Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spring Fever!

With all due apologies to those enjoying yet another snowstorm on the east coast, we had a FABULOUS spring day here today!!!!! 

And look:

The garlic is up!!!!!!!  We even have a little wild garlic,

which is rather impressive as none of the garlic went to seed and I REALLY dug this bed up several times after harvesting last year's garlic.  Rats--garlic must be pretty hardy stuff.  I was sort of hoping I was developing some sort of gardening skills because I was able to get garlic to grow.  It's a bit less of an achievement if it's going to be a weed.

And yet another sign of spring:

Mystery bulb!!!!

At the top of the picture, you can see our fence.  On the OTHER side of the fence, I've been working to improve the soil because bulbs & other plants need good soil & drainage & depth and all of that--where, by the way, not a single freaking bulb is sprouting.  On THIS side of the fence, there's clay covered with gravel.  And something is coming up.  Apparently the garden has decided to start the humiliation a bit early this year.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

In Case You've Been Wondering About the Lack of Blogging......

Ravelympics 2010 - Day 15

Bob:  We're back at the 2010 Ravelympics, and after 15 grueling days, Ms. Sutton has just crossed the finish line for the Sweaterboard Cross.

Ron:  Well, I don't mind admitting that I never thought she would pull it off.  And entire sweater in 15 days--and by a woman who actually set aside a nearly-completed sweater for almost 2 entire years before sewing the sweater seams.

Bob:  You certainly make a good point, Ron.  This is well outside of Ms. Sutton's usual knitting behavior.  She has really been pushing hard during the games.

Ron:  She certainly has.  And her support team has truly been phenomenal.  Theo was on hand for the entire final push.
 
 
and her very patient husband has been cheering her on during the entire event.  
 
Bob:  Do we have a shot of him as well.

Ron:  No--apparently he has left on an "emergency white chocolate martini run," and is unavailable for comment.

Bob:  How about an interview with Ms. Sutton?

Ron:  I'm afraid when last seen, Ms. Sutton was running out the door screaming "anything but knitting!" and hasn't been seen since.  Authorities are on the lookout for her in the next three counties. They're hoping to catch her before she reaches Canada and the other Olympics games going on.


Bob:  Keep it here for continued coverage of the 2010 Ravelympics and the efforts to track down Ms. Sutton......

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Things I Have Learned This Week

*  Even if one spent the better part of 2 months dealing with a cold & the ensuing complications, it doesn't mean that one can't get another blasted cold just a few weeks later.

*  One cannot acquire a taste for Nyquil, no matter how often one takes it.

*  Attempting to knit an entire sweater in 17 days is just as crazy as it sounds.

*  Games invented by cats are every bit as pointless as those invented by 5-year-olds, but at least cats don't keep changing the rules.

*  Requesting 32 separate seed & plant catalogs was probably a bit excessive.

*  I should not use the gym's elliptical machines anywhere near the television turned to Rush Limbaugh unless I really WANT to burn over 750 calories an hour.....

*   One can add a little mystery to eating at home by freezing leftovers without remembering to label them.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fat Follow up

(Can't wait to see where THAT puts my blog on Google's search engines!)

A friend of mine has very nicely explained some of the fat terms I keep running across and/or discussing, so to follow up on the whole fat problem from yesterday, more information can be found here:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Pop Tart Problem

Remember when I mentioned the homemade Pop Tart recipe?  Well, there's a problem--it needs butter AND shortening.  Like Crisco.  Now as far as the "illegal" foods label goes, I've pretty much written Crisco off as being pretty close to the top of the list.  According to their website, Crisco is hydrogenated vegetable oil.  According to Wikipedia, hydrogenation:

is widely applied to the processing of vegetable oils and fats. Complete hydrogenation converts unsaturated fatty acids to saturated ones. In practice the process is not usually carried to completion. Since the original oils usually contain more than one double bond per molecule (that is, they are poly-unsaturated), the result is usually described as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil; that is some, but usually not all, of the double bonds in each molecule have been reduced. This is done by restricting the amount of hydrogen (or reducing agent) allowed to react with the fat.
Hydrogenation results in the conversion of liquid vegetable oils to solid or semi-solid fats, such as those present in margarine. Changing the degree of saturation of the fat changes some important physical properties such as the melting point, which is why liquid oils become semi-solid. Semi-solid fats are preferred for baking because the way the fat mixes with flour produces a more desirable texture in the baked product. Since partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are cheaper than animal source fats, are available in a wide range of consistencies, and have other desirable characteristics (e.g., increased oxidative stability (longer shelf life)), they are the predominant fats used in most commercial baked goods. Fat blends formulated for this purpose are called shortenings.

