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Archive for August, 2010

High Stakes Tests

August 30th, 2010 at 11:59 pm

I live in Illinois and for grade school and middle school we have the ISAT which is Illinois State Achievement Test.

It's a component of the NCLB -- No Child Left Behind. It's a way we are to be held accountable for how we educate students.

On the surface that sounds so good. I mean, no one wants a teacher doing nothing and a kid not being educated. We all know there are great teachers out there who do their best and then are the duds.

However, we've come to the point where a school has to make 85% to pass. On the surface that doesn't sound totally unreasonable. But it's not a straight 85%. Each year it goes up and each year it gets more and more difficult. This percentage not only means the total folks taking the test, but the subgroups. Subgroups contain 45 students and can be gender, race, special education status, and economic status. All subgroups have to make 85%. Confusing? You bet.

My school district is a poor district so we have a lot of folks on free and reduced lunch so just about every school has that subgroup. Of course we have boys and girls subgroups. We have some race subgroups. Some schools have the special education subgroup.

On top of all of that, the school has to maintain a 91% attendance rate. Even if they pass all the academics, they have to have that magic attendance number or they don't make AYP or adequate yearly progress.

This is just a simplified version. I cannot really figure the scores the way they do because there's a lot of this and that ... it's not just 85%.

If a school doesn't make AYP they are labeled failing. I understand the reasoning behind it, but some of the questions on the test I'm not sure are things children will use. We spend so much time teaching to test -- we have to because we don't want to fail -- that so much other stuff is left out.

We look at kids as test scores -- remember when people complained that they were more than a number? Well, it's getting that way in education. A kid is a test score. One school that isn't a true district school, but sort of has district privileges didn't make AYP when the scores were lower. They do now. How, you ask? Well, from what I can tell they don't keep kids who don't pass the ISAT. They send them back to their home schools. Truly survival of the fittest!

I truly believe there should be accountability in education. But I don't think a test given in the spring should be the only way to hold schools and districts accountable.

One of my former schools didn't make AYP. It's not a bad school. It's in a high poverty neighborhood. The teachers work very hard instructing kids. I've seen teachers bringing in things from home to help the kids like clothes, snacks, shoes, etc. One teacher's church has volunteers who come every week to work with the kids on materials she puts together. When a family had a fire, the staff collected money and items to gift to the family. Kids brought in what they could for donations. I think educating people for life is far more important that teaching them to take a test.

I bet you won't see a question on how you can best serve your neighbor on a high stakes test.

Another tomato recipe

August 29th, 2010 at 09:23 pm

Since we have a decent crop of tomatoes, I'm delighted when I find a recipe that is quick and easy and looks good.

I was reading Guideposts and found this recipe that is tagged as being healthy. I think you can make and little or as much as you like.

Burnt Tomatoe Halves

4 firm, ripe tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt
black peppercorns
2 T fresh oregano leaves

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat until a drop of water sizzles on the surface. Meanwhile, cut tomatoes in half. Brush cut side of tomato with olive oil and sprinkle with salt to taste. Place tomatoes cut side down on hot surface. Don't move them for 8 - 10 minutes or they'll burst. The bottoms will show a black line of char all around when they're done. Using a spatula, life tomatoes off hot surface and invert onto a plate, burnt side up. Cut crosshatches into the surface of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with peppercorns and oregano, drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Note: if whole peppercorns are a problem, they can be ground or coarsely cracked. Serves 4.

Looks easy enough, doesn't it? And it sounds like a cheap side while tomatoes are in season.

Kindness

August 28th, 2010 at 12:09 am

A year or so ago an insurance company ran an advertisement showing people looking out for each other because they witnessed kindness. I felt inspired when I saw these ads. I know that the insurance company really wanted to use it to sell their insurance, but it just gave me a good, warm feeling.

We've all heard the random acts of kindness and how they often mean so much.

Well, what I'm thinking about today isn't a random act.

Last year a band teacher in our school district who had been in the district over 35 years retired. He had won many awards, but more importantly he had touched many lives. He had a very successful music program in the high school. He and another very successful music teacher had built the program from middle school to high school and they decided to retire at the same time. It was a loss to our district for so much talent to retire.

