Whelp, we limped across the virtual schooling finish line, not with a bang but a whimper. No rocking out to Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer” in the carpool line as is our tradition, but rather a heavy sigh that this chapter is hopefully, maybe, possibly, better-be-or-my-liver-can’t-handle-it closed. My two youngest kids have not been in the classroom since March 13th of 2020, and while they made virtual school work and received excellent grades, I think we can all agree that no one wants to experience a repeat of this academic year. It’s weird to think that a few years from now, some doctoral candidate will publish a study on just how this pandemic turned a generation of learning on its head.
Now that 80 percent of our household is vaccinated, life is returning damn-near normal. After school concluded, I called my friend who is also a travel agent and had her throw together a quick, impromptu vacation for us. We ended up in Jamaica! This was our first family trip outside of the states, and it was both fun and educational. I learned so much along the way, while also realizing how much I need to learn.
We swam with dolphins and went snorkeling, tubing, and deep sea fishing. After all of the missed milestone celebrations last year, this trip was a blessing and the perfect summer vacation for the family. The voyage back to Louisiana had its hiccups, but after the past year, well, perspective has become something we strive to maintain.
While we still have a lot more summer to go, it’s difficult not to think ahead of how much our days will change when the Heathens are back in the classroom this fall. We will be back to carpool lines, school lunches, routines, and socializing, but I’m not naïve enough to believe that we will all make the transition seamlessly. I’m mentally preparing myself for how tired they will be resuming full schedules and being more active. Also, Bean’s virtual learning only took up about 4 hours of the day, so she is used to large sections of free time between lessons. Will they be ostracized from their old friends and peers after being home for the year? We shall see, I suppose.
Meanwhile, I’ll be over here canning and counting down the days.
PSA–pssssst. The Halloween décor is hitting the shelves at places like At Home. If you know, you know.
Spring has sprung here in Louisiana, and while I am loving all of the flowers and returning color, my allergies are off of the charts this year. It’s a pollen wasteland, and my poor car looks like someone doused it in a vat of yellow powder. I’m still in phase 1 of my allergy shots, so I’m hoping next year will be better.
The bright side of the season is that we have been heating up the pool on the weekends, so we are getting plenty of fun exercise, which is especially important for the virtual school kids. I can’t even believe it’s been a year since they have been in a classroom. When we first went on lockdown last March, I thought the two-week window was sure to be enough. If you told me that, a year later, I would still have my kids home, I would never have believed it. I confess I’m worried about how this year will have impacted them both academically and socially, but I guess only time will tell. We made the best decisions we could when we had to choose.
Looking back over the past year, we experienced a lot. From the early days of cooking with limited resources and making masks for my friends and family, to household-only holidays and the pains of virtual school, it’s certainly been a wild ride. It’s so weird how you can get used to the unimaginable. Walking around the store last March, with everyone wearing masks and the empty shelves, felt like some kind of dystopian nightmare. Now, it’s just your average Tuesday. Even though we have a much more normalcy than we did in the early days, I still wonder how long it will be before we ever feel truly “normal.” I received my first shot of vaccine, which was a little morale boost. I told my friends I will never complain about the school carpool line again. (Yeah, we all know that’s a lie)
On to happier thoughts. Unfortunately, our winter garden took a beating in Snowmageddon, and we lost all of the broccoli, lettuces, and some of the cabbage. The carrots are ok, and the brussels sprouts are iffy. We already planted our tomatoes, jalapenos, and cucumbers, and relocated the herb garden to a better area in the yard. Since the yard was a construction zone last year, it was nice to go through our spring routines of planting the garden and freshening the flowerbeds. The best news, however, is that our irrigation systems emerged unscathed from the storm, other than a tiny part that our landscape guy replaced in about 30 seconds (for free, no less. I send him a lot of referrals). With so many burst pipes in the area, we could not believe we got so lucky on that deal.
Well, I think I’ve rambled on long enough. Can you tell I’m avoiding cleaning out my closet? Procrastination is my middle name.
**Remember, my blog is not sponsored or monetized in any way. No link in my posts is an affiliate link, and these ideas are all my own. None of these companies know who I am, and all of this is crap I buy with my own dang money. I’m just not that cool, y’all**
The husband has recovered (mostly) from the ‘Rona, and through careful quarantining, the kids and I did not contract the virus. He has pretty sick there for a while, and is dealing with a lingering cough and fatigue, but we got lucky. Thanks for the well wishes.
