Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Last Day

Today is the last day of the Month of Tango & Tomatoes, so it's time for a little update:

We LOVE the tango, although the dance parties, or milangas, typically start late in the evening and run way past our bedtime. That wouldn't be so embarrassing if we weren't the youngest in the class...

The tomatoes aren't quite as exuberant as they were. Perhaps it's the cold nights? Boise is high desert, so our late summer temperatures drop to the 50s & 60s at night and soar to the mid 80s to low 90s during the day. I finally just shut off the heat & air conditioning out of sheer frustration. Layers are the only way to cope with this sort of temperature insanity, even if I do look a little like the Michelin Man in the morning.

I am still hoping to get another round of salsa, or perhaps a creole sauce, before the end of the season. Then what will I do with my weekends?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Loss Of A Real Hero

I've always found it an odd part of our culture that we idolize people for being in movies. Granted, some of them are very good at being in movies and I think that merits respect for being good at his or her chosen profession, but it wouldn't it make more sense to idolize people for doing good? Solving problems? Thinking of others?

And then sometimes, there's someone who can do both, and my little anti-television self does truly consider Paul Newman to have been an actual hero--something we don't see much today. As an incredibly good-looking man, he could have simply become a pretty-boy actor--having affairs, living a selfish and self-absorbed life. Instead, he created camps for children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. When his "Newman's Own" salad dressing became a huge success, he donated all the profits to charity. Not some, ALL. Married to his second wife for 50+ years in a country where more than half of all marriages end in divorce and in an industry where almost all marriages fail, Newman summed up his marital fidelity with, “I have steak at home; why go out for hamburger?” How could anyone not like this man?

There are some people who leave the world a little better than they found it, and yesterday we lost one of them. It's a pretty big loss.

"I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”
--Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's Official!

We received our Neilson packet yesterday,
including $2 for our time in filling out the initial survey.

Which means that our nonexistant television viewing has been more profitable for us this year than all our investments combined.

A sobering thought indeed.......

Friday, September 26, 2008

Following Up On A Few Questions

Since Blogger rarely--if ever--provides me with an email address to respond to when people leave comments or questions, this is actually the easiest way to answer questions.

The Dehydrator
The dehydrator is an Excalibur (though we have not yet noticed any magical properties nor been crowned rulers of England, though there's always hope....). I had a dehydrator made by Mr. Coffee--Mr. Dehydrator not being as catchy--for years, but the heat & air came from the bottom and tended to almost "burn" things if I didn't rotate the trays. I've been drying apples & bananas for years, but this year branched out wildly as a result of helping Bananas with her food parcels during her Appalachian Trail hike. The dehydrated rice is fabulous--it's Minute Rice without all the chemicals added, and the dried curried chickpeas are a great snack, though I'm still working out why some of the beans get so hard they could chip a tooth and sometimes they just come out "crunchy but no dental work needed." Andy tried dehydrating watermelon, which shrunk to 1/100th of the original size and tasted like candy. The cheese and bacon dehydrating episodes we are still trying to forget, but it's wonderful for beans--you can take the entire bag, go through the whole marathon soaking/cooking process, then dehydrate them. To use them later they cook MUCH faster. The pudding leather turned into a very bizarre substance in a few days--which I found out later could have been solved by adding applesauce to the pudding. It would have tasted weird, but it would have remained pliable "leather." Backpackers cannot be choosers.

Refined sugar--now there's a good question. We use so little sugar that I hadn't thought about it. The last time I tried to make a cake I had to tell Andy to pass it off as "brownies," so sweets are not a big part of our life. It seems like it should be left out unless it is in a state we could make ourselves--which isn't very likely. I'll have to look into that one. The big exception would be canning--I never edit canning recipes, so if that calls for white sugar I might use that as one of my two weekly "exceptions," but it will be worth looking into. Living in Idaho, we actually have a sugar factory here as a lot of sugar beets are grown here. So, maybe they'll let me visit and see how sugar is actually made? How cool--our Year of No Processed Foods could include field trips!!!

