Friday, September 23, 2011

The Cider Press

We've had a very fruit-filled week.  It began when we picked, oh, I don't know, 200+ pounds of apples and plums (only 30 pounds of plums) over the weekend.  So there have been apples peeled and sliced for apple pie filling.  There have been apples simmered to mush and turned into applesauce.  There have been apples for eating more flawless and beautiful than many I buy at the store.  Lastly, there has been making juice to be used in cider and apple jelly, as well as just for drinking!  This was the first year we'd ever made apple juice.  And actually, WE still didn't.  There just wasn't time enough to allow me to go a long to help.  See, the cider press belongs to the awesome parents of our good buddy Josh and they live 20-25 miles away from us.  Because of timing, or lack of time really, Matt and Josh went juice making yesterday whilst I was at work.  I sent the camera though so that I could at least look at the process in some form. This press belonged to Josh's grandfather I believe.
Josh, hand cranking down the press.
Tossin' in apples.
Curse blogger for not liking my vertical photos!
Josh and Matt hard at work...or at least at work.
Mmmmm......yummy juice pouring out the bottom end.
Quite an impressive amount of smushed apple guts....
Josh's dad showing them how its done!
 Matt said it was by far the best and easiest fruit processing he's ever done.  Also, the juice is phenomenal.  Really, just phenomenal.  
(and even more phenomenal when drunk from my stellar new mug!)
I am just a teensy bit jealous at not having been a part of it.  Oh well, we could always go pick some more apples....

A Fruit Picking, Processing Type Weekend

Matt picking at one of the six trees we ended up pick from.  These were possibly the nicest apples of the weekend.
They also had a plum tree just laden with fruit.
A basketful of tomatoes from the garden got transformed into sauce since Matt had all the canning supplies out already.
I think it is quite ingenious how out apple peeler and slicer works.  I really like the look of these spiraled apples.  They are fun.  Like the slinky of fruit.

Naturally I would choose to take a photo of a bruise apple.....oh well.  This device make making apple pie filling easy and enjoyable.  It is my favorite canning task.
Matt is the master canner at our house.  I love him in an apron.  Especially a bird apron!

A Clothes Swap Party

My girlfriends somewhat regularly gather for what are known as Clothes Swaps.  All the ladies gather, usually involving a little food and drink, and bring all the clothes languishing at the back of their closets, or in the pile destined for the second-hand shop.  All clothes are dumped in a mound in the middle of the room and it is a free for all! Grabbing, trading, trying on, passing, commenting, laughing, complimenting.  It is a very good time.  Sometimes it is chaos.  But, always fun chaos.
Infinitely kind and beautiful Chelsey.
The leftovers that no one wanted.  (Proof that we all have too many clothes!)
Genoa handing Steph something from the pile.
The swaps are great for a variety of reasons.  I enjoy spending time in the company of so many women all at once, something I don't have real often in my life.  Everyone ends up with some swell new clothing.  Clothing that needs a new home finds it.  And best of all there is no money exchanged by anyone.  It is quite literally a free for all.  And whatever is leftover at the end is still sent to the thrift shop.  It seems like a perfect cycle to me.  Well, at least for people who haven't completely broken free from the periodic consumerist desire for new clothes.
Steph, Larry (Genoa's husband), Genoa, Jen, Me, and Chelsey.  There were a number of others, but they must have left before I thought to take a group photo.
This particular swap also made me feel that I've turned a corner in my desire for new clothes.  I feel I have just about everything I need and want in my wardrobe and have become very particular when it comes to new additions.   So, though I did leave the party with a large bag of clothes, nearly all of it was just white stuff to tie-dye (another perk of the swap for our home based tie-dye business: free clothes to dye and sell).  I did score a plain, light colored denim dress (with pockets!) that I am currently pretty stoked about.  I would like to wear dresses more (and skirts less), but only own three (all acquired for free).  I'll build up a collection of free dresses swap at a time.  Or you never know what could happen over the winter....maybe I will get crazy and make some for myself!

