Wednesday, September 26, 2012

High bush/low bush cranberries

Every time I think it's the last time I'll get to go berry picking for the season, another opportunity comes along and surprises me. On Sunday, I was invited to go cranberry picking with some friends. At her parent's house, Fiona was telling me that the leaves have fallen off the high bush cranberries which makes them both super easy to spot and to pick.
For those of you unfamiliar with them, high bush cranberries aren't at all like cranberries you find in the store. They look more like salmon eggs than they do low bush cranberries. They don't even taste much like low bush cranberries, either. They have a...well, I've heard it called a "muskiness", and that seems to be about accurate. They're also not as versatile. These aren't berries you really want to throw into pancakes or muffins. But they're still fruit, they're still very good for you, and there are plenty of things you can do with them. Fiona's mom was telling me about people she knows who make tasty juice from them (recipe at the bottom). I had dreams of making some sort of cranberry jelly for giving away to friends and family at Christmas, along with the fireweed jelly.
However, when we came across a giant patch of untouched low bush cranberries, I admit I jumped into it and almost completely ignored the high bush cranberries. Because they are more versatile, and they're both super tasty and super healthy. NOM. With a little bit of help from Fiona's mom, I picked almost a gallon of low bush cranberries before moving on and picking just a few high bush ones before we decided it was time to go. I didn't get nearly enough high bush berries to make jelly with. I might go back this weekend, or I might not. I haven't decided yet. The jelly idea is still very tempting.
I did end up getting more high bush cranberries than I managed to bring home, however. My friends were bringing their dogs out, so Pepper came along with us. For the most part she did her little security sweeps ("I gotta keep Mom safe!") and confusedly watched me picking berries. When the group moved on to a better high bush spot and I stayed with the low bush cranberries she got a little anxious. ("We're not with the group, Mom, what are you doing?!") But she did great. So when I picked about a handful of high bush cranberries and just set them on the lid (I didn't want to dig out the container for them at that moment), she ate them and I couldn't be upset about it. I just laughed and told her what a good dog she was. Honestly, I don't think she enjoyed them all that much. She seemed to have an attitude of, "Well, if you're picking them they must be worthwhile..."
So now I have a lot more cranberries in the freezer. I'm feeling pretty well stocked for winter. I didn't get to pick nearly as many berries as I wanted to, but I did all right. Combined with the store-bought fruit and my jars of rhubarb and applesauce, we have way more fruit put up this summer than we did last summer. Hooray!

High Bush Cranberry Juice:
Combine cranberries with about 1.5 times the amount of water. Add sugar or honey to taste. (If using sugar, probably about a 1:1 ratio with cranberries. If honey, a bit less.) Crush the berries a bit and mix. Leave in the refrigerator overnight, then strain out the berries the next day and enjoy.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Permanent Fund Dividend

