Thursday, December 30, 2010


We managed to get away from everything for a couple of days and go up and visit my parents in Roseville, Minnesota. Barry and Kieffer spent parts of 2 days clearing the heavy snow from my parents' roof, which my father was very concerned about; there was already some warning leakage going on, and everybody but everybody has horrible ice dams right now, him included. The house gave a sigh of relief when all that heavy snow was down. The ice dams are still there but we have some warm weather (in fact it's actually raining right now) so maybe they will soften up.

More fun stuff was that Barry and my dad pulled the carpet up from their hallway. They have oak floors throughout the first floor, except for the kitchen and bathroom, but have kept them covered with carpeting for most of the time since the house was built in 1958. It was so much fun to see what was under that carpeting. Gorgeous, narrow boards, no warping, no staining, just so pretty. I am, of course, itching to rip up the rest of it, but they are not ready for that, and may never be. Hardwood has a lot of strong points but it has its downsides, too. Anyway, it was fun to see that pretty wood.

And both evenings we were there, my father built a fire in their Franklin stove in the basement and we all gathered there and watched movies, first The Blind Side, which we had all seen but it had been awhile, and then The Mystery of the Sands, with an extremely young, pre-Logan's Run Michael York and Jenny Agutter. Kind of a cool story. I don't think the movie has ever been released on DVD; my father had found a decent VHS copy, though.

Now we're home, and everybody has scattered to where they need to be, and I need to get to work, too.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Christmas dinner table


Orange cheesecake.

Placecards made from some gift wrap that happily coordinated with my Christmas dishes.

The table set, ready to go except for the hot dishes which were not on yet.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

You think you can let down your guard at the holidays? Think again.

Zombie defense awareness does NOT take time off, even, or especially, not at the holidays.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Living in an old house...

... drafts are pretty much a given.

Barry has been ripping down the old lath and plaster walls, room by room, and replacing them with insulated drywall, but we have not gotten to the two front rooms, and now they need to wait till he finishes his degree. And they are COLD. Last year we just closed the doors and shut the heat ducts to them and pretended they did not exist for all of January. This year we started early. (Did you know it's still officially autumn? and already below 0 Fahrenheit at night?) The big pocket doors and the standard-sized side door have been shut. Unfortunately the pocket doors don't like to stay closed, and sneak their way back into the walls, and there's a good 2-inch gap under all 3 of the doors.

So I finally did what I should have done a long time ago and made these snakey thingies out of scraps of upholstery fabric to stuff under the doorways.

Barry wanted to stuff them with keeshond fur.
He cited the excellent insulating qualities and easy availability of this particular commodity. It keeps Bo quite cozy, and I hear you can actually spin it into yarn and make sweaters out of it, so we know it's warm. And since Bo's "shedding season" seems to last 11.75 months of the year, the fur is pretty much all over the house, in clumps that blow around every time the furnace blower starts up. It's self renewing! So green.

Instead I insisted on crumpled-up plastic garbage sacks, of which I have hundreds. See, I can be green, too.

I can already tell a difference. The bumper under the pocket doors wedges them together so they can't work their way apart, and all of a sudden there's much less of a cold draft on my feet.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Missouri Michael's 100th Follower Celebration

Michael from the Cul-de-sac Shack is celebrating reaching 100 followers with a giveaway of some neat kitchen glassware. Check it out here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Obligatory chili and cornbread blizzard day photo

It's kinda cold, and kinda windy. And we have some snow. *

* gross understatements

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Listening to one of my favorite Christmas albums

I needed some Christmas cheer while urging my surly family out the door this morning to their respective schools, so I put on one of my very favorite Christmas CDs. And I rediscovered the beautiful "There Are Angels Hovering 'Round." Such a lovely, simple song. I found several versions of the lyrics on line, but here they are as on this CD:
There are angels hovering 'round.
There are angels hovering 'round.
There are angels, angels hovering 'round.

To sing in harmony.
To sing in harmony.
To sing, to sing in harmony.

The shepherds on their knees,
The shepherds on their knees,
The shepherds, shepherds on their knees.

The Child in her arms,
The Child in her arms,
The Child, the Child in her arms.

Oh world without end,
Oh world without end.
Oh world, oh world without end.

