Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Bargain of a Christmas by Margaret Ullrich

Back in 2002 I wrote this for the CKUW radio show ‘2000 & Counting’.  
Goodness, that was fourteen years ago!  
Christmas shopping hasn’t changed all that much.  Darn!!

Okay… listen up!  There are four weeks left until Christmas.  That means gifts.  I know, I know, it's more blessed to give than to receive.  But, unless you have ways of shopping that you'd like to keep secret, giving gifts means money.  

It's a little late to start a Christmas gift account at your bank and the utility companies really lose that Ho Ho Ho spirit if you try to skip paying their bills.  
If the charge cards are already maxed out - or you just want to keep your nearest and dearest on a cash and carry basis - gift getting is going to take a little effort.  

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  As we're all stuck with holidays - oh, lucky us - I'll tell you some of my desperate measures.

Live off your hump.  You know what I mean.  Things like the 18 cans of tuna you have left from the time you bought 20 cans so you could get 50 bonus airmiles.  Now's the time to crack those babies open.  I know the family hates tuna.  That's why there are 18 little cans of fishies swimming around your pantry.  Well, the family would hate a Giftless Christmas even more.  Think about it.  Lousy dinners happen to everybody.  But the family Grinch who comes up giftless at Christmas gets blabbed about throughout the neighbourhood and the generations.  You don't want to be remembered by your great great grandchildren as Granny Grinchie.

Try creative cooking.  Pretend you're on the TV show Iron Chef.  You've just been given a tube of ground beef, a bag of marshmallows, a jar of salsa, a bottle of raspberry vinegar, a carton of frozen spinach, a jar of maraschino cherries and a box of rice-a-roni.  Think only a nut throws odd things together?  How do you think raspberry vinegar was invented?  If the family gets snarky, tell them you found the recipe in a magazine - Drop names.  Martha is always good - and if they can't appreciate all the effort you put into making dinner interesting… Well!  You know the speech.  Remember, guilt, when the other person has it, is a good thing.

Go ethnic.  Granny's recipes don't have to be saved for Folklorama.  God bless ancestors.  Go to an ethnic restaurant and get a load of the prices they charge for a plate of pasta fagioli (that's noodles and beans).  Grandma would die laughing if she saw those prices.  Starch and beans got millions of people through tough times.  Go thou and eat likewise.
Beans aren't good enough?  Go past the recognizable cuts and shop the mystery meats.  Put enough spices on them and the family won't know what hit them.  I once made spaghetti and meatballs using animal organs only a mother could love.  Guess what?  Hubby had invited a friend.  Well, the buddy was getting a free meal, so I followed the Cook’s Golden Rule: Don't apologize and don't explain.  The buddy said it was delicious, like the meatballs they serve at the Bay.  Hmmm…  I notice the Bay is still in business.  There's more than one way to skin a cat.   
Shop your house.  No kidding.  Grab a bag and stroll through your house.  Look for things somebody foisted… uh… gave to you.  Well, why should you be stuck with it until you're six feet under?  Unless it was made by your preschooler - don't even think it, they DO remember - you're free to pass it on to someone else.  Just don't give it to the person who gave it to you. 
Pack your own.  Ever notice the little overpriced goodies the stores stuff into baskets and bowls?  One current gift item is a box of pasta, a tin of sauce, some cheese and some wooden spoons nestled within a large bowl.  Are you too stupid to do the same thing?  I didn’t think so.  It's one way to get rid of some of those extra airmiles purchases.  Let somebody else eat the tuna.  

Still thinking about the folks in the flyers looking wildly happy over a toaster?  
Toss the flyers.  Those models were paid big bucks.  Stores want you to buy.  A stress free family holiday is not their goal.  If they had their way you'd replace everything and pay 50% interest. 
Remember how the best presents were things that showed that someone cared?  Maybe somebody hunted down an out-of-print book by your favorite author.  
The gadgets that looked amazing seem strange on December 26.  

While you're shopping, get yourself some treats.  
I have a friend who picks up a bag of pfeffernusse cookies every year.  When she feels like all she's doing is giving, giving, giving, she pops a pfeffernusse and gives herself an old time Christmas.  It doesn't take much.     

