Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Drying Herbs

Another little job finished! Cutting and drying herbs for winter. The kitchen now smells like sage... September!

Yay! We finally, after several false starts, made salsa this weekend! Between the late spring and cool summer, I didn't have very many tomatoes to offer, but EZ Orchards did- 25lbs. worth! I made salsa last year, but I used the wrong type of tomatoes and it was a little on the watery side. This year, we tried two different recipes. The first one was out of the Ball Blue Book and was the same one I tried last year. This year, we roasted the onions, jalapenos, and tomatoes on the grill to reduce some of the juices and give it a nice fire-roasted flavor. I also used Romas this time instead of slicing tomatoes, which also helped to give the salsa a thick, meaty texture. The other recipe Nicole found on the internet and was much different that mine. It had a lot more peppers and used lemon juice instead of red wine vinegar. I can't wait to try them!
Here's Nicole trying to keep a lid on the dirty dishes. Good luck...

Here are all the beautiful Romas we used from EZ Orchards. Believe it or not, we had to go get even more tomatoes after we used up this box!

We put all the seeded tomatoes on the grill to skin them instead of blanching them to cut down on the water content.

And here are the finished jars! We made 18 pints and 12 jam jars full! Nicole wanted the jam jars for Christmas presents.

Towards the afternoon, Emma stopped by with Mark and Abel since Don was working in Mt. Angel. They had lots of fun playing with the cat toys and the glow-in-the-dark stars they found in the attic. Also, my mail basket was a great source of entertainment for Abel:

Peek a boo!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The New Refrigerator

Before I get into the latest saga of appliance hell, I want to explain something.

From the minute I moved in, every appliance in my house was against me.


Every. Single. One.

When I moved in, the house came with a refrigerator, a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, a water heater, a toilet, a gas stove, and a couple of sinks. As a first time home buyer, this was a big plus for me since I owned none of these items after moving from an apartment. Many of the other houses I looked at didn't come with these essential items and I was relieved and thankful that I had found a place that was move-in ready.
That feeling was short lived...
After listening to the dryer squeal and whine for a whole year at my rental, I was over the moon to be moving into a new place. That dryer would be far behind me as I made my way through my new life. During the first week in the new house, I triumphantly sorted my laundry and started the washer machine. Forty minutes later, I was mopping water off the floor; the washer had backed up during the spin cycle. After a $150 Roto Rooter bill, it was explained to me that there was no trap between the kitchen sink and the laundry water pipes. The pipes were so clogged with food matter, that it was backing up the drainage line. Wonderful. "Ah, well. It's an older house, stuff like this is bound to come up from time to time", I thought. I started up the washer again and went back to unpacking. Twenty minutes later, I was staring at the washer drum, which was refusing to spin. It did make a lovely growling, metal-on-metal noise as the little engine tried unsuccessfully to spin a load of wet laundry around. I had to take each piece of clothing out and wring it out by hand before throwing it into the dryer. "Well, at least I have a dryer. It will take longer, but it will eventually be dry", I thought. I finally got the load in the dryer after squeezing myself into the narrow space between the appliances and the stairwell to the attic. As soon as I turned the dryer on, I heard it. The same "someones beating a cat in heat" squeal that I thought I'd left at my crappy rental had followed me to my new house! Ever stalwart, I retreated into my bedroom and turned up the Darling Buds of May until I couldn't hear the whining anymore. Two hours later, I opened the dryer to discover that the corner of the plastic seal on the dryer was loose and trapping corners of my clothes as they went around. Not only does that leave a great big grease spot, by the way, but it also twists the clothing beyond recognition. It was with great relish that I replaced those monstrosities with my new washer and dryer in April. I replaced the ancient water heater as well with one that was actually up to code. Out of the 8 original appliances, I replaced 3 in one fell swoop. It felt glorious! I transformed the cramped laundry area into a laundry/ mural/ pantry area and couldn't be happier.
Now, after all that, I've only had to deal with the kitchen sink draining at a snail's pace, the toilet clogging, and the wheels on the dishwasher racks suddenly popping off and derailing all the dirty dishes. Irritating, but tolerable. Until last Tuesday...when I came home at 10pm after a long day at work and dinner and a movie at Matt's to find that the refrigerator had quit. Not only was it not cold, but was blowing warm air all over my food. I was up until 11 at night throwing out all the defrosted food from the freezer and moving the few things I could salvage into the garage refrigerator (thank god I had it- thank you Suellen and Paul!). After slogging through the rest of the week, making breakfasts and lunches in the garage, We (Jan, Neil, Matt and I) went shopping and finally found the best deal at Lowe's. They delivered it yesterday and it is fantastic!!

