Friday, September 19, 2014

Thrifty Acres: My "New" Kitchen Toy

Hello! I'd just made my husband a batch of homemade coffee ice cream a few days ago, knowing that our ice cream maker would be going back to its basement storage spot soon - after all, the days are getting shorter and cooler. 

But while browsing in a local thrift store, I spied a Hamilton Beach Drink Master sitting on a shelf with the other small appliances. I plugged it in a nearby outlet to see if it worked, and it did. Appeared to be in good shape too; just in need of a very light cleaning. And the price was right: $2.99. The manual was missing, but I figured I could find it online.

I thought of my husband and his fondness for milkshakes. We already have a blender, but it really doesn't do a good job with shakes. From time to time I've thought of buying a shake machine, but had never done so. Here was my chance.

And here's what my new "toy" looks like:

My Drink Master is model #727-3; made in the US. I looked online to try to find out how old it is. One Etsy seller says it's from the 1970's. Judging from the Etsy and eBay listings, it appeared the $2.99 I paid was a good deal. 

Even though I bought the Hamilton Beach Drink Master with my husband in mind, I have a bit of a fondness for chocolate malts. I don't have them very often, and when I do, I'm often disappointed by the lack of malt flavor. Seems like they end up tasting more like ordinary chocolate shakes. 

Well, I could put this baby to the test and make a chocolate malt just the way I liked! I already had chocolate-flavored malted milk powder at home (left over from a homemade flavored coffee mix recipe), but I needed some ice cream. Fortunately I happened to have a very easy chocolate ice cream recipe on hand as well:

Easy Chocolate Ice Cream (adapted from a Taste of Home recipe credited to Sharon Skildum, Maple Grove MN)

4 cups half and half
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla

Put all ingredients in blender; process on low until smooth. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. Recipe yield is 1 1/2 quarts

(Skildum's recipe actually calls for 2 cups half and half and 2 cups whipping cream. In this case, the directions call for processing the half and half, sugar, baking cocoa and vanilla in the blender on low, then stirring in the whipping cream. I find the ice cream plenty rich with all half and half; it'd be even richer if made as published). 

Made this recipe in the morning and after dinner came the moment of truth: how would the Drink Master perform? Following the instructions from the online manual, I added milk to the cup first, followed by the ice cream and then a generous serving of the chocolate malted milk powder. 

The result:

It was fun to use the Drink Master; I felt just like a soda jerk. My chocolate malt tasted properly malty too! I didn't add enough ice cream to make it super thick, but that wasn't because I didn't think the Drink Master couldn't handle it. No, it was because my husband had finished up the coffee ice cream and so I was being nice by saving more chocolate ice cream for him.

Hmm...the weather forecast earlier tonight actually showed warmer temps by the end of next week - maybe I won't put the ice cream maker away just yet. That'll mean I can play with my new toy some more!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thrifty Acres: Four Seasons North

Hello! Not sure why, but I'm a fan of books with a back-to-the-land theme. Perhaps this fondness stems from my early love of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Laura's family didn't go "back to the land" - rather, most of the time they were pioneers who literally broke ground on previously-unsettled lands. 

Wilder's Little House series ends in the 1880's, but people have continued their pioneering ways in the 20th and 21st centuries. Courtesy of thrift stores and estate sales, I've read books set in the backwoods of Maine, an isolated area of British Columbia, and an off-the-grid settlement made up of Amish and others who wished to forgo most modern conveniences. 

And I'd picked up this book recently at a thrift store:

Originally published in 1973, my Sierra Club Paperback Library edition came out in 1991. Four Seasons North describes the first year author Billie Wright and her husband Sam spent in the Brooks Range area of Alaska; they lived 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. As the book title suggests, the book is arranged by the seasons, beginning in the fall when the author and her husband arrive at a 12x12 cabin. The story ends the way it begins - with the waning of fall, the Wrights prepare for the arrival of another winter. 

