Monica E. Smith

Monica E. Smith

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

In Keeping with the Situation

While the actual "holiday" of Christmas has passed, we are still in the Christmas season; for Christmas is the celebration of Christ's birth, and lasts until Epiphany, which is celebrated on January 6. (The Christmas song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas", is rooted in the celebration of Christmastime, from a time in England when Catholics were forced to disguise their beliefs. During the period of 1558 to 1829, Catholics were prohibited from practicing the faith by law. The twelve days of Christmas are actually December 25 through January 6, and not the 12 days before Christmas as many believe.)

After a viewing of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol this year, a question arose regarding the situation in which Scrooge found himself: "Why was it that the chance of reclamation was offered to Scrooge and not also to Marley? Was that "it" for Marley? Why was he not offered the same chance in life as was Scrooge? Did he spend the afterlife in hell, then, with no possibility of eternal salvation? A very interesting question indeed; and I have been thinking about it on and off since the question came to be asked.

First and foremost, I think we have to realize that Dickens was telling a story to offer hope and to teach. Interestingly, this is exactly how Christ taught--through parables. The stories Christ told were not of actual events, but a teaching tool of truths that could easily be understood by anyone (well, perhaps anyone but the ruling class of Israel!). In the same way, Dickens used A Christmas Carol as a teaching tool to explain the many lessons contained within. We sometimes have difficulty in understanding Truth unless hit in the face with it. Dickens did just that in A Christmas Carol. Dickens lived in Victorian England. It was not often a time that was as pretty as the scenes we see on Christmas cards. It was a time when orphan children roamed the streets and non-Christian society despised the poor and treated them atrociously. Living conditions were often unbearable. There were many social inequalities and injustices. There was much suffering and pain during this period in history. Dickens tried to bring all this to light, to expose the situation in his novella, and offer the solution. 

The other thing that came to my mind was that we are never really told, in A Christmas Carol, that "this was it" for Marley, that he had no chance for salvation, and he was stuck for all eternity in this thick fog of doom and pain, unable to free himself. In the big picture, things happen to us all in the ways that are most beneficial to each person, I believe. There is no formula, no blanket remedy that will heal all of us in the same way. And simply because we cannot understand this, or why one has to suffer more than another, does not make it wrong or unfair or unjust. We also need to remember that Dickens was telling the story of one man, Ebenezer Scrooge, and his "sins" and his reclamation, and not Jacob Marley's. Dickens was in actuality using a parable.

We all have the same chance Scrooge and Marley did, while we live on this earth. We have many "spirits" who visit us each day, in the form of friends and family, teachers, the Church, people who enter our lives for no good reason (or so we think), who try to open our minds to Truth, who bless us with their goodness, their knowledge, their kindness. We would be wise to learn from them, before it is too late. Each of us has a purpose, and what we do in life affects others:

"Spirit," said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, "tell me if Tiny Tim will live."

"I see a vacant seat," replied the Ghost, "in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die."

"No, no," said Scrooge. "Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared."

"If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race," returned the Ghost, "will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." 

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

Christmas marks the celebration of Christ's birth, but it is not to be celebrated on only one day. We can change this world by changing ourselves. We can "live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!" We can allow "the Spirits of all Three [to] strive within...". And in so doing, we can say with Ebenezer Scrooge, "Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!"

A most blessed Christmas season to you all, and the happiest of New Years!



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Veni Vidi Vici--VENISON!

My son, Nathanael, made a successful bow kill this autumn--his first. And he was generous enough to share some of his bounty with us. I have always been hesitant, for some reason, to eat venison. Maybe it's the cute faces of the deer (but then, I do eat the meat from cows with cute little faces; so figure that one out); maybe I think that since deer are wild, the meat will taste gamey or "off" or that it will be tough. Whatever the reason, I always end up trying it anyway. And again and again to my surprise, I love it!
I was excited when Nathanael offered us some of the meat from his kill, and could hardly wait to try cooking it myself. I chose cuts that I thought were most tender and flavorful, like chops, steaks and ground meat. For the chops and steaks, I searched recipes/methods of cooking online, and was pretty successful in reproducing them. By the time I got around to cooking the ground venison, I was brave enough to be a little creative. My Cowboy Venison Chili is the result! And I must say, if you think you do not like venison, you must try this. You would be hard pressed to convince someone it was not beef. And if you like chili at all, please try this. Anyone can do this, and I guarantee you will enjoy it. The meat is tender and tasty without any "off" flavor or wildness.