Got all that?  Okay, so it's hydrogen added to vegetable oil to make a shelf-stable fat. So, getting out the little Crisco can that I keep around for seasoning cast iron pans, I discover that it contains:
        sunflower oil, soybean oil, fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil, mono- and diglycerides


and that it has gone rancid because I really don't have to season cast iron THAT often.


The OTHER option (besides giving up this entire endeavor is:

LARD.  Yep, rendered pig fat. 
So, I WENT LOOKING FOR LARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
and managed to find out that there are types of lard and that I got the wrong one.  I found the shelf-stable one, which contains some hydrogenated lard, as well as an emulsifier and antioxidants.  Turns out I need to find artisan lard, which is without additives and must be kept frozen or refrigerated.

How good could those damn Pop Tarts possibly be anyway??????

Dang!  Where am I going to find gourmet pig fat.......?

I'd Like To Share This

If you're not acquainted with it, there's a wonderful website called "Snopes.com" that is solely dedicated to proving of disproving the number of urban legends being shot around the internet.  I'd like you to take a look at this:

http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/obama.asp

There are over 60 urban legends about President Obama being circulated--the overwhelming majority of which are false--some so shockingly stupid it's hard to believe anyone would believe them, much less pass them along.   Not that I agree with everything President Obama is doing or has done, but this has gotten completely out of hand. 

What I want to know is how can people be so desperate to hate someone that they would believe and SHARE malicious lies without ever bothering to check to see if they are true.  I mean, I dislike Sarah Palin, but I have never forwarded any emails about her, and my opinion of her is my own personal business and has generally been formed by the things she has actually said.  I don't feel the need to spread malicious lies about her, because she's really no threat to me.  However, when I receive one of these emails about Obama, I look them up to see if there is any basis in fact--which there has never been on the ones I have been sent--and then promptly drop the sender from my soup night & Christmas card lists.  People who wish to be that hateful and ignorant have NO place in my life.  Period.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Food Writing?

I'm currently reading a book about a woman attending the Cordon Bleu cooking school, and she said when she applied to the school, she stated that she wanted to be a food writer.

Do I lead a rather sheltered life, or did anyone else not really know that there was such a thing as a "food writer?"  Not a writer of cookbooks--that part I grasped--but writing about food in some other fashion.  During the past year, I have been studying food and cooking history, but prior to our No Processed Foods experiment, the last food writing I had actually read might well have been The Gingerbread Man. 

 I may need to get out more........

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Crossposting

Some of you may have noticed that I have "borrowed" a couple posts from my knitting blog this week.  I thought some of you might be wondering what I do with myself when I'm not engaged in bizarre cooking experiments or spreading layers of horse manure on our lawn.  Perhaps you were thinking that I conducted myself as a "normal" person or something.  So, in order to fully dispel such a rumor, I thought I'd introduce you to the "Ravelympics."

Ravelry is a "social networking" site for people who are obsessed with enjoy knitting, crocheting, or spinning.  I actually don't really understand the term "social networking" as I don't see how one can actually unsocially network, but I can tell you that Ravelry is a tremendously cool site that allows over 600,000 knitters world wide to share pattern and yarn reviews, share project pictures and details, and to quit boring their spouses/friends with constant chatter about knitting and all things yarn related.

Not that I don't have a lot of very cool friends who don't  knit, but joining the online knitting community has been a lot of fun.  I haven't participated, but the annual Sock Wars totally crack me up.  You just have to love a group who can invent death by sock.  The Ravelympics are a funny take-off of the Olympics.  The events for this year are
There are now more than 9,000 competitors, with more joining every day.  Bobicus Maximus--otherwise known as the site owner's dog, Bob--will be handing out "medals" for the event, and there will be a "parade" of finished projects.  I am competing in the Sweaterboard Cross, and in case you haven't already guessed as much, trying to knit an entire sweater in 17 days really is few sandwiches short of a picnic.  But, not like insanity has ever stopped me before......

