Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spicy, Spicy, Spicy

There was a memorable meal that we created back in November, but that I never got around to posting about.  The "unpleasantly spicy" soup experience last week brought it back to mind so I thought I'd share.  
Here is the necessary back-story:  We had more spicy peppers from our garden than we knew what to do with.  Cayennes, jalapanos, and serranos.   We'd been adding them here or there to stir-fry, curry, chili, etc trying to use them up, but we still had loads of them.  Eventually I dried the remaining cayennes, and we ate up all the jalapanos, but we still had a dozen or more serranos on our hands.

So, Matt found this recipe for vegan take on Ethiopian food.  The recipe called for a sauce where the primary ingredient was serranos.  Perfect. 
At dinnertime I took one bite and looked over at at Matt.  "How are you possibly going to eat this?!"  I asked him.  "I mean, if I think it is spicy then Matt certainly doesn't stand a chance," I thought.  He can have a rather tender-mouth when it comes to spicy food sometimes.

Well, he ate it.  He used the crepes we'd made (What? You don't think crepes are part of authentic Ethiopian cuisine?!) to temper the spice just as he did with the dumplings in the spicy soup.  He was glistening with sweat by the time both meals were over though.  There was much water being drunk.  In the end I'd say we both enjoyed it....just not in a eat-it-every-day sort of way.  It took care of the last dozen serranos though so mission accomplished.

Ethiopian Seitan and Peppers
10 serrano peppers, partially seeded and coarsely chopped (Remove all seeds for less heat.)
1 T fresh ginger, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup vegetable stock
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 lbs seitan, cut into strips
2 bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Place all ingredients except seitan and bell pepper into a blender and puree until mostly smooth. 
Place the seitan strips and peppers in a 9x13 inch glass baking dish and smother with the puree.
Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove foil and flip seitan and peppers.
Bake for another 20 minutes.
Serve with flat bread, crepes, or rice.

Garden Results

Matt got a nice kitchen scale from my father for Christmas.  Prior to this we had a tiny scale that went up to 1 lb.  That meant weighing things in small batches as we harvested the garden.  It also meant we couldn't really weigh any of the squash or the few more-than-a-pound colossal potatoes until we cut them up to eat them.  Now Matt has weighed all the remaining squash and thus I think our tabulation of garden yields is finally complete.    If you click on the photo it should become large enough to read.  Matt circled the total grown, but that doesn't include the "found" food like grapes, sour cherries, and apples.  He also didn't note that our tomatoes ended up as 24 pints of sauce. 

I can't be certain that the list is 100% accurate.  I am sure we missed recording a thing or two, but it gives us a good general idea of how we did.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Fun-Filled and Productive Weekend

I had just the greatest weekend this past weekend.  It was awesome.  And much to my surprise I only managed two photos of it all.  Oh well.  Sometimes I am having too much fun to document...I just have to live it!  But, that doesn't mean I can't or won't blog about it!

My grandparents came to town on their way out of the country for a couple of months.  They are off to Australia and I wish they were taking me with them!  It was really great to get to catch up with them, to hear good stories and laugh over our bowls of aunt Mary Ann's tomato soup.  We talked travel and canning, gardening and family, weather and health.  I am so glad they are able to get out and enjoy this awesome world together.  They have always been really inspirational to me in that regard.   My grandpa was telling me about how so many of his friends have gotten old and sick because they stopped moving and grew sedentary.  He is big promoter of walking.  I told him that I had to agree.  I think walking is like medicine.
After lunch with my grandparents Matt and I went sledding and had a total blast.  We'd invited along several friends, but in the end everyone bailed and it was just Matt and I.  No matter.  We always have fun just the two of us.  Both of us were completely exhausted from the countless trips up the hill (it is so fast and easy to go down!) by the end, but oh it was fun.  Matt hadn't been sledding in more than a decade he thinks.    After last winter was so endless we decided to keep an eye out for sleds at the thrift shop and garage sales.  Cheap entertainment right there.  Exercise too. 

Afterwards we went over to Matt's parents and cooked dinner for his family--bread, spaghetti with chunky vegetable marinara, and apple crisp.  We also played round after round of Apples to Apples.  I don't know what other game I've played that makes people laugh like that.  It is just nonstop hilarity.   If you've not had the pleasure I would highly recommend it.  I don't know how I lucked out to get such awesome hears such horror stories.  Not me.  I love them like my own family.

