Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thrifty Acres: Vintage Halloween Mask - And The Story Behind Its Purchase

Hello! I've occasionally attended the garage sales hosted by a local antiques dealer, and a few years ago purchased this from one such event:

A vintage Halloween mask. It's got a few small cracks along the edges, but overall is in pretty good shape. I bought it because it reminded me of the Halloween masks I wore as a kid growing up in the mid-to-late 1960's. A quick eBay search of "1960's Halloween masks" showed a few dozen that look similar in manufacture.

A close-up of that gruesome face:

And therein lies another reason for buying it - the story from my childhood involving another creepy Halloween mask. 

I was in 2nd grade and Halloween happened to fall on a school day that year. I recall this because my siblings and I came home from school to the sight of boxes of Halloween costumes on the dining room table. Our mother had brought them down from the attic, ready for us younger kids to try on and find out what hand-me-down costumes would fit us this time around. (I have three older siblings, all girls, so I was already well-used to wearing the garments they'd grown out of.)

The sibling after me is a brother who's 14 months younger.  Being so close in age, we used to play/fight together a lot as kids. This Halloween was no exception, as my brother immediately grabbed a monster-type mask like the one shown above, put it on, and advanced toward me while making scary noises. 

I commanded him to stop trying to scare me. When he refused and came even closer, I pushed him away. Trouble was, I took no account of the fact that he was standing near a window - my push sent him through it. 

Fortunately, my brother was neither hurt by the fall nor by the broken glass, but of course our mother was livid when she learned what had caused the window to break. Punishment was swift and strong: she immediately barred us from going trick-or-treating that night! She couldn't have come up with a worse ruling. 

I was mad because I felt only my brother deserved to get in trouble - after all, if he had only listened to me when I'd ordered him to stop trying to frighten me with that stupid monster mask, I wouldn't have had to push him away. But our mom didn't see it that way. 
Not only were we deprived of procuring candy that evening, but I was later mortified when I learned that the nuns who taught us at the nearby parochial school had been made aware of our naughtiness. The convent was behind the school, so we used to go trick-or-treating there (the nuns may have been strict in the classrooms, but were generous on Halloween night). Our three older sisters had stopped there this particular year, as usual.

The nuns, noticing that my brother and I weren't with them, asked where we were. And so our sisters came home and informed us they had told the nuns of our bad behavior. I was so ashamed! It was almost as bad as not being able to trick-or-treat!

The nuns felt sorry for us, though. They gave extra candy to our sisters with the order to distribute it to us. Our sisters did as instructed, and obviously our mom went along with it. You don't mess around with Catholic school nuns, at least not back then!

My brother and I would continue on with various scrapes throughout our childhood, like the time he broke my arm (by accident; he tripped me because I was outrunning him during another altercation. My right arm took the brunt of my fall). We mostly get along pretty well as grown-ups now - I think. Uh, a couple of days ago I referred to him as "goofy" on another brother's Facebook page. He noticed this and called me out on it, lol. 

What's the saying that "old habits die hard"? Guess it applies here! We just do verbal assaults now instead of physical ones.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Eats: Vietnamese-Style Chicken Noodle Soup

Hello! When anyone in my household has a cold, I'm sure to make the Vietnamese-Style Chicken Noodle Soup recipe from Doris Janzen Longacre's More-With-Less Cookbook.

Well, I'm the one with the cold this week, so time to get out the soup kettle. I'll give the recipe as written in the cookbook first, followed by my shortcut version. 

Vietnamese-Style Chicken Noodle Soup (from More-With-Less Cookbook, recipe attributed to Janet Friesen of Seattle, WA)

In large kettle, cook until tender:

1 chicken, or 2-3 pounds bony pieces
2 1/2 quarts water
1/2 teaspoon monosodium glutamate (I've never used this)
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (I add more)
salt and pepper to taste (I don't add the salt)

Remove chicken; skin and bone it. Return meat to broth and keep at simmer. Cook separately until tender:

1 1/2 pounds thin spaghetti (I use less, but amount is up to you)

Drain spaghetti when done. 

To serve, fill individual soup bowls with cooked spaghetti. Add hot broth with chicken. Sprinkle over each bowl:

1-2 tablespoons chopped green onions (they do add flavor, but I make the soup anyway even if I don't have this ingredient on hand)

Each person may add, to taste:

chopped red pepper or Tabasco, soy sauce, freshly ground black pepper. 

I also add sesame oil, just because I like the taste of it, and toss the cooked spaghetti with a little sesame oil after draining it - keeps the spaghetti from sticking together. And instead of Tabasco sauce, I use Sriracha sauce. 

