I keep asking myself, “Where has the time gone?”  Labor Day, the unofficial end to summer, is one week from today, and I already see signs of autumn.  Leaves are falling here and there, and my garden is slowing down; even the zucchini plants are barely producing anything. 

Another word for labor is “work.”  I picked a whole lot of green beans last week; not only did I spend a great deal of time in the garden, I also washed, snapped, and canned my bounty.  And there were still more beans even though I was so tired I could hardly function.  That’s when I shared my extras with a neighbor whose crop didn’t turn out very well.  Sometimes determination can only take a person so far, and I had reached my limit.  I think I spent extra effort screaming when I found a snake in the last row of beans I was picking.  Thankfully, it was at the edge of the garden, and I left those beans hanging on the vine.  The snake could have them!

It seems less like work when a person enjoys what they are doing.  For the most part, I enjoy cooking and don’t feel as if I am laboring to get that job done.  I will admit it is harder to prepare meals for one person, especially when I look at all the energy it takes to make food for just me.  That’s why I have been going back and repeating recipes more often.  Besides, many of them deserve a second (or third or fourth) appearance because they are so tasty!  However, there are days my love of working in my kitchen overcomes my reluctance to expend the effort, and I busy myself trying a recipe that has caught my eye.

Times are changing, and recipes I find in older cookbooks often require adjustments.  I realize more and more how much grocery store items are being downsized.  When the ingredients list calls for a 16-ounce can of something, I can be pretty sure to only be able to find a 14.25 to 15-ounce can.  Sometimes items are no longer available, and I either have to figure out a substitute or forget about the recipe.  At other times, I find my enemy monosodium glutamate (or its disguises “hydrolyzed protein” and “yeast extract”) in the ingredient list of what is needed to complete a particular dish.

There are days I give up on a recipe, and there are days that I work at making the recipe work.  That’s what I did for the Refrigerated Oriental Vegetable Salad given later in this column.  It sounded good to me, so I figured out a way to create it without using things I couldn’t purchase or consume.  Granted, it takes more effort as it involves opening more cans, but I thought the salad turned out well.  It did need “a little something,” though. I tasted it after it sat overnight in the refrigerator (as directed), and I wondered what would make it better.  Thinking it over, I decided to add some sesame oil.  I removed some from the big bowl and added a drop (as it doesn’t take much) to that portion.  I found out that I was right in my choice, so I added 1/2 teaspoon to the large container of it. 

Some new recipes work; others don’t.  If they don’t turn out like I expected, I refuse to use them in my column.  I have a list of all the recipes I have provided; I wonder what a “Didn’t use” list would look like.  I never thought to make one.

Thankfully, when I experimented on my friend Alana one evening, the Citrus Glaze Chicken recipe turned out to be a keeper!  I didn’t do the almond part because I ran out of time.  That was a good thing, though; I learned that she likes nuts by themselves but not mixed into things.  We both agreed that the chicken was excellent served over a bed of cooked rice.

The work that I do for this column involves two things I love – writing and cooking.  Maybe one would say they are labors of love.  The cake recipe is one from several years ago; it definitely made the “keeper” list.  Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend!

Refrigerated Oriental Vegetable Salad

1 (14 to 15-ounce) can French-style green beans, drained

1 (14-ounce) can bean sprouts, drained

1 (8-ounce) can bamboo shoots, drained

1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped onion (I used a sweet onion)

1 sweet red pepper, diced

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl; set aside.

Heat vinegar to help dissolve sugar.  Combine with remaining ingredients; pour over vegetables.  Cover and chill 8 hours or overnight.  Yield: 10-12 servings.

Citrus Glaze Chicken with Almonds

4 (4 ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup almond slices, toasted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place chicken breasts on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush with one tablespoon of orange juice concentrate (reserve remaining concentrate for sauce). Bake in oven 15-20 minutes or until cooked through.

Place remaining orange juice concentrate, lemon juice and chicken broth in a small saucepan. Blend together sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Stir cornstarch mixture into broth. Heat over medium-high heat and simmer 8-10 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken slightly. Remove from heat. Whisk butter into sauce. Add chives and parsley. Pour sauce over chicken breasts. Sprinkle almonds over breasts and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Pig Pickin’ Cake

1 (18.25-ounce) package yellow cake mix

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs

1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained

1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple (drain about 1/2 the juice)

1 (3.4-ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix

1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed

1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Garnish: chopped pecans

Beat first 4 ingredients in a large bowl at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended.  Stir in oranges.  Pour batter into 3 greased and floured 8-inch round cake pans.  (Layers will be thin.)

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool layers in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove layers from pans, and let cool completely on wire racks.

Stir together crushed pineapple and next 3 ingredients.  Spread pineapple mixture evenly between layers and on top of cake.  May cover sides if desired. Chill cake 3 to 4 hours.  Garnish, if desired.  Store cake in refrigerator.  Makes 12 servings.