Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Black Walnut Memories

A few weeks ago the hubs and I started gathering black walnuts and while it would have been easier to sack them up and take them to the hulling spot, I have a tendency to still do things the "old" way. We gathered walnuts until our backs hurt and then.....dumped them in the driveway to be ran over and hulled! And yeah, my once pretty white gravel drive is not so pretty anymore (I'd forgotten the mess the hulls make!), but you can get a lot of thinking done while hulling them out of those ran over shells.

As I sat down on my board with my bucket beside me my mind just naturally went back in time to previous walnut gatherings. I can remember when I was a kid a walnut huller was brought up to the town square...right up on the courthouse lawn! A particular Saturday that came to mind there in the driveway was during the walnut season. It must of been a good year for them because I remember the square just being packed with folks dragging their buckets and bags of walnuts to wait in line for their turn at the huller. That year my parents also took their walnuts to town and while they waited their turn they visited with everyone else up there. My dad was a trader by nature, so he was always "working the scene" to see what was available that he could trade for...whether it be work or livestock. And of course, all this took place on a Saturday morning!

Yes, I'm old enough to remember a time when going to town on Saturdays was a big deal. It's when you done the weekly shopping, trading, or just visiting on the streets. You didn't jump in the car and run to town just because you needed something, you planned out those weekly (and more often in my family, monthly!) trips to cover all you needed...which usually meant the grocery store, the mercantile, and the feed store.

I enjoyed the trips because that's when I got to see and play with other kids and we'd run all around the square and the upper streets close to it. If you were lucky you'd get a quarter to take across the street to the Ben Franklin store where you could buy penny and nickel candy....ohhhhh heaven!!! They had rows and rows of all kinds and flavors and it became a tough decision as to which one you would pick for that week. For me, usually it was the Milk Duds or Sugar Daddy suckers that always won out! I never really understood though, why they carried so much candy because the proprietress at the time never seemed enthused to see us kids walk through the door! I mean, they had to of known where there was candy there would be children! ;) We were watched like hawks until we had made our choice and placed our grubby little coins on the counter, grabbed our bags, and were back out the door to run some more. Back then you needed all that sugar to keep up with the pack!

I always made sure before I left town to head down one of the side streets just off the square. That's where I'd find my Grandpa Ellis setting in the sun with a couple of other elderly gentlemen. He always had his pipe lit and he was always whittling on a stick! I don't know that anything ever became of those sticks, it was just something he did to pass the time. If I was lucky, Grandpa would give me nickel, and sometimes a dime, which I always saved for my next trip to town. You never asked though, that would have been rude and impolite and Mom always insisted that I attempt to turn down the offer, but Grandpa also insisted I take it. Sometimes he'd have a bag of those big orange peanut looking candies and I'd be given one of those rather than a coin. I never told Grandpa, but I hated those things! LOL! Again, Mom always insisted you take whatever you were given, do it politely and thankfully whether you liked it or not...she never insisted I had to eat it though! Every now and then he'd swap out those nasty peanuts for lemon drops or horehound candy. I didn't much care for the horehound either, but I sure loved those lemon drops!

You won't find any benches around the square these days..it's all fancy street lights and sign posts. You sure won't find people milling around the courthouse on a Saturday morning either, unless of course it's Apple Festival weekend and then you can't hardly get to the square period. With Walmart open 24 hours a day you can run to town whenever you want to get whatever you want. You have to go out of town to get your walnuts hulled and most folks just buy them prepackaged now rather than doing their own.

I think that's why I try to cling to some of the old ways, because like everyone else I find I'm just always "busy" doing something with very little time to really enjoy things anymore. There's one thing about hulling your own walnuts...sitting in the driveway pulling off those hulls just naturally slows you down a tad. It's an ongoing process, from the picking up, to the hulling, to the stirring them as they air dry, to the final packing them away for winter. You're not going to rush the process or you'll lose the nutmeats you've worked so hard to acquire. I went modern one year and took my walnuts to a huller, however, I didn't air dry them long enough and lost almost the whole batch. I don't recall my folks taking ours to the huller other than that one time either...my dad didn't much care for those "new fangled inventions", but I would imagine it was really because they lost their crop from lack of drying too!

There is much to be said about all of our latest technology, although I've yet to understand why it is with more conveniences that free up our time we seem to have less and less of that time. For as long as I'm able I'll still be doing walnuts the "old fashioned" way....and I'll be thankful for the time and place I was raised in... where things ran a little slower and progress was measured by the arrival of a walnut huller!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuscan Spinach and Garlic Chicken Bread

I like to cook and I like to shop cheap (don't we all!). I have three favorite stores I visit when I intend to load up on groceries for extended cooking: Aldi's, Dollar Tree, and The Dutch Country (better known in my area as the Scratch and Dent!). A few weeks ago while food shopping I ran across a pre-made pizza at Aldi's called Tuscan Chicken Flatbread Pizza...I loved it!! It was a mixture of spinach, white sauce, chicken, and garlic and it was DELISH!

