Friday, August 29, 2008

Arizona Monsoon Season: The Mother of all Monsoons

Menu: Chicken Teriyaki strips on the BBQ

Reflections from the Backcounter

Long time Arizona residents are well acquainted with the summer monsoon season. Often used incorrectly, this term is used to describe the afternoon thunderstorms that predictably occur during late July through September in the Sonoran desert. These storms can be preceded by huge and violent duststorms and are often accompanied by severe wind. True desert dwellers have a healthy respect for the lightning, thunderstorms and sudden flash floods that can create serious danger in a short period of time.

So, last night...we had the Mother of all Monsoon storms. The lightning was incessant and the storm was accompanied by hail that was blowing sideways into our windows with such force, I expected the glass would break. As it turned out...the winds in downtown Phoenix reached speeds of 100 mph. My sister is a property manager and has reached the varsity team of property managment as she manages huge high rises...unfortunately, her building was at ground zero and this storm caused hurricane like damage on this building. She is just now returning home after more than 18 hours on the job trying to restore the building to a usable state.
This topic is especially pertinent this weekend as we await the U.S. landfall of Hurricane Gustav. My prayers are with the people of Louisiana and the gulf coast states.

For those of you who truly want to know more about the monsoon phenomenon read the following description from the ASU website:

The Arizona Monsoon is a well-defined meteorological event (technically called a meteorological 'singularity') that occurs during the summer throughout the southwest portion of North America. During the winter time, the primary wind flow in Arizona is from the west or northwest—from California and Nevada. As we move into the summer, the winds shift to a southerly or southeasterly direction. Moisture streams northward from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. This shift produces a radical change in moisture conditions statewide.
Such a change, together with daytime heating, is the key to the Arizona monsoon. This wind shift is the result of two meteorological changes:
The movement northward from winter to summer of the huge upper air subtropical high pressure cells, specifically the so-called Bermuda High (H).
In addition, the intense heating of the desert creates rising air and surface low pressure (called a thermal low) in the Mohave (L).
These two features combine to create strong southerly flow over Arizona. The southerly winds push moisture north-ward from Mexico. The exact source region for the moisture of the Arizona monsoon is unknown. Researchers have proposed the Gulf of Mexico and/or the Gulf of California as the source regions but conclusive evidence has so far been elusive.This has lead to the creation of large data-collecting efforts and research programs such as SWAMP, the Southwest Area Monsoon Project .
By the way, the term "monsoons" as in "when the monsoons arrive ..." is a meteorological no-no. There is no such beast. The word should be used in the same manner that "summer" is used. Consequently, the proper terminology is "monsoon thunderstorms" not "monsoons."
Monsoon thunderstorms are convective in nature. By that, we mean that the thunderstorms are powered by intense surface heating. In addition, strong moisture influx into Arizona is also required. The operational criterion for the onset of "monsoon" conditions used in Arizona is "prolonged (3 consecutive days or more) period of dew points averaging 55°F" or higher." There is nothing magical, however, about 55°F. It originally was linked to the total amount of water in the atmosphere above the weather station (a precipitable water amount of 1", a quantity thought to be necessary for convective thunderstorm activity). In general, for Phoenix, the temperature limits for the production of monsoon thunderstorms are 100° to 108°F with the optimum temperature being about 105°F. Temperatures needed to produce Tucson's thunderstorms are somewhat lower.
The Arizona monsoonal circulation does not produce thunderstorms every day during the months of July-September but rather occurs in a pattern that has "Bursts" and "Breaks". According to climatologist Andrew Carleton:
"Burst": a movement into Arizona of a weak trough in the upper level westerlies (normally during summer these winds are far north of this location) which spreads upper level cold air into the region. In lower levels, during a "burst", there is strong surface heating and strong southerly or southeasterly transport of moisture into Arizona. This creates intense atmospheric destabilization and leads to strong widespread thunderstorm outbreaks.
"Break": an enhanced ridging of the upper level Bermuda and North Pacific subtropical high pressure systems which acts to stabilize the atmosphere and thereby cutoff widespread thunderstorm activity. Our own meteorologists suggest that a break usually occurs when the subtropical ridge re-develops over NW Mexico and drier air spreads into

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wednesday Wanderings: Interesting blogs I have found

Beef Burgers with Feta and Tomato

2 pounds ground beef
3 t chopped fresh thyme or 1 ½ t crubled dried thyme
2 scallions chopped
1cup chopped fresh spinach
½ cup chopped tomato
4 oz crumbled feta
Salt and pepper to taste
1 – 2 t mint optional

Mix all ingredients and form into a patty..grill or pan fry Makes four.