However, there seemed to be a problem this year when school started. Through a clerical error, the position was posted as a part-time position, not a full time one. Very few folks want to work .3 of a school day.

School started and no band teacher. The band students were upset. Yet, they were so dedicated to their program they started holding their own practices so they'd at least be in the program and get to continue what they started. It shows the level of dedication and professionalism these children must have witnessed from their band instructors.

The school district realized there was a problem and asked the retired man to come back. In the state of Illinois a retired person cannot teach the whole year and still receive one's pension, so this means he will probably have to work only certain days so he doesn't jeopardize his retirement.

He did return and as I drove by the school today, the kids were outside marching with their instruments.

It was out of kindness he decided to come back. He didn't want the students to be without music.

I know this isn't a huge thing, but for those kids, having a band teacher who really cares is a big show of kindness.

I've seen many acts of kindness with people I've worked with. They aren't the kind of things that get written up in the newspaper. But for the person on the receiving end, I'm sure it means a lot. For the child who doesn't have any shoes and socks, someone bringing some in and giving to them to the child on the sly so that child's dignity is intact means a lot. The child who doesn't have food at home getting a couple bags of groceries to take home for the weekend so the family has some food probably means a brighter weekend. The people who donate money to groups so other folks can have things they wouldn't normally receive makes life a little better.

All acts of kindness and just another way we help one another.

Copying a Role Model

August 25th, 2010 at 12:19 am

Do you often copy someone's style or dress or way to talking?

We've been watching a lot of Agatha Christie murder mysteries -- Poirot and Miss Marple -- and I have found I have a desire for a cuppa since they tend to drink a lot of tea.

The other day we were in a store and my husband noticed that there are few dresses with polka dot patterns like those in the 30s. He is enjoying the suits the gentlemen wear.

I guess we like to copy our role models.

As a Christian I often wondered what things people in the Bible ate. I know the manna and the loaves and fishes. And although we know Adam and Eve ate fruit, we only speculate it was an apple.

I found a cookbook a few years ago entitled "What Would Jesus Eat?" I assume the title was taken from the slogan, "What Would Jesus Do" that was very popular a few years ago.

The cookbook author couldn't say exactly what Jesus' diet consisted of, but gave examples from a Mediterrean diet and items that would have been available in the Holy Land during the first century.

I guess the bleached, processed all purpose flour is something of modern times. I remember growing up loving the soft white bread of my childhood, not realizing how unnutritious it was.

Here's a recipe for thyme biscuits using items mostly available during Jesus's time. The author mentioned that there was a type of leavening besides yeast so the baking powder isn't totally modern. And although they might not have had Parmesan cheese, they did have a variety of cheeses. I can tell you both my husband and I enjoyed these biscuits.

Thyme Biscuits
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon fruit parsley
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup skim milk

Preheat oven to 400. Place the flour, baking powder, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and Parmesan cheese in a large mixing bowl and use a fork to stir and combine. Slowly stir in the olive oil; mixture will be crumbly. Add the milk and stir until dough holds together. You may add more milk of necessary. Drop by large spoonfuls 1 inch apart onto a greased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes.

Yields 10 to 12 biscuits.

Don't you think a cup of tea would go with one of these biscuits?

No corn for cornbread

August 23rd, 2010 at 11:52 pm

I hate to admit this little tidbit, but we were out of corn.

I had planned on making cornbread yesterday and use creamed corn in the recipe. When I went to my stash of what I thought were 6 cans of creamed corn, I found instead 6 cans of peas if you please.

Goodness. How in the world did I get 6 cans of peas? My husband won't eat peas. I think what happened was when the vegetables were on sale, I thought the case was actually creamed corn and it had 6 peas instead.

I kept one can for me when I'm especially hungry for peas and we donated the rest to the food pantry. I'm sure they will be happy to give them out.

So instead of cornbread, I made Irish soda bread.

Terrific Tomato Tart

August 22nd, 2010 at 06:40 pm

My tomato recipe quest continues! As long as we have fresh ones, I want to use them. I think I found a great recipe that was really easy.

