Monday, January 18, 2010

My Poor Lilacs

For some reason, I've been unaware of the last two major snowstorms until they actually hit. Why is that? I wasn't really aware that there was supposed to be a lot of snow until this morning when there was a lot of snow. I thought we were getting just a couple of inches. I think we have somewhere around six inches, but I can't really tell. And it's supposed to snow more today. This wouldn't really be a problem if the snow weren't wet and heavy. Good snowball snow, but not good tree snow. Our yard plants are unhappy and I think we've lost about 30% at least of our lilacs. They snapped and fell over. Sad. Anyway. I took some pictures.

This first one is the tree that lost limbs after the last wet, heavy snowstorm.

It's not a great pictures, but you can see the fallen limb from the last storm in the bottom left corner. Still resting there. And if you look further up, you can see the places where limbs used to be and are no more.

Next we have our backyard. The branches of our maple tree in the backyard are touching the ground. The girls and I played outside in the snow on Thursday and really tromped around the backyard. You can't even tell we'd been there at all.

There are some plants in this world that are overused in landscapes and as houseplants. And I don't like those plants. But neither can I wish them dead. I did try to kill some pothos plants through neglect while on my mission, but I couldn't even bring myself to withhold water and ended up rescuing the wretched things. They're hard to kill anyway, which is why they're a popular houseplant. My least favorite landscape plant is juniper bushes, and we don't have any of those, thank heavens. But we do have an arborvitae, which is right up there. And it's not even a nice-looking arborvitae. It's missing growth on the bottom three feet and just looks scrawny and untended. It's on my list of plants that need to go. I tell myself it's because it's sickly, but it's really because I don't like it. And the very admission of such a thing just filled my soul with a deep and abiding guilt. But even my stone-cold heart was touched by the sight of my poor arborvitae looking like this:

That's it just to the left of the fence. Usually it's tall and straight. But the weight of the snow has bent it over. It's clearly not suited for this kind of weather (and, may I add, this climate zone?) and needs to be removed. But I just feel bad for it today. You can't see the bottom part of it because my rhododendron (which was relieved of 60% of it's mass by me in the fall) is obscuring it.

Speaking of my rhodie: I was not a fan at all when we bought the house. Rhododendron's need maintenance. If they're not near the house, it's not really a big deal if you don't prune and maintain them, but if they're located near the house, they really ought to be taken care of. Our rhododendron was all the way up to our roof and taking over the walkway. Well, let's just say I took out my wrath on that shrub. It's now a lovely little thing that only goes up to my kitchen window. Now I can see out the window. I'm not expecting it will flower much this year and I won't be overly surprised should it not survive. I read somewhere that when pruning rhodies aggressively you should never prune back more than 30% in a given year and that 50% is the most a plant like that can handle. I did way more than 50% removal on that thing. We'll see how it goes.

This wasn't really meant as a description of my rhodie, but there's a reason I bring it up. I'm actually fond of the thing now since it's been pruned and looks respectable, but more so because the birds like it. And why do the birds like it? Because the girls and I made them peanut butter seed pinecones. And just this past Saturdays I bought them a seed cake and seed cake holder. Now it's like a full-on party in my rhododendron. We had birds today that I'd never seen before when it was just the pinecones. The ones today have yellow and orange bellies.

This little guy is the kind I get the most of. I guess I need to get a bird identification book and figure out what all my little friends are. Whatever they are, I noticed that the cardinals and blue jays that live in my yard aren't interested in my seed cake and that's probably a good thing. They're aggressive. Besides which, I bought a bird house for them. And put it on the lilacs so I could watch them out the other kitchen window.

