Dinner on a Wednesday Night

Tonight when I walked through the door, by darling husband was standing at the stove. He had mixed up a batch of corn bread and was warming leftover chicken noodle soup for supper. I could tell he was perplexed — or perhaps at the end of his rope. I wasn’t sure which it was until I looked in the pot and saw very little soup actually in there. I quickly took over and sent him off to light a fire before he offered to take us out for dinner.

We’ve been eating out too much lately. While eating out solves many problems, it creates others. It solves the problem that the three of us eat very different diets, so each of us gets what we want. Our son is a college student, so he wants plenty of meat and very few vegetables. I prefer all vegetable meals, and Vince wants a meat and three. If only we all liked the same vegetables or the same meats, cooking during the week would be easier.

Eating out solves the problem of who will do the dishes — or who won’t do the dishes. It also means that we will actually eat together at a table, when usually Sam heads to his room and we head for the couch.

One of the problems it creates is where to eat. We’re picky about restaurants. We have one criteria — the restaurant has to be locally-owned. While we might, on a vary rare occasion, eat at a chain, it only happens from necessity. Unfortunately, we’ve tried all the local restaurants, and we’re pretty confident that we’re better cooks that 90% of the places in town. So right now, we’re down to three restaurants and frankly, we’re tired of their menus. I was determined that, tonight, we were going to eat at home.

As Vince walked out of the kitchen, I grabbed the other storage container of soup that he didn’t know was in the fridge. I also added a container of homemade chicken broth. Then a few more noodles, peas, carrots, butter, salt and pepper, and tossed in a little extra cumin (the real reason chicken soup is good for you). I filled the cornbread pans and went to change into my pajamas and hug on our furbabies, who were patiently waiting to be greeted. Twenty minutes later, our bowls were overflowing with our favorite soup. As expected, Sam took his bowl to his room and we headed for the couch. With a roaring fire warming up the room and soup warming up our tummies, I think we all took a deep sigh of relief and peace. I know I did.

Here’s a link to some of my favorite soups. I promise, they’re all simple and full of goodness. Perfect on a chilly night. I like to make a big batch of soup on the weekends. If I’m lucky, there will be enough leftovers to get us through one weeknight meal and a couple of lunches.

https://chezmedlock.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/my-favorite-soup-recipes/

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My Brain is Mush

Its day four of NaBloPoMo and frankly, I can barely form a sentence. I spent the whole day writing. My brain is mush and its my bedtime. Not a good combination for a clever blog post. But I’m determined to post something, I can’t fail at this process on day four. That would just be sad. The thing is, I’ve already published a blog post today, but that was for work and not for Despite Everything. So it doesn’t count. (But if you’re curious, go visit the other blog I write for, PADD Perspectives.)

I’m thrilled that I got to spend the day writing. I’m blessed to have a job that allows me to exercise my creative muscles. But writing challenges me more than anything else I do. I’m not a natural writer. It takes me forever to find the right words or define the right mood. Eventually, I get there. Some stories are better than others. I’ll never win any awards for my writing efforts, but they are always the best that I can do.

Unlike tonight, when I just want to fulfill my obligation to post something more than I got up. I went to work. I checked off a couple items from my to-do list. I got off the beaten path when I drove home. I voted. I got to see my son cast his first vote. I watched the election returns. And then I remembered to write this post.

See, some stories really are better than others. I promise I’ll do better tomorrow. Hopefully.

Everybody Has a Story to Tell

Everyone has a story tell; unfortunately, not everyone has someone to listen. There are people all around us who are lonely and just need to know that someone cares. It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic class they may be in, loneliness is an equal opportunity emotion.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the privilege of meeting two individuals. Because of their unique circumstances, they have found themselves struggling. They’ve both worked hard all their lives. Neither expected their golden years to be what they’ve become. And neither has allowed their situation to break their spirit.

As I sat listening to their individual stories, I realized that I had a been given an overwhelming privilege by becoming their friend. I tried to soak up every moment of our time together. But most of all, I listened and prayed that I wouldn’t trivialize their lives by my attempts to justify a program service. I appreciated how they shared their stories with honesty and insight. They thoughtfully answered my questions and then smiled for my camera.

While both made an impact on me too deep to describe here on this blog, I find it fitting to acknowledge my time with them during NaBloPoMo. Because I will forever carry their stories in my heart.

There are thousands of others just waiting to tell their stories. Will you stop and listen? Or simply give a stranger a smile? How many of us have hurriedly passed a stranger on the street, hoping not to catch their eye? Why do we do that? Is it because we’re too busy in our own lives to give a few minutes to another human being? Or is it because we don’t want to be burdened with the unfortunate side of life? Afraid that we might somehow expose our own pain by listening to theirs?

