Friday, June 11, 2021

Nice Bars For Better Snacking

Matt and I returned this week from our first megavacation together since May 2019.  
Lost Trail Hot Springs was perfect on a hot summer day.
I went on a solo megavacation last year, but the pandemic made it impossible for Matt to get any significant amount of time off work down at the health department.  In April we got away for four nights as we headed west to celebrate my Dad's 65th birthday.  That was the longest Matt had been away from home in more than a year.  This is, it probably goes without saying, highly irregular for travel-junkies like us.  This latest trip was nine nights, thus qualifying for Megavacation status.  :)
Having a little sing-a-long at camp while Matt cooked dinner.
And oh, what a magavacation it was!!!  The fact that it was overdue might have actually made it even better.  We more deeply savored every moment.  
The Kitchen Dwellers at Pine Creek Lodge
We saw kicked it off with three nights of of bluegrass with the Kitchen Dwellers at a sweet little outdoor venue.  We rented a nearby cabin with our buddy Josh and his girlfriend, Joelle.  After the concert weekend Matt and I meandered across the "chin" of Montana camping, birding, rockhounding, and soaking.  Eventually we ended up in Missoula so we could buy a dozen of the most incredible (and vegan) doughnuts before heading eastward and homeward bound again.  Oh, boy was it an epic and awesome adventure.
An assortment of Veera doughnuts.  MMmmmmmmmmm!
We prepped a lot of food before we left, from mains to snacks.  This included my fabulous and vaguely healthy candy bar creation:  The Nice Bar.  
A pair of Nice Bars, one flipped over so you can see the back.
Traveling in the car I get ridiculously snacky.  I have been conditioned to associated car travel with obscenely tasty junk food and so turn into a bottomless pit the second we hit the road.  I suspect it is because we often were allowed to get a little treat when we stopped for gas on the road trips of my youth and I continued this practice well into my adulthood.  Plus, crunchy things help me stay awake when the consistent vibrations are lulling me into a car coma.  (My mom's travel mantra was that "sleeping will make the trip go faster" and to this day I get soooooooo sleepy when I take long car rides.)  So, yeah, the roadtrip munchies are a serious beast for me.
It was Josh and Joelle's first time at Yellowstone Hot Springs, which felt heavenly after a night of dancing like a wild woman.  
These days I try to plan ahead for this eventuality by making/buying better snacking options ahead of time.  I base this off of Michael Pollan's advice against getting my fuel from the same place my car does.  So, coconut water to steer me clear of the Diet Pepsi, say, and Harvest Snaps pea crisps instead of chips.  Sunflower seeds instead of  Corn Nuts.  It doesn't keep me away from the Gardettos 100% of the time, but it is a healthier (and more cost-effective) strategy when we know we're going to be on the road.  
One of the many gorgeous sunsets we were blessed with on our travels.
Nice Bars are one of the yummy treats I like to make in advance.  They're another of my tightwad knockoff recipes, initially modeled off of the peanut butter and dark chocolate variety of Kind Bars.  I prefer my homemade version for several reasons particularly the lack of individual packaging waste, an increase in whole-food ingredients, and the fact I can alter the recipe in countless variations to suit what nuts and things I have on hand/my taste cravings.  As an added cherry on top, they're also cheaper.  
Hanging at the cabin.
While my snackyness mostly tends towards the savory, Nice Bars really hit the spot when my sweet tooth flares and I want candy.  Because, let's be real, it IS basically still candy, the syrup is cooked to the softball stage and everything.  But, you know, a relatively whole food candy.  Candy with protein and minerals at least, along with the sugar. Yum.
Matt and I took a teeny narrow-gauge tourist train from Virginia City to Nevada City.  It was quite charming.
I think Nice Bars are a super-duper chewy, nutty, sweet and satisfying little treat.  So there you have it.  Nice Bars for better road trip snacking. 

This is what the bars look like before the chocolate is applied and the bars cut into individual servings.

Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Nice Bars
1 1/2 cups raw, unsalted nuts/seeds of your choice--almonds, peanuts, pepitas, walnuts, cashews, etc.
1/2 cup puffed millet or rice
1 C rolled oats
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons peanut butter*
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 tablespoon coconut oil
  • Prepare a 9x13 baking sheet with a sheet of silicon parchment, regular parchment paper, or by lightly oiling it. 
  • Toast the nuts in a cast-iron pan over medium for 5-10 minutes, until lightly toasted and fragrant.  
    • Immediately remove the nuts from the pan to prevent them from burning since the cast-iron retains so much heat.
  • Once the nuts are fairly cool combine them with the puffed grain and oats in a large bowl and set aside.
  • In medium saucepan, combine honey, rice syrup, peanut butter, salt, and vanilla over medium-high heat. Stirring frequently, cook this syrup mixture until it reaches the softball stage (240 degrees F) on a candy thermometer.
  • As quickly as possible, pour the syrup over the nut-and-grain mixture mixing until everything is evenly coated.
  • Dump all of this sticky goodness onto the prepared baking sheet and press to an even, compact snack bar thickness.  
    • I use a large spoon for the first 30 seconds since the mixture is quite hot, but once it isn't scalding I use my hands.  That seems to work best to achieve an even thickness.  Lightly oiling the spoon and hands will help prevent it all from sticking.  I use coconut oil.
  • Melt the chocolate and the oil together on either the stovetop or microwave.
  • Pour, drizzle, or spread a layer of melted chocolate over the entire batch of bars.
  • Let this set up for 5-10 minutes, but don't let it cool completely**.
  • Cut into desired size, typically I get about 20 bars from this recipe.
  • If they're not going to be eaten within a week or so it might be a good idea to pop 'em in the fridge or freezer.
    • We made ours a week in advance and froze them until our departure.
* You can also use PB2-style powdered peanut butter as a way to reduce fat/calories.  Just add it with the dry ingredients instead of the wet.  I used to do that when I first started making these.  I don't keep PB2 on hand for anything else though so it is just easier for me to use regular peanut butter.

**If allowed to cool completely before cutting they sometimes don't cut quite as nicely.  This is totally aesthetic though.  They taste the same either way.  I don't really mind taking two half-bars for a snack instead of one whole bar.  
Matt digging garnets at Ruby Reservoir.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Me-Made-May 2021 Recap

