Monday, November 17, 2008

Back to the routine

In addition to the cooking last weekend, we also filled shoe boxes with little things for presents to be sent as presents to kids around the world. This meant shopping and buying all sorts of little new things like pens and pencils, notebooks, hairbrushes and hair ties,toothbrushes and toothpaste, flashlights and extra batteries, and teddy bears... All that consumer spending felt out of place.

I'm glad to be back home today, baking bread, making jerky, cleaning the chicken coop. I even just sat on the back step in the sun and clucked with my chickens.

Having the birds in the yard with the dogs is working out fine. Mr. Greenjeans made a Bernese Mountain Dog sized hole in the fence so the dogs and cats now check out the chicken coop as well. They'd never been in there before. Of course the dogs think the chickens leave snacks around for them...ewww.

As others have posted, it is time to begin to do Christmas shopping. I feel we need to scale waaay back, but I see Mr. Greenjeans perusing catalogues and thinking about buying stuff. I think we're going to have to have a talk about 'stuff'.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I look like Every Woman

Preparing for dinner by shopping, cooking, and set up all in one day was a bit of an undertaking. In managing my time, I didn't want to take up too many days for one event because I'm stingy with my quiet time that way. However readying in one day meant starting early and moving quickly and taking my chances that everything would fall into place. I guess that's called risk taking (for the 40's crowd).

I started early (before my shower) because I only wanted to shower once before greeting Important Person. I was moving fast in my shopping making decisions such as finally purchasing matching place mats for 20 (18 were actually invited though 16 showed), shopping for fresh ingredients, making substitutions as needed, noting prices, thinking of forgotten details, mentally checking off what I'd need from a different store, and shopping at a couple of stores... that sort of thing.

However beginning early in the day I kept noticing women smiling at me and saying "hello". Now I emphasize, I put a brush through my hair, made sure there was no smeared make-up from the day before (and did not put on any makeup), dressed in my thrift store jeans (rolled up at the bottom and baggy enough to come off without unsnapping) a sweat shirt, and my hair cut appointment is next week - and would have been 2 weeks ago if I weren't trying to be frugal. I'm over 40 and out of shape. This is no pretty picture - I assure you!

At first I thought to myself, have I met that person? [smiling back] Then I thought, these people have been to some workshop and think I was the presenter (poor person). In the midst of my hurrying and worrying and fretting about dinner and all, I was surprised by the people who smiled and said "Hi".

In the end I didn't know one person who greeted me - I just figured I looked like Every Woman. I figured that in some Sci Fi way, I became the projection of what what these women were recognizing. I smiled and said "hello", and sort of wished I'd showered.

Dinner and the following lunch went well. It was tense at first - dinner cooked more slowly than at home and was late and Important Person was hungry and a little grouchy, but in the end ate every crumb in sight and complimented the meal and at the end of the evening everyone relaxed and remained relaxed through today as well. We had music and wine and candle light and set tables and I couldn't have done it without the help of Mr. Greenjeans and Chibi, and the lovely ladies of the church.

Do you ever get confused for someone else? Do you smile and greet strangers you don't know?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sit down Dinner for 16

Many obligations come with my vocation and one of those is hosting Important Persons coming to town to visit the church. This is one such occasion. Last year I was new here and did it all myself, but this year people have volunteered to bring a dish or two so I'm setting up (cleaning up) and hosting and cooking the main dish(es).

Last year when this happened we had moved here 3 weeks earlier and I hosted at my house as that was what my predecessor had done. Not this year. For one thing, I don't have a dining room set for 16 and when I strung tables together I filled the living room too and it was just awkward and ugly. Besides, cleaning to the point of hosting a dignitary - ain't gonna happen. I've been to a dinner at the French House at the University where they did sit down for upwards of 36 where the tables went through the living/dining areas but they had more style than I'm able to pull off and were much more relaxed about it. But that's another story.

This year I'm having dinner at the church. Now, we don't have a typical church basement but rather a beautiful old parish house on the historic register that was remodeled about 5 years ago. One parishioner has a good sense of style and keeps it decorated, seasonally. There are square tables in a sun room that can get pushed together for gracious seating of 16. Edit

I had considered doing an all local meal and in the summer I would have done a garden meal, but I find that some folks are not happy to find that their milk products are raw and came from a cow named Pretzel. They don't want to know that someone knew the cow on their plate, or that we raised the chicken, and they don't want to eat home canned foods. So, tonight's dinner comes from the grocery store.

In some of my first blog posts I gushed about loving the Cooking Light magazine. I will be making two pork tenderloin dishes one with blue cheese and the other with figs. I'll serve it sliced on a bed of wild rice mix. The side dish will be a roasted cauliflower casserole from this month's issue (I made the pie on the front cover and took it to dinner but it wasn't great). I will serve my dilly beans. Others are bringing salad, rolls, dessert, and wine. We have pot-luck for the whole church on Sunday and for that I'll make clam chowder.

