Learn to Like it

It’s not that you don’t like it; it’s that you don’t it the way it was prepared.

I worked with a chef that said this quite often, mostly to the wait staff. I’m not saying that the kitchen staff was well versed in some of the dishes that were concocted there, but those of us that weren’t, knew enough to give the dish an honest taste before making any judgment. I will admit I was not fond of fish before working there. Yes, I grew up in northern Minnesota and still preferred my walleye fried crispy with a 2:1 ratio of tartar sauce to fish for every bite. Tuna hotdish was an exception, I made that almost every Friday during lent. As a whole, fish was never on my menu…ever. Turns out, I just never found a variety and preparation method that I liked.

I have always had a bit of a “cart before the horse” method as my brother has put it. I do just enough research to get started, bring home whatever “parts” I may need and then start assembling; a lot of times learning as I go. I did this with the bakery I opened years ago. I had an idea, rented a space, and maxed out a credit card buying ovens, mixers, ingredients and so on. Then I picked my favorite cookbooks and started to bake. I learned along the way what not to do; buying on a credit card was one and not knowing the business partner’s credit history was another big one. That turned out ok, she didn’t make it very long. On the farm I ordered the chickens before the coop was built and had a cow coming before the fence was in, just to name a couple more.

So why wouldn’t the same thing be true for food? Learn the name, take a bite and then decide whether or not to take another. I learned to be rather cautious about trying food blindly and it was my own doing. The reply I had when asked “is this still good?” or “what is this?” was “let me try it.”


“This smells a little funky…” “Well, let me try it.”

It was 50/50 if whatever it was I just ate was still ok to eat and yet when it came to safely prepared fresh food I wasn’t sure I wanted to even give it a chance. Makes no sense, I know.

It wasn’t until I heard the chef say that it was a matter of preparation and not food in question that I started to dive into new tastes just as I did with everything else in life. In looking back, I can’t think of a single thing that I have tasted and really not liked. Shellfish being the exception here. I have given up trying shellfish, I have had so many different varieties prepared a wide variety of ways and I just don’t care for it. Which brings me to “You’ll learn to like it”.

This is something I really do believe. It can take trying something 15 different times for your tastes to change and for you to learn to like something. Apparently I have not tried shrimp scampi 15 times, close enough together to acquire a taste. As we are raising little ones, this thought needs to be remember; no matter how tough it may be. The little boy asked for pancakes every day this week, last week he cleaned his plate, this week “no, I don’t like them.”

There are a few replies I have for this: “Yes, you do.”, “You’ll learn to like it then.” and out of complete frustration “That’s too bad.” I’m not sure why people don’t take learning to try and like new foods as seriously as they do potty training their child (our newest phase). It’s so important for children to eat healthy foods and yet so many are given junk at the first refusal of vegetables. We aren’t to the “clean your plate” rule yet, right now we are at the “so many bites” rule. The only reason I cook a separate meal for the kids is if I make something extra spicy, otherwise, they are expected to eat the same thing we do. Don’t like it? Go hungry. I have made a healthy home cooked meal, you can’t be healthy eating goldfish and m&m’s (which I am quite positive our little one would give it an honest try though). It doesn’t take long for them to realize what’s be made is what’s to eat for this meal.

Learning to like a variety of different dishes keeps meals exciting. Yes, you can eat mashed potatoes, gravy and a roast everyday. It’s good but can get quite boring. There’s a million ways to prepare potatoes, why limit yourself to one taste and texture?! It really is a learning curve. Most people aren’t going to wake one day and say “I’ve been eating mozzarella all my life, it’s time for limburger!” That is one stinky cheese, and can be quite delicious but takes some working up to. I’ve found the same to be true with wine, (start with a really sweet one and work from there) and so many more foods.

If you are willing to try (repeatedly) with an open mind, you will be amazed to see all you were missing out on.

*Note- The only taste that I don’t think anyone could learn to like it toothpaste and orange juice. Pretty sure that’s not possible.

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The Humble Pot

A cheap cut of meat and some aromatic vegetables. This used to be thought of as a poor folks dish. An inexpensive way to feed a lot of mouths for little cost. Slow food revolution, back to basics cooking, whatever you want to call it, this pot of humble beginnings is what it’s all about. I haven’t seen it make the comeback that it rightfully should, but in time I’m sure it will.

