What a crock of…..

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Summertime can be so busy.
Here at the shop we have been putting in long hours but getting off work at 8 pm isn’t bad when the sun is still shining.
The guys and I get pretty caught up in what is happening at the store so it’s not always easy to prepare a meal after work. We have been wanting to take advantage of our crockpot recently. I have heard myths retold of crockpot meals. I have only ever used them for keeping bean dip warm at parties or the occasional ( and might I add usually sensational) roast beef and veggies. That is where the adventure into hands off counter top slow cooking usually ends for me. I know people make claims as to the amazing results they get with their crockpots, so I started poking around on the internet looking for some fail safe recipes.
Last night it became my obsession. Home alone I scrunched up in Johns favorite chair, bowl of above mentioned roast beef in hand and surfed the web for some ideas. Pinterest is full of lots of pretty pictures. Perfectly positioned and proportioned plates complete with garnish and background music. Chicken thighs staring out at you from the grocery meat cooler, not the most appetizing. With the right lighting and an out of focus but obviously well decorated background,,, Voila!!! Internet food porn. Bon Appetit!! If only real life were that easy. Seriously, let’s be honest with each other. Nothing that pretty ever crawls out of a crockpot at my house.
My surfing for answers and inspiration continues, countless pictures of scrumptiousness have given me a bit of a complex. Feelings of food inadequacy are inevitable. You look around long enough across the internet and through stacks of cook books,, where does it get you? Slightly depressed and hungry. Real cooks make it look so easy. Ina Garten god bless her, can juggle sticks of butter, sauté chicken, bake homemade croutons, stir cocktails and finish a strawberry tart simultaneously. I would even bet she could do it while riding a unicycle through a French farmers market. I once screwed up microwave Mac n Cheese. Ok. More than once. There are so many steps. I bet Ina doesn’t even really own a crockpot. I bet she has to borrow one every time she wants to make Italian Beef.
In my efforts to uncover the secret underworld of crockpot cuisine I have also found a few instances of actual human beings attempting to share their hard won success with the world. 20140626-170458-61498613.jpg

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At first glance and to the untrained eye these photos may look like failures. But to those of us fully in tune with reality, we know, this sort of thing happens. Just picture these dishes served on antique ironstone platters saddled up to some fresh out of the oven biscuits and garnished with sprigs of fresh herbs. They could totally be saved. Some mood lighting and a quirky name like ” Abe’s famous cowboy stew” or ” rib stickin finger lickin southern beef and veggies” Well that sort of thing would go viral. Every hard working family in the country would make either of those a go to meal. It’s all about the garnish my friends.
With any luck my efforts will produce an endless supply of easy recipes. I will dance around my always clean kitchen with a Gin Gimlet in hand and pretend I’ve slaved all day over the stove. The guys will say things like, how do you do it all and still look so young…or Martha Stewart has nothin on you baby.
Being slightly apprehensive about testing some of the recipes I have stumbled on online is probably a good thing? It’s sort of like the idea of internet dating. Looks good in the pictures but doesn’t live up to expectations. I don’t fully trust someone who blogs about how good a dish turned out but doesn’t provide real proof. Let’s hear from your kids lady. Did they eat it or slip it to the dog under the table when your back was turned. I want the truth. Everyone has a phone with a camera these days. Mysteriously yours went AWOL when it was time to document your “easiest chicken dish ever!” Or the guy named Tweeker touting his fine tuning of Ben’s no worry one step perfect crockpot pork chops. Where is Ben? Why can’t we talk to him, and how did you go about fixing his recipe if it was already perfect? Can you make something more perfect? Not to mention one step? Really? Just one. Because in my life one step means you open a box or call for delivery. One step does not involve the full list of chopping dicing, marinating and pre-browning in a skillet that your reincarnation of Ben’s recipe requires.
I’ve decided to reach out and ask for help. A sort of busy life,, need some easy meals intervention. If anyone has a tried and true crockpot recipe that they have tried and love. Then let’s have it! I want to try it. I’m counting on you. Don’t be shy. There are men going hungry in my house. They need your help.

Have a recipe or a link to one that you enjoy and want to share it with us?
Feel free to post it in the comments section!

The images of crockpot disasters in this blog were found on pintrest, if anyone wishes to take responsibility for them, please let us know.

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If you love me, you will take these turnips.

