Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Unexpected apples

The apple tree wasn't here 32 years ago when we built our house. Somewhere in the intervening years between then and now, it sprang up. I've made many an apple pie and plenty of applesauce in those years, and often dump the apple cores and peelings "over the bank" to enrich the soil. We can only assume that our spindly apple tree got its start from one of those seeds. One early summer, we noticed a sprig of apple blossoms on the tree. An apple tree! We were excited to see it, but knew better than to expect much of it.

The next spring, there were more blossoms. And the next year, more. 2005 and 2006 were banner years for our apple blossoms -- and yes, we had apples. We tasted them and, even though they aren't much to look at on the outside, they taste pretty good!

Last week I went out and picked up a few and made applesauce for my parents. It tasted so good that the next day I picked up a large bowlful of apples. Mr. T discovered that our apple peeling/coring machine works fine on these windfall apples, and I've made 2 more batches of applesauce since. What a sweet, unexpected bonus!

Monday, October 30, 2006


Our Amtrak Adventure,
Part 3: Union Station,Chicago, IL Chicago, not far from Union Station


Union Station

We were scheduled for a four-hour layover in Chicago, and looked forward to exploring the station and maybe going up the Sears Tower. (I will admit that my husband was much more gung-ho about this possible adventure than I was.) The weather was ruling out the Sears Tower as we approached Chicago, being gray and drizzly. Time was also ruling it out... as mentioned, our train was over an hour late at this point. Time became even more of an issue at the baggage claim.

Since the station we would be getting off at in Nevada was an unmanned one, we had to claim our baggage at Chicago and bring it to the next train with us. It would ride on the sleeping car with us from here on out. We had only checked 3 bags, and 2 of them came through quickly. We had quite a wait for the third bag, however, and time was rapidly ticking by. But once we had all our bags, help was in sight!

One of the wonderful perks of riding first class is access to Amtrak's Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago. (I believe the stations in Boston and New York also have them, and maybe other stations as well.) We were so thankful we had this nice place to wait, and a place within the lounge to store our bags. You check in when you first arrive, and the nice people at the desk write you up a pass which you will use to get in and out of the lounge. They also write on this pass what time your train will be boarding, and it serves as your boarding pass as well.

The Metropolitan Lounge is a very large waiting area just filled with comfortable couches, chairs, loveseats, and coffee tables, end tables, even tables with chairs to work or eat at. There's even a fireplace. There's a large TV screen and also monitors to check arrivals and departures of trains. There's plenty of free soft drinks, coffee, tea, water, and snacks. We quickly found a nice loveseat with its own coffee table and settled in. Then, since we knew we wouldn't be getting lunch on the California Zephyr, Mr.T went out of the station to Potbelly, a sub shop previously recommended by a friend. He brought back some yummy subs and we enjoyed them with the complimentary Pepsi provided there in the lounge. While he was gone, I people-watched and got lots of cross-stitch done. The lounge really filled up during the time we were there. It was encouraging to see men giving up their seats for ladies and younger people offering their seats to older folks.

Another really neat thing about being in the Metropolitan Lounge is that when your train is ready to board, you can get redcap service right there from the lounge. So when the California Zephyr was ready to board, we found a redcap right at the door of the lounge waiting for us. A speedy little baggage vehicle whisked us right to the train!

Next installment: First Class on the California Zephyr

Menu Plan Monday

It's good to be back in the groove of menu planning after 2 weeks of vacation. I did do some cooking at my daughter's house and helped with meal prep at her in-laws' home, where we were staying, but on the train we just sat back and enjoyed our meals. That was fun, but I'm glad to be back to my regular routine.

Here's my plan for the week:

MONDAY: Crabmeat Breakfast Pie, Potato Wedges, Asparagus Stir-fry Veggies

TUESDAY: Hearty Pasta Tomato Soup, Seven-Grain Bread

WEDNESDAY: Crockpot Ribs, Mashed Potatoes, Winter Squash

THURSDAY: Creamy Country Chicken & Vegetables, Biscuits or Cornbread

FRIDAY: Italian Baked Pasta, Winter Blend Vegetables, Ciabatta Bread

SATURDAY: Bruschetta Chicken Bake, Italian Mixed Vegetables, Salad

SUNDAY: (our monthly potluck at church) Nevada Chili-Albondigas Soup, Herbed Dinner Rolls, Crumb-Topped Apple Pie

Looking forward to seeing others' menus!

