Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fact: I like pickled mushrooms.

Fact: Only one grocery store in my town (sometimes) carries them, and they are $8.95 for a 10 ounce jar.

Fact: Therefore, I never buy pickled mushrooms.

I mean, really. Cucumber pickles don't cost that much. Why do they charge so much for mushroom pickles?

Anyway, yesterday I took matters into my own hands.

Button mushrooms were on sale at the grocery store, so I bought two pounds. Emma, who does not like mushrooms in any form, kept saying "Mama, are you sure you need that many mushrooms? That's really a lot." I think she was afraid that's all we were going to eat for the week!

At home, I washed them, cut them in quarters because they were large (though in future I would just do halves because they shrink when cooked), thinly sliced an onion, and simmered the mushrooms and onion in the pickling liquid:

1.5 cups vinegar
1.5 cups water
1 T dry tarragon
1 T mixed pickling spices tied in cheesecloth
1/2 C brown sugar
1/4 C pickling salt

After the mushrooms and onions were cooked but still firm, I took them out and packed them into hot clean pint jars. I turned up the heat on the liquid and boiled it, then ladled it into the jars, put the lids on, and processed in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes.

The result is delicious; better than the store-bought ones and much, much cheaper. Yay me!

I was on a roll yesterday, and after the pickles were done, I had to make some cookies. I read Renee's blog post on Friday, and the recipe was immediately bookmarked.

They are every bit as good as Renee said they are, even if they are from Martha Stewart's website. You really can't go wrong with a recipe that has 8 ounces of melted chocolate and half a cup of cocoa powder in the cookie dough. They're intensely chocolatey.

And actually, they're not as fiddly as a drop cookie to make, despite the chilling and rolling and coating in sugar. I skipped the second dough-chilling step, and Emma and I rolled all the cookie balls at once. We just put them on a plate, and they were ready and waiting to pop onto the cookie sheet. Much less wasted time between batches. I bet they would freeze beautifully as uncooked dough, rolled and ready to bake. I may have to try that next time.

When we tried one each from the first batch out of the oven, Emma didn't say much. When I asked her if she liked them, she was quiet for a minute, then said:

"My mouth is dazzled, Mama."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Not much to report, but I have been doing some dyeing.

This is a total of 1.5 pounds of lovely soft bluefaced leicester wool, dyed in four different colorways. This is all destined for my shop; I'll probably leave some as top, and use some in carded batts. I love the yellow/orange one - so bright and cheerful. Of course, I also like the green one, and the blue one, and the blue/purple one. It was a good day for color. :-)

Also on the drying rack is some 20/2 silk yarn that I dyed purple. The darker one is actually a warp chain, and the lighter skein is the weft. More bookmarks!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I have been remiss in introducing a new member of the family. Meet Coco.

Coco was a stray that showed up outside our house last September. We have an old barn in our backyard, and there has been a semi-feral cat living under it since before we moved in. He's skittish, and never lets us get too close. We did feed him, though. When Coco started coming around, presumably for the food, she was young, and skinny, and extremely affectionate, and kept getting beat up by the resident cat.

Because she was so affectionate, she came running whenever we were outside, and of course Emma fell immediately, irrevocably in love. Though I tried to deny it, I knew I was sunk when Emma named her.

I was Mean Mom for almost a month, since we already have one cat, and didn't think we needed to take on another. Our first cat, Naia, while incredibly sweet and mushy toward us, has always been aggressive toward other cats and I didn't think we wanted to go there.

So Emma was allowed to play with Coco outside (since there were no fleas, obvious infections, or aggression), but Coco was not allowed in the house. Then Coco and Naia started sizing each other up through the screen door. First there was hissing and growling. Then there was looking, then there was sniffing. Then there was indifference. There began to be pressure from the six-year-old to let Coco in "just for a minute" so Naia could talk to her. And yes, I caved. She really is a sweet cat.

Suffice it to say that "just for a minute" turned into "just for an hour or so", then "just during the daytime", then hey presto, we have another cat.

