Friday, January 29, 2010

Kitchen Litter (by Kat)




Recycling is easy--rinse off and toss in the proper bin.

Reusing is near and dear to my heart. Every rubber band from the newspaper or the heads of broccoli we buy at the store goes into the drawer. Plastic liners from our cereal boxes are shaken free of crumbs and used again, allowing us to forgo using a new Ziploc bag. Plastic sour cream containers are our freezer containers, glass jars become vessels for popcorn kernels. Bits of string left over from crochet projects get tied into fluffs for the cats to play with.

Reducing waste, though, can be hard. We don't buy a lot of stuff, and our normal purchases are not the type that come with lots of plastic packaging (mainly because I can never get it open!). I don't buy new clothes with anything close to frequency. The sweats I'm wearing right now pre-date my daughter's birth nearly 13 years ago and my socks have holes. And (oh dear am I really admitting this???) the pony tail holder holding back my hair is one I found on the sidewalk a few weeks ago. Gross, huh? But it looked new, and I washed it, and...yeah. Moving on.

Reducing waste in most of the house seems dependent upon not buying extra. That I can do! But reducing waste in the kitchen is really hard. I take my own bags to the store, re-use vegetable sacks, and consciously choose products with the least packaging. I actually pay 10 cents more to buy the two gallons of milk without the accompanying cardboard box than I would have to pay if I bought the two gallons in the cardboard box. Only in America, I think, do you have to pay more to get less.

Looking in the kitchen trashcan, I'm perplexed about how to make less waste. Plastic wrappers from our blocks of cheese can't be recycled. The empty lye container can't be recycled. The styrofoam and plastic wrap from the chicken can't be recycled. Tissues, cracker wrappers, junk. Meat, dairy, chemicals. These seem to be the big contributors.

But the kitchen waste from tonight's dinner was a little bit different. Let me show you.

Here's how we get our lambchops from the butcher:

Open the box and...

a plastic bag.
Open the plastic bag and...

Pull out as many chops as you need...

and seal the bag back up.

This box holds about 24 chops, so that's twelve meals from one plastic bag (non-recyclable) and one cardboard box. I can feel okay about that, I guess.

But, combine that with mashed potatoes (maybe another 12 meals from one non-recyclable plastic bag?) and roasted carrots from our garden (no plastic, hooray!), and not only do you get a good meal, but there's minimal waste.

The peels from the carrots and potatoes went to the chickens, the newspaper was shredded and tossed into the compost.

So, this meal wasn't too bad as far as taste and waste, but tomorrow's meal involves ricotta cheese and several other packaged items that are going to keep me awake tonight.

How do you guys reduce kitchen waste? Is there something I'm missing?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Another Nanaimo and Stuff (by Kat)

I really can't get over just how dang tasty these Nanaimo bars are. Here's a couple, served up with a raspberry concoction that was the filling for a cake we had earlier this month.

The puff pastry Daring Baker challenge from a few months back was really fun, and I've made puff pastry several times since then. I suppose, then, that the pastry challenge was the most useful challenge to date. The Nanaimo challenge, though, was the most fun. It wasn't as difficult as some challenges (like the cannoli), left a lot of room for experimentation, and is so super-freaking tasty that I can't get over it. I also like the fact that I learned how to make homemade graham crackers. I've been keeping a jar of them on the counter, and they make a perfect little snack.

In other (less fattening) news, I finished one of the library books and it was far better than I had hoped. "Trouble the Water" by Nicole Seitz was just fine. Not great, not original, but a very decent book all the same. Like every other (yes, I'm generalizing) modern fiction book, or at least every other modern fiction book in our library, this is a story of two family members who share a trauma. One gets over it to a greater extent than the other, and in the end they pine for what they've lost. Wash, rinse, repeat. What Seitz did in this book that made the boring story enjoyable to read was develop some totally off-the-wall characters and put them into totally unexpected roles.
I wouldn't buy this book, nor recommend it as a great book to a friend, or to you, gentle reader, but as a pass time it was a passable read.

On the agrarian front, another egg!