In between, Wright writes candidly but eloquently about the passing of the four seasons. There are endless descriptions of hunting various animals, whether for meals, pelts, or hides - very little is wasted. The often-bloody tales aren't for vegetarians or card-carrying members of PETA, but I got the sense that Billie and Sam respected, rather than denigrated, the wildlife they killed. Their hunts were always by necessity, never just for mere sport. They needed to eat and keep warm!

The Wrights had very few visitors that year, though they did have friends who visited for about a month, "neighbors" who dropped in from 30 miles away (over mountain passes), the pilot who brings in supplies and mail on occasion, and a exploratory team from a proposed oil pipeline project. All visitors come by airplane or helicopter; there were no roads nearby. They do have radio, so they listen to Alaskan stations and shortwave programming from all over the world.

Perhaps because I've never lived in a very small house, I've always been fascinated by minute dwellings. Thus, I was enthralled by Wright's description of their cabin and everything that was stored in it. "The oilcloth-covered table is big enough for a wolf to be skinned, an afternoon's baking to be mixed, a caribou skin scraped, moose ham butchered, card games played. Two can write letters, spread papers about." Okay, butchered moose may not be on most folks' lists of typical tasks, but she makes their cabin sound very homey. The maxim "a place for everything and everything in its place" is apt.

But as homey as it is, the Wrights decide to build another cabin, closer to a summer water source. This they do by hand, of course. The number of jobs they do by hand is truly mind-boggling. For instance, animal pelts were sewn onto their parka hoods to create another barrier to the cold - by hand, with an improvised needle from her sewing kit. 

Cooking is done via what Wright calls a "Yukon stove" - wood, of course. Between foraging for wild-grown edibles, hunting, and foodstuffs brought in via plane, they seem to eat pretty well. Wright provides their Thanksgiving menu:

I chuckled at the first line, "Fried Arctic Ptarmigan in Country Gravy (canceled)" - the cancellation was due to Sam's inability to shoot one of that species. But it sounds like they feasted nicely  anyway!

There is no lengthy list for Christmas feasting; instead, Wright discusses of making of Christmas gifts and decorations. Being a bit of a DIY enthusiast in these areas myself, I delighted in the presents the Wrights mailed out: animal drawings on seal skins, fur hats made from caribou, a collection of sourdough recipes, sachets filled with spruce shavings, and more. With all they had to do to get ready for winter, I wondered how they had had the time to make all these gifts! (besides the hunting, there was the gathering and chopping of firewood, the repairing and weatherproofing of the cabin, etc. - plus the ongoing "office work" - journals and other paperwork both did related to career interests. And somehow Wright found time to do some rug-hooking!)

I was also delighted with the holiday decor Wright fashions out of odds and ends: "...shiny tin-can lids, decorated with scraps of colored yarn and paper", "green garlands festive with strands of bright red yarn, strings of crimson wild cranberries and four large letters cut from the red cardboard box: "N-O-E-L." 

Wright also crafts Christmas ornaments from "bright, glossy advertising brochure papers of all colors". The Christmas tree itself is of tabletop size, consisting of "lovely fragrant spruce fronds standing tall and graceful in a pepper-red tobacco can..."

The supply plane comes just in time to deliver Christmas gifts from family and friends - books, clothes and enough non-perishable goodies to open a small gourmet food store. Although the Wrights indulge in sampling smoked oysters, cheese and other treats, they soon realize "We need caribou and fat." And caribou is what they have for their Christmas Eve dinner - in the form of marrow from a pot of caribou bones. That may sound rather crude to us, but they clearly enjoyed this bill of fare. 

It was cheering to me that they observed these two major holidays so well, when it was just the two of them in such an isolated area. But against the backdrop of the festivities is the reality of winter settling in. They would eventually endure temperatures of 65 below - and this in a cabin lacking central heat. Sam has a frostbite scare at one point, but comes through with no lasting damage. The Wrights endeavor to keep the cabin as warm as they can, but eventually "We turn in two hours earlier than usual to try to escape the inescapable icy pall that has permeated the cabin..." Whew! Words to remember if and when we get hit with another polar vortex this coming winter. 