Why All The "Month of" Projects?
As you might imagine, we get this one a lot--or variations regarding a certain lack of sanity in our lives. The first one--the month of not buying anything new--was actually just a whim as a fun way for two people with different spending habits to find common ground. We just had so much fun with the idea that it has become a way to explore anything we're curious about. Abraham Lincoln once said, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be," and I firmly believe it. Life is a wonderful adventure.

What were all the jars last weekend?
First, I made a blueberry jam with honey and nutmeg. I was a little concerned as this was my first jam-making endeavor ever, but it turned out really well. Of course, it involves an insane amount of sugar, so I used 4 ounce jars. Having spent 3 years working for the American Diabetes Association, I still have great difficulty in giving people anything involving sugar, but I did make a double batch.... Then I moved on to jalapeno mint jelly, which should work well as an appetizer with a little cheese--or that is the current theory. Then I made a red onion relish with caramelized red onions and balsamic vinegar. For the food aficionados, it tastes as good as it sounds. Then I collapsed from exhaustion.

Oh, and Yes! We do have the Michael Pollan book, In Defense of Food. I blame much of our current insanity on him: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. When I have to go an entire year without a cinnamon bear, I shall blame it all on him and his common-sense approach to nutrition!

:)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

God Bless The Dehydrator!!!

Did you know that you don't have to peel tomatoes before dehydrating? I didn't either, otherwise we might have ended up with 10 pounds of dehydrated tomatoes and NO salsa.
Actually, to a very surprising extent, I'm having a marvelous time with canning this year. I've made pasta sauce, pizza sauce, spiced blueberry honey jam, mint jalapeno jelly, 2 types of salsa, pickled pumpkin, red onion relish, bruschetta in a jar, and plain canned tomatoes. Part of it I blame on this book:
borrowed from the library and so full of great ideas that I finally had to break down and order my own copy as our library was getting a bit snarky about wanting their copy back. Wait until they find out about the blueberry jam spill...

Of course, a large part of my gardening/preserving/canning insanity can be chalked up to getting prepared for a year without processed foods. As canning and dehydrating are both "processes," let me define our rules:

1. No ingredients not easily identifiable or that I couldn't use in my own kitchen.
2. No corn syrup, PERIOD.
3. Nothing we couldn't actually make or obtain for ourselves. For instance, I can't make an egg but I grew up on a farm & raised chickens and could, theoretically, obtain eggs for myself. Same for dairy--I could milk a cow (and have actually done so), but our neighborhood covenants strictly forbid 1000-pound farm animals in the back yard. Not that it wouldn't be good for the lawn, but that's another story.

So, things I can process without chemicals are fair game. We thought about trying to grow most of our own food, but we live in a state with a very recognizable winter, so it was either turn the ENTIRE backyard into a garden and can like a maniac (and learn to eat beans as our only source of protein EVER), or lighten up and just try for no preservatives.

In the meantime, I continue to savor Digiorno's spinach and mushroom pizza every chance I get....

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pumpkin, Pumpkin Everywhere

Yesterday I made spaghetti with Italian sausage, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and baked pumpkin. Tonight I sauteed baked pumpkin puree with some fresh sage, garlic, salt, and a little butter. Andy would tell you that I'm a little obsessed with pumpkin right now, but he's downstairs eating the hot pumpkin bread that just came out of the oven.

You might be asking, "What is up with this woman and the pumpkins?" Well, I'll tell you. I've become fascinated with them because I've neither raised them or cooked with them before. For me, that's really all it takes.

Ever since I started planting a garden (4 years? 5 years?), I've planted something I haven't really cooked with and then I have a ready supply to play around with. Every day Andy thanks his lucky stars that he hadn't yet met me during the Summer of Eggplant. To be fair, I've had eggplant at restaurants when I've thought it was quite good. All I learned from growing eggplant was 1) If you don't like the food, you won't like it as a soup; 2) gray is a particularly unappealing color for soup; 3) If you put enough marinara sauce on it, anything is edible, and 4) It helps to know alternate names for some things. Your friends may readily agree to accept your extra aubergines, and if you're quick, you can be out the door before they open the sack....

