Thursday
Nov292012

Do You Need a Barn Built? 

I violated the First Rule of Shopping at Costco, which is, "Buy it when you see it, because it won't be there the next time you go," so naturally the Food in Jars book was no longer there when I went to Costco the other day. Blah. 

I went to the local bookstore and had them order it for me. I love that bookstore. When you walk in, there is a lovely big display shelf immediately to the left on which they put all sorts of interesting books. I hardly ever need to look beyond said shelf for something to read, because I always see two or three (or eight or nine) books I would like. 

I consoled myself with this:

It's titled The Rarest Blue and it's a book about the search for the dye that made the Biblical color blue known as tekhelet, the knowledge of which was lost for several thousand years. It's fascinating.  I read a couple of chapters yesterday while sitting in the kitchen with one eye on the pressure canner. 

I also find some really good books at The Dollar Store. I sometimes think I should change my name to Erasmus, because when I get a little money, I buy books. If I have some left over, I buy food. 

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So because I don't, apparently, have enough to keep me busy every day, I am kicking around an idea. The idea has been in the back of my head for a while now. The universe is giving me increasingly less-subtle hints that I need to make it happen, so I am going to move forward on it starting in January. 

We're in the midst of an Appreciative Inquiry process at our church, in which we're trying to identify the strengths of our community and build on them. One thing that keeps popping up in various forms is the idea of sustainability and how Mennonites have been part of that movement for a long time, even before sustainability became a popular buzzword. I offered the idea of teaching canning classes (because apparently I will can anything that slows down long enough for me to catch it), but I see the potential for that to move beyond canning to other homesteading and sustainable lifestyle topics. Our church has an amazing commercial kitchen. I think it would be a great place to have a canning class for a dozen people, so I am going to put something together for the end of January and we'll see where it leads. 

This idea has already spread tentacles...one of the women in our church, whose husband died a few years ago, has a large garden. She no longer needs to produce huge amounts of food for her family, so she has offered gardening space to anyone who wants it. We talk often at church about being a community resource for this kind of stuff, and so many of our members have so much to offer.  I was awake at 2 a.m. last night making mental lists of all the things I could do classes on. I am really good at teaching classes. I just need to transition from knitting to classes on other kinds of stuff. 

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The husband got a giggle out of this yesterday. I found it on one of the blogs I read, called Thy Hand Hath Provided. These are words from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (I need to get myself a copy):

"This bit of information was found in a quaint, old handwritten recipe book from my Great-grandmother's day. It is included here mainly for the purpose of giving us a peep into the past. As many of us know, a "barn raising" was quite an event during those early years. When a new barn was built, all the friends and neighbors came on the specified day to help put up the framework of the barn. This policy is still carried out in some communities where neighbors are neighborly. Homemakers of our day will no doubt be astounded at all the food consumed in one day. What is more difficult to believe is that it was all made in Great-grandmother's kitchen.

Here is the list I found:

115 lemon pies
500 fat cakes (doughnuts)
15 large cakes
3 gallons applesauce
3 gallons rice pudding
3 gallons cornstarch pudding
16 chickens
3 hams
50 pounds roast beef
300 light rolls
16 loaves of bread
Red beet pickle and pickled eggs
Cucumber pickle
6 pounds dried prunes, stewed
1 large crock stewed raisins
5 gallon stone jar white potatoes and the same amount sweet potatoes

Enough food for 175 men."

He said it sounded good to him, and I said, "Great, all you have to do is find someone who needs to have a barn built." 

He asked me how many women I thought it would take to cook all the food for 175 men and without missing a beat, I responded, "Eight." 

We're Mennonite cooks, after all. 

Thursday
Nov292012

Fun With Food

Work has been such that I have been getting up at 4 a.m. and working until about noon before I have to rest my brain for a bit. This leaves me with most of the afternoon. Today I decided to can up the pork and beans I talked about in yesterday's post. I bought the few supplies I needed yesterday and managed to scrape together 20 empty regular-mouth canning jars. I could have used wide-mouth ones, but I can't fit as many in my canner at one time. 