Sunday we were both feeling sort of battered from the sledding so we kicked back and took part in relaxing activities.  We managed a nice walk around the neighborhood, but mostly it was a watching football and knitting sort of Sunday.  We spread out all the seeds packets leftover from last year and started planning what we'd like to plant.  However, as we got the garden fever too early last year we didn't let ourselves get too carried away yet with planning.  We did determine that we shouldn't have to purchase any seeds this year, except seed potatoes.  None the less we will be stopping at Fisher Seeds the next time we are in Belgrade, just to see.  It is a cool family business, in its 74th year I believe.  The owner collects, sorts, and counts the seeds by hand, just like her parents did.  That is the sort of seed supplier we want to support so we may pick up a thing or two despite our stockpile.

Also on this lazy Sunday I had what I consider to be a pretty major knitting accomplishment.  I taught myself to knit in the round!  I was going to try it on circular needles, but for a variety of reasons I just went for it on my set of double pointed needles.  It was way, way easier than I thought it would be!  Hooray!  I love it when that happens!  You see, my motivation to learn to knit was sock-making.  Now I am one step closer to achieving that dream.

I had to work Sunday evening (I work one Sunday evening a month) so I left Matt and headed off to the library.  While I was gone Matt baked up some bread for the week.  I have a barter deal with one of my neighbors for a ride up to the library on Monday mornings this winter so that Matt doesn't have to go out in the cold.  Monday is the only day I have to go in early and open the library.  She is already going that way so it isn't an inconvenience for her and I reward her for the ride with a loaf of freshly baked bread.  It is a wonderful arrangement I think.

After work I went directly over to Johnnie's new house for a clothes swap party.  Oh, and what a clothes swap it was!  Wildly successful, I'd say.  There was a great spread of food as well as a huge collection of clothes.  I got a couple new cardigans (something I'd been wanting, but hadn't yet found at the thrift) and warm long sleeved shirts to wear during this the season of dressing in layers. I also took away a nice assortment of white things to tie-dye.

And when I got home Matt had dinner for me.

Ah, life is good.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A New Curtain

I love natural light.  It makes me a happier and more productive person.  It can lighten my mood just to sit in the sunny backroom, looking out into the yard.   Unfortunately, that is the only room of the house I consider "sunny." 

There is a window in my front door.   It used to be covered with a dark colored piece of tie-dyed cloth.  Some time ago I'd decided to take the cloth down so as to let in more light.  So, the window was bare.

While I liked that the uncovered window let additional light into my too-dark living room I disliked that it seemed to give away my privacy, too.  The living room is the physical heart of my home.  You must pass through it to go to the bedroom, get to the kitchen, or even go to the bathroom.  From the front door you can see all the way through the house to the backdoor in the dining room.  I didn't like that anyone at the door could see into the house right off the bat, whether I was ready for them or not!  You know, for when I sneak through the room in my underpants.  Or so that I can have a moment to tidy things before answering the doorbell if company comes while I've got things going all over the room.  Things like that.

So, not too long ago Matt and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Me:  I want to buy a curtain for the door.  Something light colored so the sun can still come in.
Matt:  Couldn't you just make a curtain?
Me:  Hmmmmm.....I suppose I could!  Cool.  Okay, then all I need to buy is a curtain rod and we'll be set.
Matt: Couldn't we just make a curtain rod?
Me:  Hmmmmm....I don't know. 
Matt: Maybe out of a garden stake.  It just has to go over those hooks right?
Me:  Yeah.  I guess we could probably come up with something.  I don't think our stakes are long enough.  What if we straightened a clothes hanger? 
Matt:  Yeah, I bet that would work.

So, Matt set about unbending the hanger and then fashioning little hooks on the end to attach it to the wall mounts.  I set about fashioning a curtain, though I confess my end of the project was procrastinated quite a bit.

While it certainly won't win any award for style it works and I am quite happy with my 100% free and repurposed curtain and rod. 

This is also a good example of why Matt is such a blessing to me and our lifestyle.  He is keen to make do with what we have and not at all adverse to a little work to achieve our goals.  I love him for that, and lots and lots of other reasons.  Maybe someday I'll reach a point in my sewing where I'd never even consider buying something without pondering if I could make it, but in the meantime I have Matt to help remind me.  (He seems to think I am a much more capable seamstress than I do!)

