Easy Peasy Lemonade Squeezy

 

img_4229We are in the middle of what I hope is the last heat wave of 2019.  As I write this it is 109 degrees out. We have had yet another record-breaking summer.  In August, we had twenty-four days with temperatures exceeding 105 degrees, that’s more than in any previously recorded year.

We are several days into an excessive heat advisory.  Kids have to stay inside for recess, everyone is advised to stay indoors when possible and the city has re-opened many of the cooling stations that provide temporary shelter and water to the city’s homeless population. Those shelters are only open during daylight hours and even with the sun down, the temperature rarely drops below the high-eighties.

The most popular items in the food line during the summer months are watermelon, popsicles and anything to drink.  Hot foods are less popular during this stifling heat for obvious reasons.

If you read my article in summer 2018, It’s A Dry Heat, you know that summer in Las Vegas is more than just unpleasant, it is downright deadly.  Heat sickness is the biggest enemy of the homeless in the summer. In 2017, sixty-two people that were identified as homeless died in Clark County because of heat exposure. Many of those deaths could have been prevented if people living on the street were properly hydrated.

In an effort to ease the suffering of those without air-conditioned homes to go to, I put out a call on Facebook requesting drink coolers and drink mix. I was not disappointed.

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Ask and you shall receive.

Two of my friends donated drink-coolers and several more donated drink mix. I cannot put into words how much it helps to get these donations. Whether it’s a fancy rolling cooler or a single packet of Kook-Aid, it is one less thing that I have tofind the money to pay for.  I greatly appreciated any donations.

We got a lot of use out of our coolers so far.  I can make about ten gallons of flavored drink, minus room for the ice.  Not once since June, have I come home with anything leftover.

In a perfect world, the thirsty would only drink water.  Having acknowledged that, I want to point out that few people drink their recommended servings of water each day, myself included.

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A hard-working, very handsome volunteer.

Speaking for those of us that live in the desert, chugging water is the only way to survive the summer heat. It can be tedious though. Around the third glass of the day, I start wanting something different.  Depending on what drinks are served, the electrolytes can be helpful to those who have been sweating all day, too.

While those without steady homes don’t have the luxury of being selective, that doesn’t mean we can’t offer them more than the bare minimum. After all we want to nourish their bodies and their souls.  Which is why I decided to make fresh-squeezed lemonade for the people on G Street. Well, that and a great sale on lemons at La Bonita.

Easy Peasy Lemonade (by the gallon)

16 medium sized lemons
2 C of white granulated sugar
14 C water
2-4 drops yellow food dye (optional)

Place a sieve directly over your pitcher to catch any seeds or pulp that may come loose while squeezing your lemons.  If you are hand-squeezing them, I recommend quartering the lemons to get the most juice possible out of them.  Sixteen medium lemons should make about two cups of lemon juice.  Set juice aside.

The next step is to make a simple syrup by combining two cups of water and two cups of sugar in a small sauce pan.  Bring to a boil and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved, stirring frequently.  Allow to cool before pouring it directly into your pitcher.

Pour in the remaining twelve cups of water and stir well.

If you want to keep your lemonade natural or you are just serving it to your loved ones, then you probably don’t need food coloring.  If you are pouring it to a few hundred people in a chow line and don’t want to take the time to explain that it’s lemonade and not cloudy water to each of them, I recommend using a few drops of yellow food die to answer that question for you before it’s asked.  If will save you a lot of time and energy.

Add ice and garnish, if you like.  Serve and enjoy.

lemonade

 

 

 

 

The Egg and I

You can add this to the many statements that I never imagined I would make.

I am a chicken person.

What I mean, of course, is that I am a big fan of chickens. The animal, more than the meat they provide, although I appreciate that, too.

I enjoy chickens. I love watching them peck around my backyard. I love how frantic they get when a I throw them corn. I love the way that they run across the yard when they see me, like little Velociraptors. I love the way they squat to get petted.

I love them as babies, too. I love their soft, down-covered bellies. I love their cartoonish cheeps. We have four chicks right now. They’re almost three weeks old. Our kids get to name most of the chickens, as it inspires them to care for them.  For the first time recently, I picked my own chicken and named it.  I call her Attila the Hen.

