Saturday, August 30, 2014

Easy to Overcome Obstacles.

Ooch - had a weird accident that broke my right pinky and sprained the same-hand ring finger. 
As I’m left-handed, generally just pooh-pooh the right hand. This is a humbling experience, in that I’m learning just how useful my right hand is.  The vast majority of piano music favors the right hand.  Knitting's possible, but difficult if one's working on a large project, even for the minor hand.  Opening Jars Kills.  Then, there's typing.  Ooch.   (Hurts to stop sentences, for example. Don’t even get me started on how many words end in P or L or M … gritting teeth.)  As stuff heals, I remember that there are folks who've lost so much more than I have, and permanently.

Since I couldn't knit very well, dyed stuff.  Didn't think that I was too pleased with the results until I started turning the hanks into balls.

Have also found that the new colors (tea dyed natural aran wool over dyed with various food colorings) play incredibly well with navy blue or brown.  
Food wise, it's been tough, as I'm the main shopper / cook.  We've been eating a lot of chops and steaks with broiled onions, as this stuff's low - prep.  
Have you ever tried a whole broiled onion?  Easy to fix:  just cut the ends off, peel the top layer of skin,  place on a piece of foil (or better yet - parchment - ran out of foil tonight, so tried the paper.  Wow.  Stuff caramelizes, as opposed to steams), then give a dollop of butter or bacon grease.  Seal and put in oven to broil.  When it's soft, it's ready.  Wicked good stuff.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Did a number on my back yesterday while tackling the task of taking care of the grounds of the Spring Hill Grange.  Last night's hot bath helped, as did the Icy Hot treatment.  Sleep was still disturbed, though, since moving wrong in bed would wake me up.

Today, mostly confined myself to Indoors.  Dyed some wool, did a lot of laundry, cleaned.  Stretched.  Did what passes for me as meditation.

Hate feeling so tired.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better.  (Just heard some thunder; thought I saw lightning.  Maybe that will help things.  We really need rain.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dynamic Stationery.

Am getting back to my old habit of actually writing letters.  Am ashamed to not have responded to a long one (30 pages) from a long-standing friend who I hope to meet one day in real life.  Anyway - letter-writing paper's in short supply and can cost a fortune for a large letter-writer. 

Decided to tinker with some printer paper and an old set of watercolors to start towards getting to speed with my girlfriend from Away.  I think that I have packed away in the boxes down below, both a paper cutter and some better quality than the copier stuff that we run through the printer.

Kind of like my results.

Jams and Jellies, ii

For the inexpensive fruits at market that I just can't resist buying in quantity, I use this basic recipe:

3/4 cup of sugar to 1 cup of either fruit or juice.

For each six cups of fruit/sugar mix, I add either two tablespoons of lemon juice, or 1/2 a squeezed lemon, peel and all into the pot (the fruit makes a nice treat after being fished from the recipe and cooled for a bit).

Wash fruit, pit and peel.  Slice up and pack into measuring cups.  Mix with the proper ratio of sugar and lemon juice.

Stir constantly until mixture comes to a boil.  Turn heat down.  If foam's a problem, skim it (have found it a huge problem with berries; not so much with stone fruits or apple juice).

When the mixture starts to gel (my best gauge is seeing how it runs off the spoon - if it doesn't drip like water, but rather sits for a couple seconds, then drips slowly from two sides of the spoon. You can feel it.  There are references for this stuff online, too.  Google "Soft Gel Stage," for example.), usually after 25-40 min, turn heat off, fish out lemon peels (if you used a whole lemon), spoon into sterilized jars and seal.

Part of this year's peach batch

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Jams and Jellies, i

This year, despite the cool temperatures, production's been pretty good.  Since Spring, I've put up a dozen or so jars of each of several different kinds of jams and jellies, mainly for gift-giving.  We don't eat a lot of sugary stuff.

Now, I have a whole politic / philosophy around the fruit used for preserving:  it has to be good, but not so good that one would rather eat it raw.  It also has to be cheap.  For this reason, I almost never use local stuff, unless I've foraged it.  We have such a short growing season in New England, that the fruits and veggies that we do have are *precious.*  For example:  I am totally willing to pay $6+ for a quart of local strawberries, but not to boil them for 1/2 an hour or more with sugar.  That stuff gets eaten raw.  However:  when the grocery stores start selling the California or Florida berries at maybe $1.50 - $2 / quart, I'm all over these deals.   Though it isn't my favorite, I like to make a lot of strawberry jam, as my friends seem to like it a lot.

Same goes for the peaches.  Gosh, how I miss my old place on Winter Hill with the weird, bug-bitten peach tree in the neighbor's yard.  Despite our best efforts, the fruit was more or less inedible unless cooked.  We made such good jam, cakes, pies and other pastries from those rock-hard fruits, though.  Maybe New England isn't Peach territory?  I would someday like to visit points further south (like Georgia, for example), to sample the fruit in season.  That not being possible right now, have sort of just resigned myself to the stuff that goes from rock-hard to moldy mush in as little as an afternoon.  At peak transport season, however, those rock-hard peaches for for something like $.70 / lb.  Prime Jam Fodder.

Jam time for me is dependent on the value of the bargain fruit, the price of sugar, whether or not I have enough jam jars / lids, and my energy levels.  When all of this comes together, am happy to spend a good day in the kitchen, even in mid-Summer, to make what becomes my main holiday gifts.

Apple Wine and Strawberry Jam.  My recipe for the jam's pretty well established, now.  The wine one needs tweaking, though.