Friday, January 20, 2012

About the House Lately

This was the collection of steel cans we'd built up in our recycling area.  I was pretty pleasantly shocked.  I am able to recall how when we first started recycling that particular bin used to overflow with bean cans and soup cans and all other sorts of cans.  Since we've taken to dry beans, canning, organics, and have seriously reduced our ready-made, packaged food purchases I guess we just don't generate that many steel cans.  It makes me happy. 
One of my co-workers brought back fast food fries to the library, bringing along with them their intoxicating aroma which filled the place.   Oh, how I wanted some fries after that!  It is counter to my general food policy to patronize fast food joints, but I considered stopping some place on the way home. After work, when I told Matt about my craving he whipped some up for me!  He even really fried them for me (as opposed to baked fries which are great, but let's face it, no where near as tasty as fried). Oh, baby....  Who needs McDonald's!?!
I managed a little apron sewing while enjoying a local beer in my evening quiet time while Matt was at work.
Matt and I rediscovered the game Stratego.  It is SO awesome.  I lose almost every time though!  I like that it is akin to Risk, but doesn't require nearly the time commitment.
For a variety of reasons Apple Crisp is fast becoming my favorite dessert.  This particular crisp was made with local honey, local apples, and local oats.  Only the cinnamon came from outside Montana.  That made me really happy.  Plus it is so darn easy to make if you've got quarts of filling canned and ready to go!  Fast, tasty, local, cheap = Beth's favorite dessert. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Gretchen Bag

Sometime ago (Early 2010 I think) I made a barter with one of my student workers, Gretchen.  See, Gretchen is an infinitely crafty person and was always working on some sort of crafty project when I wasn't keeping her busy with library stuff.  She, growing up on an island, is also quite an ecoconscious person which was reflected in many of her projects.  I had seen her making plastic yarn (plarn) out of used plastic grocery bags which she then transformed into knit/crochet bags.  I coveted her plastic-bag bags long enough that we struck up a trade--two tie-dye t-shirts for a bag.  Looking at it now I think I inadvertently swindled her as there was so much more time involved in making the bag.  I'll have to make that up to her some time....

So flash forward to December 2011 and the handle was starting to tear.  We'd overfilled it probably more times than I could count.  Prime example:  At one music festival (where camping and parking were far apart) we loaded it up with easily 40 pounds of gear.  It held.  It held a lot!  (Think about how strong one single plastic bag is and then imagine hundreds of them woven together.  It is pretty strong stuff.)  But, at last it seemed we'd abused the poor bag too far.  Matt asked if I thought I could mend it and I said I would try....not feeling terribly hopeful I must admit.

In the end it came together so much easier and better than I could have hoped.

I made up a small ball of plarn, only a couple of bags.  Using my fingers and a crochet hook I wove the new plarn through the exposed loops at the tear, weaving back and forth a couple times.  The whole repair job took less than an hour, including making the plarn.  And now my Gretchen Bag (as it is affectionately called) is back in working order.  Hip, hip hooray!

I love fixing things.  It is so much more satisfying that just replacing them.  (And after fixing the Gretchen Bag I tackled my mending pile.  It is like I went shopping!  Like I'd gotten new clothes without spending a dime!  Awesome.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Corn Dumplings

I had never made dumplings before.  I remember my mom making them, but that they weren't my favorite.  Matt can remember his mom making them and how much he loved them.  So, for Matt's sake I thought I'd try to find a recipe and give it a whirl.  

When they sank to the bottom of the pot when added to the soup I thought for sure I'd just ruined some tasty looking soup.  That they were dissolving and I'd end up with a pot of vegetable mush.  But, after several minutes they popped back up the the surface again and all was well.  

Well, almost well.  I put three cayenne peppers in the vegetable soup rendering it "unpleasantly spicy" to Matt's tongue.  I thought it was perfect.  The only thing that made it bearable for Matt was the dumplings, which tempered the spice.

 Corn Dumplings

¾ cup flour
1 Tablespoon cornmeal
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Earth Balance (margarine)
½ cup soymilk
1/3 cup frozen, whole corn

Combine dry ingredients and honey.
Cut in the Earth Balance with a fork until no large pieces remain.
Add milk and corn.
Stir until well mixed.
Bring your soup to a boil.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonsful into the soup broth, making 6-8 dumplings.
Cover and reduce heat to medium-low.  It should not be boiling.
Cook the dumplings for about 10 minutes.