True to form, I tinkered with the recipe. Not substantially—after all, there are rules to be followed when home-canning food, but I feel like I know which boundaries I can push. So here are the mods I made to the recipe:

  • The recipe called for three pounds of white beans for 20 pints. Naturally, they come in two-pound bags at my grocery store, so I opened two of the three bags I had purchased and washed and rinsed them several times. I had maybe a cup of beans left over after putting 1/2 cup in each pint jar. Those will just get put in a bag in the freezer until I need them. 
  • I used two large bottles of HFCS-free ketchup and two quarts of my home-canned tomato sauce, even though the original recipe only called for one quart of each mixed with mustard, brown sugar, and molasses. The original recipe called for adding hot boiling water to the jars after filling them with a cup of ketchup/tomato sauce mixture. My tomato sauce is a tad on the thin side to begin with, so I didn't want to add extra water. I just filled each pint jar with the sauce mixture. Therefore, in order to have enough, I had to mix up two batches of it. No biggie. 
  • I used dijon mustard instead of regular mustard because that was all I had.
  • I didn't measure the mustard. 
  • I added three one-inch pieces of bacon to each jar instead of a single one-inch piece of bacon. I have yet to meet a recipe that wasn't improved by the addition of more bacon. 

Just as predicted, I filled 20 pint jars with pork and beans, and then realized that my canner only holds 19 pint jars. Argghh. One jar will have to get cooked the old-fashioned way. The rest of them are in the pressure canner right now, which is humming away on the stove, at 15 pounds of pressure for a total of 75 minutes. Mmmmm, those beans should be nice and tender. 

After I got the pressure canner going, I made a big egg strata with two dozen eggs, the rest of the bacon I didn't use in the pork and beans, and some swiss chard and cheddar cheese. I think the swiss chard is so pretty, especially the dark red leaves. Here is the chopped chard:

The swiss chard is still chugging along out in the garden.

I added the bacon and cheese and some onions and now it's ready for the eggs:

This will be dinner tonight. And breakfast tomorrow. It used up two dozen eggs, did I mention that? 

Wednesday
Nov282012

Mishmash

As promised, some pictures.

Lily and Rusty. This is where they go the minute the husband leaves for work, and they don't get up again until lunchtime. It's a bonus if I build them a fire in the fireplace:


Rusty wishes Lila would get off the pouf. We used to have two of these things, but one dog (coughRustycough) had anger issues and shredded the other pouf—and managed to pin the blame on Lila for a good while—so now they are reduced to one pouf. Rusty has all sorts of passive-agressive techniques for tricking Lila into getting off the pouf so he can have it to himself. 

Lila doesn't care. 

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I finally got a good picture of Junior. He likes to stay inside the henhouse, and I had to catch this shot in between the two roosters chasing each other around. 

He is quite the handsome rooster in his own way. 

I think these two are so busy chasing each other that they are leaving the hens alone. 

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I need to get off my butt here and get some more stuff canned. I was at Costco the other week and saw this:

The Food in Jars blog is on my morning reading list, so it was great to see this book at Costco. I am on the fence about buying it, though. One thing I do NOT do is can in small batches. I don't do any cooking in small batches here. I am not sure how much use I would get out of this, but I may take a second look at it the next time I am at Costco. 

This is more my speed. Hickery Holler Farm is another one of my morning reads. She came up with a recipe that makes 20 pints of pork and beans in the pressure canner. DD#2 is quite fond of pork and beans but I don't want to buy the canned stuff full of high fructose corn syrup, and I don't usually have it together enough to put a batch together to simmer all day. This looks incredibly easy. As the husband said when I told him about it, "All it requires is a little bit of time," and that's basically true. Heaven knows I have enough tomato sauce. I don't have homemade ketchup, but I can use the commerical stuff without HFCS. I'll use some Redneck Cottage Bacon for the pork. 

I love the idea of home-canned convenience foods. 

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Actually, I think I will go to Costco this afternoon. Someone is coming from the electric co-op to switch over our electrical service and the power has to be off for a couple of hours. Last week the husband installed new panels and conduit. When we bought this property, it already had a trailer and a garage on it, and after we built the house we had two separate electric services. The new setup will combine the two services into one service and save us about $20 a month. There will also be a transfer switch to allow us to hook up the big generator if we lose power for an extended period of time. At this rate, though, it won't be due to a snowstorm any time soon. The forecast is for above-average temps for the next couple of weeks. 

