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Friday, December 31, 2010

Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off....

You know what? You guys are right; activity does seem to help.  We also had some sunshine today, albeit a bit thin.  I'm feeling a wee bit better about things, and I think that making a list of goals for 2011 was a step in the feel good direction.

I gave up New Year's resolutions a l-o-n-g time ago.  At a certain age, I forget which, I realized that I'm pretty set in my ways and I'm not about to change.  The only change happening to me these days is gravity related, and I'm coming to terms with that.  But the time of the end of the old year is a great time to set out goals for the coming year, and I've set mine into a separate list off to the side there.  I'm not sure what happened to 2010's list, or how much of it I got done, but I figure if I keep my list here where God and everybody can see it, it will keep me honest and on task.

At some point, I want to try to assign different goals to different quarters of the year, which I've found helpful in the past. I just can't do it now because there's a good possibility that I'll need surgery shortly, and recovery for it might set me back, time-wise.  I have a couple of things going on in my heart, and I've known all my life that heart surgery was in my future (not that that makes it any less scary), and I'll know probably in a couple of weeks how soon that's going to happen. Nowadays they can do this thing called robotic surgery, for which the recovery time is almost nothing.  (Steve told me to ask the surgeon if he does robotic surgery, and if he doesn't, why is he still doing stone age surgery?) But I don't even know if my problems will qualify me for robotic surgery.  One of the things that needs to be fixed is my aortic valve, which is a serious bummer for me. For either choice, pig valve or artificial valve, I would need to be on medication that would either prevent my body from rejecting the pig valve, or medication to thin my blood to keep the artificial valve from sticking.  With both meds, you can't drink alcohol.  *Sniff*  But I like my nightly tipple.  So that little wrinkle is a little depressing, huh? No more depressants!

I've also had several suggestions to get chickens to lift my spirits, and I plan to do that, but I want to do it after I get my bees installed.  Or at least, a little later…probably late winter or early spring.  But poultry are definitely on the list.  I need to put their coop together first, and I guess deciding on where it's going to go would be a good idea too.

And then I also remembered that a good way to lift your spirits is to stop thinking about yourself!  Gah! The world doesn't revolve around you, so snap out of it!   Nothing seems to work as well for taking your mind off of what's going wrong with you than making someone else your focus for awhile. So Steve is getting a lot of attention these last few days, which is making us both happy.  He goes back to work next Monday, and I'll be left to my own devices again, but now I'll have a to-do list to get started on. 

So thanks to everyone who left advice and well wishes because I appreciate all your kindness and ideas.  And absolutely everyone have a Happy New Year, and a Peaceful, Productive, and Prosperous 2011!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Would Whatever It Was That Stole My Groove Please Bring It Back?

Well it's been nearly ten days since I last posted. I haven't been doing anything remotely homestead-y, and then Christmas happened.  I really hope everyone had a great holiday.  I have mixed feelings about mine because I went down to visit with my family, which was great!  But it wasn't quite the boost in the arm that I was hoping for.   I don't know if it's being out of work for over a year and feeling pretty helpless about that, or if the somber Oregon rainy weather is doing it, but I'm finding that I'm having trouble lately being interested in the many things in which I'm interested, and that usually means that I'm depressed.  Maybe blue is a better way to put it- I am not one of those pitiable individuals who are racked by depression.  I just get down every once in awhile.  Everyone does, I suspect.  I don't think it's the weather so much; I generally enjoy inclement weather and the feeling of coziness that not being out in it engenders.  I really think it's the feeling of no longer being wanted or feeling useful that's doing it.   I haven't even been out of work as long as others in this country have, and while statisticians and politicians tend to look at unemployment in terms of numbers, I wonder if anybody really has an idea of the toll that high unemployment costs the country in terms of optimism and confidence and hope?  I never managed a degree, so I'm dealing with the want of that, but what about the young people who are graduating now- what's it doing in terms of their futures? Nothing good, I'll wager.


One view of the Room of Shame.  It's a shame, isn't it?
One thing that going home for Christmas has done for me was seeing with eyes anew the incredible piles of crap in my mother's house.  My mom is one of those who grew up in the Depression, and she tends to hang on to everything, just in case.  Consequently, she has at least three rooms in a five bedroom house that are packed full of piles of things that might come in handy some day.  Between that and the hazard to navigation that the dog crate in the middle of the kitchen creates, and the overflow of people that is seven siblings and their spouses and their children and their dogs such that you can barely move in one direction in the kitchen and actually have to go around the other side of the house by way of the living room to get to the table….the chaos is amazing.  No wonder my brother-in-law who didn't grow up with this bedlam has been dealing with Christmas at my mother's for twenty-five years by drinking early (he started at nine in the morning) and taking lots of naps throughout the day!  Anyway- being there was truly a good time- I miss my sibs and mother- but I'm also determined to treat the Room of Shame that is my guest room with a far more critical and severely editing eye and start throwing stuff out.  And get a bid on redoing the sliding closet doors so that I can turn it into a craft closet to hold the stuff that I truly must hang onto.  Maybe if I get the guest room under control, I'll feel like I have more control over the rest of my life.  And then at the very least, the fact that winter is finally here means that spring is next. And hope springs eternal in the spring.  I hope.

What do you do to get your groove back when it disappears?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ow!

Maybe I should rethink getting the fondue forks sooner rather than later.  Last night we had fondue again, and I skewered the bajeebers out of my left middle finger.

I mean, it's supposed to go through meat; why wouldn't it go through your finger?  Fortunately my bone was in the way, which stopped the skewer.

I'm glad you all weren't here, or you'd have found out how extremely colorful my language can get.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I'm Cheap, And You Can Fondue Me

I am of the opinion that cheese ought to be in its own food group, and anything with cheese is a good thing.  Well, almost anything with cheese is a good thing; movie theater and convenience store nachos are barely fit for human consumption, but you can't really call that stuff cheese, now can you?  In my comments on my Failing at Frugality post I mentioned that I want a fondue pot.  I also said that I never met a cheese I didn't like but then corrected myself because I think jalapeno jack is disgusting, largely because I don't like jalapenos.  I don't know why.  It's not their heat; Serrano peppers are hotter than jalapenos, and I like Serranos just fine; there is something about the flavor of jalapenos that I just don't like.  But forget about peppers- this post wasn't supposed to be about peppers; it's supposed to be about cheese.  Rich and lovely cheese melted in dry white wine and slurped up with crusty French bread and juicy apple chunks.  Mmmmmm.  Fondue!  Which  is one of my favorite things to eat.  I love raclette, too, but those raclette machines are really expensive, and I'm perfectly happy with fondue.  I've been wanting a fondue pot for awhile, and watching Rachel Ray make fondue the other night while waiting for something else to come on TV reminded me to pipe up and tell Steve that I wanted one.

"Okay, but we're not buying a new one.  That's something you can find at a thrift store."

I had to admit that he was right and that was a good idea, but then I also had to say goodbye to the idea of getting a Le Creuset or Emile Henry fondue pot, which are pretty nice.  They're also pretty pricey.  So we started hitting the thrift stores on Sunday.  Bad idea- only one was open on Sunday.  It had a fondue set but it was meh, not so nice.  Monday we were coming down 82nd from Trader Joe's and saw two thrift stores near enough each other that we could park the car once and check them both out.  Somewhere between the two of them we saw another, old teflon-coated thing that was pretty icky, so  we passed on that.  Tuesday, we made the trip back up 99 where we'd gone on Sunday, and at the last thrift store I found it while Steve was checking out the beer glasses.  The whole set, minus the forks, was sealed in a plastic bag and looked pretty good, and since it was marked at $4.95, we bought it.  We stopped at the grocery store closest to home to round out the cheese and wine stores I'd need to make the fondue, which at this point I was practically panting for.  I would have had it last night, but I'd already defrosted several short ribs from the freezer, which I cooked up in twenty-five minutes in my pressure cooker. (Really, get yourself one if you don't have one.  What a time and fuel saver.  I'm going to try to remember to use it more often!)  Steve had been stuck in a meeting all day, which means he was on the phone all day, and since he doesn't particularly like meetings (who does?) or talking on the phone, I thought he should have a nice treat for dinner and short ribs sounded like just the thing to make him happy, which they did.  So I had to put off my fondue fix for one more night.