Reflections from the Backcounter

Monday, August 25, 2008

Menu Plan Monday

Reflections from the Backcounter

Menus on Monday bring order to a chaotic landscape of afterschool activities and worn out parents who droop into the kitchen at 6 p.m. with very few firing neurons and no inspiration for independent thought let alone menu planning.
A few minutes of planning can make the rest of the week go smoothly and can ensure that dinner is accomplished with a minimum of fuss and cacophony. When the troops are clamoring for food...redirect them to the menu and use the enticement of the meal to come to encourage cooperation in the kitchen and maybe completion of a chore or two (empyting dishwasher and setting the table.)

This week there is an amazing soup from the Smitten Kitchen. Love this website. The pictures are amazing.

Hope this menu plan provides a little help toward improving your household this week. Tomorrow can't come soon enough....the exterminator arrives!




Rib eye steaks

Summer squash soup and homemade bread

Check out the Smitten Kitchen website. This soup is amazing and the pictures on this blog are mouth watering


This is a great low carb meal! Just watch the rice portion!!!

Stir Fried Pork with Water Chestnuts
1 pound pork loin
1 T canola oil
½ cup chopped onion
½ T peeled and minced ginger root
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup sliced water chestnuts
½ cup sliced mushrooms
1T dry white wine
Salt and pepper
1 T toasted sesame oil
1 T soy sauce

Cut pork into ¼ inch slices and then into thin strips. Heat the canola oil in a large, heavy skillet or a wok ove medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the pork and stir fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until the pork begins to brown. Add the onion, gingerroot and garlic and stir fry for one minute. Add the water chestnuts and mushrooms and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the wine, salt, pepper, sesame oil, and soy sauce and stir fry for 2 minutes. Serve immediately



Beef Burgers with Feta and Tomato

2 pounds ground beef
3 t chopped fresh thyme or 1 ½ t crubled dried thyme
2 scallions chopped
1cup chopped fresh spinach
½ cup chopped tomato
4 oz crumbled feta
Salt and pepper to taste
1 – 2 t mint optional

Mix all ingredients and form into a patty..grill or pan fry Makes four.


Ham Steak with Shallot and Vermouth Sauce

1 T butter
1 pound precooked ham steak
4 shallots chopped
3 whole cloves
2 T dry vervouth
1 T cognac
1 T balsamic vinegar

Heat the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat until the foam subsides. Add the ham steak, shallots, and cloves, keeping the shallots to the side of the skillet. Cook the ham steak, stirring the shallots frequently, for 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the ham to a serving plate and keep warm.

Add the vermouth, cognac, and vinegar to the skillet. Bring to a boil, making sure to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Lower the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Pour the sauce over the ham steak and serve immediately.

Brussel sprouts
Scalloped potatoes



Make it easy and use a Boboli crust topped with sun dried tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and goat cheese


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Scorpion terror level orange

Reflections from the Backcounter

I could not make this stuff up...this morning at O dark hundred I was awakened by the whining (an improvement from the eardrum splitting howling) of the howler monkey puppy and thought that rather than get up for her I would read in bed for a while. Of course, one must first attend to the call of Mother nature and so not being a fool, I turned on the light, carefully scanned the bedroom floor to ensure that no well camouflaged scorpions were lurking and then trotted off to the bathroom.
I returned to the bed, settled in and started to read when I realized that there was something crawling on my arm.....and of course...being the scorpion magnet that I was a scorpion...and not just any scorpion...this one was less that 1/4 of an inch in size and was a perfect miniature replica of the larger relative that I annihilated the other night....I have never seen such a tiny one...this leads me to the very unpleasant conclusion that there is in fact a breeding program underway and I have visions of tiny scorpions swarming all over me in my sleep...
I have a call in to the exterminator.....we used a black light(scorpions fluoresce) and found nothing.. We plan to use it every night for a while to scan the premises before turning in....I have a feeling I will be interested in purchasing army surplus night vision goggles..what a picture that would make as I slink thru the house in my nightshirt and flip flops ( no more bare feet) looking for the elusive scorpion...Of course the way things are going I think I would have a better chance of finding all the scorpions in the house if I just staked myself naked to the bedroom floor (think of Gulliver and the Lilliputians) and waited for them to come (I am after all a magnet)....