Monday
Nov262012

Trouble in the Henhouse

I wanted to take a picture of the roosters for you today, but the batteries in both digital cameras needed charging. I'll try again tomorrow. 

Junior Rooster is now bigger than Daddy, and I think the tables have been turned. Junior no longer turns tail and runs away, and Daddy is looking a bit bedraggled. I don't think he's winning all the contests anymore. I wonder how long this will last before it becomes a real problem. Stay tuned. 

The husband and I watched a PBS documentary the other night on Netflix called "The Natural History of the Chicken." It should have been titled, "Strange Things People Do With Chickens" because it wasn't really about the natural history of the chicken AT ALL. Oh well. It was entertaining nonetheless. One lady made the newspaper for giving CPR to one of her chickens. Yeah, that is never going to happen here. 

I also watched the documentary "American Harmony," which is about the International Barbershop Competition. Barbershop singing is very popular with members of our church, so I get to hear it a lot. The documentary was fascinating. 

It should be interesting to see what Netflix now recommends as the "Top Ten for Janet." Something involving singing chickens, no doubt. 

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Hunting season 2012 is now in the record books and we have no venison in the freezer. The husband was very philsophical about it, and suggested that we take the money we would have spent on processing a couple of deer and buy a side of pork, instead. I think that's a splendid idea. 

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The cantata seems to have been well-received by the choir, and we're all excited to start working on it. Of course, now I have managed to set the bar even higher for myself for next Christmas. 

I don't usually even try to schedule anything on Sundays besides church. During Advent, choir practice will chew up a couple of hours in the afternoon, and other Sundays I might have elder meetings or have to go play at the nursing home. The husband and I were talking this morning about our church's 100th anniversary celebration, which is going to happen in 2013. I mentioned that back in 1913, church was only held every other week and it was usually an all-day affair. He pointed out that some things have not changed in 100 years. 

In any case, the schedule now includes a daily hour of cantata practice for the pianist, who has 88 pages of music to learn. One of the songs is "Go Tell It On the Mountain" and the accompaniment is going to kick my butt for the next couple of weeks. 

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No news is good news at work, I suppose. Things are chugging along as they were before. Yay. 

Saturday
Nov242012

Still Older Than the Husband

Today is my 47th birthday. I will never ever complain about getting older, because I almost didn't see my 30th birthday. Every day since then has been a bonus. And I am still five months older than the husband, although I try not to pull rank on him too much. 

We had a nice, quiet Thanksgiving. I cooked a 14-pound Hutterite turkey, which tasted amazingly like the turkey I remember from my childhood. We also had cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes (ones we grew), green beans (also home-grown) with bacon, and cauliflower with browned butter and gluten-free cracker crumbs. I miss the cornbread stuffing, but because the husband and kid can eat as much of that as they want, I ate every last bit of the cauliflower all by myself and did not share. The green beans were amazing. We thanked DD#2 for doing all the work this summer to get them cleaned and trimmed. 

After cleaning up, DD#2 and I and one of my friend Susan's daughters went into town to see a movie. A movie on Thanksgiving afternoon is a tradition in my family, no doubt started by the mothers so they could have some peace and quiet. When we were little, I remember my father and uncles taking all of the grandchildren to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Superman. This year we chose Skyfall, the new James Bond movie, and it did not disappoint. We also ran into DD#1's boyfriend from high school and his brother and father who were there to see the movie, too. The dad is the athletic director at the high school, so DD#2—as a cheerleader—gets to see him a lot. Kalispell is a small town, have I mentioned that?

The husband stayed home to do battle with mice. In two days we caught three mice, two of which were in the root cellar snacking on pumpkins. The chickens were treated to some extra protein. I can put up with spiders and snakes and other kids of wildlife, but I draw the line at mice. I hate them. Ick. The husband is on it, with help from Lila and Rusty. 

