Remembering Dianne and making sausage balls

2017 started with my 14-year-old dog Copper passing away. It ended with us losing my Aunt Dianne, three days before the end of the year. 2017 kicked my emotional butt in other words.

Dianne was my mom’s baby sister and lived with my parents for about eight years before she passed away. She was crazy, eccentric, fun, loving, and spent much of her life being told she wasn’t good enough or wanted.

Dianne and Little Miss.

She was diagnosed with diabetes when she was in her 20s and struggled with it for years. Near the end of her life, she also developed heart failure and COPD from years of smoking. She’d also had two heart attacks. We think a third one might be what took her on Dec. 29, 2017. She passed away in my parents’ dining room when she sat in a chair and then fell forward to the floor.

It was very traumatic for my mom and dad who were with her.

These days we try not to focus on the tragedy of Dianne’s life and death but on the good parts of her life, the way she made us laugh, the joy she had in giving to others, and the delight in the little things in life brought her. I wrote a little bit about her on the blog shortly after she passed and then again later on.

One thing Dianne enjoyed was cooking for others. She didn’t cook a ton but she did make a couple of things at Christmas. She used to make collard greens when she lived in North Carolina with my grandmother. When she came to Pennsylvania to live with my parents, she carried with her the tradition of making sausage balls each year for Christmas.

Sausage balls seem to be a Southern thing because I don’t see them much here in the North.

They are a very simple dish – sausage, Bisquick, and shredded cheese shaped into a ball and cooked in the oven.

The last few years my parents and I have made them in Dianne’s honor because my mom said it was one of the last things she was able to do before she passed.

“I just remember how delighted she was to be able to make those for all of you,” Mom told me shortly after Dianne died. “She sat at the table for the longest time making them. She was determined to make them.”

I didn’t get the ingredients I needed to make the sausage balls in time for Christmas, so I made them to celebrate the new year at my parents, which we didn’t actually do until Sunday. Sadly, my sausage balls did not taste as good as Dianne’s. Because I have a food allergy, I used gluten-free Bisquick mix. This mix cuts out the wheat and corn, but doesn’t mix as well and takes a lot more work. The sausage I used was very salty and I think the cheese I used was as well. Whatever happened, the sausage balls were okay but not up to Dianne’s standards. I may try to make some again this next week because they do make a nice snack any time of the year.

The sausage I used seem to have a bit too much grease in it. I will choose a different kind next time.

If any of you are interested in making them yourselves I have included the very simple recipe at the bottom of the post. As I have done in the past when sharing this recipe, I will give you a few pointers that Dianne gave me.

First, don’t use the cheese already shredded in bags from the store. Cellulose is added to this cheese to keep it from sticking together, which works fine for your tacos, salads, or pizza, but doesn’t work well when you are trying to blend it with sausage and pancake mix. Instead, Dianne always used a block of cheese and grated it herself so that it would blend better.

Dianne also took the sausage out of the fridge for an hour or maybe even a little earlier before mixing it. When the sausage is too cold it doesn’t always mix as well.

Finally, when you make the sausage balls, don’t make them too small because they will shrink and get too hard while cooking. Also, don’t make them too big or they will take longer to cook.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and if you make them and like them, let me know and send me photos!. Also, If you are down south, I believe I saw one time that they are for sale in the freezer section of some supermarkets, which would be easier but probably wouldn’t taste as good.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground pork sausage
  • 2 cups biscuit baking mix (we use Bisquick, but any kind will do)
  • 1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions

Instructions Checklist

  • Step 1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • Step 2 In a large bowl, combine sausage, biscuit baking mix and cheese. Form into walnut size balls and place on baking sheets.
  • Step 3 Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown and sausage is cooked through.

Some books to read, a lake to visit. The Week in Review.

Last weekend our family finally made it to Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen after months of saying we were going to do so, but one thing or another delaying us. We made it just at the colors are starting to come out on the leaves on the tree, which meant there was no swimming for the children at Klute Park but there were pretty views to see, as usual. There was also good food to eat at the Stonecat Cafe, overlooking the lake on the hill in Hector, N.Y.

I had a grassfed burger (didn’t eat the bun), with melted smoked cheese and bacon to top and homemade fries on the side. My husband had roasted potatoes and french toast with peach preserves spread over the top. Our daughter was supposed to have scrambled eggs and roasted potatoes, but she ate more of my fries than anything else. Our son had fish fingers (fried catfish) and also ate a large helping of my fries. When I asked if the fish was good, he said: “It’s okay, but it’s not as good as grandpa’s fish.” My dad bakes haddock in the oven with butter and lemon pepper from time to time. It is quite good. It’s so good, though, that I won’t even try it at home so I don’t hear the same type of comments.

Down at the lake, we walked to the end of an area of land that protrudes out and is covered with large boulders to take some photos and I ended up running into a man who was fishing, visiting the area from Bethlehem, Pa. He may, or may not, have been a little drunk and rambled on and on about his various travels and places he likes to visit and fish. I feel bad saying it but I was glad to finally pull away from him and head back with my family because his slightly tippy chattiness was making me nervous. Before I left him I did recommend another area of land along the lake near the pier and marina that might be better for fishing. He seemed to take me up on the offer as I watched him leave later, with his fishing gear in hand.

