Sunday, July 29, 2012

WHY I'M A MEAT LOAF SNOB


Doesn’t everyone have a favorite meat loaf recipe?

If you don’t have a favorite meat loaf recipe, you might have a favorite “comfort food” diner where it’s a regular item on the menu and, most undoubtedly, it is very tasty.

Or, you hate it!

I was very spoiled growing up in the meat loaf department. After eating my mother’s recipe for years, I could never eat meat loaf in a restaurant or in a school cafeteria or at anyone else’s house. I always politely refused the meat loaf and quietly thought to myself how sorry I felt for them that they didn’t know any better.

I am a meat loaf snob!

This was my mother’s only secret recipe. I believe it was truly hers. I have tried to find similar ones online and in cookbooks but haven’t found anything exactly like it.

If there is a duplicate out there somewhere, you’re lucky to have found it.

My mother was a high school Home Economics teacher. She had studied nutrition and meal preparation. She was an expert. No one who ever knew her or ever ate her meals would argue.

Her meat loaf recipe was the only recipe she wouldn’t give to anyone.

“What’s your secret, Foxie?” was a common question people would ask her after eating her meat loaf.

She had this finesse about cooking that made it seem so effortless. She would use only the freshest ingredients and would combine foods that complement each other. Her kitchen was never messy. She washed dishes as she cooked. Nothing was ever overcooked or undercooked. Everything was always cooked just right and was delicious.

She had those special feelings about food that make the difference between a good cook and excellent cook.

I feel confident if I opened a diner and only served this meat loaf, people would line up to eat it.

Foxie’s Secret Meat Loaf

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Meat Loaf Ingredients:

2/3-cup crushed corn flakes or corn flake crumbs
1-cup canned evaporated milk
1½-pound ground chuck
2 slightly beaten eggs
2-tablespoons prepared horseradish
1-teaspoon salt
1/8-teaspoon black pepper

In a medium-size bowl, soak the corn flake crumbs in the milk for five minutes

Add the meat, eggs, horseradish, salt, and pepper.

Mix well with a wooden spoon and then with your hands, squishing all the ingredients together.

Form into a loaf with your hands and place in a 13”X9”X2” Pyrex glass baking pan.

Spread the following Piquant Sauce evenly over the top and sides of the loaf before baking.

Piquant Sauce

3-tablespoons brown sugar
¼-cup ketchup
¼-teaspoon ground nutmeg
1-teaspoon dry mustard

Mix the ingredients together in a small cup or bowl and spread on the top and sides of the loaf.

Bake the loaf for one hour in a moderate oven at 350 degrees.

This meatloaf is very mild tasting. It is wonderful for children or anyone on a bland diet although the flavor is not compromised in any way.

The secrets are:

The corn flake crumbs take the place of bread crumbs (no flour). 
The horseradish takes the place of onion that is commonly used in most meat loaf recipes.
Ground chuck is leaner beef and has just enough fat for flavor but not so much that the meat loaf is swimming in fat after it’s cooked.

It is economical to feed lots of people and if you have any left over, try a cold meat loaf sandwich on white bread with lettuce and ketchup. 

Very comforting!



Sunday, July 22, 2012

LOS CHANGITOS PRECIOSOS


For many years, there has been a children’s mariachi group in Tucson called Los Changitos Feos…. the ugly little monkeys. This group of musically talented exquisitely beautiful children is far from ugly. The name was given to them affectionately and with love.

My little monkeys are precious. They are energetic and athletic. I know they would swing from the rafters if they could…although they do run and jump and tumble and roll.



Their names are AJ and HM.

One of the most heart-warming results of this event was son HD, the father of the “little monkeys”, saying that no one had ever asked to have the children visit before. He so-o-o appreciated that I wanted to have them all to myself for a few days.


HD is such a wonderful father.
He wasn’t aware of the courage and bravery required on my part.

AJ and I have spent many enjoyable times together…just the two of us. She is a purely delightful and very entertaining 8-yr-old child-woman. She is a character…opinionated, sometimes stubborn, always charming, and extremely beautiful. Did I mention smart? She has such wise, beyond-her-years intelligence and intuitiveness.

Playing dress-up with her Great-Grandmother's hat
She often says and does things that make my heart sing with love for her.