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I have mixed feelings about Black Friday. When my mother comes for Thanksgiving, it is a lot of fun for her and the girls and me to head out and do some shopping and go out to lunch. We wait until a reasonable hour and then we simply try to enjoy being together. I am always a bit taken aback by the rampant consumerism. On the other hand, I know there will be some things on sale. I search for balance. 

I had work in the queue yesterday and DD#2 slept in, so we didn't get out the door until after 10 a.m. The first place we headed was the (one and only) big department store at the mall. They always have Doorbuster specials until 1 p.m., and one of those is always the Columbia fleece jackets. My girls wear their Columbia jackets out, that's how much use they get out of them. I got one for each of them and that was it. The place was mobbed, as I expected it to be. There are only a few places to shop in Kalispell. 

We then went down to JC Penney so I could check out the Liz Claiborne section and see if I could find an outfit to wear on Christmas Eve. I am kind of partial to Liz Claiiborne and have been for years. I can pull a size 8 anything off the rack and know it will fit me without having to try it on. For the past few weeks, I've had my eye on a turquoise Liz Claiborne skirt, and they had it in a size 8, so I bought it. On the way to the register, two separate women stopped me to comment on how pretty it was, and when I got to the register, the cashier oohed and ahhed over it, too. I am just happy to see brightly-colored clothing in the stores again after decades of muddy earth tones. 

DD#2 bought herself a pair of moccasins. That was it. By then it was noon and we decided to go get lunch. 

Shopping with DD#2 will always include a stop for coffee at some point. We're horrible enablers of each other's habit. We went to the bank so I could deposit a check, and popped in to the Starbucks next door for some refreshment. Starbucks' coffee is not as good as the coffee served by the local place downtown, but I wasn't going to drive all the way back there just for coffee. If you're ever in Kalispell, though, Colter Coffee is the place to go. 

We did a little bit more shopping and that was it. We were home by 3 p.m. We enjoyed the shopping, saw people we knew, had some coffee, and that was enough.

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I did not expect there to be much fallout from the news that the company I work for had been bought out again, but I was wrong. I had two e-mails from my oncology account supervisor yesterday afternoon. The oncology account is a big account, with over a dozen regular dictators and some who dictate on a less frequent basis. I know that there are (were) at least six MTs working that account full time. 

One doctor in particular is not very good about submitting his reports in a timely manner. In fact, he usually saves up two weeks' worth of dictation and dumps 50-75 LONG reports into the queue at one time, rather than submitting them every day like my regular doctors do. It makes it very difficult for us, because we don't know when he's going to dump reports, and if his come in on a day when we're all busy with our regular reponsibilities, everyone has to scramble to keep up. This has been an ongoing issue ever since we went to exclusives. The first e-mail from my supervisor was to alert us of some changes in the pool set-up. She's trying to arrange it so we have more consistent and steady work, which I greatly appreciate. It's hard to plan my life when I don't know if any particular day is going to have abnormally heavy workload. 

[The irritating thing is that he seems to dictate every couple of days, based on the dictation date timestamp on the file, but he just doesn't bother to load the reports onto the server until he has a whole bunch of them. On November 21, I was doing reports for him that he had dictated on November 8. Really? You cut people open and sew them back together and you can't load your reports as soon as you dictate them?]

The second e-mail was to me, personally, to let me know that two MTs are leaving the oncology account. One is going to a different company (no surprise there) and one is going back to school. I inherited the doctor that those two MTs shared and will now be sharing his reports with another MT. He's a very "special" doctor because he wants his reports done within four hours. He also sounds like he is making a pornographic phone call when he dictates. Beyond that, he's not bad and I don't mind doing his reports, but we'll have to see how the four-hour TAT thing works out. I had to giggle a bit because my supervisor's note said, "We are losing two of this doctor's experts and you are amongst the few picked to handle him." I think that's a compliment. 

I am kind of curious to know how many other people are jumping ship because of this new merger. I have decided to stay put for the moment, only because I really really really love this oncology account and—at the moment—the devil I sort of know is better than the devil I don't. And I am always happy for more work. The husband has taken to calling this my "schizophrenic job," because it seems like every day brings some new crisis. 

The holiday season is not a good time to be looking for another job, anyway. I'll sit tight until I can't take it anymore.