Which brings us to my lilacs. Sigh. I like lilacs. I think they're beautiful and I love the smell of them in the spring. My only real issue with lilacs is that they're a one-and-done kind of plant. Their foliage isn't that impressive and they're not interesting in the winter. They're only magnificent in the spring. There are, however, many many many lilacs in my yard. Or were. You see, I didn't know this before, but lilac wood is not very strong. Or so I'm learning. I had to prune back the lilacs when we first moved in because they were making the steps difficult to climb up from the driveway. And they looked great after I did that. A couple of months ago I grabbed one of the trunks as I slipped and wrenched the whole thing out of the ground. Which wasn't a huge loss since it was a trunk I'd been debating removing anyway. And it looked nicer. But I lost another one just a month ago in the last big, wet snowstorm because I touched it and it feel out of the ground. And then today we lost some more.

The one in the foreground is the one that had housed my birdhouse and it just snapped in two. I'm a little worried that the additional weight of the birdhouse is what did it in. You can see the birdhouse buried in the snow. Sigh. Also, there are the ones that fell down the hill.

My husband shook some of them off, but I don't know if I want to go shake the rest of them off. That's what killed the one last month. It's kind of discouraging that one of the only plants in the yard that I do want to encourage is the one plant that's determined to die. This picture is also a nice showcase of our Christmas tree, which is still waiting to find it's way to the woodpile in the backyard. Ha!

So that's the scoop here. Looks like the snow stopped for now. Good. I think Princess Pea and I might actually go get some housecleaning done now.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When Making a Turkey

Sometimes on Wednesday I forget that it's Recipe Wednesday. And then we end up not having a recipe and then those of you who are sitting around waiting for a recipe have to sadly sigh as you navigate elsewhere on the intertubes and hope that I will get my act together and just notice for once that it's Wednesday.

Well, longsuffering friend, your wait is over. I remembered that today is Wednesday and by George, I'm going to do something about it.

Today, let's discuss turkey brining. I bring this up because I recently made myself a brined turkey and it was absolutely delicious. I will probably continue to fantasize about this turkey for years to come. Sigh. This past Thanksgiving was my first attempt at brining a turkey. My grandpa has brined chicken for fried chicken as far back as I can remember. (But don't think I ever get invited to eat that chicken. Fried chicken is apparently company food for everyone but me. I'm apparently not company and not worthy of having fried chicken made for me. And I blame each and every person living in the family homestead for this.) If you brine your fried chicken, it tastes better. I then extrapolated that to brining whole chickens. That worked out really well. Then I remembered that once I had seen Alton Brown brine a turkey (in the same episode he fried a turkey. Best. Episode. Ever.) and I thought to myself, Self, you could brine a turkey. I bet it'd be delicious. And I listened.

I hadn't had occasion to actually brine a turkey until this past Thanksgiving when I gave it the old college try. Using Brother Alton's recipe for guidance, I mixed up my own turkey brine and had myself a nice turkey for Thanksgiving.

Brined Turkey

1 Turkey (mine was 26.5 pounds)

1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/2-1 cup raisins
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
3 bay leaves

Thaw out your turkey. Really. Mine was probably 90% thawed when I decided it was going in the brine regardless of the ice. It was fine. In a container big enough to hold your turkey, mix up your brine and some water. Get about three inches of water and mix it up. I used a Sterilite 18 gallon storage bin I borrowed from my parents. It was green and before I washed it, it had paint on it. Place turkey in the brine. Fill up with water.

If you're familiar with Brother Alton's recipe at all, you'll notice that he doesn't cover his turkey with the brine. He wants you to use like four quarts of broth and turn your turkey over halfway through. I personally have issues with touching dead animals more than is necessary. I covered that sucker with water and didn't bother turning it at all. I then had my brother and his wife carry that turkey into my basement and then into my garage and we left the turkey there next to my garage door where he stayed nice and cold for the next 24 hours. I think the cold thing is key. If you don't keep your turkey and your brine cold, you will start growing a bacteria colony. Not necessarily safe, particularly if you're talking about mass-farmed poultry.

When it was time to roast that turkey we pulled it back upstairs (still cold) and pulled him out and dried him off inside and out. We then stuck him in a roaster bag and four and a half hours later he was the tastiest thing on the planet. We roasted him at 350˚ per the instructions on the roaster bag.