On the soap front, my last batch seems to be hardening up nicely.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January Daring Bakers Challenge: Nanaimo Bars (by Kat)

Blog-checking lines: The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and


That's about it.

Okay, I'll add to that, if I must: easy, yummy, decadent, purty, yummy, delicious, and yum.

I couldn't find the gluten free flours here in my little town, so I used
Smitten Kitchen's graham cracker recipe instead. I later found out from Lauren, our hostess with the mostest, that she adapted this recipe in part from Deb's recipe, so this project came full circle, in a way.

Making the graham crackers:
Combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt...

...add cubes of frozen butter...

...then add honey, milk, and vanilla.

Process until a sticky dough forms.

After dough is well-chilled, roll out thinly on a sil-pat and
shape your crackers.
Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then bake.

Making the bottom layer:
Combine melted chocolate, butter, and egg,
then add coconut, almonds, and graham cracker crumbs.
Press mixture into a parchment lined 8x8 pan.

Middle layer:
Top with butter-cream mixture and chill.

Top layer:
Melt chocolate and butter, then let mixture cool off.
Pour onto butter-cream layer.

Chill very well, then cut into small bars.

Here's our mission, straight from Lauren herself!

Notes for gluten-free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars:

• Glutinous rice flour does not contain any gluten, as it is made from a type of rice called glutinous (or sweet) rice.
• The graham wafer dough is very sticky. Make sure you are flouring (with sweet rice flour) well, or the dough will be difficult to remove from the surface you roll it out on. Also be sure to keep it cold. You do not want the butter to melt.
• I chose these flours because of their availability. Tapioca starch/flour and sweet rice flour can often be found in Asian grocery stores, or in the Asian section of you grocery store. Sorghum can be slightly more difficult to find, but it can be replaced with brown rice flour, millet flour or other alternatives.
• In the Nanaimo Bars, it is very important that the chocolate be cool but still a liquid, otherwise the custard layer will melt, and it will mix with the chocolate, being difficult to spread. Allow the chocolate mixture to come to room temperature but not solidify before spreading the top layer on.

Variations allowed:
• Although I highly recommend using gluten-free flours, as the chemistry is very interesting and the end result can be amazing, you are allowed to use wheat.
• If making them gluten-free, no wheat, barley, rye, triticale, kamut, spelt, durum, semolina, or other gluten containing ingredients may be used. Removing those ingredients ensures it is safe for those with Celiac Disease and other health issues where gluten causes problems. If you do plan on serving this to someone on a gluten-free diet, also ensure no cross-contamination occurs.

Preparation time:
• Graham Wafers: 30 to 45 minutes total active prep, 2 ½ hours to overnight and 45 minutes inactive prep.
Nanaimo Bars: 30 minutes.

Equipment required:
• Food Processor
• Bowls
• Parchment paper or silpats
• Cookie sheets
• Double boiler or pot and heatproof bowl
• 8 by 8 inch square pan
• Hand mixer or stand mixer (You may use a wooden spoon, but this makes it much easier!)
• Saucepan

For Gluten-Free Graham Wafers
1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.
2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
3. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.
5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
6. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.
7. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.
8. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.
9. When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

Nanaimo Bars

For Nanaimo Bars — Bottom Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

For Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar

For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

1. For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.
2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.
3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

Additional Information:

These bars freeze very well, so don’t be afraid to pop some into the freezer.

The graham wafers may be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Mine lasted about that long.

If making the graham crackers with wheat, replace the gluten-free flours (tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, and sorghum flour) with 2 ½ cups plus 2 tbsp of all-purpose wheat flour, or wheat pastry flour. Watch the wheat-based graham wafers very closely in the oven, as they bake faster than the gluten-free ones, sometimes only 12 minutes.

For the Nanaimo Bars, if making with wheat, replace the gluten-free graham wafer crumbs with equal parts wheat graham wafer crumbs!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Guessing Game (by Kat)

Is this butter?

Is this cheese?

It's soap! Batch number three to precise.

75% Olive Oil
20% Coconut Oil
5% Castor Oil
Tangerine Essential Oil

Thirteen (big!) bars from this batch,
sixteen from the previous batch,
and eight from the re-batch of the first batch.

