Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fine, You're All Really Smart

Yes, they were salt cellars. As almost all of you knew, apparently with no confusion whatsoever. I guess my knowledge of antiques was sub-standard before living here, because I didn't know what they were.

In fact, that big salt cellar used to be just sitting on a windowsill as decoration. I had no idea it was for salt until the MiL took it down, washed it, and filled it with salt for the kitchen table. That's the one that sits at the table for communal salting at dinner or whatever. The smaller ones are the ones we use for dinner parties. Every person gets his or her own, which means there's none of that irritating jockeying for salt.

I especially hate when I'm at a big table of twelve people or something and I really want the salt but it's on the other side of the table and I don't want to interrupt conversation to ask everyone at the table to pass the salt all the way around to me. Individual salt cellars are so much better.

Salt cellars work much better than salt shakers at Blackrock. It's just too damp here, and the salt inevitably clumps and refuses to shake out. Even with rice in it. Salt cellars are the way to go.

Okay! Enough with all the formal stuff. Back to your holiday weekend and your barbecues and beer or whatever that almost certainly will not include cut-glass salt cellars.

Happy holiday Saturday, duckies!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Let's Play a Game!

Blackrock is, as I have mentioned before, an old house. It was built around 1864 and A.'s great-great-great uncle* (I think that many greats--anyway he's referred to always as Uncle Doctor because, uh, he was a doctor) bought it around 1890. So what we have here is over 100 years of continuous family occupation. What this means is a continuous accumulation of family furniture, papers, and other things that just . . . stay in the house.

One of Cubby's favorite things to play with is this umbrella stand that holds a bunch of random canes. Canes as in the kind of thing old men lean on and use to thump smart-mouthed children on the head, that is. I never paid much attention to these canes before, except to notice that many of them have very fancy heads on them. One is horn--like an antler, I think--one is ivory with a silver band, and one is gold. The gold one, which is Cubby's favorite, is inscribed with "Presented by ---to---" with the initials of Uncle Doctor's wife as the presenter and Uncle Doctor as the presentee. The other side is inscribed with a date of September 18, 1880.

What? Doesn't YOUR toddler play with a 131-year-old gold-headed walking stick?


The point is that Blackrock is full of things like this. Old things, and probably pretty valuable things. But I don't really want to know the monetary value, because we still use all this stuff. If I knew what it was all actually worth, I'd be a nervous wreck all the time. And really, what good are antiques that you can't use? You may as well just live in a museum.

Which brings us to our game!

Here is a photo of a collection of items that we use all the time. They were once common, but I had never encountered them before moving to Blackrock. Despite the size difference, they all serve the same purpose. And I think the big one and its contents will probably give it away, but let's play anyway.

So, duckies! What are these objects and what are they used for?

Tune in tomorrow for the answer! And some more mindless chatter. That is what you come for, right?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Playing Dress-up with Lettuce

At this very moment, I have an enormous bag of lettuce in the refrigerator. One of those plastic grocery store bags stuffed totally full with washed and spun-dry lettuce from the garden. This is the time of year when we eat salad almost every night. Although, "salad" sounds kind of fancy for what it actually is that I usually end up putting on the table, which is more often than not just the lettuce. I don't even add any other vegetables to it this time of year. Lazy. I've even gotten awfully lazy with my salad dressing.

I used to make salad dressing by putting olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and a little sugar in a screw-top jar, then shaking it violently until it was emulsified. If I was feeling fancy, I'd add a little Dijon mustard. But lately, I've just been shaking the oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper right over the lettuce and mixing. It's fine this way, but can get a little boring when you eat lettuce as much as we do this time of year.

Which is why I was so psyched to see this post. Ann used to comment here a lot, but she seems to have disappeared from the Internet. Before she did, though, I saw the post she did about making ranch dressing. I love ranch dressing, and used to buy it sometimes. It was a nice break from the vinaigrettes that are standard at our house.