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Jill, Attila, American Chicken and Super Chicken

These four chicks will double our flock, bringing them it to eight hens in total, providing we don’t have any surprise roosters.  Roosters are not legal within the city limits.  To the surprise of many, a family can have up to ten hens in the city of Las Vegas.  Laws about keeping a backyard flock of chickens are relaxing, as it becomes a more popular hobby, across the U.S.  

People don’t realize that yards in Las Vegas aren’t all swimming pools and concrete.  I am not alone in keeping chickens here, in fact, in many established Las Vegas neighborhoods, if you listen, you can hear a rooster in the morning, laws be damned.

I started this journey, although I didn’t realize it at the time, when my oldest was just a toddler, and my daughter was still a baby.  We decided to buy our first house and we wanted a big yard.  The rental we lived in at the time barely had a patio and we wanted our kids to have space to play outside.  We ended up in a small house on 7,000 square feet of land.  That doesn’t sound like much to many Americans but in the mind of most Las Vegans, that is practically an acreage.

MAevy and chickens
Just a city girl and her flock.

When my oldest son turned three, we had a petting zoo come to the house for his birthday.  Seeing all those goats and chickens running around my backyard gave me ideas.  I wanted desperately for my kids to connect with nature but that’s challenging in a large city.  We went to the park, we went to the mountains for hikes when we could but it wasn’t enough.  It was surprisingly easy to convince my husband to go along with the idea of keeping chickens.  We ordered a small coop online, assembled it and went to the closest feed store to pick up chicks.  That was five years ago.  My kids no longer remember a time when we didn’t have chickens.

When we moved to our new house, there was already a structure in the back that resembled a coop so we added roosting bars, mesh doors and a ramp and now our chickens have more room than they know what to do with and the babies get the tiny coop we started with.  Our hens spend most of their time free-ranging in among the weeds.  They make compost for my garden, which was kind of pathetic before having chickens.  They till the garden soil for me between seasons.  They eat all the bugs in our yard and a lot of the food scraps that would overload our compost.  They make me happy.  The biggest benefit to having chickens though is the eggs.

We get so many eggs.  We select breeds that are good layers but not so prolific that they can’t sustain a normal life.  I don’t butcher my chickens when they stop laying because I can afford that luxury.  A benefit to having a backyard flock, instead of operating a farm is that I’m not trying to make a living through these chickens.  They are more farm animal to me than pet but as a reward for a lifetime of laying eggs and bringing me joy, I let them live out their days with the rest of the flock.  My hens are healthy, happy and well loved.  My dear friend Christina loves to tell people that if she is ever reincarnated, she wants to come back as a Krikorian chicken.

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Our eggs normally come in green and brown.  They turn much richer colors than white eggs, when we dye them on Easter.

We get about one egg a day, per chicken.  Currently, we get four eggs a day, which even for a family of five adds up.  We give eggs as gifts, I serve them en masse at G Street to our hungry friends, on occasion I sell them but mostly, we just eat a lot of eggs.  We have eggs for breakfast, even on some weekdays.  My kids love quiche and hard boiled eggs, which is lucky for me.  My oldest son even requests eggs on his burgers sometimes.  “Breakfast” foods are not a thing in our house.  My youngest is eating a ham, egg and cheese burrito for lunch as I type this.  I host Easter every year for my extended family and even for an Easter brunch, eggs are plentiful.

In my perpetual search for egg recipes, I have learned a few things that are worth sharing.

First, baking eggs is the simplest way to prepare them for a crowd.  The stove top limits how many servings you can prepare at once, even if it is the most versatile option.  Crockpots are handy but they’re slow and I don’t love the texture of eggs prepared that  way.

Second, and I cannot stress this enough, use tin foil in the oven.  If you don’t wrap your oven racks normally, this might seem strange.  In general, wrapping your oven racks in tin foil is a good way to avoid messes and stickiness but when you cook eggs in the oven, it is imperative.  Whether it’s a tray of scrambled eggs, make ahead egg sandwiches or a quiche, it takes one slosh of raw egg to ruin your meal.  Learn from my mistake here, and you won’t spend the first half an hour of Easter brunch explaining to your guests that your house isn’t on fire, you just spilled some eggs in the bottom of the oven.

