Wednesday, December 30, 2009
One little thing that you've meant to do all year.
One little thing you'd be tempted to put on a New Year's Resolution List, if you made one.
One little thing that you can get out of the way this year; one last little thing to be proud of.
Maybe you need to call someone, finish a book, or clean out a kitchen drawer.
Maybe there's one little thing you can do, and that you will do.
I challenge you.
I DARE you!
Me, I'm gonna make soap!!
What are you gonna do?
I love you, and I want to bear your children.
Okay, child, and okay, yeah, I did already. But still.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The chickens refuse to come down from their roost.
I'm supposed to be taking down the Christmas tree and the majority of the decorations.
I'm drinking coffee and simply drooooling over the Irish Eyes Garden Seeds 2010 Spring Catalog. The company is local, and specializes in organic and heirloom seeds and potato starts. Not all their seeds meet these requirements, because in some cases the organic seeds just aren't right for our climate. Unlike most seed companies, these guys actually produce as many seeds as they can, right on their own property. The whole family works on the farm and in the office, and they also hire local full-time workers. It's the kind of place you can be really proud of getting seeds and starts from.
I should mention that they don't know me from Adam. I have no vested interest in their success, other than the fact that any local business that's successful is a success for our valley in general.
So, back to the droooooooling...
Organic mini-tubers! No cutting, just plant them whole, and increased yields over non-cut varieties? Early producers, though, takes a little more real-estate since you can't put them in a potato growing bin.
Did you say potato growing bin? Be still my heart as we gaze at page 17! These are the most beautiful bins ever. These bins bear no resemblance to my own bins, built from scraps and bits, and covered up early in the year by hops.
Beets. I was a beet-growing failure of large proportion last year. This year, I will succeed! I swear it! I will have beets in the freezer, beets on the shelf, and beets in my belly all year long. Let's see, I need to put them in better sun. The information provided also says to keep the beets away from pole beans. Oh-ho, it even tells me how many feet to plant per person. Three of us, so 60 linear feet of beets. 100 linear feet per packet, so yeehaw baybee, we'll have us some beets.
Which type, which type, which of the six to choose?
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts are next. Yummy! I just need to plant them away from where they were this past summer, it says. Hmm. Might need a few more beds. I put broccoli in each of the beds we have now!
This is serious business, folks.
What are you dreaming?
Monday, December 28, 2009
(So happy to be back here at the homefront!)
We left home on Wednesday, and finally found our way back on Sunday. The roads were lovely, which may have been the best present we could ask for this year. It was strange to be away for Christmas--in some ways it was easier, in other ways it was much more difficult.
Right now, our second largest cat, weighing in at 25 pounds, is draped over my wrists as I type. Being away from home isn't as hard as that.
Hard was not having the traditional foods, the traditional sit-down dinner, the traditional drive around to look at the lights. Hard was wondering if the cats and chickens were okay, if our own Christmas tree at home had fallen over, if the house had burnt down. Very hard was the lack of espresso maker on the counter (or coffee of any kind).
Easy, interestingly, is a nearly identical list. No cooking an elaborate sit-down dinner for a crowd. Not having to look after our own animals. Driving up the road to get a coffee instead of making it myself.
Christmas is family, and we had that. We had Christmas. It was good.
In a few weeks, my aunt will be back in town again, after her absence of several months. She had Christmas with a neighbor in Arkansas. They had Christmas, too. They had it, and it was good.
But on the phone tonight, we started planning...we're doing Christmas again in January!
I can't wait!
Oh. And guess what we did Saturday night? More gingerbread houses!
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Hope your after-holiday festivities have been as non-productive as mine have been. On the other hand, is spending time playing Dance, Dance Revolution with your daughter and building Legos with your son really non-productive?
Friday, December 25, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
On the long drive home from Bet's house after making gingerbread houses after Thanksgiving, I wondered what the December Daring Bakers challenge would be. I drove past the outlet store where I previously found the cannoli forms needed for the November challenge, and wondered it it wouldn't be prudent to stop in and buy the whole bloomin' store in preparation for whatever was thrown our way in December.
Imagine my surprise the day after returning home to find that the new challenge was gingerbread houses! Ok, sure, I groaned a bit at first. After spending four days immersed to my eyeballs in gingerbread, royal icing, and candy, I was feeling a bit done with that for the year. Also, the challenge required us to use one of the two recipes provided--we weren't allowed to default to our own tired-and-true recipes. Believe me, I asked!
