The Grill Master – It’s All In The Sauce

Barbecue Blog-1

Growing up I was lived in a home where my father was the only person who barbecued. Mom was in charge of cooking in the kitchen, but whenever it came to grilling anything from hot dogs to prime rib roast, Dad was in charge.

The line of “men” being in charge at the grill wasn’t something that started with my father. His father and my mother’s father were also the Grill Masters at their homes and whenever we went to any family reunions on either side of the family, men were always the ones who hung around the barbecue pit, drinking beer, sneaking tastes, and chasing away any woman who came within ten feet of the hot coals.

For 20+ years I was comfortable with this barbecue hierarchy and never questioned it.

Then I moved out on my own and started dating my now husband, Hubby. While living on my own I never invested in a grill, but Hubby bought me a little hibachi for my balcony so we could grill steaks, burgers, or just about anything we wanted. While we dated, Hubby took care of the grilling. I don’t think it was because he wanted to do the grilling, but more because of my ignorance when it came to cooking anything anywhere other than the stove.

After we got married and I began accompanying Hubby to barbecues at his parent’s house however, it became immediately clear that things were very different in his family when it came to the “Rules of the Grill.” There were no men gathered around the grill, no beer drinking and comradery going on by the coals, and no taste testing hot off the grate. Nope, just my mother-in-law standing over the grill, sweating, cussing, and completely alienated from everyone else. Until the food was put on the table for everyone to enjoy, it was as if the grill and my mother-in-law didn’t exist.

Owning a barbecue for Hubby and I didn’t come until a few years after we got married, but when we did get one, I held my ground when it came to grilling.  I took care of the food preparation inside the house, and Hubby was to be in charge of the grilling. I never gave it much thought because he’d done it while we dated on our little hibachi at my apartment, but after we were married, his attitude changed. At one point he even pointed out to me that “His Father” didn’t have to grill — that “His Mother” did all the food prep including the grilling.

Being the so understanding and ever patient wife that I was back then (NOT), I quickly pointed out that he didn’t live in Oz anymore and here in the real world if he wanted to have a barbecue, he was going to have to do the grilling. At first he protested by burning practically everything he put on the grill, but I held my ground. A battle of wills that I knew was not going to end well…or at least with me being the victor.

Finally after many arguments and too many ruined meals, grilling became a thing of the past. Dinners were planned rather than barbecues and Hubby won. Or so he thought.

Summer is the time for grilling, but even in the dead of winter, a burger is just not a burger unless it’s cooked slowly over the hot grates of a grill. Hubby may have won the battle, but I was looking long-term and waging to win the war.

After a year or so of no grilling, Hubby began suggesting we grill on occasion. There was no argument, he just went to the grill, lit it up, and grilled. Then, because of the lack of tension between us, I also became far less averse to pitching in and grilling if I happened to plan a meal that included grilling during the week when he was working. I’d light the grill and get the meal almost done in time for his arrival and then he’d finish up while I put everything I’d made in the kitchen on the table.

This compromise on grilling has served us well for the past 20 years. Now however, because Hubby’s work schedule is in such upheaval (working from Monday morning 8 a.m. until Friday afternoon 4 p.m straight with only a short break to come home each day for dinner) I have taken to grilling completely. Dinner is done and on the table when he gets home. He still will grill if we have company, but for the most part, I have taken over the role as Grill Master

As with most things I attempt to do, taking on this new Grill Master role is not taken lightly. Now I am struggling to truly earn that title. At this point I’d have to say I am just barely scraping by, but I continue to work at it. One thing I have learned though is that success in this role has a lot to do with the tools you have to work with. Not just the grill itself or the utensils used, but also the selection of meats as well as the sauces used.

That being said, this year I have been experimenting with various recipes for homemade barbecue sauce. The one I made last year Sizzlin’ Plum Barbecue Sauce didn’t quite turn out how I’d wanted, so this year I tweaked the recipe to make it better (check out my post today on Simply Grateful Canning for the updated version Plum Barbecue Sauce Update). I’m also going to have posts on a few other sauces I’m working on, so keep a lookout.