Family Heirlooms

I admire objects and activities that make me feel connected to the past.  Like hanging up clothes on the line.  Or exploring abandoned farms and buildings.  Or kneading bread.  Or walking though old cemeteries.  Or canning.  Even more I admire things that make me feel connected to my own personal past and my ancestors.  Like baking my grandmother's wacky cake. Or sleeping under a mother-made quilt.  Or rubbing the St. Christopher medallion that used to be my dad's.
So, I recently received quite incredible and unexpected gift from my great-aunt Mary Ann: the few remaining pieces of a set of glasses that belonged to my great grandmother.  They are quite beautiful and built quite solidly, quite heavy actually for a glass.  It absolutely thrills me to use them and think of those who used them before me.   To think my water is held in the same vessel as those two generations back makes me feel quite satisfied.  I feel something special just holding one in my hand.  They are infused with something magical that you just cannot feel in a store-bought set of glassware.

When Mary Ann offered them to me she said "I don't suppose you'd want those..."  and I couldn't pounce on the offer quickly enough.  "Yes!  I would LOVE to have them!"
Three small glasses, two large glasses, two small goblets, one large goblet, and one stunning mug.
Now I just have to go through the cupboard and select a few of my old mishmashed collection of glasses to send a number to the thrift shop since we now certainly have more than we need or have space for.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On My Mind...

Baking and cooking are on my mind as I try to prepare enough food for our upcoming travels so that we aren't forced to resort to overpriced or low quality food along the way.  Like the Boy Scouts motto: Be Prepared!

The On My Mind concept come from  Rhonda on her Down to Earth blog.  Won't you join in on the fun?!

A Simple Woman's Day Book for September 22, 2011

Outside my window...the big cottonwood tree is transforming itself into fall's wonderful hues.

I am thinking.... I haven't done one of these in a long time.

I am thankful for... a good, kind, and supportive family.  Not everyone has that....

From the kitchen...are coming lots of baked things.  Wacky Cake, Crackers, Chocolate Gingersnaps, Bread, Pizza to keep up well fed on our upcoming vacation.

I am wearing...a light denim jumper dress with long sleeved white shirt underneath, Halloween socks from my dad, and birks (as usual).

I am creating...a wide knit scarf.  It is my first genuine attempt at a project.  Before I was just trying to figure out how to make stitches so I called all my projects "things" and took them apart constantly because I was constantly dropping stitches.  Now I am really making something.

I am going... crazy with anticipation of the first ever Furthur concert in Montana.

I am reading... Second Nature: A Gardener's Education by Michael Pollan

On my mind... the million things I need to do today.  I think I will get maybe 750,000 of them done and I suppose that is okay. 

Around the utter chaos everywhere I look.   It quite literally moved me to tears last night.  Between all the baskets and crates of fruit and canning gear, and getting ready for out trip and Matt's birthday (delightfully) zapping a day of work it is just plain crazy in there.  I cannot bear clutter, hence the tears as I realized there was absolutely no way I was going to get everything tidy and in its place.  But, sometimes that is the way it least at our house.

One of my favorite things...yellow leaves in the autumn.

A few plans for the rest of the week... cooking, laundry, packing, and processing more fruit if there is time.

A small window into my life...
Matt taking a deep smell from the dill we were drying in the sun porch.

This format come from the Simple Woman blog.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Making the Bed With Grandma's Quilt

Though the official first day of autumn is still a couple days away we've already pulled out a second quilt for the bed.  The nights are getting quite chilly already.  So, as I was making the bed yesterday--smoothing out the sheets, pulling the quilts up, fluffing pillows--I realized that I've never posted about the simple joy and calming effect of making the bed.
In the summer we only use this light, fan quilt that I was given by my great aunt Mary Ann.
I suppose I've not yet mentioned bed-making because it is a fairly new phenomenon at our house.  Up until this year making the bed was just never high on my list of priorities.  It always seemed a pretty pointless task as I would just be tearing it apart in my sleep again that night and besides, who sees my bed anyways?!   

Well, it was a burning desire for greater cleanliness and order on my part, combined with a post I read by Rhonda over at the Down to Earth blog which finally prompted me to pick up the practice this past spring.  Now it is just a part of my daily routine and I cannot imagine going back.  It is such a simple thing to do with surprisingly wide reaching and positive effects on me and my household.