A dear friend gave me a subscription to Simple and Delicious and the new issue just arrived. In the back was a recipe for a tomato tart.

Tomato Tart with Three Cheeses

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup shredded provolone cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
4 thinly sliced plum tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup shreeded Parmesan cheese
Additional minced fresh basil

Unfold pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 12-inch square; transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Prick with a fork.

Combine the mozzarella, provolone, and basil. Sprinkl over the pastry to within 1 inch of edges. Arrange the tomato slices over the cheese. Season with salt and pepper; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Remove tart from baking sheet to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with additional basil. Cut into slices. Serve hot or at room temperature.

I can honestly say it is good. I was thinking if you change the types of cheese, you can make this a variety of different ways. I used the tomatoes we have which weren't plum, but beefsteak so I didn't use as many. I was thinking if I added small thinly sliced green bell pepper, it would be even better.

My only warning is if you serve it hot, beware of biting into a hot tomato!

Patriotic video

August 21st, 2010 at 08:02 pm

I admit it. I'm a big softie. Especially when it comes to soldiers and patriotism. Last year I wrote a a soldier weekly when he was in Afghanistan. A few years ago I wrote another soldier while he was in Iraq. It was nice to hear from them, but I didn't feel like they had to write a lot...I felt like the soldier was already doing enough by serving our country. Right now a friend's son in in Iraq and I try to write or send a card now and then so he gets something at mail call.

On Facebook a friend posted this YouTube video called "I fought for you" and it is very powerful.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTb6qdPu8JE

Hopefully the url will come through and you can watch it if you wish. Whether you agree or disagree with the war, I hope you will remember these men and woman represent us and are doing a brave job. Without the freedoms we enjoy, we wouldn't have the pleasure of saving money or spending it or blogging about it. I hope you find the video as inspiring as I did.

Walkies

August 20th, 2010 at 11:47 pm

My husband loves to walk.

He especially likes walking in the neighborhood and seeing the homes and nature and being outside.

Unfortunately the heat and humidity have made it very uncomfortable for him to walk because he goes at a pretty crisp clip. He says he doesn't like to melt down into his shoes in this weather and I can't blame him.

His solution has been to walk at the mall. He claims it is boring just going around in circles. But he has made a game of it. He tries to find people who are also walking for exercise and see if he can out pace them. I tease him about his competitive spirit and he just laughs.

But there's a lot of truth in it. He talks about this one young gal (20-30s) who has longer legs than he does and really flies -- he says he turns on the after burners and catches up and passes her.

There's another guy who he says hides from him when he sees him out walking because he can outdistance him.

Hubby says this spirit of competition keeps it interesting.

I say watch out Roadrunner! Beep! Beep!

Ina's Greek Lasagna

August 19th, 2010 at 12:15 am

I was pretty pumped last night to watch Ina Garten's program about surprising her husband with Greek lasagna. She often has Jewish recipes so I guess she thought she'd make a change.

I looked for the recipe last night, but couldn't find it on the Food Network site. I decided to try again and found it. It looks a lot harder written down than when she made it, but she is often very good about giving lots of details.

Pastitsio

Ingredients
For the Tomato Meat Sauce:
• 3 tablespoons good olive oil
• 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
• 1 pound lean ground beef
• 1 pound lean ground lamb
• 1/2 cup dry red wine
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 large cloves)
• 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
• Pinch of cayenne pepper
• 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes in puree
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Bechamel:

• 1 1/2 cups whole milk
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan or Kasseri cheese
• 2 extra-large eggs, beaten
• 2/3 cup Greek-style yogurt, such as Fage Total
• 3/4 pound small shells
Directions
For the sauce, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add the beef and lamb, and saute over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until it's no longer pink, crumbling it with the back of wooden spoon. Drain off any excess liquid, add the wine, and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and cayenne, and continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the bechamel, heat the milk and cream together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until simmering. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly for 2 minutes. Pour the warm milk and cream mixture into the butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth and thick. Add the nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Stir in 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the tomato and meat sauce, and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the eggs and yogurt and set aside.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente. Don't over-cook because the pasta will later be baked. Drain and set aside.
Add the pasta to the meat and tomato sauce, and pour the mixture into a baking dish. Spread the bechamel evenly to cover the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for 1 hour, until golden brown and bubbly. Set aside for 10 minutes and serve hot.

