Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Tale of Four Chickens (and The Chicken Mistress)


In the beginning, there were chicks. The chicks were small and fluffy and vulnerable. They needed food and water, a heat lamp and shelter. As the chicks grew, some decided to fly free, leading to their untimely demise. Then there were four. And those four grew into big, splendid chickens, still requiring food and water, a heat lamp and shelter.


One of the cocks does indeed crow, but not just at dawn. More like whenever he's moved by the crowing spirit, which is all the damn time.


Every morning, The Chicken Mistress trudged up the lane to let the chickens out of their coop. And every evening she trudged up the lane again to shut them in safely for the night. When the weather turned bitter cold, The Chicken Mistress also carried fresh water every day to replace the water that had frozen in the night. The Chicken Mistress bought and carried 50 pound sacks of chicken feed, made sure the chickens had grit to aid their digestion, and faithfully turned the heat lamp on and off as needed so the chickens wouldn't freeze.

The Chicken Mistress did all of this with no expectation of any return on her labors in the near future. The Chicken Mistress (who is a novice Chicken Mistress and therefore does not know jack shit about chickens) was assured by The Chicken Gurus that chickens need lots of sunlight before they begin laying eggs, and so no eggs were expected until spring.

So imagine The Chicken Mistress's surprise when she went into the coop to check the water supply last night and damn near stepped on these:


Well, slap my ass and call me The Chicken Mistress. Them's EGGS.


P.S. The Chicken Mistress and her Chief Consort ate the eggs this morning and pronounced them good.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Blackrock Goes to the Birds

So far in the Meet the Family series, you have met Mia, Leda, Otty, Pitty Pet, James (RIP), Belle, and Alfie and Buttercup. You have not yet met the birds. Which is really too bad, because if you HAD met them already, maybe you would feel on friendly-enough terms with them to corral them in the MiL's bathroom and stuff them back in their cage.

Perhaps an explanation is required.

We have two lovebirds, named Ella and Benny. Despite the name, lovebirds are NOT loving. In fact, if these two specimens are any indication, they're quite hateful. These birds fight with each other all the time, bite at their own wings until they're bloody, screech constantly, and bite human fingers that get within range. What lovely little pets.

As I'm sure you have gathered, I do not so much like the lovebirds. Which is one reason you have not been introduced to them yet. Also, they spend their summers outside on the front porch and their winters in the MiL's bathroom, so I kind of forget about them. And that's just fine with me.

However. The MiL is gone for a week, leaving the lovebirds in our care. The first day she was gone, A. went in to her bathroom to take a bath and I asked him to give the lovebirds fresh food and water. Which he did. Last night, when I went in there to refresh their supplies, Benny was perched on top of the cage. OUTSIDE of the cage. Nothing was open and I couldn't see where he'd gotten out, leading me to the conclusion that he had escaped when A. was fooling around with the cage the day before. I always like it when I can allocate blame to someone who is NOT ME.

So I called A. upstairs and explained that he needed to get the bird back in the cage. He knows the lovebirds bite. I do, too, which is why I called him up to grab the bird. But he very cleverly sidestepped responsibility by leaving the cage open all night, figuring Benny would go back in to eat at some point. And what, I said, if instead of Benny going IN, Ella comes OUT, and then there are TWO lovebirds at large in the bathroom? He did not answer the question.

You can see where this is headed, can't you?

Sure enough, this morning both birds are out of the cage. The bathroom door is shut, so they can't really go anywhere, but I have to go in there to feed and water them. I'll have to get some gloves on and get those little bastards in their cage one way or the other, because I'll be damned if I'll spend the next week fearing for my eyes whenever I have to go into that bathroom.

I hate birds.

Update: Immediately after posting this I donned my gardening gloves and cautiously crept into the bathroom. To find both birds sitting in the cage as if nothing untoward had ever happened, waiting for their food. Once again, I have created drama where there was none. But at least you have now met the birds.

And now we shall never speak of them again.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Well Hello, Poppets!

Welcome back to work! It is not yet time to feel totally depressed and miserable that the fun of the holidays is over--time enough for that next Monday, when New Year's Eve is done with and there are no more days off until Memorial Day. If you're A., that is, who did a wonderful imitation of Bob Cratchit as he shuffled off to work on the Friday after Christmas.

BUT ANYWAY.

No depression today! Only happy thoughts! Which brings me to the question of the day: What was the best present you got for Christmas/Hanukkah/Hanumas/whatever you celebrate? A car? A diamond ring? A single ripe orange and a doll made of rags*? OR, did you get an iPod Nano, like a certain blogger I know who lives in upstate New York and may in fact be something of a technophobe but is nonetheless thrilled to have music when she runs if she could only figure out how to get all the songs she wants on it?

But this is not about me (I KNOW--an iPod Nano? Is that not the most surprising--and yet most awesome--gift A. could have given me?). This is about YOU and YOUR best gift. Lay it on me.

* If it was good enough for Laura Ingalls Wilder, it's good enough for me! (Except not really, because, man, what a screw.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Progamming

Yesterday was so nice. I got to use my birthday as an excuse to not do a damn thing. AND, even BETTER, to make A. do things FOR me. Sweet.

I woke up far too early considering we had been out until almost midnight the night before. I started to creep out of the bedroom, and A. sort of half woke up and said, "Oh wait. It's your birthday. I have to make you breakfast." But I was nice enough to tell him to go back to sleep. Even on my birthday, I am the soul of courtesy. But then, a couple of hours later, I forgot about courtesy and ran back into the bedroom, jumped on the bed, and announced, "It's my birthday! Get up! I want some breakfast!"

Then A. hid under the covers and mumbled something along the lines of, "Thank God this only happens once a year."

But he did haul himself out of bed and make me breakfast. Then I opened my presents (and I don't care how greedy this sounds, I must say that I LOVE getting presents). Then we went to the dump. Even on my birthday, I cannot escape the Saturday dump run. But A. gathered all the trash, a task which normally falls on me.

Then, because it was pouring rain, blowing wind, and muddy and flooding all over the place, I elected to get a girly movie from the library ("P.S. I Love You"--pretty good) and sit on my ass inside for the afternoon. I did not make A. watch the movie with me, however. And I know he's grateful, because you should have seen his face when he saw what I picked out. He was nice enough to ask, "Do you want me to watch this with you?" But his relief when I told him that wasn't necessary was noticeable not only in the expression on his face, but in the contrails he left behind racing out the door to get away from the estrogen-fest.

Then we got dressed up and drove 40 miles to an Italian restaurant where we ate and drank far too much, and I got my leftovers in a tinfoil swan. I have ALWAYS wanted to go to a restaurant that packages leftovers up in the shape of a bird.

My dreams are modest.

I also did not do any dishes yesterday. A. didn't either, but he's doing them right now, because how punk-ass would it have been to leave them until today and then remind me it's not technically my birthday anymore, and so I could do them? Too punk-ass, and I'm sure such a thing never crossed A.'s mind.

I still have my birthday cake to look forward to, because the MiL left yesterday for a trip and will be making it when she gets back in about a week. Maybe I should insist that we continue the celebration ALL WEEK LONG.

No. I think that would be the end of A.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Little Story on the Day of My Birth

On this day 29 years ago, my mother was three weeks past her due date. I should imagine she was really sick and damn tired of being pregnant. In fact, she was so sick of it that she went for a bike ride on December 27th, because her doctor had said exercise could induce labor. I can't imagine balancing a 43-week-pregnant body on a bicycle, but she did. And she went into labor.

Unfortunately, my father, who was in the Air Force at the time, was on night duty at the base. He was not free to leave his post. But he did anyway. When he got the phone call, he raced over to his commanding officer and told him he was leaving. Yup, my dad went AWOL for me (he was not disciplined for it that I know of).

