Monthly Archives: October 2011

Ambrosia from the Orchard

One bowl, about a third of the total harvest. These are "Smyrna" quinces.

Last year’s quince harvest was lame–a singular fruit that I think I forgot about in the depths of the fridge. In the linked post, I was bemoaning the lack of quince while still dealing with the remaining jars of “not quite jelly” from the 2009 harvest. This year’s was more like the one in 2009, giving some credence to the “every-other-year” theory of fruit production.

I wasn’t exactly thrilled to have to deal with three huge bowls of quinces this weekend, but I also didn’t want to watch the fruit drop to the ground and get eaten and stomped to mush by the deer. We already lost a bunch of apples that way, and I didn’t want that to happen to this precious fruit.

It used to be every orchard had a quince tree, but the fruit has gone out of favor. I’ve seen small quantities of PCC in the fall, but it’s never available out of season. The rise of commercial pectin has made making jelly extremely easy and the humble quince unnecessary for the process. Before “Sure-Jell” and “Pomona’s Pectin” the home jelly maker had to rely upon quince or very long hours of cooking to make jelly. A quince or two in the jelly pot would provide enough jell-factor for just about any fruit. And still does, but who needs a quince when you have a sure-fire way of making jelly without it?

According to mythology, the quince was a gift from Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Thus quinces are widely represented in Greek paintings and mosaics as a symbol of commitment and fertility. An Athenian wedding tradition called for friends and family to toss quinces into the bridal chariot after a wedding. Some scholars even believe that quince may have been the “forbidden fruit” that Eve fed to Adam.

After washing, the fruit is cut into chunks and put into a big pot to cook until soft.

A number of people have told me they’ve never had quince before. I thought, “I’ll make a bunch of jelly and put it in small jars so I can let more people taste this stuff. I’ll make converts. People will rise up and demand quince trees all over the world!” Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t find 8oz jars at the store! Seriously? I am pretty sure people do not want a quart of any kind of jelly, no matter how delicious. I went through my stock and found about a dozen 1/2pt jars and eventually ended up ordering more online. Turns out that the best place to get canning jars is Ace Hardware.

I have more than five gallons of quince juice from two different trees. I’ll put at least half of that into jelly–made the old-fashioned “add sugar and cook for a long time” method. The other half will stay in the freezer and be turned into the Persian drink I mentioned in the blog post linked at top. I finished cooking the last batch of fruit just a little while ago, and the heady scent fills the house in a most delicious way.

The juice is strained and then cooked in small, four cup batches, to make jelly. I use about 3/4 C sugar per cup of juice and take it to 219 degrees F. It's about half an hour of standing and stirring.

The jelly is poured into hot, clean jars and left to seal.

The final color of the jelly is magical. The fruit is yellow, gets brownish when it oxidizes, and then turns into a lovely jewel.



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As Seen on TV

In August, we stopped in Spokane overnight on our way back from Montana and stayed at our usual hotel, the Red Lion Parkside. We’ve stayed there every trip Eastward for years because they have a decent pool, and we know how to find it from I-90. Since we don’t get regular TV reception or cable in our house, we find ourselves glued to hotel television. It is through these intermittent exposures that we experience reality shows and infomercials. (This is changing a bit with my Hulu+/iPad addiction, but that’s another post.) In the evening, we watched a couple of Animal Planet offerings about hoarding. It was one of those things where you think, “this is so disturbing, and yet I can’t turn it off.”

In the morning before checking out, I found myself landing on an infomercial for the “TopStyler” and watching it from start to finish. For someone with straight hair like mine, anything promising curls that last is…well…a fantasy and a dream come true. Okay, for someone like me who has always wanted CURLY hair, anyway. I don’t have any idea how many perms I had in the 80’s and 90’s. I have velcro curlers, bobby-pins for pin curls, rag curls and foam curls. I have more than one curling iron and several round brushes. The search for easy lasting curly hair isn’t exactly an obsession as much as a deep want. And I’m not greedy for perfectly tightly curled hair. Sometimes just a little body from a good brush and blow-dry is enough. But, there are times when I just want a different look.

This is as much body as a curling brush, some modest product and a hair dryer can muster.