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Part 2 -- Traveling First Class on the LAKE SHORE LIMITED

This leg of our trip took us from Albany, NY to Chicago, IL. This Lake Shore Limited was train 49, and it was also “Late-for-Sure” -- about 40 minutes late. But, as we were to learn, 25 minutes and 40 minutes were not long delays at all. Trains can (and often do) run several hours late.

We enjoyed seeing the train station at Albany during our layover there. It is new and absolutely beautiful. It has a food court and even its own branch post office.

And it’s good we got to see it on the way out, because we didn’t see it on the return trip -- just stepped from one train to the next outside. During our wait we snacked on granola bars and speculated as to whether we would be too late to get supper on the train. (We weren’t.)

Even roomettes -- the cheapest, smallest rooms in sleeping cars -- are considered First Class on Amtrak, so meals are complimentary, along with other treats like in-room morning newspapers, coffee, juice, and bottled water. We had heard good things about the food in the dining car, and we weren’t disappointed. I wrote in my journal:

“Supper was good, although we were eating very late. Mr. T had Beef Ragout, and I had the roast chicken. We even had dessert -- he had cheesecake, and I had Mississippi Mud Cake. Very good!”

Here’s another excerpt from my journal: “10:15 p.m. -- We’re cozily ensconced in our little roomette. It IS small, but very comfy indeed. We think we’ll sleep very well. They fit an amazing amount in such a small space. There’s a toilet in here, two bunks, a fold-down sink, a fold-down table, quite a bit of storage space -- it’s great!”

Here's a photo which shows part of our roomette. You can see the window, the fold-down table (in the closed position), a corner of one seat, and our water bottles.

I should add that the Lake Shore Limited sleeper cars are what’s called a Viewliner. When the upper bunk is brought down into position, the person who has that space gets his very own picture window. The roomettes on the Viewliners do seem much more spacious. The Superliners (which we’ll get to later) have an upper level, with bedrooms on both levels, so understandably the rooms need to be smaller.

We didn’t sleep as well as we’d hoped, but I think that’s understandable -- getting used to the motion of the train, hearing the track sounds and the whistle (which blows almost constantly at times) and -- something we hadn’t anticipated -- the roar of passing freight trains.

There was a shower just down the hall -- rather cramped quarters, but not bad. The hardest thing to deal with was getting bounced around as the train sped along the tracks. On this train, I had a rather scary experience -- after showering and dressing, I found that I couldn’t open the door into the hallway! Somehow, probably from all the movement of the train, it had gotten stuck in the locked position! I had visions of myself having to ring for the car attendant to let me out. Fortunately, I was able to use a comb to push up on the bolt and open the door.

Breakfast was wonderful. Mr. T chose the Bob Evans Scramble, a mixture of eggs, sausage and cheese, which comes with hash browns and a bowl of fruit on the side. I ordered the three-cheese quiche, which was excellent, with sausage patties on the side. Juice and coffee were also included for both of us. We had already found, by this point, that one of the highlights of this trip was going to be sitting with all sorts of different people at meals and getting to know them just a bit. I imagine some people hate this part, but we really enjoyed all of the different folks we were able to meet and chat with.

The Lake Shore Limited pulled into Union Station in Chicago about an hour and 10 minutes behind schedule. Late-for-Sure again!

Next Installment: Union Station

Friday, October 27, 2006


Parts 1 (and 7) -- Coach Class on the LAKE SHORE LIMITED

We began our journey traveling in coach class on the Lake Shore Limited from Massachusetts to Albany, New York, and ended it by traveling, again in coach, from Albany to Massachusetts. This leg of our trip was only 3 or 4 hours long, so that is why we traveled in coach. We were on train 449 -- due to arrive at 2:20 that first day, but which actually arrived closer to 2:45.

I had done a lot of research into Amtrak travel, and was expecting a lot of friendliness from the Amtrak folks. We didn’t see that in Massachusetts, either coming or going. That could well be just Massachusetts itself! In other places, we found the Amtrak folks in the stations, and especially on the trains, to be very friendly and helpful.

We were pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the seating in the coach cars. The seats are roomy, comfortable and will recline. There are foot rests and pull-down tables in front of you, and much more legroom than in airplane seats. Each coach car has two restrooms, and there is a cafe´car where one can purchase snacks, sandwiches, etc. We had eaten lunch before we got on the train, so were not hungry. Toward the end of the trip, we snacked on some grapes we’d brought along.