Like Ann, I always considered making ranch dressing, but was put off by any chopping of onions or whatnot. I mean, I can't even be bothered to grate a carrot into my salads these days, you think I'm going to a lot of effort for the dressing? No.

But I tried Ann's method, which involves mixing mayonnaise and buttermilk (or yogurt) into a consistency you like, then adding dry dill, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper until it tastes good. And you know what? It TOTALLY tastes like ranch dressing. I don't know why I was so surprised, but I was. And I've made it a lot this lettuce season already.

Some people might get all chuffy about the herbs being powders instead of fresh or the mayonnaise being store-bought. Those people are welcome to chop and mix and make "real" ranch dressing. I'm going to stick to this easy, maybe-somewhat-cheating method that's still a hell of a lot better than Hidden Valley.

Oh, and also? This ranch dressing is dangerous if you have tortilla chips around. Dip them in the dressing and you have a way better version of Cool Ranch Doritos. You've been warned.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Beginning

Last night marked the official beginning of Canning Season 2011. It kicked off with mulberry juice, of course. As it always does. Irritatingly, I found when I pulled all the jars of juice out of the refrigerator that I only had five quarts, instead of the six I thought I had. When I had added the sugar, I ended up with a little less than five and a half quarts. So I only canned five.

I hate firing up the pressure canner for less than a full canner load. But I had already psyched myself up to do it (totally requires prior psyching, yes), so I went ahead. These are the first five of what will eventually be over 200 jars of food, assuming all produces as it should and I don't just go stark raving mad around September.


It occurred to me that while I have shown you what the shelves in the Pit of Despair look like at the end of the canning season, I have never shown you what they look like at the end of eating season.

Perhaps you are thinking that would just look like a bunch of shelves full of empty jars? Well . . . yes. That is correct. But still, have some pictures. Pictures make everything more fun.

See? We're having fun now!

WOAH. The fun! It never stops!

What you see in the first (fun!) picture is four quarts of tomatoes, two pints of salsa, one pint of tomato juice, two pints of pickled jalapenos, and the green tomato chutney that's supposed to age a year before eating. That's it. Oh, and the elderflower champagne from this year.

The second (even more fun!) photo only has what's left of the jams and jellies, which mostly includes a WHOLE HELL OF A LOT of Seville orange marmalade. The MiL is pretty much the only one who eats it, so it goes slowly. There are also some dill pickles I canned a couple of years ago and then never used because they got all soft in the canning. I like my pickles crunchy. Any ideas on what to do with limp pickles? (Don't be gross now; I'm really only talking about ACTUAL pickles.)

Someone once asked me after seeing the photos of all the jars of food in the cellar if we would actually eat all that stuff. I think you can see that the answer to that is yes. We're good eaters. It's a point of pride, really.

So now I just have to re-fill all those shelves. Luckily, I have 27 tomato plants to help me. Bring on the tomatoes! The shelves are ready.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

R-Rated Mulberries

The mulberries march on. I am deep in the throes of mulberry juicing, almost at the point where I have a full canner load (seven quarts) to can and get all that juice out of the refrigerator. Our refrigerator is valuable real estate; six quarts of juice take up way too much of it.

But then those damned sheep got in my way again.

See, when the mulberries are coming, I make A. lock the sheep out of the ram pasture, where the mulberry tree is. The sheep LOVE mulberries. If they're in there, they eat all the mulberries that fall. Plus, they shit on my tarps. Even I, lax as I am about hygiene in many cases, find that to be less than hygienic when it comes to food. So they are exiled during mulberry season to the other pastures.


The grass is getting tired in the other pastures. And the sheep, though clearly fat and not at all deprived, are convinced they are starving to death and must get in that ram pasture RIGHTNOW.

They've been breaking in. To eat my mulberries. And shit on my tarp. Wretches, the lot of them.

