Monday, December 31, 2007

Seed Catalogs - The Review

I must live at the end of the Earth. After jealously reading about everyone else getting scads of seed catalogs in the mail, mine have finally started rolling in. So, things that I have noticed/decided:

1.) Open pollinated varieties are almost non-existant. Hmmmm. I wonder why? Is it because there was crop failure, people just aren't interested in them anymore (I find that hard to believe), or are more nefarious things afoot?

2.) Territorial is scaling back its offerings. I compared the 2008 catalog to an old 2006 catalog, and found fewer lettuce, carrot and, most shockingly to me, ultra-early, extra-early and early tomato varieties. They were my sole source of tomato seeds that will survive in our barely-reaching-80-degree summers! Wah!

3.) I'm looking more toward jumping ship from my beloved Territorial/Johnnies to someplace like Fedco, who seems to be fighting the good fight. At least Fedco seems to be trying to shake itself off of the Monsanto monkey.

Well, at any rate, I'll be shopping online more, which is probably better for the environment, but it's not as nice as curling up under a blanket on a cold, stormy day, and drooling all over the catalog dreaming of summer tomatoes, while looking at the perfectly sliced ones on the pages of a catalog. Drip.

Have a fun, safe night tonight. I guess those in the UK are already in the new year. Let's hope it's a better one than the last!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Seed Catalogs

Is it just the mail system around here, that can't manage to get the current local grocery store ad to me until after I've gone shopping, or have I been blacklisted?

I have only received one seed catalog, and it's from a place I've never ordered from, and probably never will.

Maybe the mail carrier is carrying off with my seed catalogs....


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Frenzy

Okay, I'm over myself. Finished all of the shopping, half the presents are wrapped, baked up some bread (we were completely out), made a batch of S'more Thumbprint cookies, sent brownies and more cookies with Mr. E to work, sent off the long-distance cards....

Tomorrow we're baking gingerbread, both people and a house. I'm also heading to the library to pick up Crunchy Chicken's book club book, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, and my regular book club book, Three Junes. Thing 1 has a friend coming over as well, so the morning will be spent tidying up after today's baking frenzy, and preparing for another one.

Tonight I'm (hopefully) finishing up the cards. That'll be one less worry. I always do cards where you pop the photo in. One year I had the audacity to hand stamp cards, and everyone complained. Where's the photo of the boys? So, back to purchased cards it is. I suppose if I were creative, I'd stick the photo on the cover of a card, but I like the framed look of the purchased cards.

So, what's left to do? More cookies, candy if the weather cooperates, which it looks like won't happen, finish wrapping, Saturday we torch the tree, Sunday we flop, and then the Xmas gauntlet arrives; 24th eve at the in-laws, Xmas morning with the boys, then race down to my parents. Anyone else have a gauntlet to run?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

No Ho

I have decidedly run out of Christmas spirit. This is what happens when you are the sole reliable computer-capable person on either side of the family, and said families want everything ordered online.

First, I set up wishlists online for all of us. Then everyone picks what they want to order. Then they hand it all to me to order for them. For some reason, they can't be expected to push a button and hand over their credit card information. Except in the case of my MIL, in which I have to pick out and order her present to my FIL! She wants to get him a weather station, would I find a nice one and order it? Oh, and could I order $** worth of toys for the boys, as well?

So essentially I'm doing everyone's shopping. I hope they're all having a stress-free holiday, because I'm not enjoying this. All I want to be doing right now is baking cookies and making fudge, and instead I'm spending inordinate amounts of time at the computer.

And to top it all off, the ONE thing I really, really, REALLY wanted for Xmas is completely sold out from everywhere, and not expected to be in until late January.

But I want it NOW!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Killed a Tree

We butchered a tree today in the spirit of Christmas. I know there's a live tree/dead tree/organic tree/fake tree/no tree debate going on. But I just gotta have my Christmas tree. And it's local, at least.

