Another day before

The snow’s started, fine crystals that will fall through the night. Just a few hours left in 2013.

It was a year. I lost King. Retired from the day job. Pondered and planned. Hit some speed bumps. Struggled to adjust to having All The Time In The World, because it seemed to zip past even more quickly than it did when I didn’t. Lollygagged a little too much–I need to stop that. I’ve heard from several writers that it takes a year to adjust to being a full-timer, and I believe it. So that’s one big item on the 2014 agenda. Adjust.

I cannot complain. I’m very lucky that I was able to do what I’ve done. In the coming year, I need to make the most of the opportunity. Push myself. Take chances.

I hope you all get the chance to do something you always wanted to do. Have a plan come to fruition. Take that first step down a winding, overgrown path, one that doesn’t get a lot of traffic.

To the new year!

’twas the day before

Been a while since I posted. Funny that it seems as though I have less time now than I did back when I had less time.

Been busy around the house, taking care of the unexpected. The quest for a dishwasher retrofit led to my needing to upgrade the electrical box and get a new hot water heater. Still haven’t started work on the kitchen cabinets–I think I’ll hold off until after the 1st of the year. Also need to clean out closets, the basement. Paint bedrooms. I’ve tossed out self-imposed deadlines because these first few months of repair work have taught me that things take as long as they take, and what’s first on my list of priorities may not rank as highly on the lists of those I need to do the work. So. Things will get done when they get done, and not in a rush.

In other news, it’s a frigid, sunny Christmas Eve–temp around 0F earlier this morning and wind chills like Brrrr. It shall be a cookie and movie day. Nothing specifically holiday, but kitchen-sink cookies. Chocolate chunks. Raisins. Nuts. Oatmeal. Wheat germ. The works. The Prestige is playing on SyFy tonight. Haven’t seen it, so, it shall be a Christian Bale/Hugh Jackman/David Bowie as Nikola Tesla night. A little snow expected, an inch or so to add to the 4-5″ already on the ground. A White Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and Happy Holidays to all. A toast to the coming year.

Pear preserves

After some delays, on Monday I finally got around to my first attempt at pear preserves.

I love pears, but I’ve usually been disappointed in preserves and jams made from them. Price doesn’t matter. Supermarket or boutique, the pear flavor has been weak to nonexistent; even added flavoring like ginger has been flat. I wasn’t optimistic about these pears, either. The neighbors had left them on the tree for a while waiting for them to ripen, but it stayed cool for so long that they had to pick them while still unripe. I think the prolonged chill adversely affected the flavor–after I let them ripen in a paper bag for a couple of weeks, they were okay, but lacked the usual rich pop you get from a tree-ripened pear.

Anyway, went with this recipe from Emeril because it looked simple. Then, I made changes. Added 5 small apples leftover from my other neighbor’s donation because I wanted to add some pectin for thickening. Together with the pears, that resulted in 8 cups diced fruit. I read the recipe comments, and decided to cut back on the sugar because the pears were so sweet. So, 3 cups instead of 4. Added a couple of teaspoons of salt** because salt reduces the need for sugar and helps bring out the flavor of the fruit. 1/3 c chopped candied ginger instead of 1/4 c. Zest and juice of two limes because no lemons. And a tablespoon or so of fresh diced thyme because I thought the lemony taste would work well with the pears.

You’re supposed to boil this stuff until the mixture “sheets off a metal spoon.” I may have let it go too long because I wasn’t sure how sheety the sheeting needed to be. In any case, the stuff thickened until it entered the marmalade/borderline candy realm, with pears, apple, and ginger all turning translucent. I shoveled it into 4 Bonne Maman jars–yes, I reuse them–and stuck it all in the fridge to cool.

pear-ginger-thyme preserves

It’s good. Different than anything I have ever had before. I’ve eaten it smeared on bread with Brie, on toast with butter. On a turkey and cheddar sandwich. It has a combo flavor–not quite any single thing, but a mix of the ginger, thyme, and pear. It’s waaay thick, like commercial preserves. I would make it again. Might even reduce the sugar a little more.

**thinking back, not 100% sure whether I added 1 tsp, 1.5, or 2. I used a half-teaspoon measuring spoon, so I know I shoveled a couple of times. I’m afraid I cook like my mom–a little of this, a little of that, and how much of this did I add again? So, salt to taste. Not too salty.

Turkey Day prep

Stuffing made. Put it in roast pan, then buried the turkey breast within. Popped it all in the fridge to marinate until tomorrow afternoon.

It’s a savory bread pudding, heavy on the sage and onion. Also, celery. A handful of chopped parsley. Bay leaves. Herbes de Provence. One loaf of dense white bread and a box of TJ’s cornbread stuffing mix sans seasoning packet. To this amount of bread, I added a half-gallon of liquid–one quart chicken stock plus one quart 2% milk. A stick of butter. Four eggs. Salt and pepper.

Not a fan of dry stuffing, me.

The house smells good.