There are angels hovering 'round.
There are angels hovering 'round.
There are angels, angels hovering 'round.
I especially like that fifth verse.

Quote from another track:
Norwegian bachelor farmers. They don't reproduce. Why are there still so many of them?

By the way, when I went to add that Amazon link, I was amazed to find out how expensive the CD is now. Buy the MP3 if you want a copy for yourself, it's much more affordable. Oh, and you can preview the tracks, so listen to this pretty song for yourself. :)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Village Creek Bible Camp - Summer 2011 Employment Opportunities

The link is up for applications for summer work at VCBC. It's not too early to be lining up work for next summer.

Now THAT is customer service.

We bought this textbook last summer for my husband's nursing classes. I
ordered it by the ISBN. We received the book and I never checked it
against the ISBN, just handed it off to my husband. He got through
nearly the whole semester before realizing that it was the wrong
edition, as it is missing a bunch of very important appendices in the
back that the new edition has. We just assumed that the ISBN had been
wrong in the Amazon database. But I was just looking up the newer
edition (because we still need to buy it for the 2nd semester) and
there's a big flag at the top of the page saying that we purchased this
book last summer. So we DID order the correct ISBN, the order was filled

It is far too late to return the book, that window closed in October. I
am just letting you know that this happened. I realize it was most
likely an honest mistake, as we have ordered from you many times and
have always been entirely satisfied. If I had been the seller, and I had
done this, I would want someone to tell me.

Maria Stahl
The reply:


We sincerely apologize for the error.  We have searched our shelves for
a replacement copy of your book, and unfortunately were unable to find
it. We have therefore initiated a complete refund to you for this order.
Please, keep the book we sent, at our expense.

Again, we're truly sorry for any inconvenience this matter may have
caused you, and we hope you'll give us a second chance to earn your


Customer Service

That's Owlsbooks on Amazon. I'm a satisfied customer.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

"Like" This Post: More Dumbing Down of the Internet, if that's even possible

Used to be, on Facebook, you could click a button and become a "fan" of something. I liked that. I could say I was a fan of my home town, or of a restaurant. I could show how much I loved Firefly by becoming a fan of it. Then they changed everything to "like." Now you can "like" stuff. You either like it or you don't, there are no gradations of "like." You can't "love" something, you can't even "dislike" it. You just like it. It was like the beiging of the Internet, as in, I like things in a beige, mediocre sort of way. I grumbled, but I didn't protest vehemently.

Then they made it so you could "like" photos, wall posts AND comments on photos and wall posts. All of a sudden, everything had a "like" button on it. And I found myself falling into line. I would "like" funny comments, I would "like" insightful comments, but I wouldn't say anything. It was just sort of a generic mark of approval. It was, and is, very lazy. And beige.

What's worse, now I find myself looking for "like" buttons all over the Internet. I find myself not wanting to actually come up with my own words to comment on something, I just want to hit that little button and show my approval or solidarity. It's commenting for the lazy person. It's like, I don't care enough about what you just said to actually say anything, I just want to sort of nod vaguely in your general direction.

I feel like I am losing brain cells by the thousands.

Another of The Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films of All Time (

Writer Erik Even is back with the latest installment in his series on the Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films of All Time. Here's a teaser:
Here’s a science fiction story for you: some time after the release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989, George Lucas was replaced by an untalented clone duplicate.
How else to explain the crap that has come out of Lucasfilm in the intervening years? Christ, this is the man who wrote and directed Star Wars, likely the best science fiction film ever made. Of course that was well before Star Wars became Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope: Special Edition: Guinness Book of World Records’ Film Title with the Most Colons in It Edition.
Read it all here.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Karel Ruml, Memories of The German Occupation

This is the father of one of my college classmates. His stories of life as a Czech under the German occupation were recorded for posterity. Start with this one, then watch them all.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The kitchen, decorated for Christmas

I ordered extra garland, so Barry strung it over my stove area. Isn't it pretty? It smells good, too.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book review: One Second After, by William R. Forstchen

At the advice of a friend, I read One Second After, by William R. Forstchen (copyright 2009 Tor/Forge). It's the story of what might happen to Americans in the event of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that took out our electronics and communication net.  It's told from the perspective of a history professor at a small Christian college in the mountains above Asheville, North Carolina, and his family. He's retired military, raising two daughters after losing his wife to cancer. He has settled in a small town called Black Mountain.