I have plenty of friends who were born with naturally curled locks, and many have told me that they always wanted straight hair. They say that dealing with curls is a pain and finding anyone who can cut their hair without turning their profile into a triangular lampshade look is a feat not easily accomplished. My years with permed hair taught me that I don’t really want tight curls that you can’t even comb through.

So, when I saw this infomercial, I was totally taken up by the notion of easy curls–the kind that are large and flowing and touchable. I almost dialed the 1-800 number from the hotel room. But, I didn’t. Instead, I calmed down and decided to do some research before jumping in with the credit card. I remembered being impressed by the “Smooth Away” hair removal ads only to read enough reviews to keep me from trying it. I was so taken with the promise of what the Topstyler would do, though, that when I got home, I jumped on the computer and did some research. The reviews were mixed, but leaned more toward the positive. So, yeah, I eventually took the plunge and bought it.

And then I waited for it to show up. And waited. And waited. I got a post card in the mail saying how sorry they were, but due to the high demand it would be another couple of weeks before shipping. So, I waited some more. Then, I got a phone call that I wasn’t going to answer, but the damn number had been popping up daily for the previous two weeks, and I was ready to give some fund-raiser a word or two. It was the folks at the TopStyler wanting to confirm my address. Right. They also wanted to try to sell me some deal or other that only cost me $9.99 per month for special coupons and discounts. No, thank you. Just send me my friggin’ curls, will you?

Finally, after eight weeks, the box with my Topstyler arrived. I’ve used it a couple of times to get some pretty decent results. This photo shows a “larger” pin curl version and the sort of larger curl I’ve always wanted. It’s not something I want to do every day–it takes about ten minutes to wrap my hair around my fingers and put the clips on and another ten or more to let it ‘set.’ I put a bunch of smaller ones in and got a frizzy mess, so it’s not fool-proof nor is it perfect, but it’s kind of fun to play with.

Is it worth it though? Knowing what I know now, I’d probably not order it again. Why? Well, the Topstyler sales system is set up so that you can not order just one unit. There is no choice in this, it’s buy one, get one free. I would much rather have spent half the price and gotten one unit rather than the two. It’s bizarre. I think maybe people can get together and buy the package and split them up. Fortunately, there’s a seventeen-year-old head in this house that can enjoy some curls occasionally. It doesn’t work nearly as well on her waist long locks as it does on my shoulder-length hair, but she gets some body out of it. The other reason I wouldn’t buy it again is there’s just something sort of…embarrassing about the whole thing. I was trained in advertising. I used to write copy to sell things. A part of me knew, even as I was watching the infomercial, just what words and tricks they were using to call deep down into my curl-starved soul.

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Cooking from the Garden

Roasted beet risotto!

Yesterday, the hubby and teen went off to geekgirlcon , leaving me at home with the younger child who wanted nothing to do with dinner planning. I was lazy enough that all I really wanted to do was stay home and finish the last couple of episodes of “Hell’s Kitchen.” I really don’t know why I got into it as much as I did. Morbid curiosity? It certainly was not Gordon Ramsay’s less than charming treatment of the contestants. As a pretty decent home cook, I find the mechanics and cooking challenges interesting–the drama less so. There were times where I was thinking I know more about some aspects of cooking than a lot of the contestants and mildly daydreaming about being a contestant. I have no desire to run a kitchen other than my own, and the made for TV reality drama would likely send me cowering under my bed with a pillow over my head crying from the stress of it all. My brief hubris about my own superior skills in a kitchen would quickly be squelched by the reality that I would have no idea what to do when faced with a hundred hungry customers.

After watching Paul (my favorite from the start) win the competition, I was faced with the “what’s going to be for dinner” personal cooking challenge of the day. I did not want to go to the store, so I started rummaging through the pantry and eying the garden. My ennui about dinner wasn’t lifted by what I saw out there–lots of kale, beet greens (and beets), some peppers, and a few other things I can’t identify from the kitchen window. Pulling a cookbook off the shelf, I thumbed through it until I saw a recipe that included beets, of which there are plenty. We had onion, beets, garlic, and parsley–all from the garden. The rice, wine, and broth are things I keep on hand. I tossed the beets in the oven, curled up with my son on the bed with the iPad and watched Thor with him while they roasted.