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I spent the late afternoon yesterday digging and planting. This year we have decided to add to the landscaping in the front of our shop. We are adding some shrubbery that will remain green all winter. The current inhabitants of the front yard all drop their leaves in winter. A bunch of naked branches doesn’t exactly scream welcome. So in an attempt to keep color going all year we are tackling an overhaul. The guys and I decided to incorporate edible plants into our landscaping this year. We do our best to help the environment and thought why not take advantage of the fact that we have to water the yard all summer anyway.
We have amassed a tiny collection of seeds to plant. We will have green beans and tomatoes growing along side boxwoods and spirea. I put sunflowers in the ground yesterday. I have to say it felt a little naughty tucking them in behind the formal plantings that wrap our front porch. The idea that their sunny faces would soon tower over their more traditional bed mates would frighten more timid gardeners. It just isn’t respectable to have such flamboyance scattered about willy nilly where everyone can see.
This year our efforts to keep newly planted shrubs alive in the frustratingly hot and humid Illinois summer will also be putting fresh food on our table. I think that is just sexy as hell. If I have to be bent over out there pulling weeds from between the bushes, then I am going to pick peas while I’m doing it! I slipped some beautiful tricolor sage with purple, white and silver leaves into the pots out front that held boxwoods all winter. Tyler and I found the most amazing oregano again this year. It has the brightest lime green and yellow leaves. I love the way it flows over the edge of pots, so we thought, why not put it out there where everyone can enjoy it instead of hiding it somewhere out back.
In a few days we will tuck some heirloom tomatoes into the ground. I can’t wait to make fresh salsa. There is nothing like the taste of the triumph of growing your own food.
Lettuce will go in soon. Don’t spend anytime imagining that it will grow in neat little rows. That Mr. McGregor stuff doesn’t fly around our house. We will plant it in sunny spots between the established prairie plants out back. There are a few open spaces that the bee balm vacated last summer. It will fit in nicely there. I love the colors leaf lettuce comes in. The bright greens and deep burgundy and purples. Mouth is officially watering. The little rabbit that has claimed our back yard for her own will be in heaven. Our dogs have already given up trying to chase her from the neighborhood. I let them out one morning last week and they began their usual Tom and Jerry chase sequence. This time however that little bunny stood her ground. She didn’t even flinch. Just looked up from nibbling the clover and sort of stared the dogs down. They were baffled. Truly disappointed. They haven’t messed with her since. I wouldn’t either. I have seen it in her eyes, she means business. She will of course have first dibs on the lettuce, I will gladly feast on her leftovers.
I would kill for a fruit tree. I think I have the perfect spot for a little apple tree. I would love a cherry tree, but around here that means sharing your harvest with flocks of hungry birds. I picture myself forced into playing the part of Tippi Hedren. Running about in the yard swatting at ferocious swarms of angry starlings as they peck at my eyeballs. In fact if a cherry tree went in I would spend my summers being suspicious of any birds that were congregating in groups of three or more. God forbid a murder of crows land on the deck. I would pee my pants before curling up in the fetal position and dying of fright. Alfred Hitchcock, you were a bad bad man. Twisted sick and I love you for it. No cherry tree for me. My imagination is way to over active.
Summer is here and I am celebrating every minute of it. I was born a man of the sun . I crave the warmth. Vitamin D. Fresh air. I get lost in that color of blue the sky turns in summer. The way the green leaves stand out against the clouds. The weeks ahead will be filled with much mulch flinging and muddy flip flops. Sunny afternoons and dirty fingernails. Nothing compares to the tired you feel after spending the day outside working in the yard.
Hopefully this year with a little extra effort we can coax a meal or two out of the dirt…. if Mother Nature cooperates. Some groups throughout history have been known to prepare a sacrifice to ensure the soils fertility. I think I will shy away from tradition this year and just light my incense and pour a beer or two on my newly planted green beans.
When my sunflowers bloom I will feel like the luckiest man on the planet. A proud papa. I’m looking forward to having way tooooo many tomatoes. The living is easy. It doesn’t get any better than the joy a person feels when you have to force home grown fresh produce onto unwilling recipients. That watery eyed look of terror on a persons face when you hand them a bag stuffed to the brim with turnips or a box the size of a minivan bursting at the seams with the zucchini you picked that morning. Ahhhh abundance.

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