God bless us, everyone. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Anna Sultana's Butternut Squash Casserole, Maltese Style

Oh, my… less than a month until it’s Christmas!
With all the work and decorating to be done and all the gifts to be bought, it’s time to make some simple, economical meals.

Butternut squash has a smooth beige skin with slightly bulbous base.
They usually weigh between two and three pounds. It has an orange-yellow flesh with a sweet, slightly nutty flavour. 
They are also in season and therefor, cheaper.

I’ve posted these squash recipes:

if you’d like something to add some heft to a dinner why not make a squash casserole?
This is Ma's recipe for a casserole that is similar to scalloped potatoes, but, as with many of Ma's recipes, it is much more nutritious.


To prepare a butternut squash cut off both ends of the squash and peel before cutting it lengthwise in half. 
Scoop out and discard the seeds, then cut the squash into cubes or slices. 

Then again, nobody loves peeling squash. 
An easier way is to cut the squash lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place both halves in a pan and bake for 45 minutes at 350º F. 
Remove from the oven, cool for a few minutes, peel and cut into slices. 

Squash can be cut up in advance. Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator up to 24 hours before using.

                        Butternut Squash Casserole

Serves 8 as a side dish

Thinly slice
1 small onion

5 slices bacon (or more)
Cool, crumble and set aside. 

Peel and cut lengthwise in half
1 medium butternut squash
Remove the seeds. 
Cut each half into thin slices.
Layer the slices in a dutch oven.
Add enough water to cover the squash. 
On high heat bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 8 to 10 minutes, until the squash is tender.

While the squash is cooking, melt in a skillet over medium heat
1 Tablespoon butter 
Add the sliced onion and lower the heat.
Cook and stir 5 minutes.
Stir in
2 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon pepper 
Cook and stir 1 minute.
Gradually stir in
1 Cup chicken broth 
Cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes until the sauce is thickened. 
Remove from heat and stir in 
1 Cup old cheddar cheese, shredded

Drain squash and arrange half of the slices in a greased 8-inch square baking dish.
Cover with half of the sauce.
Arrange the remaining half of the squash slices on top of the sauce.
Cover with the remaining half of the sauce.

Top with
1/2 Cup old cheddar cheese, shredded 
the crumbled bacon
Heat oven to 350º F 
Bake 35 minutes or until the mixture is heated through. 

About the sky this week, thanks to the folks at The Farmers' Almanac

November 24 — Hope you topped off your Thanksgiving Dinner by going outside to see The Summer Triangle. It’s high in the western evening sky and still there. Also around this time, in the predawn hours you can look to the southeast sky to see the crescent Moon with Jupiter shining to its upper right and the bluish star Spica well below the Moon and a bit to its right. 

November 27 — The waning gibbous Moon is at apogee, it's farthest from Earth.

November 28 —Barely visible on very dark, clear nights, the planet Uranus is now visible through much of the night among the dim stars of Pisces, the Fishes which this week can be found due south at around 8 p.m. Telescopes show Uranus only as a pale green disk with some fuzzy markings.

November 29— New Moon at 8:27 a.m. Forget it. Just keep looking at Uranus.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Butternut Squash Soup, and Roasted Squash, and the Full Beaver Moon / Supermoon, by Margaret Ullrich

Finally, the election in the United States is over!
It was very stressful for many.
I’m hoping that all the stuff was just Donald Trump telling the voters what he knew they wanted to hear so that he would be elected, but that he will end up being a good president.

A couple of weeks ago I posted the recipe for Ma’s Pumpkin Soup.
Now that Halloween is over, the stores are giving more space to other winter squashes.
A friend asked if the other squashes can be used in a soup, too.
Yes, they can!

Butternut squash is also known as butterscotch squash, butternut pumpkin and gramma. It tastes like pumpkin, so you could also use it in some of your favourite pumpkin recipes. It is a good source of vitamins A, C and E, as well as fiber, manganese, magnesium, and potassium.

Roasting is a popular way to prepare a squash.
The easiest way is to wipe the skin and place it in a pan or on a baking sheet.
Bake it at 400º F for about an hour (times vary a bit because the size varies).
The squash will become soft. 
Just slice, remove the seeds (they’re in the bottom ball part) and serve.