This year's permanent fund dividend was announced the other day: $878. Amid all the cheering on Facebook, I seemed to be one of the only people who said anything negative about the amount. All I said was, "Ew," but immediately people commented with things like, "Well if you don't want it, I'll take it." One girl basically even told me that I'm supremely selfish for not celebrating my "free" money.
Frankly, I'm surprised. For one thing, this is, in fact, fairly low for the permanent fund. (Actually, the 9th lowest in 30 years of the PFD.) Yes, I do understand that it's based on 5-year averages of the stock market so right now we're paying for the lows of 2007-2009.
I winced at the amount not for myself, but because I know that there are other people out there who absolutely depend on their PFD. It's not a good thing, I wish people wouldn't or didn't have to. But nevertheless, there are. Especially the elderly and single parents. It costs a lot to heat homes here, and nearly as much to keep the power on. (Unlike other places, our friendly power company will shut off people's power in the winter.) I know there are people who wait until they get their PFD check before they get their winter's supply of oil to heat their homes. A smaller PFD means that they have less money with which to stay warm. I don't have to choose between heating my home and eating, but there are people who make that choice all the time here. Am I wrong to be sad for them that this year is going to suck?
Many, many people who don't need to depend on the permanent fund for immediate needs save their child's permanent fund for things like college. It's what both mine and Shane's parents did, it's what our friends are doing for their daughter, and it's what we plan to do when we have kids. So low permanent fund years not only affect people right now, it also affects the future of all these kids who are going to rely on it to either pay for school or to pay back their loans. That sucks. I hate the thought that money often holds people back from getting the education they want, or from choosing the school that they want.
The low permanent fund number doesn't just affect household budgets, though. For better or worse the PFD has become an integral part of our economy. There are businesses which rely on this time of year as much as they do Christmas shopping because it helps them to get through the next year. While I don't think the rampant consumerism is so great for people or for our state, I do understand that there are large economic ripples from having a smaller permanent fund. Even if it's not consumer goods, people might just have a little bit less money to go to the movies, to eat dinner at a restaurant, or to give to charities. All of these things have serious implications for our state, and it affects everyone. I don't know if anyone's done a study about this, but I would assume that lower permanent fund years mean lower employment as well.
As for what we're going to do with our $1756 (that's a much nicer number, both of ours together) we're putting it right into our house fund. That might seem like yet another selfish reason to want more money, and in some ways it is, but I don't live in a vacuum or a bubble. Our housing market around here never really dropped, as far as I can tell, so it won't live or die based on young couples like me and Shane being able to finally afford a home. A low permanent fund means that it will take us a little bit longer to save up for a home, but we know we'll get to that point eventually. However, opening our apartment will have more of an impact. For Fairbanks, for the size of our apartment and what we get, for being pet-friendly, for its location, our apartment is amazing. Add in our amazing landlord and our place rocks. Really, truly. The horror stories of apartment hunting in Fairbanks! One place has low rent, but doesn't allow pets. Another might allow pets but have a shite landlord. Another might be low rent and allow pets, but it's waaaaay out there. I've had friends who've moved 4 times in six months due to various reasons. I know people who've been looking for a pet-friendly apartment (not cabin) in their price range for almost a year now. There's a reason we've stayed here for almost 4 years: we know we have a sweetheart deal. Hopefully we'll be able to pass this place along to someone else who will take advantage of all its benefits (like the garden, like walking to the University, like being able to have pets). Having our apartment open up will help anywhere from 2-4 people who've been looking for something just like it. That might be a small impact in terms of the grand scheme of things, but it will matter to someone.
This also isn't "free" money, as most people think of it. It's money that the oil companies paid so that they're not the only ones profiting off of Alaska's oil and gas, so that everyone gets a share in the benefits. It's still, as far as I know, something completely unique and I think the people who came up with the idea deserve to have statues and monuments in their honor. It's awesome. I am and always will be grateful for what I get. But it's not "free" because we're giving up something in exchange for it. Those same oil and gas companies now have a lot of power in our state, and they're major players when it comes to state politics. Sometimes, I'd rather give back the permanent fund if it would mean that we wouldn't have the oil and gas companies paying for our politicians.
Other Alaskans, how are you feeling about this year's permanent fund? Unmitigated joy? Disappointment? Ambivalence?

Food stamp challenge?

Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate is doing a food stamp challenge, where people are trying to eat on a food stamp budget for one week. I have a love/hate relationship with these kinds of things because while I think it can be valuable for some people to truly understand how hard it can be to feed your family on such a small amount, only doing it for a week isn't really much of a challenge. People who are truly on food stamps eat like that every damn day, and doing something for a week and being proud of yourself is a little, well, insulting to them. Or am I reading too much into that?
I wasn't going to participate. Mostly because I didn't want to bother calculating out what we have on hand and how much those ingredients cost ( cup of bulk oats is .X pounds, which works out to this many cents!) and figuring out whether "free" food should count. We have tons of wild salmon in our freezer: if I eat one of those, do we have to calculate the cost of buying it (ridiculously expensive) or is it allowed because it's free?
However, I did find out some neat facts about poverty and benefits in our state. Like the fact that, as students, Shane and I were eligible for SNAP benefits. (I thought at the time that we might be, but I knew we'd be ok so I consciously didn't look it up. I'd rather that money go to people who really do need it.) Also, if I had been participating in this challenge then the weekly allotment for two people in AK (for me and the Boy) would be just over $91--$367 divided by 4 weeks. (Katy's figure was $122/week for a family of four, but that's in Oregon.) A family of four in Alaska gets about $167/week--$668 divided by four weeks.
Despite my intention not to participate in this, however, I accidentally made the decision not to go to the grocery store at all this week. (Yes, accidentally.) When Shane was home we were so busy that when we went to the grocery store, twice, we never actually got more than what we needed for a meal or two. So I didn't stock up on groceries the way I intended. Now we either have to bike (something I'd have to do by myself, since the Boy doesn't have a bike here) or walk. Even having the grocery store so (relatively) close by, I hate making mid-week shopping trips. So I decided not to. We have plenty of food in our house, just not what I was intending to make. So I changed meal plans around to suit what we do have, and left out ingredients we've run out of (like onions). The only thing we've bought was the gallon of milk the Boy grabbed from the corner store. (That kid drinks so much milk!) And we've been totally fine. In fact, despite my fears that we'd eat fewer vegetables I think we've actually been eating more because I've been so conscious about it.
I did open up one of my applesauces yesterday. I feel a bit bad about breaking into my stash of local, preserved food since it hasn't even snowed yet. But oh well. The food is there for eating, it doesn't really matter if I eat it now or later.
And I got a message from my MIL. They got a moose! Now we just need to figure out how to get the moose meat all the way up here. Perhaps I can convince them to travel up here for a few days? Then they could bring some more potatoes, too. I really thought my potatoes would probably last us the whole winter but it turns out we've been eating a lot of potatoes lately! We've eaten about 1/3 of our stash already. Whoops!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