The paisley skirt.
May went really fast.  So fast I rather uncharacteristically didn't even get a chance to obsess about my birthday this year.  All of the sudden it was May (and I'd missed making my MMM21 pledge on time).  Then before I knew it, mein Geburtstag was here.  And then wham-o!  It was the end of the month!  I think I did well on my Me-Made-May aspirations though.  I certainly averaged more time at my sewing table than I have been of late.  That's positive and I enjoyed it very much.  
The bike bag.
I readily accomplished my four mending projects.  This just goes to show that I really shouldn't put these tasks off.  I mean, I quite enjoy mending.  Plus, they're usually pretty quick projects to knock-out, delivering a speedy burst of accomplishment and pride.
The Ginger fanny pack.
  • I reattached a button from one of my Tiffany Miller shirts.  It was the eye-catching lone red button, too.  (The rest of the buttons are white.)  That took all of three minutes and I don't know why I even put it in the mending basket to languish for months.  In hindsight, I should have just taken three minutes and fixed it straight away.  I can be so lazy sometimes...
  • I reattached the ruffled sleeves on a striped, stretchy t-shirt dress.  My friend Kelly sends me her hand-me-downs and is the single source of my love for the ubercomfort of wearing these stretchy knits.  This one is a "fancy" t-shirt dress in that the sleeves are gathered into a ruffle.  Over the years, the ruffle had come loose in several places.  That one took maybe ten minutes to fix, about five minutes per sleeve.  ;)
  • I put more than half a dozen patches on a pillow case that seems to have been eaten by the washing machine agitator.  The poor thing was peppered with tiny rips.  I have plenty of pillowcases so I would have just scrapped it save for the sentimental factor.  My mom made it to match the quilt she made me for my high school graduation.  Both quilt and pillow cases are a beautiful, earthy batik that I love.  So, I patched it and put it on the bottom of the stack in the linen closet.  It could still be used, but I am putting it on light duty from here on out.  That took the longest out of my mending projects because just when I'd think I was done I'd find another little tear.
  • I patched some holes in a paisley skirt that had been in my mending basket for so long that I'd pretty much forgotten it even existed.  It is a real groovy skirt though so I am glad to have rediscovered it.  Both of the inseam pockets had blown out.  One pocket was so trashed I just sewed it closed.  The other pocket just had a hole in need of a little patching.  This task probably took all of seven minutes.
The inside of the clutch for Kelly.
A few days shy of my mid-May birthday--when I had started several projects, yet not completed a single one--I considered that perhaps I'd bitten off more than I could chew with this make-four-new-things declaration.  I was half way through the allotted time and had nothing finished to show for it.  But, it all came together in the end.
One of the blackout/insulated window shields for the JamJar.
  • I sewed Kelly a little bag for her birthday, which happens to be the day before mine.  I have a little clutch that I use all the time.  It is perfect for my wallet, keys, and sunglasses.  With that in mind as a pattern I went to my stash to find just the right fabric to use.  I came across a luxurious piece of cloth Kelly had gifted me after her honeymoon in Thailand.  It might be silk.  I'm not sure.  Regardless, it was perfect!  I used my serger to finish the inside seems and since the "wrong" side of the fabric was almost as beautiful as the "right" side the little bag has a beautiful lining, too.
  • I made a little triangular bag for Matt's bike.  He used to have one and it got stolen at some point last year.  They might have gotten some allen wrenches out of if, but mostly Matt uses it to hold his keys secure when he rides so it might have been empty.  While we certainly could have bought a replacement it also seemed like the sort of thing I could make myself.  I used a trashed pair of Carhart pants for the fabric.  As is often the case with my self-drafted pattern, it turned out okay, but could be better.  I'm not happy with the zipper.  I see a 2.0 version in my future.  
  • I finally completed my Ginger-inspired fanny pack.  This cute little bag is modeled it off of the cat patterns in The Cat Lover's Craft Book, which I got from my mama, combined with a Dream Spinners fanny pack pattern...that I also got from my mama.  It had been 97% finished for pushing two years.  For reasons I cannot explain, I never got around to finishing the strap and buckle.  Since the vast majority of the bag was made well in advance of MMM21 counting it towards my four projects feels a little bit like cheating, so...
    • make it feel a little more robust I'll add that we completed the last insulated blackout window covers for the JamJar, too.  Technically this is a no-sew project so I wasn't sure about counting it toward my four MMM21 projects either.  Matt was excited, as always, to have a project that allows him to use my super sharp sewing scissors.  I plan to detail the construction of these in a separate post about our progress rigging out the JamJar.
      • I think these two half-projects count as one whole project.  It might be a stretch, but I'm the boss and I'm going with it.  ;)
  • I made a purse using a pattern and fabric I picked up while visiting my mom at Easter.  My mom clearly does a good job keeping me supplied with patterns and fabric, doesn't she?!?  After dresses, bags are probably my favorite thing to make.  The pattern is a Simplicity 2335. The fabric was, once upon a time, a fitted bed sheet.  I could tell because of how the elastic had been cut off at the corners.  I fussycut around the various cosmic bodies to maximize their visibility on the finished product.  This is my favorite creation for the month.
The outside of the clutch for Kelly.
I didn't complete a single garment as part of this initiative.  This is not standard for me since I love making dresses, but I'm fine with it, too.  Heaven knows I don't need any more dresses (or bags, for that matter.)  I did cut out a black jersey knit dress this month using a pattern I've made once before--the Cynthia Rowley 1801.  I was making good progress until I managed to simultaneously break both needles on my serger during the last week of May, necessitating a delay until I could run to to Jo-Ann's for replacements.  I thought it was possible that I'd finish the dress, but that delay put me behind schedule for a MMM completion.  That and the fact we were out of town the last three days of the month, cutting short my work time.
The space purse.
Huzzah and hooray for a good month down in my sewing studio.  I truly appreciate how Me Made May pushes me to try harder, to get inspired, and to have such crafty fun.
My sewing su-purr-visor, Johnny Depp, overseeing my selection of dress patterns. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Little Greenhouse That Would

I've definitely mentioned Matt's DIY, upcycled greenhouse.  It also has appeared here in the background of photos from the garden.  Yet I never got around to creating a proper greenhouse post. 

Matt in our 2020 garden. 10/6/2020

This spring one of Matt's colleagues asked him for building tips or advice as her family embarked on a DIY greenhouse project of their own.  Matt assumed he could just direct her to my blog for the write-up and was surprised to learn that there actually wasn't a detailed greenhouse post.  I had intended to write one...but the project was completed over the course of a few months and I never got around to it in the end, I guess.  I downloaded all the photos I could find from the construction phase and put them on a flashdrive for Matt to take to work.  Then, since I had them all collected in one place, I figured no time like the present, better late than never, blah, blah, blah.

And here we are, the greenhouse post.  At last.  Almost exactly three years later. 

All put together except the door.  9/9/2018

I can't remember if the greenhouse started with my in-laws getting new windows or with our friends gutting a building to start a new business.  It was destiny though.  In rapid succession we got free windows and free lumber and Matt started dreaming up this greenhouse project.  

Ryan and Matt framing out the east wall for the big picture window.  5/27/2018

Many, many years ago--maybe 2013ish--Matt's parents gave their house a bit of a facelift.  This is the house that Matt grew up in and that my in-laws have called home since 1980.  We salvaged all the windows that would have been trashed as part of the upgrade.  

