Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My First Pumpkin Pie From Scratch

As many of you are aware, my mother is in the hospital with pneumonia. She is doing much better! I just got off the phone with her and I know she is better because she had a long list of orders -- she calls them suggestions but I know better. This will be the first Thanksgiving she hasn't been able to cook the entire meal herself. She's a bit miffed with that and wants to make certain we're 'doing it right'. She sent reinforcements in -- her sister -- to help my daughter with the meal. Yes, I have to laugh at that too!

So as I talked to my mom and made the list, she said, "Make sure you buy the cheap frozen pumpkin pies, not the expensive ones. And for heaven's sake, don't you try to make one!"

No, I was not offended by her request/demand/suggestion. After my first attempt at making a pumpkin pie from scratch a few years ago, my family made me swear never to try to make one again. Yes, it was that bad! 

Picture it...Illinois...2009...Thanksgiving. A woman on the cusp of menopause. A family gathered for the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner......A woman (me) makes two of the most beautiful pumpkin pies she'd ever seen. She was happy, elated, over-the-moon proud of her accomplishment. She'd never made a pumpkin pie before. They were beautiful.

We had finished stuffing ourselves with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, bread, green bean casserole and all the other things we make for this meal. There is always room for pie. I'm not sure, but I think that is on our family crest. As we all sat around my mother's living room, men with belts undone and everyone awash in the afterglow of a fine meal, it was time for pie.

My husband's favorite pie is pumpkin. I had made the most beautiful pies, quite proud of myself as this was my first attempt and quite frankly, they could have graced the cover of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. I was almost giddy with pride and could not wait to give a big slice to my husband.

So we cut the pies, plated them, some with whipped cream some without. My husband prefers his without. My daughters helped me serve the family. I was too full for pie (I'd rather have mashed potatoes for my dessert.)

I sat with unconcealed excitement, next to my husband, waiting to hear how wonderful the pie tasted. Everyone took a bite as I smiled and waited.

It was like watching synchronized swimming. All forks went down on plates at same time. My husband, God bless him, didn't even flinch, but the rest of the family did.

"How does it taste, honey? Is it good?" I asked with a big smile.

He cleared his throat. "I think I'm just too full."

Now, I've seen my husband consume an entire pumpkin pie in one sitting and that was after a big meal. I knew something was up. I looked around the room. No one was eating the pie, save for my son, who had a half a tub of cool whip on his slice. My daughters were glancing at each other, my mother had gone seven shades of gray. I caught a glimpse of "should I flee now?" in my son-in-law's eyes.

I looked at my husband. "What is wrong?" I whispered in his ear. "Are you ill?"

Kevin leaned in and whispered, "Honey, um, how much sugar did you put in the pie?"

"Sugar? What sugar?"

He blinked. I blinked.

"I used pumpkin pie filling. All I had to add was some milk and eggs. Everything else was already in it."

That is when the room erupted into a fit of laughter. My mother, who normally has my back in all situations, was laughing so hard that tears were rolling down her face.

"Did you read the recipe on the back of the can?" My daughter asked.

"Yes, I did miss smarty pants!"

"Did you have your readers on?" My other daughter asked.

Insulted, I stomped to mom's kitchen, found a can of pumpkin pie filling and began to read the recipe on the back. Damned print was so tiny! I grabbed my glasses from my purse while the traitors I used to call family continued to laugh. I began to read the recipe aloud and stopped, dead in my tracks. "Evaporated milk, cinnamon, salt....damn."

Sugar? How on earth did I miss it? I didn't even think to add sugar, thinking it was already sweetened. "But apple pie filling and blueberry pie filling, they all have the sugar already in it! Why in the heck doesn't pumpkin pie filling???" I went nine shades of red. My daughters fell to the floor, rolling, holding their sides, unable to breathe because they were laughing so hard.

"Now I know why alligators eat their young!" I told them.

My son piped up. "Its okay if you put enough cool whip on it." He was sincere, God love him.

My husband smiled, patted me on the head and told me not to worry, he still loved me. My daughters were not so kind. They made me swear never, and I do mean never to bake another pumpkin pie again, at least not without my reading glasses and adult supervision.