A rich aroma that passes through the house gets anyone within reach feeling hungry. The warmth of the oven makes the kitchen a cozy place to wander in and stay. Second only to bread, a dish made in a single pot can warm a house and gather everyone to the kitchen before they are called for the meal.

I am not talking about hotdish (for you non-Minnesotans, casserole) although, those can be good and an easy way to use up leftovers, a humble pot dish is so much more. In the way of comfort food there is really nothing better. The meat- super tender and juicy, some of the vegetables- cooked down until they reach a rich, flavorful sauce, the rest have soaked up all sorts of great seasoning. Everything mingles together in one pot. No single ingredient more important than another (except salt, that rules all).

Recently, I have been making these more and more. Mostly because I work full time in town and still want a decent homemade meal for my family. A humble pot dish can be started the night before or morning of and placed in the oven with a timer and left to cook for the better part of the day. Some people use crockpots for such dishes. I do sometimes, but more often than not, I find it is not roomy enough to get the full potential from the ingredients inside. The vegetables need space to cook down and work with the added liquid of choice. I prefer to use cuts of meat that have the bone in tact, not only does it add richness to the dish but it also adds more nutrients too. Even a small roast or bird take up a considerable amount of space when coupled with vegetables and broth.

For all of these dishes I use a heavy enameled cast iron pot. The whole thing can go into the oven, lid and all. The lid is important; a foil covered dish just doesn’t make the same results. I think it has something to do with how the lid retains more of the steam and helps the insides to keep a more even temperature… or I am just full of it. It’s just a guess. In addition to the collection of cast iron skillets in my kitchen, I also have a variety of these pots as well. In a perfect world I would set up a pot for each weekday on Sunday, place them in the fridge and have them ready for the week. Maybe someday, if we end up with an extra refrigerator, right now there is no room in the one we have.

I must admit, not every humble pot I make looks very pretty, in fact most don’t. The taste more than makes up for the lack of visual appeal. Honestly, over time the look doesn’t change but the dishes start to look better and better just because of the anticipation of the deliciousness to come. I know it’s possible to make such a meal vegetarian style, I have yet to make one as such. Considering we just made the last chicken in the freezer, this may be something to look a little closer at. I can and have “offed” a chicken on a meal by meal basis, but it’s not something I would like to make a habit of. I would like to stretch the beef supply as long as possible. I really don’t want to have to start getting meat at the store. I could. I don’t want to.

The method is simple:
Start with a combination of aromatic vegetables, most common around here is onions, carrots and celery in a 2:1:1 ratio.
Sauté the vegetables.
Add any herbs, spices or seasonings.
Add meat. ( a cut with the bone in tact will produce more flavor and nutrition)
Add dry rice, par cooked beans, or raw potatoes or squash.
Add liquid. (water, broth, wine, beer etc.)
Cover and cook slowly until done.

With this simple “recipe” there is an endless amount of meals that can be made.

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The Cast Iron in My Kitchen

I use cast iron for almost everything I cook and bake; from skillets and Dutch ovens, to bread pans and muffin “tins”. I would love to find a pie plate but haven’t stumbled upon one yet. For some reason there has been a fair amount of buzz lately about using cast iron, how to take care of it and so on. For that reason I have mixed thoughts about this post- there are plenty of articles out there about the subject already so why add to the long list, on the other hand, why not? I could share something that works great for me and might for you too.

Raisin Bran Muffins from "Apron Strings and Rolling Pins" cookbook.
Raisin Bran Muffins from “Apron Strings and Rolling Pins” cookbook.

I remember years ago grandma using a skillet for something she was making and remember how the pan was so smooth and seasoned. Every piece that I have that was new was textured and I tried for years to use the pans all the time in hopes the texture would wear away. It didn’t no matter how much I used them or how abusive I was to them it was still there. They were also pre-seasoned which I will get into in a minute. I wanted the pans smooth for a couple reasons:
1. Grandma’s pans were smooth so that must be the correct pan form.
2. The one pan I had the was smooth worked just like a non-stick pan. It worked much better than the textured ones as far as that goes.