I have found that.... is more pleasant to pass by or enter the bedroom and see the tidy, ordered space inside when the bed is made. 
...the room looks larger and nicer from just this one simple task. is more comforting to crawl beneath the smooth, inviting covers each night rather than trying to pull the whole mess together quickly so that I can just get warm and go to sleep already!
...I sleep more soundly because the bed clothes are in order rather than in a rumpled, twisted mess than ensnares me (or exposes me to cold) in my sleep.
...the sheets are washed more regularly when the bed it made each day because I handle and look at them more closely each day which makes the bed that much softer, and more comfortable. just looks nicer and makes me happier!
In the autumn we add this quilt made by my mother atop the fan quilt.  We also have one made by Matt's grandmother that gets added to this mix as needed.  Then in the midst of winter we snuggle under a heavy, heavy jean quilt made by my grandmother.  No matter the season we are wrapped up in family love!  This could be another reason to make the bed: You can properly display your beautiful quilt tops!
So, if you aren't already making your bed every day, give it a try.  You might be pleasantly surprised at how much you take to it, too!

Play Me That Jazzy Number

Matt and I had free XM radio for over a year because of a generous friend who was unable to use it at the time.  The extended loan ended this June when she finished school and moved back to town.  There is a channel on XM called 40's on 4 which is dedicated to music from, you guessed it, the 1940's.  I was completely enraptured with this music.  If I was in charge of channel selection there was little chance I'd pick anything else.  The singers from that era have such unique, soulful, emotive voices.  The lyrics and tempo are nearly always happy and upbeat, sometimes bordering on laughably sugar-sweet.  (Here I will say that I take that to be the case because there was a war going on and cheery music was needed to lift the spirits.  That is purely speculation on my part though.)  I found it impossible to not be a great mood when those tunes were playing. 

One of the things that really separates this type of music in my mind is the use of horns.  It all has a swingy, big band kind of feel to it and little to no guitar.  Being of the folk, bluegrass, and rock persuasion, where the focus is almost always on guitar and other stringed instruments, this was quite different to my ear.  And I liked it a whole lot.

Turns out, even cows like the horns!   Or are at least quite curious about it!  Check out this video I found via the blog Practical Parsimony where the cows all gather round for their own private performance.  Pretty neat, don't you think?
It IS pretty magical music if you ask me.

So after three months of no XM, and thus no 40's on 4, you can also then understand my utter delight at discovering the complete collection of Ken Burns' Jazz CDs for check out at my library.  This stuff even predates the 40's on 4 era going back to the early 1920's in some cases.  It is completely amazing the level of talent and diversity of style found in this collection...even more amazing that quality recordings from the time still exist!  In some cases they aren't even sure who was playing.  It has been lost through the years. The liner notes say "possibly So-and-So on saxophone" in some cases.  Some time I'm going to have to work up to watching the Ken Burns' Jazz documentary as well.  I am sure it is fascinating and would only add to the depth of my appreciation for the artists and the genre, but it is quite a long series and I have a short attention span when it comes to videos.  In the meantime I will just continue tapping my toes and dancing around the kitchen listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Count Bassie, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Lester Young, Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Charles Mingus, and the like.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Guess Who Turned 30!

This crazy man!
I love Matt more than I could have thought possible and am so incredibly lucky to be able to celebrate this day, and every day, with him.

We had a small gathering last night with a couple friends.  Pizza, honey mead, local beer, pretty rocks, music, laughing until we cried, chocolate cake.  But, I was having too much fun apparently and didn't take photos.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Somethin' about Soup

For me there is really something about soups.  They remain one of my favorite foods to prepare and enjoy in every season.  As the chill is in the air again, yesterday seemed the perfect sort of day for a yummy, belly warming soup.
There are lots of reasons to love soup, but here are my top five: 
#1 They are incredibly easy to make.  All it takes is to chop a few things and put them in the pot with stock.  Let that baby bubble for a while as you tend to other tasks and you are done!
#2 Soups are a fabulous way to use up veg that is not yet bad, but not at the peak of freshness either.  Like a limp carrot.  Or portobello caps that are a tad dried out.  And so on. 
#3  They are so versatile.  You can whip one up with whatever you have on hand.  This also helps with #2.
#4 Soup make a mighty frugal meal.  I've never tried to calculate the cost of one of my soups, but I can feel in  my gut that a basic vegetable soup has to be a real bargain.  Especially when the vegetables come from our own little garden.  Of course, you can also make an extravagent soup.  That goes back to #3.
#5 Soup is just downright delicious! 
Last Night's Vegetable Soup
8 cups veg broth
4 medium carrots, thinly sliced
2 small purple potatoes, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 large russet potato, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tablespoons tamari
1 clove garlic, minced
A pinch of dried rosemary
1/4 t black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Cover.  Reduce heat and simmer until the veg are tender, about 30-40 minutes.