I wanted to fix the dessert today as well, but Gaby decided to make life interesting. She was outside–I was just getting started in the kitchen when I heard her barking in that loud, rapid-fire way that meant that either someone was in the driveway or something had invaded the backyard. Sure enough, I found her dashing around the ornamental crabapples in the middle of the yard while a squirrel darted back and forth from one treetop to the other. I tried to grab Gaby and failed just as the squirrel leapt to the ground and tried to make it to the oak on the far side of the yard. It didn’t make it–Gaby grabbed it, and a battle ensued. Squirrel would break away, only to be caught again. It finally ended squirrel lying on the ground and Gaby walking off, blood dripping from her mouth. I leashed her and pulled her into the house, then called the vet’s office. Yup, they were still open and yup, they could fit me in. Before we headed to the car, I went out to check the squirrel, and was relieved to see it move when I drew close. It headed toward the oak, favoring its rear leg. Last I saw, it was climbing slowly.

I know–they’re just rats with cute tails. Still, I’d prefer to not be the one who has to dispose of the remains.

Anyway. I was concerned that Gaby might need stitches, but by the time we got to the vet’s, she had stopped bleeding. No injuries were visible except for some claw marks on her nose. She ate a cookie that the vet gave her. I brought her home, and she ate dinner as though nothing happened. She kept wanting to go outside, though. I would check on her, and find her sniffing around the crabapples. My little killer.

I’ll make dessert tomorrow morning.

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate! May you enjoy good food and good company. And a lack of squirrels.

Been a while

Over three weeks since my last post.

Busy, been, yes. Fall yard clean-up. Some major electrical work in the house. Meeting with an attorney to work on estate planning. A storm last weekend knocked out power for 15 hours, which allowed me the joy of an overflow sump pump cistern, fallen branches, and worry about the contents of the fridge. I dried things off, raked things up, and kept things cold. All good.

Took care of what I pray will be the last session with a rake for 2013. What I thought would be no more than an hour spent picking up branches turned into 3 hours and 15 lawn bags of branches, honey locust leaves, and pine needles. The honey locust leaves and needles are a bitch to rake–the leaves are small enough to sink in between the leaves of grass, while the needles weave through and get tangled. I could rake the same spot over and over, and still bring up needles and leaves.

I cut bushy bits off the fallen pine branches and tucked them into the planter–they’ll make a nice surround for the little Christmas tree I’ll be sticking in there later this week. Yup, ’twill be time to put up the lights and decorations. I don’t do many–a couple of trees made of coils of lights. Some wreaths. Simple, in anticipation of the fact that they will be taken down sometime in early January.

Cold, cold morning, cold enough to dig out the base layer for the morning walk. Gaby carries her base layer with her, and was quite content.

The Dr Who Weekend is playing in the background. The top 11 Matt Smith eps. I’d enjoy them more if they didn’t break in for commercials every four minutes. And if they hadn’t trimmed the eps in order to fit in said commercials. I’ve seen some of these episodes waaay too many times. I know which lines have been cut; some of them were from favorite scenes. Irritating, like favorite songs with phonograph record skips.

Time for coffee.

In closing, a couple of recent pics. Herself, post-grooming session, with bows, neckerchief, and a forlorn expression:

You did this to me.

You did this to me.

Yet another fall photo. Golden maple leaves:

Autumn gold

Apples

Lots of apples.

Last week, one of my neighbors gave me a shopping bag full of apples from their tree. 17 pounds worth.

Yesterday, I dealt with them. A couple quarts of applesauce. Apple crisp. Today, apple nut bread.

I recommend the crisp recipe. I did substitute white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose when making the crumbs, and added a couple tablespoons of wheat germ as well. The crumbs may have turned out a little dry as a result, but they do have a nice, nutty flavor.

Lots of cooking over the last week. Autumn food, Jacques Pepin’s tuna w/ pasta (best tuna casserole ever, imo, and yes, I add the raisins), butternut squash soup and maple-brined pork loin roast (result: a very juicy roast that tasted a bit like ham).

House stuff took up a lot of my time. The basement guys came and fixed the window wells and filled All The Cracks. I cleared lava rock from a patch next to the deck, and planted some shrubs. Raked leaves. Set up appointments for more estimates.

Downloaded Gimp, which is freeware photo manipulation software. I’ve heard that it’s difficult to learn, but I would like to use it and try my hand at ebook covers for some short stories. I can understand paying to have a novel cover made, but it’s a little more difficult to justify the expense for a short story. I’ll see how well I do. If it proves a disaster, I’ll look into alternative coverage.

Raining now. Cool, dreary autumn. Trees that were still mostly green seem to have changed over the last two days–maples are either vermilion or a gorgeous deep gold, like butterscotch. Oaks aren’t as flashy, all tarnished brass.

Some folks have already put up their Christmas decorations. That just staggers me. Not ready for that at all.

Mid-October. Leaves changing.

Ash trees going gold. Some reddening of the maples. Still a lot of green to be seen, but that may change over the next week given that nighttime lows will hit the 30s (F).