I am excited about trying it! How about you? Opa!

3 Ingredient Dessert

August 17th, 2010 at 11:18 pm

As I continue my quest for easy stuff to make, I remembered a friend sent me this recipe for 3 ingredient cherry dessert.

3 ingredient cherry dessert


2 cups cubed angel food cake
1 can cherry pie filling
1 12 oz thawed whipped topping

Mix the 3 ingredients together and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. I use sugar free cherry pie filling as my husband is diabetic and it is a dessert that he can have.

Looks easy and sounds tasty? Do you have any 3 ingredient recipes you'd like to share?

Monday Mumblings

August 16th, 2010 at 11:29 pm

It's Monday and back to school. Actually, since one of my schools is a balanced calendar school, I have already started back to work. But today was the official first day for many of the buildings in my district.

This means I'm on the look out for recipes for quick and easy things for dinner. Actually, I call it supper, but most call it dinner. You know, the whole tomato, tohmato thing.

Speaking (writing?) of tomatoes, I was looking at my file of recipes and discovered this one that I thought I could change using fresh tomatoes sliced thinly:

Broiled Parmesan Tomatoes

Three 14 ½ ounce cans whole tomatoes, drained, any variety
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Place the tomatoes in a 13x9 inch casserole dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and top each with a pat of butter. Generously sprinkle the cheese over the tomatoes and broil for 10 to 15 minutes until the tomatoes are heated through and the cheese is bubbly.

Since it has finally cooled down to the low to mid 80s, I can embrace my oven once again. And if something has cheese, it HAS to be good, right?

Marinara Magic

August 15th, 2010 at 05:49 pm

Last week I blogged that I had the "problem" of too many tomatoes. One kind person suggested I make a marinara sauce.

I hate to admit it, but I had never made a marinara sauce. I'ved used tomato sauce out of the can and added stuff, but never made anything like this from scratch.

I'm happy to report that I have since been searching for a recipe that I could employ.

I was kind of worried because I don't have hours to let it simmer. Unfortunately my employer wouldn't think it was right if I came home during the day to make a sauce.

So, I wanted to find one I thought I could use. And I did. I had to adjust the measurements because I didn't have quite that many tomatoes available, but I did try it. I ran it through the food processor after it was cooked and added the fresh basil.

Marinara Sauce

Ingredients:
• Ten pounds of VERY ripe tomatoes
• Garlic
• Olive Oil
• Salt
• Sugar
• Black Pepper
• Fresh Basil
• Pecorino Romano Cheese, grated
Whole Tomato Version:

The ingredients listed above.
• Chop the washed tomatoes into small cubes (to reduce the area and cooking time).
• Sautee ten or fifteen large garlic cloves in olive oil until they are dark golden.
• Add chopped tomatoes and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to avoid burning or sticking.
• Pour in an additional quarter cup of oil (or more according to taste).
• Add salt, a heavy dusting of black pepper and about three tablespoons of sugar (depending on the acidity of the tomato you can use less or no sugar).
• Lower heat to medium and cook uncovered, stirring regularly, until all fluid is thickened. THIS SHOULD NOT TAKE FOUR HOURS BUT MORE LIKE A HALF HOUR. Why people insist on torturing tomato sauce on a stove for half a day is beyond me --- we call it the "Nonna syndrome."
• Remove from heat and immediately add a large quantity of fresh chopped basil.
• Cook pasta extra al dente and drain.
• Add pasta back to pan and add five or six ladles of tomato sauce to the pasta and stir over a medium heat until sauce and pasta are thickened.
Serve each plate with an additional ladle full of sauce on top and a drizzling of fresh cold olive oil and a heaping of Pecorino Romano.