I challenge you, my readers, to go outside of your comfort zone and find a way to listen to a stranger’s story. You’ll be rewarded for the effort, and they will know that they matter and aren’t alone in this world.

 

 

 

 

If it’s Sunday, it’s Laundry Day

imageWe’ve been married for 23 years. Lucky for me, we share most of the household tasks. We cook together, we clean house together, and we work in our yard together. We avoid washing the windows together. Without Vince’s help, I could never accomplish everything my mother taught me are necessary household chores. But in all these years, I alone have had the sole responsibility of doing laundry.

Every Saturday morning, Sam and I deliver our dirty duds to the laundry room. Most of the time, he dumps it in the middle of the floor. If I’ve left some clue to which basket is for jeans and which basket is for black t-shirts, he’ll go ahead and sort. Otherwise, he’ll leave it for me to deal with.

Vince on the other hand, leaves his dirty duds piled in the bathroom. Sometimes, he’ll pick them up and dump them on my pile of dirty duds in our bedroom. But most of the time, there’s a growing tower of dirty laundry beside the shower. For years, I would pick it up for him. Then I decided that, as a grown man, he can see the non-compliant structure being built in our bathroom. If he does manage to take his dirty duds to the laundry room, he won’t attempt to sort as my method befuddles him. Unlike our son, he won’t just add his jeans to the dirty jeans basket. I’ve tried to teach him how to sort, but he can’t comprehend its simplicity: whites, grays and khakis, colors, navy and black, and jeans. He overthinks it by considering the density of each item. Washing sheets with towels doesn’t make sense to him. Washing white sheets and white towels together makes perfect sense to me.

Probably more than I realize, over the years Vince has tackled loads of laundry for me. Sometimes, I’ll ask. Sometimes, it’s from necessity. He never complains, and bless his heart, in the last few weeks he’s even been helping fold and putting things away.

At Chez Medlock, doing laundry is a six-step process. Anything less isn’t “doing laundry.”

Step One: Collecting the dirty laundry.

Step Two: Sorting the dirty laundry.

Step Three: Washing each load following a specific order of priority.
a. Two loads of whites
i. Sheets and towels
ii. Everything else that is white
b. One load of gray and khaki
c. One load of colors
d. One load of navy and black
e. One load of jeans

Step Four: Drying the clean laundry.

Step Five: Folding the clean laundry.

Step Six: Putting away the clean laundry.

This is where I will disclose that my clothing doesn’t actually get put away. Once sorted, things that aren’t hung in my closet stay dumped on the laundry room counter. I don’t have enough storage, but then what woman does?

Sundays are laundry day. I’ve tried doing laundry during the week, but frankly it drives me crazy. I’ll forget a step, or worse, I’ll forget that I started a load only to discover it the following Sunday. Yeeks!

No matter what else I’m doing on a Sunday, doing laundry seems to naturally fit in. So here, on NaBloPoMo Day 2, I’m spending the day going through the Medlock Six-Step Process of Laundry Day. Other things might get accomplished or they might not. But at least we’ll have clean clothes for the week.

So what’s your laundry routine? Leave a comment below and tell me how you make the world a cleaner place by doing laundry.

Because I Have Nothing Else To Do #NaBloPoMo2014

imageIt’s official, I’ve lost my mind and joined National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). Each day in November, I’ve pledged to post something (photo, poem, recipe, or haiku) to Despite Everything. Considering I haven’t posted anything to this blog since May, this will either be the jump start I need or it will become something that I’ll easily forget. Either way, I’m up for the creative challenge and looking forward to writing here once again. After all, I have nothing else to do, right? Cough. Cough.

So what is NaBloPoMo?

National Blog Posting Month began in November 2006, as a response to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrMo) where participants pledge to write a 50,000-word novel in month. I might be crazy, but I’m not that crazy. Although, I met the inspiration for a character this week, when I turned down the wrong road and came to face-to-face with a woman named Ida.

I’ve missed writing posts for Despite Everything. I’m sure my siblings were relieved when I stopped publishing photos on the internet from our parent’s photo albums. I’m also sure our friends were relieved that every dinner or adventure stopped being inspiration for a new blog post. I, too, was relieved to rid myself of an overwhelming responsibility to be clever. At the time I stopped writing, I needed to simply live life. Not write about it.

So if I was so relieved, why did I sign up for a 30-day writing challenge? The most simple answer is, why not? I loved the feeling of accomplishment of pushing the WordPress publish button. I loved how our readers responded to what we had to say or what we were trying to accomplish. I loved how it connected me to friends and family. I loved that despite all the reasons I stopped writing, people kept reading. Everyday, readers found their way to this blog and our Facebook page. From time-to-time, people even would stop me and ask when was I going to start writing again.