Funny story: I must have been distracted while cooking (always a bad idea for me).  I totally forgot the baking powder.  They were surprisingly yummy without it, but I bet they are fluffy and incredible with a little leavening agent involved....  Since they were so good even when I messed up the recipe I figure that is a good sign.  I'll be making them again...and paying closer attention when doing so.

Tuscan-Style Pasta with Chickpeas & Zucchini

Tuscan-style Pasta with Chickpeas & Zucchini

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 small zucchini, sliced into half-moons
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 large tomatoes, chopped (I do mine in the food processor)
1 ½ cups chickpeas, cooked
¼ t red pepper flakes
salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb short pasta, like penne

Heat oil over medium heat.
Add zucchini and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.
Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds.
Stir in remaining ingredients, except pasta.
Cook for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta.
When both the sauce and the pasta are ready toss them together and serve.

We made this dish recently using some slow-cooked chickpeas.  I don't know for sure if it was because I'd not eaten them in several months or if it was because of the slow-cooking, but I decided right there and then that chickpeas are my favorite bean.  I'd always thought it was kidney beans, but the chickpeas were too good.  Creamy, nutty, awesome.

Braised Broccoli di Raab

We got a bunch of broccoli di raab in our bountiful basket last weekend.  Neither Matt nor I had ever eaten this vegetable.  I'd never even seen it.  Matt was the one who recognized it.

For Christmas I got Matt an incredible cookbook called Vegetable Love.  It is not a vegetarian cookbook, but rather a cookbook just for those who love vegetable (whether those veggies accompany beans or bacon).  It is loaded with gobs of info on just about every vegetable that might find its way into your kitchen in addition to hundreds of recipes involving them.  The book came in real handy for that raab since we knew next to nothing about how it could be prepared.  After reading the suggested cooking methods and a few recipes we opted to just try the raab braised with garlic. 

I didn't for one second allow myself to think that it would taste like regular broccoli, which you may recall is far from my favorite vegetable.  And it didn't.  Yea.  Actually, I rather liked it, especially when combined with the pasta.  I thought it was a very good combination.

Braised Broccoli di Raab
Take one washed bunch of broccoli di raab and chop into about 2 inch pieces. 
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a deep pan with a lid. 
Add 4 cloves of peeled and smashed garlic.
Cook until the garlic begins to color.
Add a generous pinch of red pepper flakes.
Add broccoli di raab.
Turn raab in oil until it is bright green and the leaves are wilted.
Pour in ½ cup vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium-low. 
Cover and cook until the stems are tender, about 8 – 10 minutes.
Uncover and boil off remaining liquid if necessary.

A Sunny Sunday and A Bald Eagle

On Sunday morning it was just too lovely to stay indoors.  The sun was shining and the winds were still.  Thus, even though it was only 40 degrees or less it still seemed like a quite lovely day to go exploring somewhere.  I mean, this is Montana in the middle of winter we are talking about here.  It was quite nice all things considered. 
The Chickadees were, by all appearances, peeling the skin off the Russian olives and eating only the inside of the fruit.  It was quite amusing and adorable to watch.  I can't get enough of them holding things with their little feet like that!
So we headed for Two Moon Park to spend the morning.  We'd not been there in some time, since early summer I think.  It is a nice park with developed walking/bicycling trails, nestled between some sandstone rimrocks (a signature landscape feature in Billings) and the Yellowstone River.  We walked and watched birds and other natural curiosities, rambling off the paths into the brush following the animal trails. 
Matt, having never see the inside of a wasp's nest, tried to shake it out of the tree.  When that didn't work he tried tossing sticks at it.  In the end he just managed to get the sticks stuck up there right beside the nest.  Oh well.  That turned out to be a comical adventure in its own way.
I love getting out into the trees, any trees.  Strolling along the river's edge.  There is always something different and magical to behold.  I never tire of it.
I managed to snap this robin mid-swallow of a Russian olive.  Robins apparently do not mind the skin as the chickadees do.
For such a common bird they are sure striking.  I admire their white eye ring in contrast to their dark jacket and hood.
The birds were out in full force on Sunday, especially the robins.  There were flocks of robins that numbered in the hundreds and hundreds.  It was nice and sunny so Matt and I sat on the dry, golden-colored grass near the river watching them.  They flew from the tree tops in flurries of wings and feather to drink from the melting pools along the shore.  We sat there long enough that they grew quite used to us and started flying very near where we sat. 
Then, poof, they all took off.  "Hmmmmm....I wonder what caused that?" I mused.  "Yeah, where is the hawk?"  And as if on cue a juvenile bald eagle soared past, wings flat and broad as boards, never flapping.  It passed by probably 15-20 feet away--our closest wild encounter with one of these majestic beings--and landed in a tree not too far distant.  We, naturally, followed for a more prolonged viewing.   No matter how many I see in my lifetime I somehow doubt it will ever grow less exhilarating.  In the bird guides they say the bald eagles are uncommon.  What a blessing to live in a place where they are, if not common, at least not UNcommon.  In Montana you can just see them off the side of the road quite frequently.  We are so lucky.
This eagle is probably about 3 years old.  It is starting to develop the signature white head feathers and yellow beak.