The active work in the dish is about half an hour once you have everything assembled. Roasting the beets ahead of time is probably the thing you have to remember when prepping the dish. It turned out to be very bright and attractive as well as rather tasty. The non-vegan dairy eaters in the family added generous gratings of parmigiano cheese. I added a bit of my favorite balsamic vinegar for that little bit of tang, and it was deemed something worthy of repeating. Even the nine-year-old boy had two helpings.

Roasted beets, cut into cubes.

Roasted Beet Risotto
from Vegan Italiano by Donna Klein

3-4 Medium beets, washed
4-5 cups vegetable broths
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teas salt
freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp chopped parsley

Heat oven to 375 Deg F.
Wrap beets in foil and place on baking sheet. Roast 45-50 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven, unwrap and set aside to cool. Peel off skin and cut into cubes. Set aside.

Bring broth to simmer in pot. In a large non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned (2-3 minutes). Add the rice and garlic and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth and continue stirring and cooking until absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until each addition is absorbed into the rice. At about 15 minutes after you’ve started adding liquid, add the beets to the rice mixture with more broth. Continue adding broth and stirring until the liquid is all absorbed and the rice is tender but firm to the bite. (You may or may not need to use all the broth.) Stir in parsley and serve. (413 Cal for 4 servings, 17 g protein, 1 g fat, 65 g carbs, 5 g fiber)

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One of Those ‘Big Brother’ Moments

I’ve had one of those mornings. You know the kind I’m talking about. Everyone was crabby in the morning. We were all snapping at each other, and I found myself overly annoyed at my husband for putting my Farmer John’s cookbook on the bottom shelf of the cookbook section, not up on the top shelf where it belongs. I mean, it wasn’t really a huge deal, but, I had just spent some time putting all the vegan and vegetarian and otherwise healthy books at the top and closest to the kitchen. The cookie books and pastry books are on the bottom shelf as far from the kitchen as they can get. Is it too much to ask that it go back where it belongs? (Or that the pots all go on the POT shelf and not the FRY-PAN shelf?)

Add in the fact that there was a miscommunication with my daughter and her team leader for the PNWD Youth Conference (requiring me to do something about it), the list of things to put together for my son’s first overnight field trip, a new freeway interchange that surprised me and gave me an unexpected detour, Target moving EVERYTHING again, a decided lack of duffel bags available at Target or Fred Meyer, a stubbed toe, a dead scanner and printer, and I’ve had one of those days that make me long for some time alone in a hot bath surrounded by bubbles. And, yeah, I know, that was a really long sentence with punctuation issues.

I’ve had “buy new scanner/printer” on my list of things to do for a long time, and with the obvious ceasing of communication between printer and computer, I can’t put it off any longer. Essays must be written and delivered to school on time, and the only printer in the house is now refusing to do anything I want it to. The checks and diagnostics all say everything is hunky-dory while I look at blank paper feeding through the printer only to come out…still blank.

My quick research online leads me to a solution that, I hope, will work. I have limited space at my desk, and I’m, frankly, pleased as punch it is black and will match my latest desktop. (Yes, I’m the kind of person who likes my appliances to match, too.)

I click the convenient link that says, “Order cartridges for this printer.” Voila, up pops a little warning that the ink cartridge I’ve just selected won’t work with my current printer. Never mind that it’s the link I just followed for the printer I just purchased, but…Somehow Amazon is, what, talking to my computer about what printer I supposedly have installed and working?

I find this a bit disturbing and outright freaky because I don’t actually remember saying to Amazon, “Hey, take a look at my computer and figure out everything I’ve got hooked up here and let me know what you think.” I probably did do exactly that, somewhere, when I signed up for an account. I tend to check off the little boxes that say “I have read and accept these terms and conditions” without actually reading them in an impatient, “get on with it already” frenzy of signing up or purchasing. (I hereby challenge anyone to tell me they’ve actually read ALL the fine print on their online accounts.)

