Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Confession time

Okay, I confess, I'm old (well not that old) and gray... and I color my hair.  There, I said it.  It isn't something I like to admit but I find myself in a bit of a quandry.  Here's the scoop:
I'm 46.  I started the childbearing thing in my 30's so I was a bit late to the game.  The problem is that I started going gray in my 20's.  For years I didn't do anything about it.  We have pictures when I11 was a baby where I have this quite dramatic shock of white hair swooping down over one eye. While it was just the one dramatic, slightly off center streak, it was actually pretty cool... but then it spread.  For a brief while I did the home dye (semi-permanent) thing but with young kids it was too much trouble and I decided I wasn't that vain- so I let it go and by the time I hit 40 I was definitely more salt than pepper (except right at the back of my head, there it is still it's original color).  I was okay with it- even when someone asked me if K8 was my grandson when he was about 2 (OUCH).   Now don't get me wrong- I'm not too bad for 46.  I'm not wrinkly and while I have about 30 extra pounds, I'm actually in decent shape.  
The kicker came a week before my 45th birthday- I was at work and a patient was looking for me but couldn't remember my name.  I overheard her tell the nursing assistant "you know- the gray haired lady in the red shirt".  I'M NOT OLD ENOUGH TO BE THE GRAY HAIRED LADY IN THE RED SHIRT!!!  I had a day off a few days later and wandered into the place we had always gone to get our hair cut and asked about a color.  With as much gray hair as I had, I was scared to try it myself.  So I started down the coloring road.  I cringe when I think about the environmental impact of coloring my hair but once you start it's hard to stop.  My stylist did a great job matching my original color (a medium reddish brown) but when it starts to grow out I get the 'skunk stripe' down the top of my head and go have it done again.  
But here's the problem.  Even though I don't go to a really expensive place- It still ends up costing close to $70 a month. When V was working wasn't a problem.  He still says that I'm worth it and that I shouldn't worry about the money- but I do worry.  That is a lot of money spent on something that is a definite luxury.
I need to come to a decision at some point- keep coloring or figure out a way to just go back to what it is.  But I'm not there yet.  My compromise- this evening J14 and I went out shopping and picked up a box of hair color.   She helped me match the color in the store and then helped me apply it- trying to color just the roots I can't do myself.  She did a bang up job and it looks great- and $7.99 is much more reasonable for a month of vanity.  I think she has a new job.  In payment, I let her get a box of semi-permanent color to jazz up her hair and give her red highlights.  We'll do that later this week. We had a lovely time sitting in the bathroom chatting- a sort of bonding experience.
I'm still torn as to what to do with this one.  On one hand, it does make me feel good- I look my age and not 15 years older.  But, on the other hand there are costs, both financial and environmental.  I'm stuck.  I'll probably go the home color route for a while but I can't go on forever.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Clean-out-the-pantry granola

Does anyone else have children that don't finish things?  Well, projects, yeah, but food?  My children love to snack on dried fruit but for some reason, they almost never eat the last little bit.  As a result, I have lots of packages of little bits of dried fruits and nuts.  I finally got fed up with all the little bits and decided to find a use for them.  Since I'm also trying to clear some of the oatmeal out of the freezer, I decided to make granola.  I haven't made any for a long time and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
I only roughly follow the recipe (I doubled it based on quantities of ingredients I had)
Here it is- feel free to improvise:
Hippy chick granola (not my name for it but I kind of like it)
2 c rolled oats (NOT quick oats)
1 c peanuts or almonds (I don't like peanuts in my granola- I used a combination of slivered almonds and walnuts- they were what I had on hand that needed used)
1/4 c sesame seeds (I actually had some of these in the freezer!)
1/2 c sunflower seeds (I didn't have any so mine is sunflowerless)
1/2 c coconut (sweetened or unsweetened- I use unsweetened- some big flakes and some shredded)
1/4 c toasted wheat germ (I actually had some of this as well- I'm as surprised as you are!)
1/2 c raisins (I had just enough golden raisins left)
1/2 c mixed dried fruit (I used the last bits of craisins, dried tart cherries, and chopped dates- I like it with chopped dried apricots, too, but those they finished!)
scant 1/4 c cooking oil (NOT olive oil)
1/2 c honey (I used part honey part maple syrup)

Mix oats, nuts and grains in large bowl.  Measure oil into cup and swirl it around to coat the cup before you add it in to the bowl.  Measure honey into the oily cup- it helps it slide out- add to the mix.  Toss these together until well coated.  Spread on a baking sheet with sides or a roasting pan.  Toast at 300 F for about 30 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes or so until light golden brown. 
Mmm, toasty!
Return to mixing bowl, add dried fruits and raisins and stir.  It will stick together as it cools so you can stir it to break up the chunks as big as you would like, either chunky for snacking or small for topping.

This is one of those recipes that I like- you can't really go wrong and it's great for using up those little bits of things that are languishing in the pantry (or in the fridge).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Independence days- week 4

Thanks to Matriarchy for the words of encouragement for winter beginners of Independence Days.  In some ways I am a beginner, but in other ways, I have been doing this challenge for years, just not tracking it as such.  The world of producing and storing my own food isn't new to me.  I grew up in a farming household where we grew much of our food.  The hard economic times we find ourselves in have made it more of a priority for me now. 
I have been in a funk for the past few weeks.  The holidays helped to cheer me a bit but now, with V almost out of his job and nothing new insight, the winter doldrums have begun to take their toll again.  Actually, I find the Independence days challenge helpful for making me see what I have managed to accomplish.  Matriarchy pointed out that Winter is the season of rest and planning, getting ready for the push in the spring.  This year, I will definitely be more deliberate with my gardening.  In the past, it was something that I did because I enjoyed it and loved having our own food.  Now, I fear, we will be more reliant on it for subsistence.  
I am working on my goals for 2009.  So much of what I want is dependent on V finding a job but we will plan for the contingency that he won't.  I may take a hint from Gina and organize my goals for the year Independence Day's style.  But on to the business at hand:
Little lettuces
1. Plant something- No, but have been studying my seed catalogues and the books I got for Christmas, particularly the Root Cellaring book, for ideas of what to plant this spring.  My little lettuces in the window box in the basement are doing well.  They are happier that I hung the second bank of lights and are growing nicely.
2. Harvest something- No, see above, I'm hoping that in a couple weeks we can have a few lettuce leaves.  The Christmas Jalapeno is still on the plant, I was planning to use it for our dinner party that didn't materialize.  We hope to reschedule soon and I really want to have a fresh pepper.
3. Preserve something-  Woo Hoo!!! I used my new pressure canner to can turkey and stock! 
4. Store something- picked up some chocolate on sale after Christmas to add to the stash.  We've got enough chocolate chips and baking goodies to feed a small army.
5. Manage Reserves- Working to use the oatmeal from the freezer.  Cooked one of our bargain turkeys (one to go).
6. Cook something new- not really, although pressure canning is kind of a new way to cook/preserve something for me.
7. Prep something- V picked up a box of 8 taper candles that were at a deep discount.  We don't use tapers often but they're nice to have around if we needed them.
8. Reduce waste- Recycled, composted and used cloth bags at the grocery.  I wasn't very good about using reusable wrapping paper for gifts so I feel a bit wasteful this time of year.
9. Learn a new skill- YES!!! I conquered my fear of pressure canning and had a successful first attempt with my new canner. It will take me a while before I feel comfortable doing it and to really figure out how to adjust the heat for optimal pressure maintenance, but I feel good that I did it. I'm glad I tried it now so we can get the lid replaced before I really need it.
10. Work on community food security- Not really, although I promised my friend Jim that I would teach him how to can in a hot water bath.
11. Regenerate what is lost- I struggle with this category. Although composting is a way of giving back to the soil, I don't feel like I've given much back to anyone this week. I've been pretty crabby lately.
I feel pretty good about this week, even in the depths of winter, I've been working on my life and my dreams.  I'm frustrated that things are on hold but I'll survive.  Now, back to my garden planning....
Have a peaceful and productive week.  Here's wishing good things to everyone.