A cool aspect of the challenge was a new assembly method. The suggestions was to melt two cups of sugar in a pan, dip the edges of the baked pieces into the sugar, and quickly assemble the parts. Wow! This worked like a charm. I wouldn't suggest letting your little ones do this, but it sure made for the speediest and strongest construction ever!
I made a smaller house, as we already had two large ones on the buffet, and because that's the scale my girl traced it out for me on her graph paper.
This dough didn't roll out as nicely as my usual gingerbread does. You can see lots of cracks and splits. I hoped they'd diminish in the oven. Some went away, but others grew.
Working quickly, I dipped the pieces in the caramelized
sugar and assembled the structure.
I wanted to make "glass windows," but found I had no hard candies in the house.
I melted a few pieces of my candy cane cannots in the microwave,
poured the thickening sludge into the windows, and ta-da! Windows!
Windows that glow when a candle is lit inside the little house!
And when the lights are off, and you're busy taking pictures,
you think you've never smelled such a fragrant gingerbread house.
Then you realize the house is on fire.
The gingerbread house, not the real house!
All is calm, all is bright.
Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas
1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]
1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.
2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.
3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.
4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]
5. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.Simple Syrup:
2 cups (400g) sugar
Place in a small saucepan and heat until just boiling and the sugar dissolves. Dredge or brush the edges of the pieces to glue them together. If the syrup crystallizes, remake it.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Later, we went to a small bead store on our way to swim team. There, I wondered about dreaming about what I could make, my daughter found all things sparkly, and my son ran his hands happily over every string of beads he could find. No one got angry at him, because that is what you do in a bead store.
This is where I received the perfect Christmas present. A gentlemen was selling his necklaces to the owner of the store. He looked over and asked my daughter if she wanted a necklace. If I was a person who had taught my daughter to be afraid of strangers she would not have known what to do. Instead, she smiled her shy smile and looked over at me. He gave her a necklace that looks like a moon rock and takes on different colors in different light. The same man gave my son a larger stone of the same rock. Later, when I was paying for the few stones I indulged in, he gave me a necklace of the same stone mixed with my birth stone. It was beautiful. He didn't ask for anything in return. He didn't even say Merry Christmas. He does this all the time, spreading joy throughout the year.
So in the middle of one of the lousiest days I found something to be grateful for. This man gave me the perfect present and it wasn't the necklace. It was a reminder that Christmas joy should be spread all year long and it definitely isn't about presents. It's about kindness, love and generosity. It's about doing the unexpected for complete strangers. It's about a smile in the middle of Target for worn down mamas just doing their best.
Unless you need it more than I do. I have friends and family to compensate--maybe you don't?
Maybe I left it under one of these piles around here.
There's a pile of paper I bought to print out our Christmas cards. I never took a picture I liked well enough to put on the card, so those didn't get made or sent.
Maybe it's under these piles of candy and cookies. I only finished up one basket. I took some in to the office, but there was already so much there that the secretary just bundled mine back up and put it away for me to bring back home.
Maybe my Christmas spirit is in the box with what's left of the presents yet-to-be wrapped.
I just wish I could find it.
In other news....we're jumping off a cliff into the realm of homeschooling!
We haven't landed yet, we're still in the falling phase.
Our town only has one middle school, and it's not a great place. Bet and I met there, and that's the only good thing to be said for it. Anyway, my daughter is getting 6 A grades and one F. The F teacher thinks she's learning disabled. She picks on my girl, she nags at my girl, and makes my girl feel awful. The situation has been spiraling downhill, the principal won't transfer any more students out of this class (six have left her class already), and so what is left for us to do?
Long-term fixes are required, none of which will help our girl. By the time the teacher has been retrained or fired, it won't help us out at all. So, we're grabbing the bull by the horns and we'll see what our hands end up full of.
I suppose that as her new teacher I'll need to refrain from ending my sentences in prepositions...
I need some joy, I need some assurance, I need to feel prepared.
Shower. Carols. Call the school and tell them to shove it. Call the Washington Virtual Academy to finish the enrollment process. Wrap presents. Get ready to leave this evening to stay at the in-laws through Christmas.
Ok, whoever has my Christmas spirit can keep it. I've got a list, I've got a plan, and I'm gonna make some of my own if it kills me!