It's been stormy a fair amount of the time for the past few days, and I don't gather the mushy, waterlogged mulberries after it rains, so I ceded the ram pasture to the sheep temporarily. But yesterday was sunny, hot, and dry. Perfect for mulberries. That's why I suggested to A. that he should let his sheep out to roam in the evening, after A. was done with work and could wander with them. Then I could get to the mulberry tree to spread out my tarp and whack the tree to collect my berries without the interference of those pesky sheep. Good plan. Except A. decided to let them out right at 5 p.m.

At 5 p.m. Cubby and I were hanging out in the lane eating black caps and thinking about going inside to finish dinner. I was not prepared for mulberrying. But the sheep were out, so I had to go in. I handed Cubby off to A., raced into the house to grab my little berry baskets and the ladybug shoes (best shoes EVER for mulberrying--no stains!), and hoofed it to the mulberry tree.

That's when I realized I had not changed my shirt and really didn't want mulberry stains all over the clean shirt I was wearing. I could have gone back to the house to change, but that would have wasted precious time.

So I took my shirt off and hung it on a bamboo branch while I gathered.

It wasn't exactly like a photo shoot for a "Hott Country Girlz" calendar or anything, however. I mean, I was wearing total Mom shorts (Dockers, for God's sake), hideous yellow shoes with little ladybugs all over them, and staining my hands purple as I scooped up mushy mulberries. Not so hot. But it's not as if there was anyone to see. And I did keep my shirt clean.

And now I have enough mulberry juice to can. Success.

Edited to add: A. brought to my attention the fact that it was not perhaps entirely clear that I wasn't all bare-chested. I was still wearing a bra, and therefore I was covered at least as much as your average person wearing a bikini. An item of clothing I never actually wear, myself, but the point remains. It wasn't all that exciting, is what I'm getting at.

Monday, June 27, 2011

How To Build a Foundation

First, you should probably hire someone to do it for you. But if you're like A. and prefer to do everything yourself, here's what to do.

First, dig a level trench for your foundation wall. Then, go around the property scavenging stones from old, neglected flower beds and forgotten paths.

Next, collect your work crew.

Willing, but lacking opposable thumbs.

Also willing, and possessing of opposable thumbs, but mostly wants to just run off with Daddy's hammer.

Maybe it's best to fly solo, actually.

Next, start building a stone wall. Stone by stone, considering placement carefully and lifting them all into place. Changing your mind and moving that stone out and this one in. Sometimes you may have to cut a stone to make it fit better.

This is the tool that scores the stone. After it's scored, you should be able to whack the stone with a hammer and it will break along the scored line. Theoretically.

And sometimes you'll need to fill in some gaps with little rocks to make everything level.

Stone walls are so visually appealing, aren't they?

Just keep going until there's a wall there.

And until your jeans are so encrusted with mud that it will take two rinse cycles to get them clean enough to wash.

The next step is filling in the space between the wall and the building with backfill (small stones and rubble) and then laying more flat stones under the shed wall and on top of the stone wall, over the backfill. A. was going to pour concrete over the backfill in the space, but then thought maybe if he just left the backfill as is and instead made a strong stone top for the shed to rest on, the foundation wouldn't be so prone to cracking and deteriorating as it freezes and thaws and shifts. That's the theory, anyway. We'll see how it works.

Happy Monday, duckies! Here's hoping your week doesn't feature this much backbreaking labor. Unless that's your thing, in which case, labor away.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Endorsement

You should buy J-B Weld. Anything that can hold on a rapidly spinning mower blade over our rough terrain is a serious product.

I didn't actually think it would work. I'm not sure A. did, either. But when he fired the mower up this morning, that blade stayed right in place and cut the grass just as it should. It's a tiny bit bent, and so is a tiny bit higher than the other two blades, but the difference is slight enough that it really makes no difference.

I don't suppose it'll hold forever, but it's held through most of the mowing so far. I think A. has a couple of the smaller lawns left to do, but so far, so good.

In sum: J-B Weld is awesome and now has the Blackrock seal of approval. For whatever that's worth.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some potatoes to hill. J-B Weld can't help me with that.