Although the measurements are exact, I kept trying it until I got it the way I wanted. I tasted it and then finally had hubby try it. He's the resident critic. He gave it a thumbs up!

Now that I've accomplished this, I have one further query: can I freeze it?

Chicken Hash With Rice

August 14th, 2010 at 08:28 pm

OK, it doesn't have the ring to the title as the children's book, "Chicken Soup with Rice", but I have to work with what I have!

It's the weekend and I was looking for recipes that I could fix ahead and then come home after work and heat up later in the week.

Last year when I did an Internet search, I found a variety of chicken recipes. I was looking through them today and found one that included many of the ingredients I had on hand...my hubby just picked a red bell pepper and green bell pepper. I had fixed a chicken in the Crockpot overnight to use for different dishes and had the broth from it so I felt like I was pretty well set.

Chicken Hash Casserole Recipe

Ingredients:
3 cups chicken breast shredded or chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 red bell pepper diced
1 medium onion, diced
3 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon sweet basil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup roux ( make by stirring 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour in 2 tablespoons of corn oil in frying pan until golden brown)

Preparation:

Sauté celery, peppers, and onions until tender.
Place chicken stock in medium saucepan and heat to boiling. Make the roux then mix chicken, chicken stock, vegetables, and seasoning with roux.

Serve over hot rice.

I am delighted I can heat this up on the stove instead of the oven (it's still very hot here) and I can store the ingredients in a bowl in the fridge until I need it. With the hot rice made right before I need it, it should be a tasty meal.

We watch "Til Debt Due Us Part" on CNBC on Saturday nights and one of the things the host keeps telling people is they need to cook at home to save money and buy things on a budget. We do eat out some, but I feel those nights when I'm tired and really don't want to start something from scratch, having something like this sitting in the fridge waiting sure makes it easier to put a hot, nutritious meal on the table without resorting to going out and spending extra money.

Mentally Exhausted

August 12th, 2010 at 11:47 pm

School hasn't officially started for most of the buildings in our district, but we do have one that is "year round."

My position is a new one and to put it simply, I work with data. Which is good. I like data and I like thinking and talking about educational data. I enjoy charts, graphs, and spreadsheets.

But, I can honestly say I'm just mentally exhausted. Between the extreme heat taking it's toll, and the fact I've been in 2 1/2 days of training, plus working on data for my schools, I'm spent.

I look forward to getting some rest tonight in my air conditioned home.

Amish Noodles and Creamy Beef

August 10th, 2010 at 11:21 pm

I have one word to describe tonight’s supper: YUM!
Last week I wrote about going to Arthur to a place called Beachy’s where I purchased some Amish made noodles. I fixed the garlic noodles and after draining them, I added a little butter. They were good by themselves. But, then, I added creamy beef and it was superb.

I have been perusing a cookbook by Stephanie O’Dea called “Make it fast, cook it slow” where she has Crockpot recipes. I have been thinking about trying one, and this was the time! It’s still very hot here and the head index has hit triple digits. What better meal than something done without heating up the stove? I am going to confess, however, I didn’t use the creamy beef recipe exactly as it was written, so although I gave her credit, I’m actually going to tell you how I fixed it.

Crockpot Creamy beef
1 pound beef stew meat
2 T butter
2 T 2% milk or lower
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 t of your favorite steak sauce
3 T beef broth
1 small chopped onion
1 t herbs, chopped (I used oregano)
2 oz. cream cheese
Use a small slow cooker. Put everything but the cream cheese in the Crockpot. Cook on low 8-10 hours or until meat is tender. Stir in the cream cheese (I diced it up so it would melt quicker) in the last 30 minutes of cooking. Serve over hot buttered noodles, but I bet this would be great over rice too!

My husband gave it 10 out of 10. He loved the Amish noodles, but he adored the creamy beef mixture. As he says, “It’s a keeper!”

Small Spend Monday

August 9th, 2010 at 11:20 pm

I had a small spending day today.

I worked all day and didn't spend anything except for what it will cost to replace the gas I used to drive to work. I went directly to work and came directly home.