Today I took the set out of it's bag, and guess what?  It's never even been used.  It's stainless steel and there wasn't a scratch on it anywhere.  It even still had it's Made in China sticker on it.   So score!

Granted, the cheap Chinese fondue pot itself is pretty cheesy
We wound up having to burn a can of solid Sterno under it because the grocery store didn't have any liquid Sterno, which kept it plenty hot, but it also scorched the cheese a little, so I really need to find some liquid Sterno for it because the Sterno burner that came with the fondue pot is a lot lower, and it's adjustable.  Other than that, though, it turned out great, and for five bucks, I'm extremely happy.  I feel like I'm back on the Frugality Wagon. 

Except now I need to get some forks, which can be had fairly inexpensively from Amazon, but those can wait.  We're making do with skewers.  We only had to fish a lost chunk of bread out a couple of times.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cozy

Failing At Frugality

Frugality was heavily featured in 2010.  Getting out of the red is the new black, so to speak, and being frugal is hip, it would appear.  Far from being hip (far from it), frugality for us has been the status quo ever since we got married, which was in November of 2001.  The market had tanked since September 11, and there were many rumors of layoffs where we both worked.  We decided then to refinance our house, which was at 7.5%, and got a new rate of 4.75%, which when coupled with just paying the principle and interest only, cut the mortgage payments nearly in half.  We did this so that we could manage to keep the house if one or both of us were laid off, which we fully expected.    Steve and I have been living beneath our means for many years, and have a padding of a few months' living expenses should the very worst happen.  That's why when I lost my job in September of 2009, I was bummed, but I wasn't panicked.  I'm still not panicked.  In all honesty, I love being home, but I am starting to feel the strain of not being 'out there' because I should be.  I also don't love that Steve is pulling all the weight, and frankly, I'd like him to not have to work where he's working.  Things have not been great for him since the company was purchased two years ago, and the stress is starting to tell on him.  He actually woke me up grinding his teeth in his sleep the other night.  So I need a job so I can get him out of there.

I'd really like both of us to not have to work.  Early retirement, to my way of thinking, is a fairly noble goal.  Do what you need to do so that you can get out of the race and leave your job open for someone who needs it.  And unless you're a trust fund baby, which I am not, you have to be frugal and do what you can so that you don't have to put off retirement until you're too old or sick to enjoy it.  I'm reminded every once in awhile that my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of fifty-six and died when he was sixty-two. He didn't get to retire.

The conventional wisdom is that to be able to retire at a fairly young age, you need to be frugal, and whatever's left over you invest.  For more information, you might want to check out Early Retirement Extreme blog.  I'm not sure that at the late stage of fifty-one years of age, I could actually qualify for retiring early, especially since it will be awhile.  I would just like to retire at a reasonable age.  But I'd  also like my husband, who is six years my junior, to be able to retire with me, so he would be retiring early.  And to do that, we need to pay off the house and invest as much as we can, and to do that we need to be frugal.

Being frugal, I've discovered, is a lot like being on a diet.  I understand all the rational reasons for frugality, but like dieting, once you're committed, it's really hard to stick to it.  We'd planned to really cut back on spending starting in November, but I needed a new crown.  Steve needs a bite guard.  Then the car needed $510 of work this month, and next month it will need close to $1000, which needs to be done before we leave for Mom's for Christmas.  Today I had some blood tests done, although the bill probably won't show up until next month.  This is all stuff that we can handle without a problem (because we don't spend everything we make) so I'm not complaining about this stuff ruining my efforts at frugality.  Stuff happens.

But I didn't really need to hit Amazon.com three times this month.  The first time was to get an iron trivet for the wood stove so that I can keep a kettle hot on it without actually boiling all the water away.  The second time was for a DVD that I wanted for Steve.  The third time, I really tried not to buy The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson, but there were fifty-six holds on the library's copy, and I can't wait until sometime next spring to read the next installment.  Besides, the neighbor from whom I borrowed The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo also has the third book, but not the second, so I should really return the favor by getting the second and lending it to her.  You see how I rationalize all this stuff?  Steve also purchased a false bottom for his mash tun, and I think he said he needs a length of heat proof hosing for it.  On some things you can't compromise.

I've already decided that with the beginning of 2011, I'm going back to recording absolutely everything we spend, which I haven't done since we left Florida.  I just got out of the habit and haven't gotten back in it, but it's time I did.  This also means that I'll have to set a budget for 2011, which I should probably get started on today.  Part of that budget is to earmark $2000 a month extra for paying down the principle.  If I can manage it, I can get our mortgage out of the way in a little under five years.  I may not be able to do that if Steve jumps ship and goes with another job, but I'll do it as long as I can, at any rate.

So going forward, I have to be a lot better about not spending online, or anywhere else, for that matter.  Books are usually in the budget- I mean, they've always been before, but I need to show a little restraint the next time.  I also need to figure out some other things to do.  Generally, we don't spend a ton on food because I'm a scratch cook, and we don't go out to eat that often.  We are going to the movies this afternoon (more on that later), but that's usually in the budget too.  I think the best way for me to watch it is to go back to recording everything.  I think I also need to do that little trick of writing down what I want and then waiting a month, and then if I still want it, then figure out how to do it.  Maybe part of the budget should be to set a goal of seeing how much cash I can hang on to every month.  I'm much more motivated when it's a game.

And since I started this post, I've received a letter from the State of Oregon indicating that my unemployment benefits have expired.  Boy! They sure didn't waste any time, did they?  Congress just let them expire and the State jumped on that bandwagon.

This just means that I have to redouble my efforts at frugality, and at finding work.  Failure isn't an option this time.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Wishes

Cranberry sauce
I've been away for a little while, but wanted to wish my readers a Happy Thanksgiving, with the sincere wish that you all get to spend it with someone you love.  Steve needs a break, so we're spending it at home this year.  Today I made the cranberry sauce and steamed the pumpkins- later I'll peel them, whirl them up in the food processor and then pass them through the food mill, and then refrigerate them until tomorrow, when I'll make pie.  Hopefully I'll get the stringiness to a minimum.  (Next year, it'll be Sweet Meat squashes instead of pie pumpkins- they're sweeter, store longer, and don't get stringier with age like the Sugar Pumpkins do.) 

Our eight pound, free range, fresh turkey is cooling its jets in the garage.  Normally, I wouldn't do this at Thanksgiving time, but last night's low was twenty, and tonight's low will be thirty, and tomorrow, it won't matter.  We're having the coldest November in twenty-five years. Actually, this spring was the coldest and longest in twenty-five years too.  My mother's convinced we're entering another mini ice age, which could very well be the case, but that's fodder for another post.

We were away when the first frost of the year hit, so I came home from sunny warm Phoenix to a desolated garden.  I'm not even sure the kale survived! I'll probably get out there Friday to see what's salvageable and what's heading for the compost pile.