That pair of socks that I've been knitting for, well, forever? I finally finished them! I don't think the boys in my house quite understand what a feat and accomplishment this is for me. I ran back to the bedrooms shouting, "I finished it! I finished the second sock!" and they both emerged from the rooms laughing at me. "You don't understand, it's a whole pair of socks! And I made them! Me! Socks!" They wouldn't stop laughing and Shane said, "Boy, days from now, the authorities are going to find our two bodies and be like, wow, it looks like they were strangled by...a pair of socks." I told them that I would never do that to my socks. "However, that doesn't mean I wouldn't shove them down your throat and choke you to death with them."
I haven't worn them out and about yet because they're too thick to put in my regular shoes! They'll be strictly boot socks. However, when I wore them in the house the other night I ended up getting over-warm. Shane said, "Oh, good. Now your feet won't be ice cubes the whole winter!" Truth.
My cat certainly loves them. He won't leave them alone. I think that's just because of the yarn, though. He tried to "help" me knit, by which I mean he would watch me for a while and then swipe at the yarn a whole bunch.
Here he is, with a stolen knitting needle.
I think that with the leftover yarn I'll try to make a sweater. Just watch me take four years to make it!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Gender stereotyping

This has absolutely nothing to do with sustainability, but it's something which I've noticed a lot of lately and it's really been bothering me: gender stereotyping. Thankfully, this isn't something I've particularly noted in my friends. Those who are raising children are doing so in very balanced ways, making sure they have role models of all sorts.
So where have I noticed this rampant stereotyping? Mostly on the internet, and it takes many, many forms. For one thing, there are all the "news" articles which can be found daily even on "serious" news sites, like Huffington Post, about women and their bodies. I don't give a f**k if so-and-so exposed her boobs in (what should have been) a private location while she was vacationing. (I got all of that from headlines, mind you.) Who cares? People do that all the time and, really, they're just boobs. Get over it. It's an unhealthy fixation on the body parts of female celebrities, and only female celebrities. Can you imagine the outrage that people would pour out if there was an article about a male celebrity's butt in a "serious" news article? Or any male body part in solo. They might be described as "hot", but that's the extent of how a male celebrity's body is analyzed. Yet I see headlines every day about "See which celebrity had a wardrobe malfunction!" with the picture of some female celebrity. "Whose boobs were too much for her dress?" Even the tabloids (from my limited, grocery store exposure to them) mainly shy away from articles of male celebrities' body parts. Now, the solution is not that they should start focusing on these things, but that they should stop talking about them all together. It's only a "scandal" that so-and-so was sunbathing topless because some asshole took pictures and some other assholes decided to publish them, then they dubbed it "a scandal" to sell more issues.
It's a damn shame that our "advanced" society can't seem to get beyond a ridiculous obsession with women's bodies.
Then there are the forms of stereotyping which I'm sure would be termed more "benign" than that. They can be rather subtle. I was reading a blog which I've been very much enjoying, about a couple trying to simplify one thing a day for a year, and there was the minor matter of socks. This couple has quite a few children, only one of whom is a boy. Talking about the sock problem, among complaints about what happens when one sock goes missing, was a quick mention of having to explain to their son about "girl socks", and why he can't wear them. I don't get it. What the hell are "girl socks"? If I had a son who wanted to wear pink ballerina socks, I'd let him. I'm sure that phase would end quick enough, frankly, because some things will never change and a boy wearing pink ballerina socks is bound to get teased. I would probably explain this to him when he put the socks on, but I would also tell him that there's no shame in wearing what you want. My brother-in-law knits and one of his favorite colors is pink. And you know what? Neither of those things make him less manly. I'm glad that he has the confidence and strength of personality to know it, to laugh when he gets teased. (Mostly by Shane, who has said to me many times that, really, he's in awe of how good his brother is at knitting. Not that I could get him to actually say so to his brother, of course....)
The point here, is that I don't understand why something as stupid as socks needs to be labeled as "boy socks" and "girl socks". Are we really so concerned over "gender-bending" in society that young boys have to wear different socks from their sisters? In this case, the mom's solution was to get a bunch of all pink socks in sizes for her daughters, and blue socks for the boy. No more searching for matches to that specific Dora or My Little Pony sock that's gone missing! It's a great plan. Except for the color thing. It would have been even easier to just get one set of socks--in a neutral color or shade, even, like white--and have those be the communal socks. Then you don't even have to gender stereotype!