A few years ago while she was visiting our home, she meandered quietly into Peter’s studio to watch him paint. She watched him intently, looking around until he stopped painting and acknowledged her presence.

She asked if he had painted all of the paintings on the walls and floors of his studio. He admitted that he had, wondering what she might say next. She told him she thought they were beautiful.



He offered to give her one if she saw one that she especially liked.

She carefully surveyed the inventory and selected a small, warm orange, desert, sunset painting. She looked up at him with those big blue eyes and said, “I like this one.” Of course, it is hers.

Original oil painting by Peter Pegnam
A year or so after that, AJ observed a small book sitting on an end table in her home. There was a picture of a young boy on the cover.


She asked her father who that boy was. He said that it was Papa Pete when he was little.

 “Why is Peter’s picture on this book?” she queried. 

Her father replied, “Because he wrote the book and it’s about his life.”

Aghast and wide-eyed, AJ looked at her dad and said, “Peter is a famous artist AND he writes books????”

So precious.

HM is another story. Well, he is precious, too, but in a 5-yr-old boy sort of way. It is a word that starts with “pre” as in precocious.

Love his original hair!
I’ve pretty much kept my distance from him. I still remember DW tryin’ to “rope” me when he was two.

HM has a similar character as DW did then.

To say that he has been a behavioral challenge to his parents is what understatements are made of.



HM and I have not had a copasetic relationship to this point. I have had to take on a defensive mode in his presence…no advancing…just retreating.

Can Nana have a hug??
Definitely no “kissy huggy” stuff between us. He wants to be left alone! I understand. I’ll wait it out.

I told him about a year ago, “One day you will like me and trust me…and I promise not to make you eat anything you don’t like…and you don’t have to hug and kiss me.”

This may have been the beginning of our current relationship. The fact that he even agreed to stay in my house with me (and AJ) for a couple of nights is amazing.

He didn’t run screaming out the door or beg his parents to take him home. He actually seemed content.

One of my biggest reservations to having an extended visit with him has to do with riding in the car. Now that he is big enough to not have to ride in a car seat, he is not restrained enough to stay put. I fully expected him to take off his seat belt and jump out of the car. I’m 60 years older than HM and have worried that he could outrun me…he can…and he knows it. Thank you GM for making child-resistant door locks.

This is the first time that we have spent time alone together without his parents running interference. His sister chooses wisely not to engage in the dynamics of “running interference”. Instead, she lets him have all the attention as she quietly observes him and stores away her opinions about her brother’s behavior.

She knows from past experience not to argue with him. I did say that she is a wise young lady, didn’t I?

He reminds me so much of his father at the same age…self-reliant, already fiercely independent, knows what he wants, when he wants it and will not compromise.

Smile HD...Dad of HM a few years ago.
OK. Give him what he wants.

HM doesn’t have unrealistic expectations. He stays busy and happy playing with dinosaurs, having plenty of plain copy paper and some markers to draw colorful pictures, eating now and then, and hanging out with the cats.

No one else has ever come to our house and paid any positive attention to the cats. HM is special. He is at once aggressive and then kind and loving. He’s a little paradox, running around with the minimum of clothing. Too cute!

The “cats” in this case are Truffles and Purdy. They are old and sleep most of the time.

Truffles is the eldest and the most difficult to love. We’ve had her in our family for twelve years and she still hisses at us when we walk by her. In addition to that, she has begun this incessant howling when she is not sleeping. Her summer sleeping place is under the writing table in my office.


HM and Truffles are kindred spirits. He spent some serious time hanging out with the sleeping Truffles under the writing table in my office.




During his visit, I was sitting in my office chair at the computer while he was under the writing table with Truffles. He crawled out from under the table and looked at me, making this funny sound with his mouth…a quiet hum with his lips quivering…and said that Truffles was making that noise. I told him that she was purring because she was so happy that someone wanted to sit with her.

He seemed so pleased that he was doing something to make the kitty happy.

Both children are fond of animals. They have dogs, feral cats, goats named Dakota and Hazel, a pig named Bubba, a horse, and chickens at home.



On one occasion during their visit, they were both sitting on the floor at the coffee table drawing and one glanced up to the top of the bookshelf and exclaimed, “There’s a baby bird up there in a nest.”

