Derek Johnson Muses

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Squash Soup.


The Crookneck Squash I grew last year tends to be a lot of work. I have to clean off its thick skin, and beneath that skin is minimal edible substance. Suffice to say I’ll be planting another variety this coming spring, but I still have a ton of squash I froze to deal with.

So I went though a couple rounds of soup making with said squash. First, I decided to use the blender to cut the squash into little pieces. I had tried using the blender a few times before and it worked so well. So I cooked made broth seasoned with ground mustard, sage, and ginger and just dumped the squash in the blender.


The results were-adequate. The soup was good for eating turkey, but then I realized that I could just try cooking the soup on the stove (like 95% of all soups) and it just might be less grainy.

I did that, and the next batch was smaller but smoother. Squash soup maybe bland but it fits the bill.

Vegetables Madness

I have a lot of sauerkraut in my fridge. Two large jars, one small jar, and another small Tupperware. Today, I continued my obsessive-compulsive desire to can, and before I knew it, I had two batches of pickles in jars in the fridge.

I really don’t know what to do with all this vegetables. I can and freeze stuff, and yet I still have tons of stuff to deal with. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fresh veggies, and they’ve been better for me than my usual round of chips-and-stuff, but I keep wondering how I’m going to eat all this stuff. I haven’t even harvested the pumpkins.

It’s weird eating sauerkraut with every meal, but not as weird as it will be when I’m eating sauerkraut and pickles with every meal. I shouldn’t complain because this is what I live for-to eat the same thing over and over again. Now, all I have to worry about is bread and meat, and I’m eating less bread than I have at times.

My sauerkraut literally has no taste. The fermentation takes away the acid that accompanies the fresh cabbage and makes the leaves limp and simple. I plan on using it in the crock pot. Pretty soon, I’ll just start eating sauerkraut for breakfast, since I’m already eating it on my eggs. A bowl of sauerkraut would likely taste no different than a bowl of oatmeal or Cheerios.


All those nutrients packed in tight…

One thing I learned the hard way was how much work it was to make squash seed edible for consumption. When I went to freeze some squash, I thought to myself how disappointing it was that I wouldn’t  be able to use the seeds. So, I decided to roast them in the oven. The end product was fine, but it took hours to ply all of the seeds away from the innards of eight or ten squash. All that for a small Tupperware of seeds.




French Toast for the Lone Man

As a single person, I was frustrated when I awoke last Sunday morning with a hankering for French toast. As I turned over in my first waking moments, I felt that desire rumble inside me, but I couldn’t bear the scorn of going out into the world, sit at a table by myself, and finding someplace to indulge my cravings all by myself.

It’s the dilemma of single life: do I have the willingness to go someplace alone, and feel the heat of all the people around me, or should I just buy the mediocre product that I can buy through the drive through, go to the park, and hide from the rest of the world?

Since I went to church on Saturday night, I decided, hey, wouldn’t it be fun to go get French toast in Lincoln and then go to church at Redeemer? I set out down the highway, but three miles out of town, I realized I was so tired, there was no way I was going to enjoy going out for French toast. I remember Wal-Mart had French bread on sale for $1. I could make my own French toast at home, where I had eggs I needed to use.

I got the bread, went home, and cracked the eggs and whipped in the milk. In a way, I had to cook this French toast for myself, to prove that I cared for my own needs. Whatever. At least I got to use that cinnamon I love.




The First Cuttings



You’re supposed to cut cabbage low to the ground. For me, it was just easier to pull the entire plant up and cut of the root before I brought it into the house. Pulling back all the bug-bitten leaves, I exposed the firm head that had been waiting for me all these weeks, and I set about preparing it.

When I arrived back from my last trip, my garden was overflowing. I harvested multiple gallon tupperwares of beans, three broccoli plants, and the cabbage. I had to learn to make sauerkraut, or eat coleslaw for the next two months. Although the coleslaw is pretty great.

Making sauerkraut sounded risky, with leaving the cabbage out of the refrigerator, but it just takes cabbage and sea salt. I got to mixing the stuff with my hands, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. I can’t wait for it to be read to eat.

Fermenting Cabbage.

Fermenting Cabbage.

The harvesting as lead to more work than I expected. Back when I planted, I was scooping up cheap seed and dumping it in the ground, no questions asked. Now, the picking, the watering, the blanching and freezing has become my day job on days when I allow it to happen. But I love it, so next year I’ll probably dump twice as many seeds into the ground and be just as crazy when it all comes up. For those of you who live around Seward, I’m selling some stuff or trading for other produce. Corn is shedding and should be read shortly.





My First Garden at the New Place

People, get ready for me to begin hitting you with morally superiority of doing what’s best for my body and for the earth! I planted a garden this year!

I am being a bit feticious, but I’ve got a lot of stuff in the ground, and to be honest, I’m enjoying getting my hands dirty and wish I had tilled up more ground than I did. I’ve planted cabbage, broccoli, green beans, sunflowers, carrots, pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, strawberries, and corn (of course).