I fixed coffee in a thermal cup and took with me. I packed my lunch and ate it at my desk. I had fixed a chicken in the Crockpot earlier this weekend and used it for some casseroles. I had some chicken left over so I made chicken salad for my sandwich. My husband's grape tomato crop is still pretty healthy, so I took some of them for my lunch as well and for a snack, I packed some peanut butter crackers I had in the pantry.

I'm not good every day, but today was a small spend day!

Collecting by Accident

August 8th, 2010 at 07:58 pm

Have you ever started a collection merely by accident?

A few years ago we were sort of strapped -- we paid our bills and tried to save some and I had a friend who was buying stuff like a new stove and dishwasher and updating this and that. I groused that even though I did lots of cooking and really could use new appliances and would love a kitchen remodel, we couldn't afford it and certainly wouldn't go into debt.

My mom, who had a wicked sense of humor, decided to help me with my "remodel." A local grocery store was clearing out dishes you could buy. Seems they had a dinner plate and cup and saucer in a box and if you spent so much that week, you could buy this little place setting at a cheaper price. Ever the bargain hunter, my mom thought two new plates and cups and saucers were cheaper than a remodel and would also give me something to unwrap come Christmas. My mom didn't have a lot of money either.

Christmas morning and the unwrapping began. Sure enough, she had me unwrap my two alike packages last and there were the Blue Willow dishes.

Now, there's something you should know. My favorite color is blue. And I like stuff with a history behind it. We had quite the chuckle over my new dishes and that my "kitchen remodel" was at least dishwasher safe. Two plates, who needs more when there are just two of us eating, right?

Well, the more I saw those plates, the more I thought about how I'd like to have a set of them. I went to the local grocery and sure enough, they had 2 other boxes of these place settings, still on sale, and I didn't have to buy groceries to get the cheaper price.

Did I need these plates? Heck no. I had a set of every day plates and set of "good" China. My good China was bought when a store called Carson Pirie Scott was in business and they offered two different patterns -- a place setting for 8 for $99. I didn't realize that this really wasn't "good" China, but it was fancier than most stuff I came across.

But this Blue Willow is the stuff I really liked. So, it became a hobby. Whenever we would go the antique shops, flea markets, or even grocery stores, I would search for it. One big chain in Springfield was closing out on accessories like a platter, butter dish, and salt and pepper shakers. I found dinner plates in odd places. I refuse to pay full price.

Blue Willow has a story attached to it. Seems there was a father and daughter and the daughter fell in love with a man who worked for her father. The father did not want the relationship to continue, and like Romeo and Juliet, the two lovebirds died a premature death. The pattern has two lovebirds and also willow trees, hence the blue willow name. Pretty cool history, eh?

I started searching Ebay. My favorite company that makes it is Churchill because it can go in the dishwasher. Seems lots of companies have manufactured it through the years. I do have a few old pieces that came from Japan and when I use them I have to hand wash them. I bought a really fancy casserole dish that I refuse to use because it is so delicate. I had a funny mistake -- I kept bidding on another Churchill casserole dish and I would always miss it by a dollar or so. I decided I'd bid on two, thinking I'd get one. Well, I wound up winning both of them, and I paid about the same for both of them than if I had bought them outright from a website.

The Blue Willow search has increased my collection. One friend searches for it and I get it as gifts for birthday and Christmas.

I finally decided that since I don't give fancy parties, I don't need my "good" China anymore and I donated it. I donated my other set of dishes we used to use too because I like the Blue Willow so well. I guess the chefs on television wouldn't like to use them because many say you should use plain white plates so the food stands out. Apparently I'm not a purist.

This all started from a joke. My collecting was truly by accident. But what a fun "accident" it has become!

Too Many Tomatoes

August 7th, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Ah, what a trouble...too many tomatoes!

My hubby planted 5 plants -- 4 big tomatoes and 1 grape tomato plant. The big tomato plants have been producing steadily, but not huge amounts. But that 1 measly little grape tomato plant has been unbelievable. I picked I bet over two pounds of little tomatoes yesterday.