Success and disappointment

Okay,  Those two words don't generally go together. But that's what today was.  I successfully canned 7 quarts of turkey and stock.  We don't really eat that much meat in things we use stock for, so I just put a bit of meat in the jar before adding the stock.  I managed to not blow up the house and all seven jars sealed.  Woo Hoo!!!
Turkey and Stock
The canner is HUGE!!  With all the knobs, dials and regulators I felt a little like a mad scientist.  It will hold 7 quarts or with the extra rack they provided it will fit 19 pints.

The beast in it's glory!!
But here is the disappointment:
Drop forming
My canner has a manufacturing defect.  Near the center of the lid there is evidently and invisible hole.  It isn't evident if you look at it but when it was pressurizing a drip formed on the top.  Initially I thought it was just a drop of water from the pressure regulator that was starting to sputter,  I wiped it off, and it grew again.  It wasn't enough to keep it from maintaining pressure but if there is a defect in the metal I'm worried that it may get worse with use.  We took lots of pictures for documentation and V is going to contact the manufacturer tomorrow to see what can be done.  Looking at the book, they have a 1 year warranty for manufacturing or materials defects so it shouldn't be a problem to get a replacement lid.  
This makes me doubly glad I tried this out sooner rather than later.  This gives us time to get the replacement lid in time for canning season.  I would hate to have discovered this with a bushel of green beans ready to go.  
All in all, the day was a success.  I'm proud of myself that I took the plunge.  I wasn't really worried that I wouldn't be able to do it, it's just that fear of the unknown.
K8 is feeling better, but now J14 isn't feeling well- she said she was dry heaving this morning- luckily she didn't have anything left in her stomach.  I'm sure this will make the rounds- I've been extra diligent about hand washing recently but I'm not sure I'll escape.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The dinner party that wasn't

We had planned to have several friends over for dinner this evening.  Roger and his wife Sharon, V's college roommate and 2 others.  But we had a change of plans.  About midnight last night K8 started throwing up.  He vomited every hour on the hour until about 5 this morning.  Bright and early this morning we called all our friends and gave them the option of bailing out on dinner.  They all took us up on this...I wonder why....
We still had dinner to cook... at least we didn't go out and buy anything we wouldn't normally eat except that it will take us more than one meal to get through the bottles of wine we bought. But we did have the 18 lb turkey in the fridge that we were planning to roast.  So we cooked it anyway.  I found a recipe in a magazine that used an apricot, lemon and sage glaze applied during the last half hour of cooking that we wanted to try.  It is great.  I didn't have any fresh sage since mine has been in the deep freeze outside but I substituted dried and it worked just fine.  K8 still wasn't up for eating with us so we have LOTS of turkey leftover.
BUT.... after cutting off most of the meat, I used the carcass to make stock that is now cooling on the porch (no room in the fridge).  I plan to skim the fat tomorrow, reheat it and try out my new canner.  OOH, excitement!!!  
Honestly, I think V thinks it's crazy that I'm getting so excited about this.  I see this as another step towards independence and conquering a fear.  I've put off pressure canning for so many years it's finally time to take the plunge.
We spent a bit of time this evening watching a DVD that V got for me.  It is an old British sitcom called 'The Good Neighbors' (or in Britain- The Good Life) from the mid '70s.  It has always been one of my favorites.  It's about a couple who give up their cozy suburban life to become self-sufficient in the suburbs (sound familiar??).  I had been trying to describe it to J14 and she was shaking her head saying 'Right, Mom'.  Now that she has seen a few episodes, she can't get enough.  V found the complete series for me on DVD.  When I asked him why I got an extra gift he said "The canner was from Santa, I wanted to get you something fun".  Isn't he sweet.  I'm not sure we should have afforded it but then, the canner was something I was planning to get anyway and Christmas was the good excuse.
Well, I've got to get some sleep.  I've got stock to can tomorrow, and being awakened every hour by a vomiting child last night wasn't conducive to restful sleep.

Friday, December 26, 2008

My gift scares me!

My family knows me too well.  Or at least what my passion is.  It was definitely an educational Christmas for me:
My haul of books!
I knew the Seed Starter's book was coming from my daughter (We found it at the thrift store for 75 cents right before Thanksgiving and she got it for me).  I spent the day reading through all of these plus the Four-Season Harvest book that I got for myself (I ordered something from Amazon and wanted to qualify for free shipping).  There is so much information to digest I'm glad it's winter so I have time to read.
But here is the scary part:
The All American 925
Yup, Santa came through with a cadillac canner.  He got me an All American canner.  I guess he did his research and decided that this was the best made.  And fairly local- it's made in Wisconsin.  But the thing terrifies me. Okay, it excites me at the same time- kind of like the feeling you get while waiting for the roller coaster to take off... you know it will be fun but it's scary at the same time.  The big warning labels plastered all over it don't help.  I grew up with my Mom canning so I know the basics.  She let us help when she did water bath canning but didn't want us in the kitchen when she had the pressure canner going.  I think some of that rubbed off on me and I still have this fear of the thing blowing up.  But this one is also supposed to be incredibly safe (as safe as hot metal under steam pressure can be).  Now I just need to figure out how to use it.  
My friend Jim stopped over yesterday with gifts for the children and he was about as excited about the canner as I was.  He evidently been asking another friend to teach him canning basics but she has never followed through, so he wants to learn along with me- and I told him I'd teach him water bath canning next summer. 
I've got a lot of research to do.  I need to figure out something I can make to practice using this monstrosity before I really need it.  Any suggestions for a winter friendly canning project?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

To all my friends out there in blogland:
Whatever you celebrate: Solstice, Yule, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or anything else, or nothing at all...
I wish you peace.
I wish you joy.
I wish you love.
With those three things, we can all conquer the world.

Happy Holidays to all!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Boys and their toys

K8 joining track
The test run!
V and K8 are putting up the train tracks around the tree.  This is a family tradition.  We have had an HO train going around the tree for years.  V is a model railroad fan and K8 isn't far behind him.  Usually we have a small circular track around the tree.  This year, for a limited run, they are putting up a 9x9 foot track around the tree, couch and much of the living room.  
V grew up in Reading, PA and has spent much of his life modeling Reading Railroad engines (you know, of Monopoly fame).  He has started K8 with some Iowa Interstate engines- their roundhouse is only a few blocks from out house.  We don't have room for a permanent layout in our current house.  In fact, one of the ways I sold him on an acreage was to suggest that he could have an insulated outbuilding for a train layout.  Actually he wasn't that hard a sell but the idea of having enough space for his trains was definitely a bonus.
In not so fun news, V got a 'thanks but no thanks' letter from the people he interviewed with on Friday.  If they did the interviews on Friday and said in a letter dated Monday that they had offered the position to someone and had it accepted, we figured that they already had the person lined up but had to go through the interview process to satisfy HR.  I work for the University, but trying to get into their system just sucks, especially for the merit (hourly) jobs (I am classified 'professional and scientific').  He has 2 days of his current job left then he's officially unemployed.  We have a list of projects around the house that should keep him busy for a while.  These are things that need to get done if we are going to sell the house...if V finds a new job and if we find an acreage that we like and can afford...  I think one of the things that has been getting me down this year is that we had everything coming together a few months ago for buying our acreage and pursuing our dream and then it all fell apart.  Sigh. I'm trying to think that it will all come together again, it's just looking pretty bleak at the moment.
I've been cheering up a bit and have found some holiday spirit,  I just can't believe that tomorrow is already Christmas Eve.  Where does the time go?