I've been thinking about roasting a chicken in the near future. Well, sort of. I think about it until I remember that the chickens at Costco are already roasted and they cost the same as an unroasted chicken at the grocery store. And then I don't care if they're brined or not. At that point I just want some chicken. Anyway, the point is that I think this same recipe would be good with a chicken. Quantities adjusted, of course. I think if I were brining a ten pound turkey or chicken (that would be a big chicken) I wouldn't need a cup and a half of salt. You get the idea. Anyway. That's how I brined a turkey. It was delicious. The end.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Final Warning

Doesn't that title sound oh so ominous? It's not meant to be. But there you have it.

My sister informed me today that she hadn't gotten her private blog invite. Are any more of you out there that also missed out? I'm not likely to mention this again, because once I get myself cleaned up from Thanksgiving I think we're going to move on with this blog and start discussing my Christmas decorations.

So let me know. Please.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Duck Song

I can't tell you how many times I've heard this song this week:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Apple Cider Doughnuts

Autumn makes me think of picking pumpkins and drinking apple cider and raking leaves and planting bulbs and all sorts of other things that make me love autumn so much. About a month ago I got a hankering for some apple cider doughnuts and found this recipe and about two weeks ago when we had the missionaries over for dinner, I finally tried it out. It was worth the effort.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

1 cup apple cider
3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk (low-fat or nonfat work fine)
Vegetable oil for frying

For the doughnuts: In a saucepan over medium or medium-low heat, gently reduce the apple cider to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed (with the paddle attachment, if using a standing mixer) beat the butter and granulated sugar until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and continue to beat until the eggs are completely incorporated. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the reduced apple cider and the buttermilk, mixing just until combined. Add the flour mixture and continue to mix just until the dough comes together. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or wax paper and sprinkle them generously with flour. Turn the dough onto 1 of the sheets and sprinkle the top with flour. Flatten the dough with your hands until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Use more flour if the dough is still wet. Transfer the dough to the freezer until it is slightly hardened, about 20 minutes. Pull the dough out of the freezer. Using a 3-inch doughnut cutter, cut out doughnut shapes. Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes onto the second sheet pan. Refrigerate the doughnuts for 20 to 30 minutes. (You may re-roll the scraps of dough, refrigerate them briefly and cut additional doughnuts from the dough.)

Add enough oil to a deep-sided pan to measure a depth of about 3 inches. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350 degrees. Have ready a plate lined with several thicknesses of paper towels.For the glaze: While the cut doughnut shapes are in the refrigerator, make the glaze by whisking together the confectioners' sugar and the cider until the mixture is smooth. Set aside.

To fry and assemble: Carefully add a few doughnuts to the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan, and fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Turn the doughnuts over and fry until the other side is golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain on paper towels after the doughnuts are fried. Dip the top of the warm doughnuts into the glaze and serve immediately. End quote.

So when I made these myself, I didn't use a mixer (I almost always mix by hand) and I didn't refrigerate them the second time. I did refrigerate them the first time, while the dough was still in the bowl, but I didn't even bother after that and I don't think it make a big difference. Also, I had to use about 3/4 cup buttermilk, which wasn't a big deal at all since I had the buttermilk anyway. You'll also notice I didn't put in the glaze recipe. That's because I've never had a glazed apple cider doughnut. It's beyond wrong. Instead I rolled the hot doughnuts in cinnamon sugar. Mmmmm. My only other issue with this recipe is that you don't need 3 inches of oil to fry doughnuts. I used my electric skillet and about 1 1/2 inches of oil and it worked just fine. Overcrowding really is a big deal, though, so be careful that you give those doughnuts their space. And don't forget to make the doughnut holes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Tuesday

Today I am tired. But in the spirit of the Twelve Days of Thanksgiving, I will take this moment to tell you that today I am grateful for Tuesdays. My mother-in-law takes my children on Tuesdays and I can't tell you how grateful I am for that. Today we had a rough morning. But by the time I got my children back again, we were all happy to see each other and we had a nice evening. I was so grateful. I'm still grateful.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

That Man

Once upon a time we bought a house. It was an old house that had old things in it. Like an old kitchen and old everything. And it hadn't been well-maintained so it was dirty and falling apart. But let's get back to the kitchen, shall we? Okay, so this kitchen was maybe renovated last in about 1960. If I had my way and about forty thousand dollars it would be a much prettier kitchen. But we don't have forty thousand dollars because we just bought a house. Right. Anyway.