He did not go AWOL in time to get home and drive my mom to the hospital, however. That task fell to my mother's father, Holy (of Burned Cabbage fame). Duchess and Holy had come to spend Christmas in Sacramento, CA, with the family and see the new baby. The new baby who had so far proved to be a stubborn pain in the ass (a bit of foreshadowing for the rest of the child's life, perhaps?) and ruined plans for a nice Christmas with the new wee one.

BUT ANYWAY.

Duchess had to stay home with the two small children already in residence, and Holy had to drive his very pregnant daughter to the hospital. In a strange city. In a strange car. And just to make it more nerve-wracking, in the middle of dense fog. Do you know how comfortable native New Orleanians are driving in any kind of weather except maybe rain? Especially when they don't know where the hell they're going and their daughter is in labor in the passenger seat?

Yeah.

But he got her there. I don't think Holy had ever been so relieved to see a person as he was to see my dad when he finally arrived. And around 11:30 p.m., I was born.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Twiddling My Thumbs

December 26th has always been a nothing day for me. This is because my birthday is on the 27th*, so the 26th is The Day After Christmas AND The Day Before My Birthday. With no joyous occasion resulting in gifts for me, December 26th may as well not exist.

Especially because on THIS December 26th, A. had to go to work and the house is a wreck, so I will be not so much twiddling my thumbs as employing them in picking up and vacuuming. What a buzzkill, man.

However! I have a small pile of birthday presents awaiting me, as well as the anticipation of an actual dinner out at an actual restaurant, which means I actually won't be cooking OR doing dishes tomorrow. SWEET.

So December 26th can just be over already. I'm ready for it to be the 27th.

* Don't worry--you still have time to send me a gift! I'm told e-mailed gift certificates arrive almost instantaneously.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas

I know it's the American custom to wish people a "Merry" Christmas. But "merry" seems so impermanent. Any fool with a bottle of whiskey can make himself merry. But happiness . . . well, happiness is a state of being, a contentment with the world and life. So today, I will borrow a turn of phrase from the British.

Peace on Earth, goodwill to all . . . and Happy Christmas to you and yours.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Never Say Die


In the midst of the frenzy that was the tomato harvest this year, there may have been some hysteria-tinged jokes made about having fresh tomatoes at Christmas. HAHAHAHA. How funny is that! Fresh tomatoes at Christmas! The very idea!

You see where I'm going with this, don't you?

Yeah, the joke's on me.


Yes, despite taking no special measures whatsoever to make the tomatoes last, they WILL NOT GO AWAY. They are the tomatoes that will not die. Tomatoes of the undead. Freaky, supernatural tomatoes. CHRISTMAS tomatoes. It's starting to scare me a little bit. So I think I'll eat them. Just to show them who's boss. And to win the tomato war once and for all.

And also, to get them OUT OF MY DAMN KITCHEN ALREADY. Because, really. Tomatoes at Christmas is just not right.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oh, Right--There's This HOLIDAY Coming Up

So here I've been blathering on about snow and cold (I took a reading of 28 degrees in the north bedroom this morning--wheee!) and TOTALLY IGNORING this tiny little holiday that all of the sudden is THIS THURSDAY. How did that happen?

I don't really make a huge deal out of Christmas. I don't spend hours beforehand running around buying numerous gifts, because I only give one gift to immediate family members. A gift I either make (meaning food--lots of people are getting canned pears, spaghetti sauce, salsa, etc. this year) or buy at a real store in the Small City. No shopping online. I don't like to bake, and I don't need to because the MiL has been churning out bread and cookies enough for us both. Or so I tell myself. I don't go to a lot of parties, because I'm a reclusive freak*. I'm not religious, so I don't have a lot of church obligations. A. will be working both the day before and the day after Christmas, which means those will be days pretty much like any other.

But I know that a lot of you are running around like crazy people, whirling like dervishes and possibly ready to just run away to Egypt until January. Or maybe just spike your eggnog so heavily with rum that you won't CARE if you didn't get that last dozen sugar cookies decorated. Which brings me to The Question: Are you ready for The Day?

* Except I DID go to a cookie-baking gathering at a friend's house yesterday (hi, Alyssa!), where I basically sat on a bar stool and watched four other women race around the kitchen while I ate guacamole and made sure the small child in our midst didn't eat the five-pound bag of chocolate chips or do a face-plant onto the hot stove burner. That was pretty fun. Mostly because I didn't do a damn thing and just got to watch OTHER people work in the kitchen. How novel.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Cold, COLD Truth

I've mentioned once or twice that our house is cold. But I haven't given you the cold (HAA), hard numbers to back that statement up. Today, I will.

See, before moving here, I thought I knew what cold meant. It meant having to wear slippers and a robe in the morning, a sweatshirt or sweater during the day. Oh, what an innocent I was. That IS what "cold" means in an insulated, centrally-heated house. But at Blackrock, where there is no insulation, no central heat, and in fact NO HEAT AT ALL in much of the house, "cold" means something entirely different.

It means being able to see your breath. It means long underwear and four layers at all times while indoors. It means fish tanks, WITH MOVING WATER IN THEM, freezing solid. It means ice on the walls. THAT is what I mean when I say that our house is cold.

The MiL found a little thermometer that can be moved from room to room to take temperature readings. What fun! Let's see how cold it can get inside a house!

Okay, so first of all, when I took these readings, it was 20 degrees outside the house (all degrees in Fahrenheit, because, uh, because I'm American and have NO IDEA what the equivalent in Celsius may be). I took readings in three places upstairs, where we basically don't have any heat at all. But these are not the rooms we close off in the winter. These are rooms we use. Bear that in mind.

In the upstairs hall, which is the same temperature as the MiL's bedroom and the study the computer lives in, I found that it was 38 degrees. Cozy!

In the north bedroom, I took a temperature reading of 35 degrees. This is the coldest room in the house at all times. It is also the room our bedroom door opens into, so THIS is what I face every morning when I leave our room. And, more importantly, it is ALSO the room all our clothes are stored in. Putting on a 35-degree bra in the morning is a real eye-opener. Don't try this at home, kids.

And in our bedroom, which has the benefit of a small space heater set on low, the thermometer read a toasty 44 degrees. However, lest you feel too sorry for me sleeping in a room that cold, I should mention that I was hot last night and pushed the covers down. (I KNOW. What is WRONG with me?)

Of course, we haven't even gotten into the coldest part of the winter yet, so these numbers will be going down. Way down. I can't wait until February.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Weather Report

Sunday at Blackrock: Harsh winds, with the likelihood of more snow.

Monday at Blackrock: Even harsher winds, with the guarantee of some crazy-cold temperatures.

By the woodstove at Blackrock: Mild, with a possibility of hot chocolate.

You know where to find me. Peace out.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Another Post About Snow

Because we got more snow yesterday. LOTS more snow. About seven inches, in fact. It started about 9 a.m., snowed all day, briefly paused last night, and now is snowing again this morning. We knew this storm was coming because of the winter weather advisories we'd been seeing. (Which cause us to go around in the time before the storm solemnly intoning, "We're under threat." Because it's funny. And because we're gigantic nerds.) So the sheep had their hay, the chickens had their feed, all the animals were snug and ready for the snow.

The chickens were quite happy to sit around inside and roost all day. The sheep were not so happy. The sheep were kinda pissed. They Do Not Approve of snow that covers the grass up. Even though the grass is DEAD and they have perfectly good hay to eat, they still want to graze. And the snow deprives them of this activity. So they stand at the gate next to the house and maa loudly at the slightest sign of activity. As if this is all my fault.


We want our GRASS, damn you.

The dogs enjoy the snow. At least, they enjoy it for 20 minutes or so of frantic swirling and playing, but then the ice builds up between their toes and their noses get cold from sticking them in snow drifts and they're quite ready to head inside and take their positions in front of the woodstove.


