Thursday, January 27, 2011

3 Days of Peace, Love, and Acidified Foods

Today I signed up for this fall's upcoming Better Process Control School at the University of Maine.  Yeah, I know the fall seems like a long time from now.  But it's a course you have to take if you want to sell pickles to the public within the standards of the FDA, they only offer it every other fall in odd years.  While talking to the woman at Maine's Cooperative Extension (she was lovely), I learned the course is three days and takes place in Orono, which is rather far from here to travel back and forth for three days, don't you think?  She was going on about course details, the acidified versus non-acidified parts of the class, things I would need to plan for, and yet all I could think about was being away for three days, albeit in Orono, with no responsibility outside of the class.  No kids.  No responsibility outside of the class.  I interupted her to ask where I would stay while there.  I think I sort of caught her off guard actually.  She thought I'd be more interested in what she was saying, of course.  Suddenly I imagined myself napping in the afternoon between class sessions, drinking my own personal bottle of wine each night, maybe lounging in a hot tub-- totally uninterupted peace.  If you're a mom, you understand that I love my girls.  I mean I  LOVE  them with all my being.  But can a girl get a couple days of peace?  I shall shout it from the rooftops:  "THANK YOU, PICKLES!!!"  And thank you, lady at Maine Cooperative Extension, for suggesting several hotels in the Bangor area.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rice and Beans Sundaes

I've only really gotten into cooking over the last few years.  Something about having kids did it to me.  I mean, I've made jam for a long time, but until the girls were born, I really only had a few staples in the house with which to make a few simple dinner recipes.  Joe brought this one into the relationship, and we love it to this day. 

Rice and Beans Sundae (I'm pretty sure Holly named this after Joe and I shared the recipe with her). 

Layer 1:
-Make your favorite kind of rice.  We love the brown kind, but it takes a lot longer to cook than white.  If you're going for healthy, take the extra time to cook the good stuff. 

Layer 2:
-Heat up some black beans, right out of a can.  Spoon some on top of the cooked rice.

Layer 3:
-Add your favorite kind of shredded cheese on top of the beans.

Layer 4:  SALSA.  I prefer the stuff we make and can with fresh tomatoes during the summer, but I've been known to more often use Newman's or even Pace. 

-Layer 5:  Specifically, Joe says sour cream is not to be replaced by anything else as the perfect topping.  However, on Friday night when I made it, we didn't have any sour cream (ha!), so I used cottage cheese (of the non-fat variety), always Cabot-- it's the result of having lived in Vermont so long).  Surprisingly, it was wonderful, and it has to be healthier.

Now, we normally just eat it the way the recipe reads above; however, whenever we've gotten together with my brothers to have it for dinner, they scowl at the no-meat factor.  So, feel free to add cooked chicken or ground beef or turkey.  It is yummy either way.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Drying Cranberries

Remember how I mentioned buying upwards of 50 pounds of cranberries last fall?  Here's a glimpse at what I've done to preserve some of them outside of the freezer.  I highly recommend picking up (or borrowing, like I did) a food dehydrator if you're into picking local fruit and/or you have kids who like dried fruit.  Our girls love craisins the most, so I tried making some myself.  It was SO easy, and they are SO good.  Sweet and tart.  Yum.

What you need is a pound or so of fresh or frozen cranberries.  Either boil them until the skins split (less than a minute), or cut them in half yourself.  I found that halving them worked best and didn't add more water to the process like boiling would.  In a bowl add 1/2 cup of your choice of natural sweetener.  I used brown sugar.  I also added about 1/4 cup of honey.  Mix it all up, then spread the berries out onto several racks of your dehydrator.  Dehydrate for 8 hours or so, then check them.  You'll probably need 10 hours, but it's good to make sure you're not drying them too much.  They should be chewy inside and out.


