Thursday, October 12, 2017

Effortless Entertaining: Afternoon Tea edition

When your kids want birthday cake, but your family is done with birthdays until spring?

Have a birthday party for your eldest son's hobby horse Christmas Horse III (known to his friends as simply Horse). Horse joined our family the weekend of our small town's Oktoberfest, and as such his birthday is observed as a moveable feast, the first Saturday in October. We celebrate his birthday with afternoon tea, which is both an easy and economical way to entertain. I estimate I spent about $20 on groceries- not bad for a gathering of thirty people. Since nothing save the tea is served warm, this meal lends itself well to being made ahead. If you have an older child, the two vegetable items could easily be made by them.

Cucumber Slices with cream cheese and tomato
Celery Sticks with Pimento
Deviled Eggs
Curry Chicken Salad Sandwiches
(Imitation) Crab Rolls
Scones (by Neighbor 1) with Apple Butter
Cookies (by Neighbor 2)
Never fail chocolate cake with ganache (also excellent made with coffee or red wine in place of beer)
Rooibos tea
I meant to put out a bottle of sherry, but forgot and no one seemed to find anything lacking.


This year we had 10 adults and 8 eating children in attendance. I made a dozen each of the sandwiches (2 lb chicken breasts and 2 packages imitation crab), 1 dozen deviled eggs, and 2 dozen of the cucumber slices. No one went hungry, but there were not many leftovers, either. I had one large slow cooker full of chai (could have used more) and made two pots of the rooibos tea over the course of the afternoon. The adults used bone china, but since the kids had theirs al fresco, they used tin cups from the picnic basket.

A horse is a horse, of course, of course....

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Effortless Entertaining Series

We here at PSOCL recognize the role that neighborhood gatherings play in building up the domestic church. From large baptism receptions to wedding cakes to chili or spaghetti suppers and afternoon teas, your friendly neighborhood church ladies have found ways to entertain easily and economically. Going forward, we will share the "Effortless Entertaining" series: some behind the scenes looks at family friendly social gatherings with tips about how to host your own.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Universal tomato base

When your farmers' market offerings look this:
(it was really more like 12-13 pounds...)

But your canning mojo has up and went and your canning pot is only big enough for pints and you simply can't face all that blanching...

Allow me to present: Universal Tomato Base (UTB).

By roasting the (unpeeled) tomatoes with onions and couple hot or bell peppers if desired, you end up with a freezable puree that can be the base of many easy and delicious meals that taste of the height of summer all winter long. Use as is for pasta sauce, or

Combine 3 cups UTB with:
*2 cups stock, for amazing tomato soup
*1 can evaporated milk and a pinch of Italian herbs, for even more amazing cream of tomato soup or pink sauce
*1 T each bloomed curry powder and garam masala and 1 can coconut milk for curry
*Include more hot peppers in the initial preparation for a hearty dip perfect for tortilla chips

10 pounds tomatoes, rinsed, cored, and cut in 6-8 pieces
2 pounds red onions, cut into eighths
Colored bell peppers, if you have them
3-5 jalapenos, if desired
Kosher salt, to taste (I used 2 T for each large roasting pan)
Olive oil (greasing pan plus about 1/4 cup per pan)

Preheat oven to 350. Divide produce among greased baking dishes. The tomatoes will cook down a lot, but you want them to brown a bit at the end, not steam. Season with salt and oil. Roast 2-3 hours, until tomatoes are juicy and have some spots of char. Scoop the vegetables with pan juices into the blender and puree smooth. Three cup batches fit nicely in quart bags. Cool to room temperature, then chill overnight in fridge before freezing. Ten pounds of tomatoes cooked down to 4 batches (about 12 cups)

Monday, August 28, 2017


It has been a summer of good thrifting, including an epic bag sale where I bought four sets of my eldest son's parish school uniforms at a $5 bag sale. Some recent finds...