As for the shortcut version, not only did I have a bad cold, we also had a flooring guy laboriously installing a new kitchen floor. He did a great job, but his meticulousness meant a very late start to dinner. Fortunately, I had some packets of cooked chicken already in the freezer (from a recipe found HERE), and I made the broth from a jar of Tone's Chicken Base (Tone's is a Sam's Club brand). A broth thus made is higher in sodium than one made from an actual chicken would be, but that's the breaks sometimes. 

The chicken base broth is much quicker to make, of course - all I had to do was bring the water, chicken base, garlic and pepper to a boil, toss in the cooked chicken (I used two cups) and let it simmer while I cooked the spaghetti. And as soon as the spaghetti was cooked, the soup was ready to serve! We stuck to the American-style way of using forks for the spaghetti; no chopsticks for us. 

Cookbook author Longacre notes: "Janet learned to make this soup from Vietnamese students attending Goshen College, Goshen, Ind. While it originates in a tropical climate, the peppery broth is equally good for warming up on cold nights. Make nothing else and eat two bowlfuls." 

My notes: it's also equally good as comfort food when you're suffering from a cold or other respiratory illnesses. Load your bowl up with as much hot sauce as you can stand to clear up that congestion! Leftovers heat well, especially if you store the broth and the spaghetti in separate refrigerator containers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

DIY Cough Syrup

Hello! I'm usually fortunate in that I rarely getting sick, even when I've been exposed to people all around me coughing, sneezing and wheezing with whatever's going around. 

But suddenly this past weekend I woke up with nasty chest congestion and achiness all over; I'd been fine at bedtime the night before! Guess I'm not invincible after all, darn it. I attributed this sudden sickness to the overall stress of the home repair/remodeling I've been overseeing for about a month now, plus I've had the added "fun" of  painting the parts of the dining room and kitchen not covered by our insurance claim: sizable amounts of trim, plus doors, a china cabinet, cabinets and shelving units. 

I don't generally like to take a lot of medicines, but I did succumb to some aspirin to help with the overall achiness. Unfortunately, I then developed a cough, which is a drag when you're trying to sleep. Had no cough syrup on hand, but was curious to see if I could find an all-natural version online to make with ingredients I had on hand. 

Came across an easy one via Pinterest - all it has in it is honey (raw preferred) apple cider vinegar (an organic one like Braggs preferred), ground ginger, cayenne and water. I confess that although I had Braggs ACV in my pantry, I had to settle for - gasp - commercial honey. 

I didn't take a photo of the concoction, but basically it looks like a watery reddish-brown solution. It tastes plenty peppery, so if you have a low tolerance for spicy foods it may be hard for you to swallow. I'm of "the more heat the merrier" mindset when it comes to hot peppers, though, so it tasted good to me! And darned if it didn't calm that nasty tickle in my throat.

I can't say whether this will hasten my cold's departure or halt the coughing once and for all, since I took my first dosage only about 20 minutes ago. However, there's a lot of praise for the recipe on the website, found HERE.  So, it looks like I'm in pretty good company by giving it a chance. 

Hope this helps anyone out there! And I also hope I'm spared any more colds this fall and winter. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thrifty Acres: Vintage Goodies

Hello! Was fortunate this week with vintage goodies making their way to me. The first round was courtesy of a nearby estate sale I attended. Prices were reasonable, so I purchased a few things:

 Postcard with a Dutch scene. The graphics make me think it dates from the 1920's or 1930's. 

An "all metal fireproof" Season's Greeting sign, still in its original package. Not sure of its date, but likely from the 1940's or 1950's. To hammer home the lack of flammability, we are also told that the item "will not burn". The concern over fire made me wonder what sort of flame-prone decoration this sign was meant to replace. 

A trio of hand-crocheted potholders, two shaped like dresses and the other resembling a pair of bloomers. They're in need of a little cleaning but I'm okay with that. 

A close-up of some of the details:

I was a little sad - all that handiwork ended up with a stranger, me. But I will gladly display these potholders in my kitchen, where they'll join a couple of their ilk that I already have.

Not shown is the small bag of vintage handmade doll dresses that I also bought. The fabrics were cute; that was the draw. I thought they'd be fun to hang up for a display. They're in need of some laundering before I can show them off, though. 

But I have to admit, there's one thing even better than low estate sale prices, and that's getting vintage goodies for free! And I was lucky earlier in the week when my friend Libby surprised me with a purchase from a local antiques dealer who occasionally has garage sales. 

Libby had remembered that I'd brought some vintage items back from a garage sale I'd attended while visiting Atlanta this spring. She purchased similar things for me from the antiques dealer, such as:

Above, one of three sets of cotton spun head toothpicks - I think these were supposed to adorn cupcakes or maybe other treats like cubed cheese. All three sets are marked "Japan". I love these! But instead of using these to decorate party foods, I think they cry out to be turned into small dolls.