My youngest daughter bought pumpkin pies last night. The expensive ones - but don't tell mom.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Home For The Holidays Hop!

Its that time of year when we all begin to give thanks. I'm thankful for so many things, some of them being great author friends! 

Click the link above to find links to some awesome authors and their websites and the chance to win some great prizes! 

Of Blizzards and Beans

We had our first snowfall the night before last. It didn't amount to much, but for a few hours, the grass and trees were blanketed in soft white and for a moment, a brief moment, I was giddy. While I don’t relish driving in the winter, I do appreciate the majesty that winter brings.

Can you imagine what life was like before cars, gas furnaces, electric coffee makers, and gas ovens, when the first snowfall arrived?

I doubt there was a mad dash anywhere, to scoop up toilet paper, milk and the last can of tomato juice on the shelf. Here in the Midwest where I live, it seems that whenever there is a call for snow, everyone races to the grocery store to pick up the fixings for chili. I don’t know when or why chili became the food of choice during bad winter storms, but it seems everyone and his brother has to make it during blizzards.

I remember a few winters ago when the weatherman forecasted a blizzard of biblical proportions. Like everyone else in our area, I made a mad dash to the grocery store after work to pick up the requisite TP, milk, chili beans and tomato juice.  I knew that if I didn’t hurry the shelves would be empty of the typical Midwest blizzard survival gear: toilet paper and chili.

The snow had just begun to fall when I slid into a parking spot, grabbed my purse, and hurried into the grocery store. Typically, I have a certain route I take for grocery shopping. We were at DEFCON 3 levels, quickly heading toward DEFCON 1, so I bypassed my usual route and headed straight to the juice aisle. I was a woman on a mission. I had a husband and son at home, waiting for me to get home so that we could survive snow-mageddon together. And the only way to do that is with chili. I had to hurry or all the tomato juice would be gone.

I headed straight for the juice aisle.

I was right.

The shelves were empty. Completely. You couldn’t even find a can of V8 to use as a substitute. I stood in numbed silence for several long moments. How in the heck do you get through a blizzard without chili?

Crestfallen, I mumbled a curse word or two, left the juice aisle in a daze and headed for the TP.  Seriously? This is the Midwest for crying out loud! I could only surmise that the store manager was from the moon, because anyone with half a brain would know to double up on the tomato juice this time of year. I mean, really, it is the Midwest! We get blizzards here and the only way to survive is with chili.

I would have given someone $20 for a can of tomato juice. I would have offered to exchange one of my mother’s banana cream pies for just one can. I would have made my son shovel driveways in exchange for the can of red gold stuff. (Red Gold happens to be my juice of choice in making chili, so pardon the pun!)

I grabbed the TP and milk, and a bag of Oreo Double Stuffs to help heal my injured heart and headed for the long check out lanes. As I paid the cashier I made certain she would pass my message of dissatisfaction to her manager. (I did it with a smile of course. It isn’t her fault she works for a nincompoop who doesn’t know to stock pile tomato juice this time of year.)

I decided to hit another grocery store before giving up. Their juice shelves were just as empty, as was the DG not far from our house. I imagined it would be easier to find crack or weapons grade plutonium than one simple can of tomato juice!

Heartbroken and defeated, I made my way home trying to figure out a way to explain the lack of tomato juice to my husband. Maybe I could blame it on an alien invasion. Maybe I could say I was mugged in the grocery store parking lot and the only thing they took was the juice. He would believe it. He grew up here. He knew how valuable tomato juice was this time of year.

As I made my way down our street my cell phone rang. It was my husband. “Hey honey!” I love how he says that by the way. “Don’t worry about the tomato juice. You had two cans on the Lazy Susan.”

Glory be to God!!! Hallelujah!! Angels sang while the snow fell. I was saved from having to lie to my husband. My heart pounded with relief. We would survive this blizzard! We have tomato juice!

I pulled into the drive, grabbed my grocery bag and 24-roll pack of toilet paper and raced into the house. I kicked off my boots, hung up my coat, and began to prepare the only food that will help you survive a blizzard.