I think I've got next Christmas covered...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Brain Dump (by Kat)

Today ends a three day weekend, here in our town.

Today was semester break for all the kids in town, whether they really have need of it or not. I just can't see a kindergarten-aged kiddo needing to cram for semester finals, but I also can't see them complaining about an extra day of weekend, either!

Tomorrow would have been our first day of home school classes, but Chirp-chirp (as I'm calling my daughter from here-forward) decided that she wants to try the new semester at school. The principal previously stated that there was no way Chirp-chirp could change classes, so we said we'd pull her from the school instead. Suddenly, as if by magic (surely it couldn't be capricious, right?) we were promised new classes with the new semester. So we'll see... My preference was to simply yank her and get started with our own learning at home. I'm not a big fan of wait and see. But, I'm outvoted, so... we'll wait and see.

On a brighter note, one of our hens laid an egg for us on Saturday afternoon. Then it snowed two inches on Sunday, and I guess that was that. I used the egg this evening in this month's Daring Bakers Challenge. I can't wait to show you what we made this month. It was so good, and so easy, that I made it twice! I can't unveil the challenge until the 27th, though, but I promise this one is really worth checking back for.

What else... I've read three books so far this year. All were books that Mr. Boom checked out from the library. None were really to my taste, except that I'm the type to pick up any book laying about and read it. This last book, "Glass House," by Charles Stross gave me very serious nightmares. This piece of science fiction is set way in the future, in a society where bodies are changed into any shape imaginable, and memories are erasable. Technology prevents people from growing old, and as people collect too much emotional baggage, they dump it through a quasi-surgical process. Successful surgeries only remove what the "patient" considered too painful to keep, but unsuccessful procedures can erase too much, or allow flashbacks to occur later on. Worst of all, if you go in for a complete erasure, how do you know afterward that you wanted your memories erased? How do you know it wasn't forced upon you? Creeeeeeepy!

After dinner this evening we walked over to the library. I found another couple of books to read. I don't assume these will be much better, but even a little bit better will help. Our little library doesn't understand the difference between science fiction and fantasy. I love fantasy, especially anything by Charles de Lint. Our library doesn't have a single one of his books, and very very very very little in the way of any type of fantasy. We have hard-core science fiction, we have romance, we have popular fiction. Bleh. I chose two popular fiction books, both promise to be thrilling page turners with heroines with deep dark family secrets. Bleh. Oh well, no nightmares ought to ensue from this reading this pap.

What I did get, that I've had my nose in quite a bit already this evening, is "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart. I baked this week's bread yesterday. We need to eat those two loaves ASAP so I can try some of the 50+ recipes in this book. He talks a lot about techniques, and is a big fan of the ratio method of cooking. I'm so in love....

I've tried to crochet three hearts. You won't be seeing pictures of those! I also have a big pile of unraveled dishcloth yarn. I'm trying to learn the basket weave pattern. Practice and patience. Bleh.

Oh, and we lit a ping pong ball on fire last night. In the house. On accident. It was actually very breathtaking. And very stinky! Nowhere on the internet can I find what gas is inside a ping pong ball. I thought I could narrow it down by seeing if it was a heavy gas. I held the ball over a candle flame with a pair of tongs. Mr. Boom was just going to hold it in his hand, but it was my experiment and I insisted on the tongs. Well, it isn't a heavy gas, and that's about all I have to say on the subject.

That's my brain dump. No pictures--my brain is way to messy!

I wonder what's on your mind?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chocolate Ice Cream (by Kat)

So, I felt really bad about not having any pictures to post of the chocolate ice cream I mentioned in the last post. Really bad. So, just for you (certainly not for my hips!), I made another batch.

My husband, who will now forever be referred to as "Mr. Boom" on this website, helped out with this batch of ice cream, and he can help churn my cream any time...

The recipe, if you didn't memorize it from the last post, goes as follows:

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla

Combine sugars and cocoa in a very large bowl. Add milk and whisk until smooth. Add cream and vanilla, mix well, and freeze according to your maker's instructions.