By the time we came home the sunshine had past.  It was colder and greyer.  Soon it was snowing.  Looking out the front door in the evening Matt and I had to ask ourselves:  "Was that really just this morning we sat in the grass watching robins?!"

Today it is in the negatives, and snow, snow, snow.  I am so glad we took the chance for a warm, sunny walk while we could.  It seems winter might finally be here now.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Roasting Garlic

Matt picked up this little contraption for roasting garlic and I am just smitten with it! 
Prior to this little clay pot we had always used aluminum foil for roasting our garlic.  While that works just fine it makes the aluminum foil far too oily to save and reuse.  So, we always had a ball of aluminum foil waste after each roasting.  No more!  The little clay pot works the same way, but without the waste! 
Remove the very papery skins, but not so much that the cloves separate.  Put the head of garlic in the clay dish.  Pour some olive oil over it and rub it around until the whole head is nicely coated.  Put the lid of the pot on and pop into an oven preheated to 400 degrees.  Bake until the garlic can be easily pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes.  You can adjust the time to your liking.  If you are planning on using it as a spread you might want to cook longer.  If it is for a pizza topping you might get by with shorter cooking time.
I just adore finding these simple, reusable options.  Piece by piece I am working towards reducing my household waste.  While a ball of aluminum foil might seem a trivial piece of waste in the grand scheme of things all these things add up. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Soup" of Rice and White Beans

I made an impulse selection at the public library on a recent visit.  It was a cookbook called Fagioli.  I had to use the restroom and was in a bit of a hurry anyways so I just grabbed it without really looking it over.  I knew it had to do with beans and Italian cuisine, both of which I enjoy.

Oh, boy, what a neat cookbook!  I might actually have to buy it someday (which, because I work in the library, I don't do real often so that is saying a lot).

It was particularly interesting to me because the book really promoted overnight soaking and slow cooking of beans.  My bean cooking technique has always been the two minute boil, quick soak method and pressure cooking.  It is faster for sure, but for some reason it never occurred to me that just because it is the fastest doesn't mean it is the tastiest.  Usually the longer something takes the better it tastes so the author's bean cooking rational made sense to me.  I will have to try it several more times before I give it a final verdict, but the slow cooked beans were awfully good both times we've tried them, better than normal.  It is possible that it was just the recipe and not the method that made the tasty meal.  We're talking about doing a side by side comparisons of slow cooked and pressure cooked beans to find out.  Matt loves a good science project, especially in the kitchen.

Here is my minor adaptation of one recipe from the book which both Matt and I really enjoyed.  It was called a soup, but unless I seriously mis-measured (which I don't think I did) it really wasn't very soup-like, really.  Most of the liquid cooked off leaving no broth to speak of.  But, it was a delicious bean, rice, and tomato dinner.  If you wanted it to be a real soup instead of a "soup" you might just add a few extra cups of stock.

"Soup" of Rice and White Beans

2 cups dried cannellini beans
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 cups tomatoes, chopped with juice
1/2 cup arborio rice
salt, to taste

Soak beans for 8+ hours.  Drain.  Rinse.  Drain.
Combine beans, garlic, and 8 cups of water over medium heat. 
When it begins to boil lower the heat and simmer uncovered for about 1 hour, until the beans are tender.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.
Add onion, herbs, celery, and crushed red pepper.
Stir frequently for about 10 minutes until the onions and celery are tender. 
Add the tomatoes.
Continue cooking and stirring for another 15 - 20 minutes. 
When the beans are tender add the tomato mixture to them.
Season with salt to taste.
Cook another 10 minutes. 
Stir in rice and continue cooking 20 more minutes until the rice is tender, yet firm to the bite.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Braided Pizza

I don't think it is any secret that I am a pizza freak.  I love it!  Can't get enough of it!  So many endless and delicious variations on an easy to make theme.  Well, I have discovered a fun new variation:  The Braided Pizza. 