As far as the general populace is concerned, the EMP comes completely unexpectedly. And it's not that dramatic: The power goes out. Vehicle engines stop and the cars come to a stop. Cell phones stop working. It's an inconvenience to most; travelers are stuck on the Interstate, nobody can call home.

Of course, when a few days go by and there is still no power and no contact with the rest of the world, it's much more than inconvenience. The story follows the breakdown of the things we take for granted: That our fire trucks will run. That food will fill the grocery shelves. That we can get the medicines we need. That our pacemakers and insulin pumps will work and that dialysis will be available when we need it. That people will show up to take care of our loved ones at the nursing home. (This one hit me hard.) That one way or another we can feed our children. That people are basically good and will look out for one another.

Before long, people are dying, from illnesses that were easy to manage with medication and regular care; food is starting to run short, and people are scared.

If you think you're pretty good at handling crisis, that you're pretty independent and self sufficient, try reading this book and see if you still think so.

My friend recommended the book to me after a discussion we had about emergency preparedness. I had said to her that I hoped I would never get so desperate that I would not be willing to share with a hungry neighbor. I guess I wasn't thinking so far as that I'd be willing to share with just anyone, neighbor or not. She asked me, if it meant my child starving, and I knew it, would I share? What if that someone took the food away from me and my child, rather than sharing? Or what if it was a neighbor in need, but someone I knew had never been careful with anything in his or her life, rather had depended on people fixing things for him or her at every turn? Would I still feel the same? We also talked about home defense. I said I couldn't see myself taking up arms against fellow Americans, and she said this book might change my opinion on that. And yes, it did. The people of Black Mountain eventually do organize and band together to take care of each other, but that means they are a nice juicy target for the ruthless and lawless, who are better organized. Black Mountain must take up arms for very survival.

The book has given me a lot to think about. We have no formal emergency preparedness plan for New Albin. We need one. God willing, we'll never have to use it. But we have a lot of retired people in this town. We have a lot of little kids. A lot of medically fragile people. Our demographics are really skewed. We are not typical. We need to have some basic things in mind in case something were to happen and help could not get to us for a few days, or weeks. Or months. It never hurts to plan.

With that said, I have to say that this book reads as though the second draft accidentally went straight to the publisher. I don't know who is Forstchen's editor, but evidently that person was having a bad week/month/year. Forstchen does not write dialogue well at all. Part of the problem is that his characters are about a half a centimeter deep. Blow on them and they will fall right over. And then when he makes them talk to one another, they get even thinner. So that's part of the problem. Poor characterization, stupid dialogue. On top of that, you have just plain bad proofreading and wonky punctuation. I found it very distracting. I almost got a pencil to make edits. (I've done that. I really have. It usually makes me feel better. I didn't go quite that far this time.) As an example, if you are writing dialogue, and one character is monologuing, and it runs to more than one paragraph, you don't put a closed quote at the end of each paragraph, you just use open quotes at the beginning of new paragraphs to remind the reader that the character is still talking, and when the character finally wraps up whatever it is he's trying to say, you close THAT paragraph with closed quotes. Sorta obvious. Didn't happen in this book. At least not consistently. I was already mad at the irritating conversations these paper people were having and then, having a problem figuring out which one was saying what, on top of that? Grrr.

And there was other stuff that should have been caught by somebody even if Forstchen didn't. Here's an example: In one scene, the main character is talking to his daughter, who is lying on a sofa. She's kind of mad at him. Here's the scene, minus things that would spoil the story for you:

Jennifer turned away, features pale.
"You're lying, Daddy. You never could lie to me." 
"No, honey. It's the truth. [Spoiler redacted.]"
She said nothing, just looking at him.
"Sweetie, would you like me to read to you?"
Head turned away, she nodded.

See the problem? Where the heck is Jennifer looking? Her head is turned away, yet she's looking at him.  Maybe there's a mirror in the room. Maybe she has eyes in the back of her head.

Anyway, this sort of stuff is all through the book and I find it distracting. It's easy to make these mistakes when you're writing because you get too close your words, but that's the editor's job, among other things, to notice stuff like that and bring it to the author's attention to be fixed.