I have a tendency to try and copy something I run across that I really like, sometimes because all of the above stores aren't close enough to just hop in the car and go pick something up and sometimes...well, just because I want to! So after trying this pizza and wishing I had bought more than one, I decided I would create my own. Because I do cook quite a bit I had a lot of the items already on hand so it was worth my effort to give it a try.

I can tell you my first attempt did involve a flatbread crust and it was okay, but there just wasn't enough seasoning to suit me...it needed more garlic, so when I ran across these split garlic loaves at Walmart on the markdown rack I immediately thought "Tuscan"! I tend to be a "this and that" kind of cook..I don't always follow a recipe and when I'm creating I rarely write something down, I just store it away in the 'ol memory bank for further use (one of these days I'll have to quit that!). But this particular creation is one that I think is pretty much open..if you don't like tuscan, do pepperoni, or vegetarian, or just whatever!

Here's my version of a Tuscan Bread Pizza:

1 pkg. split loaf garic bread
1 chicken breast cubed (or use canned chicken)   
1 bottle of Classic Alfredo Sauce
1/2 pkg. frozen chopped spinach well drained
2-3 cloves of garlic minced
1/2 of a small red onion chopped
1/2 green bell pepper chopped
3-4 baby portabella mushrooms sliced
1/2 teaspon classic pesto
1/2 cup white cracked pepper cheese crumbled (I found mine at the Dollar Tree)
1/2- 1 cp shredded pizza cheese
Dried Italian herbs or parsley to sprinkle
2 tbls. olive oil or butter

These measurements aren't precise, you can use as much or as little as you want, or leave out what you don't like and go from there. Heat the olive oil/butter and add cubed chicken and minced garlic; saute for a few minutes and then add the onions, and pepper and continue until chicken is fully cooked. Remove from heat and stir in the pesto sauce and spinach...let set while you prepare your loaves. I layered my ingredients like this: alfredo sauce (as much as you'd like), the sauteed mix, sliced mushrooms, seasonings, and cheeses, . Bake on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees until well heated and cheese is melted.

It smells sooo good when it comes out of the oven and tastes even better! Because the hubs was not impressed with my first attempt on the flatbread, I took my second half loaf and used pepperoni with my homemade pizza sauce and all the other ingredients rather than alfredo and spinach...it was also very good. You can also add a second breast to the mix and up your veggies to make both loaves...eat one and wrap the second one for the freezer to have later. They do make a good size serving, enough that hubs and I ate til we were full and then I sent the rest home with the daughter for lunch the next day!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

If at first you don't succeed....

Many years ago my sister-in-law taught me how to crochet and I loved it! Now mind you I still only do simple things, doilies, hats, ect. but it's something I like to do. Around that same time frame I came to know another gal who not only crocheted, but also knitted. She made beautiful things and she tried her best to teach me, but I just never could get the hang of it. I kept my knitting needles for years thinking maybe one day I'd try it again, but then eventually donated it all to our thrift store.

Yesterday one of the gals I work with came in to show me her latest scarf...OMG!! It was gorgeous! She is also a knitter and can whip out those twirly scarves like nobody's business. I love her twirly scarves, but not enough to try knitting all over again, however, when I seen that one yesterday I was determined to give it one more go!! It was made with the Red Heart ribbon yarn and as it's knitted it falls in layers up and around the scarf...I had to try it, so I ran to our Walmart on my lunch and grabbed some knitting needles and a skein of the Sashay since our store doesn't carry the ribbon of course...arrrgh!! Pat had assured me time and time again I could do the twirlies so figured I might as well start there and see what happens.

I took my needles and yarn down to her classroom during our planning period yesterday to have her show me how to begin, but alas, she was out to another class. Thank goodness though, the other gal was in the room and knew how to get me started (she's also a crafter of many trades!)...thanks Deb!!

I'd like to be able to tell you that I just took off like a wild fire and have that scarf all whipped up and ready to wear...NOPE!! I've had to restart three times!! Mainly because my hands are just down right clumsy working these needles and I'm dropping stitches, adding stitches, and well...just plain losing the things right off the needles! BUT!! I intend to persevere!!

I've managed to make it several rounds now without losing, dropping, or otherwise messing the thing up and I'm learning as I go (like not to get too tight!). It may not turn out to be the prettiest scarf around, but hopefully it will BE a scarf in some sense of the word!! It may take me a month to get through the skein, but I will get there! It's been 30 years since I made my first attempt at knitting, but I am bound and determined I will make at least one of those scarves and who knows...I may get the hang of this enough that I can also whip out several varieties! So, "if at first you don't succeed" go back and try it again, even if it is 30 years later!!