Well, Mr. Boom used approximately 1 1/2 cups of cocoa, and looked at me with eyes that said "I dare you to stop me..." I did not, in fact, try to stop him.

Holy heck, people. The recipe now calls for the super sized serving of cocoa. Don't try making it any other way.

I make mine in a large glass measuring bowl with a handle and a pour spout. It's so much easier to get the mix into the ice cream maker when you have a handle to grab. You know what? I should be making my soap in one of these, too. Nothing like trying to keep hold of the edge of a bowl slick with oils and burning lye while you try to scrape out the soap slurry.

Oh, but we're making ice cream, aren't we?! Dry ingredients into the bowl!

Add the whole milk...

...and stir until sugar is more or less dissolved.

Add the cream, and then study the Rorschach test.

Pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and freeze according to
your maker's instructions.

One hour later...

Ho boy baby, now we're talking!!!!

I need to get a new whisk. This one broke about three months ago. Maybe by next Christmas I'll get around to it...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pucker-up Sorbet (by Kat)

For my birthday at the beginning of the month, my dear sweet wonderful husband gave me a very fancy ice cream maker--a Cuisinart ICE-30BC series ice cream maker, to be exact. It was a bit of a selfish gift, really, since he couldn't stand the noise of our old maker. And he eats way more ice cream than I do. WAY more than I do...

He's also as skinny as a rail...a string bean...a long cool drink of water...who can eat all the ice cream he wants and not show any signs of indulgence. Let's all take a moment to hate on that, shall we?

Oh, but wait, the sweet guy gave me a really fancy kitchen toy. He's forgiven!

Our old maker required salt and ice and a safe place for all the ice and salt to slosh out. It was a back-deck kind of machine. Except that it was a machine--i.e. a motorized piece of equipment--needing electricity to drive the motor. Our deck ain't got no 'lectiricty, though, so I'd just sit in in the kitchen sink and we'd retreat to the furthest point possible and put in ear plugs.

My new maker has a bowl that stores in the freezer. It requires no salt, no ice, and almost no time! I was concerned about giving up the freezer space for the bowl. You see, we bought half a cow and a full lamb this past fall, and we have so very little room in the freezer. This is actually good from a conservation perspective, as a full freezer requires less energy to keep cold than a partially full freezer requires. But from an ice-cream maker bowl perspective, I admit to having qualms. But, when I realized the bowl was just the right size to corral the Ziploc bags of frozen huckleberries from the woods and strawberries from the garden I realized that this bowl was a welcome multi-tasker!

The first recipe I made was "Simple Chocolate Ice Cream." This did not taste simple, and will be my go-to recipe for chocolate ice cream from here on.

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla

Combine sugars and cocoa in a very large bowl. Add milk and whisk until smooth. Add cream and vanilla, mix well, and freeze according to your maker's instructions.

Now, you know very well I can't follow a recipe to save my life. So, I used a combination of half and half and 2% milk to make the whole milk. Also, I added some espresso grounds to the mix. Oh, and when I added the vanilla, I didn't' use a measuring spoon, and a cat ran underfoot, and I used a heckuva lot more vanilla than called for.

I'd bet you like to see pictures, eh?

Sorry. I made you a chocolate ice cream but I eated it all up.

So, I went to make another batch, because this is fast and easy cooking, people! But I didn't have enough dairy. What I did see in the fridge were three lemons who had been de-zested earlier in the month. Those needed to be used! I looked through the recipe booklet and found "Fresh Lemon Sorbet." Perfect! Well, almost perfect. The recipe calls fro 2 1/4 cups of fresh lemon juice. I figured I could get about half that from my lemons. Okay, half batch--perfect!

Except that I forgot to cut the water and sugar in half...

So, I decided to add a cup of bottled lemon juice. Except I didn't have a cup. But I did have lime juice!