So here we go — 30 days of new blog posts. I can’t promise that they’ll be clever or even inspirational. But for the next 30 days, you can count on something being published. I’ve created a special tab on the menu bar so that you can keep up. I’ll need encouragement along the way, so make sure to drop me a comment. Or two. Or everyday. After all, I’m sure you have nothing better to do too.

Let’s do this!

Strawberry Preserves Worthy of a Blue Ribbon

Jars

Last year’s Strawberry with Black Peppercorn Preserves didn’t impress the county fair canning judges. Maybe this year, I can finally bring home the blue ribbon for the category.

I vowed that I wasn’t going to make strawberry preserves this year.

Thanks to one failed attempt after another, I had decided to throw in the towel and skip entering strawberry preserves into this year’s Calloway County Fair. To be honest, none of my strawberry preserves have ever been “fair-worthy.” I’ve gone ahead and entered them anyway, but red and white ribbons were all that I earned. As a former 4H’er, I’ve struggled with the achievement of second and third place in that category.

After each year’s judging, I’ve leaned over the roped barricade to closely observe the strawberry preserves category winners to determine what made their strawberry preserves better than mine.

  • Unlike me, they’ve used commercial pectin.
  • Unlike me, they didn’t macerate the berries to achieve a jewel colored jelly that suspended the fruit.
  • Unlike me, they’ve barely observed (much less followed) the rules for jar labeling or headspace.
  • Unlike me, they achieved a perfect set.
  • Unlike me, they won the elusive blue ribbon for strawberry preserves.

Last year, I convinced myself that I had a champion jar. I had nearly missed strawberry season. All the activities surrounding our son’s high school graduation paired with planting our the garden kept me busy. Thanks to the keen eye of the Murray Main Street Director during a Saturday Market, I scored a flat (16 quarts) of strawberries two weeks before the fair. That weekend, our kitchen went into full preserve manufacturing mode.

Strawberries

Always make preserves and jams from  strawberries that picked a day or two before in order to maximize their juice release.

But I had failed to achieve the perfect preserves set- – where the whole fruit hangs beautifully suspended in jelly. Time after time, I only achieved a soft set — meaning that that jellied suspension is more liquid than it is a solid.

Let’s face it: nobody likes pouring their preserves onto a biscuit. Especially fair judges.

One of the issues with achieving perfect strawberry preserves is that strawberries are a low-pectin fruit. You almost have to use commercially-produced pectin to get jelly suspension. But I refuse to use commercial pectin. As with other processed food, I don’t trust the preservatives that are added to the pectin. So, I battle the odds stacked against me trying to balance boiling the sugar to the right consistency with avoiding scorching the preserves.

My frustration levels were at their peak when I read at the University of Georgia National Center for Home Food Preservation‘s website (the king of canning research from which all Cooperative Extension competition rules were established) that I wasn’t failing, but instead I was actually achieving a most desired “traditional preserves set.”

Excited to discover that I wasn’t hopeless, I called my sister, former Cooperative Extension Agent extraordinaire. She’s my hot-line for all things canning. I never allow her in my kitchen when I’m preparing for competition. Nor do I allow her to see my selected jars until after I bring them home from the fair.  But I sure talk for hours with her about what I’m doing.

I asked her about the “traditional preserves set” concept. Bless her heart. Like the loving sister she is, she lied like a dog. She told me that the experienced judge would recognize what a glorious thing I had achieved. Just to make sure the judges understood what I was offering wasn’t a failed preserves attempt, I even noted on the label that I had utilized a “traditional preserves set.” I tried to add “as described by the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation,” but it wouldn’t fit on the label. I’m sure they were as impressed as I was at my precious jar of preserves as they taped a white ribbon to its lid.

This Monday, when I got an email stating that The Berry Farm would be delivering freshly picked berries to the office, I grabbed my wallet. I resisted the urge to buy a whole flat.

“Be smart about this,” I told myself. “Get a couple of quarts, just enough to make a test batch. If I fail again, then I haven’t wasted my time and money.”

Now, you must understand. Its only strawberry preserves that I’ve struggled to set. Any other preserves, especially my blackberry preserves are ‘da bomb. (If I might brag for a moment!) My strawberry preserves taste divine, but taste isn’t considered in fair competition.

I let the berries sit overnight in one of the refrigerators at work. On Tuesday, I brought them home. I measured out 3 lbs of fruit, selecting the best specimens. I avoided the biggest berries, choosing the smaller ones because true preserves feature the whole berry instead of pieces of fruit. I washed, dried, and hulled them. Then, I added two and a half cups of organic sugar. I gently folded the fruit and sugar together, letting the juices release for a couple of hours before covering the container with parchment and putting it in the fridge to macerate overnight.

On Wednesday after supper, I poured the berries and sugar into my favorite dutch oven. I turned the heat on low, then went and washed dishes. I kept an eye on the it but left it alone, letting it slowly heat up and melt the sugar. By the time I rinsed the last dish, I could hear the mixture revving up to a soft boil. I turned off the stove and let it cool. Then I put it all back into the parchment covered container to sit once again overnight in the fridge.