Ta Da!!!

It's so shiny and clean! None of the door racks will suddenly pop off, spewing milk all over the floor. I won't have to search around in a dark fridge because the light doesn't work (despite a new bulb). And I won't have to worry about spoiled food or something going wrong with it for at least five years (yep, I got the warranty). Two nice young men from Lowe's came, took away the old piece of shit, installed the new one, and left me to enjoy the contented hum of my new refrigerator.
While I wasn't expecting to buy a new fridge quite yet, it was Worth. The. Money.
I'm off to have a chilled glass of wine!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Cool Season Cometh...

Finally! I have tomatoes!!! Not a whole lot, mind you, but enough to give some to Matt and put on the dehydrator for winter. My cherries are really starting to come on, but the romas are badly lagging behind. I've put off canning salsa twice in the vain hopes that I would be able to use my own tomatoes, but I've just run out of time this year. I'm going to implement plan B and buy a crate of tomatoes from Wilco this weekend instead. Local tomatoes are the next best thing to my own, so I won't feel too bad. As long as I have salsa to put on my grits, everything will be ok :-)

Last weekend was spent in the garden, transitioning to cool-season crops. I dug up all my potatoes and I have to admit, they were very underwhelming. I think the raised beds with the automatic spray nozzles kept the soil too wet for them. And, I think they needed more sun. So...potatoes will be going on the other side of the fence next year where the sunflowers are now. There's more room, the soil has more sand, and it gets more sun hours than the rest of the backyard. Hopefully, I'll get a much better yield next fall. Meanwhile, here is what I got out of the plants this year: Yukon Golds, Norland Reds, and Russet Burbanks! There may not be many, but I'll bet they taste great!

Another little chore I finished up was an experimental greenhouse for the raised beds. If you remember, a few years ago, me and my friend Bill made a pretty decent one out of PVC, chicken wire, and plastic. It was good, but it had some drawbacks. It was difficult to store, since it didn't fold up and it was very difficult to reach the middle of the beds, since only the ends were open. So, I came up with another plan with the help of Matt and we put it together after a trip to Ace Hardware.
The plastic just covers the PVC and attaches with Velcro. That way, when we want to take it down, we just fold up the plastic and stack the frames. Easy!

Even during the development of this frame, Matt and I came up with even more ideas on how to improve the next one we build. I've got some custom PVC connectors on order...

Here's the prototype all finished: The end pieces are also attached with Velcro so I can flip them up for ventilation.

I also brought my broccoli out of the greenhouse and put it where the shallots used to be. I started them in June and they've got a good head start.

I put in more carrots, radishes, and onion seeds in where the potatoes used to be. All these are supposed to grow pretty well in cool weather, so it's all a big experiment. I'll build a hothouse for this bed as well as soon as I get all the supplies.

I planted Swiss chard rainbow starts and seeds as well as some turnip seeds in this bed. I have two more Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower that I grew from seed as well in here.

And here's an updated shot of the strawberry pyramid. The plants are really liking it here and have gone to town, sending out new starts. I've potted up a couple in an attempt to fill some hanging baskets and give out as gifts. Strawberry plants are so accommodating...

I also potted up the other two carnivorous plants I had in the kitchen. These little terrariums are so nice to look at while washing dishes!

A quick pic of dessert last week: cottage cheese with strawberries and honey from the farmer's market. The basil was out of my garden- it was fantastic!

And drunken plums! Finally found some light rum and got all my sugar weighed out. We'll be spooning this onto ice cream right around Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Many Adventures of Samuel

*Update*- Had to add this picture I took Monday:

When faced with a fresh bowl of water or a very expensive kitty water fountain, he picks the toilet every time. In fact, he paces around whining until I'm finished and can't hardly wait until I'm off the throne before hopping on the seat....
Ah, to be a cat...

Need I say more?