I took it down and let them hold it. It is not a real bird, of course. Its nest was an unusual bark-like looking object. As I held up the nest, I asked them if they knew what it was.

AJ confidently said, “It’s a saguaro boot.”

She was absolutely correct. We had brought it from the ranch where we found it, and many others of various sizes, on a deteriorating dead saguaro cactus.

According to Wikipedia’s description, a saguaro boot is a hard shell of tissue that a saguaro cactus creates to protect the wound created by a bird's nesting hole. The bird pecks through cactus skin and hollows out a space for a nest. When the saguaro dies, its soft flesh rots, but its woody infrastructure lasts much longer. So does the hollowed-out callus whose roughly boot-like shape gives it the name of "saguaro boot.”

AJ knew this. Amazing. She has been living in the desert and learning about it. That pleases me.

The occasion that prompted me to call HD and ask for the children to come for a visit was that Papa Pete had planned a visit to see his mother and brother in Rhode Island for a few days.

When I told Peter that I thought I would invite HM and AJ to visit while he was gone his response was,  “You sure know how to relax and have fun.” Yup, I do.

Because we have a small house now, we only have one guest room and it is also Peter’s art studio. Paintings, paintings everywhere. He secured all paintings, completed and in progress, so that “the monkeys” wouldn’t be tempted to embellish them with their own creativity.

To add to the situation, it’s summer in the desert. Outdoor temperatures are consistently soaring into the triple digits and nighttime lows are in the 80s.

It is too hot outside for man or beast…or Nana.

Also, it’s the monsoon season. When you think you’d like to go for a swim or play golf, you must contend with lightning and torrential downpours.

(Those of you who are reading this and fixin’ to upchuck at my choice of words will be happy to learn that I do, indeed, have a Hack License. So there!)

Not only was it hot, but also, from the time they arrived at my house until they left, the thunder, lightning and rain prevented us from leaving the cool confines of the house.

Since it hasn’t rained here for years, I gave HM the credit for making it rain. From the time he arrived until shortly before he left, he periodically, as he was passing by, beat the Taos drum and another big drum loudly and continuously.

It rained for three days.

We were “holed up”, as it were.

The promise of visits to the Big Splash Water Park up the street went unfulfilled.

There we were…48 hours together…without parents to supervise and correct…any of us…in a small house…together.

A scary prospect…for me…and for “the monkeys”.

I cleared off the coffee table so that they could sit on the floor and play with stickers, make pictures, draw, paint, and pretend.

HM made the recliner into a throne and became a king. AJ and I were his subjects.



Aj made strawberry shortcake. She cut up the strawberries and added the sugar. Then she made the dough for the shortcake from the Bisquick recipe on the box. We served it up with lots of whipped cream on top. It was delicious.



AJ and I played our favorite duet on the piano. Holden played a bit, too, and very nicely…which is a result of his brief relationship with Mozart Mouse and Beethoven Bear a couple of years ago.

AJ “let” me French braid her hair with ribbons and she didn’t scream.



We played Sorry and War.

We visited Tia Rica briefly one morning at her office. On the way back I asked if they would like to get some lunch. Sure they would. HM said that his favorite lunch was at Sonic. Taco Bell is the source for AJ’s lunch favorite. Oh, how I remember making individual meals for everyone. Viva the fast food restaurant!!

AJ accessed her Moshi Monsters website and played on the computer for a time while HM was busy with his “guys”.

We didn’t get to dance and sing or play Hide and Seek. I didn’t get to read them books or tell them stories. There just wasn’t enough time.

I had the most amazing two days with them. It is truly the only way to get to know your grandchildren.

It’s also a sneaky way to find out what their parents are teaching them…or not teaching them.

Don’t worry parents of HM and AJ. You passed muster.

I will only describe a few particular characteristics that AJ and HM possess which I found to be a remarkable testimony of their rearing:

They take a book to bed with them at night and read before they go to sleep. AJ’s was a “chapter book” as she called it. She told me that HM doesn’t like “chapter books”. HM can’t read yet so he likes picture books.

AJ had her book on the nightstand beside where she was sleeping with me. She went to bed, snuggled into the covers with her stuffed pink dogie and her book. Special.

HM was sleeping in the art studio, accompanied by his blue “blankie”, my turquoise blanket, and his little puppet pony.