So, this is the summer of pumpkin. The results so far:

* pumpkin butter - highly traumatic to make, but incredibly fabulous
* baked pumpkin with curry powder sprinkled on it - good, but a little stringy
* pickled pumpkin - no idea, haven't tried it yet, but 50/50 odds on that one
* the spaghetti with pumpkin - totally fabulous! The recipe was in a new pumpkin cookbook we ordered after the spending ban. This was the first recipe I tried in it and the book was worth the pasta recipe alone
* sauteed pumpkin with sage - I was just messing around tonight, but it turned out really well
* pumpkin bread - really, was there any doubt?

Of course, the October Soup Night will be featuring either a pumpkin soup or a butternut squash soup, and there is a recipe for pumpkin ice cream......

Leaving us with the question: when is it creativity and when is it just sheer squash-induced madness.........?

We're A Neilson Family!!!

Today in the mail, we received a card congratulating us on being selected to participate in the Neilson TV Ratings.

That just cracks me up to no end--our TV hasn't even been hooked up to an antenna since our 2006 Academy Awards party!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday

As Andy was painting our bedroom this weekend, we spent the night in the spare bedroom. As this was something NEW in our home, both cats decided to sleep with us--a rather unusual occurrence. This morning Andy had just gotten up, Calisto was laying on my legs, and Theo had curled up in Andy's place, and in that half-groggy in-need-of-coffee way, I noticed something was moving on the covers on my leg. A second later, my brain woke up with a start: Both cats were accounted for and they weren't near the moving thing on my leg.

I can now assure you that it is ENTIRELY possible to wake up, fling the covers entirely off the bed, and leap out of bed in one single motion. Theo leapt to the floor--I think he might have glimpsed a flying rodent, but he certainly hasn't caught anything yet. Calisto just looked at me as though I were a complete ingrate, so I strongly suspect I have her to thank for the "gift."

Why exactly did we think a cat door was a good idea??????

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

Creature Features Part Two

Being Friday night and generally my "down" time, I sat down with my knitting and The Mummy's Hand, the next Creature Features entry. Filmed 8 years after The Mummy--and not having to worry about viewers with VCRs or DVD players that would remember the first movie, it borrowed so much from the first movie that they actually lifted entire film sequences. After 8 years, audiences might not have noticed, but 24 hours later...you do notice these things.

Now the big question: Was anyone actually frightened by these movies when they first came out? I saw Frankenstein in college, and found it actually quite sad but not frightening. So far the mummy series has been more funny than frightening. I haven't actually watched many horror flicks since college, but The Shining always frightens me, but I once heard Jack Nicholson reading Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories" and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, so it might just be him. As a kid, Poltergeist and Jaws scared the daylights out of me. But since then????

Next up is either another mummy movie--there are lots of them--or perhaps we'll move on to Frankenstein. I'd be up for The Blob, but it hasn't come in yet. Of course, if I really wanted to be scared this week, I could have just watched the stock market.......

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Creature Features

As kids, my sister and I would occasionally get permission to stay up late on Friday nights to watch "Creature Features," which showed old horror classics. I remember few and stayed awake through even fewer. So, as Halloween approaches, I have requested the old classic monster movies from the library.

Since neither of us has seen the original, we are currently watching "The Mummy" with Boris Karloff. Filmed in 1932, it has a cursed mummy who rises from the dead through Egyptian magic. Sounds scary, right? Well, according to the Internet Movie Database, the really scary part of the movie was omitted--the part about reincarnation. Mummy that kills people? Fine. Ancient Egyptian curses? No problem. Reincarnation? NO! Not that!