Not very peaceful at this moment,


Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday at last

Reflections from the Backcounter

I can hear a collective sigh of relief from all the working moms in the country as they stand on the brink of the weekend considering the unlimited possibilities of unstructured time stretching out in front of them.
Oh, I insane...let's see...there is so much free time in between the cross country practices, horseback riding, puppy vet appt, quick trip to Tucson (2 hours away) to look at the University campus and of course let's not forget the 32 loads of laundry, 17 errands, house cleaning and the mountain of mail to be sorted bills to be paid....
I might as well just fast forward to Monday morning!



Thursday, August 21, 2008

Scorpion terror

Last night I was saved by my cat. Yes, that black and white, shedding, demanding, entitled feline who has never seen a counter he shouldn't climb on, actually earned his keep last night. After putting the howler monkey puppy into her cage at 1:15 a.m. I stumbled back to my bedroom to throw my exhausted carcass into bed and on the way made a pit stop...As I was leaving the bathroom, I noticed that the cat had once again weasled his way into our bedroom. ( He loves to jump on our bed and keep us awake all night long with his purring, kneading and need to be the focus of our attention...) Anyway, he looked a little too alert and actually was pushing at something on the floor with his paw...On closer inspection, I realized that he had captured a small bark scorpion and was keeping it from escaping. I of course in my calm and rational response to all things creepy with venom let out a moose bellow and awakened my sleeping husband who immediately jumped out of bed with a tennis shoe at the ready for crushing and annihilating any and all creatures of the night.

Scary...I have already been stung once and do not want to go thru that again...This darn scorpion completely blended with our carpet color leading me to believe that a breeding program is underway to encourage survival of the fittest scorpions in my house...those that blend in best will survive to procreate. So...I am sure that for the next few weeks, my nerves will be on total edge as I prowl around the house at more entering dark rooms....I am sure my electric bill will reflect it!

Anyway...hats off to the I won't complain about the cat box.



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Fried Chicken: Any questions?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Running on empty

Menu: Chicken stir fry.

Reflections from the Backcounter

I am going to regret the conversation I had with a friend..."I think that I will get back to running, it will be a great opportunity to bond with the kids. "Am I crazy??? starting to run again in middle age?...Interesting what a different experience it is now compared to those college days...Now everything hurts.
That first mile is gruesome and then the creaks and aches settle down into a tolerable rhythm of discomfort and the beat of the road gains a comforting cadence. That is... until the i -pod abruptly stops ...and then the adrenaline pump from the tunes is replaced by enough mental whining to eclipse all endorphin production. Not to mention the heat. I got a little too ambitious this morning and started my long run a little too late. The joint pain was nothing when compared to the incipient heat exhaustion that I fought in the final half mile. But all is well...I did not succumb although I did fantasize about the orange cooler attached to the side of the cement truck that was playing hopscotch down the street with me as it filled in a series of holes in the pavement. I did make it to my destination without humiliating myself by needing assistance from the cement workers who were obviously tolerating without any difficulty the heat that was threatening to take me to my knees... Luckily, I was able to give them what I thought was a plucky smile and a wave as I passed only to be totally embarrassed when they called out " you need water" I waved them off and limped into the ranch where my teens were riding in the triple digit temps without any effect....humbling....and of course after completing my pathetic 2.5 mile run (limp) I was informed that my son had completed a cross country team training run : distance 7 miles in the same heat.....His only problem was that he was now starving and "MOM, there is no food in the house!"