Lastly, always use a deep pan.  You should try to leave a solid inch or two from the top of any dish you are using to bake eggs.  They rise and flow over the sides or they turn too brown.  This is also important if you push your pan into the oven with too much force.  The extra room in the pan may save you from making a mess.

With those tips in mind, I am sharing with you a very simple recipe for oven scrambled eggs.  It is great for a large brunch but just as great to serve to the hungry on G Street.  With so much protein and flavor, I can’t serve eggs fast enough in the chow line.

Oven Scrambled Eggs

24 eggs
8 T butter
3 C Milk
1 T Salt
1 t pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place butter in a deep 9×13 pan. Melt butter in oven completely. Remove the pan and tilt as needed, to make sure that butter is spread evenly around the bottom of the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all the other ingredients. Pour into your pan.

Bake eggs in the oven for ten minutes. Remove and carefully scrape the bottom of the pan to mix. Solid pieces of partially cooked egg will float to the top. Replace in oven for an additional ten minutes and repeat. Continue two more times or until eggs are fluffy and no liquid remains. Use spatula to break egg into smaller pieces.

Serve hot and enjoy.

scrambled

 

A Family Affair

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Photo courtesy of The Weather Channel

It’s been a long winter, here in Vegas.  It’s been snowing, which is very unusual. We had a snow day, which never happens. Temperatures have been low and the wind has been near constant.  No one here knows what to do with the snow and that goes for our homeless community as well.  We’ve been focusing a lot of our energy on supplying tents, blankets and warm clothes.

Hot coffee and soup have been popular foods.  In fact, soup has been so popular that everyone on G Street is walking around with four bowls and a belly full of soup.

My goal is always to fill the need.  The people we serve don’t need more soup so I put away my crockpot and started brainstorming.

Fortunately, my good friend, Lynn came by my house over the weekend with supplies for me to take to G Street.  Tents, hygiene supplies, a case of peanut butter and a few jars of jelly.  She is great at finding a bargain.  When the universe sends me peanut butter and jelly, I make sandwiches.

I had two loaves of bread already and plenty of paper bags.  For about ten bucks I picked up individual bags of chips, sandwich bags and seedless oranges.  Another dear friend, Annette, answered a request that I made on Facebook for drinks and brought me two cases of water.  She included a bag of Hershey kisses for our friends, just to be sweet.  So I put my kids to work packing 24 sack lunches.

I have a confession to make.  I don’t involve my kids in enough of my volunteering.  I have a terrible habit of doing things myself when it’s easier than involving my kids.  I’ve been working on it around the house but I haven’t done much to change this behavior when it comes to serving the community.

I tell them that it’s important but when it comes to serving, they are usually not as involved as they should be.  The problem with this is that I started my path into volunteerism, in part, to be a good example for my kids.

I am attempting to remedy this bad habit of excluding my kids by forcing them into hard labor.  Having them prep items at home is the easiest way to get them involved and should I be brave enough to bring the whole clan down to G Street with me, sack lunches are quick and easy to pass out.  There’s no chance that they will burn themselves or spill food everywhere.

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Of course if your kids are in charge of packing the lunches, make sure there isn’t a bag that just has two oranges and thirty chocolate kisses in it.  That can happen.

Since I still have peanut butter and jelly left, I will likely be making sack lunches with my family for a few more weeks.  While this meal is hearty and practical they don’t exactly say “lovin’ from the oven.”  My kids were occupied assembling so I had time to bake cookies while they were distracted.

Oatmeal raisin cookies have a bad reputation.  Sure, they aren’t their glamorous cousin, chocolate chip cookies but they are delicious and a little healthier.  I also love making oatmeal raisin cookies because the dough doesn’t come pre-mixed from Pilsbury.  When you bite into an oatmeal cookie, you know that it was homemade.