And when I grumble this winter about how short the days are, I'll remember Wright's description of how short their days became - for example: "Yesterday, the full day's passage of the sun above the horizon lasted only ten minutes. Today the sun has vanished." 

I'm not sure what date it was when this so-called "long night" began, but it seems to be sometime in November. The Wrights have to adjust to their "grayed-down world", but accept this as a matter of course.

Nevertheless, they rejoice when the sun returns sometime in February: "The blue-black winter look of spruce turns warm green in an instant. I thought the trees were black because they were frozen. It was the absence of sunlight. We hurry outside, and the whole world lights up."

Spring eventually arrives, and with it the building of a new cabin. They befriend a fox. Edible plants are foraged. Nasty mosquitoes arrive. The last of the lake ice melts on June 12th, so fishing commences. The mosquitos get even worse. And the days get longer - a sunrise of 3:30 am is recalled. 

Friends arrive and stay for a month. They have to adjust to the Wrights' way of life: "Though...exhausted from their long journey, they were eager to help with the caribou butchering, astonished to find themselves preparing their own food in daylight midnight." 

I think I'd be astonished too if I were asked to help butcher a caribou after I'd just arrived as a house guest somewhere! But this is no "somewhere", of course - it's the wilds of Alaska. One highlight of the visit is a week-long back country camping trip. The excursion is 60 miles round trip, over very rugged and mountainous terrain. I got exhausted reading of the trip, but it appeared that a good time was had by all.

And I sure had a good time reading this book! At first, I thought it'd be one of those books returned to the thrift store when I was done with it, but no, I decided that this one will be a keeper. I thoroughly enjoyed it - probably the best "back-to-the-land" book I've read -of the 20th/21st C variety, that is. (The Laura Ingalls Wilder books are in a class by themselves!)


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thrifty Acres: Now I've Seen It All!

Hello! While perusing a thrift store's magazine racks yesterday, I gladly bypassed the 21st Century copies of Woman's Day and Family Circle in favor of vintage versions of those publications. I bought four magazines, ranging in age from 1963-1972. I was sure they'd be far more enjoyable to read than the current issues, and I was right!

I was especially rewarded when I flipped through the August 1965 copy of Woman's Day, for there, in a two-page spread, was this:

I never would have thought of putting the words "circus" and "salads" together, but then again, I've never worked at Kraft Foods. 

Of course, being a circus theme, you gotta have clowns, right? So here you go:

"Happy little clowns-full of velvety Kraft Mayonnaise and other good things" - for example, unflavored gelatin, cream cheese, crabmeat and various chopped vegetables for the white clowns. For the red clowns, "Make...your favorite tomato aspic." Both get their shapes from being molded in paper cups. 

For decoration, "Use clown cocktail picks for heads, peas and bits of ripe olives for buttons."

A close-up:

I'd snatch up those clown cocktail picks if I encountered them at a thrift store, but if I ever saw these edible clowns at a dinner table - I'd run the other way! 

Not to be outdone by those gelatin-y clowns, the opposite page features these:

On the left, "Merry-Go-Round Salad has savory Miracle Whip molded in its top!" Hooray, right? "Two-tiered dazzler, worth every minute you spend on it." (I doubt that very much.) The lower level features lemon jello, celery and animal shapes cut from American cheese slices. The top level, as you've already been informed, has Miracle Whip in it - plus unflavored gelatin, lemon juice, horseradish and whipped cream. I think I'll pass on this one too!

Next to the Merry-Go-Round Salad is the "Clown O' Fruits Platter and your own Mix-Two Kraft Dressing blend". The clown's body is a peeled, cut fresh pineapple studded with cherries. The head is a paper cup. 

As for the "Mix-Two" dressing: "equal parts of Roka brand Blue Cheese Dressing and savory Kraft French" - the better to use more Kraft products, of course!

Just for fun, here's what the array of Kraft products featured in the ad looked like in August 1965:

Kind of comforting to see that the Kraft logo still looks the same today. 