So job is to reload my IPOD and get some running tunes to pump up this middle aged metabolism, I need some really good tunes to drown out my creaky joints and my panting. Any suggestions? I would love recommendations for running music.
So, please leave a comment tonight on the Backcounter! I am looking for help with:
Music suggestions
More howling puppy suggestions ( Where are those Bergamasco puppy raisers with their collective puppy raising experience?)



Friday, August 15, 2008

Loyal Readers: A Cry for anyone out there? Leave a comment!

Menu: NONE

Reflections from the Backcounter

Ok Loyal Readers.....the last post although slightly funny was really a veiled cry for help. I am serious... this puppy howler monkey cross is killing me and it is now 8:26 p. m.and I know that I am in for another night of tossing and turning howling agony....I have already invested in the "Hearo" ear plugs...plugs that meld to meet the architectural peculiarities of your ear canal...and I have had my glass of wine. I am confident, however, that this will not suffice and 1 a.m. will find me shuffling down the patio toward the grass with an ecstatic wide awake puppy who will take fifteen minutes to do her business and upon return to her kennel will again engage in the eardrum splitting howling, yowling, fever pitched screams that have populated my brain for the last two weeks.

I did receive one suggestion via email to administer bourbon via an eye dropper...what wasn't clear from the cryptic communique was whether or not the bourbon was for me or the puppy!!!!

So, Loyal Readers, rally around....send me some suggestions for my puppy management crisis. I know you are out there...I also know it is more fun to read than to write a comment...



Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dog Days of Summer

Thursday: Tamale Pie (a standby favorite for a weeknight quick meal)

Reflections from the Backcounter

The blog has been very quiet this week and is a testimony to my utter and complete exhaustion. The combination of the first week of school and a new puppy is threatening to sink my proverbial ship. What is with the school? Why do I have to repeatedly fill out the same forms year after year....hasn't the school district heard of going green...I have filled out enough paperwork to wallpaper my bathroom. I believe that I have single handedly deforested a heretofore shady glen! (Now a sunny vale!) In the course of all of this form filling out exercise I have come to recognize that I have post traumatic application disorder. Truly....these forms always give me a flashback to the gut wrenching anxiety associated with college and grad school applications. I don't suppose I will ever be truly over it...I start to fill out the form for my seventh grader to participate in the science lab and suddenly the room begins to swirl and I am transported back to another decade ( I refuse to identify the year as ..on a blog I can be ageless) and begin to experience sweaty palms and a headache....

On to my next challenge...sleepless ,dog howling ,cage rattling, midnight pottying the dog ..nights...How can such a beautiful, fluffy, sweet darling little puppy go so far to the dark side at night? Just as I am drifting off into a deep and dream filled (ok ok nightmare filled: school application flashback) slumber, I am rudely startled back into a conciousness filled with the howls of a puppy turned werewolf crossed with a howler monkey. And...she will not be deterred from her goal of prying one of the adults in the house (all children have dog barking deafness at night) from the warm bed. This pup is a master...and just to reinforce our well trained response, she shows us the desperate need she has by running to the yard and after sniffing for at least 15 minutes does her full and complete number one and number two business and then returns to collect her praise.

Needless to say...I am pooped.!!
Nocturnal werewolf howler monkey cross
Don't be fooled by this innocent face. Beware the darkness......
More on this later

Peace and puppyhood,


Monday, August 11, 2008

Menu plan Monday: Week of August 10-17


Sunday: Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo

Monday: Roquefort stuffed Boneless Pork Chops

Tuesday: Tuna and Artichoke pressed sandwich

Wednesday: Pasta with zucchini
Thursday: Tamale pie
Friday: Leftovers

Reflections from the Backcounter

An inspirational story for Monday morning. Irene Sendler was a truly inspiring and heroic woman. Her story was unearthed by high schoolers. The power of this. Hard to believe that I did not know about her.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Seriously Sunday

Reflections from the Backcounter

This face captures my mood. Too much to do and too little time between now and Monday morning when the gun goes off and the school year officially begins. All is not lost, however, because the school year does bring certain benefits to most households.