Like every time I get up and do something, I’m surprised at how easy it is once I start. Just a rotation of till and plant, and water and weed. I’ll have to freeze some of what I grow, but that’s just another lesson to learn. (Those who live around Seward, feel free to put in a offer on anything you may want.)



Challenge of Choirs

Lot on My Mind

Lot on My Mind

It usually starts when I’m on the couch at 4:53, and PTI is winding down. I’ll be playing Call of Duty: World at War Zombies on my phone, and I start thinking about dinner. If it’s the first time I’ve thought about dinner that afternoon , the tasks of chopping, stirring, and frying an entire meal will feel as daunting as scaling a mountain.  If I’m already feeling hungry, I’ll be rationalizing a trip to Runza or Amigos, wherever I happen to have coupons. Such choirs can’t possibly get in the way.

Then I get up, fix my meal, and while I’m eating, I wonder why I would ever discard the peace of mind of having my next meal already cooked.

I could repeat this routine of electronics stealing attention from any number of choirs. There’s a wad of unfolded clothes in one of the baskets, and I’ll have four more articles I want to read. My favorite episode of The Big Bang Theory is about to come on, and I’ll be thinking about making cookies. I’m sitting next to a mess on the couch it would take five minutes to clean (which I literally am doing right now), but I’m watching a baseball game while I’m scanning my Twitter feed, looking for something to tweet about. Because after all, I haven’t tweeted in four hours, even if these newspapers have been on my couch for over six weeks.

Adult Life Paradox: you do have a lot of free time, and your mom isn’t around to nag you. But there is a lot of stuff you have to do, particularly when you own a house. There is no schedule, except for the one you make for yourself. (And I don’t have children.)

When I have a game or information in my hands, getting up and doing something would feel overwhelming. But the second I cut that first piece of meat or start the water, it feels simple. Certain choirs come more easily: cooking yields more of a reward than filing organizing, which I can only do for an hour max. But it’s better than a life full of fat.


Apple Turnovers

A few weeks ago, I realized that I needed to use up the apples I had in my freezer. They were not cut the right way to make into filing for kolaches, so I decided to make them into apple turnovers. Of course, first this required finding a recipe for turnovers. And thawing the apples.

The Filling

The Filling

And yeah, adding brown sugar and decent cinnamon.

I found a pie crust recipe online that used Crisco. I’m not a fan of any recipe where you have to cut butter into a flour mixture. I made only a small amount of dough, only enough to see that it would work and it was enough for four turnovers. I had to stretch the dough, but I used all of the apples and filings.



Mercifully, only one had an opening big enough to allow the juice to leak out onto the pan. The turnovers themselves were a bit bland, but had a still small preservation of apple taste. I’d try them again; even though it felt like a lot of work, it wasn’t that bad.

Snack Time

Snack Time

Limiting Grocery Store Trips

Stocked Shelves...

Stocked Shelves…

Monday two weeks ago, I had an epiphany: I should try not to go to the grocery store this week instead of my usual three trips a week. I always end up going to the grocery store the second I need something, and then I get a lot of stuff I hadn’t planned on getting, some of which I don’t even need. It was time for me to adopt the practice of making list. Plus, there was plenty of meat in my freezer that I needed to use.

It was a challenging few days, during which I made a special chili for dinner: hamburger, tomato soup, and kidney beans with Holen One Farms’ spice. After a day or two, the fact that I didn’t have any chips started to wear on me. Chips are a huge part of my diet, as I end up eating them with pretty much every meal.  So I bargained with myself a bit: I’ll go when I get a list that has more than ten items. And when one of them becomes bathroom cleaner, the trip becomes all the more urgent.

In the end, I spent $66 on groceries, and the only meat I bought was a four pack of polish sausage that was on sale. A lot of my purchases were baking stuff that happened to be on sale for the holidays. It is now a week later, and I have absolutely no need to go to the grocery store. I’ve only ate out once, at the midweek advent dinner at church. The following week, I also managed to only make one trip to the grocery. In addition, I also have a better idea of how much I’ve spent on food, so I can budget better. Sweet smell of life improvement.

Coffee Bread, Microwave French Toast, and Corn Flakes Treats: New Adventures in the New Kitchen

Early evening light coming through the window...

Early evening light coming through the window…

Everyone tells me that my new kitchen is spectacular, and truth be told, it does dazzle. Its subtle orange color scheme is more out there than most kitchens (certainly brighter than my last two kitchens), and it has an old-fashioned, swing into the room window which looks into my utility room widow. But as a frequent cook, I love spending my evenings tweaking old recipes and trying new things.

As a coffee junkie, I have been considering ways that I could integrate leftover coffee into my cooking. I decided to substitute the coffee as water in making basic bread in the machine. Since I envisioned the bread as ideal for toast with eggs, I added brown sugar and cinnamon. It turn out to be the perfect volume of sweet, like a warm muffin, and the conversion of water to coffee was exact. It did go well as toast, but I still had brautwurst on it too.