Sunday, January 16, 2011


I may be way behind on this one, but my cousin Kristin informed me a while back that I am what is labeled to be a "SWAT" mom.  Smart.  Woman.  Available.  Time.  And of course this is true.  I mean, for God's sake, I have a master's degree, was a school administrator for several years, belonged to all kinds of important boards and did professional or otherwise intellectual things smart grown-ups are supposed to do.  I was the bread-winner.  And, on top of that, I was cool.  I went out with friends for dinner and drinks, and I had a cool car-- wait, ok first it was a Jeep, then a truck, then a small sedan, then a sporty wagon.  Ok- the sedan was a Neon and the wagon was a Mazda, but compared to the mini-van I drive now, they were cool.  Now I'm a SWAT mom.  After Joe and I had Addie, we got pregnant seemingly the next day (maybe it was a couple months later), and... who knew?  TWINS!  The high school where I worked just required too much time, and I really never gave it the time I was supposed to from the beginning, forget about what I could give them with three babies under a year and a half old.  So when twins came, and we learned that day care would be- O. M. G. -more than five hundred bucks a week, we decided I would leave my job, we'd up and move back to Maine, and I'd be a SAHM (stay at home mom, in case you're also new at this).  So now I am that.  A SWAT SAHM.  Yep, I have a part time job, which I enjoy fully, which gets me out of the house, and which does not require an advanced degree.  And I make jam.  I do this because I love it, and I can do it at home, thereby working AND being a Mom, which I also love.

And, having available time also gives me plenty of opportunities to do things I'd never really cared about doing before.  Like standing around outside in the winter in my pajamas and Joe's muck boots, trying to determine whether or not my chickens are intentionally mooning me like high school kids out a school bus window.  Ah, those were the days.  Smart Woman?  Available Time. 


Friday, January 14, 2011

Canning Squash

Joe went hunting over at Ed's a few weeks ago, and apparently Ed slipped a banana box full of winter squash into the truck before he came home.  We ate a bunch of it, and I thought about freezing some of it too, but what if some crazy catastrophe should wipe out our ability to freeze anything, and I can't use my freezer anymore?  Say, for example, we lose electricity forever, or a virus hits and destroys all major appliance brands, or we learn that ice is found to cause horrible diseases.  Don't fret!  I know how to use a pressure cooker!  And stuff looks way prettier in jars anyway, as if you didn't know this already.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Apple Ladder

Over the summer on one of our many berry-picking adventures, the girls and I happened upon a place where a farmer had hung an old apple ladder (from her orchard) from the ceiling in her store, and wrapped around the ladder itself hung strands of little white Christmas lights.  It was beautiful.  So I've been on the look-out for an apple ladder myself, and you'd think with all the cousins and farms around here I'd have a connection in getting one.  Not so.  Well, Pete Snell did tell me he'd give me the "family discount" if I should choose to purchase one he had for sale in a Wells antique shop in which he has some high-priced items.  I decided to stick it out and hope for a more naturally-occurring situation, as if maybe I'd happen upon one in an old orchard somewhere, and the farmer would let me take it home.  Ha!  These things are evidently in high demand. 

As it turns out, a farmer did let me take one home-- well, it was a Christmas gift from my brother, and he is a farmer, so that counts right?  Here's a look at what I've got on my wall.  It's stage one of the ladder/lights project.  I don't see the lights happening any time soon, but that's ok because I love the ladder just the way it is.  LOVE it.

I did end up picking up a few of these hand-forged barn nails from Pete Snell's place in Hollis Center.  He got them from a salvaged barn in Buxton.

Blog Addendum:  I worried that you'd think I was hanging up a perfectly good ladder on my wall, which thus serves no purpose at all.  So I came back to tell you this-- the ladder has seen its day.  It's been patched on various rungs, is rickety and old.  It is a beautiful example of a tree, cut in half, attached by wooden rungs -no metal at all.  The way it used to be.  The ladder points at the top so the pruner/picker can avoid damaging the tree with a typical ladder's two sides.  It was painted red so the farmer wouldn't lose the ladder in the orchard, and because red paint was cheap.  Note how many barns used to be painted red too.  Anyway, I would use this baby if I could.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Procrastination Series

Many of the creative things I do around here are the result of my wasting time because I should be doing some other productive thing that's supposed to get done.  So, I figure the time really isn't wasted if I can turn the creative thing into something for the kids or our home right?  I'm pretty sure I have at least 15 more years of using the girls as my excuse for doing fun things while I should be doing less fun things-- like cleaning, running errands, or having a job, for example.  Here's my first cool ditty (today anyway).  It's the direct result of not wanting to do any dishes.

