Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hostess Gift? Ok, Check the Pantry

Heavy snow last Friday caused a friend to cancel a planned holiday get-together. Then, a break in the weather allowed her a last-minute rescheduling for last night. I worked yesterday, plus am trying to get a bit of daily exercise out walking with the dog each day (the little stars on my calendar signify at least 30 minutes activity - I'm really trying to make it a daily habit). This left me but a little time to put together a hostess gift, but I was sure I could figure out something.

I like giving people something I've made when I can manage it. Let's see - what do I have in the pantry? I label my canned goods with the date, and while jelly from a couple of years ago is just fine for us, I think gifts should be the freshest and best. This year wasn't the best harvest for a wide variety of goodies. Hmmm - besides, a jar of tomato sauce or a couple of sour pickles just isn't going to cut it. I really think a holiday hostess gift should be a bit more festive than utilitarian, and still be something she'd like, too. Something she could either add to her party table, or set aside for personal use later. Aha! how about a dried fruit platter?

I have some great dried fruits - harvested at the peak of ripeness from my own trees. Growing fruit in the high desert is feast or famine - late Spring frosts often mean no harvest at all. So in the years when we do manage to get fruit to set, it often ends up being a bumper crop. And our hot, dry summers are perfect for drying fruit; while quite heating up the kitchen with a big pot of boiling canning water, not so attractive. Another plus: when properly stored, dried fruites hold onto that great taste for years.

The big tins in my pantry hold bags of wonderful dried fruit. Pulling them out, I quickly put together a tasty mixture of sizes, textures, and colors - pie cherries, plums, apricots, raisins, peaches, and pumpkin pie leather - little labels for each (the apples and pears, other leathers, are great too - but I ran out of room on the plate). When I gave it to her at the door, she graciously added it to her table. Bits of dried fruit look deceptively small - each bite is packed with flavor and fiber; too rich to eat by the handfuls. There was enough for everyone's snacking throughout the party, plus plenty left for her to enjoy later too.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Drizzly Day

A steady drizzle of rain, starting last night and on into today, and the six inches of snow from two days ago is melting. Instead of shoveling, I'm out checking that my little drainage trenches keep the water flowing around the house instead of through my front door (we live at the mouth of a small canyon, on the downhill side of the street). So far, so good.

Outside, there are no birds to be seen around the feeders. However, a lone little sparrow hawk perches in a nearby tree, patiently waiting for his chance to get something to eat. For now, it's a standoff - they hide, he waits.

Dinner last night: a winter squash (the big one, that got a little too close to the wood stove while curing this fall - a patch on top sunk in and turned white, but the inside looked fine when I cut into it) from the bin in the bedroom, cut in half and into the oven for an hour. I had some raviolis ready to cook, a pint of tomato sauce ready to heat up, but wanted a little something more.

How about some eggplant? home-grown eggplant? in December, with snow outside on the ground? Ah, yes, with a bit of advance planning, entirely possible. Eggplants store quite well for a couple of months, if snugly wrapped in plastic, on a shelf in my kitchen pantry (the zucchini stored in the cellar are still in fine shape too - I love experimenting with my wintertime fresh food options). I unwrapped a couple of small eggplants harvested last October, just before the first killing freeze. Sliced, dipped in egg and crumbs, they joined the squash in the oven for the last 30 minutes baking time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Email to Mom

It seems like the only time I've sat down to write about what I've been doing is when I send a newsy email to my Mom. Here's what I said today:

My schedule has been crazy-busy since last week. I started working Tuesdays and Thursdays for a CPA in Minden; went to Christmas luncheons Wednesday and Saturday; a Board meeting Monday; volunteered for 4 hours at the Food Drive (mostly playing traffic director) Friday; and my birthday was in there too. Aries took me out to dinner Sunday to an Italian restaurant in the Fandango casino (ran my $10 up to $20 afterwards, playing quarter video poker), and then we walked around the Methodist church's living Nativity display (took up a whole block, vignettes from Herod's decree to the baby in the manger; admission was a can of food). Monday, we hiked up Prison Hill, to the north end, with the dog. Last night, we went out with friends to Chili's - their thank you for watching their house while they were gone.

I'm a Christmas angel to a couple of boys in foster care; one eight, the other 10. Each gets a bag with blue jeans, socks, and underwear, and then we can spend up to $25 more. So today, I went shopping. I got each a long-sleeved shirt, a Goosebumps book, art supplies and a pad of paper, and a hand-held electronic toy they'd each asked for. Friday I take the stuff over to the DCFS (Nevada Department of Child and Family Services) offices, and they'll do the wrapping and delivery.

I haven't gotten Aries anything yet. He put a cutout picture of a socket set on the refrigerator. Guess I'll have to go see if I can find one :-) And maybe make some goodies - cookies and fudge - to trade off with some of the neighbors and both of us to take to work. I decided not to bother setting up my tree this year, but have Christmas decorations and linens in the kitchen and living room, and a poinsettia on my dining room table. It looks nicely festive. Wal-Mart had some little paperwhite bulb-forcing kits, so I started a couple of those - one pot's just starting to bud, and the other one just now starting to poke above the dirt.