Construction is fun.  Mostly.  5/27/2018

Around the same time we rescued a dumpster full of lumber that had been gutted as part of Chelsey and Dan turning an old church/daycare into a Pickle Barrel sandwich shop.  The lumber had holes drilled in it for wiring from its life in the old building--as well as some marks and a few cosmetic issues, but they were dry, straight, and in perfectly usable condition.  

Matt attaching the metal window frames to the framed out lumber structure.  5/27/2018

Matt made some mock ups of the windows out of carboard and tried various configurations and arrangements as wee little 3D models.  He made sketches on graph paper.  He read books about greenhouses and looked at plans online.  He continued to dream.

The pea gravel path is framed out in 2x4s.  This is looking into the greenhouse from the doorway. 9/9/2018

[This is the part where I have to mention that Matt stashed these (rather bulky) supplies in the shed and garage for almost five years until I started making noise about hauling the windows to the dump and using the scrap wood for campfires.  A greenhouse would have been cool and all, but I just wanted the space back at this point.  I had essentially given up hope that the project was actually going to ever happen.  

But, with Matt, I should really have known better.  He doesn't rush into anything.  He's resourceful.  And he preservers.]

Matt attaching the metal window frames to the framed out lumber structure. 5/27/2018

So then, in May 2018, he declared it was time.  We rallied some friends with basic construction and tool skills--Josh, Ryan, and Derek--and Matt got the ball rolling at last.  

Ryan, Matt, and Derek.  5/27/2018

The tricky part was that, despite literally years of planning, there was no final blueprint except the one in Matt's head.  So, there was a lot of waiting for him to tell us what to do next or what went where and why.  Nevertheless, the team offered good advice during the sticky or puzzling moments where the blueprint in Matt's head needed an assist.  The many skilled hands certainly made for lighter, better work.

Matt, Ryan, and Josh.  5/27/2018

The foundation--pressure treated cedar 4x4s on top of leveled pea gravel--and the walls/windows went up in one day.  There was some temporary bracing across the top for structural security until the roof beams went on.  Matt specifically mentioned that the foundation lumber was the only pressure treated wood in the whole project.  I'm not really sure what the significance of that is, but since he mentioned it I will, too.  

Yours truly painting the exterior white, as seen from inside the greenhouse.  8/28/2018

The back (north) wall of the greenhouse is solid plywood rather than windows.  This was largely driven by the fact that we didn't have enough windows to go all the way around all four sides.  Matt chose the north wall to be the solid one since it wouldn't get much direct light anyways.  The solid wall also added a bit of structural support for the building as a whole.  We had to buy the plywood and foundation beams, but I think that was the only "new" lumber in the job.

In this photo, the walls are up, the windows are in, and now it is time to put on the roof.  The rafters have been installed in this photo, but not the plastic roofing material.  7/9/2018

The permanent roof beams were attached the next week and then the gravel path was laid.  The growing space is a sort of U-shape with  the path in the center of the greenhouse.  We prefer growing directly in the ground so we didn't create any raised beds or anything like that.  There is a shelf on the south end of the structure for trays of seedlings in the spring.

An alternate view of the path, looking towards the door (south) of the greenhouse.  8/25/2018

The roof itself came next.  The roof (plus the door and a bit of the upper walls) was made of a kind of double-walled, corrugated greenhouse plastic.  We used a brand called Solexx which Matt was able to buy locally from a garden supply place called Harvest Tech

The greenhouse with the Solexx plastic installed.  8/25/2018

The door was the last bit of construction.  Matt opted for a Dutch-style door where the top and bottom open independently so that we had more ways to dial in the temperature control/ventilation.  

Beer--in a fancy goblet even--is a critical part of construction with this crew.  They're lined up on the window sill.  5/27/2018

Then we painted all the lumber a nice, bright, reflective white. In retrospect it would have been easier to paint the boards before we installed the plastic, but hindsight is 20/20.  It still worked out fine.  We just had to paint more carefully.  Painting seemed like a natural "final step" but actually should have been about second to last it turns out.

Matt painting the interior white.  8/26/2018

The door has never fully met with Matt's satisfaction.  It is an exceedingly tight fit.  As a result, over three years of wrenching it open and closed, the hinges have been damaged.  We now need to replace it.  Matt has a plan (in his head) for how to improve on the original design this year.  Fingers crossed for take two.