So here's the "recipe."
3 cups granulated sugar
3 cups very hot water
2 1/4 cups of citrus juice (from freshly squeezed lemon juice, bottled lemon and lime juice)

Dissolve sugar into the very hot water. You might need to put it on the stove or in the microwave for a minute to completely dissolve the sugar. Add the juice, stir well, and freeze according to your maker's directions. I strained mine into the freezer to catch any seeds I might have missed. I'm glad I did!

straining out the seeds

after 10 minutes

after 15 minutes

after 25 minutes--done!

This came out very puckerish! I think it would have been okay to leave the juice at half strength, or maybe three quarter strength. It's good, but wowza!

Oh, and one more thing. I never showed you the cake my daughter decorated for me. I made the cake from Smitten Kitchen, and frosted it myself. Then my daughter stepped in and took it over the top!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chickens in Winter (by Kat)

"Chicken" and "winter" are not mandatorily mutually exclusive, but keep in mind that eggs are not necessarily a part of the equation.

Last winter was our hens' first winter, and they layed eggs throughout the long, weary, dreary, cold season. All winter long, we could count on three fresh eggs every day. During the coldest spells, it could dwindle to two a day, but I don't remember the egg count ever going below that number.

This summer, the hens were a little older, and a little less participatory in the egg-laying adventure. Cumulus, or Cumy as we call her, was our most consistent layer. She'd give us one a day, every day, no questions asked. Marble (the black hen) and Seraphina (the darker of the two red hens), would lay an egg about every other day this summer, giving us a total of two eggs most days, one egg on some days, and very rarely we'd be met by three eggs in the nest.

After the horrible dog attack in September, Cumy stopped laying eggs due to her severe injuries. Marble and Seraphina were reluctant to take the job on fully themselves, so neither one has laid a single egg since that day, either. It isn't uncommon for chickens, especially older chickens, to stop producing in the winter, but I think ours would still be laying if it weren't for the attack.

So, if they're not laying eggs, how are they spending their time? The snow has melted a bit around the fence, and they're having a fun time playing in the bit of mud. These gals really hate to walk in the snow, so they use the edges of the garden beds as little chicken highways. I can almost here them yelling out, as we did when we were kids, "floor is lava! floor is lava!"

"oh no, I'm falling into the hot lava!"

"I'm not touching, I'm not touching!"

Here's the feeder we built out of scrap wood this summer. People are always willing to come feed cats and goldfish, but the minute you ask someone to feed the chickens while you take a vacation, they look at you real funny-like. So, we built this feeder instead. The lid opens on top, we fill it with feed, and the bottom tray self-fills with feed. It doesn't keep moisture out very well, so in the winter we sometimes have to break up the frozen feed inside.

My husband also scatters a bit of scratch for the hens. They love to dig in the straw in search of the cracked wheat and corn bits. Scratch is kinda like chicken candy, or chicken crack. They like it, but it doesn't promote good egg-laying. My husband continues to feed it to them anyway. Most of it ends up in the guts of all the little birds that hang out in the pen. The sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches, etc. all really like the chickens' scratch.

The snow-covered entrance to the chicken pen has become the iced-over entrance to the chicken pen. Hauling buckets of fresh (not frozen) water to the pen every day was getting really exciting there for a bit. The door to our pen stays open way more than it stays shut. This is illegal. Don't do it.

Around Christmastime this year, because people look at you funny when you ask them to haul buckets of water twice a day for your chickens, and we had to leave town to go be with family, I picked up the blue heated chicken water bowl at the local feed store. I love this gadget with all my heart. I really do.

The hens have a coop that sits inside the garage. The coop is actually a very large cupboard that came out of someone's shop and was sitting in another someone's field. We cut a small hole in the side to make a chicken door from the outside. On the inside, we made a door to cover the open back. This door opens up completely to give us access to the eggs, the heat lamp, and to change out the straw bedding. Two bars run across the inside for them to perch on at night. Under the heat lamp. But they won't!

Instead, they perch here at night. Since they insisted on perching outside, we built a roof to keep the rain off their heads and a second bar out away from the lattice. They roost here all year long, which is why they all got frostbite last year. I tried, on a couple of occasions, to convince them to use the nice warm heated coop, but no, they would fly right back out to their favored perch. Supposedly, if you move chickens in the dark, they'll stay where you put them, but that is a crock of chicken poo...