That small dot is Mia, waiting patiently for me to stop this wandering around with the stupid camera already so she can go inside and roast her head under the woodstove.

Yes, the snow is magical and gorgeous. Especially when someone (A.) is home to help me shovel. Yay for weekend snowstorms!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Great Debate

Marriage is a strange institution, throwing together two people in one life despite their different backgrounds. Would you like some random, totally-not-about-me* examples?

One person may have been raised by parents and grandparents (A.), while the other saw grandparents once a year--maybe (me).

One person may have grown up with margarine and chicken breasts (me), while the other was accustomed to butter and liver (A.).

One person may have been raised in the country (A.), while the other was a suburb-rat (me).

One person may have had a family tradition of watching each and every person open every single Christmas present one at a time (A.), while the other has fond memories of a Christmas morning free-for-all of greed and shredded wrapping paper (me).

And let's talk about that totally random last example, shall we?

Yes, my family handed out all the presents all at once, and then everyone opened them whenever they wanted. Some people went slowly, some tore them all open immediately. It was quick, exciting, and okay, possibly greed-inspired. A.'s family, on the other hand, hands out the presents one at a time, and everyone sits around and watches the person open the present before the next one is handed out. This is all much more civilized and classy, I'm sure.

There's just one problem.

A.'s family Christmas gatherings include more than 20 people. Do you have any idea how long it takes to watch 20+ people open at least one gift, possibly multiple gifts? A long damn time, that's how long. Because this is a totally foreign practice for me, it's all I can do not to grab all the presents and rip them open myself, just to speed things along. Though I suspect that would not make me universally popular.

So the question of the day: How do you and your family handle gift opening? One at a time, or all at once?

* As if ANYTHING on this site has ever NOT been about me.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Giving Garden

You all remember that book "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein, right? The one with the tree that gives and gives and gives to this greedy boy as he grows, losing apples and limbs left and right, until finally the tree is just a stump and yet it STILL gives to the boy-turned-into-an-old-man by offering its stump for the boy-turned-into-an-old-man to rest his weary old bones?

SOB.

Okay, so maybe my garden isn't quite that selfless, but I just thought I should acknowledge the fact that I ate fresh produce from our garden last night. I know I need not remind you that it is the middle of December. And the garden is covered in three inches of snow. And yet, the brave little collards were still out there, waiting to willingly sacrifice their hardy leaves to be cooked with bacon and onions for my dinner last night.

SOB. And YUM.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bigger Is Better?

Onions are one thing that we didn't grow in our garden this year. In the past, our lack of rain has caused us to end up harvesting a pathetic crop of annoyingly undersized onions. And since one of the top onion-producing areas in the country is only about 50 miles from us, it didn't seem worthwhile to bother growing them ourselves. Then we had the wettest summer ever this year, so we could probably have grown them this year--the one year we didn't plant any. Of course.

BUT ANYWAY.

So we've been buying onions. But of course I can't just buy the little bag of onions at the grocery store, like a normal person. OH NO. I need MORE onions. CHEAPER onions. SPECIAL onions. Mennonite onions.

There are a couple of Mennonite-run stores in the area that sell bulk everything. That's where we've been getting our onions, in 25-pound sacks (for seven whole dollars--wheeee!). That's a lot of onions. At first, I was afraid it was too many and they would rot before I could get through them. But we did manage to get through them all, and so I needed more. Except this time the MiL was charged with stopping at the Mennonite store.

I should explain that the MiL has this personality trait that causes her to always buy the largest available package of anything. Why get one tube of glue when you can have twelve! Forget that sissy normal-sized jar of mayonnaise--let's get the picnic-sized monster tub!

Thank God we don't have a Costco membership.

So of course, when the MiL asked for a 25-pound bag of onions at the Mennonite store and was informed they had 50-pound bags, she went with the more-is-better philosophy.



Dios mio

Anyone care to place a bet on who will win this race--me and my cooking, or the onions and the rot? Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Birthdays at Blackrock

I believe in birthdays. I think everyone should have a big fuss made on the day of their birth and be totally spoiled, if only for that one day. In A.'s case, that meant a quiet dinner without a lot of people to be raucous and sing loudly. But it had better be a damn good dinner. And it was.

In celebration of A.'s birth, we had rack of lamb, twice baked potatoes, and acorn squash.


Damn, I'm good.


The dining room table was set with the family silver, the napkins embroidered with the family initials, and the Harvard Plates (purchased by the last wealthy Harvard alumnus in the family--and the last wealthy family member, for that matter--and depicting a different Harvard building on each plate). Because that's just how we play it at Blackrock.


Martha ain't got nothin' on us.

The MiL outdid herself making a four-layer yellow cake with buttercream and homemade blackberry jam between each layer. Except I didn't get a photo of it. Whoops. So you'll just have to trust me when I tell you, it was impressive AND delicious.

A. got some really good presents, most of them sheep-related. My personal favorite is a mug my parents found printed with the words, "I like sheep better than people." Indeed.

The next birthday, on the 27th, is mine. But I'm making A. take me out to dinner, so the Harvard Plates can stay in the cabinet for the celebration of MY birth.


How do you like to celebrate birthdays?

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Child Is Born

He was born on this day 28 years ago.

He decided he was sick of crawling when he was 9 months old. So he got up and started running. He hasn't stopped since.

His first word was "no."

His first sentence was "No, don't want to!"

When he was a toddler, he loved to gesture grandly and announce, "I'll have my men take care of it."

When he was six years old, his Christmas request was," a big book full of facts." He got a huge, detailed, encyclopedic book entitled "The Fishes of New York State." Then he memorized it.

He raised pigeons as a boy.

He graduated from high school and left home for college when he was 17 years old.

He worked on a hot air balloon crew in college, getting up at 3:30 a.m. to chase the balloons through the desert.

He worked as a ditch digger in Phoenix, Arizona, in 120 degree heat.

Then he decided law school didn't sound so bad.

He got married when he was 22 years old. To me.

Happy birthday to you, A. And many more.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sheep on Parade

Yesterday, A. moved his flock from the far pasture to their winter quarters in the pasture nearest the house.



Mia is only pretending to help so she can steal some of the corn A. is carrying.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men?

More like "Peace at Blackrock, Goodwill Toward All Animals Around the Woodstove."


Season's greetings from Pitty Pet, Belle, and Leda the Headless Dog.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I Can't Think of a Clever Title About Snow

You can just insert your own clever title up there. Thank you.

The last week or so has been pretty depressing, weather-wise. Bitter cold, then freakishly warm. Rain, then sleet, then some gloppy snow. And always, always, always a cloudy gray sky, with no hint of sunshine to be seen. Our Vitamin D levels are sinking rapidly.

Personally, I see no point to cold weather and gray skies if it's not going to snow. Snow makes everything look so much better. It covers up the dreary dead grass and muddy patches. It coats the bare, leafless branches of trees in a nice layer of sparkly fluff. The dogs get stupidly excited and bound through it, scooping up mouthfuls of snow occasionally and generally making idiots of themselves. It doesn't make the chickens so happy, but tough noogies.

It finally snowed a significant amount last night. Just a few inches, but that's enough to cover the ugly and make everything more aesthetically pleasing.

A woodchuck winter wonderland.

And because I don't have to drive anywhere in it (not that I could, as my car is currently out of commission, but we won't talk about that), I can just enjoy it from inside the house. Next to the woodstove.

Well, until I have to go shovel out the woodpile to re-stock the wood. Even snow has its drawbacks.

Are you a snow bunny, or does the very thought of snow make you shiver and consider relocating to L.A.?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Guru

Are you feeling frantic? Frazzled? Overwhelmed by the decorating, baking, cooking, purchasing, wrapping, partying, OH GOD MAKE IT ALL STOP.