The greenhouse is pretty much done at this point, except the door.  The door has been framed out, but not finished with a plastic front yet.  9/9/2018

If we had it to do over again we would probably put all the windows in "backwards" so that we open and close them from the outside of the greenhouse instead of the inside.  They'd be easier to open that way.  We went on autopilot and just installed them facing the way we would in a normal house.  That is, except one,  which was put on backwards by accident.  It turned out to be a happy accident though.  When the plants get all big and bushy inside the greenhouse they can be an obstruction to regulating the temperature by closing or opening the window.  Oh well, live and learn.  It still totally functions the way it is.  Sometimes we just have to elbow tomatoes plants out of the way to get at the windows.

The very first window mounted into place.  5/27/2018

We love everything about having our own little greenhouse.  It extends the growing season on both ends which has been quite a boon, especially for greens.  It allows us to start even more of our own seedlings which saves us money and permits us to try more unusual plant varieties.  It serves as a seasonal clubhouse, complete with hammock hooks, and is a wonderful place to read on a sunny winter day.  Plus, I think it looks charming at the back of our lot. 

Matt in our 2020 garden. 10/6/2020

I'm glad Matt's such a dreamer and a do-er.  I'm super impressed, even if I did grumble about how long it took.  ;)

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Happy Geburtstag To Me!

Cuddling cute little lambies at my friend Jesscy's place.  April 2021.

Es ist mein Geburtstag. Ich bin heute siebenunddrei├čig Jahre alt.  Ich habe viel Spa├č.

I had to do a handstand as part of the campus-wide spring fitness challenge.  March 2021.

Have I mentioned on here that I am learning German?  I started last year so I guess one could call it a "Pandemic Project."  I'd dabbled a little bit with it back in the early part of the 2010s, but never dedicated myself enough to really get anywhere.  

These days I use Mango Languages through our public library coupled with an honest-to-goodness textbook.  I have a notebook where I do my homework exercises from the book.  I even grade myself.  :)  Mango primarily helps with my reading and speaking and the textbook with reading and writing.  

My range is still pretty limited, but I realized that aside from the word for "birthday," which I had to look up, I could string together a few sentences that were appropriate to the occasion.  Mostly I can just talk about the weather...  

Hanging with Glenn on a trip back to my hometown.  I am also rocking the new birthday earrings that Val gave me early.  April 2021.

My message translates as: It is my birthday.  I am thirty-seven years old today.  I am having a lot of fun.

Camping with friends.  March 2021.

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Robot Vacuum as a Metaphor for The Way I Do Things: Painting the Dominoes

A couple of weeks ago I visited some friends who own one of those robot vacuums.  I guess I hadn't really seen one in action before.  Watching it, I was mesmerized by how totally random and chaotic it seemed.  It will bounce off of people, pets, chairs, walls...whatever crosses its path...and then just carry on in a totally different direction, as if that was its plan all along.  In due time the vacuum hits another obstacle and comes back again...and again...and again.  It seemed like madness, but I'll be gosh darned if the floor didn't get clean in the end. 

It made me realize that the way I do a lot things is uncannily like a robot vacuum.  It doesn't necessarily look very methodical at a glance, but it actually is, in its own way.  The seeming-chaos bit is part of the process that just makes sense or feels natural to me.  It is part of how the robot and I were both programmed, you might say.  

This metaphor came to me in conjunction with a domino project Matt and I have completed this past week.  

Trees on the campus green. 4/30/21

All the dots of our set of dominoes were black--from number one to number 12.  While at my aunt and uncle's place last month, they had a set where each number of dots came in a different color.  The color coding made it markedly easier to play and I realized that with a little bit of paint we could upgrade our plain set lickitysplit.  

Our painted dominoes in a heap after a game of Mexican Train.  5/5/21 
(The fact we were playing Mexican Train on Cinco de Mayo was not lost on us either.)

So, I got out the acrylics and got painting.  I started with the number four dominoes.  For no particular reason.  

When he joined me later with a second brush, Matt inquired why I didn't start with the ones and work my way up.  "You know, like counting?"

Tulips along the main walkway on campus. 5/6//21

I can honestly say:  It never occurred to me.  I just grabbed the one closest to me and got cracking.  I was going to have to do all of them anyway, so Fours seemed as good a place to start as any, I guess.

The apple tree is blooming.  5/5/21

I'm not sure what metaphor would be appropriate for Matt's MO.  Certainly not the robot vacuum.  Hmmm...probably something more like an archaeological survey.  He'd grid things off (mentally, if not actually) and then start at the top left and work his way across and down until he reached the bottom right.  He's systematic in a rather more obvious way.

Isn't it interesting how brains work in so many different ways?!  Thank heavens for that, too!  

Volunteer Violets in the garden path. 5/4/21

We've played with the newly colorful dominoes a dozen times or so now and they're a definite upgrade.  I'm curious to see how quickly we wear the paint off!  :)