The notion that my every click on the internet is being recorded somewhere is creeping me out, and add to it that my computer seems complicit doesn’t help. The constant stream of well-targeted FB advertisements has always bugged me, but now, I’m beginning to wonder how long it will be before Amazon or Facebook figure out how to turn on my monitor’s webcam without telling me and taking a really good look around what I think of as my private home. I’m not normally a paranoid kind of person, but I think I’ll cover up that webcam. Just to be safe.

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Third Quarter Review

At the beginning of 2011, I set out with some pretty specific goals for the year. I ran across a recent suggestion that people forgo the January New Year’s goals and resolutions in favor of a more broadened “year-in-review and goals adjustment” timed to match your birthday. I don’t really know that it makes that much difference whether you look at what’s going on in January, or at your birthday, or just on some random day. It just so happens that it was my 45th birthday on Friday, and it was also Rosh Hashanah. What better way than to lump the two holidays together for an excuse to make a report on my progress? Sure, I’m not Jewish, but that’s no reason to quibble.

Important goals should be looked at much more often than once a year. I know I’ve had an entire year go by only to have me look at the things I didn’t get to and think, “What the heck? How did that year fly right by me?” I don’t know if it’s just me, but the speed at which years seem to move has gotten faster, not slower. So, in this post I laid out my goals for 2011. And, in this post, I did a mid-year review. Given that I only have three months left, I decided I had to figure out how to finish the things that I haven’t done and revise my projections. I think revision is a good idea so that I don’t sit back and stop making progress in the areas where I have succeeded and change things so I have some chance of meeting the goals that are likely doomed for failure without some adjustment.

So here we go with the update:
1: Reach My Goal Weight:
Ulster Fries, High Tea, and Cadbury Flakes were just the challenges for June. I’ve been to Fogo de Chao in Atlanta and a wedding with the killer buffet of the century, weathered a few other challenges and am at the lowest weight I’ve been since before I got married. I actually don’t know exactly what my goal weight “should” be, but I’m close…so very close. I think another five or ten pounds and I might be there. Can I do it with the next three months–the heaviest foodie and party months of the year–coming up? I’m going to say probably. I’ve been flatlining that scale since late August, but I do weigh less than my man by a few pounds. I’ve also told my personal trainer that I want him to kick my ass at every session between now and the end of the year. He seems willing to comply. I can hardly lift my arms above my head today.

The Duotrope submissions tracker helps me keep things sorted neatly.

2: Submit At Least Three Short Stories for Publication
Done. And, I’ve submitted one story a couple of times, so, technically speaking, I’m up to four submissions. One story is e-published, one was politely rejected, and the third that I submitted just last week has been accepted into an anthology that will go to press in February 2012. I have one more story that I’m polishing up and will be submitting by the end of this week–so I’ve met and exceeded the original goal. I will amend the original goal by adding at least two more short-stories by the end of this year and the first draft of a novella destined for the adult market. (It’s short, only 60K and my NaNoWriMo time will be fully devoted toward that goal.) This year, I am NOT going to do TWO NaNoWriMo projects as the 100K I did last fall practically killed me mentally.

3: Actively Help and Support My Writing Group
This is probably the biggest fail of the year for me. That story I wrote about being read back in June is the SAME story I’m sending out next week. So, while I got some great feedback in June, I’m still making the revisions. The group was very hit and miss as our main organizer was out of the country last year and the rest of us are just not so great at organizing us. B. is back in town, and we’re back into the swing of things this fall. Yay. I need to just accept that I won’t be doing much more than reading, reviewing, writing and attending the group and rely heavily on others to actually set the date and order the pizza. However, the support and help by being a good reader is important, so I don’t feel like I have been a complete loser here. So, the amended goal is: read everything the other members submit and give valuable, thoughtful feedback on their writing and be grateful for what they give me in return.

4: Read All My Book Group Books
Not doing much better. Does reading a complete trilogy when we only picked the first book count toward other failed endeavors? Sigh. I love reading, but I no longer will read just anything. It used to be that I could pick up any book and read it start to finish. Now? If I don’t like it, find it uninteresting, or the style annoys me, I’ll put it down. Pearl S. Buck’s Peony was one of them…On the other hand, I couldn’t put down The Hunger Games, and had to start the second book as soon as I finished the first. I think this goal is officially amended to, “Try hard to read all my book group books, and finish those that I can.”


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