Marriage can be a battle of wills, but realizing that compromise will serve your relationship better, is what holds you together, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Christmas Candy #5 – Creamy Peanut Butter Fudge

Back when I was a young girl, every couple of years my family would head up north to a family reunion on my father’s side.  We’d spend a weekend on the farm of one of our cousins hiking, talking, playing horseshoes, riding motorcycles, picking apples, and tubing down the Ausable River.  Most of all, though, we ate.  Everyone brought food, everyone made food, and everyone ate food.  There was absolutely no chance of anyone going hungry, because there was always something cooking.  From 5 in the morning until well after midnight, everyone fought over who was going to get the kitchen next.

When my children came along, the family reunion had all but stopped.  Thankfully, one of my cousins took it upon herself to organize one last hoorah.  I took the opportunity to spend the weekend taking pictures of the old farm, hiking along the trails for one last time with my children, and gathering recipes from my cousins.

One recipe that I am thankful I got was from my cousin Linda.  She was famous for making her peanut butter fudge every time there was a family reunion.  It was popular with the kids, of course, but the adults loved it just as much. That last time we gathered at the farm, Linda taught me how to make her fudge.  I’m not sure I would have been able to make it had she just given me the recipe.  Not being familiar with making fudge, I was terribly intimidated by it. After watching her do it however, I realized that fudge wasn’t something to be afraid of.

Linda’s Creamy Peanut Butter Fudge

I really should have gotten a bigger bowl to store this in.  I guess we'll just have to eat until we can fit the lid on.

I really should have gotten a bigger bowl to store this in. I guess we’ll just have to eat until we can fit the lid on.

  • 1 lb. Light Brown Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Cream or Milk
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1 Cup Cream Peanut Butter

Bring sugar and milk to boil over medium heat.  Heat to soft-ball stage — 235 degrees.  Linda never used a thermometer.  She used a bowl of ice water and dropped some of the sugar and milk mixture into it after it had been boiling for a while.  I use both.  I wait until it reaches 235 and then start testing for the soft-ball stage.  It isn’t an instantaneous thing that once it reaches 235 it’s done, so be sure to test.

Once the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage, add the butter and stir until melted.

Remove from heat and add creamy peanut butter.  Pour immediately into buttered or foil lined 9×9 baking pan. Refrigerate until set.  I prefer to put my fudge in a foil lined pan because it makes it much easier to remove from the pan.

Not even a year after the reunion we lost Linda very unexpectedly.  It was a terrible shock to the entire family.  After her funeral the family gathered together and reminisced.  I brought up her peanut butter fudge and everyone agreed it was the best they’d ever tasted. Many in the family commented that they wished they had learned how to make it.

I’m not sure that mine lives up to Linda’s, but it is one of my families favorites and a recipe I hope to pass down for many generations.  It has become a Christmas tradition in our family.   I am sorry Linda is no longer with us but she will forever live on in the memories and recipes she left behind, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Prelude To Christmas Decorating – Why I Do This

Tradition does not mean that the living are dead, it means that the dead are living. ~ Harold MacMillan

What is it about Christmas decorating that causes me to become consumed with joy from the moment I turn on the lights in my Christmas storage room until that fateful day sometime in late January when I finally turn that light off for another year?

Growing up with a grandmother who transformed her home with animated figures, rotating trees, flashing lights, and glitter on everything from ornaments to poinsettias into a Christmas wonderland, it was hard not to have some of the magic rub off on me.  Walking into her home Thanksgiving afternoon when all the lights were finally turned on for the first time, marking the beginning of the holiday season, made Thanksgiving my absolute favorite holiday.  I could hardly wait for her front door to open when we’d arrive for Thanksgiving dinner and be showered by the holiday spirit that began with the wreath on the front door and continued throughout every room.

From the tinsel curtains hung over every window to the rotating aluminum tree full of family ornaments to the light switch covers made by my grandmother, not a single detail was forgotten.  Banisters were covered with garland, windows were outlined with lights, and tables were transformed into scenes full of wonder and excitement.  Santa’s, angels, elves, stars, candy canes, carolers, and all the symbols of love and tradition that make Christmas special and irresistible could be found in every corner, in every room.  Everywhere you looked there was yet another reminder of why it was truly the most wonderful time of year.