The views of the fall foliage from our windows were very nice -- unfortunately, many of the photos we took also feature the knees of the young men in the seats across from us. This part of the trip was just a bit nerve-racking because we were seated in the midst of a group of foreign-exchange students -- high-school age, I would say -- who spent most of the trip roaming the aisles and chatting with one another in German (or a similar language) quite loudly. At first it didn’t bother us, but I had quite a headache by the time we got to Albany.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal concerning Part 1 of the trip:

“2:55 p.m. -- “Well. we are aboard the Lake Shore Limited and moving toward Albany. The conductor has just come through and punched our tickets. The train was a good 25 minutes late. I read on the Internet that this train is nicknamed the “Late-for-Sure Limited”, and so far it is proving true!“

On this leg of the journey on our return trip, we saw some lovely views from the windows, but we reclined our seats and slept most of the way.
All in all, our experience in coach class was a good one, and we decided we could do an entire short trip in coach easily -- as long as it didn’t involve more than one overnight.

Next installment -- First Class on the LAKE SHORE LIMITED.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fall cleaning challenge update

Before leaving on vacation, I actually did get quite a bit done on the fall cleaning challenge set forth by Carrie. Here's what I accomplished:

* Shop-vacced (is that a word?) the front porch.

* Washed down the porch furniture.

* Put a fall tablecloth on the porch table.

* Thoroughly cleaned both the inner and outer front doors.

* Got Mr. T to put away his tools which were spread all over the porch.

* Washed the floor and vacuumed walls in the front hallway.

* Did a little bit more fall decorating.

And here's what I still have to do:

* Wash glass in both doors.

* Do some decluttering in the corner cupboard in the dining room.

* Declutter my "incoming mail" area and figure out a better system for it.

It was lovely to come home to a decluttered, clean, inviting porch. In fact, my whole house was neat, pretty, and welcoming. Unfortunately, it didn't take us long to trash it with suitcases, laundry, stacks of newspapers dropped off by the paper guy, and a tub of mail the post office had held for us. I have my work cut out for me in the coming week! And who knows, Carrie may come up with another challenge any day now...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A couple of photos

Here is just a tiny example of what we saw from the windows of the California Zephyr as it made its way through the Rockies in Colorado and Utah. It was simply incredible. The pictures in no way do it justice! I don't know how anyone could look at such incredible beauty and not see the hand of the Creator. Hopefully in a few days I can share some more photos and more of a "travelogue" of our trip.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Home again!

Good morning, everyone! It's great to be back. I hope to post again today and share a little bit about our trip. We had a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed our new grandson as well as our first experience traveling via Amtrak. Hope everyone is having a wonderful day!

Monday, October 09, 2006

We're on vacation!

We head out tomorrow morning to take a train trip out West to see our newest grandchild. I hope to have the opportunity to blog a bit from out there, but I won't be in my own kitchen as I usually am. I will miss visiting with you all, but I'll have lots to share when we return. God bless you all!

Picnic [NOT] by the River for October 4

This week’s picnic was a bit different! For the entire time we have been picnicking on Wednesday nights on the way to church -- probably about 6 weeks now -- we have been blessed with good weather for our picnics. This Wednesday started out nice and we planned our picnic as usual. I made Hot Ham & Cheese Sandwiches (wrapped in foil & heated) and Barbecue Butter Beans. We headed out, but the sky was getting darker by the moment, and so we turned back. We ate our picnic on our own porch, and enjoyed it very much! Then we went on to church as usual. The Picnic by the River turned into a Picnic on the Porch, but we didn’t mind a bit!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Fall Cleaning Challenge, Part 2

Carrie has just put up a second part to her fall cleaning challenge, over at Life on a Back Road. This part has to do with the front entry and dining room areas of the home. I'm going to join in. Here's what I'd like to get done:

* Shop-vac the front porch.

* Wash down the porch furniture.

* Put a fall tablecloth on the porch table.

* Thoroughly clean both the inner and outer front doors.

* Wash glass in both doors.

* Get Mr. T to put away his tools which are spread all over the porch.

* Wash the floor and vacuum walls in the front hallway.

* Do a little bit more fall decorating.

* Do some decluttering in the corner cupboard in the dining room.

* Declutter my "incoming mail" area and figure out a better system for it.

We'll see how far I get! We're going on vacation soon and it would be lovely to come home to a decluttered, clean, inviting porch.

Another slow cooker Sunday...