So, final point: I recommend the story as an eye-opening though scary read, and I hereby ask for a job as a  copy editor at Tor/Forge. (Seriously, I would so love to work for those people. I'm totally unqualified, though.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Good thing we had our family celebration on Sunday, because yesterday I got sick. I'm so glad there are not people depending on me to feed them a big dinner today because it just wouldn't be happening. I'm having fever and chills and a horrible headache. I'm not being very nice to anybody today.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


We had our Thanksgiving Sunday afternoon. Here we are just before asking the blessing. Left to right, around the table: My mother, Maryanna Root; Barry; Kieffer; my father, Marvin Root; and our youngest, Lil Miss A.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pressure canning turkey

I'm trying something new (to me, at least). Right now I have about 30 pounds worth of turkey (2 birds, one large, one small) in a big stock pot with some herbs. I cut the turkeys apart but left the bones in. My plan is to cook them till nearly done, but not completely, strip the meat off the bones and pressure can it with its broth. I love the idea of having already cooked turkey meat ready to put into a recipe without defrosting. The freezer is also pretty full at the moment, and I want to make sure I keep a balance between canned and frozen foods anyway.

I'll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE: Two birds, 30 pounds dressed raw weight, ended up to be - drumroll please - about 7 quarts of cooked, boned meat. Wow. I thought it would be at least twice that.

Quarts are in the canner now for 90 minutes at 15 PSI. The bones are saved and I think I'll  cook them in the remaining broth (what I didn't use in the quarts) some more after the stove is available again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Army Staff Sgt. Loleni W. Gandy

An Army carry team carries the transfer case containing the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Loleni W. Gandy of Pago Pago, American Samoa, upon arrival, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. The Department of Defense announced the death of Gandy who was supporting Operation New Dawn in Iraq.
This is a friend of our daughter's, the father of her boyfriend. The family lives in Tomah, Wisconsin, currently. Please remember them in your prayers. Mr. Gandy left behind a wife and four sons.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gift on the Hoof

We were given a wonderful gift this weekend: Our friend Conrad had friends visiting from Texas to bow hunt. They took a buck and a doe. Conrad knew things were tight for us this year and when his friends said they would like to give the meat away to someone who needed it, he called us. We took home the doe. She was a lovely, healthy, fat girl who had been shot right neatly through one shoulder and out the other, and she must have just dropped. So the meat was very, very good.

You may remember that I cut and wrapped a lamb last fall, so I had probably way too much confidence in my butchering abilities. I said I would do the cutting myself. I messed up the skinning part. Inexperience combined with inadequate knives meant that I went too deep into the muscle when I started my skinning cuts and it was hard to get back from that. I'm not sure the hide is any good after what I put it through.

But after that, I did pretty well, if I may say so myself. I used the instructions found on Very clear, with good photos and idiot-proof instructions. (Good thing.) It's all done now except for the 4 quarts of stock that are right now processing in my pressure canner, then it'll be all done.

I'll do a yield list again, like I did with the lamb, mostly for my own edification:

Breakfast sausage, total 11 pounds
Hamburger, total 8 pounds
Eyes of round, tied into a tender roast, just under 2 pounds
Bottom round, 1-3/4 lb.
Rump for stir fry, 2 packages, total about 2.6 pounds
Top round roast, about 2.6 pounds
Sirloin cubes for venison burgundy*, about 3-1/4 pounds
Bottom round cubes for burgundy*, about 2-2/3 pounds
Loin roasts, tied into a tender roast, just over a pound
Butterfly steaks, total 11 in 2 packages, total just under 4 pounds
7 quarts of canned venison chunks
4 quarts venison stock
rendered venison tallow, about 4-2/3 pounds

Total yield on the meat was about 44 pounds.

I used my trusty 1940s Dormeyer Power Chef mixer with its grinder attachment to grind all the meat for the hamburger and sausage, and it never even got warm. It's amazing.

Pressure Cooking for Everyone* This is for Barry's favorite venison dish, which is beef burgundy prepared in a pressure cooker, only of course you use venison instead of beef. I have to say, it is pretty wonderful. It came from Pressure Cooking for Everyone by Rick Rodgers and Arlene Ward, a cookbook my sister in law Roseann recommended.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Want to be scared?

Not zombie-scared. Real-life, family survival scared.