I'm off to shop, set the table, set up serving, cook, set up music and candles, and finish things for the morning (like straighten and spruce up my office). I half enjoy this but I'd enjoy it more if it weren't tied so closely to my livelihood.

How about you, do you enjoy doing dinner parties? Do you host regularly as a part of your (or partner's) work? How many do you usually serve and do you still do a sit down dinner or a more relaxed affair?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Bumpersticker seen at a payday loan place.

Walking of course affords all sorts of sights you don't see otherwise. On my way to the office I saw a bumper sticker on a shiny pick-up truck parked at a payday loan shark office. It read:

I saw it.
I wanted it
I threw a fit to get it

Sort of made me stop in my tracks.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What being a Pioneer means to me

Yesterday was cold and rainy. The laundry is still out on the line. However I was busy in the kitchen. It was time to take care of the tomatoes that were beginning to rot in their baskets, time for fresh bread, time for fresh yogurt made from the fresh milk from the cow.

I made spaghetti sauce from the last of the season's fresh tomatoes that ripened in the kitchen, you can see the last of the onions frying in the pan before going into the sauce.

I made meatballs from a combination of an elk shot "up on ta mount'n", and my neighbor's friend's cow we bought together. I mixed them with herbs from the garden, bread crumbs from stale bread, and egg (store bought because my hens aren't laying) and the moisture was the chicken (foot) stock I made earlier.

I had bought fresh milk last night and skimmed the cream off this morning and made yogurt. Mr. Greenjeans was home and DD14 wasn't feeling well so he did her job of grinding the grain for the bread.

I eventually got the sauce down to one pot which required us to eat some for dinner(I could really use a large stainless stock pot). This picture shows the yogurt maker and the fresh bread as well.

I canned the sauce at 13 lbs for 25 minutes and lovely Mr. Greenjeans cleaned the kitchen.

During the day he also made a hole in the chain link fence so that the chickens now have access to the yard from their rather small run. The trick will be to keep the dogs from harming them, but we can close the fence again too. Now that it's cold the dogs are inside a lot.

In some ways I didn't do so well with the pioneer challenge - I didn't always walk to my office, Mr Greenjeans and I went out to dinner at a new Mexican food restaurant that has just opened. But then again I think I'm living the pioneer challenge. We go out to dinner so very rairly that it was a real treat for all of us to go celebrate - and the food was good. Driving? Well, sometimes I'm just lazy and that has to get addressed at some point.

Even though these things are just the day to day for us, I love this challenge because as things go to hell in a hand basket, we are going to have to remember our pioneering spirit. People may have lost skills, but some still remember and others will figure out new and innovative ways to get things done. The new frontier is not clean and open land they way it once was, but rather how we begin new lives once the card house of our economy and oil experience has come down. It is the pioneering spirit that lies dormant in people of all nations and races that will once again come alive when needed.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pioneer Days: The Cockerel killing

The cockerel's were growing big enough to be making quite a ruckus here where we live down town. They were also growing so large that the coop space allocated to them was getting too small. On Monday Pa and I both had a day off, it was a nice day before the first snow storm and so we planned for Cockerel butchering. At first we planned on only doing 4 but reasoned that it was going to be a long time before we got to the job again and worked from dark to dark butchering 11 chickens. I only took one picture, a clean one.

We started in the dark of the morning gathering supplies, there had been rain the night before and the standing puddles were icy. That would mean no flies and a cool day for the meat. It took a while to round up all the roosters, as I carefully chose who would be left behind and handled the birds gently and quietly. The last choices were difficult and they were the most difficult birds to kill as well. We put the birds in large dog crates and put them in a dim garage away from sights and smells of the action.

Pa had never killed anything before. My processing experience was limited to an one animal or two many years ago and there was someone around who had a clue. If anyone else is in this situation, we found a few sights helpful, mostly this site. I have just a few extra suggestions that aren't on the site. We worked in batches of 5 and 3 so that the meat could get chilled and not sit around.

At first we procrastinated starting but then reasoned we were in for a long day and better get on with it. The lives of the birds I had carefully tended and protected passed quietly and easily and I said a blessing for each one. Pa and I quickly found a division of labor based on having different jobs that each of us really, really, didn't want to do. I really, really didn't want to kill my birds and so Pa cut the juggler vein and bled out the bird, and we both plucked (not a bad job when the water is 147 degrees). When the cleaning part came it turned out that Pa got squeamish and hated it and so I volunteered to gut all the birds since he was doing the job I didn't want to do. It took me about 8 birds to really figure out what I was doing. I hadn't found any good instruction on this - just live and learn. I saved the livers for eating and a few hearts for the dogs.

