Sandy’s Best Leftover-Oatmeal Ham Sandwich

Ham sandwiches don’t usually start with oatmeal. But one thing leads to another around here in ways I can’t always predict. Getting from Point A to Point M is seldom a straight line.

Point A: It’s been unusually cool for May. This time last year we had the kiddie pool out. But sweater-and-sock weather asks for oatmeal.

Point B: I got distracted while measuring out the oatmeal and milk/water, a simple 1:2 ratio so this is a little embarrassing, but somehow I messed it up because it was too liquidy coming out of the microwave. After a brief huh…what-did-I-mess-up-there moment, I solved this problem by taking a handful of oats (with my hand), adding it to the liquidy, almost-ready breakfast, and giving it another 2 minutes. This resulted in no-longer-too-liquidy oatmeal that had somewhat more texture than usual, the late addition not having had as much cook-time as usual. But cooked al dente, like that pasta stage just before it’s really soft, when there is still the tiniest element that’s uncooked, and sweetened not unliberally with brown sugar, it hit the spot.

Point C: My al dente oatmeal, delicious as it was, did not seem worthy of a photo, so there isn’t one (and a photo cannot convey al dente anyway), but adding more oats also resulted in… more oatmeal. Which is to say, leftovers. On my dear German friend Claudia’s first trip to the U.S., she coined the word over-lefts, which she and I still say sometimes 😊 and which is a sub-point of Point C and not Point D, in case you were wondering.

Point D: I stared at the over-lefts and was about to do my usual – look in my non-working dishwasher for the right size plastic container and transfer oatmeal from bowl to chosen container and place in fridge. What might have steered me away from this idea was 1. The bowl I had microwaved the oatmeal in – an old beauty that I got almost thirty years ago from a man who was then in his 80s and had probably had it since he and his wife got married in the 1940s. A spectacular bowl! Same bowl I often use to mix up bread dough (that’s a clue).

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And 2. (this being a sub-point of Point D) I have been playing around with yeast rolls lately. (Heading toward some kind of bread she is, anyone can see that.)

Point E. I never made rolls starting with leftover oatmeal, never heard of that, but sure, why not? (The following is not a recipe, in case you were wondering and/or looking for specifics. The following is me playing with food.)

I let it cool a bit, added a cup of not-too-hot-not-too-cold water and a tablespoon of yeast (or what looks like a tablespoon in the palm of my hand) and half a cup of flour or so, and stirred this up and walked away. I suspect it helps the end result, this “proofing” of the dough (though I cannot be sure). In any case I get a charge out of the little bubbles that form as the yeast begins its vital and magical work. This was worthy of a photo so here you go. Fifteen minutes (or so) later), bubbles!

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Point F: Having seen that adding yeast, water and flour to leftover textury oatmeal produces a promising start, I remembered that the raisin rolls I made twice recently came out just fine and I decided to take the leap to Leftover Oatmeal Raisin Rolls. This being an experiment (and not a recipe, as stated above), I added some sugar (guessing 1-2 tablespoons, it’s said to feed the yeast, though I know it’s not essential), some salt (a palm-measured teaspoon, never make bread without salt, whatever you do), some more flour (two cups maybe?) and some chopped up raisins.

I love raisins, but they are a bother when un-chopped-up in dough, always plopping out and being uncooperative, and any of you who have tried to chop raisins with a knife will know that that’s not easy either – they stick to the knife and get all clumpy. I used (and was reminded of the usefulness of) this handy-dandy cutter that I know they still make because you can get it at my favorite grocery store, Yoder’s.

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I put the raisins in a bowl and let the blades do the cutting work while I do the up and down work. This thing chops nuts too. You gotta love a cutter with the manufacturer’s name stamped into the top like this. There’s not even a zip code. I love it.

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Adding the raisins and then seeing the raisins and the bubbles gave my heart a leap. What can I say?

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Well then (and you see this is all under Point F, The Making of the Dough), I added more flour till there was just enough so the dough pulled away from the sides of the bowl, turned it out and kneaded it (adding flour as needed) until smooth, then covered it and left it alone to rise, suspecting that the weight of the oats would lengthen the rise-time, which turned out to be correct but I got distracted anyway and a couple hours went by.

Point G: Thankfully guests are starting to come to the cottage again, so I spent some time over there preparing things. The other thing going on and occupying time during the dough-rising is the siding on the house. It’s all well and good for the front to look nice, but the rest looks pretty crappy, so – one side at a time – this needs to be done too. On the wall that looks out over the mountains we have the obstacle of the electric box that was attached to the house in 1973 on top of the original siding, which was attached to stuff that tries to be plywood but instead (I swear) is packed sawdust. It calls itself “insulation board” and claims a value of some kind that means nothing to me.