Read this report on inflation.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Trash Day find: Old cot or daybed project

This fall's Clean Up Day was not a roaring success in terms of treasures found, but I did get this old metal day bed. I got it on Trash Day, but it never actually made it into the trash, so I'm not certain I can count it. Anyway, Al Wuennecke was cleaning out a shed that needed to be torn down, and I spotted this, covered with dirt and bat poop, in the shed and asked him if he was going to keep it, and he said no, and hauled it out and even loaded it into my Jeep for me.

I took a wire brush to it and cleaned off all the bat poop and most of the rust. I figured painting would need to wait till the spring, but then we had a couple of beautiful, unseasonably warm days here (in the 60s, even!), so I got the chance to paint it after all. It's not a great paint job, as I basically painted over old paint and some remaining rust with Rustoleum; if I did it right, I would have had somebody sandblast and then powdercoat it. Oh well, it's okay for now, anyway.

I took these pictures in the front room because that's where I put the headboard and footboard back on after painting, but don't worry, we don't keep it there. It will go on the front porch in my sewing area for awhile, though eventually Miss A wants to try using it for her bed. The bed she has right now in her room is actually Britta's and when Britta gets her own apartment off campus, eventually, she wants to take it. We'll give it a try, though I doubt this will be heavy duty enough for daily use.

Here's how it goes normally. The two halves interlock to make a trundle.

You can pull out the trundle and make a double bed (more or less - it may actually be 3/4, I haven't measured).

Or you can just separate the two entirely and make cots.

And here it is with the little ticking mattress I have - only have one so far, will have to do something about the other side eventually - and also Beckham, who had to test drive it.

Just a cute little old cot. I like old stuff like this.

Steam Juicing Apples and Pears

At long last I processed the pictures from how I used my steam juicer to juice some apples and pears last month. Two caveats: 1) I'm new to this, and 2) this is about the cheapest, smallest, most tinny-looking steam juicer you can buy. I did not want to invest mightily until I was sure this was going to be worthwhile. I think it is, and at some point I will buy a larger one of stainless steel.

Here are the parts of my steam juicer. 1) Water reservoir. 2) Juice pan with siphon tube. 3) Strainer basket. 4) Lid.
First is the water reservoir. This goes directly on the stove and is filled about 2/3 with water.
The juice pan is next.

It has this little wire clip that I don't trust, having learned the hard way that it doesn't do its job very well.
I direct it down into a Mason jar in the pot holder drawer. :o)
You fill the strainer pan with fresh fruit. Here I mixed tart apples with sweet pears. Wash the fruit and trim away any bad spots, but no need to chop, pit or peel. I cut the apples and pears in half or fourths just because, but you probably wouldn't even need to do that much.
Okay, so, we put the lid on and light the stove. We bring the water to a boil, and when steam starts to escape from around the rim of the lid, we turn it down to a simmer. We steam apples for 90 minutes. Here they are after maybe half an hour. Interestingly, the pears are holding their shape better than the apples. Not what I would have guessed.

If you like your juices clear, just let the fruit steam undisturbed. If you prefer it more unfiltered looking (and I do), stir the fruit every so often to break up the fibrous parts and infuse them into the juice. In fact, I pull off the juice and then run it back through the fruit again because I like a LOT of unfiltered stuff in my juice.
After 90 minutes. Wow! That's what's left. The pears had much less residue than the apples did. I was hoping for more, actually. I love pear sauce.
I forgot to take any pictures of the actual siphoning process, but it's just as well, as I burn myself every time anyway, without worrying about juggling a camera. Anyway, it comes out scalding hot, and if you siphon it directly into sterilized bottles or jars, you have a nice clean environment and don't need to water bath process afterward. Here you can see I appropriated some flip-top beer bottles Barry wasn't using. 
The leftover pulp gets run through a chinois strainer to make applesauce. Or, in this case, apple-pear sauce. That you do have to water-bath process, as by the time it's in the jars, it's well below scalding temperature and has been in contact with numerous preparation surfaces (chinois, bowl, spoon, etc.).
Meanwhile, I'm firing up the steamer again, this time with just pears. Don't forget to replenish the water in the water reservoir. You do not want this thing to cook dry.
And here's the yield from two steamer fulls of first apples and pears, then just pears. If I had used all apples, there would have been more yield. This is where you can see how a larger juicer would make sense, as I used a lot of energy doing this twice when one large steamer could probably have held more than the two loads I did.
My thanks to Judy Laquidara who first introduced me to the idea of steam juicing.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

netTALK Duo coupon

The netTALK Duo is available for half off (before shipping fees) at the main site through November 15, if you want to give it a try. The coupon code is NTLKCRZYDISC.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Can't wait to slowly accumulate enough 5-gallon buckets?