Pitty Pet is here for you.

Today, Pitty would like to show you all the proper way to relax and rejuvenate your spirit. When he's worn out from his rigorous eating and pooping schedule, he indulges in the following stress-relief techniques.

First, it's important to find the correct spot for your meditation. Pitty Pet recommends a place as close to the woodstove as possible, because warmth is essential to happiness.

Second, you must assume the proper position. Curling up in a ball is optimal. Pitty understands some humans feel the need to suck their thumbs when curled up. This is optional.

Third, and most important, once the position is assumed, you must stay there and remain immobile for AT LEAST three hours, preferably five. You may feel the need to extend your session for as long as seven hours. This may be a challenge, particularly if you are likely to be disturbed by pesky dogs wishing to lick your face or pesky humans who demand possession of your chair. The dogs can be taken care of with a swipe of the paw. The humans may force you to relocate. In which case, you must begin from the beginning.

Perhaps you require a visual?



The Master Relaxer at work.

Pitty Pet hopes he has been of assistance to you today. He accepts any and all tributes in the form of kibble and adoration. Just as soon as he wakes up.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Just In Case . . .

We had the first of the venison last night, and it was very, very good. Especially for roadkill.

I have learned many new skills since moving to Blackrock, and a lot of those revolve around food. One of those skills is how to cook strongly-flavored meat. Meaning, in our case, wild game and lamb. I had never eaten either of those things, not once, before moving here. And if you're accustomed to the mild (some might say tasteless . . .) meat at the grocery store, cooking (and actually enjoying) these different kinds of meats can be a challenge. So I thought I should share with you some of my acquired wisdom, in case you ever find yourself with roadkill that you plan to eat*.

I think the most important factor in the flavor of wild meat, and venison in particular, is the way it is treated when it's dressed and butchered. But beyond that, a good rule of thumb is strong flavorings for strong meats. Also, low, slow cooking methods. When I cook the venison roasts, I sprinkle them with salt and a tiny bit of French Four Spice (which is white pepper, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves--I know, it sounds weird, but you'll just have to trust me here), brown the meat, soften some sliced onions in there, then deglaze the pan with a bunch of red wine, add some water, and simmer the meat in that mixture for a few hours. That creates a nice pan sauce for the meat, too, that you can finish however you want. Thicken with flour, add a little bit of cream, whatever. But the wine and the long cooking will mask some of the wild flavor and make the meat very tender. It can be very tough if you're not careful.

For lamb, take a cue from Middle Eastern cooking (which uses sheep as its primary meat, after all) and use a bit of cinnamon. I do not like cinnamon in savory dishes as a general rule, but it does work well with the distinct flavor of lamb. And again, red wine is your friend if you're trying to create a sauce for lamb.

I'm not saying this will make deer and sheep taste like chicken breasts, but it will make them a little more palatable if the flavors are new to you. And anyway, why would you WANT them to taste like chicken breasts, which taste like . . . nothing at all.

Anyway, go get you some roadkill and get to cookin'. You might be pleasantly surprised.

* Hey, IT COULD HAPPEN.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I Hope This Guy Gets Pants for Christmas

The MiL gets a lot of UPS deliveries, so the men in brown are frequent visitors to Blackrock. They're unfailingly pleasant and friendly, and they always give the dogs treats, so I have a fairly good opinion of them in general. But yesterday, I saw something that made me doubt the intelligence of one particular UPS delivery man:

Dude was wearing shorts. The high temperature yesterday was 22 degrees.

I understand that UPS drivers do a lot of running in and out of their trucks to deliver things, so they're not sitting all day. But I do a lot of outside work, and there is no kind of hard labor that makes bare skin comfortable when the temperature is in the twenties. And I know he couldn't have been comfortable, because his legs were that angry red that results from exposure to cold. I felt like I should invite him in to warm up by the fire.

There may be a good explanation for this astounding lack of sense, but failing a good one, I'm just gonna have to go with the most obvious: He's just a leeeetle bit slow.

But as long as he's nice to the dogs, I guess slow is okay.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Spoils of War

The one benefit to hosting far too many people at a party in our home (besides the fact that all of our glassware has been washed and so can be used without fear of dust and dead insects for the first time in months) is what those people leave behind. And I'm not talking about crumpled napkins and crumbs ground into the rugs.

No, I'm talking about the wine. Wine being, of course, the traditional safe hostess gift. I can't remember how many bottles of wine I took as the guests came in. A lot of them were consumed during the revelry, but a lot more were left over. A LOT more.


This is going to require a lot of coffee mugs.

One particularly favored guest even brought a bottle of single malt scotch. And there's something in there called Harvey's Bristol Cream, which sounds impossibly British, though I haven't the first clue what it is. But mostly, it's wine. White, red, dry, fruity, even ice wine. And it's really a tragedy that all of this lovely alcohol is being stored on the kitchen floor.

We sure could use a wine rack . . . *

* Dad

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Morning After

There is only one possible topic for today's post: The Party. Oh, the Party. An event so large and impressive, it deserves a capital letter.

I think I sat down maybe twice yesterday between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. First, while the MiL did all the cooking, there was the set up. Moving furniture. Setting out chairs. Vacuuming. Hauling out all the serving platters, punch cups, wine glasses, and silverware we possess (and we possess a shitload of such things) and laying it all out as neatly and elegantly as possible.



We have a punch bowl. On a pedestal. It's okay to be jealous.


Sweeping the porch. Putting up tables. Setting out the beer in symmetrical, orderly rows and finding places for the Pellegrino, soda, and cider.


Further evidence of OCD, yes, but also, an impressive quantity of beer.

Then I managed to throw on my dress and heels half an hour before the party started and race back downstairs to make the Fish House Punch. Which includes a full bottle of light rum, a full bottle of dark rum, a full bottle of brandy, and a full bottle of peach brandy. Plus lemon juice, simple syrup, and water. It tastes like juice and has the intoxicating power of grain alcohol.

You would have wanted to come to this party.

Then the guests arrived. And arrived and arrived and arrived. I took coats and bottles of wine and gifts for the hostess (that would be the MiL, not me--no presents for me. But I'm claiming some of the wine, dammit.) and repeated over and over and over, "Hi, I'm Kristin. I'm the MiL's daughter-in-law." Then I directed them all towards the booze. The MiL had made enough food to feed a regiment, and that's about what showed up. We didn't take a head count or anything, but there were almost a hundred people in the house at one point. And I was threading through them with empty bottles, cups, and glasses on a tray. In heels. It's a miracle I didn't break anything.

All the punch was consumed, dozens of bottles of wine were emptied, the food was almost finished entirely, and everyone had a wonderful time. It was a very successful party. And the current state of our house is ample evidence of that.

If anyone feels like coming to help clean up, I'll pay you in leftover onion dip and beer.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Star of Blackrock

There's something about all things Christmas-related that A. doesn't like. Okay, he really kind of hates EVERYTHING about all things Christmas-related. There are a limited number of Christmas tasks I can get him to help with before he retreats to his Grinch cave to drink beer and rant about the Whos down in Whoville.

He will help me get the tree (we cut our own), and he will grudgingly help me put it in the stand. But he won't help decorate it. I always make him choose one ornament to put on the tree himself, because it's my job to force cheer into his dour, dreary life. It's a thankless job.

But there is one Christmas task that he performs with relative good grace, and that is placing the star on the top of the tree. He's the only one in the house tall enough to reach up there without teetering on a chair, though even he has to reach a little bit.

Placing the star requires graceful ballerina moves.

The tree is up, the house is decorated and (mostly) cleaned, the food is in the final stages of preparation . . . looks like we're having a party today.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Feel the Christmas Cheer, Dammit

Okay, I finally managed to make myself do some cleaning yesterday. Then I promptly negated all my good work by cutting up balsam fir branches in the house and strewing boxes of half-emptied decorations all over.