I think we do both little boys and little girls a huge disservice simply through our gender stereotyping of colors. COLORS! From what I've seen and heard, it's very difficult to get anything for little girls which isn't in pink or purple, and even harder to find anything not in pastel. For little boys, it's all about primary colors. You don't have to dig hard to get the underlying message: girls are soft and weak, and so should have soft, weak colors. Boys are strong and manly, they should have stronger, brighter colors. Because, of course, no little girls can ever truly be strong, and no little boys have tender sides. Sugar and spice and all that s**t.
All of this becomes more ridiculous when you actually know the history of color stereotyping. Did you know that, up until WWII, pink used to be considered a manly color? Because it's sort of like red, which was another manly color. Blue was traditionally a female color, associated with water (a "female element") and other female things, like the Virgin Mary. (It's actually her official color in the Catholic church.) It wasn't until about WWII when hospitals started assigning blue to boys and pink to girls, so that they could be told apart at a glance. Until then there was no real need because most hospitals didn't have enough babies at any one time for it to be an issue. With more urbanization due to the war, more hospital births rather than home births, and the subsequent baby boom, the color-coding became necessary for hospitals to help tell the babies apart.
And yet, here we are. Everyone knows that girls wear pink and boys wear blue. Never mind that it's an entirely modern precept. And never mind that it's not the same for adults. My favorite colors are blue and green (and pretty much all shades in between, like teal) but no one bats an eyelash at that. It's just little boys and little girls who are forced into these standards of what colors they *should* like.
Unfortunately, it doesn't stop at colors, either. I can't even count the number of times I've seen some cute craft or idea aimed at children that's said, "Perfect for little boys!" or "Little girls are sure to love this!" Why are we still assigning gendered tasks? It's the same old ones, too. Anything slimy or gross or having to do with construction (like Legos) is labeled for boys. Anything having to do with kitchen stuff or babies or ponies is labeled for girls. I even saw a friend Pin a picture of Legos in a soap dispenser and it had been labeled, "So awesome for little boys!" Excuse me, but are you saying that little girls don't like Legos? Or perhaps it's just because they were primary colored Legos. If it was the girly Legos, that would have been fine for little girls. But we can't have girls building things in primary colors, oh no! That would destroy, like, half of our ideas about gender and identity!
I admit, I was a little girl who loved all things girly. I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up, I insisted that things be pink and sparkly, and I loved babies and baby dolls. But I also enjoyed riding my bike and playing Legos with my brothers (primary colored ones even!) just as much as all the rest. I'm forever grateful to my parents for not trying to confine me to gender stereotypes. My dad taught me how to swing a hammer as well as my brothers, and how to shoot. My mom taught at least one of my brothers some basic sewing skills, and insisted that each of my brothers know how to cook, even just a little bit. (And I can't believe that's still considered a gendered skill. Knowing how to feed yourself is something only women need? Really? Is the sarcasm coming through?) I think that each of these things has made us more well-rounded people, in the end.
And really, it makes people more interesting, too. Having a wide variety of skills and interests makes you more interesting and more able to converse with just about anyone you meet, because you'll be more likely to find something mutually interesting to discuss. That is the true shame of gender stereotyping. We're not only blocking children off from so much they could do and be, but also limiting the people with whom they will want to interact.
Recently on Facebook, one of my cousins opened a discussion about a small problem her son was having. He's been going to dance classes for several years now but at the beginning of each new year he has trouble with other children (and, shamefully, their parents) who think it's silly or strange that a boy would be taking dance classes. So to help bolster his spirits, and have a comeback for the small-minded people who would look down on him for his chosen hobby, they tried to come up with a list of male dancers who are household names. Like Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. My cousin asked friends for others they could think of, and the list was rather long. They did ask for female names, too, just to compare the lists. But it was sort of shocking to realize that there are about as many famous male dancers as there are female dancers. We don't think it odd at all when we see adult males dancing, so why should we find it so ridiculous that a boy might want to take dance classes? It's just stupid, and I hope that my little cousin knows that right down to his dancing toes.
For those of you who actually have children, what are you doing (or have done) to combat gender stereotyping? What's been the biggest problem for you in trying to battle what others think your child should do or be?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Food porn on Pinterest