There are a lot of rules for our tree. We put candles on the tree. I can hear you gasp. Everyone does. But we haven't had tree flambe yet. When I got married, my mother-in-law gave me the candles, candleholders that clip onto the branches, REAL tinsel, and a two page list of instructions so I wouldn't burn down our house. Yes, you have to be careful.

The tree must be real. Fake ones burn real good. The tree must be fresh. So we generally go out to a local tree farm and cut our own. We also light the candles a little early, but I'll get to that in a minute. The tree must be a noble, or some type with small needles, and layered is best. Pyramidal sheared douglas fir bushes just won't work. The candles have to be placed so that there is NOTHING above them, and they must stand straight up. If you use tinsel it must be real, metal tinsel. Not the fake plastic stuff. We reuse ours every year since it's extremely hard to find. My mother in law's list also said to make sure that an ornament was behind the candle to reflect the light, but in reality, that rarely works out.

Usually, we go to the inlaws on Xmas eve, and oooh and aaahh over their candlelit tree. By the time we get home we're tired, need to do the Santa thing, and our tree is getting a little dried out, especially if I haven't been good keeping it watered. So we started "torching the tree" on the solstice. We invite a few friends over, have cookies and cocoa (hot buttered rum for the grownups), and light the tree without the rush-rush-rush of "we need to get this over with so we can open the presents".

It's become a special time. A time where you have to slow down (no running around all those candles!), even if for just 15 minutes. The light is totally unlike electric christmas tree lights. It's warm, glowing. For 15 minutes we stop and think about family, friends, and what's in that present that the candle's dripping wax all over!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Toy Safety

Are you buying toys for little ones this year? You may want to check first. Listed are many toys popular with the under-5 set, with recent test results for lead, cadmium, mercury, and other heavy metals you don't really want kids to be around. Be patient. The site is a little slow, probably due to a lot of traffic.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Did you know that the US is one of only three countries that have not adopted the metric system? Myanmar and Liberia are the other two. What are we waiting for? It's too expensive? Too much of a hassle?

How much of our kids' education is wasted on learning standard units? Three teaspoons per tablespoon, 16 tablespoons per cup, two cups per pint, two pints per quart, four quarts per gallon. How much extra ink is wasted printing two measurements? Or if they don't, then they're printing two kinds of labels, and storing separately packaged product for export to, oh, anywhere. How much waste is there in that? How many factories have to make things in standard and metric? Wasteful. And when someone screws up converting? Or when someone brain farts and uses the wrong system, as was the case with the Mars Climate Orbiter? There was a $150 million that could've gone to metric education and adoption!

Every time I add up my veggie weight, and I do it in ounces, I have to add up all the ounces, divide by 16, write that number off to the side to save for when I add up the pounds, take the remaining decimal, multiply it by 16 to get the remaining ounces, and then add up the pounds. And that's just for weight.

What a frickin' headache. From now on, it'll all be done in metric.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful....

Egads. What a mess. Four inches of snow, followed by 2.76 inches of rain since midnight (and it's only noon!), and you get a real mess. Roads closed and water, water, everywhere. There was water nearly going into the boys' classroom, due to clogged gutters. Apparently they couldn't fix the problem, and as I left, they were going to dig a ditch to try to give the water somewhere to go. I can't see how it will work, since it's a low spot to begin with. Thankfully we haven't had the wind that was forecast.

So, it's a perfect day to hole up and bake! And in case you're also in the mood to bake (sounds like most of the country is socked in), here's my recipe for yummy homemade bread.

First of all, let me say - Get thee an electronic scale!!! Especially if you're new to breadmaking. I don't know what it is about my flour, but I always end up with too much flour if I measure it with my measuring cups. I have three different sets, and it's they are all the same, I checked. Also, if you want to be certain about the amount of salt you add, weigh it. The volume can be radically different for the same weight of salt depending on the manufacturer, and if it's kosher or not. Having the right amount of flour will significantly ease the learning process. I am so adamant about this, I'm not even going to give the measuring cup equivalents!