Monday, December 22, 2008

What to wear...

We received an invitation in the mail 2 weeks ago.  My brother and is wife are hosting their annual holiday bash on New Year's Eve.  It is generally quite the affair- black tie optional.  While it is fun to get dressed up in formal clothes and mingle with other grown ups it is also one of those events that make me cringe. There is so much overt flashing of wealth that I feel VERY out of place.  Last year I bought new clothes to wear and I'm trying to figure out how to rework it so that I don't have to get anything new since we really can't afford it.  At least I bought a several piece outfit last year: flowy black pants that look like a full skirt with a sparkly top and jacket.  This year I think I'm going to wear the pants again but with a different shirt.  I have a lovely black spandex shirt with silver glitter swirls on it that V pulled out of a dumpster a few years ago (and yes, I do wear things that he pulls out- it's amazing what the college students throw away when they move).  
My brother, I hate to admit, is a conspicuous consumer.  He has a lovely new home (dare I say a McMansion) that is way too big for the 2 of them now that his boys have moved on.  His wife, Suzanne, is into hosting parties for visiting international faculty and students.  They entertain A LOT.  He travels a lot for his job, in fact, he will be going to Antarctica for several weeks in January on an expedition to map the thickness of the ice cap.  Not many people can say that they truly have a rocket scientist in the family- I can. My bother is a research engineer designing equipment for space exploration.  The equipment they are using in Antarctica is similar to what he designed and built to help determine the thickness of the polar ice caps on Mars. Pretty cool, huh.  
But, regardless of how fascinating his work is, the sad fact is that they are way into the consumer thing: Big house, SUV, flying off all over the world on vacations, lavish parties- things that are not at all our lifestyle.  It is fun to get to dress up once a year and play with the big kids- but I'm always glad to come home to my simpler life.  I don't have to worry what to wear.

Independence days- week 3

Better late than never.
It feels like it has been a really unproductive week, like I've been spinning my wheels but not going anywhere.
1. Plant something: NOPE  Did get the second bank of lights hung over my lettuce seedlings.  They're getting little leaves on them.  It's nice to see something growing with all the cold and icy weather we've been having.  I've also been poring over the seed catalogues.  Roger and his wife Sharon are coming for dinner on Saturday so we can talk garden then.
2. Harvest something:  NOPE again
3. Preserve something: Three strikes- I'm out.  Well, maybe not in this game.
4. Store something: One of my sisters sent us a pound of macadamia nuts for a gift.  Most of those will go into storage in the fridge or freezer since I can't see us eating that many before they go bad.
5. Manage reserves:  Here I can say I've been doing a good job.  I found one of my butternut squashes was beginning to get a bit wrinkly in one spot so we ate it.  I've also been using flour and sugar out of my reserves but will need to replace it.  We've been trying to eat all of our meals out of the freezer to make room and have been doing a pretty good job of it.  It's nice to not have to rely on the grocery store.
6. Cook something new:  A big no here as well.  This is the time of year we make some of our favorites.  I hope to try to make some fudge this week- something I've never mastered yet- I've never figured out what I do wrong.
7. Prep something: Got a new coat for I11 and while we were out picked up several spare pair of gloves at 50% off.  Also picked up a case of canning jars that were on a last item clearance.
8. Reduce waste:  Composted, recycled and used cloth bags at the grocery.  I feel like we've wasted some food recently though,  leftovers seem to be getting lost in the back of the fridge and aren't being eaten before they go bad.  With the children home on winter break for the next two weeks, I hope I can get them to eat some leftovers.  Usually I'm the only one who takes them for lunch.
9. Learn a new skill: Nope. I haven't touched the knitting.  Driving in slush covered streets and scraping ice aren't new skills, just brushing up on old ones.
10.  Work on community food security:  Talking to my sister yesterday I tried to touch on this.  When I told her we were buying a side of beef her question was 'Why?'  She lives in suburban Maryland, just outside the DC beltway,  her husband works for the DOE, she is pretty well entrenched in the consumer comforts.  My mom and I were talking about planning gardens and I mentioned that I'd asked Santa for a pressure canner for Christmas. My sister laughed and said that she gave up on her garden, it was too much work.  SIGH.  Sometimes I find it hard to believe that we were raised in the same house. She was at least excited to get the chutney and applebutter I made.  
11. Regenerate what is lost:  I don't feel I've done very well with this one either.  I've been too wrapped up in my own crankiness to reach out.  I'll try to do better this week.
Ok, this was a bit of a downer. Hopefully this will inspire me to do better in the coming week, although with the holiday celebrations, I don't know what I'll get done.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Solstice/Christmas at the farm-

We drove the 77 miles to my parent's home today.  My sister from Maryland and her children arrived yesterday to spend a few days.  The weather was frightful!  It was -4 F with wind gusts to 40 mph during the drive down.  We didn't have much snow yesterday, maybe only 2 inches, but with the layer of ice on the ground what was there didn't stay put.  The highway was clear but there were occasional patches of near white out conditions.

My parent's farm off to the right.
When we got off the highway onto the gravel road where my parents live, things rapidly deteriorated.  The road was a sheet of ice. It wasn't too bad except for the S curve where the road crosses a creek so it's a sloping curve.  We went VERY slowly.
Boys sliding down the icy hill.
We had a high of 4 F with continued dangerous windchills but that didn't stop the boys from going out to play.  My parents had about half an inch of ice on Thursday night and the ice over snow is thick enough to support even an adult's weight.  The boys had fun sliding down the icy hill in the barnyard.  The barn was built on my parent's farm in 1876, before that it had been a mill and was taken apart piece by piece, labeled, hauled by train and wagon and reassembled on the family farm. The farm has been in the family since the mid 1800s.
We didn't let the boys stay out for more than 20 minutes at a time, even with snowsuits because it was THAT cold.  When they came in it was time to open gifts.  My family is pretty sane when it comes to gift giving.  I gifted my niece and nephew with 'Cookies in a jar'. My sister and brother (who was sick and didn't make it) got a jar of cookie mix, a pint of applebutter and a jar of green tomato- apple chutney.  My sister was pleased.  For my parents:  we gave them a gift of bees from Heifer Project.  They really don't need anything- and I've already gifted them with chutney (my Mom cans more than I do so most canned items aren't a treat for her).  We also gave them an IOU for beef when we get our side of beef in January.
J14 looks at gifts, my sister Joyce and my Dad in the background.
My parents got cookbooks for all their grandchildren except K8.  He got edible treats since my Mom didn't think he is quite ready for a cookbook yet.  The boys got kits to learn magic tricks from my sister and J14 got hair accessories.  My parents gave V a new LED flashlight with rechargeable batteries and my Mom gave me a counted cross stitch picture she had made of cardinals in the snow.  I tried to get a photo but the glass in the frame created too much glare.
Like I said, my family tends to be pretty sane with gifts.  I just wish I could sat the same about V's family. 
We ate enough food for about a week.  Since it is  Winter Solstice today we ended up leaving earlier than I would have liked but we wanted to get back before dark due to the bad road conditions.
I need to get to my independence days post at some point soon.  At least spending time with family for a celebration helped lift my spirits a little.  I'm just dreading boing back to work tomorrow.  Maybe I'll sweet talk V to see if he can give me a ride in the morning.  There is a windchill advisory and blizzard warning still in effect. They're calling for windchills into the -30's F again tomorrow morning.  I really don't want to walk a mile and a half in that.