So, the hardest part of having chickens in winter is feeling bad when they are too stupid to stay under the heat lamp. The second hardest part is paying for chicken feed and paying for eggs at the same time. The third hardest part is dealing with the frozen food scraps that begin to emerge from the snow when a thaw comes around.

Hello pumpkin, don't you smell nice....

Monday, January 18, 2010

Full Disclosure (by Kat)

In the interest of full disclosure, there's some information I must divulge about Bet. I hope you're sitting down, and if you take heart medication, please make sure you didn't miss today's dose.

Ok, comfy and medicated?

Bet has a problem. It isn't her fault at all--it's congenital. Hereditary, actually. She doesn't bear the brunt of the problem in solitude, but is able to get out with others and partake in "celebrating" the disease together. Since her entire family is afflicted, they'll often head out en masse and meet up with other families and individuals who share the same qualities that Bet does.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Bet passed this dominant gene onto both of her children. I was hoping against hope that at least one of them would turn out "normal," but it wasn't to be.

The reason I bring this up is that yesterday I tried to call Bet, and when she answered her cellphone, I could tell she was in the middle of a major outbreak. In fact, I'm not sure how she managed to answer the phone at all. Her voice was quaking, her breathing heavy. I could hear yelling in the background.

"Hey Kat"
"Hey, how's it going?"
"I just (something something) the slope."
"I just jumped onto the ski slope! Call you back later!"

Yes, dear gentle reader, Bet is a "skier." The only known cure is to break both your legs and your back. The cure is worse than the affliction, I guess, since so many people are evidently still sick, judging by all the people on the ski slopes around here.

Poor Bet. She ties sticks to her feet and slides down mountains.

But really, now that we've disclosed the fact, we all feel much better, right?

Hey Bet, you forgot to call! Are you okay?!!!

(PS: chickens in winter post is coming soon!)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rosemary Castille Soap (by Kat)

Alright, I've pretty much given up on my first batch of soap. The dendrochro-soap still site on my desk, but I'm ignoring it. I don't know, for instance, that the centers are still squishy, the outsides are crumbly, and that the bars lost their citrus fragrance and instead smell kinda like supermarket birthday cake frosting. I don't know none of that, ya' hear?

So, it was a leap of faith last night when I decided to do another batch of soap. I knew that my second batch would be a castile soap--I'm drawn to the simplicity of the recipe, the hardness of the soaps, and the gentle nature of the finished product. True Castile soap only comes from the Castile region in what is now Spain, and is made from 100% olive oil. Today, the term castile seems to apply to ANY soap with olive oil in it, no matter how small the percentage of the total fats the olive oil comprises. I've even heard Palm-Olive referred to as a castile soap, even though it's no longer manufactured with palm and olive oils, nor is it even a true soap any more, but rather a detergent.

Tangentville, there, eh? I'm still working on mu first cup of coffee...

My biggest concern about making a castile soap was the length of the cure--several weeks to a few months longer than typical soap recipes. But you know what? The time I spent worrying about that was time that the cure would take. Yeah. Duh. So, last night I jumped in.

This recipe, like the last, comes from Little House in the Suburbs. I cut the recipe in half, which can be iffy in the world of soap making, but I couldn't' bring myself to commit to such a large batch. Because soap relies on extremely careful measurement, a smaller batch will be more significantly effected by a miscalculation than a large batch will. I deal with this in my lab at work as well, and have page after page in my lab's procedural notebook describing remediation for this problem. We don't need that detail here, but just realize that bigger batches are safer and smaller batches are more fragile.

Instead of heating the fats on the stove, I simply stuck my large bowl of olive oil in the microwave. A few minutes was all it took to bring the temperature up to about 100 degrees F. I'm not going to tell you how much of the warm oil I spilled on the floor. And really, don't handle lye with an oily floor underfoot...