These cookies are moist and sweet.  The combination of brown and white sugar give the cookies a depth of flavor that you will love.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

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1-1/2 C whole wheat flour
1 t baking soda
1 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t salt
1 C butter, softened
3/4 C brown sugar, packed
1/2 C granulated sugar
2 Eggs
1 T vanilla
3 C oatmeal
1 C raisins
Heat oven to 350°F. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; sift ingredients, looking our for clumps of baking soda. Set aside.

img_1530-1Using an electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars on medium speed until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix until blended. Add flour-mixture. Mix until blended. Add oats and raisins and continue to mix.  This is a thick batter, so be sure to stop the mixer, scrape the sides of the bowl completely and continue mixing at least twice or until oats and raisins are fully incorporated.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool two minutes on cookie sheets then remove to wire rack. Cool completely before removing. Enjoy.

 

 

 

From Rags to Breeches

Just over eight years ago, I was twenty-seven years old and pregnant with my first child. My due date had come and gone and I was driven entirely by hormones and a strong desire to jumpstart labor.  I was sitting in a pew at Mass, between my husband and my sisters.  I should have been paying attention to the homily but I was restless and started thumbing through the church bulletin.

KT Pregnancy
Oh, those long ago days of awaiting my first born. I had no idea what I was in for.

I saw an ad that Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada had placed, saying that they were completely out of diapers to pass out to the public.  It had never occurred to me that Catholic Charities passed out diapers.  I hadn’t spent a lot of time before then thinking about diapers at all.  I wondered where someone would go if they didn’t have diapers for their baby.  What would someone do if they didn’t have the support system that I did?  Before I knew it, I was sobbing, loudly in the middle of a crowded church.

My husband and my sisters panicked.  They wondered if I was in labor.  Was I in pain?  Was something horrible happening?  I blubbered unclearly before slapping the bulletin into my sister’s hands.  “They don’t have any diapers! Babies need diapers!”  My husband and my sisters promised me they would donate diapers in a desperate attempt to stop my crying.  Thus started my crusade.

I went to my women’s group, the OLLV Women’s Guild to ask for help and they didn’t enjoy watching a pregnant woman ugly-cry either so they agreed to help.  That first year, we collected 1200 diapers and we were ecstatic.

That next Sunday, Monsignor Patrick Leary showed up to thank us for the donation.  Sadly, he didn’t show up at my Mass, that’s just my luck.  He told the parishioners that when our donation arrived, there were women in the waiting area, using gas-station paper towels and plastic grocery bags, as diapers on their babies, because it was the best they could do.

That may be the worst thing you have ever heard about babies without diapers but it is not the worst thing I have heard.  Diaper insecurity is a very real problem that few people know exists.

Thirty-two percent of parents in the United States have admitted to re-using soiled, disposable diapers.  One in three mothers can’t afford enough diapers for her children.  That is 5.2 million babies without an adequate supply of clean, dry diapers.

These children often suffer from delayed physical and cognitive development.  Otherwise joyous milestones like learning to walk become painful with chronic diaper rash or a urinary tract infection.

Diaper shortages negatively affect the whole family. A lack of clean diapers causes higher maternal stress and a higher risk of postpartum depression than even food insecurity.  Combine that with increased infant crying from related discomfort or illness and it isn’t difficult to see why these children are more likely to become the victims of child abuse.

I have been listening to and sharing stories about diaper insecurity for eight years and the sadness knows no bounds.  Luckily neither does the generosity of my community.  Every year, we collect more diapers.  The church, the school, the Knights of Columbus, RCIA, CCD, people from virtually every ministry participate now.  Our goals are met and topped every year.

I just hosted OLLV’s 8th Annual Diaper Drive for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and we sent 75,000 diapers to Catholic Charities.

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This is what 75,000 diapers look like. That’s right. I had to use pano view.

 

Every year to close-out our diaper drive, the OLLV Women’s Guild hosts a baby shower.  Any excuse for a party.  We eat, we drink, we play bingo and we take a picture with the spoils we’ve gathered.

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My diaper crusaders.

 

When our truck pulled up this year, Catholic Charities had been without diapers for five months.  They pass out about 10,000 diapers a month when they have diapers.  That means by September the cupboards will be bare again.  Unless, we can convince the rest of the community to contribute as well.

I’m brainstorming and maybe you can, too.  If you have any ideas or suggestions for future diaper drives or collections, reach out and let me know.  Maybe we can diaper all the babies, together.

(Victory is) Sweets

Treats
I can’t host a party that doesn’t involve party favors.  I was reluctant to share this recipe because it is so easy that it almost isn’t a recipe at all.