We go heavy on the candlesticks and evergreen boughs for decorating here at Blackrock. And yes, we use real evergreen boughs that I cut from a tree out back. They look MUCH better than the fake stuff, and smell better, too, but I will not lie--they are a pain in the ass. Besides the whole cutting of them, there's the sap to contend with (and of course you all remember my clever Heloise-style hint about removing sap from your clothes that I posted six months ago--RIGHT?), and then the branches slowly dry out and shed needles, leading to a solid inch of dead needles all over the furniture and floor when I attempt to remove the decorations in January. Good times.

My favoritest (yeah, that's what I said) decorations in the whole house, however, are these Santa hats that I bought at the grocery store one year. One says "Merry Christmas," and one says "Bah Humbug." To cover all the bases, you understand.


Today, I'm going with the one on the right.

What never fails to amuse me about these hats is their position on top of these priceless antique carved wooden heads from South America. You can't see it in the photo, but The Heads are kind of tribal looking, and have very stern expressions. And Santa hats. Hee.

Not so amusing, however, are the boxes still sitting on the floor in the living room that must be dealt with before the entire county descends upon our house tomorrow for the party. Having a deadline for Christmas decorating is kind of a buzzkill.

Do you have any holiday decorations up yet? Or do you hate the whole thing and wish to move to a Muslim country for the entire holiday season?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Continuing the Theme . . .

Yesterday we discussed Hated Household Chores. Today's topic may very well cause division amongst the ranks, but I'll be brave and introduce it anyway, because I think civilized discussion about differences is healthy. Unless you disagree with me, and then you're just WRONG. (Just kidding!) (Sort of.)

And NO, I am not going to talk about the cleaning that I am still not doing . . . LALALALALA--I CAN'T HEAR YOU.


Okay, onto the point. Finally.


I read a random thing about re-using bath towels yesterday. As in, some people re-use, and some people only use them once and then chuck 'em in the laundry basket.

Now. I suspect this is one of those things that people might get a little worked up about. Like, the people that only use them once think it's totally grody to the max to use a towel more than once. And the people that re-use towels think it's really stupid to wash a towel after using it once to dry off what should be a clean body, because HELLO! You just got out of the shower! Where you presumably cleaned yourself!

Can you tell where I stand on this issue?

Yeah, we re-use. Over and over and over and . . . well, you get the idea. I do not wash our towels much. In fact, I may as well admit that I don't even wash them every week (and NO, I DO NOT SMELL*). This is partially a result of living for so long without an adequate water supply for excess laundering, and partially because we just don't care about it that much. But I do understand that people get skeeved out over the damnedest things. For instance, I HATE dirty sheets. I don't sleep well when my sheets are dirty.

BUT ANYWAY.

I am interested to know--are you a re-user, or is the very thought of re-using a bath towel enough to make you hurl? Do tell.


* Do I? You'd tell me, right?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Unhappy Housewife

Today I seem to be bored with myself and my life. Since I am my main topic, this means I can't think of a single damn thing to write about. And also, we're having a massive party on Saturday (75 people--there is some doubt they will all even fit in the downstairs) and I should be cleaning and decorating, but I don't want to. I'm feeling very pathetic and whiny today. Which leads me to . . .

It's Audience Participation Day! Because obviously I have nothing entertaining to say today, so you get to pick up the slack. Yay! So, the topic of the day, in honor of the cleaning that I am NOT doing: Most Hated Household Chore. Mine is cleaning our bathroom, which is perpetually mildewy and nasty and never looks clean even when I just finished scrubbing it. Bastard.

So what's yours? Making beds? Doing dishes? Changing light bulbs? Cleaning the cat box? Or do you refuse to do anything at all and just wallow in your own filth?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Deep Thoughts with Kristin

In the midst of the turmoil, financial and otherwise, we all face in this depressing day and age, I seek distractions. And that is why, after the announcement that the U.S. recession began a year ago and so we should all have been panicking last December, I began to contemplate the humble coffee mug.*

I was contemplating the coffee mug because I have begun to drink wine out of one. If that sounds weird and stupid to you, just take a moment to think of the benefits of such a vessel.

1) It has a handle, so your hot little hands won't affect the temperature of your wine (I don't care about such things, but you're probably a bit more refined than I am).

2) A mug has a nice solid base, making it far less tippy than a standard wine glass. This is helpful when you're on your second or third mug and would therefore be more likely to knock a glass off the table and splash wine all over the floor and the dog on the floor. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

3) A coffee mug is not see-through and no one expects it to contain anything other than a hot beverage, so you can pretend you're drinking something wholesome like Ovaltine or tea. Until you start knocking things over, and then the game is pretty much up.

My mom always uses a coffee mug for ice cream, too. Though I always preferred a bowl for that, because I'm a piglet and usually want more ice cream than will fit in a standard coffee mug.

In conclusion, I urge you today to look at the ordinary objects around you with fresh eyes. You never know what novel idea you may come up with next. And if you're easily distracted, like me, then a coffee mug may make you forget about that stupid Dow and its stupid plummeting numbers, if only for a moment.

* No, there is no relation between a recession and a coffee mug--this is just the way my mind works. Just roll with me here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Survey Says . . .

Welcome back to work, little campers! If you were lucky enough to get a four-day weekend for Thanksgiving, this first day back is going to be torture. If you're one of those poor bastards who has to work on the Friday after Thanksgiving (this category includes my sainted husband) when the rest of the country is bumming around and eating turkey sandwiches in their pajamas, I am sorry.

In any case, on this wretched Monday back after a holiday, let's indulge in a little food-related nostalgia, shall we?

Today I would like to hear about your absolute favorite, it's-not-a-holiday-without-it, gotta-have Thanksgiving dish*. For me, that's mashed potatoes. Not that I don't eat mashed potatoes with some regularity (especially this year, Lord help me), but I am not in the habit of adding a full cup of heavy cream to them on a regular basis. YUUUUUM.

I also may have mentioned my undying devotion to the crescent rolls made by the MiL's sister, but these are a new addition to my Thanksgiving dalliances. Mashed potatoes were my first love, and I remain true to them, even when stuffing my face with rolls.

So what's the must-have for you? Cranberry sauce? Gravy? Stuffing (or dressing, if you're southern)? Green bean Campbell's Cream of casserole?

* Why is it that NO ONE ever claims to love the turkey more than anything else? Mere filler, I say. Maybe next year we should just drop the charade and forget the turkey. More room for potatoes that way.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Meet the Family--The Fishes

I debated whether the goldfish should be a part of the Meet the Family series, since I think it's a stretch to call them family members. I mean, really. They spend their days floating around in water, eating and pooping. They don't so much interact with us like the other pets do. But A. loves his goldies, and they've been around for a few years, so I suppose they've earned family member status.

Allow me to present Alfie and Buttercup:


Hey, YOU try to take a good picture of fish in a tank.

If they look funny to you, that's because they're a special kind of goldfish called Lionheads. They're much fatter and rounder than normal goldfish, and their heads develop these nasty, bumpy protuberances. It is possible A. is the only person in the world who thinks they're cute.

Anyway, A. got Alfie when we were still living in a one-bedroom apartment. We couldn't have any other pets, and A. was going crazy without any animals around. So he bought the fish and then took to sitting in front of the tank, watching Alfie swim around. Occasionally, he would talk to Alfie. Then he decided Alfie needed a wife. Enter Buttercup, who is named for Princess Buttercup in "The Princess Bride." Of course, we have no idea if Buttercup is male, female, or transgender, but then again, we have no idea what Alfie is, either. And we don't care, because we support alternative lifestyles.