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ravelympics 2010 - Pregame Show: The Countdown.....

Bob:  With just hours to go before the torch-lighting for the 2010 Ravelympics, we take a look at some of the last-minute preparations being done by one of the contestants.  Ms. Sutton, thank you for taking time to talk with us this morning.  Tell us, what sorts of things are you doing today?
 
Toni:  Well, Bob, first I did a little dusting.
Bob:  Now I notice you're chosen to use Endust at this point.  Are you mostly a spray-polish duster?

Toni:  Well, generally I'm a "this-is-a-big-freakin'-waste-of-time" sort of duster, but I thought the house might be a bit frightening two weeks from now.

Bob: I see.  I notice you've been accumulating a few things today.  Can you tell us about them?


Toni: Certainly, Bob.  First there's some hand lotion
--always a necessity for any type of knitting marathon, especially here in the drier climates.  And of course a large supply of coffee
 
to help me keep my focus.

Bob:  Now I've noticed some knitters can drink coffee nonstop without impeding their performance.  Are you one of them?

Toni:  Well, Bob, you don't get to this level of competition without some caffeine addiction. However, I do have my limits, so if I start to get the jitters we have a supply of herbal teas on hand
and for when things get really desperate....
 
 Bob:  My, that's a really large bottle of champagne, there...

Toni:  Victory party, Bob.  Or possibly the being-released-from-the-hospital-after-a-complete-nervous-breakdown-party.  These things can go either way.  

Bob:  Now this brings up an interesting point.  Will the Ravelympics participants be drug tested?

Toni:  It's doubtful, Bob, as drugs are often quite necessary to even feel it would be possible to knit an entire sweater in 16 days.  Over at the "Fleece to FO Long Track" tent, where the competitors will be spinning their own yarn AND turning it into a finished object, I'd say some sort of stimulant is almost a certainty.

Bob:  I see.  And what are these other objects in your pile.

Toni:  When knitting for leisure, I can often read a book while knitting, but it slows down my time.  Speed is of the essence here, so I'll need a few things to keep my mind busy while I work.  For more serious moments, 
we have the COMPLETE Jane Austen movie collection--the BBC version, not the "adapted" A & E version--I'm always a purist about these things--and for the lighter moments,
the complete first 3 seasons of "Rocky and Bullwinkle."  There's nothing like a little Sherman and Mr. Peabody to keep one inspired.

Bob:  Now, Ms. Sutton, we understand that you have two cats--is that correct?

Toni:  That is correct. 

Bob  Cute as they may be, cats can often pose a real problem for knitters--how do you plan to handle that?
Toni:  Well, I've taken a few precautions there as well.....
Bob:  Oh, I see.  Well, you certainly have thought of everything.  We certainly wish all the competitors well as they complete their final preparations.  Less than 8 hours to go now....... 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

2010 Ravelympics - Pregame Show

Ron:  With less than 24 hours until the 2010 Ravelympics kickoff, we're here with one of the contestants Ms. Sutton, what you can tell us about this year's competition?

Toni:  Well Ron, to date there are more than 8300 knitters from around the world signed up and ready to compete.  Some will be competing on multiple events--such as perhaps the Scarf Super-G as well as Sock Hockey--while some of us are tackling a single, larger project.


Ron:  So participants have 16 days to complete their events.  That's a lot of pressure for what many of us would consider a grandmotherly-sort of sport.

Toni:  Don't let the stereotypes fool you.  Anyone who has ever witnessed the carnage at a 50%-off sale of cashmere yarn can tell you, knitting is not for the timid.


Ron:  You're signed up for the Sweaterboard Cross and the Stash Compulsory Dance, which--let me get this straight--is an ENTIRE sweater made from stash yarn within 16 days.  Is that correct?

Toni  Yes, Ron, it sure is.


Ron:  16 days--that's a pretty big challenge.  To attempt such an extreme knitting feat, is there training involved, or some sort of practice or preparation involved?