I admit, I'm rather addicted to Pinterest. It's the perfect time-waster when I have nothing else to do at work, or if I just need a quick mental break.
One of my favorite categories, of course, is the food. (And the gardening, and the crafts, and the random beautiful pictures, and the humor....) I think that's the category where I have the most pins, which is rather impressive because of how many ridiculous recipes there are on Pinterest. I think somewhere along the line the diet advice to "eat foods with fewer ingredients" got a bit skewed. I see recipes all the time which are labeled, "Only five ingredients!" and such. But the ingredients tend to be: crescent rolls, Italian seasoning, ranch seasoning, Cool Whip, boxed cake mixes, and on like that. So it's very difficult to wade through all of these things to find real food recipes. I've discarded countless Crockpot recipes because they rely on something from a box or package which I'm trying to get rid of. Or it's just a plain Meat recipe and I prefer more nuanced (read: veggie-centric) recipes.
I am glad for many of the recipes that I have found. Other than the salad, the things I made for our anniversary were recipes I found via Pinterest. I tested out and loved a homemade hamburger buns recipe, and I have many other recipes which I'm really, really looking forward to trying out. (Crockpot vegetarian curry!) But it is a bit discouraging to see how many recipes I won't be making because they use crappy ingredients. Do you really need to use crescent rolls in everything, people?
If Pinterest gets more people excited about cooking at home for their families that's great. But if all they're going to be cooking is crap, then it's a mixed good. You really have to be picky about what you choose. And yes, some of those crap "food" recipes do look amazing. But knowing about all the chemicals and non-food items in them keeps me from making them. If you look carefully, there are plenty of real, whole food recipes to be found.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The link between water and electricity

Here's a good reminder article about the link between electricity use and drought. It seems odd, but in drought conditions one of the things you can do to help the most and to conserve water is actually to use less electricity. Because power plants use massive amounts of water (especially nuclear and, of course, hydroelectric) they make drought conditions even worse and compete with, say, agricultural uses. So when food prices go up this coming year remember that using less electricity could help lower them some, not to mention lower your electric bills.
It sucks, I know, because during hot, dry times is just when more people want to use their air conditioners and fans and such, but unless the heat is dangerous it's best in the long run to do other things to cool off. A little bit of cool water on a washcloth on your pressure points or your forehead goes a long way to cool your whole body down quickly. It's a treatment I remember my aunt using on me as a kid, visiting Texas, when I was in danger of heat exhaustion.
If you need something a bit more intense, a short cold shower can do wonders too. I cooled off that way several times this summer when it was in the 80s and I'd go for a run. Instead of taking a hot shower I'd simply let it stay cool (not cold) and do a quick scrub-down. The rest of the afternoon/evening were then spent in comfort, rather than melting in the heat.