1. Less mess: Having the LD's (Little darlings) out of the house for 6-7 hours a day cuts down on sandy floors, black fingerpringts, dishes in the sink, half eaten peanut butter sandwiches in the play room and overflowing laundry baskets and trash cans.

2. Order to the day: No longer is my schedule the only driving force to pry the LD's out of bed in the morning. Now they must be accountable to a higher power...the school. GOOD MORNING!!

3. Lower electric bill: One would think that my teenagers were menopausal. The temperature in the house during the day is close to that of a meat locker. Now we can set the thermostat and no one will touch it for at least 6 hours.

4. Less TV: Homework means no TV. No TV means fewer arguments ...a win win

5. NO XBox: I hate that thing. There is a ban on XBox during the school year weekdays and weeknights.

6. A routine. Household ADD occurs during the one seems to ever finish a task...the dishwasher is not quite emptied....the laundry not quite put away...the chores not quite done. Maybe the LD's will be better with a can only hope.

7. Fewer weeknight negotiations for curfew exemptions. Sorry...refer to item 2....School rules...must get up on time in the morning

8. After school activities: These always wear out the LD's...tired LD's are compliant energy to be difficult.

9. The rhythm of the school year is a comfort. After all....most of us spent our most formative years in this calendar and there is comfort in the thought of freshly sharpened pencils, crisp white notebook paper and the endless possibilities associated with the opportunity to start fresh!

10. Enjoy...this too shall pass and my life will be a lot less hectic, a lot less full and a lot less too soon a time. Dogs just can't fill the hole in your heart like a child can...

Time to wipe the fingerprints off the doorjams, grocery shop and of course...I am off to puppy training...More on that later.



Saturday, August 9, 2008

Dinner interrupted: Dinner was a flop

Menu: Last night "A Flop"

Reflections from the Backcounter

A big fat flop. That is what dinner turned out to be last night. In concept, the Brie and Peach sandwiches sounded light and tasty; the perfect solution to a fast Friday night summer meal. Wrong...thanks for playing!!! This was terrible. The brie tasted flat and the peach mixture was way too sweet. All foodie experimental subjects in my house were great sports but the resounding NO to this recipe reverberated off the wall of the kitchen and into the pantry where the jar of peanut butter was hastily retrieved.

Thank goodness for peanut butter and bread...too bad there was no milk to wash it from the dry roof of their mouths.......I REALLY need to get to the grocery store.



Friday, August 8, 2008

T minus one weeked and counting: School is starting...Mothers start your engines

Water lilies for peaceful breathing meditation exercise...see below

Dinner tonight is easy....leaving lots of time to get ready for school next week! See below!

Reflections from the Backcounter

I am in near panic mode. (Breathe...look at the water lily picture...stay calm ) Every year at this time I am confronted with the enormity of the challenge that lies ahead....the re-entry process to the school year calendar. (Repeat breathing exercise) The purchasing of school supplies, organizing of closets and clothing are only a prelude to the onslaught of activities, car pooling, lunch packing and stress that lies before me. Not to mention....the homework. I have been in cattle prod mode all summer because my high school junior has had to complete a massive US History project for his AP class during the summer. The project is due on the first day of option for tardiness...or no credit. We are closing in on the finish line and of course this BIG PROJECT is not yet completed. Maybe a cattle prod is not enough...maybe I should contact the Taser company to see if they have made a technological advancement in teenage prodding any event, my whining did not fall on deaf ears. My dear friend, Ruth, was moved to again guest author on the blog to address my hysteria....I am off to buy a calendar and hope this bit of advice from a seasoned veteran of the motherhood wars will offer up some help to you as you face the challenge of school year re-entry.

The BIG Project

Guest blogger: Ruth

The imminent arrival of the new school year is an exciting time.
For parents, it’s the start of a new academic year, fresh with the promise of intellectual reversal of fortune, and the theoretical possibility of straight A’s, multiplied by the number of children they have, equaling scholarly nirvana.
For kids, it’s the end of summer bummer. Period. The mornings get darker, and so do their personalities.
The free-wheeling choices of their summer are replaced with the steady drum-beat of due dates and must-do’s of the teacher tyranny. They get surly just thinking about it.
The older your kids are, the more likely they are to be confronted with Big Projects That Are Due A Long Time From Now.
This speaks to the Conradian heart of darkness in parenting: how to handle the Huge Project without losing your sanity (or worse, doing the project yourself)?
Personally, I always felt that The Big Project was like the part in the wedding ceremony that says "speak now or forever hold your peace."