I don't recall when I first saw this idea, but the moment I did I knew it had to be added to my pizza-making repertoire.

I used my regular pizza crust recipe and regular pizza toppings.  The major difference is that you pile all that yummy goodness on to the center third of the rolled out crust. 
Then, using a pizza cutter, cut into the crust from the edge until you near the pile of toppings at the center.  To get evenly spaced slices try this:  cut the dough in half at the center, cut each of those sections in half, and then then each of those section in half again.  You should end up with eight nice and even pieces of dough to braid over the top.

Starting on one end, alternate folding strips of dough over from each side making a braided top.
Pinch the ends.
I was worried the sauce would start seeping out and make a big mess in the oven, but it didn't...thank goodness.  That would have made the meal a whole lot less satisfying.
Bake for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees F.
Slice and eat! 
The cross section view.
The best part was we had enough toppings and pizza dough to make a slightly smaller version to pop in the freezer for a rainy, I'm-too-lazy-to-cook type day.  Awesome. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Last Of...

It could be my imagination, but it seems we've entered the season of "The Last Of..." at our house.  Last week we ate up The Last Of the purple potatoes.  We also had The Last Of our garden tomatoes redden up in the basket on top of the fridge.  A few days ago it was The Last Of the Yukon golds on my plate.  This morning it was The Last Of Verna's maple syrup on my pancakes. Oh, what a sad and glorious breakfast all rolled together that was!  We'd savored and rationed out that jar for as long as we could.  I was rather sad to see it empty just as I was to find the purple potato bag empty.
But, that is part of the beauty of a more seasonal, eat from your garden food philosophy, I suppose.    There is a time where good things come to an end (The Last Of...) which just makes you all the more eager and grateful for them when their season brings them back around again.
I took a bite of pancake and used it to sop up the last drops at the bottom of the maple syrup jar.  Matt was highly amused and ran for the camera.  "You have to send it to Verna," he said.
I can certainly say that was the most I ever enjoyed maple syrup in my life.  I think that if you never take a break from something you don't ever experience it quite as fully as when you have.  When you've gone without something (be it voluntarily, like me, or not) you really know what you've been missing.

Ditch the Dryer

This post came to me while I was hanging clothes on the line one unseasonably warm day last week.

I realized that many of my steps toward simplicity and eco-friendliness have happened not necessarily because I wanted them to, per se.  Things happened and Matt and I decided to just see how things would shake out.  To test ourselves in a way.  To see how much we needed and how much we just thought we needed.  This was the case a few years ago when both of our old, beater cars died on the exact same day (really mine wouldn't turn off and Matt's wouldn't turn on, but on that same day they both failed to operate properly).  After considering our options--and lamenting how much money we'd already put into those beaters-- we decided to purchase a single, good quality, fuel-efficient car for the both of us to share.  It worked and so that is what we have going on now.  It had surprisingly good side-effects as well.  We both got more fit as we walked and bicycled more.  It allows me a full 45 minutes of fresh air, listening to audiobooks, watching birds and sunsets, being alone with my thoughts, etc on my walks home from work.  It completely changed my sense of a walkable distance.  (As in, "Pffffftttt....three miles...that's nothing!")  It made me more appreciative of agreeable weather and utterly grateful when I am offered a car ride in terrible weather.  That is not to say there have never been hitches with this shared car arrangement, but not very many and certainly not enough to warrant the money that would be spent to acquire, maintain, and operate a second auto.