Nathanael came, he saw, he conquered the animal. But I conquered the fear and the flavor. And it tastes like.............CHILI!
Cowboy Venison Chili

1 1/2 pounds ground venison (you may use any ground meat you like)

salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste

1 large onion

2 large cloves garlic, diced

1 can Campbell's Condensed Beefy Mushroom Soup (it is a thicker soup as opposed to a broth--Campbell's preferably, but another brand would suffice)

1 can (about 15 oz) diced tomatoes with juice (I always use Hunts; any flavor is fine--for this recipe I used the basil, garlic and oregano; if you only have plain, season your chili with herbs of your choice while cooking)

1/2 cup water

2 TBS chili powder

2 medium potatoes, cubed

1 can corn, drained

Shredded Cheddar cheese (or cheese of your choice)
fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

Put a little olive oil in a large cast iron skillet.
*I much prefer cast iron for browning. You simply will not get the same quality of brownness with non-stick or aluminum. You can't beat it. It gets hot and stays hot. You might be a little skittish or hesitant at first--I certainly was--and need a few trial runs to get the "feel" of cooking in cast iron; but once done, there is no substitute. I feel no kitchen should be without at least one cast iron skillet.
Add the onions, salt and pepper them to taste and cook on medium-high heat about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the ground venison, breaking it apart and adding salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste; cook until the meat is browned. If there is any, pour off the grease. Add the diced garlic and cook a minute more. Add the beefy mushroom soup, the tomatoes, water and chili powder and mix to combine. Add the cubed potatoes. Turn down heat, cover and simmer about 1/2 hour, or until potatoes are tender and the chili thickens a bit. Turn off the heat, mix in the corn, top with shredded cheese and cover until cheese melts. Sprinkle on parsley before serving.
You may serve with sour cream on top if you like, with biscuits, corn bread or hard rolls and a salad.
*This would make an excellent campfire meal. Just brown the meat and onions over the fire, add the remaining ingredients, cover and let simmer. This would be great spooned over corn bread or biscuits. Could not be simpler or less work.
Peace and Good Eating,

Smokin' Sausage

We were going to have smoked sausage for supper last night. While I normally love that simple meal with french fries or roasted potatoes and corn, I just wasn't in the mood for it. It is near the end of the month and my cupboards are pretty bare; so I got a sudden creative urge to use whatever I had on hand to dress up that little package of smoked sausage. It's always fun to create, and last night was no exception. Once I started, there was no stopping me! I cleaned out the pantry and harvested some goodies from the garden and voila! Dinner was served. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Smoked Sausage-Sesame Flat Bread Pizzas
The Flat Bread:
1 pkg dry yeast
1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 or 2 TBS sugar
1 1/2 TBS toasted sesame seeds
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
drizzle of sesame oil
approx. 3/4 cups warm water
Put yeast into a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup warm water and the sugar, mix together and let sit for about 5 minutes. The yeast will become foamy and double in quantity. 
In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, sesame seeds, olive oil and sesame oil. Add the yeast mixture. Add about 1/2 of the remaining warm water and gently mix with a wooden spoon to form a dough. If the dough seems dry, add the remaining water and mix together gently. The dough should not be wet, but formed together, soft and pliable, even if a bit sticky. 
Pour dough onto a well-floured board and knead about 5 or 10 minutes, until dough becomes smooth and elastic. You may need to keep adding small amounts of flour so the dough does not become too sticky.
Put a small amount of extra virgin olive oil in a bowl, place the dough in the bowl, turning around to coat in the oil. Cover and put in a warm (NOT HOT) place to rise until double in size. It should take about 1/2 hour if you are using quick-rise yeast. You may now form your pizzas, or refrigerate for later use, or freeze for future use (allow frozen dough to thaw in the refrigerator before using).