Naia has accepted Coco far better than I would have ever thought possible. They are buddies. Naia is almost 12 years old, and has been a bit creaky for the past year. He didn't jump as easily or as high, rarely played, rarely ran, and generally acted like a senior cat. Since Coco joined the family, he plays bat-the-crumpled-paper with her, chases her, is chased by her, and is better able to jump onto the bathroom counter. It's quite a difference. They get along very well, though Naia is definitely the alpha cat.

Naia always sleeps next to my knees at night, and Coco does too sometimes, but she has particularly staked out Emma's bed.

Often as close to Emma as she can get.

Naia and Coco also are frequently found snuggled up together during the day, either on one of the cat beds, or the couch, or the very cutest, on My Chair.

One or both of them is usually on me when I'm sitting in My Chair, especially when I have an afghan.

This can make it a bit difficult to do anything on my computer, though.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I've been home a lot in the past couple weeks, since I had my hours at work reduced to zero (yes, again). I was limping long at 5-10 hours a week for a couple months before Christmas, then they said "sure, take two weeks off for the holidays, no problem", so we went to visit family. When we got back, I went into work on Monday Jan. 4, and was told that there is nothing for me to work on until probably March. Sigh.

Anyway, I've been home a lot. Hence the recorder obsession. And going to the gym every day. Which are not entirely useless pursuits, I suppose. Funnily enough, the laundry doesn't seem to be getting folded any faster even though I'm home more.

Onward to the point of this post! I did something today that I've always wanted to try. I candied orange peel.

That's three oranges worth of peel, and it is SO much better than the stuff from the grocery store! Super easy, too. I just peeled the oranges (with a vegetable peeler, so as not to get any of the white pith), cut the peels into pieces, and boiled them in one cup of water until tender. Then I added one cup of sugar and boiled until the syrup was mostly absorbed and the peels were almost translucent. I tossed them in a bit more sugar so they wouldn't stick together, and voila! They're sweet and a little bitter, and very powerfully orange-flavored. Quite nice; not overly sweet, and not gummy like the store-bought ones. I think it will be fabulous in quick bread.

I also have been playing with a new kitchen toy this winter:

I got myself a dehydrator in October, when I was given a large box of apples by a coworker. There were too many for Emma and me to eat before they spoiled, so I sliced and dried most of them. I also did tomatoes (again, excess from a coworker's garden), and several batches of beef jerky. The jerky was a huge hit with Emma and Shaun (and me) and disappeared in a blink.

After that box of apples was used up, I received another big box! Apparently, it was a good apple year in Mike's yard. I didn't think we needed more dried apples (since I'm the only one who will eat them), so I sauced the second box. I got my mom's old food mill when we were at Dad's house over Christmas, and spent a day processing them into yummy, yummy applesauce. I had 30 pounds of apples in that second box, and it made 10 quarts. I didn't even add any extra sugar, and Emma declared it was "the best applesauce I've ever eaten." That's a win.

So there it is: the remaining 6 quarts of applesauce (yes, we've gone through 4 quarts in two weeks...), a quart of dried tomatoes, two half-pints of candied orange peel, and a gallon of dried apples. Tucked away safely in my cupboard, and making me feel very smug.

Today, in addition to the orange peel, I started a batch of cranberries drying into craisins; just plunged into boiling water until they cracked, then soaked in orange juice and honey for an hour to sweeten them slightly before spreading them on the dehydrator trays. They've been in there four hours so far, and should be done before bedtime.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Once upon a time I was a little girl who played music. I started soprano recorder and viola in fourth grade, and tenor recorder in fifth grade. I stopped playing recorder when I started junior high, and quit viola when I started high school. I was tired of practicing, had too many other things going on, and was tired of practicing (did I mention I was tired of practicing?), so I didn't continue. But for quite a while there, I was happy making music. I played in school orchestras, a couple ensembles at various points, and even went to music day camp a couple summers.

Recorder was always a secondary instrument to me; I only played in school because everyone had to (though taking up tenor and playing in the recorder ensemble was extra), and though I enjoyed it I never really pursued it. Viola was what I was interested in. I felt like musician, like I was good at something. I'm sure there was plenty of screechy cacophony involved, but my parents put up with it and I think I did eventually achieve some level of competence on the viola by the time I quit.