Sit down now, before school starts, and talk about the Big Projects that are in your future, stacked over "academic Kennedy Airport", waiting to land in your life. Your approach (because you are mature and sane) will be the steady, manageable, do-small-sections-at-a-time approach that breaks down The Big Project into bite-size, painless pieces and yields a project that is finished ahead of time. Your kids’ approach (because they are insane and inexperienced in the ways of the world) will be that they can’t even bear to think about it, and what are you…crazy? This is actually an attempt on their part to make it go away altogether, as if waving a magic wand can remove the dark cloud of The Big Project from their personal horizons. Don’t fall for it.
Plan it like a sales convention in another city. Get it on a paper calendar, and work backwards from the cold, hard deadline. Six chapters to read in six weeks? That’s one chapter each week. Allow writing and review time for essays, and factor in sick time, because it never fails to enter into the picture. Hang the calendar in plain sight, and cross it off daily. I am not joking. If you can start your kids scheduling academic projects this way in middle or high school, they will be organizational aces by the time they really need to do this on their own in college. And that, fellow parents of the world, is your Big Reward from The Big Project!

Thanks Ruth!



Thursday, August 7, 2008

We are not alone

Reflections from the Backcounter

Sometimes clarity and insight go hand in hand and are delivered to you without asking by a kind and helpful neighbor who happens to have a camera! Things that have defied explanation are suddenly explained and finally make sense. Small things like: understanding why your apple tree never bears fruit, or why the rock wall around the garden has always fallen down each time you return for a weekend trip to the cabin, and why the hummingbird feeder is suddenly empty for no apparent reason or visible leak... In this case...there is a four legged culprit.

In fact, a very large, four legged ,apple stealing, wall knocking , hummingbird feeder drinking, bull elk has invaded our yard at our summer cabin. Mind you in 20 years of weekend trips to this little mountain hideaway the most exciting wild animal sighting on our property has been a family of mother and baby skunks who prevented us from having our traditional marshmallow roast in the back yard...A spraying skunk can put a damper on your enthusiasm for trying to roast that perfectly golden brown nugget of marshmallow goodness.

Clearly, this animal is in a different league. He looks majestic and... rather comfortable as he ravages and pillages my flower garden and strips the apple tree. Notice that hoof action as it knocks over my tediously constructed garden wall. The nerve of that elk. I am confident that he is on his way to the hummingbird feeder. Next he'll be expecting cream in his coffee.....



Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Apple Pie for Breakfast: Teenage favorites

Wednesday: Summer spaghetti
Dinner tonight is an easy pasta dish that is guaranteed to please the hungry hordes of teens who are now running cross country and are starving in my house.

Reflections from the Backcounter

Sometimes when surfing the internet you run into a site that has to be passed on to others. I saw an apple pie on Eat Me: Delicious this morning and it made me want to eat apple pie for breakfast.

If an "apple a day keeps the doctor away" then apple pie for breakfast might just make for a great start to the day. I am not much of a baker but think that I will try this later this week.

When time is short, a fruit cobbler is a great substitute for a pie. Fruit is layered in a dish and covered with a pastry or streusel topping. During the summer fresh peaches, nectarines and blueberries make for delicious cobblers.
Here is a tried and true recipe for cobbler that will please everyone in your family:
1/2 cup sugar
1 T cornstarch
1/4 t ground cinammon
4 cups sliced peaches
1 t lemon juice
3 T shortening
1 cup all purpose flour
1 T sugar 1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 cup milk
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix 1/2 cup sugar, the cornstarch and cinnamon in a 2 quart saucepan. Stir in peaches and lemon juice. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir one minute. Poiur into ungreased 2 quart casserole. Keep peach mixture hot in the oven.
Cut shortening into the flour, 1 T sugar, the baking powder and salt until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in the milk. Drop dough by 6 spoonfuls onto hot peach misture.
Bake until topping is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm and if desired, with Cinnamon Whipped Cream.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dinner review