So, as I have been shopping for the holidays and planning for the new year, I thought I pass along some of the things that I really enjoyed this year (other than the endless warmth of the 2020 dumpster fire).
I really love Knife Aid. It’s like the Netflix of knife sharpening. You pick how many you want sharpened and they send you the materials to pack up your knives and mail them in. Then, they send them back to you perfectly sharpened. It’s only about a week in turnaround time and very convenient. I have used them twice, including last month.
I love OXO containers. My pantry is out of control, and these are helping me tame the chaos. I still want more.
A bluetooth meat thermometer was game changer. Yes, I use it when smoking meat, but I also use it for so much more. For example. I used this on Thanksgiving for the turkey, which meant I could watch the temp in real time, and also not lose heat from constantly opening and closing the oven to check on the bird. I also use it for cooking roasts, prime rib, chicken and more. You can go about your day without worrying that you are going to overcook an expensive piece of meat or undercook the poultry.
I am totally OBSESSED with this one. So, it’s basically a murder-mystery subscription box you get each month, but think of it like a limited tv series with episodes. One “season” lasts a few months, or you can purchase past “seasons”/mysteries in their entirety. You get all kinds of clues and documents to investigate, but they also have cool online components to enrich the experience. We are currently working our way though the Blair Witch season and the Cadence Theater season. If you are stuck in quarantine, pouring over clues in order to catch a killer is a great way to pass the time.
I am in love with Hue-It Hand Dyed Fibers. This local-to-me Louisiana artist specializes in small-batch dying, and has an incredible portfolio of colorways. Most of her stuff sells out fast but she takes preorders if you missed out on a colorway. I recently snatched up a couple of skeins that are just waiting for the right pattern to come along.
My neighbors gifted me this book after we had a mini-Thanksgiving this summer (they are in our “pod/quarantine bubble”). This book is LEGIT cool. These recipes are not for those looking for basic pies. These guys compete around the country and their ideas are complete bananas. Favorites so far are the Strawberry Margarita Pie and the Caramel Popcorn Pie.
This cookbook was written by the founder of the Mosquito Supper Club restaurant in New Orleans. It’s beautifully shot and showcases Louisiana food traditions that are slowing being lost. If you have any interest an authentic Louisiana cuisine, this needs to be in your library.
So, my go-to recipe software, Living Cookbook quietly went out of business and has basically ghosted it’s customers. So, I spent part of the year test-driving Cook’n, MasterCook, and Paprika, which came out the clear winner. I think it was the easiest to learn/use out of the three, and with a more intuitive interface. I was able to import my Living Cookbook files, though I will say that some things did get lost in translation. I had to go back and check each recipe to correct some things that got garbled in the transfer, but the same thing happened with the other two as well. Otherwise, I’m happy using it, and very grateful for the cloud sharing ability.
This herb stripper was featured on Food Network’s The Kitchen, and host Sunny Anderson loved it so much she immediately said she was taking it home with her. I LOVE this. It strips those pesky thyme and rosemary leaves off of their stems in two seconds flat.
Oh man, it’s been a week, a no-good-very-bad week. While we all knew Thanksgiving would be different this year, I never saw this one coming. The Hubs caught the ‘Rona and was diagnosed this weekend. Cue an immediate two week (maybe longer) quarantine for our family, and the challenge of keeping him strictly isolated from the rest of the house in hopes of preventing it from spreading to me and the kids. (‘Rona+asthma=no bueno). So much sanitizing…so much hand washing…it’s a process. He is feeling pretty crappy, and we are missing him, but I know it could definitely be worse. The rest of us seem symptom-free so far, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we just might get lucky.
So our scaled-down Thanksgiving will now be even more so. I worked with the Heathens to edit the menu we had planned, though admittedly, it could still feed a very large crowd. If Thanksgiving feels lonely and less-than-special this year, they at least get to have their favorites stay on the menu. I already bought the 24-pound turkey, and I’m not giving up my Honey-Baked Ham, so the leftover game needs to be especially strong this year.
Since my last leftovers post, we have incorporated a few more recipes into the mix and I have other ideas to try.
I took this idea for Thanksgiving Tamales and ran with it. I did them with dressing, turkey, cheese, and spiced-up leftover cranberry sauce with sautéed jalapenos. And to make life easy, I steamed them in the Instant Pot. There are plenty of tutorials for cooking tamales both traditionally and in the Instant Pot.
I make Turkey a la King using this recipe. But instead of the cornmeal waffles, I take leftover dressing and add an egg or two to really help bind it together, then cook it in the waffle maker until golden brown. This is fabulous.
