mountain streams. Clothes will always need to be washed, I'm convinced, even when we're flying around like the Jetsons--and who knows, maybe they'll still be done on Monday.

I am so lucky. I pour liquid soap that smells of mandarin oranges into my humming washer, watch as the bubbles begin to form. I adore the strait-laced scent of bleach; it brings to mind images of turn-of-the-century maid servants with their ruffled caps and aprons. Everything comes out dry and soft, and so warm, I just want to wrap it around me. Such a luxury to start the week with everything neat, clean and folded--temporary perfection.
 

(art work is "Abdication from the Sisterhood", c. Cory Jaeger-Kenat, sold at Bottleworks Art Center, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, 2000.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Proceed with Caution

My attempt at a costume for a Christmas party; I was being Cousin Eddy's wife from the movie, "Christmas Vacation"
Every ultra-hip housewife knows of activities in her domestic lexicon that should best be avoided, in order to cut back on ovens belching smoke, death by food, tornadoes and other natural disasters. Let's face it, no one is good at everything--and some of us, like myself, are either really good at something...or really, really bad at something else. Here are the things that I genuinely suck at in the world of the happy home.

1. Entertaining. Despite my insane teenage days where a party was happening as soon as the school bell rang, I seem to have lost that ability as soon as I turned twenty. Maybe it's because I sobered up, and a party no longer involves a keg and police sirens. Now, my inner Martha Stewart invites herself along whenever a get-together is arranged, and while she's shrieking in my ear, suddenly I'm obsessing about folding the napkins into swan-like shapes and forgetting that food and enough chairs might be involved. This is torture in some countries.

2. Sewing. I was SO grateful for that D- I got in HomeEc in 7th grade. We made a skirt, and the sewing machine only blew up twice. Although, watch out...I am feeling the yen for seam allowances and needle impaled fingers once again, she said with an evil laugh.

3. Roasting a chicken. This one is weird, because I can roast a turkey like a pro. In fact, this last Thanksgiving, our pipes froze, and I still cooked a majestic Pilgrim bird despite having to boil water for cooking and washing all day long. And yet, the equation of chicken + oven always, always winds up with a truly fowl result that seems done, and yet bleeds all over the plate. So if you're coming over for a PARTY where I am serving roast chicken, you should know that I really don't like you, and you should leave town as fast as possible.

4. Making Christmas divinity. Let me tell you, folks. Divinity is not divine. It is evil, pure, sugary evil. Every year, for twenty plus years, I have made divinity at Christmas time. You would think that with such experience, I would just be able to whip up a batch and that would be it. OH NO! Every time, and I mean EVERY time, I must make one batch that looks oh so pretty and yet mocks me with its refusal to transform from egg white goo into candy. The next batch is just fine. Maybe next year I will have proved my worth to the divinity gods and one batch will be all I'll have to make. One can always dream.

4. Making gravy. This one is slowly being conquered. It took figuring out that automatically dumping cornstarch into meat broth just resulted in meaty corn lumps. Yummy in my tummy! Now I actually follow the directions, and things are much better.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Kitchen

How better to start off a blog about domesticity, than to introduce you to my humble little kitchen?

Sit down, while I fix you a cup of tea. We drink a whole lot of green tea around here, mainly because we don't like coffee. The wine bottles make us look like quite the connoisseurs--or the party animals--but they are actually gifts given by friends. Someday we need to have a wine and cheese party. Yay, warm brie!

My kitchen cupboards are almost all one attached piece, and are made of metal. They come right out of retro-land, anywhere between the '30s and the '50s. They are one of my favorite parts of the house.

The cloth on the table is from my mom's wedding chest--we think it was given by my great-grandmother.

My sons are grown, but my nieces adorn my fridge nicely.




The cabinets in this ad, circa 1950s really remind me of my own. Note the single sink, just like mine, and the grooved counters right next to it. These are my favorite feature, as they really help the washed dishes to drain and dry. It staggers me to imagine how many dishes over the decades have been washed and piled next to my sink, with the water dripping down the grooves.

We are looking for a house, and renting our place temporarily. However, I am determined to either find or create my own June Cleaver kitchen in our own house. If I could transplant our current rental kitchen into our new house, I'd be a happy camper. Our landlord has offered to put in "faux" granite countertops and redo the cabinets probably with oak veneers, and the poor man just shook his head, thinking I was off my rocker, when I begged him to leave it alone.