I can't remember if I've mentioned our anniversary yet, or if I've been too obsessed with autumn (I love autumn!) to mention it. But our anniversary happened during Shane's last work shift. He arranged work so that he was in town on our anniversary and we got to have lunch together. It was lovely.
But now that Shane's actually home and we didn't have to rush through things, I wanted to do something a little bit more special than just a lunch date. Shane and I aren't particularly romantic a lot of the time and while it works for us, sometimes I feel like we don't take enough time to celebrate us. Anniversaries are nice simply because it's a time to remember that being a couple is different from any other relationship, and to celebrate all that you've accomplished. After all, I've known of couples that have dated, married, and divorced in less time than Shane and I have been together. (Scary, huh?) Relationships are hard and it's no small feat to be in a healthy relationship with another person for years.
Shane made a lovely, romantic meal at Valentine's Day so I said that I wanted to take care of this one. Just as he did to me, I made him hang out in the bedroom relaxing. (I read, he played video games.) And then I ran around like a crazy person trying to get dinner and dessert ready. I called it a jazz riff on Valentine's Day, since I sort of made what Shane had, only different. Salad from the garden (lettuce and carrots), cajun chicken fettucini alfredo (with cherry tomatoes from the garden), and personal-sized heart-shaped blueberry pies (with some of the berries I picked--trust me, it's a noticeable taste difference). I forgot just how much work it is to put all of that together at once, although miraculously the timing came out just great. I was pulling the pies out of the oven just as Shane came into the dining room.
And, well, things didn't turn out perfectly. I wish I could have drawn a curtain over the disaster that was our kitchen to block it out. I broke one of our champagne flutes. Not a big deal, they're from a four-pack that I bought at a discount store in Seattle years ago, for New Year's. We're down to 2 now.
This was also my first time making any kind of alfredo sauce and let me tell you, it's not easy. I couldn't find my chicken stock in the depths of the chest freezer so I used some of the dry champagne to deglaze the pan. (Champagne left over from our wedding. We kept meaning to do a mimosa Sunday or something but never did.) Then I didn't let the alcohol burn off enough so it curdled the half-and-half that I poured in. After I put in the cheese the whole sauce didn't thicken up as much as I wanted (even though I put in, like, 3 cups of cheese--parmesan, asiago, and fontina--I went a little cheese crazy!) so I added a touch of flour to thicken it.
I also used the cast iron skillet, which added some color to the sauce. Whoops! But you know what? It tasted great. I half expected Shane to comment on the texture of the sauce but he just said it tasted great. Whew! I'm sure he noticed that something was off, but I told him I'd never made anything like this before (and he'd heard me running around the kitchen like a crazy person) so he said nothing.
The pies I apparently over-filled so the sides were bursting with oozing blueberry yumminess. However, the crust was pretty much perfect. The secret to a tender yet flaky crust, as my mom (and apparently, Alton Brown) always said is to have very cold fat and water. Doesn't matter what the fat is--my mom uses Crisco, I use butter, my aunt uses lard--it needs to be cold. The water should be ice water, and add just a bit at a time. The dough should just come together but still be a bit crumbly. Don't over-mix it (instead of looking totally uniform there should be small, faint streaks of flour and butter visible) and keep it cold until you're ready to roll it out. (Also, don't get overzealous and make the crust hours before you're ready to make the pie--it'll dry out and be tough to roll. Not that I know this from experience or anything....)
For the next fancy thing we do, I need to remember that local blueberries will stain everything they touch a deep purple. Including teeth and lips. So we finished the meal laughing at each other for having blue mouths.
It might seem a bit silly, but we both got all dressed up (I even did my hair and put on makeup!) to sit and eat in our own dining room. But it made things just that much more special, marked the evening out as not like the rest. And even though things didn't turn out just as I'd imagined them (of course I had visions of calmly making a perfect meal rather than getting stressed and feeling overwhelmed and having things turn out just a bit less than perfect) somehow the whole evening turned out perfectly. My brother had cleared out of the apartment for the afternoon and evening to go watch football, so we had plenty of time for just the two of us...and the pets. But even having them watch us bemusedly just gave us something else to laugh about.
I can't wait to see what all our future anniversaries are like.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The year of the potato

I was out digging up my potatoes earlier, when this happened:
It weighs about 2.5 pounds. Here's a comparison between it and one about like you'd normally find at a grocery store:
My little brother came outside to see how I was getting along with digging up the potatoes and heard me laughing. When he asked what was so funny I just held it up and he said, "Wow. That's a huge potato. ...Well, at least you know you'll never starve because you can always grow potatoes." Yes I can.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Getting chilly