Geez, I reserved Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Blob and all the monster movies I could think of--I guess I forgot Shirley MacLaine.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The October Project

The thing about the "Month Of" projects is that they are addicting. Really, think of all the things you have always wanted to do. You may not actually want to do them on a permanent basis, but what if you could do them for 30 days at a time? I tell you, it gets addictive.

The October project will be: Picking one subject to study in-depth for one month.

Andy and I each get our own subject and it can be anything. Andy chose George Washington, as that whole cherry tree thing is the one thing most of us remember being taught about our first president while in school and it isn't even true. I have chosen sociology. I had friends who took sociology in college, but I picked other electives and to be honest, I could only come up with the vaguest of answers as to what sociology is. And part of me is a little bit hopeful that studying sociology will finally explain to me why so many Americans don't vote, why some of the ones that do vote only care about the (R) or (D) behind the name and nothing about the issues, and why others vote only based on the fear-mongering that the opposition is doing. Do you realize we have people in this country who know more about the fiasco that is Britney Spears's life than they do about the people who will lead our country for the next 4 years???????????

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

One Sure Fire Way To Enjoy Your Job....

Do projects all weekend.

First thing Saturday morning, I got up, picked a bucket full of tomatoes, and canned 11 jars of pizza sauce. I thought I took a picture, but by now we're ALL aware of what lots of cans of tomato-based food looks like. Really, really aware....

Andy painted our bedroom
and on Sunday I made these:
Pumpkin pickles. Is that just one of the strangest things you've heard of? I have no idea what they'll be like--there is vinegar involved but there's also sugar and spices--nor do I know what we'll do with them (give them as gifts and let everyone else figure it out?????). Since the only thing either of us has actually done with pumpkins is to carve faces on them, we're really branching out--pumpkin butter, baked pumpkin with different spices, but this is by far the oddest one yet. Whatever one does with pickled pumpkin, we have 8 pints of it.

It was a relief to return to work on Monday!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Two Years

Our second wedding anniversary is this month, and so far in married life we have learned:

* Everything else might be shared, but having one's own tube of toothpaste and spending allowance solves a lot of problems.

* If you constantly come up with strange new projects, it's best if you have a spouse with both a sense of humor and an adventurous spirit--and possibly a strong stomach.

* People will remember that they had a great time at your wedding. They will not remember that you didn't spring for the engraved napkins.

* Before making the deal that the one who cooks doesn't do dishes, watch your spouse make Thai food.

* When "we" decide to paint, Andy does most of the work.

* If you're going to spend the next 40 years eating meals with the same person, table manners are really important.

* If you each know how to fix different things, you can cover more ground and have fewer repair bills.

* Even the most enlightened husband does not want to have extended discussions about color schemes.

* One spouse will invariably steal covers, and it often isn't the one with the ice-cold feet.

* When they bring in live animals in the middle of the night, cats are no longer community property.

* If your husband cooks, cleans, does the dishes, and can fix things when they break, your girlfriends may not want to hear about it.

* Sharing a strong sense of play makes everything easier--except maybe yardwork.

* If you decide to surprise your spouse by hiding chocolates in the pockets of his shirts, make sure they are shirts he actually wears or learn to accept that fact that someone at Goodwill is getting a lot of freebies.

* It would have been easier if at least one of us wasn't prone to forgetting about clothes left in the washing machine.

* Some people are worth waiting for. :)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Life's New Questions

1. How much salsa can two people actually consume in a year?

2. Are home-canned tomatoes actually any better for you than store-bought?

3. If one makes pumpkin pickles, what does one actually do with them?

4. Is tomato chutney as weird as it sounds?

5. Before the garden, what did I actually do with my September weekends and did I enjoy it?

6. How many bags of cucumbers and tomatoes can I take in to work before I start getting unfortunate nicknames?

7. Why is squash so much more fun to grow than eat?

8. Is there a pill that can curb one's optimism in the spring when planting the garden?

9. Since they grow like unrestrained triffids, why isn't the world covered in parsley, dill, and mint?

10. Do our friends think it's helpful that we send everyone home with bags of tomatoes and cucumbers, or are they just trying to escape before we try to give them squash?