You could also cut the squash in half lengthwise, place the two sections in a pan and lightly brush the cut surfaces with cooking or olive oil.
Or you could put the pieces in a pan, cut side down, and add some water. 
Bake for about 45 minutes or until soft. 

Leftovers can be be mashed and used in casseroles, breads, and muffins.
These recipes would also work with other winter squashes, such as acorn squash.
My favourite is the butternut because it has a nice sweet taste.
Acorn squash could do with a bit of sweetening. 
Maple syrup is nice, as is brown sugar.

Butternut squash can also be grilled.
Place a large sheet of aluminum foil in a pan.
Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and place a section, cut side up, on the foil.
Spread a layer of spinach and crumbled feta cheese over the cut surface.
Place the other piece cut side down on the filling.
Tightly wrap the squash and cook on the grill (or you could bake it in the oven).

If you have the time, a butternut can be peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes.
Then place the cubes in a roasting pan that has been lined with foil.
Drizzle with 2 Tablespoons olive oil and toss the cubes.
Sprinkle over them 2 cloves garlic, minced, and salt and pepper.
Roast in a 400º F oven 25 - 30 minutes, until squash is tender and lightly browned.

Squash is technically a fruit, because it has seeds, but it is used as a vegetable.


Sage and thyme, or nutmeg and cinnamon, also go well with squash.
The seeds are edible, and can be either eaten raw or roasted.
The skin can also be eaten, but toss the knobby cap bit at the end.

Peeling a butternut is a hassle. Here’s a method:
Lay the squash on its side and cut the ball at the bottom off. 
Cut the top from the longer part so you have two cut flat surfaces. 
Stand the tube on one flat end. 
Cut slices of skin from top to bottom. 
Cut the bottom from the large ball. 
Stand the ball on one flat surface. 
Following the contour, cut slices of skin off, from top to bottom. 
Cut in half (top to bottom) to expose the seeds.
Scrape the seeds out and discard or set them aside to be roasted.

Leftover cooked squash can also be frozen.

About this soup recipe…
Leftover cooked squash can be used.
If it was roasted it would also have a stronger squash flavour.

You can also adjust the amount of garlic, more or less, and add a pinch of curry powder.
Or, if you’d like it to be a bit hotter, add cayenne powder and a little nutmeg.

The soup can be served hot or cold.

                        Squash Soup

Peel, seed, and cube
1 medium butternut squash

1 small onion
1 stalk celery (optional)
1 medium carrot (optional)
2 medium potatoes or sweet potatoes

Melt in a large pot
2 Tablespoons butter
Add the chopped vegetables and the cubed squash.
Cook 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.
2-3 Cups chicken or vegetable stock (enough to cover the vegetables)
Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and let simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in
2 Cups chicken or vegetable stock 
Scoop some of the soup into a blender and puree to make it smooth.
If you want the whole soup smooth, repeat until the soup is the way you want it.
If it’s too thick, you can add more stock.
Season with
salt and pepper

Reheat soup, if necessary.
Served with a big dollop of sour cream and crusty bread, such as Ma’s Hobz.

About the sky this week, thanks to the folks at The Farmers' Almanac

November 12-14 — North Taurids Meteor Shower are expected to peak at this time, with the best viewing direction south 12 – 2 a.m.; however, the light of the waxing gibbous Moon will interfere with visibility. The Taurids are actually two annual meteor showers created by the comet Encke. They are named for constellation Taurus, where they are seen to come from in the sky.

November 14 – At 6 a.m. EST, the Moon will arrive at its closest point to the Earth (known as perigee) in 2016.  Two hours later, at 8:52 a.m. EST, the Moon will officially turn full. This is a true “supermoon” and is the closest full Moon since January 26, 1948! November’s Moon is traditionally named the Full Beaver Moon. 
Watch this short video to see how it got this name.

November 15 – Look to the east in the evening hours to spot the star Aldebaran and the Pleiades Star Cluster above the full Moon. Viewing might be a little difficult because the nearly-full Moon will be bright. Aldebaran is the brightest star in the constellation Taurus, The Bull.

November 17-18 — The Leonids Meteor Showers peak. Best viewing time is between midnight and 5:30 a.m. local time. This meteor shower, named for the constellation Leo, is typically one of the more exciting showers of the year, producing an average of 20-30 meteors per hour. But the light of the waning gibbous Moon may squelch visibility.