I found an eBay seller who has very nice, clean used 5-gallon buckets with metal bale handles for sale. His shipping costs are very reasonable, too. The total cost even with shipping was less than it would cost to order new buckets from a plastics company (though these are used, of course, if that matters).

I wrote and asked him about leaving the lids off my order to reduce the shipping weight, since I did not need the lids, and he not only did that, he even reduced the purchase price a bit, which was above and beyond, as I don't know what he would do with the lids alone.

Anyway, check out Jake at StuffForAllSeasons. Good seller, good buckets.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Do you have medical power of attorney for your grown college-aged child?

Judy Laquidara just brought up the necessity for college-aged young adults to have a medical power of attorney that allows their parents or other trusted loved ones to speak to medical caregivers on their behalf should they become incapacitated. Without one, we could not even find out information on Britta were to be in a car accident and hospitalized, for example.

Get your kids a medical power of attorney form, ask them to fill it out, and get it notarized. It's not set in stone, they can change it any time they want, but it's something at least.

Gundersen Lutheran, one of our two  local hospital systems, has this boilerplate MPOA which is sufficient for Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin:
In addition, the National Right to Life Committee has information on setting one up for whatever state you live in. It would make sense to have one that satisfies the requirements both of your home state and the state in which your college-aged child is living at present.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

We have a new phone number.

I just sent out a giant spammy sort of e-mail to notify friends and family. If you need our number and I missed you, please drop me an e-mail and I'll get it to you.

P.S. Little Miss A was driven to tears over the news that her phone number was changing, because "it's been that way forEVer."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Don't Go Car Shopping While In Labor

Mike and Sara, friends of ours in Wisconsin, were a bit overdue for their second child. Well, she's here NOW. This morning Sara delivered their new little girl in a car dealership parking lot. It was just a convenient place to pull off the road when they realized they were not going to make it to the hospital in time, but I like to think they were car shopping. :o)

Little Annabelle didn't even wait for the paramedics. Mike got to catch her himself.

Welcome, little Annabelle!

LATER: Gundersen Lutheran put the 911 recording on YouTube. Sara and Mike were so awesome!

And here's a news story on them:

Mother Gives Birth in car dealership parking lot on way to hospital

Made apple juice (and applesauce as a byproduct) instead of working this morning.

Work has been pretty slow, and we've been called off in the mornings, when I usually work, to defer our time till later in the afternoon when more rolls in from the western half of the country, and that happened today. So I spent my morning baking bread and also making apple juice with my new steam juicer. (The link is informational; I got mine for quite a bit less money on eBay.)
I still have quite a few tart green apples from the neighbor's tree, and they're great for pies and crisps but not so great for juice, which is supposed to be sweet, so I picked up a couple of pecks of Jonathan apples from Leidel's Apple Stand in La Crescent, and another half bushel from a vendor at the farmer's market there, a pretty red apple with a lovely crunch, called a Scarlett O'Hara. I'm not sure Barry will let me juice those, however; he really likes them as eating apples. I also bought a half bushel of delicious little green pears that aren't all ripe yet, but the ones we have been able to eat have been wonderful.

So anyway, I was turned on to steam juicing by Judy Laquidara. She has many, many good ideas and inspires me. She has a large, stainless steel steam juicer, but I wasn't ready to spend that kind of money since I had never used one before. But I figured this one would be worth its while very quickly considering how many apples there are around here. A steam juicer is sort of like a giant percolator, only it's steam that percolates through the top, not hot water. It has several chambers stacked vertically, starting with water in the bottom, to produce the steam, then a juice collecting chamber, and on the top, a colander for fruit. You put your fruit in the colander part (apples get cut in halves or fourths, but that's all you do, no peeling or coring), put it on the stove and let the water produce steam for awhile. The fruit will cook in the top and release its juice, which drips through the colander into the juice collection chamber, and from there, you can pour it off using a rubber tube. It comes out scalding hot, so you can pour it directly into sterilized bottles or jars and seal it. If you are very gentle with the fruit and don't stir it at all, the juice will be clear, but I like my apple juice to have some fruit in it, so I stirred the fruit around to let some of the solids mix into the juice.

