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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.