I have been married nine years, and have had children for most of those years, and have finally embraced that I will never have a set of matching glasses. This is for the best, as it is easier to identify whose glass is whose and vintage juice glasses are ideal for small hands. These fun flower painted glasses are girly enough that no one else in the house will use them, and the smaller glasses (mostly Duralex) are for the kids. The Anchor glass ramekins have a tailored rim and are ideal for my baby, who recently started solids. The syrup jug is perfect for our weekend pancake/waffle tradition- I buy maple syrup in bulk, and had been using the creamer jug until now. $2 for the lot (half off dinerware sale). 

The clear ramekins have been so useful, I was glad to snap up some more, plus a few school related items- a set of school uniforms, a small insulated container for a lunch box, a thermos (which exploded upon washing). Add in a couple place-mats in my favorite color to save tablecloths from messy eaters and a few garments for the littles. ($4 for the lot, plus an un-planned Marie Kondo-ing of my countertops in the process of cleaning up broken glass)
Happy Apple was a favorite childhood toy of my husband, and my mother-in-law still has it for grandchildren's play. I have seen a few secondhand in the $20 range- so when I saw this one for $1, I scooped it up.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

CL Tip of the Day: Neater wafflemaking

Saturday mornings at our house are almost always Daddy-made blueberry multigrain pancakes on more relaxed mornings or overnight waffles (made with half whole-wheat flour) on days with early obligations. In either case, we scale the recipe up by a half so that we have enough both Saturday and and a pre-Mass pick-up breakfast Sunday mornings (both the pancakes and waffles reheat well in a regular toaster). In addition to setting out the baking soda (so un-caffeinated folk don't use baking powder instead) I put the waffle-iron on paper towels or newspaper for easier counter cleanup.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Home is where

 One of my favorite things about our 1883 house is that it has been home to so many good families over its 130 year history. While we had the house blessed when we moved in several years ago, it is comforting to know an aura of faith permeates the walls. Once a visiting nun realized she had been to Masses in our living room in the 1970s. And in the course of home care, we have found several historical artifacts: a shoe polish bottle from the 1880 and a lead pencil with actual lead under the floor boards; portions of a porcelain Sacred Heart holy water stoop and a World War 2 Medal for Good Conduct while working in the garden, and this most recent discovery.

While tending to the water heater, my husband found a rusted cash-box on a cellar rafter with a pamphlet and holy card of now Saint Rose Phillipine Duchesne and envelope circa 1908 that once contained a cash donation to the Franciscan Missionary Fathers. Possibly the most POD thing that has happened to anyone while putting salt in a water heater!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Letters from Sts Peter and Paul

For several years, I have wanted to incorporate Mary Reed Newland's idea* of sending each member of the household a selection from an applicable Petrine Epistle on what was then the solemnity of St Peter (now extended to St Paul as well). Not having the faith in the delivery schedule of our rural post office, I opted to use my eldest son's toy mailbox instead, which both accentuated the fact that the Epistles are letters but also that it wasn't St Peter who directly sent him the missive.

Now, with a child who is an early reader, seemed a good time to start. For my newborn, I chose 1 Peter 2, 2-3; my preschooler 1 Peter 1, 14-16; my six year old 1 Peter 2, 17; for myself 1 Peter 4, 8-9; and my husband 1 Peter 5, 2-4. This led to a fruitful discussion about the parts of the Bible and specifically the New Testament.There's no reason that this practice couldn't be extended to the Conversion of St Paul (January 25) and the Chair of Peter (February 22).

*"Summer Saints," The Year and Our Children

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Gearing up

for tomorrow's double header: the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart and the Vigil of the Nativity of St John the Baptist.

Some years ago my husband decided that we should adorn our image of the Sacred Heart with fresh flowers in honor of the feast day and ordered several stems in floral tubes from the local florist. It was on the pricey side the first go round because he didn't know one could purchase the tubes at craft stores. But I have reused the tubes every year since which has brought the cost down to about $1 per bloom. The flowers last about a week.