How did I get the smooth cast iron pans that I was hoping for? A couple ways actually:
1. I buy old pans second hand. The only time I worry about rust on a second hand pan is if there is deep pitting. I these those for the next gal.
2. Enamel coated cast iron pots. The large soup pots and such are enamel coated. They work great but the enamel does chip so they do take a little more care than the uncoated pans.
3. I sand the crap out of the textured new pans. Using a wire bristle attachment and one of Mikes drills I smoothed out the favorite skillets and Dutch oven.

Removing seasoning. Fresh out of the oven.
Removing seasoning. Fresh out of the oven.

To sand the pans I first prepared them by stripping most of the seasoning off. This was done in the oven.
1. Place the cold pan of choice into a cold oven. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees for a little while- long enough to heat the pan through. Then turn the oven on to the “self clean” setting and let the pan bake for a good hour or so. Some pans have smoked, rather unpleasantly and others were too bad. Just be prepared that you may need to open the windows for a little while.
2. Allow the pan to cool completely in the oven. Then give it a good scrubbing. No need to get it perfect but it helps to get most of the top layer off if you can.
3. Now for the fun part. I do a lot of projects in my kitchen that are not kitchen projects and really should be done elsewhere (outside usually), this is not one of those projects! Even I take the pan outside for this step. Take the pan outside. Using an electric drill fitted with a wire bristle brush attachment begin to sand away the bumps. Spend just enough time on each spot to remove the bumps too much time in one spot can give you a little shallow spot. It won’t be noticeable until you really need something to turn out perfect.
4. Once the pan has been smoothed to your liking it’s time to talk seasoning.

Seasoning cast iron pans is not nearly as complicated as some people like to make it. It does take a little time most of which is not hands on, we are talking 5-10 minutes max of hands on the rest is baking time.

I talked with a guy at a flea market once who was selling all sorts of very nice and very over priced seasoned cast iron. He was giving my the whole soapbox preach about how each piece must be hung when stored, never use water on them, soap is so far out of the question it wasn’t even something to joke about  and so on, all because he was so very concerned with the seasoning of the pans. In which his seasoning process was the basic process, just glorified with all sorts of extra jabber. That guy would tip over if he saw how I use and care for my pan collection.

After the initial sanding the pans are given a really good scrubbing with water, soap and steel wool. They are rinsed well and placed in the oven to dry thoroughly so they don’t rust. Which they will start to do much quicker than you would think.

Once dried the seasoning begins. I like to use grape seed oil for seasoning it has virtually no flavor and a really high smoke point (450 degrees +).
1. Simply place a small amount of oil on a lint free cloth (I use flour sack towel rags or cut up t-shirts). Coat the whole pan inside and out with a thin coat of oil. It should be enough to turn the color of the pan but not enough to leave excess oil.
2. Place the cold pan in a cold oven and turn the oven on to 450 degrees. Allow the pan to preheat with the oven. Bake the pan for about an hour. Turn the oven off and allow everything to cool together as well.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2, two more times.

There you have it a perfectly smooth and seasoned pan. If you choose to sand your pan it should be something that you need to do only once in the lifetime of the pan. You may find that a pan needs to be reseasoned from time to time. Which isn’t that big of a deal either.

Even if I don’t sand a new pan I do strip the “preseasonedness” off and give it my own. Most of the pans you buy that are preseasoned are done so with soy bean oil. Almost all (not all but almost) soy beans are GMO in the states, which means the oil used to season the pans is most likely contains GMOs. Over paranoid? maybe. But that’s ok, I cut back where I can and know that there are some things that will be GMO and for the time being there is nothing I can do about it.

Now for seasoned cast iron pan care. Seasoning the pan essentially creates a bond between the oil and pan. It is not easily scrubbed off. For that reason I do use water on my pans and in the event that I make something like enchilada’s or something extra baked on and messy I use soap too. I have even been known to let them soak. (Gasp!) Really, I do let them soak. Not over night but for a couple hours to make washing them easier. I haven’t lost any of the precious seasoning by doing this, nor did the pan start to rust. A thick coat of oil after the pan has been dried and it sparkles like a well-seasoned pan should.