Toni:  Definitely.  This is not something to be attempted by the first-time knitter.


Ron  What sort of training goes in to preparing for the Ravelympics.

Toni:  Well, first the knitter has to learn to set ridiculous goals with incredibly tight time frames.  Most of us achieve this by deciding to knit a Christmas sweater or afghan around December 1.  Not every knitter can make it.  Most don't--many spend Christmas eve with 4 pots of coffee and a nervous tic in one eye to get there.  It's a grueling training process.  Often there are tears...occasionally the knitting project will be savagely flung into a food processor out of frustration.  Definitely not a sport for the timid.

Ron:  With just under 24 hours before the mass cast-on, tensions are running high.  Stay with us for our continuing LIVE coverage of the 2010 Ravelympics......

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Perspective

I'm still reading Grandma's Wartime Kitchen, and I thought I'd share this little snippet with you:

“Because of rationing I had a new way of life. I made lye soap to wash baby clothes, picked wild greens, canned all garden vegetables and fruit, helped raise broilers [chickens] and milk 29 cows by hand. We butchered our own meat, also caught fish and had frog legs.” --Marjorie Marzolf, Salina, Kansas

Did I mention that I've sworn to whine a whole lot less during canning season??????

Monday, February 8, 2010

So Did I Mention We're Back On the Diet?

Not that we ever really had a big fling with processed foods--and we are enjoying having one Diet Pepsi a week as a special treat--but the weekend before this one, we made the mistake of going out to eat 3 times in 3 days.  I still don't know much about food science, or what processed foods really do to one, but when food leaves you whimpering in pain after eating it--your body is obviously trying to tell you something.  We'd like to have salad dressing once in a while, but have drastically cut that back and decided that we won't eat it at all in the summer when veggies are at their best.  We were trying to come up with new rules--like maybe 4 cheats a week if we needed to restrain ourselves, but severe stomach pain works quite nicely as a deterrent.  Not to mention--very few forbidden foods taste that great anyway.  Except chocolate--let's not be stupid.  Chocolate is, was, and always will be FABULOUS.

Since convenience is the real issue, this weekend I made a huge vat of totally legal spaghetti sauce with pumpkin puree & lots of tomatoes, and it's now divided up into little two serving containers and packed into the freezer.  I even labeled them for once--which makes me quite proud of myself.  During January we were playing a lot of dinner-is-whatever-the-heck-this-turns-out-to-be-once-it's-defrosted, and I think we're a little tired of that game.  And a little tip for you--minestrone and pasta sauce don't look all that dissimilar when they're defrosting, but minestrone makes a lousy pasta sauce.

Later this week, I shall be attempting to make a few breakfast cereals.  This should be entertaining..... 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Things I Have Learned This Week

*  Do not underestimate how much water a pillow can actually hold

*  If a recipe says something like "carefully pour," I'm in over my head.  I don't think I'd even know if I was carelessly pouring, and if I wouldn't recognize if I was doing something wrong, how would I ever figure out how to do it right?

*  Having successfully made zucchini chocolate cake obviously gave me a foolish sense of optimism about my ability to make desserts.  A recent "caramelized pumpkin custard" incident has put me back in my place.

*  It is possible to cook a custard for an extra half an hour and STILL not have the knife come out clean like the recipe says it should.

*  Going out and stirring up the compost bin is a good way to squelch spring fever

* A goal to read 100 books during a year can be made much easier by reading a lot of short "mind-popcorn" types of books, even if they are a little silly and predictable

*  If you and your spouse have made the rule that the one who cooks doesn't have to do dishes, it's best to also make the rule "leaving dishes 'to soak' is a complete load of crap"

*  If you spent a large portion of last winter entertaining a cat with a cast, the cat might start to believe this is your function during winter months

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Let's Discuss My Morning, Shall We?

Since I didn't have anything truly pressing today, I decided to do some of the "extra" cleaning--you know, the stuff you hardly ever get around to doing.  In the grips of this madness, I decided it would be a good time to wash the pillows from our bed.

The pillows are reasonably new, so I hadn't washed them before, but I carefully read the tags (because, you know, under penalty of law I was obligated not to remove them...), loaded them in the washer, which is a front-loading machine so I wasn't even actually too worried about it.  I added some detergent, set it on gentle, and went off to do other things, coming back when the buzzer went off.