These are the questions that keep me up at night....

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Month of Tomatoes and Tango

Tonight I am neither cooking tomatoes nor practicing the tango. I have no idea what to do with myself.

We definitely have a favorite tomato plant (out of 8), but of course in true Toni fashion, I didn't think to put tags out or anything to remind myself of what the heck I planted. Romas, I can identify, and I strongly suspect that the plant on the end is a beefsteak tomato, though the tomatoes aren't really getting that big, and the grape tomatoes are obvious--even if they are about the size of the romas, but the others are a smaller round tomato--like a cherry tomato on steroids. The work well for everything except roasting--that turns them into tomato mush. Whatever they are, we're loving the mystery tomatoes, and I might have to save some of the seeds--or make friends with a brighter gardener than myself who could probably recognize the plants with little difficulty.

I haven't decided what October's project will be.....pumpkins and polka? Butternut and beguine? The options are endless at Chateau Sutton-Goar.....

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Soup Night Returns!

Several years ago I read an article in a magazine about a woman who hosted an open house in her home each month as a way to keep in touch with friends on a regular but informal basis. She served homemade soup and people could drop by, chat--it sounded like such a great idea that I decided to try it.

Of course, the article left out a few key points:

* Do not make soup containing rice or pasta. It's going to sit on the stove on low for 2 1/2 hours, and unless you can pass it off as risotto to the last arrivals, it's going to be really bad soup by the end of the party.

* Soup in the summer just doesn't sound appealing and not everyone likes cold soup--me among them.

* Not everyone can guarantee to be home at a certain time every month.

Still, Soup Night was a fun way to see friends & a nice chance to socialize on those off months that have very little else going on (January, February), but when Andy and I got engaged and started the selling houses/buying a house process, Soup Night got scrapped for the lack of being able to guarantee where we would be living from month to month (during the housing boom 3 years ago, both houses sold in less than 48 hours and closed in less than 30 days, so life was pretty frantic. Believe me--that's not a complaint. It was just frantic). But now that we're settled and Andy is working from home, we've decided to revive Soup Night and the first one was Monday night!

And was there any question as to what was on the menu?????

Tomato soup, of course!!!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sunday Update

This weekend I have learned:

* One of the perks of marriage is that someone else will take apart the vacuum cleaner to see why it isn't working.

* 8 tomato plants produces an insane amount of tomatoes. When overwhelmed by them, I can be driven to chucking them over the fence and pretending they never existed.

* Check two or three weather forecasts before turning off the air conditioning. There are a few weathermen who are just out of their cotton-picking minds.

* If you're going to spend the day cleaning, doing a really hard workout in the morning might not be the best idea unless you have learned how to clean without the use of your arms.

* No matter how often you explain it to them, cats simply do not understand sleeping in on weekends.

* If you have enough weekend projects lined up, it will be a relief to return to work on Monday.

* Even if it will streamline the process, cats do not appreciate being vacuumed.

* No matter how "in touch with his feminine side" a man might be, listening to Jane Eyre is perhaps asking too much.

* When winter comes and there is no garden to take care of, I might not know what to do with myself on weekends.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sense of Humor Wanted

When I was dating, one of my big "must haves" in a relationship was a sense of humor. Other things could be negotiated, but a sense of humor was an absolute necessity.

Last weekend while I was in the canning frenzy, Andy repaired the tile in our bathroom, and ultimately had to regrout a large portion of the floor. Several hours later, I wasn't even thinking about it, and walked across the floor, pulling up gooey sticky group on my foot. Using my "I've just found a live animal in our house" shriek (which, I know, was technically lying but it does get the fastest response from Andy), Andy helped me remove myself from the floor and smoothed out the grout I had messed up.

Later, I walked into the bathroom to find:
Life Lesson #28: Be careful what you wish for--sometimes the universe is actually listening. :)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Slim Pickings?