So when we bought this house there was a slight drip from the kitchen faucet. Nothing really serious. More pressingly annoying was the fact that the sink was about six inches deep and the faucet was parallel to the bottom of the sink. You couldn't fit anything in there. We moved in at the beginning of September and our dripping was random and not very severe. By the time I got back from my trip to Utah our sink was dripping so much that Nathan had started keeping the two quart juice pitcher underneath it to catch the water. We then repurposed it by sending it through the filtered pitcher in the fridge. It was okay. Just days after I got back from my trip, the drip got worse. And it continued to get worse until it reached a head on October 19. That was the day that the drip turned into a stream and we basically gave up hopes of being able to fix the sink ourselves.

One of the problems with our sink was that it doesn't have a shut-off valve upstairs. It also doesn't have a u-bend upstairs, but that's not quite as serious. The shut-off valves for the water to the kitchen sink are in the basement right over the water heater. And they're so severely corroded that I was told by a plumber that if I did turn them once, I might not get them turned back the other way. Our only option for fixing that sink was to hire someone or turn off the water to the whole house (thereby turning off the heat since we have a forced-air water heating system). Fun. I did have a plumber come over and give me an estimate, but he was talking in the several thousands for that project and various others and I didn't need the other projects done. I needed a new faucet.

The next day I fortified the faucet with a pipe cleaner and a rubber band, which limited the dripping to just a constant drip, and I headed out to Lowe's. I contemplated faucets for about forty-five minutes before deciding to go kind of cheap (since I'm still hoping for that kitchen remodel eventually, it didn't seem worth it to splurge on the faucet now) and then got some caulking, shut-off valves and some flexible pipes.

Lowe's and our fix-it-yourself book estimated the project would take us 1 1/2 to 2 hours just to install the faucet. We were kind of worried that it would get kind of cold in our house during that time. As it turned out, it was actually pretty easy to get the faucet out. Once we realized that the pipes were not standard sized pipes we decided to not bother with the shut-off valves at all and just use the existing old piping. We didn't have much choice there.

The old faucet had never been caulked, so the sink was nasty and filthy. We also discovered that although the sink was a four hole sink, it was originally a much smaller three hole sink. Some of our holes had been expanded and were dangerous and likely to cause tetanus if touched. We didn't touch. Gross. I had the special privilege of cleaning this nastiness without running water. Upon which I reflected with gratitude for the saved up water from the dripping sink.

Nathan did most of the installation work and I did most of the caulking. In the end we ended up installing that faucet in about half an hour. It wasn't hard at all.

So this is our new faucet. It's not exactly what I wanted, but it works nicely and I can fit my big pots into the sink now, which is a real plus for us (me especially). I also don't feel like I'm filling my family with germs from the dirty old faucet and sprayer. That's always nice too. It's the shiniest thing in my kitchen and looks desperately out of place.

Anyway, the point of this story is to tell you that I'm grateful for my husband. He's become quite the do-it-yourselfer that he never was before and now we have a kitchen faucet that doesn't drip and is shiny. What more could a girl ask for?

And, just in case you were wondering. I did give my talk today and the only person I was trying to impress and whose opinion mattered informed me that my talk was a little too "colloquial" for his tastes. Rats. In my defense, he was wrestling the two little hellions we spawned. He might not have heard me. (Except that it probably WAS too colloquial because I can't ever really convey what I really mean anyway no matter how hard I try and then I resort to talking like myself. Oh well.)