When we moved here and were suddenly overrun with dogs, cats, poultry, and sheep, the fish were relegated to various sub-standard dwellings. First, they were in a tank in the north bedroom. Until the tank froze almost completely in the winter. Goldfish will live quite happily under ice, but it's not so good when the ice turns solid. Then they were moved to a galvanized tub in the cellar for awhile. In the summer, they resided in a plastic tub outside. They currently live in a big-ass tank upstairs in an unused bedroom that will soon become The Aquatic Center. There's another, smaller tank in there with a few feeder fish that we bought this summer to put in the rain barrels and eat the mosquito larvae that grew in the barrels. But those feeder fish do not have names, and will not be introduced as members of the family.

Really, I think I was pushing it with Alfie and Buttercup, but there you go. Everyone has been properly introduced to The Fishes of Blackrock, and now A. can stop complaining that I treat the fish like second-class citizens.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Musical Rugs--Take Two


Remember when the MiL and I hauled furniture and rugs around to put down Duchess's rug in the living room? That was so much fun, we thought we'd do it again!

Okay, really, it's not so much fun, but the other rug had been rolled up in the parlor for weeks, along with two rug pads and a bunch of other junk, and we thought maybe it would be nice to clean that up before the hordes swarmed the house for Thanksgiving and saw how feckless and lazy we are.

Shame is a powerful motivator.

So, second verse, same as the first: Drag out all the furniture and cram it in the living room, clean the floor, lay down the rug pad, center the rug, smooth out the wrinkles in the rug, haul all the furniture back in, and then collapse face-first on the pretty new rug in a heap of exhaustion. And then get up and take a picture.

Just so you know beforehand, there is no way of getting a full-room shot of the parlor. Short of trussing myself up from a rope in the middle of the ceiling to get the birds-eye view. I elected to stay on the floor, however, so this is the best I got.

With that in mind, here's Duchess's Rug #2 in the parlor:

This room cries out for a pipe stand and a red velvet smoking jacket.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Giving Thanks and Eating Potatoes


Well. Did everyone have a fabulous Thanksgiving? Did you consume enough starch to see you through until next Thanksgiving? Lord knows I did. I'm of the school that believes the turkey is an afterthought and the real stars are the bread and potatoes.

We hosted Thanksgiving this year. The MiL has several siblings in the area, and they all trade off hosting all the holidays. This year's feast was prepared for 23 people, though only 21 ended up coming. Only 21. Sniff. A paltry, pathetic number.

We did not raise and butcher our own turkey this year, for the first time in three years. The turkey flock is no more, alas, and so the MiL had to buy a turkey this year. She did admit that there was a certain ease in just cutting open the plastic and throwing the thing in the oven. I don't think she missed the killing, gutting, and plucking this year.

We did raise and butcher our own potatoes, though, because we're hardcore like that.

Everyone who comes brings something, so we didn't have to prepare all the food ourselves, though the MiL did do one turkey, two kinds of stuffing (vegetarian and carnivorous), cranberry sauce, two kinds of pie, and some tarts. I made the mashed potatoes. I think that's a fair division of labor, don't you?

Okay, I'm not a total slug. While the MiL was cooking, I was moving furniture and setting up to accommodate 21 people for a sit-down meal. That means three tables, one in the dining room and two in the living room.

This is the living room:


And look! There's Duchess' rug again!

I didn't get a photo of the dining room because it was crowded with family members seeking to be close to the wine and the woodstove. Wimps.

I did get a photo of all the desserts, though. The MiL's family are renowned for their skill in the kitchen, especially desserts, and pies in particular. So here we have berry, strawberry-rhubarb, lemon meringue, pumpkin, and apple. Plus pumpkin-pecan cheesecake, creme brulee, and green tomato mincemeat tarts, because why not?


Only I and my atrocious photography could make so many beautiful desserts look like dog doo. Apologies to the cooks.

And then there was squash and cabbage and bread. Lots and lots of bread. Olive bread, cornbread, and, OH YUM, the rolls. The MiL's sister makes these rolls for every holiday. They're some kind of overnight yeast dough made into crescent rolls. I love them with a passion you might not think possible for flour and yeast, but I assure you, it is true love.

Oh, and there were also copious amounts of beer and wine. And later, they broke out a handle of whiskey. Helps to settle the stomach, dontcha know.

We have leftovers enough to last a week and a whole lotta napkins to wash and iron. And that's it for Thanksgiving.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

From Me to You

Happy Thanksgiving!

Now get out of here and go eat some turkey. And stuffing. And mashed potatoes. Mmm, mashed potatoes . . .

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When Targeted Marketing Goes Wrong

We're hosting 22 people for Thanksgiving tomorrow. I prefer to ignore that fact (and the floors that need to be mopped) at this moment, and instead discuss . . . Sesame Street.

I got an interesting bit of spam in my Inbox yesterday. It was an exhortation to not miss my chance to buy tickets for a show called "Sesame Street Live: When Elmo Grows Up."

There are many, many things wrong with this.

I have purchased tickets to a show at this particular venue before, so you might think they just send out announcements for all their shows to anyone who's on their buyer's list. Except I went to that show* a year ago, and this is the first such announcement I have ever received.

Last time I checked, I do not have children. (Despite my particular kind of Dog Crazy, I do realize that Mia is not my child, thankyouverymuch.) I would have serious doubts about any adult who goes to a show called "When Elmo Grows Up" unaccompanied by someone under the age of, say, seven years of age. Unless Elmo grows up to become a crack dealer or a male prostitute, this is not an age-appropriate show for me. I don't think I'm the demographic they meant to target.

And anyway, does this not sound like the stupidest idea for a show EVER? I mean, come on. I would much rather see what happens to Oscar the Grouch. Does he ever get out of his garbage can? Do the worms go with him? Does he go to a therapist and discover a new, sunny outlook on life?

Which Sesame Street character would YOU like to see a sequel for?

*"Phantom of the Opera," and A. had to go with me. We went out to eat at a kick-ass German restaurant afterwards. Someone later asked how he liked the show. He said he liked the sausage. He's a great one for culture, that A.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Let's Burn Some Cabbage!

Look at me, writing recipes like I'm some kind of foodie. Except this isn't so much a recipe as a method. And do foodies ever write recipes for cabbage? Whatever, cabbages are stupid cheap this time of year. Especially if you're like the MiL, who stopped at a farm stand and bought two of the biggest damn cabbages in the WORLD for $1.50 each. Good food value, if you can get over being intimidated by a cabbage the size of a volleyball. Thankfully, cabbages keep extremely well.

BUT ANYWAY.

If you don't like cabbage, don't run away. It's just because you haven't had THIS cabbage yet. "This" is Burned Cabbage. That's what my grandmother, Duchess, called it. It's not really burned--it's actually kind of caramelized. Except in the 1960s, your average housewife (Duchess) didn't watch The Food Network and didn't know what the hell caramelization was, and so she called it burned. This is the only way my grandfather, Holy (let's not get started on my grandparents' nicknames at this time, okay?), liked cabbage. Holy also liked scotch and cigars, and he called everybody "Skax." You would have liked Holy.

BUT ANYWAY AGAIN.

The MiL calls this "Holy's Cabbage," and this is now the only way that A. likes cabbage, too.