Tuesday: Picnic Chicken Salad

Reflections from the Backcounter

This was a great, cool and fast weeknight dinner. We served it with french bread and the kids loved it. I did not have celery so substituted green pepper and it was great. Weeknights are very challenging for dinner prep and whenever I find a quick delicious meal it makes me VERY happy . So tonight....I am happy. Dinner was quick. Dinner was easy and clean up minimal. A triple play!



Monday, August 4, 2008

Menu plan: End of summer Get organized for School

Reflections from the Backcounter

Well the Backcounter Buffet is getting back on track for its primary mission. To help guide busy moms thru the week with menu ideas and menu planning. The goal is to provide meals that are different, tasty and relatively easy to accomplish. Menu planning is the thing that stands between me and insanity. It is impossible to return home from work and and construct anything that even closely resembles a nutritious meal without advance planning. I concede that there are incredible and talented women out there who can whip up a gourmet meal from two or three items in their well stocked pantry but this mom is inspirationally challenged. I need a plan....and sometimes when all is well in the world and Jupitor is aligned with Mars....I can execute said plan. With school starting again...hope springs eternal and we will once again embark upon the dinnertime menu planning odyssey.
These menus may not reflect the grocery ads in your area but I build mine using the ads to find the least expensive items. Check back on previous weekly menus to see if there are recipes that better reflect the bargains in your neighborhood. We made the pork last night and unfortunately, I did not get a picture of it. Suffice it to say, it was scrumptious. This is a busy week with prep for school and the heat is oppressive. The menu reflects both issues.

Ceres the pup is sleeping thru the night. What a miracle. Puppies are a lot of work.!! She has run through our yard and has found every last remnant of the seed pods that have fallen from the mesquite trees and has tried to eat every one. We have been sweeping the yard like maniacs as I am sure an undigested seed pod will lead to an emergency vet visit.


BBQ pork
Corn on the Cob
Cole slaw

BBQ pork

Pork Shoulder
Dry rub of choice
Garlic powder, Lawry salt, pepper, paprika, basil, sugar

Place roast on grill. Heat up opposite side. Place a fire proof bowl on hot side of grill and fill it with a mixture of water, molasses or coca cola. This adds a caramelized flavor. Smoke with chips of cedar that have been smoked. We used a plank and it straddled the active side of the fire.

Cook until done...we cooked for 8-9 hours. Keep adding to the water/molasses mixture as needed.

This is a time consuming but easy way to have smoked BBQ pork without having a smoker

Delicious and can be served sliced or shredded with or without barbecue sauce.

Cole slaw
1 head green cabbage
1/4 head red cabbage
Strips of carrot
1/8 cup diced red onion
1/8 cup diced green pepper
cilantro if desired
1 package ramen noodles crushed if desired


4 T sugar
1 t salt
3/4 cup veg oil
1 tsp pepper
5T rice wine vinegar

Mix well and toss with cabbage serve cold. This is a delicious and light salad


Picnic chicken salad
Sliced tomatoes
Sourdough rolls

Picnic chicken salad

1-2 cups shredded chicken (Make extra 2 cups for Thursday night Cobb salad wraps)
2-3 cups chopped celery
celery salt
1/3 clup green olives with pimento
1 box rotini pasta cooked al dente

Mix all ingredients and serve


Prosciutto and Mozzarella Heros with Olive relish

3 large celery ribs halved lenghtwise and thinly sliced crosswise
3/4 cup pitted mixed black and green olives, chopped
3 T chopped flat leaf parsley
1 1/2 T coarsely chopped capers
1/4 cup plus 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
Six 6 inch hero rolls, split
12 large arugula leaves
3/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto
3/4 pound fresh lightly salted mozzarella cut into 12 slices
3 large tomatoes cut into 6 slices
3/4 cup thinly sliced pickled peppers
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
In medium bowl, toss the celery, olives, parsley and capers and stir in the olive oil

Spread the rolls open on a cookie sheet and bake for 3 minutes or until crisp . Arrange 2 arugula leaves on the bottom half of each roll and top with 2 ozs of prosciutto, 2 mozzarella slices and three tomato slices. Top each sandwich with a layer of pickled peppers and about 1/4 cup of the olive relish. Close and serve at once. Can also drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar for extra flavor.