Blessed Solstice to all.  The days will be getting lighter again.  I can't wait to feel the warm sun on my face again and the dirt between my fingers and toes.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Candy cane cookies

We made candy cane cookies today.  J14 has dubbed this one her favorite. It is a great recipe to get young ones involved in,  if they can make snakes, they can make these cookies.  Word of warning:  these are NOT low fat cookies.  They are very rich but not too sweet.

Candy Cane Cookies (or Shepherd's Staff cookies)
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup shortening
2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 eggs
3 tsp almond extract
2 tsp vanilla 
5 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp red food coloring (I use less- that just seems like a lot of artificial red)
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy mixed with 1/2 cup granulated sugar  (optional)

Heat oven to 375 F.  Mix together butter, shortening and sugar.  Add egg, vanilla and almond.  Blend in flour and salt then divide dough in half.  Blend red food coloring into one half of the dough. It would be fun to try to color it with natural dye, maybe beet juice.  Since I don't use as much food coloring as the recipe calls for my candy canes are pink and white but no one seems to mind.
Here comes the fun part:  Roll a scant teaspoon of each color dough into a snake or rope about 4 to 5 inches long.  Lay ropes side by side, press together gently, and twist.  Like this:
Place on ungreased baking sheet, curve the top slightly to form the crook.  
Bake for about 9 minutes or until set and the bottoms are very light brown.
Here comes the optional part:  Immediately after you remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the cookies with the mix of  peppermint candy and sugar.  I don't generally do this part but sometimes I sprinkle them with colored sugar before I bake them.  
This dough can also be used to form other shapes such as wreaths or people. Get creative. No two cookies are the same, especially when made by children.  The dough spreads a bit, so don't put them too close together.

We're getting more snow today.  I11 and I spent part of the afternoon running errands in the slush and finding a new coat for him.  The zipper broke on his old coat and I'm not in the mood to try to replace a zipper on a down coat, if I could find one the right kind and size. I think this is the third or fourth year he has worn this coat so we got good use out of it.  Luckily we were able to find a coat that he liked in his size.  The choices were pretty limited where we went since most people have gotten coats already if they needed one.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Solstice is almost upon us and Christmas is bearing down full force.  I'm still having trouble getting into the spirit.  I've been listening to holiday music, everything from The Toronto Consort's Little Barleycorn to Sarah McLachlan's Wintersong to Ray Charles, to The Rat Pack.  It's lovely music but hasn't really been working.  
We've been baking cookies: Vanilla cookies, gingerbread, Chocolate cookies with candy cane kisses (like peanut butter blossoms but chocolate and peppermint- I love the new Hershey's candy cane kisses)  Tomorrow we'll make candy cane cookies and spritz.
The weather certainly points to winter.  We had about 2 inches of sleet with 1/4 inch of ice on top last night.  A lovely trip to work that made.  The tree is up, the spray of evergreen is by the door but still no holiday cheer.
Maybe it's the economic meltdown we're experiencing.  Maybe it's that work has been really hectic lately. Maybe it's that V is losing his job and that puts more financial worries on us.  With the consumer push of the holidays it's causing even more stress.  I do wish we had instituted a homemade Christmas.
The boys are into the consumer Christmas.  I11 is so difficult to get gifts for.   Part of his developmental issue is that he has very immature social skills and a very limited range of interests.  All he has asked for are video games or game related toys.  Oh, and his own jar of dry roasted peanuts that he doesn't have to share.  We try to keep things even for the children and I need to find something else to get for him but anything we have tried to steer him towards has been shot down. Well, he did think the remote control airplane was neat at the hobby store but thats not going to happen for $250.
One of my sisters is arriving tomorrow at my parent's house and we are planning a family get together on Sunday.  Hopefully the weather will hold. We're predicted to get 3 more inches of snow tomorrow and then frigid temps starting on Sunday (windchill readings to -30 F).  I hope seeing my family will cheer me up.  

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Feeling a bit resentful

We have a winter storm coming.  It is sweeping up from the southwest bringing snow, sleet and freezing rain with it.  My parents are forecast to get up to 3/4 inch of ice.  We are unsure what we will get here- we are right on the line between the ice storm warning and the winter storm warning. So we are expecting a mix of everything. It is just starting to do the freezing rain thing here. 
Today at work, everyone was anticipating bad weather.  One coworker who lives out of town rides in a vanpool.  They left work early at 1:45 pm, even through the storm wasn't predicted to hit until much later.  She is pretty much expecting that she won't make it into work tomorrow.  Another coworker lives 30 miles away (North on the Interstate).  We doubt if she will make it in because she doesn't do well with winter driving.  
I'm feeling a bit resentful because of the expectation that I will be at work tomorrow- regardless of the weather. Now, I know that the hospital doesn't close, I just get irritated that because I walk to work, it is expected that I can make it in.  I want to know what makes it safer for me to walk a mile and a half on uncleared sidewalks than it is for coworkers to drive on an interstate highway that the road crews have been working to keep clear all night.  I had the same thing this summer during the flood.  Since I live in town, obviously I can make it.  Of course, this summer, I lived on the opposite side of the flooded river. To get to work, I had to wade ankle deep through the flood water to get to the only open bridge across the river.  GRRRRR!!!

Ok.  Enough ranting,  I'm just feeling a bit put upon.  That on top of having an angry patient (who is still a bit delirious and agitated) throw a phone book at me and tell me to go to H***.  It just topped off my day.  So, I'm tired and cranky, and now I'm going to finish my glass of wine (and maybe have another) and watch the ice pellets fall.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Isn't he the sweetest thing?

Awww, they're beautiful!!
I came home from work a little late today, slogging my way through the snow and cold.  And there on the table, in a vase, was a single stem of pink lilies.  They smell heavenly!  
K8 was home sick today. He finally succumbed to the malady that has plagued the rest of us.  V stayed home with him.  Before the snowstorm really hit, V made a quick run to the grocery store since we were essentially out of milk.  While there, he picked up the flowers.  He said he thought he would brighten my day.  Isn't that just the sweetest, most romantic thing!  Definitely not local or seasonal but a welcome sight during a snowstorm. It makes me remember that spring will come again.

Snuggling boys
I11 and Ticket were snuggled on the couch, keeping warm.  We're freezing our buns off -but 95 lbs of dog will warm you up pretty fast. Now, if only he smelled as good as the lilies. And, no, he doesn't naturally have glowing green eyes.