Our parish includes an oratory dedicated to St John the Baptist, the proto-parish of the area. In past years, there has been a special Mass and church supper held there, but due to expected heat, the event has been delayed until the fall. In the evening, we will host some friends for a dinner of pizza on the grill and toast marshmallows over the St John's Bonfire (in a fire pit). It's not too late to grow a culture of faith and start the tradition in your neighborhood!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A baby shower gift

My Bible study is holding a baby shower for a first time mom (of a son) this weekend, and I thought I would share the darling gift I was able to put together for a minimal cost (plus a few tips on thrifting clothes). All the garments were purchased from our parish thrift store (25 cents a piece) and the book was a duplicate from a reading program at the public library (free). 

Blue Chaps gingham shirt with red corduroy Gap overalls. While I certainly purchase secondhand knits for my own kids, there's no denying that woven garments often look newer and better suited for gifting (probably because they are reserved for dressier occasions). Also, quality garments look better on the rack- they have more vibrant colors and are less prone to wrinkling. 

Striped Gymboree footless romper. Often white garments show stains easily, but this one was impeccable. Being footless also saved it from rents in the feet. I have had good luck with removing spit up stains from light colored and striped garments with liquid dishwasher detergent- just apply a few minutes prior to laundering. 

Sweater vest, from the only mass market retailer in our rural county. A lot of people favor fleece and sweatshirts for daily wear, so secondhand sweaters tend to be in good condition. This one is so small he'll probably only wear it a few times, but it tied so perfectly into the red, white, and blue theme.

Indie shirt with Wrangler jeans. A good pressing and both pieces look like new. The shirt has a fresh, graphic look. Denim style has changed a lot in the last few years. This pair is a darker wash, relaxed but not too baggy.

Stuart Little. Books are a great present for babies (and their older siblings!)

In an age where most of our Christmas gifts came through the mail, I find myself wrapping less and less every year. I try to pick wrapping papers that can get more year round use. My husband mocked last year's solid red as "too Starbucks" so I opted for a more neutral plaid this year and used some of it here- a sunk cost.

If I knew the recipient a little better, I might have rounded out the gift with a pair of kitchen shears (the best thing for cutting baby's food into small pieces) and a scented candle (to freshen the air after smelly diaper changes). But I am not sure whether she has a pair of shears or her preference in candle scents.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Meatless Meals: Fried Artichoke Hearts with Succotash and Cheese Grits

A most dolorous Lent to you all! If you're looking for what not to serve for Lent, head on over to Amy Welborn's Gallery of Regrettable Lenten Foods. I'm afraid the recipe below, on the other hand, is 100% free of Ched-O-Bit or Fish Supreme.

There are multiple components to assemble here, but if you have a good mise-en-place, it all comes together quickly. Well before dinner time, I had the liquid for the grits in the pan, the succotash all chopped and mixed, and the artichoke hearts draining on a paper towel. After that, everything came together in the time it took to cook the grits.

You can use almost any kind of meltable cheese in the grits. The original recipe calls for smoked cheddar, but plain sharp cheddar, chevre, or swiss would all be tasty in their own way, too.

Adapted from The Southern Vegetarian

serves four

Cheese Grits:
  • 2 c vegetable stock
  • 2 c milk
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 c grits
  • 4 oz cheese (1 c shredded)
Combine stock, milk, and garlic in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Whisk in grits, reduce heat to low, and simmer until done, about 10 minutes. Add cheese, stir until melted. Salt and pepper to taste.

  • 1 T butter
  • 1 T oil
  • ¾ c fresh or frozen corn
  • 1 medium green pepper, diced
  • ½ c fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 small minced onion
  • dash cayenne or chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
Heat butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add remaining ingredients and cook, stirring only occasionally, until vegetables have browned a bit. Remove vegetables from pan.

Mustard Pan Sauce
  • ¾ c vegetable stock
  • 1 T whole-grain mustard
Deglaze the succotash skillet with the stock, add mustard and cook until reduced by half.

Panfried Artichoke Hearts
  • ⅓ c cooking oil
  • 3 large artichoke hearts, quartered, or one 12oz jar, drained and patted dry
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ½ c flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
Toss artichoke hearts in egg, then in flour. Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet until shimmering, then fry artichokes for about 2 minutes per side until browned.