Green peppers and tomatoes sizzled in the skillet, added the hamburger, grabbed the big stockpot and opened the cans of tomato juice and tossed in the Mexine chili powder. I sang a lively tune while I started the chili. My heart was light, I had a little skip in my step. I loved the world, my husband, my family. I was a blessed woman.

I couldn’t remember being happier as I stood in front of my stove and looked out at the beautiful white stuff that fell from the sky. It was coming down in big white flakes, I could see them in the street light. It was beautiful.

As the beef, onions and peppers simmered in the skillet, I started a pot of coffee before changing into my pajamas. I hugged my husband and my son and bravely told them we would survive this blizzard. We had plenty of milk, toilet paper, and praise Jesus, we’d soon have chili. Most important, we had each other.

My son rolled his eyes. My husband told me not to be so over dramatic, it was only a blizzard. They just didn’t get it.

I went back to the kitchen, stirred the hamburger and checked on the tomato juice. All was right with the world until I went to add the beans to the juice.

Where are the beans?

In less than two minutes, I had nearly disassembled my kitchen in search of chili beans.

Precisely ten seconds after realizing I didn’t have any darned beans, I had my first breakdown of winter. I. Don’t. Have. Any. Beans.

How in the heck do you make chili without beans??? You have to have beans.

It was then that my husband turned into an encyclopedia of information on real chili. Real chili doesn’t have beans, he informed me with a smile.  The man was nuts. I shut out his voice for the next few minutes, while he droned on about real chili versus what we make here in the Midwest.

He shut up when I told him people have been known to file for divorce for such fallacies and misguided arguments.

I knew he wasn’t going to trudge out in this weather in search of beans. So I did the only thing that made any sense at the moment. I got dressed, put on my boots and winter wear, and headed out in search of beans.

Two grocery stores later, I found a small can of beans, bought a king sized Hershey dark chocolate bar that I would later refuse to share with my husband or my son after their lack of sympathy for my chili bean plight.

I went home, opened the can of beans, plopped them in the juice and finished making my chili -- which my son politely reminded me he didn’t even like and could he please have a hamburger instead. I gave him a choice. Eat the damned chili or pack for military school.

We didn’t eat until after 8:00 that night. I hid the Oreos and the chocolate bar. We ate in silence and waited for the blizzard of the century.

We ended up getting only an inch of snow.

I ended up forgiving my husband and son for being insensitive. (After eating the Oreos and chocolate bar of course.)

I also wrote a letter to the store manager that my husband took out of the mailbox before the mailman arrived. I think he worried the man would give my picture to the check out girls with a note that says, “Do not sell tomato juice to this woman.”

I now have the bottom shelf of my lazy Susan dedicated to tomato juice and chili beans. I now stockpile them like Russians stockpile nuclear weapons.  The same with toilet paper.  Because you just can’t get through a Midwest blizzard without those two things.

Suzan's Chili Recipe
(I'm a 'dump' cook. I usually toss things in until they look and taste right.)

1 Large can tomato juice
1 Medium can Brooks Chili Beans - mild or hot, your choice
1 pound ground beef - I use 90% lean
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
2/3 cup chopped green pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
pepper flakes
2 to 3 tablespoons of Mexine chili seasoning

In skillet, saute onions and peppers in extra virgin olive oil. Add ground beef and brown until completely cooked. 

While beef is cooking, put the tomato juice and beans in large stock pot or crock pot and begin to heat. Add 1/2 to 1 tablespoons of the mexine, a dash of salt and pepper, and a dash of pepper flakes.

After the ground beef is browned, drain thoroughly and put back in skillet. Take a ladle or two of the tomato juice and add it to the beef. Add dash of salt, pepper, a few pepper flakes and a tablespoon of Mexine. Stir until well blended, cover, and simmer on very low heat for about 15 to 30 minutes, then add that mixture to your crock pot. Simmer on low heat for an hour or two, or until it looks and smells like chili! :o) If you're using a crock pot, simmer for a few hours. You can always add more Mexine if you like your chili on the hotter side of things. 

I like to serve fresh baked bread or cornbread with my chili.

Have a great November!!!