*If using in this recipe, I would begin with dough and while it is rising, you can move to the sauce. By the time the sauce is finished cooking, you can take it off the heat and let it sit while you prepare the flatbreads.
The Sauce:
1 large sweet onion, sliced
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 can good diced tomatoes (you can use plain; I used Hunts with green pepper, celery, onion in this recipe)
pinch or 2 of baking soda
2 TBS tomato paste
1 6-ounce jar sliced mushrooms
1 roasted red bell pepper (if using jarred peppers, about 1/2 jar)
2 TBS Lipton Beefy Onion or Onion Mushroom Soup & Dip Mix, or similar product (I think the beefy onion tastes richer)
Seasonings of your choice: I used Mrs. Dash Tomato, Basil, Garlic and also an Italian seasoning blend (without salt)
 Put 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil into a medium saute / frying pan. Add the sliced onions and cook until caramelized on a medium heat, about 20 minutes, stirring now and then to prevent burning. When onions are caramelized, add the garlic and cook about 1 or 2 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown. Add the can of tomatoes, with a pinch of baking soda (adding the baking soda burns away acid in the tomatoes, preventing the tomatoes from being too sour; but always be careful when adding baking soda, and add only a pinch, as too much will make your sauce completely tasteless!!). The tomatoes will foam a bit, so just stir it up. Add the remaining ingredients and seasonings of your choice; stir together and cook uncovered at a simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
*You may use the sauce immediately for your pizzas, or store in jars in the refrigerator for future use. It should easily last a few weeks. Or, you can freeze it for a longer period of time. The sauce can be used as a cooking sauce for chicken, pork or any type of meat, or a sauce for meatloaf. Use your imagination! Try browning some chicken or boneless pork chops and then cooking in this sauce until the meat is tender, and serve over rice, mashed potatoes or noodles. Heavenly comfort food!
The Pizza:
1-pound smoked sausage, cut in rounds (I use Hillshire Farms--it has a wonderful meaty, not greasy flavor--and no gristle.)
extra virgin olive oil
fresh basil leaves
sliced tomatoes
2 cups shredded mozzarella and provolone cheese (or cheese of your choice)
*Using fresh cheese and grating it yourself makes a world of difference in the flavor of your dish--gives a much creamier, buttery flavor; however, if you only happen to have bagged pre-shredded cheeses, go with it. It will be fine. Since I was "cleaning out the cupboards" and had no fresh cheese on hand, I simply went to the freezer and took out a pre-shredded bag of a mixed Italian cheese blend. I was not disappointed.
Divide the risen dough into 2 or 3 equal parts (depending on how large you want to make the pizzas). Flour a board and roll the individual pizzas into very flat pieces (about 1/8th inch thick). Sprinkle a little olive oil on each piece of dough; spoon on desired amount of sauce and top with basil leaves, tomatoes and shredded cheese. Bake in a pre-heated 425-degree oven about 15 minutes on baking sheets or pizza pans lined with baking parchment, until dough is cooked and crisp and browned on the bottom and cheese is melted.

*Baking parchment is not a must; however, I always use it, as it helps to prevent burning and gives a lovely, evenly-browned crust. A pale, yeasty beer, such as Miller High Life, truly pairs well with this meal, and gives a very pleasing lingering flavor!
Peace All,

Friday, July 18, 2014

Be Fruitful!

It has been an amazing summer growing season! The weather here in Ohio, while a bit uncomfortable for a period of time because of rain and high humidity, has been absolutely perfect for our garden. I'm finding we may have put a bit too many tomato plants in the small area we designated for our garden this year, for they are overtaking the entire garden. Live and learn.

Still, they are in a good, sunny location and are providing a great amount of tomatoes. I see new baby tomatoes and new flowers each day. Among the varieties (six plants) are several heirlooms (including Cherokee Purple and a striped orange variety), a  Better Boy, Goliath Hybrid and an Early Girl--from what I remember. Unfortunately, the foliage is so thick I can't see the little name tags I placed by each plant, and don't remember all the varieties this late into the season! I am truly salivating at the thought of my first tomato and mayo sandwich (on soft Italian bread, of course) of the season.
For the first time this year, we planted garlic! One of my favorite accomplishments in the 25+ years we have lived on this tiny farm. I am one of those people who cannot cook without garlic, and it would be a disaster indeed if I were ever out of it. My husband planted 13 little cloves this past October. Every one of those little cloves grew and survived during the extremely harsh Ohio winter of 2014, which included mounds of snow and days--even weeks of sub-zero temperatures. They not only survived, they flourished; and so, today, we are rewarded with 13 heads of garlic which we harvested this morning. And the extent of our work was to put them in the ground and then forget about them. Each of those little heads of garlic contains about 13 to 15 individual perfect little cloves! And so, today my husband gathered them up, I braided them and we hung them in the barn for a month or so to dry. I am most proud of this endeavor. I will bring them into the kitchen when they are dried, to hang there, to use and share with family and to decorate my humble little farm kitchen--and to keep the vampires away, of course :).
This year's weather has also been perfect for our Greek Columnar Basil and Italian Flat Leaf Parsley. I love parsley as much as I do garlic, and must always have the flat leaf variety around for cooking and salads. I think it is much more flavorful than the curly kind. I am expanding my horizons. I used to think one could only cook with parsley or use it as a garnish, and not usually eat it right out of the garden. It took a magical Christmastime visit to London, England in 2012 to change my mind about that. The night before we left for home, we had dinner at Rules Restaurant in Covent Garden. Rules is the oldest and most famous restaurant in London, and one which none other than Charles Dickens himself frequented. We were truly blessed to have secured a reservation there the day before, as most often reservations require weeks in advance to obtain. We ordered two  salads for the table to share with our meal, and one of them was strictly an herb salad, with flat leaf parsley being the main ingredient. No salad has ever been paired more perfectly with the roasted game entrĂ©es we enjoyed that evening. Since then, I have also been making parsley salads for our dinners at home, as well as cooking with it as always.
The basil is also quite nice. I don't like a very strong, harsh basil flavor, and this Greek Columnar Basil really fills the bill. It is a delicate basil flavor and has smaller leaves. I love it. I cannot wait for my own tomatoes to ripen so that I can make a wonderful caprese salad! It has started growing fast, faster than I can use it fresh; so I am drying a few stems of it so that I can harvest it before it flowers, and not waste a leaf.
We normally grow only bell peppers. I'm not a fan of the more bitter green ones, but love the sweet red, yellow and orange varieties. This year we have added a Carmen red sweet pepper and pimiento. They are all doing well. Do you remember that wonderful pinkish pimiento cheese spread in a jar from when you were a kid? I do. It was one of my sister's, brother's and my favorite snack on crackers. I cannot wait to make a homemade pimiento-cream cheese spread from my own peppers.