Monday, December 21, 2009
So, in this vein of thought I am supremely grateful for all those that still handcraft Christmas. People like Kat, my mom and Soule Mama who plan and take the time to create a Christmas that is more than just a stash of stuff. As I look around my home, I have evidence of the love these people have given to me. An afghan my grandma made me, a nativity scene crafted by my father-in-law, a bevy of handmade ornaments care of my children, a watercolor by my own mom, a gingerbread house shared with Kat. So even though I will be spending this afternoon shopping instead of making, my heart is definitely with those who do. Maybe some day I will manage to find the time to make all those projects that live in my mind.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The past three weeks have flown by. The weeks were not filled with the usual Christmas craziness, but by the normal, regular routine my family lives by-- we swim, play soccer, go to school, practice Tae Kwon Do and the recorder. Now that school is out for winter break it is time for me to get down to the business of Christmas. Instead of getting caught up in the normal rush to get things, I have decided to spend time being grateful. For the five nights sleeps we have until Christmas Day, I hope to share with you what I am most grateful for at the moment.
Today I am grateful for the good folks at the Winter Hospitality Outreach. In our area it is a group of churches that band together to help out those who are homeless and don't have alternative shelter during the cold of the winter months. I had the privelege of spending eight hours there a few weeks ago and learned how dedicated these individuals are. At the same time I am grateful for those moms out there who manage to be amazing moms even when they have no homes. I have a hard enough time doing so with a home and a steady food supply.
What are you grateful for today?
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
daughter and I made candy canes. Trouble is, they
look a little bit more like candy cannots, to me.
that covers the base of my index finger on one hand,
and the multitude of mini-blister/burns/ seriously it really hurts
owie owies on my other hand,
and I think I might be *just*about done with
Christmas basket making year.
well I only have 10 fingers and three are now out of commission.
The basket is a bit meager this year, with only fudge, caramels,
lemon-drop cookies, spicy molasses cookies, high-octane toffee,
and cinnamon candy cane cannots.
I'll sew up a few little ornaments to add to this
basket, and then I'm done.
Really, really, done.
Monday, December 14, 2009
You know the expression "be careful what you wish for?"
I made it through the week, and then came Saturday. The migraine lifted, but then came Saturday. I fought for my funding at work (and won, yay!), but then came Saturday.
The girl-child headed off with her Girl Scout troop for an overnight trip, so my husband took her to the meet-up point Saturday morning. I figured now was as good a time as any to remove the slab of Easter Caramels from the pan and begin the tedious chore of individually wrapping them in little pieces of waxed paper.
The caramels had other plans.
I really like good kitchen tools. I'm a sucker for a heavy pot, a sil-pat nonstick pan liner, silicone rubber spatulas, and sharp knives. I'm partial to Global knives. I own four, and I use them all the time. My husband is a super great guy, and he bought a fancy set of stones and polishers that he uses to keep my knives sharp. Dull knives are awful, and I don't let them hang out in my kitchen.
So there I was, trying to pry the slab of caramel out of the dish, when something somewhere slipped. The slippage was stopped by my bone. For half a second, I had a 12" Global chef knife sticking into my bone. Wow!
Not thinking, I pulled the knife out immediately. Yes, I'm first aid certified under two different globally-recognized training systems. No, I didn't remember that one should NEVER pull out a knife in a stab wound.
I don't handle blood very well. I have a scar on my forehead from chemistry class in high school. The teacher was discussing bloody accidents from the past and down I fell, hitting my head on a ceramic eye-wash stand, then proceeding on to seizures on the laboratory floor. I really wasn't the coolest kid in the class. I was even less cool after this episode.
Anyway, blood, spurting. I went down, hit the floor, stood up, made it further, hit the floor, got to the phone to call my husband. His cell isn't on. I make it up the stairs, blood still flowing, hit the floor. Try to get to bed, hit the floor again. Decide this is the most comfortable pile of dirty laundry in the whole wide world and I'd just rest here for awhile.
My poor husband comes home, sees the blood trail, follows it through the house, and finally finds me crumpled in a ball on the bedroom floor. Poor guy! I tell him I cut myself, and he says yes, he can tell. But where the heck am I bleeding? Where is this mad gush of blood coming from? There's blood all over the house, he says. In fact, there's blood on the walls, blood on the trim around the bedroom door, blood just about everywhere!
I show him the wound. It's less than an inch long on my thumb.