With apples, after you get out all the juice you're gonna get, you are still left with a lot of apple pulp. If you run that through a chinois, then you have applesauce. Sort of a byproduct of juicing. :o) I like applesauce, but I don't love it, and the kids think it's either baby food or something you eat when you're getting over the flu, so it is not a very popular item around here. I'm hoping, since I have so much of it now, to get in the habit of using it in baking. I hear you can substitute apple sauce for oils in baking pretty much one for one and still have moist baked goods without the added fat.

The juice is wonderful, by the way.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Praise God for His help in Chile.

I'm so proud of all those who never gave up and kept thinking of means to reach and encourage and finally rescue those men from the depths of the earth.

Really Cheap Phone Service, Part II

My netTalk device arrived in the mail today. There were very clear setup instructions with it. The first thing you do is go online and choose a phone number. I remembered being told that Lansing, Iowa, numbers were available when I first looked into this, but Lansing was not an option; the nearest exchange available was Decorah, and that's not very near. I checked the nearby Minnesota and Wisconsin exchanges, and again, nothing near, in fact it was worse. So I called netTalk Support and after an extremely short wait time, I was given a number in Lansing, which is about 12 miles away and is where the children go to school anyway. It's under a different phone provider, which is probably why it's available. Anyway, so now I had a phone number which would not cause our friends and neighbors to keel over at the thought of paying long distance charges to Davenport, Muscatine, Decorah, or someplace like that.

I connected it all up as per directions and about 2 minutes later I made my first call. I was able to call our current home number with no problem. MagicJack wouldn't let me do that.

So far so good! We're going to give this at least a week and see if we can find any serious downsides before canceling our Mediacom phone service. But I'm anxious to stop paying that $40 a month or whatever it is (bundled so it's hard to tell exactly).

Monday, October 11, 2010

From Everyday Cheapskate: Look, a Silver Lining in This Great Recession

Look, a Silver Lining in This Great Recession

Long-term food storage solutions *

A big part of managing our food budget has been minimizing waste. This family wastes an appalling amount of food. We are doing better than we used to, but still it's not good. Buying in bulk is a waste of time, money and space if you don't even use all the food you buy, and if it isn't stored properly, by the time you DO eat it, it will have lost a lot of its flavor and food value.

We have a medium-sized chest freezer, about 15 cubic feet if I remember right, and if I am careful, it can hold a lot of good stuff. But that means dumping everything out every so often and sorting it and repacking. I should do this about once a month but don't. I usually wait till the lid won't close right and it's getting everything frosty and by that point it's not just  a simple matter of sorting, it means a full-blown defrosting, and that's no fun.

Anyway I was already interested in finding a better way to store bulk flours and grains. Judy Laquidara mentioned offhand "gamma seal" lids numerous times on her blog and I was too embarrassed to ask what they are. I finally checked into them and they are just one of the wonders of the modern world! They are a 2-piece lid that fits nearly any standard 12-inch-diameter plastic pail. You know, the ubiquitous 5-gallon buckets that you can get from bakeries and delis and such? With the horrible lids that rip your fingernails off when you open them? No longer. You put the gamma seal lid on these and you have an airtight seal that is EASY TO OPEN. Amazing. There's a ring that you hammer onto the rim of the lid, and then the other half of the lid is a screw-on seal that is very easy to manage. Airtight storage. No critters are gettin' in there, no sirree. And they stack neatly.

Here's a nifty video that explains it very clearly:

I ordered mine from Baytec Containers, which had the best price I could find for smallish quantities when I figured in shipping (they use 3 carriers and ship the cheapest, which for me was FedEx Ground).

I found when I put mine on my buckets that it worked best to push one part of the seal ring down really hard till it snapped into place, then use a rubber mallet to pound it down from there all the way around, moving a couple of inches at a time. I first tried using the mallet on opposite sides of the ring, but the ring kept popping off the opposite side from where I was hammering. I thought, "Oh no, they say it fits virtually any 12-inch bucket, I must have found the mutant bucket it won't fit!" No, it was just user error.