In the meantime it's cook, cook, cook, and then eat, eat, eat.  I'm thankful that even though I've no job and no serious prospects, I still have plenty and relatively few worries. I'm also thankful for the friends I've made through this blog.  And I'm thankful for Steve, for without him, none of the rest of it would matter.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

So Suet Me: Tongue In Cheek

Last winter, when I pre-ordered the quarter steer, I asked if I could have the suet fat as well.  The proprietress told me that she would have to ask the processor, because no one had asked for that before.  I said well in that case, could you ask for the liver, tongue and oxtails too?  This June when we picked up our meat, there was a third case that had the suet, tongue, liver and oxtails from three steers, none of which, with the exception of the livers, I had cooked with before.  Steve likes the meat items, and I wanted to try making suet puddings this rainy season.  It seems a good use of a wood stove to have dessert or dinner simmering on it while it's heating the house.

Yesterday I made the Thanksgiving pudding from the Fannie Farmer cookbook, with minor alterations.  I have an open can of dehydrated apples that need using up, as well as powdered eggs, so I substituted the figs in the recipe for the apples, and added the rind of a lemon as well, since I had it.  The most interesting part of the whole thing was using suet instead of any other fat.  Most folks these days would balk at cooking with beef fat, but these were grass fed cows, which means the fat is chock full of Omega 3's.  At any rate, I grated the suet on a box grater, and was amazed to see it crumble into fairly tiny bits.  The recipe told me to cream the suet (like you would butter) only it wasn't really cooperating and I figured oh to hell with it- just let the crumbles melt into the pudding.  The pudding turned out great!  If you haven't any experience with steamed puddings, I suggest you try at least one.  I happen to have a pudding tin that I got years ago from Williams and Sonoma for around fourteen dollars which they no longer seem to have. I also have a small footed stainless steel mixing bowl that I sometimes use, but you can use any heat proof bowl and cover it tightly with two sheets of aluminum foil, or you can do as Ruth did in Victorian Farm and thoroughly rub flour into a dampened tea towel (use one with as little texture as possible) and tie the pudding up in that.  I'll have to try that last one, as I have simmered German napkin dumplings (Serviettenknodel) in a buttered damp tea towel with great success, so I'd be interested to try flour instead. 

The other thing I did this week was to cook one of the tongues.  Steve loves tongue, and since I love Steve, I wanted to try this for him.  However, I wasn't too sure about this because there's a certain ick factor involved: you have to boil the tongue and then peel it. Ewww, right?  I consulted several cookbooks that I reckoned would have instructions for tongue: The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, and The German Cookbook.  The basic instructions for all of them say to thoroughly scrub the tongue first, which I did.  What they don't tell you is how much it smells.  

Stinking in the sink
Which makes sense because it's somebody's tongue after all, but I wasn't prepared for it.  That, and the general ick factor was enough to put me off the project, but I kept at it.  Peeling the tongue after cooking wasn't as gruesome as I thought it was going to be, and the skin chopped up and mixed into kibble with some cooking liquid made our neighbor's dog Shane, who we are watching again this week, pretty darn happy.  It's just too bad that the tongue itself was a little overcooked and mushy.  I'll have to try again, and actually weigh the next one so I know how long to cook it (fifty minutes to the pound).  Steve liked it pretty well, but agreed that I need to back off the cooking time.  I think I'd like to stumble around online for awhile and see if I can find some other interesting ways of preparing it.   One of Steve's favorite tacos is lengua.

So there it is: my tongue and suet projects.  If nothing else, I should get brownie points for bravery.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hooked On Victorian Farm

I have been hooked on Victorian Farm on YouTube for the last several days.  It was suggested by a commenter on Jenna Woginrich's blog Cold Antler Farm.

Normally, I detest reality shows, mostly because they aren't real, and the people in them are generally unlikable, but this one was engrossing because the folks that were living out their year on a Victorian farm were chosen because of their fields of study: two archeologist historians and a domestic history expert, so they had a lot of good information to share.  And they lived it right down to their hobnail boots.  I've been thinking about that; where in the world did they find hobnail boots?  The second time I watched the whole thing, I took notes.  As in stopped the video and wrote it down.

I've been considering roofing the chicken coop with slate flooring because we have a lot of it- now I know how to do it.

I've thought that if things get so bad in the future that we have to bathe in a tub in front of the wood stove in the living room, well, now I know how to manage it.  I hope we won't have to, but at least I'll know how.

When something needed doing that the three could not do, or if they needed particular help, there was always an expert of one kind or another in these old crafts that could help them or show them how.  I don't think we have so many of those running around the states, but in Jolly Old England (Shropshire, specifically) they seem to have a lot of them.  A neighboring sheep farmer, a basket maker, a wheelwright, a neighboring farmer that could drive a Shire horse, a horse-drawn plowing expert, a couple of horse-drawn binder-reaper experts- these people were there to help show how it was done, and with antique machinery.

I can't help but feel that more of this would be a very good thing.  Years ago I was smitten by the Foxfire books; my parents bought me my first one for Christmas when I was a teenager.  Knowing the old ways of doing things is usually, not always, but usually the more sustainable way.  I think in this time of diminishing resources and tighter budgets, knowing some of these old crafts, tricks, and ways of living could be a very helpful thing.  As Peter on Victorian Farm said farming isn't a living, it's a lifestyle.  A very hard working but rewarding lifestyle.

I need to look for more of this kind of thing, which I hope is out there, because I'm hooked.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Papa's Got A Brand New Babe

Bubbles was the name of the imaginary girlfriend with whom Steve would run away and spend all his retirement account money on in the very far, nebulous future.  Was, that is, until she manifested as his fermenter.  It seemed an appropriate name: she bubbles and he spends a lot of time and money on her.  Then one day I found her happily gurgling in the northeastern corner of our bedroom, which just happens to be the coldest room in the house.  It's also on my side of the bed.  So great- she gets to sleep with us too.  Sometimes.  When she's not in the garage.

I mentioned to him a week ago that if he had another fermenter and more bottles, he could brew enough pilsner this winter and he could brew all our beer.  We could quit buying commercial brew.   He quickly did the math in his head, and figured that after amortizing the new fermenter for awhile, he could get his batches down to fifteen dollars each.  So that's roughly fifteen dollars for two cases of beer.  Quality beer.  Delicious beer.  For fifteen bucks.

Well, this is Steve's new girlfriend, although she doesn't have a name yet. She is a shiny, polished stainless steel, whereas Bubbles is brushed stainless.  She has fancy new gasketed clamps instead of threaded connections, which will be much easier to clean.   She is well built, with quality welds and a fancy thermometer.  She is very sexy, and if I hadn't suggested her myself, I would be jealous.

I wonder how Bubbles is going to feel about this.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bah Humbug! Winter Hibernation Is Not Just For Bears

That title really paints me as a Scrooge, doesn't it?  It's not that I don't like Christmas- it is my favorite holiday after all- I just really hate all the unnecessary trappings that go with it.  Especially the marketing that lately has started well before Halloween (which really chaps my hide) and more specifically: I HATE THE TRAFFIC!  It seems that every year, the traffic around the holidays just gets more ridiculous, and the part about grocery shopping I like the least is everyone else who's in my way.  I'm not even thinking about Christmas shopping, which isn't much of a concern anymore: the family decided years ago that just the kids get gifts- Christmas is really more about being together and playing a lot of cards.

For the past several years, it's been my aim to get everything we could possibly need for a couple of months into the house and put away by the end of October, because the Christmas traffic really starts up in earnest at the beginning of November and I, for one, don't want to be out in it.  I've even put together a shopping list called The Winter Hibernation List: Stuff to Get Before the End of October So We Don't Have to Go to the Store For At Least 3 Months.  I usually have cans of stuff packed away in the cupboard for emergencies anyway- stuff like canned fish and low sodium Spam and beans, extra jars of mustard and mayonnaise, plus I've jars and jars of jam, tomato sauce and pickles from the garden.  This year, in addition to my pantry stores I have a freezer full of beef, pork, chicken, and vegetables.  So my hibernation list looks like something from the Great Migration West: flour, coffee, bacon, salt, baking powder, etc.  Then the sundries: toilet paper (notice this is at the top of the list), soap, deodorant, dish soap, paper towels, etc.  The last time we came home from Costco, I had forty pounds of flour and twelve pounds of butter in the house.  I think the flour will last- we're not making and eating near as much bread as we used to- but the butter is a good question, especially since Christmas cookies use a lot of butter.  I'm not convinced that I have enough butter.