Monday, December 15, 2008


When I left for work this morning it was a balmy 2 degrees.  With the windchill, it felt like -21 F.  I walk to and from work in all kinds of weather but even I think that's COLD!!!  But I layered up and pulled out my big fuzzy scarf and off I went.  J14 also walks to school and she bundled up as well.  
I was amazed at the number of people walking around totally unprepared for the cold.  As I passed the bus stop on my way home (it had warmed up to 8) there was a young girl standing at the bus stop in a light coat and gloves- no hat or scarf.  She was jumping up and down to keep warm.  If she had been the only person I saw today not dressed for the weather it would have been one thing but there were so many of them around.  We had a student start with us today for a 1 week clinical observation.  She showed up in a light coat with no hat or anything. When I asked her if she was cold, she said, "no" she drove so she didn't have to be outside.  She got a really strange look on her face when I asked her what she would do if she had car trouble or slid off the road on the ice.  I honestly don't think that had ever occurred to her.  At least my Dad taught me well- always be prepared for the worst.  Maybe that's why I'm so into the homesteading thing.  I want to be prepared for the worst.
Someone a while ago, told me that we are practicing for the real thing.  Today's weather was the real thing here.  And tomorrow it's supposed to snow.  Ahhh, Iowa in the winter.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Independence days- week 2

Another week gone by.  Where does the time go?  Things are gearing up for the holiday season.  I found out yesterday that my sister Joyce is coming from Maryland to my parent's house next weekend so I need to try to rearrange my schedule to get down there to see her.  V has a job interview on Friday with the University (cross your fingers!!!) for a clerk 4 position in the graduate medical college.  So far today, everyone is reasonably healthy.  So far, so good....

Now on to the business at hand.  Independence Days.

1 Plant something-  NOPE.  But my little lettuce seedlings are up in the basement.  I think I need to add another bank of lights because they are already seeming a little leggy. I thought I could get away with less fixtures since I had only the one window box, but I guess not.

2. Harvest something- NOPE, again. The Christmas jalapeno is slowly ripening. 

3.  Preserve something- Struck out again.

4.  Store something-  Ok, Here we go, finally something I can go with.  I picked up some extra English walnuts at the store during a holiday baking supply sale and stashed them in the chill drawer in the fridge with the multitude of other baking goodies: nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, etc.

5. Manage reserves- Finally made applesauce from the wrinkled apples I had left.  J14 finished it off yesterday so those are gone.  Brought up sugar from the reserves in the basement but will need to restock next time there is a good sale at the store.  Ate almost all of our meals from the freezer this week and are planning next weeks from there as well to make room.  

6. Cook something new-  Well, kind of.  We had 'make your own' calzones for dinner.  We've done pizza a lot but not calzones.  They were a hit.  

7.  Prep something- not really.  Most purchases were of the holiday sort.

8. Reduce waste-  Recycled, composted and used cloth bags at the grocery as usual.

9. Learn a new skill-  Still working on knitting.

10.  Work on Community food security- Tried to use our upcoming beef purchase as a jumping off point for talking about food security at work but things were so busy that I didn't have much time to really get into it.  I'll try again this week. 

11. Regenerate what is lost-relationship focus this week.  I had I11 take a plate of holiday cookies to the retired couple a few houses down from us.  There are only 5 or 6 houses in our square block area that are actually owner occupied- the rest are rental (read here students)- and we try to maintain connections with these people- to build a sense of community and stability.  This couple came to I11's rescue on Friday when he was home sick alone and managed to lock himself out of the house without shoes or a coat when he went out to get the mail.  (INSERT MOMMY GUILT HERE THAT I LEFT HIM HOME ALONE!!!)  We are the only family left here that still has young children.  The others are retired or nearing it- but we all try to keep communications open and get together at least once a year for a community event.   

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Vanilla Cookies

The original card
We made cookies tonight.  An old family recipe. When my paternal grandmother died (when I was about 10) I inherited her recipe box.  I wasn't very excited about it at the time but as I got older I realized what a treasure trove it was.  This is one of my favorites.  It says in the top corners M.K and used often for over 60 years. Now, the M.K would have been my Aunt Margaret before she was married.  When she died in 1997, she had been married for 60 years.  So that makes this recipe at least 120 years old.  WOW!!! The original card is written in pen and ink and is now old and tattered.  I don't use the original card anymore.  But anything that measures the flour in quarts and says it will keep for weeks in a stone crock, covered, is worth keeping. The original recipe makes LOTS of cookies.  I scale it down for manageability- it divides well by thirds.

Vanilla Cookies
3 eggs
1 cup milk
3 cups sugar
1 cup clarified drippings (shortening)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
8 cups flour (2 qts)

Cream sugar and drippings, add well beaten eggs.  Sift baking powder with flour- more may be needed to make dough stiff enough.  Add to eggs, etc, alternating with spoonsful of milk.  Finally stir in vanilla. (I either add the vanilla with the eggs or into the milk)  Roll thin and bake (375 F)

I'm not a big frosting fan so we usually make an egg wash and paint our cookies before we bake them. The other bonus to this is that they are done when the come out of the oven.  And it allows for some creativity.
K8 painting cookies
I even have a set of small paintbrushes that are used just for this purpose.  We also put on the sprinkles before the cookies are baked.  One nice thing about this recipe is that it isn't overly sweet and without frosting it is even better.
The finished product!
I have these wonderful old floursack towels that I got from my Mom that are the cookie towels.  She always lay her cookies to cool on one of these on the counter.   They are ancient but cookies are the only thing I use them for.  

Cobbler and Hot Chocolate

Not necessarily together...
Cherry Cobbler
I have been trying to make space in our freezer for the side of beef that is coming in January so I'm pulling out a few things.  Last night I made a cherry cobbler from cherries from my parent's orchard.  I love this recipe.  It is quite easy and is actually the very first recipe I ever made by myself when I was young.  I still have it on the original card I copied it onto (childish handwriting and misspellings and all).  It is actually supposed to be a blackberry cobbler but I have found that it works with any kind of fruit.  This was one of my grandmother's recipes. It makes this wonderful, fruity, gooey sauce in the bottom of the pan.

Blackberry (or whatever) Cobbler
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c shortening
1 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c milk
Combine ingredients for batter.  Spread into greased 8"x8" baking dish.  Cover top with 1 quart canned fruit (or 1 quart fresh fruit and 1/2 c water). Sprinkle top with 1/2 c additional sugar.  Bake 45 min at 375 F.  
Can be served hot with milk, cream or ice cream.  It is also good cold (we had it for breakfast).

In Hot Chocolate news:  The boys brought home another fundraiser for school a few weeks ago.  Usually the fundraisers sell lots of junk that I feel bad about trying to sell to people (I find it appalling that elementary children are expected to fund raise at all!).  But this one I felt good about.  They were selling fair trade coffee and chocolate from Equal Exchange.  We are able to get Equal Exchange coffee through the buying club at our church but they don't generally get the hot cocoa mix.  We decided to try the spicy one.  Whoa! it has a kick!  Not overly sweet and you can definitely taste the chili.  V and I really like it and it is definitely having a good effect on my congestion.  
Now, on to laundry and cookie baking...