In July 1999 we lost my grandmother, the matriarch of our family, the spirit that made Christmas more than presents, shopping, and hustle and bustle.  It was a devastating blow to our family, as is the loss of anyone, but the full extent of this loss was not to be felt until that November.  As I pulled the light cord in the Christmas storage area, a rush of memories flooded the room.  Standing there faced with boxes of decorations, frozen with grief, I cried.  Unable to bear the sorrow, I closed my eyes, pulled the cord, and shut the door.  How could there possibly be Christmas without my grandmother?  She was the reason I began decorating.  She was my inspiration.  She was Christmas.

The emptiness I felt from the loss of my grandmother was horrible but the loss of my Christmas spirit as well made it unbearable.  Days passed and I could find no joy…no reason to turn on that light in the storage room.  I pushed myself to get through each day, getting done what had to be done, but my heart ached and my will faltered.  Finding no solace in mourning, I began wondering what my grandmother was doing.  Was she watching me?  Was she anywhere other than in my broken heart?

It is my belief that no one truly dies as long as they are remembered in our hearts, yet the question remains, are they here with us, do they visit or is there reason for them to?  As I struggled to come to terms with the loss of my grandmother, I asked myself how my grandmother would feel if she knew the holiday traditions she had spent so many years establishing had died with her.

In the months after my grandmother’s death, I never felt her presence, only the emptiness. When I began remembering all the wonderful holidays I had with my grandmother, reminiscing about lighting plum pudding, decorating trees, singing carols, visiting her home and listening to the stories of every decoration–every ornament, suddenly I felt a warmth surround me.  I felt my grandmother’s presence as real as if she were standing right there.  Tears welling in my eyes, a lump hard in my throat, I realized I had to turn on that light.

Pulling out boxes of decorations and doing my best to carry on the tradition my grandmother has gifted me with, I know she is here with me, guiding my hands, holding the ladder, giving me inspiration.  I’ve even caught myself talking to her/asking for advise as I try to hide every wire or fix yet another set of lights.

My grandmother may not be here in the way that people readily accept, but there is no doubt in my mind that she is here. She is in every Christmas light, every mince pie, every strand of tinsel, every holiday greeting.  I know she will be forever in my heart and during the holidays her presence is strongest.

This year a new Christmas movie came out starring Harry Connick Jr. called When Angels Sing.  At the end of the movie, Michael, played by Harry Connick Jr., has a conversation with his son,

Michael:  Do you remember when you were in the hospital and you asked me ‘Do you think people can still see us after they die?’

His son:  Yes.

Michael:  I think they do, so let’s make it worth their while.

Every year I do my best to make my home look better than the year before and every year when I finally light the whole house on Thanksgiving day, I ask my grandmother, “So Gram, what do you think?”  As I stand there, looking at the memories filling every corner of the house I know my grandmother is with me loving every little detail.

I miss my grandmother every day, but know in order to keep her spirit alive I have to keep turning the light on, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

The Art of Knowing How To Pack A Car!

Finding a bargain is great, but being privy to great bargain information from the source — well there’s not too many things that make my day better than that.

Yesterday I received a text from a woman in the deli department at our local grocery store that we frequent two to four times a week.  Over the past ten or so years Hubby and I have established quite a friendship with many of the workers there and it has really worked out for us.  I share coupons with many of the women, and they in turn share “upcoming sale” information with me.  Yesterday however, the text I received was about a special in the meat department.  My friend in the deli, who’s friends with the manager in the meat department, was alerted that he had several cases of boneless, skinless thighs that had to be clearanced out immediately.  They were originally marked $3.20 per pound, marked down to $.99 per pound, and then clearanced for an additional 20% off the marked down price.  Knowing how we love chicken thighs, my friend texted me right away to share this information.