If you're wondering about the inclusion of the Italian dressing bottle, I didn't show the recipe for which it was used: "Circus Caesar Salad starring the great Kraft Italian Dressing!" Really, it looked like an average bowl of salad greens, but that's not what the folks at Kraft would want you to believe: "Kraft Italian-the most tantalizing Italian of them all." So not surprisingly, the recipe ends with "...toss until the greens are glistening with exciting flavor." Yeah, right.

And there you have it - no need to go to a Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey show - all you really need is the Circus Salads recipes from Kraft!


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Where's George?

Hello! Received some dollar bills in change at a thrift store a couple of days ago. One of them got my attention right away because of what had been stamped on it:

"See Where I've Been/Track Where I Go Next!/"

Being a curious sort, I checked out the web address to see what this was all about. Turns that even though this website was new to me, Where's George has been around since 1998. It's meant to be a fun way to track where dollar bills have been. Some people, apparently, really get into this, having entered 1,000 bills or more into the system. It sounded like the site once sold a rubber stamp used to mark the bills, but doesn't do so anymore. However, there are online sources for similar rubber stamps. 

I followed the simple directions for entering my dollar bill into the system, and was rewarded with the following information from the Where's George Currency Tracking Report:

Date first entered: June 2004. "Found at the Fast Lane Drive-Thru in Saginaw", it was reported. 

This dollar bill hadn't been tracked very much since then. It didn't show up again in Where's George until September 2013, where it had surfaced in the Traverse City area. After that, it next returned to the Currency Tracking Report almost a full year later. To my amusement, someone had gotten the bill about a month ago while playing keno at a bar a little ways north of here. (receiving it as change at a thrift store seems more tame by comparison!)

Thus, not a very well-traveled bill, or else not tracked very diligently by those who may have had it in their possession since 2004. I would have liked to give the bill a chance to go out of state, but alas, we don't have any such travel plans for awhile. 

So instead, I used the dollar bill to buy some cucumbers at our local farmer's market this morning. The market gets its share of out-of-town visitors, so maybe someone from somewhere else will get the bill and enter it into the Where's George system. It'll be fun to track this bill and see where it ends up!



Thursday, September 11, 2014

Eats: Copying Tony Packo's (Or At Least I Tried To)

Hello! I don't know why, but every so often I get a craving for a chili dog (aka Coney dog, Coney Island hot dog, etc. In this post I'll use the term "chili dog"; it's the easiest to type.) We never had them at home, at least not that I recall. Oh, my mom served us hot dogs (often on a Saturday night, I recall), but only with condiments like mustard and catsup, never a meat sauce. 

Every so often I'll get a chili dog at a restaurant that's known for them, and I'll also cut out chili dog sauce recipes that I think sound good. Earlier this year I tried one such recipe that had come from the usually reliable Midwest Living magazine - and thought it was horrible. 

The craving for a chili dog struck again recently, so this time I decided to search online to see if I could find a copycat recipe for the meat sauce used at Tony Packo's, located in Toledo, Ohio. Tony Packo's hot dogs are famous, in part because of being mentioned in the old M*A*S*H TV show (one of the characters on the show was from Toledo, and his shout-outs to Tony Packo's were legit - the actor who played the character is from Toledo as well).

Because of Tony Packo's reputation, I've tried their chili dogs, and their meat sauce really is good. I can see why a fictional soldier stationed far from home would have missed them. So why not try to make them at home?

I wasn't deterred when I read an online article from the Toledo Blade, stating that the copycat versions weren't like the real thing. I haven't been to Tony Packo's in a few years by now, so I'd be fine with a reasonably close facsimile. 

I used this recipe as the base, but made just half the amount. I didn't have Hungarian paprika on hand - my jar was labeled as being from the less-authentic Spain (oh, the horror of it!). But I decided to forge ahead anyway. I also added a couple of dashes of cayenne pepper - I add a couple of dashes (sometimes more) of that spice to almost everything I make. 