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Look what it does when you pull it off the wall. It’s gross.

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It breaks, crumbles and collapses, which was actually quite handy as we had to get it away from the back of the electric box while said electric box is still attached to a stiff pole. This we accomplished, rendering the box free-standing on its pole, not standing straight in this picture, not attached to the wall at all, but the electric company will help with that part one of these days.

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Point H: This was a nasty job, fraught with we-are-working-around-an-electric-box worries. You get hungry doing all this stuff (and worrying), so lunch was early and included dividing the dough into 12 pieces and making knots on a baking sheet so they could rise a second time in proper, rolls-in-a-row formation.

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Point I: After lunch we got real plywood up, followed by house wrap. Somewhere in there I peeked into the oven and saw that the rolls had raised well, so I took them out to get a decent picture (plus, you don’t want to see the inside of my oven)…

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(Point J): …and put them back in and turned on the oven and set a timer, knowing I would get involved with siding and not be in the house, i.e. not able to depend on my nose to tell me they were ready. Forty minutes later they were a glorious golden brown and the house smelled like a bakery, which all by itself makes this well worth the effort.

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I broke one open to see what the texture was like (umm, yes, also had a nibble)… Oh, yum! Well worth the effort.

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Point K: By dinnertime the outside wall was looking like this, with real plywood, house wrap, some siding, and the box ready for the guy from the electric company to come and attach it properly.

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But by then I was tired and wanted an easy dinner. Earlier I’d picked some lettuce and spinach from the garden, so a good dinner to me sounded like a salad plus some of these raisin rolls plus a slice or two of ham. Raisins go with ham, right? And you know that ham I mean – the kind that comes pre-sliced, maybe ¼” thick (great stuff for adding to scrambled eggs). A little oil or butter in a hot pan gives these slices a beautiful color and adds to their flavor. Super fast, super easy, super yummy. Works for me.

Point L: I gave Sandy his dinner in two plates – salad on one and sautéed ham slices and rolls on the other. I planned to eat my dinner in discrete sections: ham, rolls with butter, salad (in that order). I gave Sandy mustard because normally he puts mustard on ham.

But no. Not this time.

Sandy put the ham slices on the raisin roll and called it the best ham sandwich! Raisins go with ham, right?! It was gone before I had a chance to document this historic event. Day Two for lunch we added thin apple slices (also his idea, bravo Sandy, full of culinary genius lately).

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Point M (as in yuMMMMMMM!): With or without the apple, these sandwiches were an unexpected pleasure from leftover oatmeal!

 

 

Covid Beard Meets Covid Bench

Everybody knows that six feet is the covid-safe distance. Stand six feet apart. Maintain six feet of open space between you and the next person. Respect the six-feet-apart marks you see on floors in stores everywhere. Though few of us have questioned this (arbitrary?) measurement, all of us henceforth will have a well-trained sense of what six feet looks like. Six feet, you say? Six feet I know.

Covid has also affected what people look like. Everybody knows (and can see) that the covid-ban of barbers and hairdressers caused men to fall into several predictable camps regarding their looks: 1. They have continued doing what they always did (rare barber visits or self-buzzing or practically nothing, with mixed results, did someone say there’s a pandemic?); 2. They’ve fretted and cajoled and somehow found someone who would cut their hair and keep them looking as if there isn’t a pandemic that changes things (appearances being ever important) ; 3. They’ve adopted a who-cares attitude and are looking rather bedraggled (you know who I mean, but what a great excuse – there’s a pandemic!); and 4. They’ve played with it. I find this last group most interesting. Hey, there’s a pandemic – what better time to see what a beard looks like?! Sandy says men are getting in touch with their inner Paul Bunyan.

Into this mix, throw my porch project. Two years ago we were ramping up to tackle the destruction of the old one, shabby and rotting and on its last legs as it was. Two years later we are putting some finishing touches on a new, expanded, roofed version. The less-than-well-detailed plan included two spaces for built-in benches, a nice idea but I had had no idea what those benches would look like (“we’ll figure it out” – my famous last words).

Guess how wide the bench spaces are. Yup, six feet. Guess what I like doing. Yup, chatting – relaxed and leisurely, in person if possible! – with nice people I know. Guess how you can safely chat with people outdoors. Yup, sit six feet apart.

Normal people would put two chairs six feet apart and sit and relax and chat and call it a day. Those are the people who have the chairs. Ummm, busy building here, didn’t get porch furniture yet. (Can I crowd-source for that?)