Vintage Easter decor can be pricy, so I appreciated these as well:

A pair of hard plastic Easter bunnies; their carts are large enough to hold candy or maybe even an Easter egg. Both have a busted ear, but that's fine - it's common to find these in less-than-perfect condition. This duo will join the ones I brought back from the South, seen HERE. They make me wish it was Easter already - but I guess I have to wait for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine's Day first!

Thank you so much, Libby - your thoughtfulness and generousity is much appreciated! 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Eats: Peanut Butter Penuche

Hello! When I was a kid, class parties to celebrate holidays like Halloween and Christmas were the norm. Nobody seemed to care how many sugary treats and junk foods we ingested on such days either. And with close to 40 students in my class, there was always a ton of cookies, candies and other goodies brought from everyone's homes for party refreshments.

Nobody seemed to have a peanut allergy as well, for the twin sisters in my class, Pam and Patty, often handed out a delicious peanut butter fudge their mom made as their contribution to the parties. This fudge was medium brown in color, slightly grainy in texture, and tasted wonderful to a peanut butter lover like me! 

I can remember the times my own mother made gumdrop cookies for me to pass around at the class parties, but I can't remember what treats the other kids brought - except for that peanut butter fudge. I never thought to ask Pam and Patty for the recipe, though. I wasn't really friends with them, and my mom frowned on candymaking most of the time anyway.

My husband doesn't like peanut butter, so I never sought out recipes featuring that ingredient. However, our daughter came along and she likes peanut butter as much as I do. So, a hunt for a peanut butter fudge like the one I had in grade school was on. 

I tried a couple recipes that sounded promising, but while they were okay, they didn't have the texture that I remembered from my classmates' candy. But a few years back I made the recipe for Peanut Butter Penuche from Gooseberry Patch's Welcome Home For The Holidays cookbook. Lo and behold, besides being very easy and quick to prepare, it came very close in flavor and texture to that long-ago sweet.

Flash forward to the present: we're going to visit our daughter at college over the weekend. I always like to bring her a homemade treat when we do so, but an ongoing kitchen remodel means whatever I made had to be simple. Peanut Butter Penuche to the rescue!

If you'd like to make it yourself, here's the recipe:

Peanut Butter Penuche (adapted from Gooseberry Patch's Welcome Home For the Holidays; recipe was contributed by Betty Monfort)

3/4 cup milk
1 pound light brown sugar
2 cups white sugar
12 ounces peanut butter, either smooth or crunchy
3 tablespoons marshmallow cream (but see my notes below)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Grease a 9x9 pan. Combine milk and sugars in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil; boil three minutes. Remove from heat. Add the peanut butter, marshmallow  cream and vanilla. Beat for a short time, then pour into prepared pan. Cut into pieces while penuche is still warm for easier slicing. Serve after penuche has cooled; it will be quite firm then. 

Notes: the recipe indicates crunchy peanut butter, but my daughter and I prefer smooth, so that's the kind I always use. 

Up until tonight, I'd always added the amount of marshmallow cream listed. However, the one fault this fudge has is that it seems to dry out after a day or two. Working on the assumption that more marshmallow cream would hopefully result in a less dry fudge, I added more to the mixture. How much more? I didn't measure it precisely, just spooned out three blobs of the stuff. It probably was at least double the specified amount in the recipe. Time will tell if the extra marshmallow cream makes a difference in dryness or not, but I thought it worth a try.

I find it helpful to measure the peanut butter and marshmallow cream in advance; that way they're both ready to dump into the cooked mixture right away after it's been taken off the stove. You can do this step while the milk and sugars are being heated to boiling. 

I find that I don't need to beat the penuche any further once the peanut butter and marshmallow cream have blended evenly into the cooked mixture; this candy seems to set up quickly without prolonged beating. See what I mean by very easy and quick?

Keep in mind that the milk/sugar mixture will increase in volume when it reaches its boiling point, so make sure you use a large enough pan. A cooked sugar mixture that has boiled over from a too-small pan = a too-big mess!

The recipe doesn't give a yield, but the amount of penuche made fills up the 9x9 pan pretty well. There's plenty to share and still keep some for yourself if you've got the same peanut butter sweet tooth that I do! 

Here's how my peanut butter penuche turned out, by the way:

One small tin, ready to give to our daughter. I made sure to give her enough to share with friends - not only is that a nice thing to do, but also prevents me from over-indulging in the rest of the batch!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Eats: Horseradish-Cheese Spread

Hello! I don't recall horseradish being used much as a condiment when I was growing up, as my parents seemed to have a preference for mild-tasting foods. But somewhere along the way I acquired a taste for this pungent flavoring. 