I decided I needed to fix them some way besides eating them raw. I had seen a recipe for a gratin using regular tomatoes. I changed it a bit and I'm happy to report it was delicious!

Tomato Gratin

1 medium onion, chopped
olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped up small
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon of fresh herb of your choice, chopped or a half tablepoon if dried (I used basil)
tomatoes -- enough to cover the bottom of a baking dish
bread crumbs -- enough to cover the top of the tomatoes
1/4 cup grated cheese (I used Romano because I had it on hand)
baking spray

Preheat oven to 400.
Saute the chopped onion in the olive oil. Take off heat once it is translucent and add honey and herb and mix together.
Slice the tomatoes in same size pieces. Since I used grape tomatoes, I sliced them in half and had them all face up to make one layer.
Toss in the chopped garlic and add the onion/honey sauce on top.
Spread the cheese over the tomatoes. Then add the bread crumbs until thoroughly covered.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until bread crumbs are brown.

If you wanted to make the casserole thicker, you could layer the tomatoes and onions if you had more and then bake a little longer. I would probably add a little more honey and lemon juice.

I used the tomatoes from our garden, an onion from our garden, basil from our garden, and the bread crumbs I made in our food processor from left over bread.

It was delicious and a reasonably cheap side dish.

Horses and Homemade Noodles

August 6th, 2010 at 01:42 pm

Horses and homemade noodles. I love them both.

OK, maybe not together, but yesterday we went to Arthur, IL. Arthur is a small town near us that has a large Amish population. And the Amish have horses. So, I had my horse “fix” by seeing so many. Even more so when we ventured out into the country to a store and took a wrong turn. One farm had over 15 draft horses in the pasture. One had a foal that was sleeping on the ground while the mom stood and watched over it, protecting it, while the other horses grazed. What a great horsey mom!

We did find the store. It is called Beachy’s and they sell a variety of goods, a lot of which is in bulk. Apparently it is run by an Amish family. It has cheeses made there in town, noodles and baked goods made right there. You could buy a large 50 pound bag of flour if you had the desire, or you could get a smaller bag of around 2 pounds. I didn’t think I could store 50 pounds for some reason, darn it! I guess this place had the selling in bulk concept before Sam’s and Costco!

They had 5 or 6 different types of noodles. We bought regular egg noodles and egg noodles with garlic. I can hardly wait to try these. They had whole wheat noodles, vegetables noodles, and egg noodles with tomatoes. It was almost noodle heaven! The list of ingredients was pretty simple: flour, egg yolks, water, food coloring and then whatever they used to flavor like garlic powder or tomatoes. No preservatives! Woo woo!

They had all sorts of homemade baked goods. It made our mouths water. They had white bread, wheat bread, and breads like banana and zucchini. They had cookies and angel food cakes (they have to use the egg whites for something after making all those noodles.)
They sell the spices in bulk and had a huge aisle of them. They had all sorts of rice in another aisle. And one aisle had candy. A lot of types you don’t see any more like lemon drops. I can’t remember the last time I had a lemon drop.

It was a terrific day. My hubby and I explored downtown Arthur and then made our visit to Beachy’s. And it was wonderful because of the horses and homemade noodles.

Mystery Characters

August 5th, 2010 at 02:24 pm

We hit the library again and it’s no mystery, we like to solve murder cases…fiction, of course!

We’ve run through all the Poirot episodes that our library has. We have moved on to Campion. It’s set in England in the 30s. I guess it originally broadcast on “Mystery” in the late 80s or early 90s. Campion is a detective who has a surly manservant named Lug who together solve mysteries. I think these characters make the stories more interesting. Poirot has Captain Hastings, Chief Inspector, and Miss Lemon. Campion has Lug, and boy, is Lug a character. We talk about these people like they are real instead of fictional.

We’ve also been watching Miss Marple, Agatha Christie’s nosy old lady who never misses a details. She's an interesting character herself.

