Saturday, July 25, 2015

Comfort Food: Pink Lemonade Pie

Pink lemonade pie is the perfect frozen summer treat. I remember my mom making this multiple times each summer and I would savor every bite of the cool, sweet, tangy treat. Now, you might think I'm crazy since the title of this speaks of pie, but the photo above shows this concoction in a 9x13 pan. You can make this into a graham cracker crust pie shell, but you will need two shells if you like it in a pie shape. Also, this is a super sweet and rich dessert. A small, frozen square of this will satisfy your sweet tooth for quite some time.

Here are the cast of characters:
2 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
6 Tablespoons of butter
1 small can of frozen pink lemonade concentrate (thawed)
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 small tub of whipped topping (thawed)
A few drops of red food coloring

For the crust:
Pour 2 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs in a medium sized bowl. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in the microwave. Pour the butter into the graham crackers and mix together with a fork. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of a 9x13 pan.

For the filling:
In a large bowl, mix together the lemonade concentrate and the sweetened condensed milk. Be sure not to cut your tongue on the lid of the can as you lick the lid - yes, I know you do it whenever you open a can of sweetened condensed milk!

Add in the whipped topping. You'll probably need to use a whisk to get it fully incorporated into the milk/lemonade mixture.

At this stage in the process, the mixture is a very pale pink. If you want a "pinker" pink lemonade pie, add some red food coloring.

Mix well to combine the food coloring until you get the desired color. Then pour the filling into the crust.

Sprinkle a few crumbs on top of the pie and put it into the freezer for at least a few hours. Yes, it will be hard to let it set up completely before you want to dig in, but it is so worth the wait. It's supposed to be about 106 degrees here today, so by later this afternoon, we'll be enjoying a piece of this cool, summer dessert.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Comfort Food: Juicy Burgers

Most people call them "sloppy joes," but in our house growing up, they were always "juicy burgers." I'm not sure why. The original recipe in the 1971 Logan Methodist Church cookbook calls them "skillet burgers" but I'm not sure why my mom called them Juicy Burgers.

Whatever you call them, they are good. Really good. I mean Pavlov's slobbering dogs good. Whenever I make them and I start to smell everything coming together, I'm immediately taken back to about 1977. The kitchen in our house located on Main Street in Logan, Kansas. (That sentence has way too many prepositions for my liking, but I'm focusing on these juicy burgers right now.)

I remember growing up in the 1970s and 80s and seeing TV commercials for Manwich and wondered why my mom never bought it at the store. She knew better. This recipe for juicy burgers was way better than any canned sauce could do — and making these babies are just about as easy as opening a can of sauce.

Here's the cast of characters:
  • Hamburger
  • Onion
  • Green Pepper
  • Ketchup
  • Yellow Mustard
  • White Vinegar
  • Brown Sugar

I already had the hamburger/green pepper/onion in the skillet before I thought about blogging this recipe, so here are the rest of the characters.

This is a large batch of juicy burgers, so I started with three pounds of hamburger, one green bell pepper and a medium onion. Place the ground beef in the skillet (add salt and pepper) and then add the chopped onions and green pepper. Cook until the ground beef is browned. Drain.

After you've drained the grease off of the meat mixture, it's time to get the "juicy" going for these. I think the original recipe (I can't find my 1971 Logan UMW cookbook right now) calls for about 3/4 cup of ketchup and 1/4 cup of yellow mustard. I put about a cup of ketchup on this and about 1/4 cup of mustard - give or take. Then pour about 2 Tablespoons of white vinegar into the mixture and about 3 Tablespoons of brown sugar into the meat mixture.

Then start mixing it all together. This is when the art of cooking overtakes the science of cooking. You always have to give it a taste and see where you are at. Maybe it isn't "juicy" enough or it might be a little sour if there's too much vinegar. If you like them sweeter, add a little more brown sugar.

When you've got it all mixed together, it should look like this and smell like my mom's 1977 kitchen (with bright orange cabinets everywhere).

Once everything is incorporated, you are ready to eat. It's time to turn off the burner, open a bag of hamburger buns and a bag of potato chips. I like to take a chip and scoop some on that chip for my first bite. It is heavenly. My wife prefers to put shredded cheddar cheese on her juicy burger, but I'm pretty simple. Bun and meat. Sometimes I'll eat it with a fork, sometimes not. Sometimes open-faced with meat on both sides of the bun, sometimes not.

However you eat them, you will never want to open a can of Manwich again. These are the very best juicy burgers/sloppy joes you will ever eat.

Hands down.

They are great right out of the skillet or also work great in a crock pot for a football-watching gathering of friends. The meat reheats well for lunch the next day, too!


Thursday, April 23, 2015

23 Things I've Learned in the Past 23 Years.

In about six weeks I will be celebrating another trip around the sun. I'll turn 46. I'm not saying that I've learned everything there is to know about life, but when I was half my current age (almost 23), I was looking towards my senior year in college, where I thought I knew everything about life in general.

Boy, was I wrong. I still had lots to learn about the human condition and what we call life on the third rock from the sun. Here are a few. Twenty-three, to be exact.