Fast forward. I am 38 years old, and I haven't picked up a recorder since I was 13. I haven't been remotely musical for more than a quarter century, yet this has consumed me for the past six days:

It all started innocently enough. Emma is in public school now. They had a holiday program. The third graders played their recorders. It was squeaky. Kind of painful, actually. But it got me thinking, and more importantly, it got Emma thinking. I told her that I played recorder when I was little, and she asked if she could try, too.

Of course I said YES, and that we would look for my sister's and my old recorders when we went to visit Grandpa for Christmas, and we could play together. Unfortunately, my dad just moved from Maine to Kansas, and almost everything was still packed in boxes when we were there for Christmas. I know just where they were in his old house, but we couldn't find the right box in the stacks in his garage in Kansas. I'm sure they're there somewhere, but I searched with no luck.

Emma flitted off onto another tangent almost immediately, and didn't seem to care that much, but the bug had been planted in my brain. That's why, when Emma and I were in TheMegaStoreOfDoom, Volde-Mart, or, as I fondly think of it, "Empire of Evil" (OK I'll stop, I think you get the picture), last Sunday, she saw these hanging from a shelf and shrieked "They have recorders, Mommy!!", I was powerless.

Unfortunately, the pink ones were sold out. I bought these for $1.00 each and I have to tell you, they are worth every penny with plenty of change left over. Seriously, the tone on these is dreadful. Do not buy one.

I played mine (the green one) for almost six hours on Sunday night, despite the bad sound. I googled around and found this free tutorial online and went though most of it that night, because I. Could. Not. Stop. I think I was up until about 1:00. I sort of ignored the sound and concentrated on the fingering. Luckily Shaun was out of town for a conference and was not subjected to the torture that is the green recorder. Emma didn't mind because she doesn't know any better, and was just impressed that I was playing.

However, I do know better. While I don't have perfect pitch, I can tell when something is out of tune and wrong. It just sounds off to me, and these toy recorders are serious nerve-graters. Before I went to bed that first night, I had already placed an order for a real recorder.

I continued to play the green one Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, even though it sounded terrible, and so was exceedingly grateful when the real one arrived yesterday. Yay for fast-shipping eBay sellers!

I got a Yamaha 24B resin recorder. It's a student recorder, not anything outstanding, and pretty much what I learned to play on in 1980. This one cost a whole $4.45 plus $2 shipping. However, that tiny step up in price made a world of difference. It sounds like an instrument, not a outraged mosquito on crack.

The main thing I was looking forward to, aside from, you know, in-tune notes, was this:

See how the lowest set of holes is offset on the new one, as opposed to in line with the rest like on the green one? These are the holes that you cover with your right pinky finger. Well, with the green one, I couldn't even reach those lowest holes with my pinky unless I contorted my whole right hand and strained my other fingers. I don't know if I have freakishly short pinkies or what, but it wasn't happening. And even if I did get all the holes covered, the low C still wouldn't play five times out of ten. So too with the rest of the notes- random squeaking, some notes flat, some sharp, and some off by a whole tone. Ugly. I managed for four days, but it took effort.

The new recorder is made in three pieces (the green one is all one piece), and the bell at the bottom can be turned so that the lowest holes can be reached easily. The tone is a thousand times better, and I can play all the notes with ease. Well, the highest ones still take good breath control, but at least they are do-able! The tone is sweet, and richer, and in tune.

Actually, why am I even comparing these two? The green one is not an instrument, it is a cheap plastic piece of junk that is only useful for children to annoy their parents with. The new one isn't top of the line, but it is a real instrument.

I told Emma that once she can play Mary Had a Little Lamb on her orange one, she can have the white one and I'll get another for me. She hasn't done much so far, but we did do little copy-me exercise this afternoon with three notes.

I guess the point is that I surprised myself this week. I picked up an instrument again after 25 years, and I can do it! Reading music came back to me fairly easily, and I am really enjoying myself. I don't know if it will last, but I'm having gobs of fun now, and I think once Emma starts learning it will be fun to play together. Even if she doesn't play at all until third grade, when they start in school, I can wait.