From time to time I've purchased commercial versions of cheese spreads flavored with horseradish; just something to have on hand for a quick snack along with crackers. A couple of years ago I decided to try making this spread at home and turned to the Internet for a good recipe. 

I ended up using one of the simpler ones, which called for Velveeta cheese, horseradish and a few other ingredients. The recipe is named after a well-known cheese spread that originated in a Michigan restaurant called Win Schuler's. 

Win Schuler's Bar Cheese Spread (adapted from an unknown source)

1 pound Velveeta, cubed
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 ounces prepared horseradish
8 drops Tabasco sauce, or to taste (I used more)
4 drops Worcestershire sauce, or to taste (I used more)

Melt Velveeta, then combine with remaining ingredients. Adjust seasonings to taste. Place in covered storage container and refrigerate until of spreading consistency. Serve with crackers, pretzels, etc. 

That's it. The recipe didn't mention how long the cheese spread would keep, but when I made it with commercial Velveeta, it seemed to keep forever. Supposedly, DIY Velveeta is supposed to be good for one month, so I'm guessing that's the optimal storage time for a spread made with it as well. Thus, I only made half of the above recipe.

MY DIY Velveeta worked fine, although the softness factor affected the consistency of the spread. Even after chilling for several hours, it was still more like a dip than a spread. However, I came to realize that the mistake was mine and not the DIY Velveeta recipe's. You see, I used unflavored gelatin that came from a bulk package and evidently wasn't careful enough when I weighed it out on my kitchen scale. I remeasured unflavored gelatin on the scale yesterday and learned that because of my previous error, I'd used less than half the amount of unflavored gelatin in my Velveeta clone. No wonder it had turned out too soft! 

Oh well, it still makes a good grilled cheese sandwich, and also made a tasty bar cheese spread (even if a bit on the thin side):

I don't think I've had the Win Schuler's product, so I don't know how close the recipe is to the real thing, but as a horseradish lover, it's good enough for me!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Eats: DIY Velveeta

Hello! Let me begin by saying I'm not really a Velveeta fan - it seems kind of fake to meHowever, I did buy some a couple of years ago to make a particular cheese spread recipe that called for it as the major ingredient. And I've seen other recipes calling for Velveeta that look good, but was reluctant to try them - just didn't feel good using it.

But then I read a recent email from the folks at King Arthur, extolling the ease of making a Velveeta clone at home, using only grated cheese, powdered milk, a bit of unflavored gelatin, and water. When a commenter mentioned that she and her husband use Velveeta for grilled cheese sandwiches, I decided to try the clone recipe. I do like a good grilled cheese once in awhile, but it always seemed like the bread browned before the cheese melted.

The King Arthur recipe tester said she used pre-shredded Cheddar  cheese, but I opted for buying some chunks and grating it myself. While in the cheese aisle, I also studied the ingredient label on a block of Velveeta - the list was longer than that for the Kraft cheddar I purchased.

As promised in the King Arthur write-up, the DIY Velveeta was easy to make; a blender or food processor makes it so (I used the latter). I whipped up the recipe last night, then refrigerated it. It's supposed to set, chilled, for at least 12 hours. 

Had the moment of truth when it was time to unwrap my Velveeta clone at lunchtime earlier today:

I'd used  an 8x4 loaf pan (lined with plastic wrap first) as my "mold". This resulted in a block about 1" high. I think next time I'll put the mixture in a smaller pan to give it a shape closer to that of the commercial product. 

Other than the shape being different, my clone looked just like Velveeta. However, I found it a bit soft when I sliced it for my grilled cheese sandwich.  It was close to spreading consistency, so I ended up doing just that on a bread slice. I don't know if the softness is typical for this recipe, or maybe I was just used to Velveeta's rubbery texture. 

But at least by starting out with something that's already on the soft side, I wouldn't have the problem of the bread being done before the cheese is. Here's how my grilled cheese sandwich turned out, perfectly cooked:

Ta da! Behold, DIY Velveeta, tomato and grilled hot banana peppers on homemade potato/whole wheat sourdough bread. It was nice comfort food after several days of dealing with various home repair issues - very tasty, and a nicer cheese taste to boot. Some commenters said  they think the DIY recipe makes for a less salty product as well.

I used Kraft sharp cheddar for my version, but you can use any cheddar you want (different brands, mild vs. sharp, etc). And I wouldn't be surprised if this worked equally well for other cheeses that melt nicely on their own, like Swiss for example. I don't know if the recipe would work with reduced-fat cheeses, but it wouldn't hurt to try. 

Now I can try that cheese spread recipe I had abandoned, as well as other Velveeta-based recipes I'd been loathe to make! 

If you'd like to make your own DIY Velveeta, start HERE. Within the article is the link to the recipe from a blog called Brown Eyed Baker.