By the way, I got mine in red. Are you surprised?

And the other thing I wanted to tell you about was that I found an eBay seller who sells 4-1/2-gallon square buckets with lids and handles, food grade plastic (though he doesn't call them that, but they are, I know from the manufacturer's website), that he sells 5 for $19.99 postpaid. Four bucks each. Now the lids are good, though not gamma-seal good; they're decent for sealing packaged foods. What I'm doing with these is I'm sorting the deep freeze into them. So one bucket is vegetables, one is fruits, one is poultry, one's fish, one's red meat, et cetera. They sit down in the bottom of the freezer providing nice vertical dividers to keep everything sorted out. Plus, if I want to search through one, I just grab the bale handle and yank it out of the freezer to look through it without upending myself into the deep-freeze. I am really happy with this idea. And with my particular freezer, I can stack them two high and they fit just right. No more losing stuff in the deeps.

Note that the buckets had glass beads in them originally. The seller cleans them nicely before shipping them, and I washed them again when I got them, but if you have any concerns about them not being food safe, just use them for packaged foods, like I do, rather than, say, filling one up with flour or grain, though honestly they would be such a handy way to store stuff like that in a deep freeze. But that's what the gamma seals are for.

By the way, if you want great tips on food storage, make friends with a Mormon. :o) It's an act of faith for an LDS family to put away food against coming catastrophe, and they have made an art of it, collecting practical ideas for storage and food economy even if you don't have much storage space. I have been offered excellent tips by a friend of mine who is LDS.

Buying in bulk and making it work requires that you find a system that meshes with  your daily life. The gamma seal lids are a good example of this. If it is a huge ordeal to store your flour in a 5-gallon bucket, are you gonna do it? I'm not. Losing fingernails is strong negative reinforcement. But if it's easy? And it even comes in my favorite color?! You betcha I will.

* By the way, when I say "long term storage," I mean, like, a year or two. I googled something related to that and found out that to a good number of people, "long term sotrage" means 20-30 years and/or after the Zombie Apocalypse. So don't take this blog post too seriously if you are really into long, Long, LONG term storage. You'd need to have oxygen absorption packs and Mylar bags and that sort of thing in your packaging if that's what you are doing.

We eat too much around here to store it up for that period of time. I would make a terrible survivalist. I'd eat up 5 years' worth of supplies in about 2 weeks.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Saturday's Apron: Playing Catch Up

You want to know my favorite kind of blog contest? - The kind where I win, of course! I have been on a real winning streak lately. I haven't told you about all of them, and it's time to catch up. Plus since most of the prizes were aprons, I'll combine this with a Saturday's Apron post.

First of all, I won this cutie pie from Christine of Pies & Aprons. A cute, diamond-shaped half apron with a tulip print and lots of pretty yellow rickrack trim.

Next, I won Michael's blogversary contest, the one I linked for you here. See, it all comes out in the wash.

As did these pretty aprons that he sent. A wash, starch and session on the clothesline, then a touch-up with an iron, and they are all ready for another few years helping out in the kitchen. First is this cobbler's smock style apron. I'm not normally a big fan of them, and this one looks silly on the dress form, but it looks unusually cute on ME.

Next is this full apron with a cute heart-shaped pocket decorated with rickrack. Love, love, love.

But wait, there's more! Here's my favorite of the aprons from Michael:

It was made of a blue and white border print. It fits so cute, and I feel gorgeous in it. I need to make more just like it. Where are my border prints, anyway? :)

Michael also sent more goodies:

Fabric trims, rickrack and gift wrap ribbons:

And a cute little souvenir plate for Missouri, about 4 inches across:

That's all the prizes. I also bought this little half apron with big comfy useful pockets at a garage sale. It's not pretty, it's just a hard workin' little apron.

The print fabric is all pockets. See what I mean?

And finally, I have to show off a really beautiful apron that I bought from Cate's Vintage Linens in Arizona. She has closed her blogs and so I can't link for you. I miss her! Anyway, this appears to be an unused cotton apron. I love it so much. I plan to make more just like it. I think there would be quite a demand for them.

I don't have any really handy ways to store and show off full aprons. Any thoughts, anyone?