This time it was our church’s monthly potluck dinner. We do this on the first Sunday of each month, enjoying a potluck meal together following the morning service. Then we have a 2 pm service instead of an evening service that week. It works out very well, and it’s always fun to see what other people will bring. It’s fun too, to plan something special and different to bring along to share. I don’t always bring a crockpot meal, but this time I did. It came from QUICK COOKING originally, and I only adapted it a little bit, for a change. Here’s the recipe:

3 medium potatoes, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1 pkg. (16 oz.) fresh baby carrots, quartered
1 large onion, chopped (or equivalent amount of frozen chopped onions)
3 celery ribs, sliced
12 to 16 ounces frozen meatballs, defrosted slightly in microwave and cut in halves or quarters
1 can tomato soup
1 can beef gravy
1 cup water
1 envelope onion soup mix (I used 5 Tblsp. of my own homemade mix)
2 tsp. beef bouillon granules

Place the potatoes, vegetables and meatballs in a 5-quart slow cooker. In a bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Pour this over the meatball mixture. Cover and cook on High for 4 to 5 hours. Yield: 6 servings.

Of course, at a potluck people take smaller servings, so this went a long way. It was delicious -- so much so that I am going to keep a can of beef gravy in my pantry at all times! (I already keep tomato soup on hand, as well as a jar of my homemade onion soup mix. And I keep a bag of meatballs in the freezer to use in Italian wedding soup, so the basic ingredients for this stew are always around.)

I just realized, when making this stew, that frozen chopped onions are perfect when a slow cooker recipe calls for onion and you’re putting it together on a Sunday morning. No lingering onion aroma on your hands when you go to greet people!

In addition, I brought along Herbed Dinner Rolls and Luscious Apple Trifle, both from QUICK COOKING -- so you should be able to access them from TASTE OF HOME’S online Recipe Finder.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A comforting Friday night supper

Tiny vintage cookbook from my collection
This past Friday, I made a simple, yummy meal that we greatly enjoyed: meat loaf, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, and a zippy cauliflower dish. The meat loaf was one I had frozen sometime ago and thought we’d better use up before it freezer-burned. Baked potatoes and corn on the cob are basic and easy, but the cauliflower recipe (from QUICK COOKING) was a new one to me and very good. The zippy sauce would work well in many other contexts -- on baked potatoes or tacos, or used as a dip with tortilla chips, for example. Here’s the recipe:

1 medium head cauliflower, broken into florets (I used the bright green broccoflower)
1/2 cup water
3 Tblsp. butter
3 Tblsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1/4 tsp. chili powder
3/4 cup milk (you may need more -- I did)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 Tblsp. salsa (I used medium)

Place cauliflower and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on High for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour and seasonings until smooth. Gradually stir in milk. (I prefer to do this off heat.) Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Reduce heat; stir in cheese and salsa until cheese is melted. Remove from heat. Drain cauliflower well; drizzle with cheese sauce. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

As mentioned, I needed to use more milk. The sauce that resulted using 3/4 cup milk was way too thick to “drizzle” over anything. I think I used about 1 1/4 cups milk, and it was still plenty thick. I did use the bright green broccoflower, but I think the new purple or orange cauliflower would also be fun.

Picnic by the River for September 27

Well, I need to get busy and post about this past week’s picnic! Otherwise it will soon be Wednesday again -- it’s already a new month!

It was another nice evening by the river, and we enjoyed our supper at our favorite picnic table -- the one right beside the water. It’s so pleasant just to sit and enjoy the music of the gently rippling water while we have our supper. This week we had Pizza Loaf -- a sort of calzone with all kinds of interesting yummy stuff for the filling -- and Artichoke-Bean Salad. Both originally came from QUICK COOKING magazine. Here are the recipes, for those who would like them.

1 loaf (1 lb.) frozen bread dough, thawed
2 eggs, separated
1 Tblsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tblsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. parsley flakes
1/4 tsp. pepper
Garlic powder or granulated garlic to taste -- up to 1/2 tsp. powder
Sliced pepperoni to taste
Shredded mozzarella cheese to taste
Pickled banana pepper rings to taste
Sliced black olives to taste
Pizza sauce or spaghetti sauce for dipping

Roll out dough to form a 15-inch x 10-inch rectangle. In a bowl, combine the egg yolks, Parmesan, oil, oregano, parsley, pepper and garlic powder. Spread this mixture over the rolled-out dough. Sprinkle with pepperoni, mozzarella, pepper rings and black olives. Roll up the dough, jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; pinch the seam of the loaf to seal it and tuck the ends of the loaf under. Place the loaf, seam side down, on a parchment-covered baking sheet (to prevent messing up your baking sheet if the loaf leaks). Beat the egg whites lightly and brush the loaf with beaten egg whites. (You probably won’t use all of them.) Do not let the loaf rise -- you bake it unrisen. Bake at 350ยบ for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Warm the pizza sauce; serve with the sliced loaf. Makes 10 - 12 slices -- or 4 servings.