I really try to make it work for the couple of months before Christmas.  The big exception is perishables, like eggs and half and half, or for Steve's coffee, hemp milk.  None of these are things I can produce, with the exception of the eggs, except that I'm not in the egg producing bidness yet.  Fortunately, these can all be had from the very nice grocery store that is a mile and a half away, which can be reached easily on foot, and to which we can go the back way, staying completely off the heavily trafficked state road.  Most of our grocery and sundries shopping happens where it's cheaper, much, much further away from the house.  A typical grocery-getting junket involves a long trip up 82nd, starting at Trader Joes', and ending at Costco, with stops at Winco and Penzey's along the way.  By the time we get home, during other, less trafficked times of the year, I'm exhausted, and a restorative is in order- usually a cup of tea or a glass of Scotch, depending on what time of day it is.  This is the kind of trip that I'm trying to avoid during the months of November and December.  I just don't have the energy or the nerves for it.

The stuff in the cupboards needs to be eaten anyway, and I need to get better at going through everything and rotating my stock, such as it is.  All the conventional food hoarding wisdom is that your stores should be replenished every year, so getting through what's in the cupboard would be a good goal for this winter.  I also have some winter veg doing its thing out in the garden, so fresh stuff is also available.    And then there are onions and garlic hanging from the rafters in the garage, and pumpkins as well.  The pumpkins are not hanging from the rafters, however.

So this year, the challenge is sticking to my guns, plowing my way through the stores at home, and the big goal is staying the hell off the roads as much as possible. 

Until it comes time to drive down to Mom's for Christmas, roughly six hundred miles away, that is. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

So Sad

I finally got started on weeding the flower bed today, and moved most of the giant salvias to the back of the bed, about twelve or so feet away from where they were.  A ruby-throated hummingbird came at the usual time, dusk, to feed on the salvia blossoms, but there weren't as many in the same place as he is used to and he made little cheeping noises at his confusion.  He didn't see where I'd moved them, and I was taking a chance on the transplants by leaving a lot of the growth with the flowers on them for the birds.  But he couldn't find them.

So sad.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What's The Buzz?

The buzz is I put down my deposit for a package of Italian honeybees for next spring!!  I'm getting them from Ruhl Bee Supply in Gladstone, which is just around the corner from me.  They do online sales, but they really suggest that for the bees' sake, folks should try to find bee suppliers close enough to home so that they can go get them.  I have to finish paying for the bees by the end of January, although Ruhl won't even set the final price until early next year.  But I have my dibs on a package, and that is pretty exciting to me!

I had to convince Steve that I'll have the top bar hive that I plan to make built in time for the bees.  I'm not worried about this, because I have the plans from here, and it's pretty simple carpentry, well within my range of ability.  Absolutely not a problem, and I have until April of next year.  The plans are free as a PDF, which is what I did.  When I get ready to build, I'll print them and get started.

So next year's bees are on their way!  Chickens and ducks are also in the plans, but they'll take more planning, and a LOT more money.  One thing at a time.

But Woo Hoo! Bees!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Wanted: A Keeper For One Ditsy Dame

My neighbor Kathy once told me that she'd had a minor stroke, and that it probably saved her life because now she's on blood pressure medication.  I asked her how she knew she had a stroke.  She told me that as she was lying down for a nap, she realized that she didn't know what yellow was.

I am constantly forgetting what things are, momentarily.  Easy stuff eludes me sometimes, although fortunately, it's only for the moment.  I also do ditsy things, like trying to put the ice cube tray away in the oven, or putting the eggs away in the toaster oven.   This morning I went to go get the serial number off the side of the new fridge so that I could apply for my rebate from the Energy Trust.  I got all the way into the kitchen before I realized that the remote to the tuner that I had in my hand was not the flashlight for which I grabbed in the basket where we keep this stuff.

Steve was in the kitchen, taking a break. 

"This is not the flashlight," I said, waving it.

He chuckled.  "No, that's not the flashlight," he concurred.

"You are going to have a hard time knowing when I've had a stroke, you know that?" I said.  "I mean, unless it's a major one, of course."

An hour or so later, he went into the kitchen to make another pot of coffee for us.  I wandered through with a load of laundry in my arms.

"Bad Paula," I heard him say.  Then he added, "Yeah, I am going to have a hard time telling when you've had a stroke, or you're going senile.  You left the burner on."

Sure enough, I'd walked away to do other things leaving an empty frying pan on low. For about an hour.  It might not have been that long had I not had a cold and could smell it, but as it was I couldn't, and the thing had been happily anodizing the remainder of breakfast onto itself.

I don't need a job- I need a keeper.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Downtime

What with feeling like crap all week, and the weather turning sodden, not much has been going on at the ol' homestead.  We had plans to have the neighbors over for sauerbraten and had to scrap them twice.  The roast in now par-cooked and in the freezer.  Thursday was gloriously sunny, and it killed me to stay inside, nursing this cold, instead of getting outside to clean up the tomato and cucurbit beds, which look like hell.  I know myself too well; if I'd suited up into my overalls, I wouldn't have quit after a decent interval, and would have worked myself into a serious setback.  And now Steve is sick (again) as well, so between the rain and the toasty wood stove, we are reading and drinking coffee, and otherwise taking it easy.
I am re-reading (skimming, actually) The Rodale Book of Composting, to try to figure out what's going wrong with my compost pile.  It turns out everything.  This summer I made the mistake of joining my two compost bins together, in the hope that a larger pile would generate more heat.  All it did was make the pile flatter, and much, much harder to cover.  I tried affixing a tarp over the whole thing, but it blew aside during the first storm we had last week.  So now it is too flat, and exposed to the rain.  I need to get back to a three foot by three foot pile, but have an idea for what to do in future with which I'll experiment first and then report on it. 

I have also not been able to weed the flower bed and get into the ground all the fall bulbs that I bought in September.  I also wanted to cut back the salvia and move them to the back of the bed.  Never have I seen salvia get so tall!  The bees and hummingbirds loved them, so they need to stay.  Actually, since planting the garden, the whole backyard has come alive with birds.  We get much more of them in the beds now, and I haven't had to do anything like set out bird feeders, or set out water.  I think they get water in Larry's fountain next door.  It's pretty perfect, as far as birds are concerned.  Later this winter I need to research and build nesting boxes for things like the swifts that fly around here.  A bat house would also be a good investment, since we all know how much I love bats.

In the meantime, I'm happy to report that my half-assed greenhouse has been holding up in the storms we've had, so it's probable that my lettuces will survive the winter just fine.

Now if I could only get out there and get them planted. 

Why is it that even though we know we need to take care of ourselves that we feel so darn guilty doing it?  Why does forced downtime make us so anxious? I have to admit that I'm one of those people who can happily relax doing next to nothing at all, but only if I've worked at something else enough to feel I've earned it.  And I didn't do anything to earn this cold.  I think I'll file some paperwork and clear off my desk. 

And then go take a nap.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bleh

Today is Saturday, and since it's supposed to shower all day and then rain like hell tonight, I'd planned a few indoor things to keep me busy.  One was to finish processing the Anaheim chilies- yesterday I blistered them and piled them in a bowl and covered them.  Then I cooled them and refrigerated them to finish today, which was going to be peel, place in greased muffin tins, and freeze.  The other thing I'd hoped to work on today was getting back to work on the hutch.  It's supposed to rain until Wednesday, and that would give me a bunch of days to make some serious headway with that project.