Raining. After a dry late summer, when my tomatoes and basil could have used it. Now, it means soggy leaves and a last-ditch growth spurt for the lawn. I’ll be mowing in November, I swear, especially if any type of warm spell follows all this rain.

House stuff continues. Completion of deck work has been delayed because of the weather. If worse comes to worse, we can wait until spring to finish, but I would love to get it done this year if possible. Come on, warm spell!

Did schedule basement guys for next week. This will be a major deal–issues not as serious as I thought, repairs straightforward (knock wood), and a warranty that transfers to whomever buys the place.

Next steps? I need to clear some junk out of the basement so the guys have an easier time getting to the walls. Right now, I’m at the point where if I think too much about all that needs doing, I feel overwhelmed, so. Baby steps. Clear the easy throwaways out of the basement. Clear out the closets–many are the pairs of old running shoes that could go to the recycle. There’s a healthy chunk of officewear that could go to a resale shop. A friend suggested an estate sale, which could eliminate a whole lotta stuff in one go.

Please, no one suggest ebay or yard sales. No time for the first and not enough patience for either.

I’ve discovered Pinterest, where I’m pinning ideas for the kitchen and bath. So far, I’ve avoided sinking too much time into it, though I can see how it can become a consumer of said time.

I’m also working my way through the Welcome to Night Vale podcast backlog. I think I’m only a year behind at this point. But I do know not to stare at the hooded figures in the Dog Park.

Do not enter the Dog Park.

On a clear day…

Couldn’t manage this sort of photo, but I did have a couple of 4.5-Mountain-Days (Jefferson was a little hazy, but Rainier, Adams, St Helens, and Hood were all new penny bright).

There and back again

Spent a week in the Portland Oregon area. Visited good friends. Did some research. Experienced the joy of driving twisty, winding roads. Really twisty. And winding. After a drive, my right leg ached from tension and brake-hitting.

This time, I actually visited scenic vistas.

Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park:

A view of Haystack Rock from Ecola State Park

A view of Haystack Rock from Ecola State Park

NB: Haystack Rock is that vaguely conical rock way in the back, on the far right of the photo. The other haystack-looking rocks are mere impostors.

The Columbia River Gorge (view from Crown Point Vista House):

View of the Columbia from the Crown Point Vista House

View of the Columbia from the Crown Point Vista House

Multnomah Falls:

A gorgeous day at the Falls

A gorgeous day at the Falls

Had lunch at Elephants Deli.

It was good to get away.

Came home yesterday–saw the Great Plains snowfall from the plane, and found 2.5 inches of wet stuff in the backyard rain gauge. Also found a very clean deck–the deck guy had powerwashed it on Monday. Tomorrow, he repairs what needs repairing. He thinks he’ll be able to coat/seal on Friday.

Also tomorrow, plumber installs new water heater. Meanwhile, I am planning the decluttering. It’s going to be All House All The Time for the foreseeable future.

Before I left, I picked the last of the tomatoes. Most were pretty green, so I bagged them and stuck them in the closet to ripen. Checked the bags yesterday and found about half were ready to go, so today I roasted them with garlic and balsamic vinegar. Had some for lunch with rigatoni, goat cheese and arugula. So. Good.

Busy days ahead.

Peach chutney

I walked over to my neighbor’s the other day to return the empty peach basket, and he said “Don’t you want some more?” So I filled said basket again–5.5 pounds of mixed white and yellow. I wanted to make another batch of something different, and found a relatively simple recipe for chutney. I eat a lot of chicken, and thought a new type of sandwich spread/relish might be something nice to have around.

As usual, I tweaked. Used dark brown sugar instead of light. About 1/4 tsp salt instead of a pinch. A shallot and a small wedge of sweet onion instead of red onion.

I like a little heat, but not too much. So, I used two dried peppers. The bag wasn’t labeled–it just read “Dried Chili Peppers.” They’re about the size of my pinky and dark red, so I think they’re cayennes.

After blanching/peeling/pitting, I figured I wound up with a little under 5 pounds of usable peach. Because of that, and also because I found the white peaches a little tart, I bumped up the brown sugar from 1 2/3 cup to 2 cups.

Mmmmmmmmm....

Mmmmmmmmm….

I wound up with 7 half-pints, although the 7th is about half juice. I tried a little of it, and I really liked it. Just enough heat. Sweet, but not too. Nice bite from the ginger, and that special something from the cardamom. I’m planning on roast chicken for Sunday, and will try it then.

In other news, I will be at UW-Waukesha tomorrow for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. I have two programming items, a panel and a signing:

How a Book Gets Made (w/ Alex Bledsoe, John Klima, James Lowder, Steven H Silver)
Sat, 10:45 AM, N140

Signing Time: Sat 1:30 PM (according to the program pdf, signings are in the Commons Student Lounge)

Supposed to be a pretty nice day tomorrow, sunny and cool. Looking forward to the drive, and to seeing folks.