And I don't know about you,  but I love a nice hunk of bread to dip in my soup so I made cornbread as well.  You can find that recipe here in on of my earliest posts.  I finally used some of that freshly ground cornmeal that I picked up at the threshing bee.  It was a much coarser meal than the store-bought variety and had, at least in my opinion, a stronger earthy flavor.  It was a quite wonderful accompaniment to the soup none the less. 

Garden Update


Earliest Pastes.  These are the densest tomatoes I've ever seen.  You know how when you cut a tomato and it sort of juices all over?  These don't do that.  They are almost solid on the inside.  It is pretty fabulous when making sauce as it doesn't take as long for it to cook off and thicken up.

Yukon golds.
The weird pink tomato (left) and an earliest paste for comparison.    It really isn't red....or not the right red anyways.
Pepper, peppers everywhere!

Cayenne peppers.  Sorry the photo is sideways.....Blogger wouldn't agree.

Yellow Indian Beans are starting to fill out.
Mountaineer and butternut squash growing along the fence.

Mountain Boys.

A Quick Bun Science Project

It was a quick bun science project.  I wanted to see if I could make the Mennonite wheat rolls (which were actually Mennonite Quick Buns, but hand formed, not cut as directed), but using only water instead of milk.  I apparently wasn't really paying attention because I also left the butter out.  I also decided to try 100% white flour.  I think in scientific study you are supposed to only change one variable at a time in order to see its effects on the rest of the process.  Yeah, well, I certainly didn't do that.  I changed just about everything.  Oh well, the end result remains the same.  It was yummy, light, tender bread.
I am not positive why these are called quick buns.  That is just what the cookbook I originally found the recipe in called it.  I believe it has to do with the incredible amount of yeast in the recipe though.  (It seems like a lot of yeast to me!)  They do raise pretty fast.  When I was cutting them out it actually proved a tad troublesome!  I pressed the dough down to the proper height for cutting out buns, but by the time I worked from one side of the dough to the other the second half would be raised higher than the desired height already.  Maybe they are quick buns because you, as the baker, have to be quick in cutting them!
Modified Mennonite "Quick Buns"
1 t sugar
4 1/2 t yeast
1 1/3 C water
1/2 t salt
3-4 C flour

Dissolve sugar in warm water in a large bowl.
Add yeast and stir.
Add salt and flour. 
Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes.
Cover with a towel and let rise for about 30 minutes.
Turn out on a floured surface and press dough down until it is all about 3/4 inch thick.
Cut dough using a glass or jar (or a round cookie cutter if you have one.  I don't.)
Place each bun on a baking stone or lightly greased baking sheet.
Let rise again for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
Bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees F.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

From Billings to Gilt Edge and Back Again

So we were in Lewistown last weekend for the Montana Chokecherry Festival.  It was the first time we'd every gone.  It was really quite the party.  The street was blocked off for blocks and blocks, lined with vendors of all sorts.  I think it was probably the largest festival we've ever participated in.  Business went pretty well, but more importantly we had a fantastic time. 

The king and queen of the 2010 chokecherry seed spitting contest coming to defend their titles.
Isn't this an incredible vest?  Someday I will make one....but first I am going to need a lot more practice.
Since we didn't want to get up before dawn and take the risky drive through deer country to get to the festival we went up to Lewistown the night before and camped.   We camped out again Saturday evening after the festival.  We stayed at a free little Kiwanis campground near town.  It was a little too close to the highway for my preference, but the price was right and it meant we didn't have very far to drive in the morning.  Also, the campgrounds we looked at further away (and more scenically located) were all inaccessible because of flood damaged roads.