Yesterday I thought I saw the first few snowflakes falling. It turned out to be itty bitty leaves (or leaf parts?) from one of the nearby trees blowing in the wind, but the fact that it didn't really surprise me that there might be snow should tell you something about the weather around here. I keep forgetting to actually pull out the big down comforter so instead I have a bed piled with lots of small blankets. When I wake up in the morning, the cat is snuggled at my feet and the dog is pressed up against my side. Even so, I've woken up shivering a couple of times. (Don't feel bad for me--if I'd remember to pull out that darn blanket I wouldn't have that problem! But I don't seem to remember until I'm actually crawling into bed, and then I'm too tired to go rooting through the boxes in the garage to find it.) I've been winding down my "get ready for winter" activities and am transitioning to activities more suitable to late autumn. I still have some canning and such left to do (tomatoes!) but that is winding down. I've also started doing things like walking to and from work, rather than biking, just in case it snows during the day. (Me on ice can be pretty bad at times. I don't want to add thin tires on steep slopes into the mix!)
Our freezers are mostly full, although I've been pulling things out of them so there's a bit more room now than there was last week. There will be a bit more space next week, too, since I'm actually going to dig into my stash of blueberries and use some. :) I'm super excited for our anniversary celebration dinner!
However, I'm still getting food from my garden. Last night I made chicken pot pie. As my brother said, "It feels like a chicken pot pie day." That was my thought, too, when I was walking home from work. With the leaves falling all around, the wind blowing, and the gray clouds it was a perfect day for chicken pot pie. And I realized that I could turn it into essentially a one-pot meal, thanks to my cast iron skillet. (I say "essentially" because I did have a small bowl in which I mixed the pie crust.)
Despite the season, though, I was still able to go onto the back porch to collect some items for dinner, carrots and celery. The way my mom and I make chicken pot pie is to have a standard mirepoix (carrots, celery, onions) plus garlic, potatoes, and (shelled) peas. It's super veggie heavy and healthy, but hearty enough to feel like just what you need on a cold evening. As I was chopping the vegetables I realized that, beyond the carrots, if I'd wanted to make it even more of a homegrown meal I could have used some of my own freezer peas (I used store bought ones which we've had in the freezer for a while) and some of my own potatoes. (I haven't dug them up yet! I used some of the ones Spencer gave us before he moved, since they're getting shriveled and old anyway.) But it was still nice to realize how much I've grown, and how much of this meal I could have put together with food from my garden.
I'm sure the list of homegrown veggies in meals will expand (I want to grow onions next year, and plant garlic for the year after that, hopefully--I've been waiting to do garlic until we're in a place of our own) and soon enough I'll be eating entirely homegrown meals other than salad. What a lovely thought!
Soon enough it will be time for hats and scarves and boots and heavy winter coats. For now, however, I'm enjoying to the fullest the transition time that is autumn.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