So. Green cabbage will be softer and sweeter, but purple cabbage works too. It will just be a funky color and take a little longer to cook. Core the cabbage and cut it up into ribbons. It doesn't need to be particularly fine, not like coleslaw or anything. And you can leave the pieces fairly long. Melt butter over medium-low heat in a skillet. How much butter is kind of up to you, but you need enough. "Enough" will be about one and a half tablespoons for about half of a normal-sized head of cabbage (which will make three side-dish servings), but if you want to use more, I'm not gonna stop you. When the butter has foamed, dump in the cabbage, stir it all around, then cover and cook until the cabbage is soft, stirring occasionally. Then take the cover off and increase the heat to medium. And now you just cook it. Don't stir continuously, just every once in awhile. Let it brown, but not burn. You don't want black bits in there, just dark brown (although I HAVE literally burned it a little before, and it still tastes pretty damn good, so don't get your panties in a bunch over the exact color of the bits). It will take 10-15 minutes. When it's done, it will look like this:



Messy stove, dirty spoon . . . yup, one of my signature food photos.

I usually add a bit of salt, even when I use salted butter (and I ALWAYS use salted butter--for everything). But that's it. Three ingredients, and the result is meltingly soft and surprisingly sweet.

Try it--you'll like it. And if you don't? Eh. So you're a cabbage hater. There are worse things.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Walls Weep

I know that title sounds terribly literary and promises some kind of beautifully written story that's damn near poetry. Unfortunately, this is me and my life we're talking about, and poetry rarely enters into it. In this case, it is the literal truth that the walls were weeping. Allow me to explain.

Two of the four walls in our bedroom are both external walls, which means they're stone, and north-facing, which means they're colder than a witch's . . . nose. Cold like radiating cold. The room is unheated, except for a space heater that is only meant to keep it from being literally freezing in there. So these cold walls that radiate the cold into the room also suck warm air out.

It's all very pleasant.

Especially because one of these cold stone walls is directly behind the head of our bed, and when we sleep at night, condensation forms on the wall behind us. Imagine, if you will, the fun of reaching behind you when half-asleep to readjust your pillow and brushing against a freezing, wet surface. Cozy.

However, this is something I have come to accept and deal with. In the morning I pull the bed away from the wall, swipe at the wall with a tissue, and it's dry by the time we go to bed that night. Until this weekend.

This weekend we reached a whole new level of wet. I guess it's because the temperature dropped so sharply so fast, and then stayed cold for awhile. Whatever the reason, the stone walls in our bedroom were weeping moisture. The condensation was literally running down the walls. The whole wall was wet and dripping. Wiping them down didn't help. The space heater didn't help. Leaving the door open to circulate air didn't help. Friday night, I couldn't even sleep half the night because my head was so cold, and when I got up on Saturday, I realized my hair was damp from the moisture and our pillows, sheets, and down comforter were wet.

AND, the paint on the walls, the pretty paint that I just applied a few months ago, was starting to bubble and blister. Oh, HELL no. That was NOT okay. Discomfort I can handle. Damp sheets are gross, but manageable. But allowing our newly-painted walls to get all cracked and wretched again was not an option.

This called for serious measures. This called for the brilliant problem-solving abilities of A. Who decided that the best way to dry the room out would be to close off all the heating ducts in the house except the one that goes to our bedroom, and blast all the power of the furnace into that one room. Which is what we did on Saturday night. It was the first time the furnace had been turned on in about a month, and the first time EVER that our bedroom was even reasonably warm. Not tropical or anything--we still slept under our usual flannel sheets, two wool blankets, and the down comforter--but when I got out of bed in the morning, my whole body didn't automatically clench into a full-body shiver because of the cold.

And the walls were dry.

Alleluia and praise A.'s precious name. Worth his weight in pie, that man.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Most Pretentious Euphemism EVER


Yesterday in the Home and Garden section of our newspaper, there was a big article about heating with woodstoves or pellet stoves. Some jackass quoted in the article referred to this sort of heating as "European zone" heating.

As you know, we heat with a woodstove here at Blackrock, and have for some years. So I took a photo to illustrate "European zone" heating:

Bonjour

I guess calling it "huddling around the woodstove in the dining room because every other room will freeze your cojones off" wouldn't sell as many stoves.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Escapism

On a day like today, when it's in the low twenties outside and maybe 35 degrees in our bedroom, the sideways snow is blowing, and we're expected to get 6-12 inches before the end of the day, it's nice to have a memory of a warm, pleasant day to dream about as I huddle by the woodstove.

The last nice day we had was about a week ago. It was 65 degrees and sunny, and I was outside raking leaves. I raked up several piles, then went to get the trash can to stuff the leaves in for transport to the compost heap. When I returned, I found that Mia had discovered the piles and was very pleased that I had thought to make so many comfy beds for her.


Surely you didn't expect the Princess to sleep on that nasty hard GROUND, did you?

Alas, that bright day when I was so warm I had to take my sweater off is but a distant memory now. There will be no more shedding of layers. From here on out, I'll be piling them on.

Suddenly, winter seems to stretch into eternity . . .

Friday, November 21, 2008

What Not To Wear--Blackrock Edition

I remember a long, long time ago, in the distant past when I had cable, watching that show "What Not To Wear." Annoyed the shit out of me, that show. Those smug hosts pissed me off, digging through people's closets, laughing and making snide, bitchy comments about the clothes those people wear on a daily basis. I wanted to give both those patronizing bastards a boot to the head.

I don't want to give them a boot to the head now--I just want them to live a day in my life and see how well their fancy clothes fare at Blackrock.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love to dress up, and I do it pretty well when I need to. But it drives me to the brink of insanity to think that there are people watching these shows who think that their wardrobe isn't good enough because some dink on t.v. is criticizing the wearing of comfortable shoes. Real life requires real clothes sometimes, and those clothes are not always fashionable.

A short list of things that would be totally inappropriate to wear at Blackrock:

1) Three-inch spike heels. I don't care how long they make your legs look or how slenderizing they are to your figure, if you get stuck in the mud, you will not look elegant and fashionable. You will look ridiculous.

2) The perfect (and crazy expensive) black pant. (Why can't those assholes just call them pants, like everyone else? No, they must be "the black pant.") Good in theory, bad in practice when three dogs and two cats have deposited five pounds of fur on that $300 black pant.

3) A classic camisole and cardigan. Cute? Yes. Feminine? Yes. Warm enough for Blackrock? Not a gelato's chance in hell. You're better off with flannel-lined jeans and an alpaca sweater.

4) Thong underwear. You try to chase sheep in thong underwear and tell me how that works out for you.

5) Accessories. Hoop earrings and necklaces will get caught in the firewood that must be carried on a daily basis. Rings will be lost when hauling water. Tattoos are okay.

So if you ever visit me, remember--forget the dress pants. Pack the sweatpants. You'll thank me in the end.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mystery--Revealed

Awhile ago, I mentioned in passing that I was in band at one time in my checkered past.* And I practically DARED you to guess what instrument I played, never thinking anyone actually would.

Except Jive Turkey did.

Yes, J.T., you may have been joking and making the stupidest and most outrageous guess you could think of, but I did indeed play the tuba. And I must relay to you that any time this comes up (which is not often), A. always remarks that only fat kids play the tuba. Well, I am here to dispel that myth. I was never fat, and I did play the tuba.

Why the tuba? Hell, I don't know. We got to try out a bunch of instruments in fifth grade, and maybe I just liked how big the mouthpiece was. Or the fact that I didn't have to carry it around. Or even buy my own instrument, because for some reason, the school had their own tubas. Whatever, I played it. For the three years of middle school, anyway. I dropped it when I got to high school and concentrated on soccer instead. But I did get to go to Disneyland with our band when I was in seventh grade, so that was pretty cool. But not as cool as going to Europe with my soccer team, so soccer wins again.

And anyone who would like to make any sneering comments about how only geeks are in band, go ahead. But be prepared for a throw-down. Just remember that I can carry fifty-pound sacks of chicken feed, and I practice throw-downs on sheep. I may be a geek, but I'm a strong geek.

Any more band geeks out there? C'mon, don't be shy. Let's hear it: What did you play?