These wonderful stories have provided great entertainment, but it does have a downside. I have a craving for a cup of tea while watching one of these. I wonder if it is because they all have tea in lovely tea cups? Do I want to copy their fancy ways? Have I fallen in love with 30s fashion? Or am I just weird? I need to brew a cup of tea and serve it in a china cup to feel satisfied. This is a mystery to me. I guess as far as cravings go, it's pretty cheap. Hot water, tea bag and a cup I already posses. The DVDs are borrowed from the library so other than the trip to the library the cost is minimal.

Well, we still have a few more episodes to enjoy the next few evenings. That’s something to look forward to. I just better make sure I have enough tea bags to brew. Maybe I’m just a character myself.

Another Hot One! It's Crockpot time!

August 4th, 2010 at 02:08 pm

The topic of every newscast is the weather...namely it's hot outside. No kidding! You walk outside and take a breath and sweat!

On an earlier blog I mentioned Stephanie O'Dea's cookbook, "Make it Fast, Cook it Slow". Here is a recipe for potatoes that I hope to try in this hot weather.

Walnut and Sage Potatoes Au Gratin

Cooking spray
6 medium brown potatoes (such as Idaho or Russet), peeled and sliced 1/ 4 inch thick
½ yellow onion, diced
1/3 cup flour
4 T (1/2 stick) butter, melted
2 ½ cups heavy cream or half and half
1 t Kosher salt
¼ t black pepper
1 t dried sage
1 ½ c shredded Greyere cheese
1 ½ c walnut halves

In a 4 quart slow cooker, spray the inside with cooking spray. Put the sliced potatoes and onion in the slow cooker. In a mixing bowl whisk the flour into the melted butter. Add the cream and salt, pepper, and sage to the bowl, mixing well. Pour the cream mixture into the slow cooker and toss with the potatoes and ion. Sprinkle the cheese and walnuts on the top. Cover and cook on high for 3-5 hours or until the potatoes are tender.


It sure sounds hearty and at least it won't heat up the kitchen!

Hot, Hot, Hot

August 4th, 2010 at 12:30 am

I'm sure we aren't the only part of the country (USA) that it is hot, but it has that hazy look to it and you know it's just hot. The head index at 7 p.m. was 110. That's just plain miserable!

We had a gift card for a restaurant so we used it tonight. I planned it because I knew it would be a long day at work and I would be tired. I didn't think about the heat. On our way home, we noticed that a lot of restaurants seemed pretty busy. Tuesday isn't a big night for restaurant goers usually, but I think the heat may have helped increased their business.

Do you think weather has anything to do with increased restaurant sales?

Zucchini Recipes

August 1st, 2010 at 09:13 pm

Yesterday I wrote about receiving a huge zucchini. I also shared a recipe I was going to try.

That recipe is now history and I think it was pretty good, but kind of bland. I think when I make it again, I'm going to add chopped onions and maybe something else for some zing.

I do have a couple of recipes for zucchini that I'm sharing since there were some comments asking for other zucchini recipes.

Paula Deen’s Zucchini bread

• 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 3 cups sugar
• 1 cup vegetable oil
• 4 eggs, beaten
• 1/3 cup water
• 2 cups grated zucchini
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, zucchini and lemon juice. Mix wet ingredients into dry, add nuts and fold in. Bake in 2 standard loaf pans, sprayed with nonstick spray, for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Alternately, bake in 5 mini loaf pans for about 45 minutes.


Zucchini and Tomato Casserole

2 to 3 zucchini, chopped
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 20 oz can crushed tomatoes
¼ lb white cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ lb cheddar shredded
1 T basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 350. Toss the zucchini, onion, and ¼ cup of the juice in a shallow casserole dish. Bake 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are cooked. Remove from oven and toss ¾ of the cheese and tomatoes with vegetables. Sprinkle with basil. Top with the remainder of the cheese.
Bake another 15 to 20 minutes.


Zucchini and onions
2 small zucchini sliced thin
1 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup of milk
3/4 cup dried bread crumbs
1/2 cup of shredded cheese of your choice (I use whatever I have in the fridge

Saute zucchini and onion in olive oil. Add more oil if needed. When they are transparent, add milk and let it cook through. Pour into a greased casserole dish.
Mix the bread crumbs and cheese together and top the zucchini and onion. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.