  1. The friends you make in college will be some of the best friends you have for your entire life.
  2. Your parents are smarter than you think they are. They just want the best for you and when they are gone, you will miss them terribly.
  3. Don't force love. When you meet the love of your life, the one person you were meant to be with, you will know.
  4. A good marriage is hard work. It's not a 50/50 relationship. Each side has to put 110% into a marriage to make it through the happy times and the crappy times. But it is so worth it to wake up each morning snuggled up to your best friend.
  5. You don't have to be involved in everything that comes your way. This one was a hard lesson to learn. I've always been that type of person who would say "yes" at a new opportunity to grow professionally, volunteer for a community organization and devote lots of spare time to a cause I felt was worthwhile. I've especially learned in the past couple of years that you can get burnt out real fast when you don't have enough time for you, your family and friends.
  6. Don't give up on God. He won't give up on you.
  7. Appreciate good health.
  8. Appreciate good food.
  9. Appreciate good, healthy food.
  10. Exercise is not the enemy. Sometimes you don't want to, but a good walk around the neighborhood will make you feel better both physically and emotionally.
  11. Cherish every moment of your children's first few years. This is the time when it is the hardest to understand why you would want to remember all of the dirty diapers, the sleepless nights, the spitting up and the tantrums. Someday you will look back and wonder where did the time go? I was just rocking him to sleep and now he's getting ready to drive.
  12. A hand-written note is still one of the best ways to say "Thank You" to someone after they did a good deed for you.
  13. Do good deeds for others.
  14. Learn how to cook. Some of my most enjoyable moments are spent in the kitchen and around the dinner table with good friends and family. It is also good to know what goes into your body.
  15. Forgive. Holding onto a grudge is just hurting yourself. Someone once said, "Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick."
  16. Learn to watch baseball. From little league to high school to the major leagues, there's something relaxing intertwined into those nine innings.
  17. Don't sweat the small stuff. Learn what is important to you and focus on that. When people are looking for attention by creating false drama, you must remember to focus on what's most important. 99% of the time, it isn't someone else's drama.
  18. Love your children.
  19. Hug your children.
  20. Laugh with your children.
  21. Be a parent to your children - not their best friend.
  22. Be your spouse's best friend.
  23. Call your mother every opportunity you have. Someday that opportunity will be gone.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Life Examinations.

Socrates is quoted as saying, "The unexamined life is not worth living."

Some very interesting words to ponder. I've had lots of time to think about my 45 years in life. To some, that 45 years might seem like a long time. I know it seems like I'm very old in my 9-year-old son's eyes. But to others, that 45 years seems like just a drop in the bucket. To my dad, who just turned 77, I'm sure he thinks 45 was just a few moments ago.

I read online the other day that there are only a few people alive who were born in the 19th century. That would make them more than 115 years old. Can you imagine what all they have seen in their lifetimes?

But back to mine.

45 and one-half years. That's about 16,500 days - give or take a few.

Richard Nixon was in the White House when I was born. Just one month and ten days later, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The fall of Vietnam. The Bi-Centennial in 1976. Bruce Jenner and Nadia Comaneci excel in the 1976 Summer Olympic Games. Star Wars. The 444 days of hearing Walter Cronkite tell us about the hostage crisis in Iran.  The launch of the first Space Shuttle. Ronald Reagan is shot. Sony introduces the Walkman.

I've spent several hours these past few weekends going through thousands of photographs my mom had kept throughout her 57-year marriage to my dad. Some of the photos even pre-date their marriage. It's been fun to look through these glimpses of our past. I've especially enjoyed the ones that were taken before my birth. As the youngest grandchild on my mother's side and the third to the youngest on my dad's side, there are lots of older cousins in these photos. It's been fun to look back and think.

Think about what was going through my parents' minds when they were taking those pictures. It was a simpler time, but yet a time filled with turmoil. 1968 was a pretty tragic year when we think about the killings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. There were major riots at the national political conventions. War made headlines daily. But yet, my parents were doing there best to raise a "normal" family in mid-America. I remember when I was probably about 10 years old and had realized I was born during the Vietnam Conflict, I was almost appalled to think that my parents would have a child in time of war. Why were they not fighting the fight of the war effort and making sure to do their best to conserve food and energy for the war effort? Obviously I had seen too many episodes of MASH on TV and read too much about WWII, of which, they were just young children when we went to war in 1942. They were just living their lives in middle America.

When I was just one, they decided to pack up us kids and their belongings and move back their home town to raise a family. I believe it was the best decision they ever made. We were raised with many cousins living up and down the street and grandparents living just blocks away - not thousands of miles like some of today's families face.

I feel so lucky to have grown up in a small town (population 700) in Northwest Kansas. One set of grandparents lived just two blocks to the south and the other set of grandparents lived four blocks to the east of our house on Main Street. Several of my dad's siblings raised their families in the same community - so there were lots of cousins around all the time. In my senior year of high school, there were 23 of us. Of those 23, at least half of us (if not more) started together in Kindergarten and now many of us are connected once again by social media.

Although I am raising my family in a bigger town (20,000), I still love living in Western Kansas. We're some of the nicest people you'll ever meet.

Well, I'm done rambling for now. I wonder what the next 45 years will be like?