No one part of the day was particularly difficult but the length of job and the shear numbers of birds processed took its toll as we were finishing in the dark under a flood light with freezing temperatures descending into the muscles of my shoulders and across my back, 10 hours after starting. You can bet I did those last three more quickly than the first 5.

We had saved the feet and neck of the birds. They are a delicacy the world over and have long been used for soup by people who raised backyard birds. When we came in and cleaned up I looked up soup stock made from chicken feet. (The feet had already been a minute in the scalding water as the birds were feather footed, but of coure they got washed again in the kitchen.) The recipe called for chopping of the toe nail which I couldn't do with the kitchen shears and when I called in Pa to do the chopping with his cleaver, his reaction wasn't fit to print and left DD14, exclaiming, Dad! He's a good sport and so did it anyway. I assured him I'd do the skinning after the initial 5 minute boil and he sputtered about skinning chicken feet and went to the shower. Only a modern people can eat a dish called "chicken fingers" and not think about it.

After his shower, I thought it best not to remind Pa that we were doing a pioneer days challenge and not to veg in front of the TV.

The I simmered the feet and necks with onion and herbs all night long. The recipe had called for thyme and I took a lantern - sorry a torch - and went into the yard looking for the thyme I'd planted last spring but it had been killed off by the aggressive mint. I grabbed a handful of Rosemary while I was there.

Pa didn't sleep well knowing the large stock pot was on the stove and got up several times to stir it. At dawn I got up and strained it and pressure canned 7 quarts with an 8th in the ice box (er the 'fridge).

Maybe one day this all will be a necessity. I think its important that the old skills don't get lost. If the economy gets turned around and we find a cure for our energy problems and the climate heals itself then this all will be for naught, but somehow I'm not betting on an easy future, but rather one where we will know how to feed and care for our families better.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes, We Did it

I have pioneer things to blog, but I can't put anything here for a moment. This is too wonderful. People have to have hope. Today we have hope.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Reflection

This is a nice piece I picked this up at The Brewer's Wife". It was written by her friend's husband or something - No, its not one of those "pass it all over the internet things". Tonight I hope to be out staring up at the stars giving thanks.

I've been meaning to ask, just haven't gotten around to it, plus I'm
worried that the question is premature. But you know, I think I'm finally at the
point where I believe it will happen. Now there's less than a month to go. Now
it's just a matter of days. Days until America does something which, I'll be
honest, I would have bet America would never do. At least not any time soon.
Just days until in one swift moment, the entire world will do a double-take.
Days until Americans of all stripes will come together to reaffirm America's
promise to its own people. Days until MLK's dream, and the dreams of all people
who love this country's founding PRINCIPLES more than life itself, finally come
true. I want to know: Where's the party? On the evening of November 4th, when
this moment is finally announced, where do I go to celebrate? Where can I be to
experience this historical moment with my brothers and sisters in humanity, with
those who truly understand what it may mean for us all? I'm not going to be at
some Democratic party balloon fest. I am not going to be at a bar. I am not
going to be in a gym. I am going to be at home, watching the TV with the volume
turned down so I don't wake my kids. And when the time comes, when the moment is
announced, I will walk out my front door into the street, and I will look up at
the sky and shed tears of joy. That'll be my victory party. To look up at the
stars and hope that this means a better future for my little ones. If I'm lucky,
some of you reading this will come outside right then too, and maybe we can
smile at each other in silence. Either way, when you finally hear it announced,
on the evening of November 4th, that Americans came together and took their
country back, and you're sitting at home celebrating the moment quietly alone or
as a family, spare a second would you and join me out in the street, and look up
at the sky and feel the smiles, hopes and joy of millions of people like you and
me reflecting down from the stars."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pioneer Week November 3-10, excluding the election coverage

I used to say I was going to grow up and live at my Grandparents fishing cabin. I'm still waiting to grow up so I can move there. However for the week I'm participating in Crunchy's Pioneer Week!

Day one of Pioneer week. The roosters are costing us money in feed and 9 of them are making a ruckus (we live right downtown). So today is butchering day for 4 of them. We don't have room to store any more than four.

I went to a neighbors (about 30 miles down the road) to borrow a 15 gallon pot for feather plucking and learned they had had a fire in their farm shop. 50 years worth of tools, welding equip, shovels and files and rasps, chain saw, and all manner of hand tool and garden and farm implement, 4 saddles and tack are gone. Good thing the new tractor was still parked in the driveway and not in the shop for the winter.

They had been working in the shop and gotten tired and went to bed early (must have left a spark) and a neighbor saw the flames and woke them. They had firemen from two towns and they went in to the fire and removed the welding equip to prevent and explosion.

They say they don't need any help and they are just grateful no one got hurt.