One thing I surprisingly never thought of is a classic Kentucky Hot Brown. Most of the ingredients are things I already have on hand from my Thanksgiving prep. I’ve also seen a ton of recipes for Hot Brown casseroles if you want to go rogue.
While we usually do the paninis I talked about in my last Thanksgiving leftovers post, I saw Jeff Mauro do this chimichanga of awesomeness on The Kitchen this weekend. Same principle as the paninis, just deep fried into pure joy. I will say that the size of the tortilla he used is not commonly found at the average Louisiana grocery chain, so I’m hoping to be off quarantine by then to pick some up from a local market.
I forgot to link my recipe for Cajun 15 Bean Soup in the Instant Pot last time. I always leave a good bit of ham on the bone before I toss it in the freezer. It’s a great rainy day meal.
I mentioned switching out turkey for chicken in recipes last time, but here are some specific ideas: Classic King Ranch, King Ranch Mac and Cheese, Fajita Chowder, turkey tacos, Thai turkey wraps, and a classic chicken noodle soup made with turkey, pictured above. For ham, consider classic ham biscuits, omelets/ scrambles, you can easily add chopped ham to this hash brown casserole to make it a main dish, and to a simple pasta alfredo with peas.
So there are some leftover ideas. I’ll probably be posting a lot to Instagram this Thanksgiving week since I’m still cooking, but not hosting a 20-30 person holiday. So, if you have questions, comment here or there. Quarantined is more fun with commiseration.
Finally, if you are a frontline worker, I want to personally say thank you. I can’t imagine how difficult this year has been for you, and it’s probably going to get worse based on the indications. I want you to know that you are what I am most thankful for this year.
It’s been a hot minute since I last posted, because we have been trying to enjoy this unusual summer as best we can. I tell ya, if ever there was a time to build a pool, or for my sister to build a lake house, we clearly picked the right time. Since they have been finished, both have been been a life-saver as far as family entertainment. Now, I can’t say I’m loving the treadmill in my living room (purchased once we realized going to the gym won’t happen for many more months), but it will move to G-Mans room when he leaves for college. Mostly, our days have been meanderingly unstructured.
Bean finally celebrated her First Communion, and has been plowing through a collection of Baby-Sitters’ Club books, with an occasional Nancy Drew thrown in. Meanwhile, Bear has been baking cheesecakes, and G-Man and his girlfriend eagerly plan for the start of college.
On their most recent visit to campus, they brought back a ton of peaches for me, so I canned Bourbon Peach Jam and Peach Jalapeno preserves. I really wish I could go to the local farmer’s market, but I’m not willing to risk the crowds. Since we did not get our garden built in time, it will be a while before I’m back to salsa and candied jalapenos.
We have also been cooking up a storm, while trying to support our local restaurants. It’s been incredibly depressing to see so many established, family-run restaurants close their doors permanently.
Overall, however, it’s been an uneasy countdown to fall, and wondering what school is going to look like for all of my kids. Will they go back? Will it last? Is it safe? Bean hated online learning, and right now, her school is giving us the option to go back full time or stay home for online class. Bear’s school offered an option to go back 2 days a week, with the others being at home, or all at home. It was easy to decide for Bear to stay home. He’s pretty much self-sufficient and adapted well to at-home learning. But I feel like, if this spring was any indication, Bean will not get much out of it. But, do we really take the chance of sending her? Don’t even get me started on the anxiety of sending G-Man to college. I know parents everywhere are facing these decisions, and I feel like there is no right answer. However, whatever it is, it will be an adjustment to return to days of structure. With so many big changes on the horizon, maybe these lazy days are what we need to prepare for what’s ahead.
Day five gazillion of quarantine. We’ve been plodding along, and thank bejesus, today is the last day of school. Homeschooling did not bring out the best in me, and poor Bean deserves a teacher who is not brought down by the devil otherwise known as “Common Core.” While this past week has been an exercise in patience, I did have a bright spot:
I took a quick drive down to the strawberry farm to pick up a couple of perfect flats. (Before you side-eye me, it was contactless pickup). Despite it being the spring from hell in terms of storms, hail, and tornados, the crops managed to thrive. When I arrived home, I immediately launched into a full afternoon of canning.
Ok, maybe I went a little overboard. But in fairness to me, I think a lot of us under quarantine feel the need to fall back to, or learn, some fundamental skills of self-sufficiency. My social media feeds are full of sourdough starters, homemade breads, pantry recipes, and ideas to stretch items further. People are also tackling things that they would normally outsource, like birthday cakes, haircuts, and even pet grooming.