Thursday, December 11, 2008


From this...

to this...
I took the time to cope with the last of the apples languishing away in the basket.  Yum, applesauce.  I like mine a little chunky and with a bit of cinnamon.  It was one of the things I managed to get done today.  I ended up staying home sick today.  We've had a respiratory virus passing around.  J14 was first Monday night and Tuesday.  I11 was sent home from school yesterday and is still running a 100.5 temp.  I woke up this morning with a headache and tight chest and a temp of 99.3.  That doesn't seem like much for most people but when you consider that my 'normal' temp is 96.8 (I have a dyslexic body temperature) if I get to 99, I'm sick.  I sat around on the couch with I11, snuggled under the blankets, surfed the net, looked at my seed catalogues and for a while this morning- peeled apples. It was a nice, mindless task that let me feel not totally useless.  Here's to cold drugs and an early bedtime.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The power of community

Good things are happening in the world.  And it's because of 'the little guys'.  I'm always amazed what can happen when people pull together for a common cause.  I'm so happy that the Neophyte Homestead is back on solid footing- or at least much more solid than a few days ago.  I even got a bit teary when I saw the total reached in such a short time.  It restores my faith in humanity. 
I have always tried to instill in my children the importance of giving back to the community, that 'pay it forward' mentality.  I'm not always successful but then they often surprise me.  Generally, at this time of year, we set aside a portion of money to give to a community cause, it has been the food bank, the free lunch program, or most recently the angel tree.  We talked about it at dinner on Monday and decided to put the money we had set aside into the pot to save Phelan's homestead.  That, to me, is a much more worthy cause than buying a plastic toy that will be briefly played with, then most likely end up in the landfill. Building community- through small acts.  We play it out in other ways as well.

Let me tell you about Cassie's Mittens.  Cassandra H was one of my daughter's best friends when they were small.  They did all the usual little girl things: birthday parties, sleepovers and so on.  Her Mom, Debbie, is a friend of mine.  Cassie used to frequently come home from school without her mittens, frustrating her parents to no end.  'How can she have lost ANOTHER pair!'  Until they learned that Cassie was giving her mittens away on the playground to children who didn't have any and who's hands were cold.
Cassie died of carbon monoxide poisoning, in an incident that nearly took the lives of the rest of her family, when she was 8.  Let me tell you, it is a heartbreaking thing to tell your 8 year old child that one of her best friends has died.  The winter after her death, a mitten drive was started in her honor, providing gloves, hats and scarves to the local schools so the office would have a supply to give to children who had forgotten, lost or just didn't have mittens- there is no discrimination on income- the only requirement is that the child needed them.  This project has grown over the last 6 years to include other agencies.  There are donation boxes in the schools, hospitals and area businesses.  Last year, we counted, sorted and distributed over 4000 items, to the schools, homeless shelter, free lunch and crisis center.  At one point our basement was overrun with mittens, hats and scarves as J14 sorted and packaged them to distribute to the schools.  
Giving back to the community can be so simple- holding an elevator for someone, giving a child a pair of mittens, purchasing a little extra for the food bank, giving to a friend.  Most of us won't be involved in earthshaking major events.  But the power to make real changes aren't in the big things.  They are in the small, everyday ways we can make a difference in someone else's lives.

Be the change you want to see in the world.  - Mahatma Gandhi-

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

She's BUSTED!!


Just when you think you have done a great job and have an intelligent, trustworthy child, they prove you wrong.

J14 got up this morning complaining of still not feeling well.  She's got the respiratory crud that has been going around.  I had just decided that I would let her stay home when we got the call that school was cancelled due to the weather. It was ICY this morning!! So all 3 children were home with her in charge.
Well, evidently about 11 she called V to ask if her friend Riley could come over.  Riley lives just down the street and has been over many times but, with J14 'sick' and no parents home he said NO.  Well, unbeknownst to her, his workplace closed at 1 to let people get home- so he arrived home rather unexpectedly to find Riley at our house.  To make matters worse, it turns out that she had bribed her little brothers with cash so they wouldn't tell. 
So- she is busted.  We asked her what she thought would be an appropriate punishment and she offered with 2 months of being grounded- with the exception of the winter formal.  Now, I'll be honest, the first thing I thought of was not letting her go to the dance but I went through H*** hemming that dress so she is going!!  
Our final solution is that she loses internet access for the rest of the month.  Now that hits her where it hurts!  Her computer will be disconnected from the router.  She will have limited access via my laptop to the online version of her algebra textbook.  (It's a nice option so they don't have to haul the heavy text home with them) and I'll relent eventually and let her check her email on occasion... but there will be NO instant messaging with her friends, no facebook, no booksie... NOTHING!  
We had a rather pointed discussion about issues of trust and how her behavior was a violation of that trust.  
As I said at first...TEENAGERS!!!

Oh, and we made her pay her brothers- because they didn't tell!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Feeling fortunate today

There has been so much going on today!  People around me seem to be in crisis, both here, in the blogosphere, and in my real life.  Friends have financial stressors, or relationship issues or sick children, or are ill themselves...  Things aren't totally rosy in my life but I'm feeling very fortunate tonight.  Financially, we are OK for the moment.  V has been frantically looking for a new job but has had no luck yet.  Even so, we will be fine.  The only outstanding debt we have is the car loan and the stuff I just put on the credit card for holiday purchases.  We will have a large outlay of cash in January for our beef but we've figured that into the mix.  We talked it over as a family at dinner tonight and decided what to do for our community 'gift' this year.  Normally we choose tags from the local angel tree but we're doing something different this year.
In relationship issues, things are going well.  About 2- 3 years ago V and I went through a VERY tough time.  We went through some rather intensive marriage counseling and managed to salvage our marriage and even came out stronger.  I think he is quite stressed about losing his job- I worry that he thinks it will damage our relationship.  But I'm OK with it.  We are both at a much better place in our lives- much more secure in ourselves- so I'm sure we will get through. 
Everyone here is healthy- at least mostly.  J14 was complaining of  a headache and stuffy head when she came home and had a slight fever so I let her stay home from orchestra rehearsal tonight.  Roger wasn't feeling well when I saw him Saturday morning so I hope I don't catch something from him. One of my co-workers called to let me know she won't be in as they have a stomach bug at their house (she has 2 elementary age children and 5 month old twins)
We've got a secure roof over our heads, food to eat, warm clothes to wear and even a few extras.  Yeah, life is good right now.  

My thoughts and prayers go out to all my friends who are struggling.  Peace be with you.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Independence Days- the first post

Sharon at Casaubon's Book has reopened the Independence Days Challenge for newcomers.  After lurking for a while I finally decided to start my blog a few months ago but felt uncomfortable jumping in on the middle of a challenge.  I always liked the Independence days posts from other bloggers I follow so I am a bit excited to begin my own journey.

1. Plant Something- I can actually say YES!  I am trying an experiment in the basement.  I brought in one of our window boxes from the backyard and put it under the grow lights I use for seed starting. I planted some mixed lettuce seed that I had left over from this spring. It is fairly cool in the basement (I use heat cables for seed starting) but I'm thinking that lettuce may do OK.  We'll see.  
2. Harvest Something- NOPE.  I've got one lone jalapeno on our indoor plant but it's starting to turn red and the children have dubbed it "The Christmas Jalapeno" so we're going to try to figure out something to do with it for the holidays.
3. Preserve something- No, but I need to.  I have a few apples languishing away in a basket that I need to do something with before they go completely bad.  They are getting pretty wrinkly so I'm thinking maybe some sauce.
4. Store something- I processed one of our after Thanksgiving bargain turkeys into stock, etc and stashed it in the freezer.  I stocked up on navy beans that were available at a good price.
5. Manage reserves- Need to do something with those apples!  Made roast winter veggies for dinner using the potatoes and sweet potatoes that were starting to get squishy.  Am planning all meals out of the freezer this week as we just ordered a side of beef.  Now we have to make room for it.
6. Cook something new- Nothing new this week. But did make a killer pot of chili- every time I make it is slightly different.  
7. Prep something- stocked up on candles at a store at the mall that is going out of business.  I would never shop there usually but they were having great deals.
8. Reduce Waste- Hemmed a thrift store find dress for J14 for the winter formal.  Composted and recycled as usual. Used cloth bags at the grocery and farmer's bag.
9. Learn a new skill- Was practicing knitting while I waited for I11 at band practice.  Haven't made much time recently to work on this.  I also watched my sister while she was knitting at Thanksgiving.
10. Work on community food security- Supported local, sustainable farmer by ordering half a steer.  Shopped the winter farmer's market.  Have food for donation to local food pantry but forgot to take it when I was going past the drop off point.
11. Regenerate what is lost.  Made connection with local Amish farmer and had conversation about sustainable farming.  Started looking through seed catalogues and talking garden planning with Roger.  Made sure to involve the boys in cooking last week- I want to be sure they can cook and feed themselves well.