White Sandwich Loaf
Makes 3 1-1/2 lb loaves

20 ounces (567g) All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons (22g) instant yeast
2 Tablespoons (28g) sugar
1 Tablespoon sea salt
2 Tablespoons (30g) vegetable oil
3-3/4 Cup (876g) milk, warmed in the microwave for about a minute or two to take off the chill. You don't want it warmer than about 105 degrees F.
29 ounces (825g) bread flour
Cooking spray

This recipe also takes a Very Large Bowl. Mine is a 4 quart (liter) bowl, and if I had a larger one, I'd use it. In your Very Large Bowl, stir together the all purpose flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center and add the oil and warmed milk. Mix well with a large wooden spoon. Stir in a cup of bread flour at a time until no more flour will go in with a spoon (about 5 Cups). I kind of jab the spoon into the center of the dough to try and work in as much as possible. Don't overdo it, though, you'll get the rest in there in a minute. Your dough will be fairly sticky at this point.

Pour most of the remaining flour onto a clean surface (I have a huge cutting board, but a clean counter will work as well). Turn out the dough onto the floured surface, cover your hands in flour, and knead the dough for 6-7 minutes, adding more flour as needed to keep your hands from getting goopy. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or your Very Large Bowl, and let it rest for about 20 minutes. Remove the bowl and resume kneading for 5-7 minutes. You may need to add small amounts of flour at a time to keep your dough from sticking to your hands and board. Your dough should be tacky, though, like a Post-It Note. Take out all that tension and aggression on the dough!

Sprinkle a little more flour in the dough bowl (yes, I'm still using my Very Large Bowl), put the dough in it, spritz the top with cooking spray or dust it with flour, and cover it with plastic wrap. The traditional method is to use a damp cloth, but it cools down the dough. Put the dough in a warm place (I use the top of my fridge) and let rise 60-90 minutes at 70-78 degrees (the cooler your house, the longer it takes), until when you poke the dough with a finger, it doesn't spring back.

Turn your dough out onto a LIGHTLY floured surface (you don't want to add flour at this point if you can help it). Flatten out your dough slightly, and divide it into 3pieces (if you have your scale handy, you can weigh them). Flatten out your dough, and place the smoothest side down. Shape into loaves. There are many ways to do this, and a quick internet search on shaping bread loaves will give you enough ways to do it differently each time. Drop it into a greased loaf pan (either a 1lb or 1-1/2lb loaf pan. I use the smaller because I like huge tops, but either will work), spray with cooking spray, or dust with flour, lightly cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes.

If you like, you can lightly brush the tops with butter or egg wash before putting them into the oven.

Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Turn out the loaves onto a cooling rack.

Now here's the hard part - try not to cut them for at least an hour, preferably waiting until they're completely cool. We never can, and sacrifice one loaf almost immediately :-).

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Yesterday afternoon the snow started to fall. We were on our way back from seeing "Enchanted" with my friend, J, and her family. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it if you've grown up (and enjoy) all those Disney princess movies. One of the best movies I've seen in years!

Anyway, we stopped by the store for a few last-minute items for the annual "Guys' Xmas Party." Mr. E still hangs out with the friends he had back in high school, and we had the guys and their families over. When I came out of the store, big, wet flakes were falling like someone had just turned on the snow machine. It kept falling, and we were watching the road and the thermometer to try and determine whether or not we were even going to have the party.

We did. And everyone had a good time. Everyone brought wonderful food and drink, and we talked and laughed and enjoyed ourselves, watching the snow come down. By the time everyone left at midnight, we had about 4" on the ground. The roads weren't too bad since the snow came slowly over a matter of hours.

Today we got another inch before it all turned to rain. Tonight a huge storm is barreling down upon us, and the forecasters have told us to brace for 60mph winds. My heart goes out for our Canadian neighbors who have had over a foot of snow, now the drenching rain to weigh it all down, and the wind to top off everything.

In the meantime, we have all taken bets as to when our right-leaning snowman will crash to the ground. We each have chosen a time when we think it will tumble.

I'm off to do some work for our school. I know I promised to post my bread recipe, and I will soon. I just didn't have time today.