Mix up the same

Mixes up the same…


Same Delicious

And after cutting some makeshift hotdog buns out of a few slices of bread, I experimented in making a single serving of French toast in the microwave. (Side note: if you live alone, making pancakes and/or French toast for just yourself is always such a dilemma.) I simply broke up the ends into smaller pieces and mixed up about a cup and a half of milk with an egg, cinnamon, and peppermint syrup instead of vanilla. (Really have to remember to move that here too.) Two minutes in the microwave, and I have French toast for one.

French toast out of the microwave...

French toast out of the microwave…

I also took a new approach to making granola, using marshmallows instead of honey as the sticky substance to hold the dry ingredients together like Rice Krispie treats. My friend Marian had given me some Corn Flakes when I moved in, so I used them with the Cheerios instead of oats. On the second batch, I found out it took half the bag of marshmallows to get the treats to stick together. But totally worth it, although I really should just break down and buy the specialty honey I like.

The base

The Base…

The Sticky Stuff...

The Sticky Stuff…

The Delicious..

The Delicious..

Yeah, my new kitchen rocks.

Making and Using Pork Marinade-With Apple Wine!

I frequently use my crockpot, because I like doing large roasts. But rarely am I industrious enough to create a marinade to soak my meat in. Marinade’s take time, and I usually don’t think far enough ahead, until a few week, when I googled “how to make marinade.” Per usual, I took the base ideas and played with them a little bit. I put in 3/4 cup oil and 1 cup barbeque (Holen-in-One Farms, a local Nebraska sauce), and mixed it with a few seasonings.


Oil and barbeque

Then to play with it some more, I added about 1/4 cup apple wine I’d bought in Michigan. It’s not the world’s greatest wine, but for this purpose, it makes for a great complement.

Wine from the Round Barn

Wine from the Round Barn

I took the pork roast out of the freezer, and let it thaw out for about an hour, enough time to poke holes in it with a fork. Then I poured the marinade on it, gradually soaking each side, and then putting it in the refrigerator. I let it soak for four hours, taking out each hour to turn it over and bathe it in the marinade, which helped the pork absorb most of it.

Roast Pre-Crock Pot

Roast Pre-Crock Pot

I cooked the pork roast in the crock pot for four hours, rotating it over. The result was a well-flavored meat, hinted just right by the apple wine. For once, thinking ahead paid off for me.

Finished product

Finished product

Coffee (without a maker), Cookies (barely), and Omelets

Makeshift filter

Makeshift filter

During the time that I was snowed in, I faced the dilemma of how to make coffee without my coffee maker. I racked my brain and remembered how certain coffee shops like Blue Bottle in San Francisco and Intelligentsia in Chicago would brew a single cup by drip. So I found a video on YouTube and figured it out. I had to get an ordinary funnel and filter and set them over a cup. I wet the filter with 400 ml of water first, then discarded that water. Then I put the beans in the filter, heat the water in the microwave. I had to pour the water slowly, but it worked as well as I could have hoped for.


Sloppy gingersnap dough

I also made some gingersnaps while I was snowed in, but somehow they turned out sloppy. I wasn’t able to roll the balls in sugar and had to drizzle the sugar on instead. They eat just as well.


Cutting the slog

If there is one habit of cooking that I love, it’s making a lot of one thing and eating for several meals. Thursday, I cooked a third of a pound of pork sausage (for those of you who live in Seward, Pac-N-Save makes great pork sausage). One of my meals with the sausage was a pasta dish, the other two were egg dishes, one of which included relish cooked right into the omelet. And this is how I get through my snowed in time, by taking care of myself with wooden cooking spoons.


Putting together lunch

Bread Pudding with Coconut Milk

Whenever my mom leaves, there is always something odd left in the fridge. One time in the last couple of months, she left me half a bottle of coconut milk. (Personally, I think it should be called think coconut water, since I assume it doesn’t come out of an animal. Anyone know if lactose intolerant people can drink it?) So I busted it out and made a loaf of bread with it; the loaf was creamy think, an unique product

Squeeze that coconut.

So with a new loaf of bread, I decided that I would make bread pudding with the 1/4 of the old loaf, which was starting to crumble in the Tupperware. Happy coincidence. I broke up the bread, and mixed some raisins, almonds, and cinnamon, and set it aside.

Bread and Berries.

I decided this shouldn’t be any ordinary bread pudding: it should have apples, sauteed on the stoves, then mix in the coconut milk.

Softening the Apples

As you can see, coconut milk is rich and deep, which makes for a filling pudding. It’s even a pleasure to mix.

The Meat of the Pudding

The add in the bread mix and work until it has been saturated through. Then I put it in the fridge to let it absorb the flavor.

The Mix-Up

After about half-an-hour in the fridge, I put in the oven at 375 degrees and check it at half an hour. The middle is still soft, so I give it another twenty, checking at ten. Then it’s well-cooked and juicy, and makes for a perfect dessert after a small meal, or as just a snack or a breakfast food. Just pour on some regular milk prior to reheating.

Finished Product: Gooey Goodness

I love cooking


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