A very interesting read:  Virginia Postrel's take on how both local food and trucked in stuff can (and should) happily cohabitate.  Please enjoy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Protein Power.

Over the past couple years, it seems that I've acquired this spare tire.  Having battled with weight all my life, this doesn't throw me into a panic.  It does pose some inconveniences, though.  Namely:  the vast portion of my wardrobe that no longer fits.  (I'm stubborn, not to mention on a very tight budget, so haven't run off shopping yet, or anything.  Did make myself a couple skirts, though, so I'd be able to vary what I wear somewhat.)

After watching Tom Naughton's "Fat Head" a while back, my housemate decided to do a bit of research into low-carbohydrate / high protein diets to see if this might be an interesting course to follow.  He ended up losing around 30 lbs in a few months, having a life-long acne problem clear up, and seeing a serious abatement in this weird gut - migraine sort of problem he'd have fairly regularly. 

As the house has a decent library on the subject, have been reading a fair bit on the theories behind why all that bread / pasta / sugar is not good for us, as well as some of the different takes on low carb, be it the Eadses' plan, Paleo, Primal, etc.  Am currently kind of loosely following  the Thirty Day Low Carbohydrate Solution, and finding it not difficult at all.  It sort of reminds me of the old Weight-Watchers before it got kind of loosey-goosey and started pushing low-fat in general, their products specifically.  

The only thing that's been kind of weird has been no oatmeal / muffins / tartines for breakfast.  Still, resourceful sort that I am, am managing to find ways to not get tired of eggs for breakfast.

This morning's breakfast:  a bit of avocado for the potassium, veggies and a couple of deviled eggs.  Made them with homemade mayonnaise (surprisingly easy to make - here's my go to recipe, with a couple tweaks:  1.)  I use all olive oil.  2.)  I use the whole egg.) and some dill from the garden.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lemons? Lemonade, not to mention marmalade, chiffon pie, citron givre, etc, etc...

This Summer's been an odd one, in that it's the first in a while that I've stayed in New England.  Normally, I'd be crisscrossing the Hexagon, visiting Roman (or even Greek) ruins, wandering around the foothills of the Massif Central, or furtively tip toeing my way through the dunes along the Atlantic Wall.

Stuff happens.  As it currently happens, have been enjoying the relative quiet of my urban cocoon.

 Instead of ruins from Antiquity, I have beautifully preserved 18th century farmhouses to examine.  I get my exercise climbing and descending the Seven Hills of my city.  Haven't made it to the beach yet (a pity, as I'm less than five miles from the ocean), but do wander along the banks of the two rivers that sandwich my neighborhood.  There, there are plenty of trees to look at (and bring fruit home from); plenty of birds to add to the life list.

Picturesque Sunset.  It weirds me out to no end to not have the sun set over the ocean.

To make things at home seem more resort-like, scrubbed down a couple patio chairs and an inherited little Ikea table.

Thought about painting the chairs, but decided against, as they seem to be on their last legs.  The table's in great shape; all that was necessary was a citronella candle.  Oh, and a little placemat I found at the dump Downeast; gives things a rustic look.

I'm spending an awful lot of time up here in my little treehouse perch.  It isn't much, but it's nice.  Have convinced the landlord to sit out and drink a cup of coffee every now and again.  The best are the Working Lunches, though.  Food tastes better out doors, even if one's view is of the cinder block building out front.

Mediterranean Salad and Green Tea

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Il faut cultiver son jardin.

After a couple years of just not caring, I finally got back into gardening a bit.  Nothing particularly high-yield or intensive, as I'm just not invested enough in where I am to wage serious battles against the nuisance wildlife or petition the landlord for better facilities.  Still, the current combination of fruits and flowers is pleasing me.

The particular high-yielders have been the kale which keeps reseeding itself, the sage and the mint.  The squash plants are absolute monsters, but they're producing more flowers than fruit.  (Not a problem, as I've a serious weak spot for squash blossom fritters / omelets.)  My tomatoes aren't doing so well, as, apparently, my random plant purchase at the local Stah Mahket turned out to be a variety that doesn't do so well in containers.

Flower-wise, the now four-year-old geranium plants are absolutely stunning, as are the firecrackers (purchased along with the tomatoes).  Picked up a couple chrysanthemums yesterday to fill in the gaps left from a disappointing cilantro and dill turnout.  The former were kind of expensive for what they are, but seem like good replacements.  I promise a photo of all this in a bit.

Anyway, despite what appears to be a sort of bloom-end blight in some of the plants, the tomatoes are actually producing.  

I'll end up with something, even if we just harvest the fruits while still green.  Turned the housemate on to fried green tomatoes.  Wouldn't mind making green tomato pickles, as I've been craving them lately.  Other options:  green tomato marmalade and chutney.

The only thing lovelier than roasting the seeds from cleaned out jack o lanterns is saving them to plant the following season, because you never know what you're going to end up with.  I swear:  melons / cukes / squashes are the poodle hybrids of the plant world!  

A few years back,  we planted a few seeds from an oversized, kind of watery cantaloupe that the Frenchie brought home from Trader Joe's.  The resulting fruits varied between golf-ball and soft-ball sized;  tasted like a combination between cucumber and cantaloupe.  We found the lovely, pale-green fruits an amazing salad component after chilling them and slicing thinly.

Anyway, this is one of the fruits from last year's pumpkin.  Kind of looks like a combination butternut / zucchini, doesn't it? 

I'm keeping an eagle eye on this one, as I'd really like to both taste it and save the seeds for next year.