Not a bad start.  Not sure which category this goes in but I plan to use our beef purchase as a conversation opener about food security at work.

Family matters

It has been a busy but fun weekend at our house.  We put up our tree last night which is always a good time.  We had hot, spiced cider, cranked the holiday music, got silly and pulled out the boxes.  Our theme tends to be 'overkill'.  We have LOTS of ornaments, more than will fit on the tree, but few are commercially produced ones that we have purchased.  Most of them are ones that have been made, either by me or by the children, or were gifts from others. We love sharing the stories as we hang them.  "Remember ____, who gave this one to us?" or "You made this one when you were __" or even better yet "This is one of the ornaments that Dad and I had on our very first tree together".  That is half the fun.  We do have an artificial tree, one that we have had for over 12 years.  It has seen better days but we're not about to get a new one.  Maybe someday we'll go back to having a real tree.  We got an artificial one when we had a cat that kept knocking the tree over by trying to climb it every year. That's why we have very few of the original glass ornaments that V and I got for our first tree together.
I11 had his band concert at church this morning.  They sounded fabulous and he is quite proud of himself for taking the risk to play in with a group that is comprised mostly of adults or high school students.  They ended up with 42 people playing in the band and played versions of holiday music by Mannheim Steamroller.  
J14 and her friends sold freshly baked cinnamon rolls between services as a fundraiser since 10 of them are going to the national youth gathering in New Orleans in July.  Everyone at church this morning was energized and in good spirits.
When we got home J14 and I worked to hem her dress for the winter formal.  It was a thrift store find but was a bit too long.  Hemming the underskirt wasn't the problem.  My Mom did that quickly when we were down for Thanksgiving and she was helping us problem solve the dress.  The issue was the sheer, floaty overskirt. It needed to be cut since it has a very tiny hem.  I was quite nervous about cutting the fabric- once it's cut you can't put it back.  But we took the plunge, cut an inch off the bottom and re-hemmed it. Luckily my sewing machine has a specialized foot that will do those tiny rolled hems automatically- although with fabric that sheer and slippery it wasn't a picnic.  But it's done.  For $20 and a half hour of swearing under my breath she looks lovely.  It also has a matching wrap that goes with it and is from a leading designer of wedding gowns.  My thought is that it was probably someone's bridesmaids dress that they didn't want so that's how it ended up at the thrift store.  The really nice thing is, if she decides she doesn't want to wear it as a formal again, it is a simple and classic enough design that we could cut it shorter and she could wear it as a shorter dress.
In other news, I reported in my comments on yesterday's post that we did put down a deposit on a side of beef that we will receive toward the end of January. Now we just need to make space in the freezer. We have planned all our meals this week around what we can use out of the freezer to make space.  Now I almost wish I hadn't bought turkeys- but variety is nice, too. I'm glad I only processed one of them since the stock takes more room in the freezer than the whole bird.  Maybe after Santa brings me my canner I will can some to get it out of the freezer. That can be my learning project.  I'm going to be pushing oatmeal for breakfast since I store my stash of oatmeal in the freezer and I've currently got about 12 lbs in there taking up lots of space.  If worse comes to worst, the oatmeal and my stash of 15 lbs of unbleached flour can live out of the freezer for a while. 
Our penchant for picking stuff out of dumpsters paid off this morning as well.  As we were on our way to church we noticed that someone had put an old snowshovel and a pitchfork out by a dumpster down the alley.  By the time we came home the snow shovel was already gone but the fork was there.  It has a broken handle but it is a great old fork...and I mean, OLD.  It doesn't look like a garden fork but an actual old-fashioned hay fork.  I'm thinking compost aeration this spring....

This has been rather rambling hasn't it.  But then, I'm avoiding laundry.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Winter market

Today was the last of the winter farmer's markets.  The regular market season closes at the end of October but there are 2 winter markets, one in November and one in December.  I missed the November market due to work (market hours are 9am to 2pm) but I was able to go this morning. We had to be out and about early today as I11 had band practice at 8:30 this morning in preparation for their big day tomorrow.  So after he finished practice we wandered down to the market at the community recreation center. I was impressed, the gym was full, both of vendors and of customers.  Many of the items were crafts or baked goods.  I let I11 get a cookie from one vendor and I got a pair of earrings, handmade silver spirals (I have a thing for spirals) the will now be a 'surprise' gift this holiday.  I was going to post a picture of them but for some reason Blogger isn't letting me upload pics this morning.
There were a few of the regular food vendors there:  The 'apple guy' was there so we got some of his fabulous cider that we will have warm and spiced when we put up the tree this evening.  We also got some more bacon and brats for the freezer.  I also had a wonderful chat with a guy that I hadn't seen at the regular summer markets.  He was an Amish farmer who had sorghum for sale and had flyers for his grass fed beef and "open air" pork.  He will be taking his cattle for processing in January and is taking orders. His quoted price for a grass fed side of beef is $3.41 per pound.  I may need to talk to V about that.  He said the average finished weight of a half of beef is 290 lbs.  Now that is a LOT of beef but it would feed us for over a year.  It would be a big outlay up front but we would definitely have food to eat in leaner times.  I wonder if I could share it out with my brother and parents.  The farmer doesn't have email or even a phone but he gave me his address so I can drop him a letter or said I can just stop by the farm (I love that!) and gave me directions- it's near the cheese factory.   I did get a jar of sorghum- now that's a flavor from my childhood.

Friday, December 5, 2008

This and that

I had a busy day.  I did much more running around than usual, even for a day off.  I did manage to get almost all of my holiday shopping done, at least for the immediate family.  I got the boys several new games, some books and some new clothes. I got a few things off J14's list and a few things that she didn't ask for- I'm not going to tell in case she reads this ;-)   I picked up a stocking stuffer for V and did the online ordering for his other major gift.  I've got a few things left to pick up and need to visit the Heifer project site for gifts for my parents and V's mom.   But generally, I feel good about today's purchases.
I had a long talk with my friend Roger.  He was at work and was bored and worried so he gave me a call.  He works in the supply room for a company that manufactures auto parts so his job outlook isn't good either, considering how things look for the auto industry right now.  We were talking about the garden, both of us wishing, especially now, that the garden had done better and we had been able to put up more food.  We started the conversation about next year and decided we need to get together soon and plan what we want to do.  I think part of the problem last year was that we didn't have a plan, and with 2 people planting in a garden, things weren't very organized.  Add to that the record rains we had and things weren't good.  But we're looking forward to next year.  He was glad that I am hoping to get a pressure canner and thought it would be fun to work together to figure it out next year.  I think that really means that he will want to borrow it- but I'm OK with that.  He lets me share his garden, that's something that I can't repay.  We're looking forward to sitting down with the seed catalogues, a pot of coffee or tea and plotting and planning for next year.  
In other news,  the window box I brought in from the back yard has thawed and a few weed seeds have started sprouting in it.  I have it under my grow lights that I use for seed starting and am hoping to plant some greens in it for some fresh veggies this winter.  Maybe tomorrow...I'm planning to do laundry and hem J14's dress so I'll be hanging out in the basement a bit anyway.  Now I just need to remember where I put the timer for the lights....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

'tis the season

Wet gloves drying on an open vent.  Jack frost nipping at your nose...