I also stack my cast iron in the cupboard. One piece on top of the other. We do not have air conditioning in our house and being next to the lake and in northern Minnesota the humidity in the summer can be awful. I still stack my pans and wouldn’t you know they don’t rust. That being said you don’t need to hang each cast iron piece. It’s ok, really. They will be ok.


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The Super Secret Secret to Getting Stuff Done

Quite often when I tell people what I have been up to I give them the short list and as far as I can see, it’s not much. Yet I tend to get a surprised reply of “how do you find the time?’ or “I wish I had that much energy.” Well, let me tell yah, it’s not that I have a never ending supply of energy or that I don’t get tired. There are days that I wonder how I made it home from work. Scary I know. You know you’ve been there too, you know the way and could get there in your sleep and sometimes do.

It’s not a matter of so much cardio and the perfect amount of sleep and all those things that the health magazines tell you. They do help, but there’s more to it than that. It’s motivation. It’s the drive to get up in early morning hours to “get stuff done”. It’s the daily and weekly “to do” list and the need to get it done.

It most certainly is something that everyone can do. The whole “if it were easy everyone would do it” is bologna. It takes practice and the feeling that you want to do it. It’s got nothing to do with difficulty. How difficult is it to fold a load of laundry? For most people it’s a very simple task and still not everyone does it. Those that want things organized and put away do it, (or have their wives do it) not those that sit back and think “gee it sure would be nice if …”.

I have always been busy but I wasn’t always motivated to get things done. There is a difference. So many people race to get here and there and at the end of the day can’t seem to think of a single thing the actually accomplished aside from going to work or picking up groceries. That is where the “to do” lists come in to play.

A good list will keep you on track. At the end of the day you will have a piece of paper with all sorts of things crossed off and can see exactly what you got done and what will have to be added to tomorrows list. You only have to fall behind a couple times on your list to understand that it needs to get done or tomorrow (and possibly days after) will be affected. At that point you have the choice to give up or to decide that you will put in a little more effort.

For my lists I like to have them organized, which sometimes means I write a list and then rewrite it to get the “kitchen stuff” together, the “barn stuff” together and so on. I also include any craft or fun project I want to work on. Everything that I hope to accomplish for the day goes on the list. I need to think about a nap category; that might be nice. This way as you are working on one task you know what the next will be there is no time wasted wandering around trying to remember what you were going to do next or deciding what to do. You already have your plan set. Just get to it!

A good list is like new exercise program. You can print off as many programs as you want but they aren’t going to get you in shape. You still need to do the work to see the results. Your “to do” list is the same way. Write as many as you want, color coded, categorized, sprinkle it with glitter if you want. You just wasted good time glittering a list of things that are actually needing to be done. Good job. Take the time to get organized and then get to work. That sparkly list isn’t going to complete itself.

Motivation is not something that can be taught in a book sense but I do think it can be learned in a working sense. If you start small, make a little list for the day. Get everything on your list done by the end of the day and look back on what you accomplished. Let that feeling of accomplishment drive you to try again tomorrow. You also really have to want to accomplish your list. I mean really want to. Just like anything else, talking is just that, it doesn’t add up to anything but noise. The cliché “actions speak louder than words” although over used, is true.

So now you have your list, your motivated and “I will start tomorrow”. Just toss your list at that point.

Start today.

Sitting on lunch break making your list? Make one for the remainder of the day. Then start writing tomorrow’s if you want. Starting tomorrow really doesn’t work for too many people. You go to bed all motivated and ready to get started. When you wake up, are half asleep, “oh that list thing, I will start later” and so it begins. The next thing you know you are going to bed and haven’t touched the list because you forgot to start “later”. Start now. Diets don’t need to start on a Monday, neither does a “to do” list. Besides the sooner you start the sooner you’re done.

I think I may have perfected my “to do” list/ Daily planner organizing. I will continue to give it a trial run for a while. If it proves effective I will make the print outs available to you. Daily planners with time slots have never done me much good. I don’t make that many appointments in the day (if any). I do have a rather lengthy list that needs to get done. I have managed to come up with a system that keeps everything in it’s category and even includes a meal plan! It’s great!