This recipe also originally called for a can of mushroom stems and pieces, drained and sprinkled on with the pepperoni, etc. I did use these the first time I made the loaf, but it’s good without. Chopped green pepper may be added at this time too -- the recipe called for that -- but I think it’s better without. But do as you think best!

Next time I make this, I’m going to skip the frozen bread dough and use the recipe a friend gave me for calzone dough. It’s far tastier and MUCH easier to roll out.

For the picnic, I wrapped the whole loaf in foil and took along a cutting board and sharp knife. It stayed nice and warm. I warmed the pizza sauce before leaving the house and took it along in a covered plastic container.

1 can (16 oz.) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5 oz.) cut green beans, drained
1 jar (6.5 oz.) marinated artichoke hearts, undrained
2 to 3 Tblsp. dried minced onion
1/2 c. chopped green pepper
1/2 cup Italian salad dressing

In a large bowl, toss together all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Yield: about 6 servings.

This was tasty, but not the most attractive salad I’ve ever made. I was out of cut green beans so used French style, and that gave it a sort of messy appearance. Then, I used balsamic vinaigrette since I was out of bottled Italian dressing, which added an unappealing murky look. (I could have made homemade Italian dressing, but Wednesdays are a hugely busy day for me and there was no time.) Here’s what I would do next time to increase the attractiveness of this salad: 1) Use white kidney, or cannellini, beans; 2) Use red pepper instead of green; 3) Be sure I have cut green beans and Italian dressing on hand to use.

In talking with the attendant at the rest area, we learned it is slated to close for the season November 1. Not much time left for picnics -- especially since we will be away for 2 weeks in October. But it’s been fun!

Update #3 on Fall Cleaning Challenge Part 1

Well, I have finally managed to almost completely finish the Fall Cleaning Challenge Part 1, as set by Carrie at Life on a Back Road (see link in sidebar). Yesterday was a bit different at church, since the first Sunday of every month we share a potluck meal and then a 2 pm service rather than our usual 6 pm service. After making a few stops, we were home by 4:30 and I decided to pitch into the fall cleaning I was doing in the master bedroom. Here’s what I got done:

* Thoroughly vacuumed floors, including under the bed

* Pulled out all remaining undusted furniture -- a nightstand, a bookcase, a glider rocker and a small table -- and vacuumed and washed floor where they had been.

* Swiffered the walls behind each item of furniture, then vacuumed, dusted, and thoroughly cleaned each piece with Murphy Oil Soap.

* Put a fresh doily on the small table and the nightstand.

* Decluttered top of bookcase.

* Washed mirrors.

* Sorted out the magazines in my hubby’s bedside reading basket, and tossed the outdated ones. Vacuumed out the basket before replacing the “keeper” magazines.

L had asked about finding time for such housecleaning projects, and truly they can be done 15 minutes a day, a la FlyLady. However, some weeks I just can’t seem to do it that way and need to have a larger block of time. (Or feel like I do, anyway.) I thought the gift of several hours on a Sunday afternoon might provide a great time to finish this project, and it turned out that way.

I do still need to declutter 2 totes of craft materials that are in this room, but I’m very happy with what I’ve accomplished via this challenge. Looking forward to seeing what Carrie’s Fall Cleaning Challenge, Part 2 will look like!

Menu Plan Monday

Here's my plan for this week! Again, there are some repeat menus due to using up leftovers, etc. and menus being unused for last week.

MONDAY: Florentine Egg Bake, Apple Salad, Biscuits or Cinnamon Rolls

TUESDAY: Pork Chop/Apple Bake, Buttercup Squash, Coleslaw

WEDNESDAY: Hot Ham & Cheese Sandwiches, Barbecue Butter Beans

THURSDAY: Baked Fish Chowder, Biscuits or Cornbread

FRIDAY: Pasta with Greens ' n' Beans, Tossed Salad

SATURDAY: Mexican Egg Casserole, Cheddar Potato Wedges, 2-Bean Salad

SUNDAY: Hearty Pasta Tomato Soup, Whole Wheat Bread

And there you have it! Looking forward to seeing others' menu plans.