Within five minutes of receiving the text, Hubby and I were on our way to the store.  All the way there we contemplated where we would store the meat.  Our chest freezer was nearly full, the basement refrigerator freezer is full of frozen vegetables and fruit, and the upstairs refrigerator freezer is packed with a little bit of everything.  I want another chest freezer, but where we’d put it is another matter.

Hubby dropped me at the door 15 minutes after getting the text and I grabbed a cart and headed for the meat department.  Not wanting to draw attention to myself, I casually walked along the meat freezers, scanning all the prices, until I came to the chicken section.  There, right in the middle of the freezer were three shelves with family packs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs on clearance.  I quickly started to fill my cart.  In the end, I had 11 packages of thighs.  Just to give you an idea of the savings, one package was marked at $14 and some change and I got it for $3 and some change.  Not a bad savings.

On our way to the cash register we ran into our friend from the deli.  She was happy to see that we’d stocked up and told us that regular thighs and legs (with the skin and bones) were going on clearance the next day.  So guess where I went this morning?  You got it, back to the meat department.  Of course, I barely found space in the freezers yesterday for the 10 huge packages (yes it was 11 but I had to make something for dinner) of chicken we bought, but how could I possibly pass up such a deal.

This morning I picked up 8 packages of chicken thighs and 5 packages of legs for $.99 per pound less 20%, 4 packages of chicken thighs for $.99 per pound, and 4 packages of pork ribs that I found on clearance for $.99 per pound.  What a haul!  Of course I had the wonderful job of trying to squeeze all this into our already stuffed freezers when I got home, but if there is one thing my father taught me — I know how to pack a car, or in this case a freezer.

Growing up, whenever we went on our annual summer family vacation to Crystal Beach, Canada to stay with my Great Grandmother, there was a lot of luggage and other stuff to pack into our small car.  Two adults, two kids, all the luggage, any toys or entertainment us kids wanted, food for the 6 hour road trip, and sometimes anywhere from 2 to 4 dogs.  My father was in charge of packing the car and no matter how much stuff we had, he always found room for it.  Every nook and cranny was utilized, not an inch of space was wasted.

This ability to “pack a car” became my father’s “thing” that he was known for.  Whenever something needed to fit into a box, a car, a room, or even a bag, Dad was the one we’d rely on to make it fit.  Every time I moved, Dad was the one to pack the truck.  Every time the basement needed organizing and shelves needed to be put up, Dad was the one to build just the right amount of shelves and store everything perfectly.  Every time we went even on just a day trip, Dad was the one to pack the car.  His ability to make it all fit was untouchable.

For years I watched my father pack and organize.  I stood there with him as he calculated where to put each parcel, how high to stack each box, and what should go in next.  I watched and learned.  Now, after 46 years of observation, I have come into my own when it comes to “packing the car.”  The torch has been passed.

Whenever Hubby, the kids and myself head out for the day or for a week, I’m the one to pack the car.  We drove to Florida several years ago to take a cruise.  We had four large suitcases, blankets, pillows, two overnight bags, a garment bag, a cooler, the kids duffel bags, two camera bags, my bag of journals, a small television that we plugged into the lighter, and my laptop.  I managed to fit everything in the small space behind the second row of seats in our Ford Freestyle.  This gave the kids the entire two rows in the back of the car to sprawl out and enjoy the leisurely 3 day road trip to Florida.  Hubby still marvels at how I could possibly fit everything in there.

I pack our storage rooms in the basement, I pack the refrigerators, I pack the pantry, I pack our closets, and today I packed our freezers.  Yes, I was somehow able to fit every bit of the meat I bought today into “not an inch of available space” in our freezers.  I packed, unpacked, and repacked until the job was done.  What other choice did I have?  Now we should be set with chicken for a while.

Of course, while I was filling my shopping cart with chicken this morning, the meat manager happened to stop by to say hello.  He said he was glad that I’d gotten the word about the specials and that in the next couple of days several more things were going to be going on clearance.  Great!  Just what we need.  At least I have a few days to do a little cooking and possibly make some room so I can replenish and refill when the next great bargain comes along, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.