But between my root canal yesterday (my sixth- for Heaven's sake, don't let your kids chew ice!) and the fact that I am very definitely fighting a sore throat and tickling left ear, I feel like crap and I'm taking it easy today.  I'm also powering down the Umcka, in which I wholeheartedly believe for fighting colds and flu.  My chiropractor in Portland recommended it, and it's the bomb for fighting bugs.  I have a fire going in the stove, and am snug in what passes for jammies these days, and once I get the clean laundry that's strewn all over the couch folded and put away, I'm kicking back and either reading or watching a movie. Bleh.

Steve on the other hand, is being a good doobie and brewing up an alt-style beer today.   We got up early this morning and headed into Portland for breakfast at Pine State Biscuits (WARNING: food porn)(we both had the Reggie and several cups of coffee- they serve Stumptown) and then off to F. H. Steinbart for brew supplies.  Steinbart is another Mecca in Portland, as is Pine State. Actually, Portland has a lot of Meccas.

So now it's time to go check on the fire, fold laundry, and then curl up on the couch.

Bleh.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Its Time Had Come

Our new fridge came today.   This is exciting only if you knew how much I truly hated our old fridge, which is a useless side-by-side.

I've been complaining (vociferously) about the old one ever since we moved in two years ago, and I dunno, I guess the planets lined up correctly because Steve went for it this weekend.  I was dawdling on our way into Home Depot, so Steve wandered over to the appliance section to look at the refrigerators. They had a ten percent off special, and the sales guy gave us all the dope on the tax credit and the $50 rebate from the Energy Trust of Oregon.  Since the special was on until Wednesday and it was only Saturday, we said we'd think about it.

Steve looked up the energy usage of the old fridge, which turned out to be almost twice as much as the new fridge, even though the old fridge, which was built in 1999, was an energy star at the time.  He calculated that even if we kept the old fridge for nine more years, we would save $386.   His calculation didn't factor in the rising cost of energy, so the energy savings potential was even higher.

The fridge we chose was an LG french door type, with the freezer on the bottom, in white, with no water in the door, which we never wanted anyway.  So it was the least expensive of the french door types.  I was very comfortable buying LG, even though I hadn't done any research on them because the Coolbot folks recommend LG air conditioners over all else.  I figure that with the thousands of Coolbots sold, and the Coolbot people recommending LG air conditioners over all else, LG must understand refrigeration pretty well.  In addition, the LG label at the store indicated that this model refrigerator (which was the twenty-five cubic feet size) uses thirty percent less energy than the minimum cited by the government.  The yellow Energyguide label shows the energy consumption to be lower than their minimum as well.

Notice how the interior color between the top and the bottom is different?  That's because the freezer has an incandescent appliance bulb, but the refrigerator section sports  cool LED lighting.

All in all, I'm really happy with this turn of events. 

I think this means that I have to be a good girl going forward, because this thing goes off the charts on my happiness meter. 

I realize that probably doesn't say much about my sophistication, but I really, really hated the old fridge.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hoop De Don't

It all started with Tamar Haspel's post Hoop-de-doo on Starving off the Land.  She got me thinking about what I was planning and it dawned on me that with a little more planning, I could span two beds together instead of separately. 

The beds I was going to cover
 She also got me thinking about the beds that I'd chosen for my winter garden.  Being made of re-purposed plastic decking, and hanging out for the better part of the afternoon in shade, it made more sense to put the hoop house over the two beds that are made of wood, and have sun most of the day.  Things would grow better there and the wood would last longer being protected from the rainy season.

The beds I will cover.  I've cleaned them up, though.
Except I didn't make a hoop house. 

I was trying to avoid having to frame a door, so I over-engineered a PVC frame.

I don't think I could have made it any flimsier.
 Covered in six mil plastic, it looks like a house tented for termites.  If I'm lucky, it won't fly away in the first storm and wind up on someone's radar.

Hoop-de-don't.
I have concrete patio pavers placed around the bottom to help hold the plastic down and keep breezes from blowing up its skirts, but honestly?  I'm sorry I didn't make it like hers, which I think has a much better chance of lasting through the winter.

At least it cost me less than a hundred bucks, but that's not going to cheer me up when my winter lettuces go to hell.

The Resilient Gardener

Carol Deppe is a scientist.  She has a BS in zoology from the University of Florida and a PhD in biology from Harvard.  She's also a gardener. So when she puts together a book about gardening in uncertain times, you can bet that it's well researched and has a lot of good information in it.

I picked up the book because it addresses exactly what I wanted to know about gardening for uncertain times- not knowing what is going to happen in the future is precisely why I'm trying to teach myself to grow our food in good times (if you can call this recession a good time).  I just want to make sure that we don't starve, or have to choose between our meds and eating when we're old.  I think a lot of people are gardening for the same reasons; from what I've read, all the stats say that there has been a huge increase in the number of families that are vegetable gardening.  That's why I think this book is really important.

In it, she covers the Little Ice Age (1300-1850) that occurred at the end of a warming trend since the last ice age.  During the Little Ice Age, weather became obviously much colder, but also erratic. She cites strategies that farmers from that time developed that are relevant now, and gives a very good argument why gardeners may be more important for feeding people in the uncertain future than farmers with their mono-crop, petroleum-based agriculture, which is fairly certain to fail. I don't know about you, but I think that our weather is getting erratic.  It's certainly getting more severe.  I was surprised to learn that based on dendrochronology (the study of tree rings) that the amount of rain falling in the Pacific Northwest these last several decades was because of an unusually stable period, and that we are subject to more droughts normally.  I thought that we were moving to where the water is- now I know better and I can prepare for it.

So the book covers how to grow staple crops in times of erratic and wild weather and climate change and strategies for dealing with that, how to grow with little or no irrigation, how to use tools more comfortably so that you can get done what needs doing without killing yourself, how to customize your garden so that you can deal with special dietary needs, and how to keep a laying flock and use them in the garden as well as grow most of their feed.  Interestingly, I'm convinced now that what I really need are ducks- they'll handle the weather here in the maritime Pacific Northwest far more easily, they lay better and longer than chickens, they can forage more of their diet than can chickens, they'll eat slugs and snails (the bane of the west coast) without damaging the garden (although Carol says that you have to watch them- if you leave them in the garden too long they'll make the first pass through getting all the slugs and start eating your salad on the second pass through).  I think I'll also get chickens, though, because I want something to scratch in the planter boxes and clean them for bugs and weeds, as well as 'fertilize' them. I also want the chicken manure inputs for the compost pile.  Ducks don't scratch.

I'm not going to say that this book changed my life- I did that already- but I will say that now that I've jumped in it, this book is like having a gardening mentor to help me learn what the hell I'm doing out there.  She will save me a lot of mistakes.  I need to stop growing Sugar pie pumpkins, for instance.  They supposedly will keep until December, but I've learned from her book that they'll get stringy and lose a lot of their flavor by then.  What they mean by keeping until December is that they won't rot until then. Cucurbita pepos do not keep long term.  What I need to be growing are Cucurbita maximas, which take longer to cure, but last for months and months and get sweeter with time.  Anything I can store without having to put up or freeze is a good thing.  I also know a lot more about field corn, and why I should be growing it: it's the easiest and most reliable of the grains, and the older varieties of flints and flour corns have a lot more flavor than the stuff we usually buy as cornmeal.  By the way, most cornmeal is from corn grown for animal fodder and the factory- those varieties were developed for yield and shipping, not for flavor.  For all the plants she recommends growing for survival- potatoes, corn, beans, and squash- she lists specific varieties of each type so that you can decide what to look for based on what you want or need or can grow in your area.