I should have found a picture book to read to him or, at least, for him to look at before he went to sleep. I wasn’t yet aware of their bedtime routine.

He did insist that the lamp on the nightstand be left on.

When I went into the room in the morning to check on him, there was a book lying on the nightstand. It had been removed from the bookends holding several books right bedside his bed. The light was still on and he was sleeping soundly.

Remember, he is 5-years-old. He will be going to Kindergarten in a month. Could he have read or recognized this book in the grouping of favorite books on the nightstand in Peter’s studio?

It is one of my favorites too. But, it is a “chapter book” without pictures. HM must have been disappointed that there were no pictures in the book.

The book is Robert Fulghum’s ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN.

I smiled to myself and thought, “What an interesting coincidence!” as I placed it back in the group of other books between the bookends and forgot about it.

Next morning…same thing. The same book had again been removed from the other books and was lying beside where HM slept.

Now, is that weird? Not really. Their parents have taught them that reading is important and, probably, that it relaxes them and helps them settle down before they go to sleep.

What a wonderful lifetime habit to get into.

Bravo, Mom and Dad!!

Among the items that AJ brought with her in her backpack was a puzzle book. Not just any kids’ puzzle book…a Sudoku book.

I am completely obsessed with Sudoku. Several years ago, I helped DV learn to do Sudoku. He was rewarded in a math class by being the only one in the class who knew how to do it.

Now, here’s AJ, at 8-years-old, with her very own Sudoku book. We worked on it together and, to my amazement, she gets it!! I helped her a bit with strategy but she is using the type of thinking that she needs to do the puzzles.

The other thing that made me pleased as punch was how they say “Grace” before eating. We sat down to eat our first meal together on their first evening with me. I expected them to just dive in and eat the “requested menu” I had prepared.

They told me that before they eat they go around the table and everyone says what they are thankful for. That is the perfect prayer…to thank God…each one…from his own heart.

The last thing I will mention is important to me. It probably isn’t important to many other people but I was stunned that they both did this. They put down the toilet seat and closed the lid before leaving the bathroom. Unbelievable.

Their parents have taught them that books are important, that animals are deserving of our loving care and attention and to be thankful for life’s gifts. In addition, they have taught them good manners and good housekeeping.



They grow up so fast. I feel that I have to hold them close and love them now because before long they will be off in the world on their own.

I acknowledge that they are as smart (or smarter) than I am. They’re just shorter and have less life experience.

They also deserve respect. They have feelings and can feel hurt and pain. When they are respected, children reveal their innermost selves. If they trust you they will seek solace with you.

Thank you, AJ and HM, for sharing your time with me. I did help love you into being…as Mr. Rogers would say. I am very proud of you and love you immensely.

Nana

P.S. Thank you too for the little sticker surprises you left for me to discover. 


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

CHILE CON QUESO, TOMATO BASIL SALSA AND COWBOY CAVIAR



Summer, in most parts of this country, is reason to celebrate. The snow's melted, the water in the swimming holes is warm enough to jump in without getting goose bumps, light-weight cool cotton clothes are comfortable and casual, and you don't have to get bundled up. The kids get a break from school.

Ah-h-h freedom…vacations…flowers…green grass…backyard barbeques…great food and drink!  

Out here in the Arizona desert  it’s a different story. It’s too hot to go outside. Excessive heat warnings are blasted across the TV screen every morning. Errands to run? Get them done before noon.

And, who wants to be outside grilling steaks when it’s 110 degrees?

Nevertheless, we do party and barbeque in Arizona…in the desert…just not in July, August and September.

Here are a few of my favorite southwestern party appetizers. Nothing complicated. Enjoy.

Chili Con Queso Dip


        Half stick butter
        ¾ cup tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or use canned.
        ¾ cup finely chopped yellow onion
        2 4-ounce cans diced green chile
        2 pounds Velveeta cheese, cut in chunks.
        2 cups tomato soup undiluted
        1 lb. ground beef
        Sliced jalapeños for garnish

Sauté onion and tomatoes in butter over low heat in a heavy soup pot.

Add ground beef and brown it completely until it’s crumbly and mixed well with the tomatoes and onion.

Put this mixture in a strainer over a bowl and drain off the fat.

Put the meat mixture back in the soup pot.