Garlic bread

Thursday (Too hot to cook)

Cobb Salad Wrap

2 cups cubed cooked chicken
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup red wine vinaigrette salad dressing
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
6 (10") flour tortillas
1-1/2 cups shredded fresh spinach
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
Preparation:Combine chicken, green onion, tomato and avocado in medium bowl and gently mix. In small bowl, combine salad dressing and dijon mustard and whisk to blend. Add to chicken mixture and stir to coat.
When ready to serve, spoon chicken mixture into each tortilla. Top with spinach and blue cheese. Fold up bottom edge and fold in sides, and serve.

6 servings

Friday (Too hot and now too tired to cook.)

Brie Peach Sandwiches

You can add meat to this sandwich recipe if you wish (fresh shrimp), but the combination of tangy brie and the sweet and spicy peach preserves are perfect all by themselves.

1/2 cup peach preserves
1 peach, peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp. minced green onions
1 tsp. raspberry vinegar
dash white pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
6 crusty french rolls
6 leaves butter lettuce
10 slices brie cheese
Combine peach preserves, chopped peach, green onions, vinegar, and red pepper flakes; stir and set aside. Makes enough for 8 sandwiches.
Assemble sandwiches with the peach mixture and remaining ingredients just before serving.
You can also make this a hot and cold sandwich. Cut the rolls in half and spread cut sides with some butter. Divide Brie cheese among the rolls. Place in toaster oven and toast until cheese melts and bread starts to brown. Remove from oven and make sandwiches with lettuce and peach mixture. Makes 6 sandwiches


In our school district, this is the last weekend before school starts so food takes a back seat to the last minute prep for school. The crock pot is just the answer. This is simple but hearty and kids love it.

Crock pot: Complete meal in one pot
1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1 large clove garlic - minced
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. thyme
6 medium new potatoes (the red ones) peeled and thinly sliced
2 large onions (sliced thinly)
1/2 cup of milk
1 cup of thinly sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
1 cup of fresh string beans
Salt and pepper to taste
What you do:
Place ground beef and garlic in the crock pot along with the pepper and thyme.
Stir together.
Add the potatoes and onionsand the string beans.
Add the milk, mushrooms and flour to the crock pot contents.
Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours.



Saturday, August 2, 2008

Ceres: The gorgeous CCI puppy

Ceres and O'Hanna

Reflections from the Backcounter

"Don't hate me because I am beautiful." This puppy is a looker and she has a personality to match. There have been a few sleepless nights so far as I think she is still suffering from separation anxiety from her littermates and mother. We are in the full throes of new puppy raising and are very excited to have her. O'Hanna is home and is still a little stressed. She had some hot spots on her legs from licking. We are thrilled to have her back.

Tomorrow we start the Kinderpuppy classes and we are on our way to training this latest CCI puppy.

Tomorrow menus are returning to the Backcounter as I need to make them to keep my sanity, keep the troops fed and protect my budget. We are T minus 10 and counting to the first day of school. Today, I was able to make a great purchase at the used uniform sale so there is another plus for frugality.

Please feel free to offer suggestions and leave comments for:

1. Varsity dog hair management. I have used the dustmop three times this morning and can practically weave a rug with what I have gotten off my floor. This will be an ongoing challenge...maybe I need to lower my standards?

2. Nighttime strategies to stop the howling. How one small puppy can make so much noise at night is beyond me. She sounds like a wolf howling at the moon and the sound reverberates off of our tile floor bounces off of our ceilings and pierces our eardrums. I have purchased some ear plugs...

3. School prep countdown..
4. Vacation reentry laundry marathon.
5. Any strategies for to help with post vacation blues

Wow ..I better get busy...the laundry pile is taller than me....I would much rather write.