Likewise, when the dryer finally came to a screeching, squealing halt a year or two ago Matt and I gave it some good thought.  We could see if the dryer could be repaired.  We could replace it with a new one as ours was a hand-me-down, older model anyways.  Or we could see if we really needed a dryer at all.  The latter is what we decided to try, mostly because it was the easiest and cheapest.  And again, it worked so that is the way it stayed.  I later learned that dryers are one of the major sources of household energy costs so skipping the dryer was not only cheaper for me, but also better for the planet.  Super.  To me that is a huge win-win. 
Again there were a lot of unexpected positive side effects, too.  I discovered I actually enjoy doing laundry--the whole process.  It is my favorite household task.  It seems counter intuitive that I should discover I so greatly enjoy a task after opting to make "more work" for myself by going to the clothesline, but that's what happened.  I love the smell of the clothes right off the line.  I love how they are warm to the touch, infused with sunlight in the summer.  I am so very appreciative of even the weakest of winter sunlight because I can hang the clothes outside to dry instead of in the laundry room.  I enjoy my time pinning clothes and watching the birds at the feeder (which dangle off one end of the clothesline).  We saved money.  We prevent additional wear and tear on our clothes making them last longer.  We have more storage space in the basement.  Again, its not to say there aren't any negatives to the dryer-less arrangement or that it would work for every climate, but it works for us.

You never know when blessings in disguise might present themselves.  I love that fact about this wacky world.  And you never know what you are capable of until you push yourself outside of what you already know and just give it a try.  It might be great.  It might be terrible.  But, at least you'll know for sure and you might be pleasantly surprised, as I certainly am.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Vico (Homemade Chololate Syrup)

The Mennonite cookbook where I found the recipe called it "Vico."  A more helpful, descriptive name would be "chocolate syrup," which is what I tend to call it.  I learned, after a bit of reading, that Vico is actually a Canadian brand name for a chocolate syrup.  Though it is no longer produced the term "vico" is apparently still used in the province of Saskatchewan to mean any chocolate milk. 

Whatever you call it this stuff it is awesome.  Organic chocolate syrup at the store is too expensive.  The inexpensive chocolate syrups contain genetically modified and other wack ingredients that I don't care to buy or eat.  So, I'd been a long time without chocolate syrup.

I should have know that the answer to my chocolate syrup "problem" would be to make it myself.  Duh!  That is almost always the answer!

Vico (a.k.a. Chocolate Syrup)

1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. 
Boil for about 5 minutes.  (And watch it carefully because it will boil over in the 20 seconds you leave the room and you'll be forced to add Clean the Stove to the to-do list right after Make Chocolate Syrup.)
Cool, bottle, and refrigerate.
Mix 1 - 2 Tablespoons with a glass of milk or serve undiluted over ice cream.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A New Year

To follow up on my rather belated Christmas post I shall now do a slightly less belated New Year's post. 

Matt and I rarely celebrate too much for New Year's Eve.  We prefer to stay home and have a few friends over to the loud and crazy New Year's parties and bars.  This year we elected to listen to a live streaming Furthur concert on XM Radio.   Matt signed up for a 7 day free trial of XM just for the occasion.  (Which meant I got to groove along with the incredible 40's channel for a week too!)  Derek came over to listen.  We ate pomegranates and drank local beer.  Matt got "dressed up" in a tie for the occasion.  I worked on a piece of art which Matt had "commissioned."  We played with magnets that Adam and Jen sent us for Christmas.  We also played some cards when it seemed like I was going to fall asleep before the concert ended.  (It WAS after midnight though, for the record.) 

I rarely attempt to come up with or follow through on New Year's resolutions, but I surprised myself and came up with a few this year.  Here they are:

#1 Write and mail at least one letter, card, or note to someone each month.  (Everyone loves mail and I love to send it!  Additionally, I have a weakness for things that seem like dying arts.)

#2  Try a new recipe every week.  (I have a weakness for cookbooks, too, with the result that I have hundreds and hundreds of recipes to try.  I shouldn't be allowed to read another cookbook until I've tried all the recipes I've clipped, copied, printed, and have in cookbooks of my own.  But, I know that is too harsh of a resolution for me to follow, so a new recipe every week seems like a nice happy-medium.)

#3  Practice with a yoga video more often, ideally, once a week.  (I stretch just about every day, but I rarely push myself to the sweating, red, muscle burning level that I reach with live classes and video recordings.)

#4  Stop reading the news--both print and online--unless it is a story about positivity.  (No more getting sucked into celebrity gossip I really don't care about when I log in to my yahoo mail.  No more news stories of violence, crime, and the wicked things we do to each other.  Only news that highlight those making the world a more beautiful, better place to live.) 

Nothing too major, but all the same I think they will do me good.