Tomorrow night, I’ll make the preserves. Or at least I’ll try to make preserves. I’m sure several prayers will be said as I attempt to achieve at least one “fair-worthy” jar of strawberry preserves capable of bringing home a blue ribbon.

Types of Jellied Products

From the University of Georgia National Center for Home Food Preservation:

Jelly, jam, preserves, conserves and marmalades are fruit products that are jellied or thickened. Most are preserved by sugar. Their individual characteristics depend on the kind of fruit used and the way it is prepared, the proportions of different ingredients in the mixture, and the method of cooking.

Jellies are usually made by cooking fruit juice with sugar. (Some are made without cooking using special uncooked jelly recipes.) A good product is clear and firm enough to hold its shape when turned out of the container, but quivers when the container is moved. When cut, it should be tender yet retain the angle of the cut. Jelly should have a flavorful, fresh, fruity taste.

Jams are thick, sweet spreads made by cooking crushed or chopped fruits with sugar. Jams tend to hold their shape but are generally less firm than jelly. (Recipes are also available for uncooked jams.)

Preserves are small, whole fruit or uniform size pieces in a clear, slightly gelled syrup. The fruit should be tender and plump.

Conserves are jam-like products that may be made with a combination of fruits. They also contain nuts, raisins or coconut.

Marmalades are soft fruit jellies containing small pieces of fruit or peel evenly suspended in the transparent jelly. They often contain citrus fruit.

Other fruit products that are preserved by sugar but not jellied include butters, honeys and syrups. Fruit butters are sweet spreads made by cooking fruit pulp with sugar to a thick consistency. Spices are often added. Honeys and syrups are made by cooking fruit juice or pulp with sugar to the consistency of honey or syrup.

 

Tiny Seeds Are Beginning to Sprout

Hello World

One of the first basil plants sprung to life today. I love how it seems to say, “Hello World, I’m here!”

Our garden has begun to sprout.

This week we’ve watched basil, cucumbers, and okra seeds transform into tiny sprouts that will grow into food-producing plants. I always get excited when I see sprouts. Its like Mother Nature is telling me that I’m not hopeless or clueless gardener.

After all these years, I still question my ability to raise cucumbers from seeds sown directly into the ground. I know it sounds silly. But I don’t hold any faith in the notion that you simply spread a few seeds and they’ll come up — even though that’s how it works. Gardening isn’t supposed to be that matter of fact.

Right now, most people would giggle at the site of our garden. Everywhere we’ve planted something, you’ll find a chopstick or a canning ring marking the spot. I’ve done that for a couple of reasons. First, we don’t plant seeds in rows. Because we’re planting in raised beds, there isn’t a need for rows. Most of the time we use a checkerboard grid, pushing the limits on how many plants can reside in a small area. Second, the chopsticks and canning rings also deter me from confusing okra sprouts from weed sprouts. Finally, our raised beds are full of soil fresh from the compost pile. It never fails that the beans from last winter’s vegetable soup will sprout right in the middle of radishes. So chopsticks and canning rings help me keep things neat and organized — at least until everything is big enough for me to clearly see what it is.

I believe that seeds need encouragement and a little prayer to spring into life. They need someone waiting for them — cheering them on. From the day we plant our seeds, I start watching and praying. Every afternoon, when I arrive home from work, I walk out to the garden to see what’s changed from the day before. I’ll pull a few weeds. I’ll check to see if anything needs watering. I’ll look to see if any of the seeds have sprouted before I go inside to help cook dinner.

Our garden

We’d love to expand the space so that we could grow more. But our garden doesn’t get a lot of sunshine, especially during the mornings.

Our garden is a tiny space with four raised beds; three are 4 x 12 wooden frames that surround a stacked stone feature built by our son, our nephew, and our ‘adopted’ niece a few years ago. The stone bed’s shape is somehow related to a Pokemon or Zelda jewel — I don’t remember, but I love it because they built it.

From the four beds, we grow just enough vegetables to eat fresh produce, rarely do I preserve any of the food that we grow.  The garden is just too small for that. Instead, we love harvesting dinner. Every once and a while, we consider removing the raised beds and tilling up the ground in order to expand. Goodness knows, we’d harvest a lot more food. But our tiny little garden doesn’t get a lot of sunlight, so we wouldn’t be able to grow everything we want. Besides, we love shopping at our local farmer’s market. If we expanded the garden, there wouldn’t be a need to go.

After each tiny sprout pushes its way into the world, I’m there to welcome it. After all, that tiny sprout is now apart of our family and deserves to be noticed on its birthday. I guess its silly, but I like bonding to the plants that are going to produce food for my plate. I believe in being there from day one.

Go Seeds!