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IMG_0471IMG_6547IMG_6539After lunch and the visit to the lake, we headed to an apple orchard, where we intended to pick apples. I don’t know if it was the weather, the big meal, the slightly chilled breeze, or the relaxing view of the lake, but none of us were interested in walking among the trees to pick apples so we took the easy way out and bought some apples, pears, peach jam and seven homemade donuts at the orchard store instead. We also bought the children a caramel apple, since I think my son has had one in his entire 13 years and my daughter has never had one.

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My son said this was the Donald Trump caramel apple.

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When we got home there was a delivery from Christianbook on our porch and it was a stack of books I’d ordered during a “slightly imperfect” sale they’d had the week before. It was so fun to pull them all out and then pile them all around me and look through them while we watched The African Queen for our family movie night. Being able to hug so many books at one time was a very weird, thrilling feeling for me. I may need therapy. Among the books I bought were a couple of devotionals for children, a book of essays on writing by C.S. Lewis, a collection of essays by AW Tozer, two Christian fiction novels, a couple of children’s books for my youngest, and some educational books for her as well.

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I’ve been reading books slowly lately but managed to finally finish The Runaway Pastor’s Wife by Diane Moody and start another book by her, Memphis & Me. I started another Cat Who book, but this particular book in the series was written in the first person and I could tell by the first few paragraphs I wasn’t going to like it, not because I don’t like first-person stories (Memphis & Me is written in the first person and I’m loving it) but because Braun usually writes in third person and this threw me off. I don’t enjoy when an author changes the point of view in the middle of a series, even though it’s their prerogative to do so. As a writer, I’ve also learned I’m not a huge fan of writing in first-person, even though my first novel is in the first-person and I’m continuing the sequel in the same tense. What I like about third-person is being able to switch from the perspective of different characters throughout the book. With first-person everything has to be seen through the eyes of the main character, which can make it more challenging in some ways, but that challenge can also make writing it more fun.

Books I am planning to finish or start this week:

  • The Hobbit (I swear, I will finish this book!)
  • Of Windmills and War by Diane Moody
  • Murder at Cherry Hills by Paige Sleuth
  • Memphis & Me by Diane Moody

Ramblings from the blog for the last couple of weeks included:

So, how about you? What have you been up to? What good (or even bad) books are you reading? Share with me in the comments!
This post is part of the Sunday Salon. Check out more weekly posts (centered mainly around books that bloggers are reading) at Readerbuzz’s blog.

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Tell me more about . . . Jason Wheeler, chef

This is the first in a series called “Tell Me More About .  . .”  where I feature local, and sometimes non-local, people of interest or simply interesting subjects

This week I’ve asked local chef Jason Wheeler to share a bit about himself for my blog readers.

Jason Wheeler is the Chef at The Greenhouse Market & Cafe in Sayre.  He lives in Elmira, NY with his wife, Sara, and  their two kids, Ethan and Evelyn, as well as their two new kittens, Bruticus and Yoshi.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, Jason

I was born in Elmira but raised in Eden Prairie, MN.

I have my bachelor of arts from Mansfield in Spanish Language.

How did you end up co-owning a restaurant?

The plan was to enter the world of international business after graduating from college, but my father had recently retired and decided to open a bakery cafe, so into the new family business I dove.

I began as a server until it became my turn to fill in as cook.  I was 23 and didn’t even know how to make a grilled ham and cheese but I watched a lot of Food Network, read a lot of cookbooks, and took a second job cooking on the same line as a classically trained chef and an instructor at a culinary school. They watched me cook, I asked a million questions, and really learned a lot.

Now more than 10 years later and I am chef at a farm to table restaurant that has an on site hydroponic greenhouse in which I grow as much produce as possilble for our kitchen 12 months out of the year. We have established a network of 15 local farms & suppliers that provide us with the freshest food in the area. Our restaurant has been accredited by the Culinary Institute of America as an approved internship site for their students to spend their requisite time cutting their teeth prior to graduation. We are also the undefeated People’s Choice Champion two years running at the Tioga Downs Casino’s annual burger contest. We are changing the food culture and reminding people that the best food really is grown close to home.

What is the best part of owning your own farm-to-table restaurant?

I would have to say that the most rewarding aspect of having this type of restaurant is harvesting fresh produce and carrying it through the dining room and immediately cooking with it.

Well, actually, receiving deliveries in the back door and having the person that raised and grew the food hand it directly to me and look me in the eye is pretty rewarding, encouraging, and inspiring all in one.

This is how things used to be done.

It’s just better for the community!

The money we would be mailing off to {a national food distribution company} is staying local and helping to boost our own shared economy.

Actually, now that I think of it, the absolute most rewarding part of having this type of restaurant is seeing my children eat healthier and take a genuine interest in eating real food. Our 7 year old daughter in particular helps mix the nutrients and test their saturation, then test their PH level.

She helps prune and maintain the plants in the greenhouse as well as their harvesting. She loves to help me in the kitchen and help my Dad in the bakery.

Seeing her grow up with a genuine interest in food is magical. (for too long she was a chicken nugget, tater tot, and hot dog gal…)


You can learn more about  The Greenhouse Market and Cafe on their website, Facebook page, or Instagram.  All images for this post were taken by and copyrighted by Lisa R. Howeler