I totally get it. We see supply chains breaking down, and I think that we are all getting the reality check that it takes mere weeks to go from abundance to scarcity. If you told most of us on New Years Day that, by May, we would be rationing meat, toilet paper, and cleaning products, we all would have laughed hysterically. Especially if you told us yeast turned into one of the most coveted commodities. But now, we all have the uncomfortable knowledge that we are more vulnerable than we think, and so we turn to the kitchen, garden, sewing machines, and other tools that help us feel more in control of our lives.
So yeah, I canned a crap-ton of strawberry-jalapeno jam, and you can to!
A Sweet-Spicy Jam That Makes the Most of Fresh Strawberries
This should make about 8 half-pints, but I don’t think I’ve every made a recipe that did not go either over or under expectations.
If you are new to canning, I highly encourage you to purchase the Ball Blue Book to learn the basics. I posted a few thoughts in this post for those considering giving it a try. Canning is not hard, it’s just understanding a few basic principles.
When canning, ideally use commercially bottled lemon juice. I know that stuff is gross as all get-out, but the reason professionals recommend it is that it has a consistent acid level. The acidity of fresh lemons can vary greatly, and the acidity is key in safe water bath canning. Remember that canning is about food safety, so the experts want to ensure we all have consistent results and not death by botuluism.
Take the time to skim the foam well.
You will probably still have strawberry solids that float to the top of your processed jars, giving your jam an uneven appearance. As mine cooled, I would occasionally turn the jars upside down, let them cool for a while, turn them right side up, cool for a while, repeat. Toward the end of cooling, I have them a good shake to ensure any solids distributed evenly in the jelling syrup.
If ever there was a time to tune into the food supply and learn an essential skill, this is it. Go for it!
I think this is the week when I hit the wall, and I’m just about over this crap.
I hate homeschooling with the fire of 1000 suns. I have zero enthusiasm in the cooking or working out department. I don’t think I’ve had a descent night’s sleep in weeks. Overall I feel antsy, irritated, and instead of getting things done, I spend too much time scrolling through my phone and zoning out. Even my knitting languishes untouched.
As I was unwisely watching the news this morning, I heard one of the reporters use the term “quarantine fatigue,” and I realized that this is exactly what has been weighing me down this week. I have plenty to do, and more than enough things to occupy my time, yet the general malaise and total lack of motivation persists. Every day for the past few, I keep telling myself that I’ll snap out of it and get back that determination and proactivity to make the best of a sh*tty situation. After all, we are healthy, my husband is gainfully employed, and we are not dealing with a fraction of stress and challenges that so many people face. While deep down, I still have an attitude of gratitude, why am I feeling as snarly as a irritable grizzly bear?
I think the term quarantine fatigue speaks to the heart of the matter. I accept that social distancing saves lives, and I definitely don’t understand these yahoos who vehemently argue against the reccomendations of the leading health experts…cause ya know, science. For the health and wellness of our family and community, we will continue to be cautious long after restrictions lift. However, the not-knowing takes its toll. I can endure discomfort, disappointment, and watching stupid people make even stupider choices, but the lack of an end-date creates a pervasive, ever-present, white-noise-like sense of anxiety. Even if you aren’t actively paying attention to it, it’s still there in the background grating on your last nerve.
Beyond that, there’s this constant, internal tug-of-war between petty disappointments that hurt deeper than they should, and the stark truth that they stem from ridiculous first-world problems. Yes, we lost our vacation, prom, graduation, First Communion, birthday celebrations (including my 40th this weekend), and the big family reunion. This was going to be a year of many milestone events for our us. But, with people truly suffering physically, emotionally, and mentally, feeling upset over not being able to have the graduation/18th birthday bash for my oldest makes me feel deeply ashamed.
But, for now? I want to get back the optimistic determination that carried us through the first month of quarantine. I want to not feel like I wake up each day with less energy and more pessimism.
So, I’m trying to get this listing mental ship back on even keel. It wasn’t much, but I baked Mom’s Pound Cake today, and will try to cook dinner and not stab one of the picky eaters with a fork when one of them complains about some aspect of the meal. I will promise myself that tomorrow, I will workout, I will get off the phone and read a book for a while, I will knit, and I will wage war against quarantine fatigue that came out of left field.
Or, maybe I’ll get a drive-thru daquiri. There’s always that option, too.