This morning instead of finding a bird carcass in our bedroom, the over night gift from the cats was an empty bird's nest. Apparently the economic downturn is hitting the feline set as well.....

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tango

The first tango lesson was a riot. Tango is basically considered walking with a partner to music, so on the first lesson we learned to walk. It's actually not as silly as it sounds as many of the songs we "walked" to changed tempo frequently, and our instructor informed us that "interesting" rhythm is a traditional part of the tango as the band was usually drunk. Obviously, we're not learning the ballroom version.

We promptly rented two tango videos from the library, and the first has a flashy couple doing moves that make you want to clasp the nearest rose in your teeth and slit your dress to your thigh. It's a little hard to follow, but with thorns in your lips you don't really notice.

The second one is by far the better instructional video and the instructor is a much more thorough and detailed man with all the raw animal sexuality of Lawrence Welk. No slit dresses with this one, but we are paying a lot more attention to the actual steps.

Ah, tradeoffs.....

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Next "Month of..."

I had a couple ideas for new "month of" projects, but I just couldn't figure out how to take on any new projects with everything we already have going on, and then it hit me! I've already found the new "Month of" theme!

Tango and Tomatoes

Tango lessons start tonight, and we're trying to be really, really good and practice every night. Not exactly sure how that will work in with some of our social obligations this month, but then again, we rarely tell people exactly what they are being invited over for, so......maybe tango can be adapted into line dancing?

As I keep reminding myself, the reason I planted so darn many tomato plants was that I wanted to try makeing a few salsas. Well, bully! Did I get my wish!!! I still had enough tomatoes left over from the weekend's canning frenzy to make some homemade spaghetti sauce for dinner last night, and there are STILL more--without even counting the latest ones to be picked. Whether it makes the blog or not, this is definitely the Month of Tomatoes. I reserve the right to huck a few of the overripe ones at the soccer moms speeding down our streets as they race to drop their kids off at the new junior high that just opened near our house. I would have thought that parents might have a bit more respect for residential neighborhoods and the high probability that there are children in the neighborhood who won't be able to jump out of the way of an SUV hurtling through the neighborhood, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I know--vegetable vigilantism is truly no way to solve a problem, but it is tempting, I must say. Maybe I'll call the police & give them the tomatoes to chuck. Say, maybe that's what our neighborhood watch program could do....and for the really hardened criminals, I'm sure someone around here has got some zucchini........

Monday, September 1, 2008

Class Reunion Time

This weekend was my 20th class reunion. It's hard to not feel old while writing that.

We were a "large" class in a very small school--the high school had 40 kids total and my class graduated 14. 8 of us went all 12 years together and by the end, seemed more like siblings than classmates. We have never held a reunion of any sort, so in many cases, this was the first time most of us had seen each other since graduation. Since many of us had young parents, I think most of us looked more like our parents than like our former selves, which magnified the entire time-warp effect. Feeling like we were in a room full of parents, it was hard to not expect someone to suddenly chastise us for being too loud--in a small town ANYONE'S parents were allowed to yell at you when you were doing something stupid. We think there's a code written down somewhere with all the rules because everyone knew what they were and it wasn't a question of whether or not someone's parents allowed something--it was just wrong and you were in trouble with the closest parental unit.

Our class was always considered the bane of the substitute teacher's existence, but as one of the few classes to go through without any pregnancies, drug problems, or other "big" issues, we were a pretty harmless bunch. We were firm believers in practical jokes and were known to pick the lock to our classroom in elementary school so we could get into the classroom without anyone noticing that our teacher hadn't shown up for the day, and there were a few memorable incidences in shop class over the years, and the young teacher we had for Consumer Education might have left the teaching field entirely after a year with us, but no one got in fist fights and if someone had a gun in his truck, it meant he was going hunting after school. Like everything in reality, it wasn't perfect, but it was a much simpler time to be growing up--I guess in some ways, it's good to be older. :)

The Look

Anyone who thinks cats can't learn things hasn't lived with one. It took Theo maybe a month into his diet to figure out that I can...