She also covers saving your seed and why it's important to hoard some of it in your freezer, and gives a little information on how to select seed that you would want to save and how to pollinate in times of few bees. 

If you don't want to or can't buy this book and add it to your bookshelf on homesteading subjects, at least look for it at your local library and read it.  Read the notes at the back as well- there's a lot of information in there, too.  In my own library on homesteading subjects, this will be the book to which I'll return and reread the most- it's just that useful relevant timely good.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Big Visit

My mom and older sister showed up last Thursday. Far from being the criticism-fest I expected, it was a really nice visit.  We went to Champoeg State Heritage Area on one day and drove through the Hood River Valley on another impossibly beautiful autumn day.  Did I bring my camera? No!

We also made a trip to Powell's City of Books, that Mecca in the city that we know and love.  I bought a truly great book that I'll review later after I've finished reading it.

It was such a nice visit that it felt truly too soon when they left.  I have to admit to a kind of melancholia, but I think that is largely due to the fact that every time I see my mother, she's a little shorter and a little more frail.  She's also battling breast cancer, but I think she's going to beat it, really.  They got it early.

She and I have had our ups and downs, and I know that I'm not her favorite child, but I still love her, and I know she loves me, and I'm just not ready to lose my mommy.

Not yet.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spicey Pictures

Gotcha!
I made catsup today.  Catsup is the old-fashioned way of saying ketchup.  The spell checker in Blogger doesn't like catsup; it likes ketchup.  If I look for ketchup in the edition of The Joy of Cooking that I have which was published in 1977, I can't find ketchup.   But I can find a recipe for grape catsup, walnut catsup, and tomato catsup.   According to TJOC, catsup is a condiment that originated in Malaysia and its name is comes from the native word for 'taste'.

Last year, I made catsup and even though I didn't have all the spices, like blade mace, it was still really good.  Even better than organic ketchup.  I decided then that I need to make catsup every year. This year I had everything, including the blade mace, and I cooked it a little longer per Steve's request.  It is that much better.  Blade mace, in case you're wondering, is the whole piece of mace rather than ground mace.  Mace is the somewhat brittle net-like covering on a nutmeg, and it tastes very like nutmeg, only spicier and stronger.  Ground mace is a nice thing to add to your holiday stuffing.  Gives it a nice punch.

The spices you see in the picture above are allspice, cloves, stick cinnamon, celery seed, blade mace, black peppercorns, and bay leaf.  The mustard seed is hiding under there somewhere.  I get all my spices from an outfit called Penzeys.  Years ago, I received a catalog from them out of the blue, and while I was deciding on whether I should give them a try or not, I was surprised to see their storefront in the San Marco area of Jacksonville, Florida.  I drove around the block and parked and went in.

I would like to tell you with authority that they have every spice there is in the world, but I don't know what every spice in the world is.  I can tell you that they seem to have every spice in the world.  Lots of Indian spices.  Several different kinds of cinnamon, both as stick and ground.  I use their fancy Vietnamese cinnamon, which is the sweetest and the spiciest, for my baking.  But I recently bought a small jar of the Indonesian cinnamon to use with cumin and paprika for my exotic eastern European stuff, like stuffed cabbage.  For some reason, that combination does wonderful things to the stuffing.  Of the many peppercorns they have, I like to use the Black Sarawak because it's the spiciest.  It's the most peppery of the peppers and I figure in for a penny, in for a pound. I have three different paprikas from there- sweet Hungarian, smoked Spanish, and Hungarian half-sharp.  Beware the half-sharp; it's as hot as cayenne.  They have a bunch of different chilies, most of which I'll never use, but if you're into chilies, they probably have what you're looking for, whether it's Mexican, Asian or Indian.   I still have some older spices from the grocery store in the cupboard that need to be thrown out and replaced, but most of my spice jars are from Penzeys, and I don't buy my herbs and spices from anywhere else.  I can't really do them justice- if you like to cook, you should go check them out.  I should warn you that their website leaves a lot to be desired, but I think they make up for that in variety. 

Clockwise from upper left: blends, seeds, leaf herbs, basics: garlics, paprikas, salts, pepper
You could always just get a catalog.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jewelry and Birthdays

Last night I was being silly at the table, entertaining my husband, and while looking at me bemused, Steve's expression suddenly turned stern.

"When did you take your earrings out?" he asked, looking intently at my right ear.

I constantly wear this tiny pair of white gold hoops that barely clear my ear lobes.  I've had them in for several years, partly because they are comfortable enough to wear to bed, and partly because they are a serious hassle to get into my ears. So I wear them 24/7/365.  We got them in Germany at Christ's (pronounced Krists) in Kaiserslautern four years ago when we were there for World Cup 2006, and I've pretty much worn only them since then. 

I reached up for the ear he was staring at and felt nothing but my ear.  I was instantly upset, because I knew I'd probably never find it.  I've no idea when it went missing.  We searched the bed and behind it, we searched the shower and bathroom, we searched all over the house.  I searched outside by the tomatoes because we'd been picking them.  It's gone, and I'm heartbroken. 

It's stupid to be upset over something like that, especially when you don't really wear jewelry, or maybe that's why I was upset.  These earrings are the only thing I wear, in addition to my wedding ring.  They were both (the earrings and the wedding ring) given to me by my husband and they both remind me of happy days.  Plus, I really liked those little earrings.  But what a bummer to lose one, and especially right before my birthday.

Late last night I was lamenting my loss, and the fact that I couldn't find any of my other 'good' earrings, meaning the pair he bought me for our first Christmas that I don't like as well because they are bigger hoops, and my diamond earrings which I've had for a very long time.  They are somewhere in the house, tucked into a box that I haven't opened yet, and I just don't know where they are.

"That's okay," said Steve.  "I've already researched jewelry stores in Oregon City and we'll go get you a new pair tomorrow.  If I have time," he added. Work has been a pill for him lately.

So even though I didn't really want jewelry for my birthday today, it looks like I'll be getting some anyway. 

I'll tell you one thing, though- it's my husband that's the real gem.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Busy Weekend

Yesterday was the second of two days that would be good for planting below ground vegetables, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac, so that is what I did Saturday, only it necessitated taking out the rest of the onions, among other things.  I've discovered that you can't really succession plant onions so successfully- they really depend on the light that comes with a specific length of day, so if you want big bulbs, get them in early- get them all in.  I still don't know why some grew beautiful round globes, and why some grew bull necks instead.  I've read that cool temperatures, poor stands, and late planting can predispose onions to growing bull necks, but it doesn't explain why onions growing right next to each other formed differently.  I have noticed that the onions forming the best bulbs seemed to be more shallowly planted than the onions growing bull necks, so next year I'll take care to seed them shallowly.  I think that I'll try direct seeding and thinning as well- it should be easier to keep the seed near the surface instead of risking burying the transplant too deeply. 


Another experiment, one that I'm trying this autumn, is going to be kind of interesting.  Several weeks ago I planted carrot seed in two rows between my winter kale and rapini.  The carrots sprouted and then disappeared.  Inspection seems to indicate that they were eaten by slugs.  Autumn is prime slug season, with its cool and cloudy mornings- everything is damp longer so the slugs usually have a field day.  So this weekend after planting carrot, beet and turnip seed, I anchored brand new knit copper over the soil- right over the planted rows.  The idea is to let the seedlings grow up through the copper mesh, which should keep the slugs off.  This summer when my brother-in-law Kent was here, he said that he'd heard that copper only works on slugs and snails when it's new and shiny.  By the evidence of the slug snot left on the copper mesh I installed around the beds this spring and the extensive slug damage on the bed's contents, I would have to say that this is probably true.  I do hope that the new copper mesh works long enough to give the seedlings a fighting chance.  Now the only problem that I can see happening is that everything is going in so late that nothing will germinate!