Wait-- this isn't it.  This is Joe after falling asleep last night on the ottoman behind our much-more-comfortable couch.  We've been staying up pretty late procrastinating (see a theme here?) getting things done around the house.  It took a toll on him.  Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure I was looking for the remote.  
Ah-- here it is.  Today's little procrastination effort.  I coulda made sandwiches, but I had visions of the girls dressing up in tea-party attire, using toothpicks to munch on there not-so-well-hidden string bean bites and other relatively healthy options.  We'll see how it goes.  Now I'm going for a run.  I swear I am.  Then I'm coming home to do dishes.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Weekend Funnies

Our free weekly paper arrived in the mail this week, and Addie immediately found a photo of our friend Dave S. dressed in a lobster suit, ready to dive into the frigid ocean, all to benefit the Special Olympics of Maine.  Great job, Dave!  Wait-- that's not Dave.  It's some other guy who sort of resembles Dave, but Addie is giving full credit to "Abby's dad."  See Into Ablivia for more on Dave and Holly's beautiful family. 

Lobster Dave
Real Dave

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Quinoa Kick

After stuffing our faces full of Christmas cheer long after Christmas was over, right through the New Year, and up and down the east coast on our way to and from Virginia, Joe and I decided we ought to look at some new healthy food options to start off 2011.  And thanks to Reny's (a Maine landmark, in case you're unaware), I stumbled across an aisle full of Bob's Red Mill products marked half off.  I picked up several versions of bean soup mixes, special flours, cereals and grains, and quinoa, something I'd only heard of through my gorgeous and ever-healthy friend Rachel.  So I brought it home, along with another half-off  item from the supermarket-- a big platter of veggies for dipping.  Don't worry folks.  I checked the dates on all this stuff.  We're in the clear.  So tonight, rather than start off with chocolate-covered potato chips, devil dogs, or one of a choice of 5 different kinds of Virginia-made cookies, we stuck to veggies and quinoa.  It's a little grain, originally grown in parts of South America, not unlike the texture of brown rice, but more like a seed.  It's got a slightly bitter after-taste inspired by saponins, a natural coating the plant creates to protect it from pests.  Smart plant, huh?  So, people who are really into quinoa make creative salads, soups and stew with it, as well as it can be cooked like rice, rather quickly actually (12 minutes), with water or other liquids.  For our first try at the stuff, we opted to cook it up in some chicken stock.  Our girls love any kind of rice cooked in stock, so we went for it, and it worked.  All five of us enjoyed it thoroughly. 

This is NOT the quinoa we had for dinner.  Thanks to Jillicious Discoveries for both the photo and her recipe for Yummy Quinoa Salad.  I'm all over it.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Favorite Things

The girls received tons of wonderful gifts from family and friends over the holidays, and we appreciate and love every one.  Santa hooked them up with some toys too, of course.  Here are some of his choices that represent just what we hope our girls will be interested in as they grow up-- things that are fun, activity-oriented, and inspire creativity and imaginative thinking.  Yes, there were lots of pretty pink things under the tree too, but you know what I'm saying.  We hope that over time, our girls willbecome smart and active, confident, creative, and kind, all in one package.  Well, three packages.

She's smart, fun, and she's normal-bodied.  She's veterinarian doll, complete with cute (sick) puppy. 
There's nothing like a used pair of skates to get a girl psyched about being outside in Maine in the winter!
I don't know who was more psyched about putting this working clock together piece by piece- Addie or Daddy.  Either way, it is awesome, and it really does work.
More to come soon on our holiday, our travels to Virginia and beyond, and our jamming plans for the spring-- yep, I'm already in spring mode.  It'll be here before we know it!