Ta-da! A covid-friendly bench! See what I mean? I think it should be a thing: The Covid Bench. You sit at one end, and I sit at the other, and we will be our follow-the-rules, six-feet-apart selves having a lovely chat.

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Like this. And do you see what I see? Yup, that’s a Covid Beard on a Covid Bench! Far be it from Samuel to be bedraggled about it. All trimmed up he is – let us not drop our standards.

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Just try finding a bench like this on Pinterest. I looked and looked, but everyone wants to put the back on a long side, so both people have to face the same direction with worrisome thoughts along the lines of are-we-correctly-social-distancing or they have to practice awkward neck-craning with bodies facing one way and faces facing another. Putting the backs on the short sides makes perfect sense to me. We used the standard 15-degree chair-back angle, and slightly curved them for added comfort.

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The backs went on after the seemingly floating seat (well connected to the 6×6 posts, trust me) and before the outer railing, which turns out to be a great height to rest your arm (as Samuel so beautifully demonstrates) or your tea cup, which I invariably have near me unless (for obvious reasons) I am holding Coco. All to say: My covid bench invites and awaits company, whenever that may be, even if you don’t sport a covid beard!

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Exotic Irish Soda Bread

I never said my timing was the best, and here’s proof. The slew of (worthy and admirable) bloggers who posted Irish Soda Bread recipes right around St. Patrick’s Day have the pulse on reality. I tend to float on a breeze when it comes to food. To me there’s nothing wrong with pumpkin-anything in the spring or summer, and I love a hot cup of tea no matter what the temperature outside. To this jumble, consider also that in the Age of Covid (which includes, in theory, more time for baking), I sometimes want to take my time with food, relishing the luxury to experiment and play, and I sometimes still (just like in the old days) want E-A-S-Y, as in I-have-other-things-to-do.

In my favor today is the fact that you are probably not presently inundated with Irish Soda Bread recipes, and you might be inclined to want something E-A-S-Y, so maybe you’ll try this delicious flavor blend of exotic + sweet. Are we still allowed to use the word exotic? That’s not one of the off-limits words now, is it?

Caraway seeds add the exotic element that sets this version apart from the rest. Even though these pungent little buggers are often associated with rye bread, I find them equally at home in this soda bread recipe – though how many Irish people would consider them an essential or even authentic ingredient is anyone’s guess. Currents add a bit of sweetness. You can’t go wrong with a bit of sweetness. Feel free to use regular raisins instead, or golden raisins, or the dried fruit of your choice.

My thanks go to Inge White, a lovely lady who lives in Fairfax, Vermont, who passed this recipe to me years ago. I have made it countless times, which puts it on the tried-and-true list among other essential yummies that never go wrong (assuming you are paying attention during the process and don’t forget something important). Thank you, Inge! Another Vermonter gets a shout-out today too. Lyn Boyce, the woman I want to be like when I grow up, subtly suggested on the phone the other day that she would like to see more recipes. I hope you like this, Lyn!

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In case you can’t read my handwriting, that’s

Mix together 3 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 3 tablespoons caraway seed, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ box raisins (which is about 1 ½ cups, and this is where I substitute currents or golden raisins). Add 2 cups milk and 2 beaten eggs (I don’t beat them before adding them). Bake in two greased loaf pans at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

How simple is that? Mix dry ingredients together, add milk and eggs, stir and bake.

Speaking of buggers though, one thing you have to get past is that the caraway seeds do look kinda like little bugs in the bowl. (You may recall my aversion to bugs from my Always a Menace post.) If these seeds had legs I would be creeped out, but they don’t, so I can deal.

Instead of two loaf pans, I chose one loaf pan, two mini’s and one oddball thin-wooden loaf form lined with parchment paper. The oddball is going in a birthday package to my son in San Francisco. He is also getting my granola, cranberry brownies (best brownies ever), shortbread cookies (better than any in a tin), chocolate-chip-pecan-espresso biscotti (pecans instead of walnuts this time) and pumpkin-oat-chocolate-chip bread (if you want the recipe for this, ask). In this Age of Covid you somehow can’t get eggs in San Francisco, which means that Drew and Nicole have not been able to bake much. And I’m the mom here, the mom with chickens who give good eggs, so…

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One little loaf disappeared before it even cooled down. Try slicing it, toasting it and spreading butter on top. A piece of toast like no other! Enjoy 😊

Always a Menace

Last year in early September I was attacked. Normally you wouldn’t think it a problem to stroll along a lovely river on a dirt path. Early mornings in Virginia in the late summer can be scrumptiously warm, so I was wearing a dress. Bad idea. My co-stroller was wearing pants. Way better idea. Those river mosquitoes attacked me with a vengeance, as if there had been a famine and then suddenly fresh meat, free for the taking, came to town. I realized my folly when I got home and decided to count the bites on my legs. I stopped at 30, too depressed to count the rest. Eventually they healed – supreme efforts to leave them alone and supreme weakness resulting in ferocious scratching notwithstanding. By Christmastime they had finally all healed.