3 16 OZ boxes of CandiQuik
12 OZ Candy Melts

I used chocolate CandiQuick and pink Candy Melts for these but you can use any flavors or colors that you like.  I used a heart mold to fit our “Baby Love” theme but you can use any mold that is safe for chocolate.  I recommend a silicone mold, so you can remove the pieces without breaking them.  57118613157__8da000a7-bcdb-46f6-bdde-6ffdc1afcac4-1You can buy small silicone molds for $3 at Michaels that work great but they only make six candies at a time.

CandiQuik comes with a microwavable tray.  Chop the chocolate along the lines into smaller pieces before microwaving, to save time.  Microwave for one minute and stir.  Turn over any whole pieces and microwave at 30 second intervals until the chocolate is completely liquid.  Pour into your molds.  Place molds in the freezer until the chocolate is cooled and solid.  Pop your candies out of the mold and onto a freezable tray.

Pour candy melts in a microwave safe dish and heat for 1 minute.  Stir and continue at 30 second intervals until candy melts are liquid.  Be careful not to burn yourself on the bowl or the liquid.  img_1198-1Pour into a plastic freezer bag.  Sandwich bags are not thick enough and the heat may melt the bag.  Cut a tiny hole in one corner of the bag to allow candy melt to be squeezed out.

Carefully squeeze liquid candy melt over the candies in any pattern you would like.  Do not squeeze the bag too hard or attempt to seal the top of the bag or the bag may break and spill hot candy coating everywhere.

After you have decorated the candies, put them back in the freezer for five minutes.  You may wrap the treats however you like and return them to the freezer until you are ready to set serve them.  This recipe makes 180 individual candies or 60 sets of 3 candies each.

Enjoy this easy-peasy party favor, that can be matched to any possible theme.

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The Pasta Problem

If you have ever cooked for a large group before, be it a party, a church group, or a giant, lower-middle class family, you already know that when you have to feed a lot of people with a little money, pasta is the answer.  The problem with pasta is that everyone else knows that, too.

I cannot count how many times I have heard someone in the chow line ask a volunteer to put  “your spaghetti” on top of all the other spaghetti. Spaghetti is great, macaroni and cheese is great, buttered noodles are great.  A dinner of pasta with no meat or vegetables is not so great.

Noodles and sauce are cheap, so there is always a lot.  If this is all that you can bring, bring it. Something is always better than nothing. If you can, meatballs, chicken, broccoli, mushrooms or spinach will go a long way.

Here is my formula for pasta-

Pound of Noodles + Pound of Meat + ½ Pound of veggies

When I make baked ziti for example, I use two pounds of noodles, two pounds of meat and one pound of spinach.  You can catch that recipe below.

 

Baked Ziti Primavera

2 lbs dry ziti or any tubular pasta
2 lbs ground Italian sausage
1 lb spinach leaves
4- 24 oz marinara sauce
1 lb sliced provolone
3 C sour cream
16 oz mozzarella
4 TBSP Parmesan, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fill a medium-sized pot with water and bring it to a boil.  Add your noodles and let water return to a boil.  Boil for about 8 minutes or until your pasta is al dente. Remove from heat and drain.

Brown the ground sausage in a large pot.  While the meat cooks, trim the stems off of the spinach. Run the spinach leaves through a food processor until thoroughly diced.  Add to the meat and mix well.  Add marinara sauce to the beef mixture and let it simmer for 15 minutes.

I use a “heavy-duty,” aluminum roasting pan for this dish. It is 16 inches by 11 inches and 2.5 inches deep. Do not use a dish that is less than 2.5 inches deep.

Fill the empty tray with half of the noodles. Layer half the provolone on top and sprinkle with half the parmesan, about 2 TBSPs. Spread the sour cream evenly. Spread the meat mixture over the sour cream. Add the remaining noodles, the rest of the meat-mixture and the remaining provolone. Cover with mozzarella. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan.

Cover the dish with tin foil and bake in the oven for forty minutes.  If you want the cheese on top of the ziti to get brown and bubbly, remove the tin foil and bake for another five minutes.  Since everything is precooked in this dish, you just want the tray heated through and the cheese melted.

empty ziti
You can’t argue with results.