Airports and Frozen Corn

Holiday Highs and Lows

Jen BrehmMy 2013 ended on a rather low note with December being a pretty rough month for us. Our special kitten that we had nursed to health at only five weeks of age was hit by a car and killed shortly after his first birthday. I was on a plane traveling from Pennsylvania to Arkansas when our vet called to tell me someone had found his body less than a block from our home. He had been missing for over a day and it had been bitterly cold so I already regretted having to head to the airport and leave town for a week. I answered the call from the vet while a flight attendant stood at my side on a plane in Charlotte telling me that I needed to turn off my phone. I asked for one quick call and after listening to me leave a message for my husband telling him where to pick up the body, she asked if she could do anything.

As much as I’d like to write about my little Leo who taught me to be a cat lover, it’s the New Year and I don’t want this to be a sad start to my return to blogging. I have been quite remiss in posting because of the holiday chaos. It was a holiday season filled with great loss (and not just with Leo), great strides forward on mending broken relationships and creating new traditions with my husband.

We became homeowners just over two years ago and then married the following year. This was our first year of finally feeling settled and prepared to host a holiday event. But neither one of us ever subscribed much to following the standards and our first New Year’s outing in our own home was not about to be our entry into that world. We wanted to find something that honored tradition but yet was our own. In my family, it was required that you eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day or you’ll “scratch” (want for money) the rest of the year. And so every New Year’s Eve the crock pot was filled with a pork roast and piles of sauerkraut and set to cook overnight. We decided it was time to bring a new spin to this holiday standard. The first week of December, a beef brisket and pork butt went into the brine and we began preparations for our New Year’s celebration with Rachel and Reuben sandwiches.

We had already started the sauerkraut back in the fall and loaves of rye bread were baked off in the days leading up to our open house on January 1. The meat was removed from the brine the day after Christmas and then allowed to sit with a dry rub for two days. My husband fought 20-degree temperatures on the outdoor grill for the first 12 hours of smoking but in the end, Mother Nature prevailed. The last two hours were finished off in the oven. We welcomed in 2014 with an assembly line of meat steaming in a roaster on the stove, warm bread coming out of the oven, sauerkraut being spooned from our gallon glass jar out of the cellar and the finished product being tossed on the new over-sized griddle we gifted ourselves. By the time the last guest walked out the door, we had at least one dozen requests that we repeat the event next year. Our own holiday tradition was born.

As we sat spent that evening, my husband and I reflected on the roller coaster of emotions we had been through in just a few weeks. We had gone from trying to find peace in our loss as the year came to an end to feeling as though we truly had a beginning for the New Year. We had survived the Holiday Highs and Lows and it was now time to get back to the routine.

New Year's Meal

Getting Over Kitchen Fears

Jen BrehmI'm a traveler. For the past 10 years I have worked in jobs that required me to live in airports and hotels and eat a majority of my meals in restaurants. When I was at home, my apartment was never stocked with much food because I wasn't going to be there long enough to cook let alone shop. 

My job still involves a good deal of travel but now I have a husband who is a chef and a kitchen that is stocked. I have gone from a gadget-obsessed, computer person to cupboards stocked with home-canned goods and a root cellar with strings of onions in panty hose and shelves of potatoes and squash. Making the transition each week from home-cooked meals with food grown in our backyard to restaurant-prepared meals four days each week can be a bit tough. I'll admit it – I'm hooked on fresh!

This life of gardening, home canning and pressure cookers is pretty intimidating though, but I'm learning. The name of my blog "Airports and Frozen Corn" represents my attempt to blend the two worlds. My packing routine now includes explorations of what homemade goodness I can take through airport security. While banana bread wrapped in tinfoil will pass security tests, it does not make for a quick trip through screening lines. My cooler has been my carry-on several times when I knew that my hotel would have a microwave and I could take some frozen foods along to prepare in my room.

But I'm still intimidated by the tools and techniques of the kitchen. This week I took on the deep fryer.

My husband finds my fear of these gadgets to be rather amusing given my fascination with all things electrical. Risk of electrical shock from my iPhone is just not on the same level as a container full of hot grease. 

One of my favorite guilty pleasures is sweet potatoe chips but I'm working very hard on avoiding processed foods. When my husband suggested that we make our own, I was thrilled. I grabbed the mandolin and told him to heat up the oil. That's when he informed me that I would be taking this one on myself. 

He prepared everything for me and walked me through the process, showing me how to tell when the oil was ready and setting up my various stations for draining the chips. I stood about two feet away from the fryer as I put the first batch of chips in one-by-one. I poked and prodded them with a wooden chop stick as I severely overcooked the first batch. By the second batch I had stepped closer to the fryer and was even managing to look away from the bubbling grease without fear that it would burst into flames. And then the third batch started a routine that would see me through the process of creating a bowlful of homemade goodness. 

Sweet Potatoe Chips

It wasn't an earth-shaking event but I was proud. I never imagined that I would be making my own chips from potatoes that I grew. When I first thought about writing this blog I was so hesitant because I'm a beginner. I don't have any tips that I can share with users and no great advice on how to live the rural life. What I can offer though are hopefully amusing stories about choosing to live this lifestyle and maybe even encourage a few folks to step outside their own comfort zone.

If Grandma Could See Me Now

Jen BrehmAt 16, I was wearing high-top sneakers and flannel shirts, playing sports and moaning about the family days at my grandparent’s house where we would freeze corn, can vegetables and eat dinner at the picnic table on the screened porch. I was a tomboy and the kitchen was the last place that I wanted to be. So when my grandmother presented me with “The Society of Farm Women of Pennsylvania Cookbook” for Christmas that year, I smiled politely as I tried to imagine what I would do with it.

Through dozens of relocations, numerous job changes and apartment after apartment that paperback, locally published book went in boxes and out on shelves but never made it to the kitchen counter. I looked at it once or twice but it wasn’t written for a kitchen novice like me. Recipes listed ingredients as “a bit of this” or a “spoonful or two” of that. Instructions said “knead to proper consistency”. I barely knew how to make a grilled cheese without burning it, that book might as well be written in Latin. And then I met my husband.

He’s been a chef for more than 20 years, and he’s traveled the country learning about local cuisine. Coming from Salt Lake City, Utah, he was intrigued by Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. I happily handed him my family heirloom cookbook that looked brand new after 20 plus years. He leafed through it page by page occasionally reading a title out loud, intrigued by the name, and I would smile and often say, “I loved that as a kid, we have to try making it.” Not only has my husband reconnected me with my childhood through that cookbook, he has also reestablished many family traditions for me.

Two years ago we bought a house and began mapping out a garden. Two weeks ago I canned my first batch of green cherry tomatoes on my own without my husband’s help. I survived breaking my first jar. I figured out how to retrieve a jar from a pot of boiling water without scalding myself. I learned the pure joy of hearing a can “pop” after turning off every iPhone, TV and any other distraction that might stifle that precious sound. And I thought back to the days in my grandmother’s kitchen where she worked so hard to impart her knowledge to me, and I just wanted to be somewhere else. If only she could see me now. 

Farm Women Cookbook