Something about the mosquitoes in Virginia is different than the mosquitoes in Vermont, where I lived for 20+ years. Something about the biting kind of insects in general is different. Before moving here 15 years ago, I never had these severe reactions. My first spider bite here took ten months to heal. My first tick bite, four months. It’s a bother. Can I call it Virginia Venom?

After hearing the story of the river walk, my friend Crissie sent me a new shirt. She lives in Caribou, Maine, which is way, way up there. They have black flies, nasty black flies, tiny and annoying and biting black flies. Seems there’s a shirt for that. Small world that I live in, I had had no idea no idea that “repellent apparel” was a thing. But it is. LLBean, based in Maine for over a hundred years, makes the shirt she sent me. It’s so soft, you would never know it had been treated with an active ingredient called “permethrin.” Learn something new every day!

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The shirt got me thinking about menaces. Powerful insects (the ones that have power to make my skin miserable for a time) are a menace. Granted, mosquitoes and black flies are not as much of a menace, nor are they as powerful or invisible a menace as the novel coronavirus we all are scrambling to understand and defend ourselves against. If only there was a shirt we could wear instead of these masks!

But there’s always something, right? Always a menace of some kind. In Vermont I didn’t deal with nasty bugs or the blazing hot and humid days that are common during a Virginia summer. But I did deal with blizzards in March and sometimes, snowfalls in May.  On Saturday, May 9, three days ago, it looked like this in Jeffersonville, Vermont.

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Last year we didn’t have a coronavirus to change our world. It has made me feel super nostalgic lately. I found an old Michael J. Fox movie (For Love or Money) made in 1993. You could have parades in 1993 (or squash festivals in fictitious towns, as the case may be). The average car cost $12,750. A movie ticket cost just over $4. The Pentium microprocessor was introduced by Intel. Canada got its first female prime minister. We could let our children play outside without worrying. I myself was confidently going about my own business, unaware of a menace yet to intrude in my family. But menaces there were. In 1993 an earthquake in India killed nearly 10,000 people. A dilapidated and overcrowded ferry sank in Haiti and as many as 1500 died. The World Health Organization estimated that 14 million people worldwide were infected with AIDS. The WACO disaster happened. Menaces of every ilk sneak into the world with little or no warning.

They always have.

A quick glance through a history book reveals invasions, disasters, wars, heartache, pain, suffering. A teeny sampling: In 1700 B.C. the Hittites invaded Syria. In 111 B.C. war broke out between Rome and Numidia. In 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the town of Pompeii. In 793 Viking raiders attacked in Northumbria. In 1247 Mongols invaded Japan. In 1348 the Black Death ravaged Europe, killing at least a third of the population. In 1502 the first Africans were taken to become slaves in America. In 1666 the Great Fire of London destroyed more than 13,000 homes. In 1729, opium had become such a problem that the Chinese Emperor Yung Cheng banned it. In 1737 an earthquake in Calcutta killed 300,000 people. In 1918 a worldwide influenza pandemic began, killing tens of millions.

They always will.

Maybe menaces are where the rubber meets the road. Maybe (assuming we survive) they are where we find out what we are made of, where faith grows stronger and we discover or re-discover with more certainty what’s important to us and what’s not.

I’m reading a book about Winston Churchill*. In it the author recounts a letter Churchill wrote to his stockbroker in 1932 when the United States was solidly in the Depression. “I do not think America is going to smash…. If the whole world except the United States sank under the ocean, that community could get its living. They carved it out of the prairies and the forest.” I appreciate that he thought so highly of Americans, but I think he undersold the rest of the world. I do not mean to diminish the tragedy of coronavirus’s impact on many people’s lives, nor the terrible sadness if you know someone who has suffered and died from it. But I admire the dogged determination of humans everywhere to keep going despite the menaces that come along – no matter how harrowing or unpredicted or invisible or dangerous the Menace of the Day may be. We have been on the brink of “the world will never be the same” before. And the world did change. Mightily. But here we are, still chugging along, still finding ways to be good neighbors, still swapping stories, still staring at the stars at night, still loving our families and friends, still caring. May this never change.

 

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*Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years, Martin Gilbert, Macmillan, London, 1981