While I was at it, I pulled all the bell pepper plants and managed to salvage only three bell peppers for freezing.  This makes for an average that doesn't even equal one per plant!  A great many of them rotted on the plants while I was waiting for them to ripen past green.  I don't know if this is because the plants were crowded or because we had a really cool summer.  I'm learning that bio-intensive method aside, some plants just don't do well crowded together, and since it's only Steve and me I'm trying to feed, I should probably back off the number of plants that I put in the ground. 

I also managed to get the two citrus that showed up this week planted.  I ordered a Lisbon lemon and a Bearss lime.  Lisbon lemons are the lemons most commonly found in the grocery store, and I like them much, much better than a Meyer lemon, which isn't really a lemon at all.  For whatever reason, when you go looking for lemon trees, Meyers are all over the place, but for my money, they are too sweet for what I'm looking for in a lemon.  Ponderosa lemons are great lemons as well, but they are huge lemons, and they make a pretty good sized tree.  I don't have room for a Ponderosa.  The Bearss lime is also the lime you're most likely to find in the grocery store- thin skinned and juicy.  I debated plunking them into the ground with the plan to erect a removable green house cover over them every winter, but I read that citrus need good drainage and I definitely don't have that with my clay soils.  I opted to put them in pots instead, and fortunately, they should do fine there.  While potting them up today, I realized that I forgot to order a Bay tree, Laurus nobilius.  Bay trees get HUGE- my mother has one- but their size can be kept in check by potting them up.  I've even seen instances where the tree is planted in a pot in the ground to keep it from getting enormous.  All I know is that fresh bay is supposed to be different than dried, and even ran across a recipe somewhere for egg custard that was flavored with a fresh bay leaf, and since I love custard, I'm dying to try it.


The other thing I worked on this weekend was the hutch.  I got the supports for two more shelves rasped, sanded, stained and put together this week, along with the shelves and their fussy molded edges, so part of yesterday and today were spent getting the new shelves up.  I'm a little less than halfway done, at this point.  I've resigned myself to the fact that it won't be finished by the time my mother gets here, but oh well.  At least I'm making progress on it, but that will have to stop for a few days while I work on getting the house all spiffed up for Mom's impending visit.

Last but not least, I had the inspiration to put up some of my French tarragon into tarragon vinegar.  I'm sure glad that I hung on to that Frank's Red Hot sauce bottle- I had a feeling it would come in handy!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dutch Baby For My Deutsch Baby

Steve had a lousy week this week, which culminated in a truly crappy Friday night.  This Wednesday morning at around one, and long after we'd gone to bed, I heard my cell phone ringing in the living room.  I got up and groggily pinballed my way down the hall to the living room just in time to hear the voice mail alert go off.  So I called voice mall and it was Steve's work: a server had crashed and they were having a bad time getting it back up again.  He was up until three that morning before he finally came back to bed. 

Then last night after the close of business they were to put in the fix, which necessitated Steve leaving up his work machine and checking in periodically until around eight PM our time (which is eleven on the east coast).  Only the file serving software they'd been given by a vendor who shall remain nameless would not let the server boot up.  Steve got stuck on the phone with the guys back east until one AM this morning when he realized it was four their time and he wasn't going to be of much help to them at this point.  So he came to bed, and got up again at five our time to call in and see what was going on.  He tried going back to bed around nine, but sleep wasn't happening, so he gave up and joined me for coffee.

I was going to make us oatmeal for breakfast, since he can't have cereals or grains at breakfast during the week, but he wanted something better.  He wanted a Dutch baby, so that's what he got.

Dutch Baby

Dutch babies are essentially an individual Yorkshire pudding served with lemon wedges and powdered sugar.  We'd had them out a weekend or so ago for the first time and enjoyed them, so the first thing I did when I got home was to look up recipes for them.  I'm going to give you the first recipe that I tried, exactly as I'd tried it, because it was spectacularly successful.

Dutch babies just out of the oven, falling already
Dutch Babies

This makes enough for two Dutch babies.

Ingredients:

1 stick of butter
4 large eggs
1 cup regular flour 
1 tsp. salt
1 cup whole milk


Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

In a bowl (preferably a batter bowl) beat the eggs until they're light and frothy.   Add one half cup of the flour and incorporate and then the other half cup of flour and the salt and incorporate that.  Add the milk a little at a time to make a smooth batter, which should resemble heavy cream.*

Put two skillets in the oven to heat up.#  Once they're hot, cut up the butter and divide between the two hot pans.  Put back in the oven to melt completely, but don't let it burn.

Take the pans out again and divide the batter evenly into each.  Put the pans back into the oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Watch toward the end to make sure the babies don't burn. The pancakes will look like they're minding their own business at first and the minute you look away they'll be  way puffed up and looking like they want to crawl out of the pan.  Just watch and make sure the tops don't get too brown.

Remove from the oven when done and set onto cooling racks to protect your surface.  Serve by sliding onto large plates with a large pancake turner.  The pans are really smoking' hot at this point, so be careful.

Serve with lemon wedges and powdered sugar.

* This method of beating the flour into the eggs and then gradually adding the milk is a great way to get your crepe batter smooth.  I learned it from my Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques cookbook.

# I do not need to tell you not to use pans with plastic handles for this recipe.  I have two deBuyer steel pans,  but you could use anything as long as it's fairly shallow and all metal.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Setting The Record Straight

I think I may have been maligning my husband recently by portraying him as cheap.  He's not cheap- if he were, he would not get me whatever my little heart desires when I want it.  (I have to add that I'm careful about what I want and when I want it. You already know I'm not from the Mall-As-Entertainment Crowd).   Steve is just very careful with his money, and likes to make sure it's well-spent.  Because of that, we're able to get along okay even though I'm not working right now.

Case in point: last night we drove all the way into the city (Portland) to have dinner at Gruner.  We read the menu online and knew ahead of time that it was not going to be a cheap dinner.  But, we went anyway, because we wanted to check it out.  They tout themselves as being cozy Alpine dining, and we're always thrilled when we can find anything that smacks of German cuisine.  First, we had the amazing luck of finding Doris Day parking.  Doris Day parking, if you're unfamiliar with the term, is when you find a parking place right out in front of where you're going.  This Doris Day parking place was actually around the corner from the front of the restaurant, but it was one parking place from the corner and along side the restaurant, so in my book, it was still Doris Day parking.  Then, because the restaurant had a few large parties booked, we couldn't eat in the dining room, but we had our choice of eating at the bar or eating outside- we chose the bar because it was still rush hour when we got there and I didn't want to deal with the noise and exhaust.  This turned out to be quite alright because the bartender was a very personable young man and took good care of us.  Plus, I had fun reading the more esoteric labels in the bar line-up, and he answered all my questions intelligently and patiently.

We listened to the on-tap choices carefully.  I heard the bartender say that the Ayinger Octoberfest was the darkest Octoberfest he'd ever seen.  They didn't have a pilsner for me so, I ordered the  Weihenstephan Helles, and Steve ordered the Ayinger Octoberfest.  When the bartender put Steve's beer down in front of him, he said, "That's the darkest Octoberfest I've ever seen!"  My Helles (German for 'light') was just fine.

We decided to share a salad- the Gruner salad, which was fine but unremarkable.  Except that the dressing was very light and you could taste everything in the salad, so maybe in that way, it was remarkable.