Stir slowly adding cheese, chiles and soup until it is melted and mixed.

Add milk, a little at a time, if the dip is too thick.

Put it in a small crock-pot on the low setting to keep it warm.

Serve it as a dip or on nachos with the jalapeños sprinkled across the top, if desired.

Tomato and Basil Salsa


This is the freshest tasting salsa there is. It always gets rave reviews.

Mix the ingredients in a serving bowl and put in the refrigerator for an hour so the flavors can blend together.

        1 tomato peeled and chopped
(Do you know how to peel a tomato? Put the tomato in a deep bowl and cover with boiling water. After a couple of minutes take it out and it will peel easily. Don’t leave it in the water too long or it will cook the tomato.)

        ½ chopped red onion
        2 tablespoons seeded and chopped jalapeños
        Juice of one lime
        1-teaspoon vinegar
        Basil chiffonade (sliced fresh basil leaves)
        Salt & pepper
        ½ tablespoon olive oil

Serve with corn chips or “scoops”.

Cowboy Caviar


   This is a good dip with tortilla chips or mixed with 2 cups shredded cabbage for a salad.
       
        Mix together the following:
        2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
        1 ½ to 2 teaspoons hot sauce
        1 ½ teaspoons salad oil
        1 clove garlic minced
        1/8-teaspoon pepper

        1 firm-ripe avocado cut into ½-inch cubes. Add to vinegar mix.
        Drain and rinse: 
        1 15-ounce can black-eye peas
        1 15-ounce can corn kernels

        Add peas and corn with the following to vinegar mix:
        2/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
        2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
        ½ pound Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
        1-teaspoon salt

Refrigerate covered until serving.

 



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

JULY 4, 2012: HAPPY 236TH BIRTHDAY, GRANDFATHER LEACHMAN

Today is the celebration in the United States of America of the signing, by the Founding Fathers, of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, 236 years ago.

One thing you may not know, or care to know, is that it is also the birthday of my Great Grandfather Leachman (4 Jul 1776- 29 Oct 1838).

If my research is accurate, which is definitely a big IF, he was my 3rd Great Grandfather on my father's side.

He was not only born on the 4th of July, he was born on the 4th of July 1776…the birthday of the United States of America.

His father was a Revolutionary Patriot whose service was furnishing beef to the troops in Virginia.

On the day of Grandfather Leachman’s birth, the Founding Fathers were signing the document that established the United States of America.

It was a big day for the Leachman family in 1776.

What food would they have been having to celebrate in 1776? Turtle soup was a favorite.

In 2012, hot dogs are being grilled all over America. Hamburgers, potato chips, watermelon, potato salad, corn on the cob, and homemade ice cream are also likely to make an appearance in parks and backyards today.

When my grandparents and their friends were all dressed up in 1907, what food would have been served for their 4th of July celebration?


If I close my eyes and put myself back on my great-grandparents' farm in Illinois I can almost smell the food cooking as I walk in the front door. There would be platters full of crispy golden brown fried chicken, potato salad heaped in a big crock, homemade bread and butter pickles, stacks of roasting ears dripping with melted butter, fresh green beans steamed with bacon and onion, sliced big red juicy fresh tomatoes, a perfect apple pie and cherry pie fresh out of the oven cooling on the sideboard, and, of course, a pear tart. Their business at their home was a pear orchard called the Bird Hill Fruit Farm where "a specialty is made of growing fine pears".



The biggest difference between then and now would have been the white linen tablecloths and napkins, the silver flatware and silver serving pieces and the formal place settings with china and crystal.

July 4, 1923 at the same farm was more casual (no hats). It was the occasion of a family reunion. Know anyone?


Then, in 1955, the family gathered to dine and celebrate at the Bird Hill Fruit Farm once again. This time they were dining "al fresco". The women were still wearing dresses but now they wore sundresses. No more linens, silver, china and crystal at this picnic. Aluminum had been invented.



Today, July 4, 2012, I made red chile, beans and rice. It had nothing to do with it being the 4th of July. We woke up and it was cloudy today. That was a welcome change and it seemed like a good day for some comfort food.

I hope you had a splendid 4th and can enjoy the fireworks tonight.

The 4th of July has been a big day in the USA every year for 236 years.

LET FREEDOM RING!