Matt's camp stove "oven."
One giant samosa for dinner.
As a special treat for me Matt had packed a secret bottle of organic Martinelli's sparkling juice.  It seriously made my night to come home from a long day of vending and have such a delightful treat.  Also, there was a lovely full moon which is just barely captured in the upper left.
And of course cake and sparkling cider are just the perfect way to celebrate such a successful and enjoyable day.
My largest highlight of Chokecherry was seeing a couple of Amish families with my own two eyes.  (Here I must mention, in case I haven't, that I have a deep appreciation, admiration, and fascination for Plain People of all sorts.)  Montana is not Amish country by any stretch (though we have 5 Amish communities I am told) so it was a super neat surprise.  The sight of the crisp black bonnets and simple country dresses made my heart start pounding as if I was having a celebrity encounter.   (Yes, I would be more excited about meeting the Amish then say, oh, George Clooney or Angelina Jolie)  Continuing on with my Plain People excitement I also was able to briefly talk with a few women from a branch of the Hutterite faith that do not live in Yellowstone county.  In fact, if I understand the differences in dress well enough, I believe all three branches of Hutterite were represented at the Chokecherry Festival.  There was also a family of plain dressing Mennonites.  It seems silly to say it, but I was just beside myself with happiness at all the Plain People everywhichway.  I hope this doesn't come across as my viewing them as a novelty or curiosity.  That isn't how I feel at all.  I have a strong respect for the life they are leading.  When I have the chance I just want to absorb everything about them that I can because I think, in general, they are really, really on to something.  That is not to say we all need to "go Amish" join a Hutterite colony or anything.  Most of us, myself included, probably wouldn't hack it.  But, there is still so much we can learn and borrow from their lifestyle without completely abandoning the one we were raised in ourselves. 

I bought some chokecherry syrup and some crocheted dish scrubbies from two different colonies, spreading around my chance to visit with them.  We haven't tried the syrup yet because we are still working through a jar made by my step-mother, but the scrubbies are already well used.  They are fantastic for the burned on corners of roasting pans.  Kathy, who made them, also told me they were great in the shower for heels and elbows as well.  After a quick scrub with one of them I do feel all soft and exfoliated.  I am glad she mentioned it.
Back on the road, we found a park with a lovely labyrinth garden we were heading out of town Sunday morning.  Matt had read about it in the Lewistown visitor's guide.  He knows I like labyrinths and this one was especially swell what with all the lovely flowers and all.
These blood red snap dragons were pretty stunning.

As were these snap dragons as well!

This is the sort of bench that just makes you want to sit a while, isn't it?
Another touristy type activity Matt had read about was to visit Gilt Edge, an old mining town, now abandoned to ruin.  Since we didn't make it to any ghost towns on our last meandering roadtrip we decided Gilt Edge was definitely something we wanted to check out.   There are not too many building standing anymore, but you can clearly see the foundations of many buildings in what was obviously once a fairly busy place.
This is the first building you come to as you approach Gilt Edge.  We were going to get out and look, but noticed a deer  had taken up residence.  Apparently it was a great place to catch some shade.  Can you see him in there?
He has only one antler.
The church was probably the neatest of the buildings.

I only learned of the tractor brand Twin City because of the threshing bee we went to not too long ago.  Matt said " Take a picture for my dad!" 

Because we had so recently been the threshing bee I think we appreciated this little artifact all the more.  Here you can see where a large belt could be attached.  At the threshing bee we saw tractors and belts running everything from a saw mill to an ice cream maker.

The metal wheels had wooden spokes.  How neat is that?!

An old Majestic stove.

On our way back out of "town" we stopped at the deer's house again.  He was still there, but all it took as us getting out of the car for him to take off quickly.  So, we took a look around.  We did not go inside as the whole thing seemed pretty precarious at this point.  Don't you love that wood trim across the front of the porch?   New houses seem to lack that attention to detail these days.

Curtains, torn, still hang in the windows.

There was an old well out back.  Matt tossed a rock in and it went a ways before splashing into the water.  Matt's guess was 15 feet.  It looked just like a well from a cartoon.  I made sure to give it a wide clearance as to not end up like all the cartoon characters!

The last stop on our journey was to (surprise, surprise) another old cemetery.  It seems Matt has realized how much I enjoy the history (and breaks from driving) found while strolling through the field of headstones.  He stopped at this one without my asking.  I found this cemetery to be quite unique compared to most I've been to.  It seemed the majority were in clearly defined, and often fenced off, family plots.  Also, the majority of graves were covered with stone or cement slabs.  It seems like the sort of thing I've seen in photos from cemeteries in the eastern US.  I'd never seen so many personally.  The cemetery was also actually two cemeteries separated by the highway.   There were only a handful of new graves, the newest being from the early 1990's.  Most of the graves were rather old.  It was a very interesting place.  I was glad Matt spotted it with time to stop.