The result:

A pretty tasty lunch! I used a homemade sandwich bun, turkey Italian sausage, chopped onion and some spicy mustard (the orangey color on the bun is the mustard). Sure, it's a little messy to eat, and probably not the healthiest thing either, but salads can get a little boring after awhile. (most of the sauce is going into the freezer, though, as I don't need to eat chili dogs every day for a week!)

I have no idea how close the recipe actually is to the one at Tony Packo's, but this is definitely a keeper. Next time I need a chili dog fix, I'll be prepared!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Get Carded: Glad And Sad

Hello! Two very different occasions recently that warranted greeting cards: a wedding anniversary and a death in the family. 

First, the "glad" card:

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • piece of vintage sheet music (probably from the 1940's)
  • images cut from 1950's sewing patterns
  • numbers cut from 1950's math game
  • cream acrylic paint
  • dots stamped in black and green StazOn inks
I thought the phrase on the sheet music was appropriate for the occasion:

"remember the sweet" is good advice for an "old married couple" like us - yes, my husband and I were the ones celebrating the wedding anniversary. Number 31, of course!

But a few days after that occasion came the reason for the "sad" card, the death of a sister-in-law's mother. I typically strive for a simple, tasteful sympathy card, and I think I succeeded with this:

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • piece of 1880's ledger paper, altered with gold glitter glue
  • flower shape cut from purplish-pink art paper
  • flower center cut from gold art paper
  • thin purple cording
  • heart shape cut from purple card stock
  • gold art paper 
  • saying stamped in black StazOn ink on white card stock scrap
Words can be hard to express in a sympathy card, but I think the sentence on the rubber stamp is perfect: "May all your precious memories help bring you peace and comfort through all the days ahead."

I will, of course, add some expressions of sympathy of my own before I mail the card out. Rubber stamps are great for adding words to a handmade greeting card, but there's no substitute for the handwritten word.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Eats: Savory Soffritto

Hello! Normally I consider red bell peppers too expensive to buy, but not so this time of year. Thanks to our local farmer's market, I can and do purchase them by the bagful. Although I eat a few here and there raw in salads, most are roasted and then packaged for the freezer. These will find their way onto pizzas, sandwiches and various other recipes. 

But then a couple of years ago I found another use for red bell peppers when I came across a recipe for soffritto in a Bon Appetit magazine. As the copy explained: "A mix of chopped aromatics, like the Italian blend soffritto, is the base for countless recipes because it lends character to simple dishes. That's why we always have soffritto on hand. Freeze the extra...and you'll have the foundation for soups and sauces ready to go - no chopping required".

Well, if it was good enough for Bon Appetit, then soffritto was likely good enough for me too. The recipe looked fairly simple, with only five ingredients involved (plus salt and pepper): onion, red bell pepper, olive oil, garlic and tomato paste. The recipe instructions called for chopping the onion and bell pepper in a food processor, so prep time was fairly quick as well. And total cooking time was barely over 30 minutes. 

All in all, it seemed like an easy way to add flavor to wintertime soups and other dishes, so I made up a batch that fall to store in the freezer. I'm happy to report the recipe was as advertised by Bon Appetit - the soffritto did, indeed, lend character to my bean soups. I'd also toss some into casseroles and even into the bread machine to add flavor to sandwich bun dough.

And now, with red bell peppers making their appearance once again at our farmer's market, it was time to make another batch:

Above, chopped onion and chopped red bell pepper are simmering in olive oil. 

A close-up of the finished product - thicker now, and with the addition of garlic and a bit of tomato paste. 

I flash-froze the mixture in a thin layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. When it had hardened, I broke the soffritto into chunks and put it into a quart freezer bag. It'll be easy to grab some as needed when I want to season a pot of soup or whatever.

I like soffritto enough that I ended up making two more batches. If you'd like to make some yourself, you can find the recipe HERE. I should add that the soffritto recipe is included in another recipe, hence the name of a different dish, "White Bean Ragout With Toast" in the title. (I've not tried the ragout recipe, so I have no comment on it). 

I should also mention that the recipe says leftover soffritto can be frozen for up to three months. I admit to keeping mine in the freezer longer than that, which seemed fine. 

If you decide to try this recipe, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!