One of my favorite parts about home cooking is the fact that the food you cook is never the same twice. This can be both a good thing (lots of variety) and a bad thing. Sometimes you can't live up to your own past cooking. You try to recreate what you did last time but it's just not quite as good.
However, the freedom to mix things up is so wonderfully freeing. Yes, I follow recipes. But I usually end up changing things, so recipes are more like guidelines. Obviously, some should be followed with a bit of exactness. I'm not going to mess around with the acidity of canned goods. However, the flavors? Oh, man, that's the best part.
The apple guy is selling his fruit at the farmer's market, and even at $10 per bag (I have no idea what the weight is) it's well worth buying. From what I've seen he's got at least three varieties of apple. In the past couple of weekends I've bought three total bags of two of the varieties. I ate a couple, but wanted to put the rest up for winter. Success! This time around, I decided to make and can applesauce. This applesauce is unlike anything you could get in the stores. For one thing, these varieties aren't grocery store apples. One of them was quite tart, and the other was so much more complex than anything I've found in the grocery store. To simply call it "sweet" is reducing it too much. I can't even really describe it other than to say that I very much enjoyed it.
Apples like this deserve a complex-tasting applesauce. I think I managed it. Also, it's super easy. It took some time, because of the size of the apples (they're much smaller than grocery store apples) but that was about it. After the chopping, throw them all in a pot and cook them down until they've made applesauce. Stir occasionally. Seriously, making applesauce is that easy. I threw a little bit of water to keep it from burning, and some spices. You can add sugar if you want, but depending on the apples it probably won't be necessary. I did add some maple syrup to these apples, simply because it tasted a bit tart when it was all cooked down, but only a few splashes. (Of course I didn't measure!) Maybe 5-6 tablespoons?
The spices I used were cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves. I know, I've been using tons of cloves lately! But something about autumn makes them so appealing. I must say, they went quite well in this sauce. Rounded out with the slight hint of maple syrup, it's divine. (If I do say so myself!) Apple-cinnamon is such an overdone flavor. It's good, but everyone makes apple-cinnamon this and that. I'm glad I went with something different.
I'll mess around with the spices again next time I make applesauce. And there will be a next time, since this is far too tasty not to make more of. I'm certain the next batch won't turn out just like this one did, and I look forward to it. Maybe apple-ginger? Or just a straight apple-nutmeg? They both seem like yummy flavors.
So, if you're looking for a recipe, it's quite simple. I cut up enough apples (keeping the skins on) to fill my dutch oven. (No juvenile jokes, please, I get quite enough of those from my husband.) I added about half a cup of water and sprinkled in cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves. I cooked them, stirring occasionally, until the apples were so tender they were literally falling apart and turning into sauce. When I determined that it had cooked down enough I pulled it off the heat and used my immersion blender to get the skins. (If you like a chunkier applesauce, don't leave on the skins, cook it a bit less, and don't blend it.)
I followed standard canning procedures and processed the jars depending on their size, 15 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts. For the amount of sauce I made I got five pints and 1 quart. Plus a little bit for eating tonight. :)
Making applesauce inherently has a bit of waste, though. What to do with the cores and other bits you don't really want gunking up your sauce? Well, there's always scrap-apple cider vinegar. I saved my cores so I'm making that, too. Two products for the price of one. I know some people like raw apple cider as a health thing but I haven't looked into that at all. I just know that making this is very frugal and helps to reduce my waste stream. Both of those things are fantastic. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Bread Pudding

The other day I tried making some more barley bread. It has always failed me for bread, but I was out of other flour so I tried it. It failed me again. Even as no-knead bread, it didn't rise and it turned out a flat, weird sort of bread. It was too crusty on the outside (more like eating a cracker) but undercooked on the inside. Blech.
But I didn't want to waste it, so what to do? Bread pudding was the obvious choice but I hesitated. Despite my love of all things bread-y and carb-y, bread pudding has never been my favorite. It's something I feel should be delicious but usually leaves me feeling a bit disappointed. Almost every time I've had bread pudding it's been rather bland.
I also didn't want to make an entire bread pudding for just myself. That problem was solved by going to J&L's for dinner last night. Since I was going to be biking and wouldn't have any way to bring a pre-baked pudding with me, it was simple enough to bring along, uncooked. I put the dry ingredients in a Pyrex storage dish (with a lid) and the wet ingredients in a quart-sized mason jar. Once I got to their place I borrowed a 9x9 baking dish and put it all together.
I cobbled together about four different recipes for making this. I found a bunch of lovely organic peaches at the store the other day, and they need to get used up so I figured this would be a perfect use for one of them. It turned out wonderful! We were all pleased. So here's my non-bland, super easy bread pudding recipe:

Bread Pudding

4 packed cups of bread pieces
1-2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
3/4 cup of sugar
1 large peach
3 eggs
1 tbsp butter
2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350^.
Melt the butter, then whisk together with the milk and eggs. (When I did it, I didn't melt the butter or whisk this all together until I got there. Butter floats, so I merely scooped it out of the jar to melt it, then whisked things together once it was melted.)
In a separate dish, combine the bread, sugar, and spices.
Cut the peach into chunks and combine with the dry ingredients. Then put it all in the 9x9 baking dish and pour the wet mixture over the top. Bake until lightly browned, about 40-45 minutes. (I think--we didn't have a timer so keep an eye on it!)

Another variation I thought would be delicious would be to add ginger. The only reason I didn't use that was because I ran out of ginger the other day. But the cloves were tasty, a great compliment to the peaches, and it added that little kick I generally find lacking in bread puddings. If it's winter or you don't have any fresh peaches on hand, canned peaches would work just as well. Try substituting some of the peach juice for the milk and have a super peach-y pudding.
I still have a bit of bread left so I'm thinking about making a small one for myself. You know, just to not be wasteful. :)