It doesn't take a lot to grow a garden. And the rewards are so sweet--and savory. It's such a creative endeavor, and always reinforces my belief that we (should) work hand-in-hand with God to create, to share the yield, to be fruitful, to make good of the gifts we have been given. How can a world go hungry, when even the smallest garden space is so fruitful and multiplies to such an enormous yield? I don't think I could enjoy nourishing myself with food I had helped to grow if I did not share it: " is not only from eating, but in the breaking of bread with another that we receive our comfort and satisfaction in the gift of food." (From Thy Bounty by Monica E. Smith). There simply is no greater feeling than to be aware we have been creative and fruitful at base level. Enjoy your summer.


Italian Flat Leaf Parsley / Greek Columnar Basil
                                                       Carmen Sweet Pepper / Orange Bell / Pimiento

Drying Basil (above); Garlic Braided and Hanging to Dry in the Barn (below)

 Monica and Daughter, Veronica Browsing the Amazing Menu at Rules / Parsley Salad

My Husband, Scott and Son, Jeremy Anticipating Our Meal at Rules with Great Delight

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Dangerous Brownies

I ask you, "Who does not like a brownie?".

I was watching the Food Channel the other day, and got a sudden craving for a chocolaty, chewy brownie. Maybe it was all the food cooking on TV that enticed me (I'm very impressionable in that way); but, maybe, it was also the suggestion from my husband planted in my brain the day before: "I...want...brownies". No, it wasn't a command, but one of those moments that overtake you and your desires are simply, unknowingly, blurted out loud in a hypnotic state. Either way, the seed was planted. I was tired of all the hundreds of brownie recipes I had tried that left me feeling less than pleased--too sweet, too crumbly, not chocolaty enough--and the craving not satisfied in the least. So, I set out to create the perfect brownie.
The brownie recipe, below, is one you can truly make your own. I'm the type of cook who adds a little of this, a bit of that, and just a pinch of something else. I find it very creative and satisfying.

In this recipe the kind and amount of chocolate and amount of sugar is up to you, as my measurements for those ingredients are estimates. So, my suggestion is to taste your batter. A good cook always tastes her food. I give you the perfect brownie:

Preheat oven to 350°. Line an 8 X 8 baking dish with parchment and grease it (I always use a butter blend or margarine type product, as I find that pure butter burns the bottom too easily).
10 TBSs unsalted butter
approximately 2 oz, combined, bittersweet and semisweet chocolate (I use about an oz of each)
approximately 1/4 cup unsweetened, dark cocoa
1 cup sugar (add a little more if you prefer sweeter brownies)
2 eggs
pinch of salt (I like Kosher--I like the larger crystals and find the flavor not to be so "in-your-face" SALT! It simply enhances the food)
1 heaping tsp instant espresso powder
1 1/2 tsps. vanilla
3/4 cup flour
about 1/2 cup each, vanilla chips and walnuts
Melt the chocolate with the butter. Add and whisk it into the sugar. Add the eggs to the sugar mixture and whisk until fully combined. Add the cocoa, salt, espresso powder and vanilla and whisk, again, until well combined. Add the flour and gently mix it in, just until combined. Mix in vanilla chips and walnuts (or other goodies of your choice) and spread the batter evenly into the prepared baking dish.
Bake in a CONVECTION OVEN for approximately 20 minutes (I have a toaster oven with a convection setting that cooks wonderfully). You may need more time if using a regular oven. The brownies are done when an inserted toothpick is slightly covered with moist crumbs when removed. (you do not want the batter to be runny on the toothpick, or cover it like a paste). If using a regular oven, check the brownies with a toothpick at the 20 minute mark to see if they need more time.
Cool about 15 minutes on a rack. Remove the brownies from the baking dish with the parchment and place that on the rack until completely cooled. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, cut into desired size and TRY not to eat the entire pan! You will find these brownies taste/feel as though they have icing inside. They are satisfyingly chocolaty, without being overly sweet. The powdered sugar on top truly enhances the flavor of these brownies because they are not super-sweet.

Is it a brownie? Is it a molten dessert? Is it fudge? If you have a chocolate craving to be satisfied, these brownies are up to the task. Enjoy.