It took it a few hours to stop completely. But it finally did. And the weird thing is, the cut doesn't hurt at all. I still can't use my thumb without it bleeding, but there's no pain, so I don't really care.
And, since I couldn't use my thumb, my super-cool husband had to wrap all the caramels.
I just might have to remember this plan for next year!
I also have to remember to be careful what I wish for...
Friday, December 11, 2009
I just love all the lights!!
I even love the dreidel song...
Give me a minute here, folks...
All righty, then.
We've made toffee from a recipe on a website.
We've made caramels from an old family recipe.
The very best, and frankly, the only fudge recipe I ever make came from the back of a marshmallow fluff jar.
Maybe its because that's what I grew up on, but I've never tasted any better fudge. If you've never tried it, you should. You should do it now, as a matter of fact!
and a small can (the 5 oz size) of evaporated milk into a large heavy pot.
Stir almost constantly until a thermometer reads 234 degrees F
or a bit of candy dropped into a glass of ice water makes a thread,
or the very softest ball possible.
Remove the candy from the heat and add one jar of marshmallow fluff
(7 oz size) and 12 oz of semi-sweet chocolate.
I usually use chocolate chips, but you could splurge on
some fancier chocolate if you prefer.
Stir it up very well, then add 1 teaspoon of vanilla.
Stir very well again.
Nutty people can now add nuts.
(I'll look away while you do that, though, okay?)
Carefully pour the liquid fudge into a well-buttered 8 inch square (ish) pan.
Let cool, then cut into squares.
Or just eat it all--that would be okay too!
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
dash of salt
5 oz evaporated milk
12 oz chocolate chips
7 oz marshmallow fluff
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Butter an 8" square pan very well, and set aside.
Dump first four ingredients into a large heavy pot.
Heat to 234 degrees F while stirring constantly.
Remove from heat, add chocolate and fluff.
Add nuts (optional).
Cool for a few hours, then eat.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
My mom is one of eight kids, so plenty of aunts and uncles parked themselves on the bar stools lining the counter. The trick to getting the most caramels was to be sure to slip between different stools each time. That way, no one ever noticed how many times you came back. The other trick was to throw the little wrappers away in the far back bathroom, where no one would ever see the sticky little pile of waxed-paper squares.
I was cute, too, as well as the only child, and looking back, that may have played a more significant role than I realized at the time!
The recipe for the caramels came from my great great aunt. She shared it with many, but specifically passed it down to my great aunt, who in turn shared it with many, but specifically passed it down to my aunt. Who Wouldn't Share with Anybody!!!
So, after we moved north, I didn't get caramels. My mom called and asked for the recipe, but my aunt wouldn't let her have it. My mom called the rest of her siblings, but nobody had the recipe. It's not that my great aunt wouldn't share, as some remember getting the recipe from her, it's that nobody still had a copy. Except my aunt...
A few years later, I called my aunt and told her to cough it up! Actually, it was probably more like, "Um, I miss you. Um, I love you. Um, remember those caramels? Um, can you tell me how to make them? Um, I love you?"
A week later the recipe came in the mail. She sent specific instructions that this recipe was hers and mine alone.
Hmph. Screw that!
I've shared this recipe with everyone, and I've shared that it's a family favorite. I've shared it and seen happiness spread and grow. I want you to make these, and share them, and share the recipe if people want it.
And who knows. Maybe it will make someone so happy, they'll share their recipes in return. The world could do with far fewer bitter old aunts, don't you think?
Oh, and just so you know, when my own niece asked for the recipe, I went to the local stationery store and bought the loveliest recipe cards I could find, and a beautiful pen with matching ink. I carefully wrote out the recipe, and let my niece know that this was a special recipe for aunts and nieces--and whoever the hell they wanted to share it with!
In a large, heavy, non-stick-if-you-got-it, at least 4 quart pot combine
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
Now add 1 cup of heavy cream.
Bring to a full boil while stirring near-constantly.
If you're using non-stick, you don't have to be as vigilant as you do with not-non-stick.
Now, slowly drizzle in 1 more cup of cream.
Using your favorite thermometer, keep a close eye on the temperature.
You want to get to 240 degrees F.
Not under, not over, but right on the money.
It's a bit hard to tell, but the candy is a light tan color, and when the bubbles pop,
they do it in a sort of sticky manner.
I think Pooh-bear would understand that, and I'll just have to hope that you do, too!