So, after mixing the warmed oil and lye (bringing to trace), adding a few drops of rosemary essential oil, and slipping around a bit on the floor (oh right, I'm not mentioning that), I poured the mess into my very fancy soap mold--a converse shoebox lined with plastic wrap! Wrapped up in towels for insulation, the baby soap slept in its cradle overnight on the kitchen counter...

...until I unceremoniously dumped it on its head this morning and sliced it up. I'm cruel before coffee.

And here they are--18 bars of olive oil rosemary soap. They smell so tasty, and I can't wait for them to grace my kitchen sink.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Best Smelling House Award (by Kat)

I win the "best smelling house award" today.

Oh true, the cat boxes need to be changed, the trash needs to be taken out, the compost has fruit flies....

But, I just made castille soap with rosemary essential oil. And then pulled two fresh loaves of bread out of the oven.

I'll post pics of the soap tomorrow, along with the recipe. I'm really antsy to see if this batch works, considering the state of the last effort.

It's hard to worry though, when the house smells this darn good!!!!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Happy Feast of Fabulous Wild Men Day (by Kat)

So, uh, today is apparently the Feast of Fabulous Wild Men Day.

Over 120,000 web pages result from a Google search of the phenomenon, and not one of those tells what the heck this is about or who started it. Okay, I didn't look at ALL 120,000+ pages, but I looked through a few. Finally, I went to the Wikipedia homepage and searched.

Wikipedia doesn't mention it...

Has that ever happened to anyone before?

Can something really exist if it isn't in Wikipedia?

Oh. Uh. I better not search for myself. Would it be creepier to see my name on that site, or would it be creepier to potentially not exist since I'm not listed there?

So, by the logic that I think I exist even if Wikipedia says I don't (just assuming, since I can't bear to actually look), I decree that Feast of Fabulous Wild Men Day also exists, even without the evidence of the aforementioned almighty online tome.

The cold weather, it's getting to me.

(Send help)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Raw Materials (by Kat)

I'm at my desk, drowning in raw materials.

To my right, I have one bottle each of safflower and soybean oil. A smaller jar of coconut oil sits in front, not golden like those two but a creamy white color, congealed at room temperature.

To my left is a brand new over-sized cone of ecru-colored cotton yarn.

Should I soap or should I crochet?

Fish or cut bait?

Or have you already realized the truth of the matter? Yeah, I'm putting off housecleaning!

Scholarship Brunch was getting the axe this week. The gal who cancelled has a very sick little girl, and will be taking her to the big city far-far away. I told her that if she'd call everyone, I'd do brunch this month. Which is this week. Which, as a matter of fact, is tomorrow morning.
So, the house needs to be cleaned, the table extended for twelve settings, and I need to figure out what to make.

This leads me back to sitting by patooty in front of my desk, staring at the raw materials, and putting off what must be done.

Let them eat quiche!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Saturday Night (by Kat)

Saturday Night

Those two words once were filled with exciting connotations. Anything could happen! Saturday night meant hanging at the Tav, shooting pool, drinking beer, and the long walk back to the apartment. It meant friends, food, drink, and a general release from the week behind us.

Then we became parents....

Then we became "old."

Saturday night, or at least this particular Saturday night, finds me in our office. Woo hoo! The excitement of it all!

I finally had a chance to work on last Sunday's New York Times crossword puzzle. I almost finished it! Four blank spaces are left on the page, taunting me. Not exactly the same as four balls left on the table, with a stack of quarters signifying a stack of challengers, but that's okay.

See the green bowl? Comfort food! My mom called it chipped beef. My husband uses another description, supposedly from the military (though he never served, which leads me to wonder where he heard the term--you see, the mystery hasn't left our marriage after all these years). In case you're not familiar with it, chipped beef is essentially a white sauce with minced pressed beef in it, served over toast. Not exactly the Tav's nachos, but not bad, either.

Cloudy, our gentle tabby, seems to enjoy this type of Saturday night, too. He wants me to believe he knows the answers to the missing spaces on the puzzle. But more than that, he wants me to skooch my chair back so he can claim my lap. He believes that the power of his charming good looks will win girls over. Just like the guys at the Tav.

Hmmmm, maybe times haven't changed quite as much as I thought.