So now to the main attraction:  Steve had the cured double-cut pork chop with spiced red cabbage, sauteed apples and mashed German butterball potatoes.  He said the mashed potatoes tasted very German- evidently they beat the hell out of their mashed potatoes.  We agreed that the spiced red cabbage, although good, was not as good as mine. (But then, I make really great Rotekohl, and I'm not particularly shy about that.)  He really liked the pork chop and said they'd used a light hand with the pickling; I wasn't so enamored of it because it reminded me of ham, and I am not a big fan of ham.  Dry cured, yes, but not regular ham.  Unless it's in a Monte Cristo sandwich, but that's another story.  So his dinner was good, and made him happy.  By the way, the black dot in the picture below is a juniper berry.  Wachholderbeeren (juniper berries) are used a lot in German cuisine- principally with meats and sauerkraut.

Another bad picture- sorry!
I had the spaetzle with braised chicken, chanterelles, riesling, creme fraiche, tarragon and crispy shallots.  It was amazingly good.  I suppose that you would have to be a fan of tarragon, and I am, but the flavors were really wonderful all together, and the crispy shallots finished off each mouthful beautifully.  The only place where I could fault the kitchen was that in three separate bites, I crunched into chicken cartilage, which is about the most distasteful experience that I can have at table.  I can't stand cartilage so much that when Steve and I have chicken for dinner, he saves cleaning up the bones for last and I have to leave the table so I can't hear him chewing on cartilage.  It seriously gives me the willies.  But save for the unfortunate few jarringly-crunchy bites, it was easily one of the most delicious, well-balanced, and inspired meals I've ever eaten, and I was very happy.  It was all I could do to not wipe up the bowl with the last piece of bread.

I should learn how to make this....
Speaking of bread, I should mention that the bread they brought out was an okay bread, and a pretzel roll.  The pretzel roll was wonderful- buttery, with the right flavor on the skin and salted just right- and you know that we know our pretzels.

So between the beers, salad- which we shared, and the entrees, dinner was sixty-two dollars, not counting the tip.  Not exactly a hundred a piece, but certainly enough for a dinner that wasn't to celebrate anything.  It was money well-spent, and we'll go there again.  Someday.

We're still being really careful with our money, which should never be confused with being cheap.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Of Butterflies and Baskets


This is my new dovetail saw.  I've actually had it for a couple of months, having purchased it for cutting butterfly dovetail keys for the hutch.  I got it out recently because I wanted to try it for cutting the waste out on the center shelf supports on the hutch.

If you're a wood worker, you'll understand when I say this thing is way cool!  The saw is very thin, so you have to be careful because it bends easily, but this also means that it leaves a very thin kerf as well.  It worked really well for the shelf supports, so now I can't wait to try it on the butterfly keys.

I think the keys will be an interesting juxtaposition of styles- the hutch styling is aimed at the British Isles, but butterfly keys are a Japanese joinery technique.  I don't know if it's going to work or not, but it will be rustic, and that's okay.

Now the funny thing is, when Steve saw the saw out, he said, "When did you pick that up?" 

"You were there when I picked it out!" I replied, somewhat indignant at the accusatory tone in his voice.

"Are you sure this isn't a case of a spouse pulling something new out and then saying she's had it awhile?"

I stifled the urge to tell him oh I do that too, but this isn't one of those times. 

"Steven, you were there in the Home Depot tool department when I picked this saw out. It was around fifteen bucks.  You knew about it." 

And I went back to what I was doing, careful not to look at the two cool baskets that I picked up for ten bucks at the second hand store when the boys were here in July that I've been hiding in plain sight so that he'll think I've had them forever.  Which, by the time I get around to using them, will be almost true.


A little sneaky, I admit, but we'll be glad to have them sometime next year when we're casting about for what to store potatoes in.  His beloved potatoes, I might add.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Daybed

My mother and older sister are coming for a visit in a couple of weeks, so I am trying to get some of the projects that have been hanging out, waiting in the wings to get started, done before she gets here.

I just managed to get the daybed cover and the backrest cushion done and here they are:

the cushion in front is a cover from Target, of all places....
If you've looked for upholstery fabric, you know how expensive it is, and I wanted a sturdy wool, partly because wool is a very long-lived fiber (second only to silk) and because, let's face- in the chilly Northwest where I live, wool is cozy.  The problem is, wool upholstery fabric is prohibitively expensive.  So I scrounged around online and found some army blankets.  I ordered French, Israeli, and Italian army blankets.  The French blankets, although used, were beautiful- they are a gorgeous shade of dark taupe and almost have the texture of a very heavy wool crepe. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough fabric in them to cover the daybed, so I'll use them for cushion covers.  The Israeli blankets were uglier than homemade sin-  web pictures showed them as gray, but up close they are bizarre shades of purply-gray, and are mottled with all kinds of colors.  Imagine making blankets out of the fuzz you pull out of the dryer vent and you'll have an approximate idea of what I'm talking about.

Steve wanted me to get brand new army blankets for the cover anyway, which I did- I ordered brand new Italian ones because they were available.  Bad mistake.  They'd been treated with what smelled like paradichlorobenzene, which is the active ingredient in mothballs, and boy! Did they stink!  I left them hung in the garage for a few months to air out- they still smelled bad.  I laundered them in my own machinery- another mistake.  Now both my machines and the laundry room smelled like nasty chemicals.  Finally, one Saturday, Steve took all the blankets down to the laundromat and took care of everything, and I was finally able to get started on the covers.  The Italian blankets had a beige stripe running down either side, which I didn't want in the cover, so I wound up piecing the cover together. 

The filling for the backrest cushion is a king-sized and a full-sized down comforter.  This house just doesn't get cold enough to warrant needing them, and I needed to store them somewhere- space in my linen closet is at a premium, so stuffing them into the cover and using them as filler seemed like a good idea.  That way, if ever I need them, I still have them.  And they were just bulky enough to make a fairly firm cushion.

Steve tried it out, including turning on the lamp, and pretending to read a book.  He deemed it a great reading corner. 

I'm just glad that it's done.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Birthday Present Makes Good

My birthday, which is not for another couple of weeks, is always a time for getting something I need, rather than for fun stuff.  The first of my birthdays spent with Steve, and which occurred shortly before we got married, I wanted a set of Felco secateurs, which I got.  They were the astronomical sum of forty dollars, and Steve's friends thought he was getting off mighty easy for only forty dollars.  Last year was my fiftieth, and I tried to want a piece of jewelry to commemorate it.  I even looked at some in the various and sundry catalogs that wind up here, and couldn't get excited about them. You want to know what I wound up with to commemorate my fiftieth birthday?

A manure fork.  I had a compost pile to move, and I needed the fork,  so that's what I got.

This year is not going to be much different, only this year's present is way cooler than a manure fork.  This year I wanted and got an electric chipper/shredder.  It came last week, and Steve put it together for me Saturday and I shredded the dickens out of the bush clippings I had.  The idea is to reduce the size of that stuff so that it will compost more quickly.  Here's a before picture of how much I had to do:


And an after picture of the pile reduced by shredding:


Reviews of the roughly three electric chipper/shredders were all roughly the same, except that I didn't consider the Patriot CSV-2515 because it costs almost nine hundred dollars, but the others that were roughly the same size and price had roughly the same reviews, so I left the decision as to which one up to Steve.  True to form, he picked the cheapest, the 14 amp Eco-Shredder from Amazon.  It worked really well.  They tell you not to force a lot through it at once, but I think that's common sense.  We all want to get chores done quickly, but since you can't cram a lot down a garbage disposal, it makes sense that you can't cram a lot down the shredder.  You also can't feed it wet stuff, which also makes sense.  Basically, you don't want to do anything or put anything in it that will jam it or gum up the works.  I also really like the fact that it's electric, like all the rest of our gardening power tools.

I expect that this shredder and I will be doing gardening chores together for a long time.