OK! OK!  So the rhymes don't work.   We got several inches of snow today and K8 had a grand and glorious time sledding after school coming home throughly wet and cold. Their after school program lets them sled down the big hill at the school.  I'm surprised but they can even do it at recess sometimes, if they're properly dressed. So now we are back to the winter cycle of wet snowpants, boots, gloves, hats and scarves. We have lovely copper vent covers in much of the house, discovered when we refinished floors a few years ago and decided to see what was under the multitude of coats of paint on the register covers.  They work wonders for drying gloves.  As the winter progresses we generally bring up one of the drying racks from the laundry and set it in front of a vent to hold hats, scarves and such.  We took the (not green at all) plunge last year and invested in a pair of boot dryers for wet shoes.  J14 pulled one out this afternoon.  She evidently wasn't paying attention when we talked about the possibility of snow and walked to school (no snow) and back (probably about 3 inches of the white stuff) in only her Converse sneaks.  Not warm or waterproof.  Needless to say she had mighty cold tootsies when she got home and WET shoes.  Everyone else had their boots,  I think she spends too much time with her headphones on to pay attention to the weather forecast. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Holiday blues

It's cold  here-  the cuts through you kind of cold.  Oh, I'm aware that it isn't really bad yet, that it will be even worse in January and February.  It's just that I'm not used to it.  It seems not long ago that it was in the 70s here.  This morning as I walked to work it was 25 and even a bit of ice on the sidewalks still.  
It seems that this time of year, I always get a bit blue. Everywhere you turn it's the Christmas hype, screaming buy, buy, buy!  I'm not in the mood for Christmas yet but I need to get into gear. I would like the season to be more meaningful with less 'stuff' but the boys especially are into the gimme trap.  J14 is pretty reasonable, she isn't asking for much -although I raised my eyebrows and gave her one of 'those looks' at the request for $100 in i-tunes giftcards- I'm not sure how serious she was. I'm pretty sure she knows she won't get that much.  Mostly she wants a hair straightener (Oh to be 14), books and a movie.  The boys have issued their demands for video games.  They have been told to prioritize because there is NO WAY they are getting all they want.  Long ago we instituted the 3 presents from Santa rule.  We have been going to the same Santa at a local mall (although last year it was a different guy- I'm worried that the other one may have died- he was that old and looking pretty frail!) and it always just made my stomach turn to hear kids rattling off the list of what they wanted.  We have always told our children that they could only ask for 3 things, with the reasoning that Santa has to provide toys for everyone and they shouldn't be greedy.  We also always pick tags from the angel tree to get gifts for other children who are less fortunate.  
My parents have always been frugal with everyone getting only one or 2 gifts but V's family has always gone way over the top with gifts, especially for the children.  It hasn't been as bad in the past few years since his Dad passed away but still more than I'm comfortable with.  V is almost as bad as the boys, asking for music and several train cars (he is into model railroading) to finish off his Reading Lines collection, among a few other things.
I need to try to get into the holiday spirit.  I have Friday off since I worked last weekend (Yup- worked the holiday weekend) so I plan to do some holiday shopping.  Hopefully it won't be too crowded on a weekday morning.  I really hate the holiday shopping crowds.  You couldn't pay me to go out on Black Friday. I loaded some holiday music onto my i-pod for the walk into work.  No traditional Holiday music yet, I've been listening to The Toronto Consort and renaissance music- holidayish without being too kitsch.  I'm warming up to this holiday thing- like I'm warming up to the cold weather.  

Sunday, November 30, 2008


It's a winter wonderland!
It's not the first time it has snowed but this is the first time it has stuck to anything.  I always think it's beautiful when the snow hangs onto the trees and bushes.  At least it's been warm enough that the snow hasn't stayed on the sidewalks or streets.  Last year this time we had loads of snow- and then we didn't see the ground in our backyard until March.  Here's hoping for a bit less of the white stuff this year.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Omnivore's 100

Quite a while ago Very Good Taste  offered up the Omnivore's 100:  100 things to try in your life as an omnivore.  Hmmm....I'm a pretty well rounded, adventurous eater.  I know this isn't new but here's how I stack up.

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.

2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.

3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at verygoodtaste linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:
1. Venison (have an uncle who is an avid bow hunter)

2. Nettle tea

3. Huevos rancheros

4. Steak tartare

5. Crocodile

6. Black pudding

7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp

9. Borscht

10. Baba ghanoush

11. Calamari (even the children have all had this one-  K8 even requested it for his birthday a few years ago)

12. Pho

13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi

15. Hot dog from a street cart (I've done them from the ball park, does that count?  I generally don't do hot dogs- not since I learned what the allowable percentage of insect parts and rodent hair is... My allowable percentage is 0)

16. Epoisses

17. Black truffle

18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (apple, cherry, rhubarb, blackberry, even tomato!)

19. Steamed pork buns

20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes (DUH!!)

22. Fresh wild berries

23. Foie gras

24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn,or head cheese

26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (I've grown them and like hot peppers but never had the guts to try one raw...maybe next summer.  V says it's like drinking an entire 6-pack at the same time)

27. Dulce de leche

28. Oysters

29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda

31. Wasabi peas

32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (I've had clam chowder and I've had soup in sourdough bowls but not together)

33. Salted lassi

34. Sauerkraut

35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar (cigars make me barf!!!)

37. Clotted cream tea

38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O

39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat (roast but not curried)

42. Whole insects (at least not on purpose.  I know I've swallowed bugs, especially gnats while gardening)

43. Phaal

44. Goat’s milk

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more

46. Fugu

47. Chicken tikka masala

48. Eel

49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi

53. Abalone

54. Paneer

55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (Yeah, confession time)

56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini (don't like gin but I've had vodka martinis)

58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine (french fries, cheese curds and gravy?  Why?)

60. Carob chips

61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin

64. Currywurst

65. Durian (it does stink to high heaven but it actually tastes pretty good)

66. Frogs’ legs

67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis

69. Fried plantain

70. Chitterlings, or andouillette

71. Gazpacho

72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe

74. Gjetost, or brunost

75. Roadkill (hmm, if I hit a deer and was able to dress it out on the spot I'd do it but I'm not sure I'd eat anything not fresh)

76. Baijiu

77. Hostess Fruit Pie

78. Snail (too much like slugs for my taste but I've never been offered them prepared well)

79. Lapsang souchong (during my Mom's adventurous tea days)

80. Bellini

81. Tom yum

82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky (the children got something similar from their Tae Kwon Do master but not sure)

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.

85. Kobe beef

86. Hare  (does rabbit count???)

87. Goulash

88. Flowers

89. Horse

90. Criollo chocolate

91. Spam

92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa

94. Catfish

95. Mole poblano

96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor

98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake

If I counted right I think I'm at 55 of 100.  Not too bad for a girl from the midwest.  I need to work on my Mid-eastern and asian foods.  I had the good fortune of having some quite adventurous eating during a trip to the Philippines in my younger days.    I don't think there is anything I would say I would absolutely refuse to try.  Things I wouldn't line up for but I would try if given the opportunity.