I remember on Saturday mornings, mom would work and it was up to dad to get things going around the house. We used to ask mom to tell dad to let us sleep in. “Get up! You’re burn’n daylight!” was what I remember him saying. At the time I was not happy about the wake up call. Now, I can’t believe he let us sleep in as late as he did! The amount of time I wasted sleeping in when I could have been doing something, oh boy. I now find that I am telling myself “get out of bed, or you will just waste a day”. It’s still about as well received as it was when dad would say it, but it’s true and so I get up.

At this point I am pretty sure that even though I have the drive, the motivation and a well organized list, I am still running on perpetual motion and coffee. 🙂

To do list


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All in a Day’s Work

Go to work, for a long shift, plow snow, do animal chores, haul a little firewood, deliver a baby, make supper. Just a normal Tuesday on the farm.

I know over the years I have unintentionally, we will say “given Mike opportunities” to do things that he never would have guessed he would do. Own a farm, raise his own livestock, tend a garden, deliver his daughter. That’s right, he delivered our little girl last week. The midwife was on her way but baby decided not to wait.

I share a lot of what goes on around here but the stuff that is the most “close to home” I like to keep “close to home”. I want to share this story because I am so amazed and proud of my husband.

I hadn’t been feeling real great Monday night to Tuesday, but by the time it was time for me to go to work Tuesday night I was feeling better, so in I went. I figured it was only a 4 hour shift and not strenuous by any means, there was no reason not to go. I had been there about an hour and a half when I began to feel uncomfortable again. Slight contractions but mostly uncomfortable. A bit later a co-worker asked if I was going to make it through my shift. I had planned to but wasn’t totally sure. A half hour later I headed home, knowing the roads were terrible and the drive would be a slow one. I needed to be able to walk to my car and drive home and if this was labor I didn’t want to be stuck at work. (I can see the hospital from my office window but had no intention of ending up there.)

Mike was working an extra long shift due to the snow we had been getting and wasn’t home when I arrived. I called him to say I was home. Then I called Rebekah, the midwife,

“I think I’m in labor. I know the roads are awful and I would hate to have you come on a false alarm but if you don’t mind, it might be a good idea to head this direction.”

(She was only 1 1/2 hours away. Much closer than when our little boy was born.) She was on her way with her apprentice within 15 minutes and had called a second apprentice to meet her here as well.

I called my dad to see if it was ok that the little boy stayed a bit longer.

“That’s just fine. Call if you need anything; I’ve pulled a lot of calves in my day!”

We had a good laugh. (It’s not the first time I have been likened to a cow. Some might take offense, but hey, if the shoe fits! Haha!)

I decided to try to relax by taking a hot shower. At some point Mike arrived home and checked in to see how I was doing.

“I’m fine.”

He was headed out to plow snow and take care of the animals.

“Flash the porch light if you need something.” (He wouldn’t be able to hear the dinner triangle in the truck.)

When he got back in from chores I headed upstairs. He was getting things from the birth kit (supplies ordered and on hand for home births) ready for when Rebekah arrived. Checking in every little while on me and on the phone with her giving updates.

M:”She said she’s doing good. She hasn’t been able to time contractions yet.”

R:”Has her water broke yet?”

M:”Has your water broke?”



R:”Ok, you have some time then.”

A:”My water broke.”

After that I’m not sure how the conversation went. Mike kept checking in and preparing.

M:”Are you doing ok? Going to make it til she gets here in about 45 minutes?”

A:”I’m fine. I will make it… I’m sorry, I know you didn’t want to catch but you’re going to have to.”

M:”I see that. I’m just looking for gloves.”

A:”They are in the… You don’t need gloves!”


Two quick pushes.

M:”Well do you want to know?”  “It’s a girl!”

I held her as he cleaned her up. He called the midwife with the update. We had a half hour or so and used the time to let our parents and siblings know.

The ladies arrived and did their midwife thing and helped clean up. My parents brought up the little boy for a quick visit and brought supper. Mike got that going and the night went on. For how he handled everything, you would think this was just a regular Tuesday night.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, “Everything works out as God plans it is to be and there is never a dull moment on the farm.”Baby

We are very thankful for Rebekah Knapp for her prenatal care and venturing out to help us on delivery night. A thank you to Molly and Karissa too! All wonderful women to work with.


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