Now add 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and chopped nuts if you'd like.
I don't like, so I don't add.
After stirring the vanilla in very well, pour the mixture
into a well-buttered 8 inch square(ish) dish.
Let cool overnight, cut into squares, and wrap each individual square.
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2-3/4 cups chopped walnuts (optional)
Combine first four ingredients and one cup cream in a large saucepan.
Bring to a full boil, then slowly add second cup of cream.
Stir constantly until the temperature reads 240 degrees F on a thermometer or has reached the medium ball stage in a glass of ice water.
Remove from heat and add vanilla and nuts (if using).
Pour into a well-buttered 8 inch square pan.
Cool overnight, then cut into squares. Each square must be individually wrapped or you'll end up with a congealed cluster of caramel.
Remember that sharing is good and kind, and is the right thing to do!
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Finally ate a bit for dinner.
Important meetings every day this week.
They're trying to take my funding.
They won't get it.
Christmas in two weeks?!
So much candy to be made!
Presents to be wrapped!
The sound of tape peeling off the dispenser is loud enough to make me die.
The cats are cuddly and friendly.
My room is dark and warm.
Tomorrow will be better.
If I don't die tonight.
I've made a new tag for this post.
Sheer outright whining.
I hope you have a glorious day.
I hope someone makes you smile and laugh.
I'm sorry that won't be me.
But if you find a nice person to make you smile, will you send them my way?
On tip-toes, in the dark?
I'll be under the covers.
Baby it's cold outside!
Last year, mornings meant lugging out a fresh bucket of water for the chickens.
Noontime meant pounding out the ice block, coming in to re-fill the bucket, and lugging a fresh bucket of water out to the chickens.
Dinnertime? You guessed it.
So, I hereby introduce to you my favorite new gadget!
The bowl is insulated, and has a thermostat, and plugs in to keep the water in a liquid state!
No more solid state water!
Low tech is really great for most things. But I'll take the high tech here!
On another note, raccoon prints on the backyard pond.
How cute (until the get into the chicken coop...)!!
The raccoon prints were much clearer before the wind blew the dusting of snow away.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Oh boy do I do!
I've never made toffee before, but I've wanted to try it. Somehow, I just never got around to it until someone, some wonderful some one, combined coffee and toffee. The procrastinating stopped right then.
I pretty much followed her recipe. However, not having instant espresso powder, I used freshly ground "high octane" coffee beans ground in my burr grinder at the finest setting. I also upped the quantity from 1.5 teaspoons to somewhere nearer a heaping tablespoon. I cooked it to the 300 F she suggests. My thermometer may be low, but I think next time I'd go up just a little higher, maybe 310 F?
I roasted hazelnuts form the bulk section of the local grocery store. After they were slightly cool I brushed them with a cloth, then went outside and blew all the papery skins off. Easy peasy, and yet the most time-consuming and complicated part of the recipe.
Seriously, people, from start to in-my-mouth-oh-lordamighty-these-are-good was less than 15 minutes. I think it might have been less than 10 minutes, but I won't swear to that. Is was so fast, however, that I have exactly zero photos of the process. If you don't live where the temperature is in the single digits, you will need to wait a little longer for them to cool. It took these approximately three minutes to go from melted-sugar hot to (literally) freezing cold.
Based on the photographic evidence, you might think I wasn't very careful in spreading the nuts over the melted chocolate. Ummm, would you believe my if I said it was an experiment to see if the little nut pieces tasted better than the big nut pieces? Yeah. Well. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.
Monday, December 7, 2009
After a long weekend in the big city, we took the day off and played hookie.
First, a new wedding ring for him.
Second, a drive up into the hills to take photos, hopefully getting a good one for this year's Christmas card.
This afternoon, we'll head up into the hills in another direction to get our tree.
In the meantime, I'm making coffee toffee from Smitten Kitchen. I'm roasting the hazlenuts, smells so good!
Yup, playing hookie rocks!
Friday, December 4, 2009
Pablano is trying to figure out how to work a screwdriver.
Sitting in front of the heat vent is not enough.
He wants to curl up right inside the furnace.
We're going to a party for a two-year old.
I found the BEST PRESENT EVER last week near Bet's.
His cheeks glow, and he quacks a not-too-obnoxious
quack as his fountain spurts water over his back!
($12.95 from Young Art in Vancouver, WA)
I can't wait to see my nephew's face!