So far, so good.  The stuffing had neither clumped nor exploded all over the washer, so I was feeling pretty confident at this point. The tags said to dry them on low heat/fluff.  Fine.  I put them in the dryer, set it to low, and walked away.

Now I am no mechanical genius, but I have found that when it sounds like an appliance is screaming in pain, this is a very bad thing.  I took the pillows out of the dryer, turned it on--no screaming.  Put the pillows back in the dryer, turned it on--screaming.  It may be hard to believe this coming from someone who is currently getting her ass kicked by a couple pillows, but even I have the sense to NOT destroy a $400 appliance over a couple $50 pillows. 

Since it's a balmy 2 degrees above freezing, hanging the pillows outside to dry seemed like the next logical choice--aside from the fact that we don't have a clothes line or anything of that sort.  Briefly, I thought of trying to use the corner of the fence & the top lattice work to rig up a clothesline
but I'm just not sure I want my pillows drying over a pile of dirt & horse manure
even if I did grow up in the country.  I'm never going to claim to be any sort of whiz at cleaning, but even I know that things should actually be cleaner at the end of the washing process than they were at the beginning--so, best to avoid all horse manure. 

You might not have put much thought into this, but wet pillows are actually remarkably heavy. Trying to suspend one between a pole and a stepladder will, as it turns out, pull the stepladder over.  HOWEVER,

if suspended between a pole, stepladder, and big gas barbecue, it won't.  Pillow number one taken care of (until it dips below freezing, of course--by which time I hope to have made this Andy's problem and not mine)

Pillow number two required a little more creativity, as we only have barbecue and the pillars on the patio are rather far apart, so I would like to introduce you to the world's first barbecue-pillar-hot tub suspension clothes line:
which actually works rather nicely
 
I am really, really, REALLY hoping that we don't get the snow that they're predicting for this afternoon.  Wouldn't it just be my luck for TODAY to be one of the days they actually get it right??????

Monday, February 1, 2010

Grandma's Wartime Kitchen

Today I'm reading a book called Grandma's Wartime Kitchen, which is a (so-far) fascinating book about women in America during World War II and the meals they made and how they coped with rationing.  I think we all know about the "Victory Gardens" Americans were encouraged to keep--I believe to free up the demand the industrial food that was to be shipped overseas, but I didn't know much else about it.  Two really interesting points so far:

*  Because of the influence of the dairy farm lobbyists (which there seem to have been), margarine had to be white rather than yellow, but one brand of margarine actually came with a little bit of orange food dye that could be kneaded into the white goo so it would have that yellow "buttery" glow.  Now I can't say for certain because I wasn't there, but would kneading orange goo into white margarine REALLY be preferable to living with white margarine???????  Or am I just a bit lazy about that sort of thing?

*  I'm just going to quote this for you:
     "The [American] government produced, and encouraged businesses to sponsor, pamphlets, articles, and posters that gave the home-front housewife all the advice she needed to work a ten-hour defense-plant shift, come home to serve a nutritious meal on an impeccably set table for her family, have the kitchen spotless in no time, and in the morning, look absolutely perky as she handed each family member a hearty lunch before she started the next long day."  
 
     I can only assume that women at that time had some sort of mental fortitude that I do not possess.  If I had ever received such a pamphlet with such "suggestions," I think I'd have a few suggestions of mine own to share...........

A New Book To Add To The List

According to this review:

sp!ked review of books | A foodie’s guide to the history of humanity

the life expectancy of the first human farmers might have actually declined. I'm not sure that the reviewer isn't oversimplifying things a bit, but it is an interesting thought.

As strange as it may sound to us now, much of history is truly the history of food--the search for spices leading to the discovery of new lands, the sugar trade and the birth of the slave trade (much of history really is about people being totally rotten, sadly), wars being won or lost because of the ability/inability to feed armies. So far I've been reading books about the history of food--not necessarily about how food shaped history.

Sigh.....I have SO many books to get through yet.....

The New Additions

Shortly after moving, we had to put our oldest cat down, so we have adopted 2 new kittens to keep Theo company: Mostly Theo is not thr...