* Not really on the checkered part.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Full Circle

Way back in the spring, I showed you a salad of lettuce and radishes from our garden. And not just because it was so pretty (although it was), but because that salad was the first of our garden produce and signaled the beginning of my complete spurning of the produce section at the grocery store. I just love it when I can spurn the produce section at the grocery store.

In a pleasing bit of symmetry, last night we had a meal that used some of the last of the produce pulled straight from the garden. Six months almost to the day from that salad of lettuce and radishes in May, and last night's meal included . . .



Did you see this one coming?

These came from a fall planting we did in late September. We might get a few more things out of the garden--collards, celery root, maybe some spinach if we're very, very lucky. And of course, there's all the stuff that's been canned and stored. I still haven't had to buy anything from the produce department at the grocery store. Well, except lemons and limes, but I consider those necessary purchases, because we can't grow them and we NEED them for our cocktails. Priorities, please.

But for the most part, the garden is pretty much finished for the season. It's a little bit of a relief, in a way, because of all the work associated with it. But it's also scary. Because now I have to venture into the produce section and purchase vegetables. With money. And instead of walking out my door 20 feet and picking them, I'll have to drive an hour round-trip to get them. And I won't know where they came from. And they won't be mine.

I don't know if I can handle this.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Winter Comes to Blackrock*

Hey, remember this view? The very picture of lush, fecund summer beauty, right?

This is that same view today:


I suddenly feel the need for hot chocolate and a blazing fire.

Notice that the lake is visible once again, because all the leaves are off the trees. This also makes for an unobstructed path for the howling winds off the lake, which result in the infamous Blackrock Sideways Snow. Fun!

Is it winter at your house yet?

* If I ever decide to write a Gothic novel, this is totally going to be my title.

Monday, November 17, 2008

FAIR WARNING: Dead Deer Ahead

If the thought of cutting up a dead animal is repellent to you, don't read this. Otherwise, read on!

You knew I had to do a post about the butchering, didn't you? I know that half of you have no desire to read about butchering, and the other half are only reading with the kind of horrified curiosity that causes people to stare at car wrecks. Which is kind of what this deer was, come to think of it. What can I say? This is my life.

We started at about 9 a.m. yesterday. A. does the initial skinning, which takes about half an hour, and then he cuts the various parts into the larger cuts. That's when I take over. I do all the trimming, cleaning, wrapping, labeling, and everything else. Because I'm a control freak. And I think that careless butchering is the reason that most venison tastes nasty.

Here's the thing with venison: If you leave in any connective tissue, fat, or silverskin, it will have a gross, gamy taste. Some people LIKE the taste of game. I am not one of those people. I am convinced the meat is rendered milder by aging it for a few days, boning all the pieces, trimming it carefully, and brining it for a bit to draw out some of the blood. So after A. cuts it into pieces and bones them, he drops them in a big pot filled with brine. After about half an hour, I take them out of the brine and trim them, cutting off every tiny bit of connective tissue and silverskin. It takes for-damn-ever and always seems to result in my filleting a bit of my hand off as well (OW), but our venison last year was absolutely perfect. Who am I to argue with those results?

Mia was hanging around for the initial skinning. Can you IMAGINE the torture? Here's the very thing she spends half her life chasing in the woods. It's hanging right there! And we won't let her lick it! We're such cruel dog-parents.



The AGONY

Do you see how I took a photo when A. was blocking the view of the deer? That's for you sensitive types out there. I'm so indulgent.

Shortly after this, I had to lock Mia in the pen, from whence she watched the rest of the butchering with bated breath and drooling mouth. But don't feel too sorry for her--she got a big-ass leg bone to gnaw on later. She couldn't believe her luck. She ran off with it and kept looking back, like surely we would be coming to take this wonderful prize away.

After the brining and trimming comes the wrapping (first in plastic wrap, then in butcher paper), the labeling, and the cutting up of dog scraps. The dogs made out like bandits this year, because half the meat was bruised from the car that killed the deer. I think we ended up with more dog scraps than human food. Lucky dogs.

This is the meat we ended up with (for the humans).


Please admire my professional wrapping job.

The pot holds the scraps that we used later to make sausage. Which was a fun process itself, because this year, instead of using the 130-year-old manual meat grinder that A.'s great-grandparents brought from Pennsylvania, we used the 50-year-old electric meat grinder that belonged to A.'s grandmother. It was pretty exciting. And a hell of a lot easier.

So, the final tally: About 20 pounds of human food and about 30 pounds of dog food. Between the half-cow, the three lambs, and Bambi there, our freezer is as full as it can get. We're ready for winter.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

These Are My People

A short story about deer butchering, venison liver pate, and blending with your surroundings . . .

On Friday I took a trip to the next (larger) village over to get some milk and look for a book at their library. I wanted a book on how to butcher a deer. Because, of course, we HAVE a deer to be butchered. We did it last year for the first time and we used this fantastic book* that had step-by-step instructions, diagrams, recipes, etc. Photos, too, which would probably make most of you gag, but were exceedingly helpful. But that book came from The City library, and I did not want to drive there just for that book.

So. Into the little library I went, where I wandered around the hunting section and the cooking section to see what I could find. The very nice librarian there saw me wandering and asked what she could help me find. I hesitated for a second, because it seemed kind of weird, to me, to be asking for a book on how to butcher a deer. I was made aware last year when I checked out that fantastic book at The City library how unusual it is for anyone to butcher their own. And I know most people bring them to a processing place and don't do it themselves. But I told her exactly what I was looking for.

Not only did she not look in the least surprised, she apologized when she told me they didn't have anything, thanked me for reminding her to put out a display of game cookery books, and then proceeded to tell me how much she loves venison liver pate (EW). And THEN, the random dude sitting at the computer near us chimed in to say that he was leaving the next day for Cooperstown to hunt on his land there. Well then.

Yup, these are my people. It's so nice to feel like we fit in.

* I did actually get to The City library yesterday, where I found that in their big sorting and weeding out job last year, they had discarded all the books they had had last year on game processing and cooking. Stupid city people.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I WIN! Again.


A couple of weeks ago, Krysta, a.k.a. Evil Chef Mom, had a contest. To enter, all you had to do was post a rant in her comments. About anything, addressed to anyone. As many times as you wanted. Well. I compose rants in my head day in and day out, so all I had to do was start typing. I ended up ranting three times (I seem to carry a lot of aggression about . . .), but the winning rant (chosen by a random number generator) went like this:

Dear Slugs,
Get out of my garden, or I'm coming after you with a salt shaker.

Love and salty kisses,
The Crazy Garden Lady

I KNOW--my cleverness amazes even me.

BUT ANYWAY.

So my slug rant won me a prize. Now, Krysta had told me she was sending me candy. And I had to send her my address. I know, I know--send my real address to someone I only know online? FOR CANDY? Sketchy, yes? But I did, because I trust Krysta not to reveal my whereabouts. And also, I really like candy.

She has repaid my trust a hundredfold, because look at what she sent me:


If it's poisoned, I don't even care, because I WILL DIE HAPPY.


I've never even heard of most of that stuff. Sea salt features heavily. I had never had sea salt and chocolate, but I love salt and sweet together, so I said BRING ON THE SODIUM. We (yes, I managed to share some with A. and the MiL) sampled the dark chocolate with smoked almonds and sea salt last night. OH. MY. GOD. It was a religious experience. Really, I think I heard angels strumming their harps. Beyond good. The best chocolate I have ever had. Ever.

There's also a fancy one with chipotle pepper in it. And also a World's Finest, which brings me straight back to my band days. (Oh yes--I was in band at one point. And you will NEVER GUESS what my instrument was. No, really.)

Krysta has some seriously good taste in chocolate, friends. This stash is going to make it hard for me to continue with MADOF (you have to read Krysta's site to find out what that means--only the cool kids know), but that doesn't mean I'm going to share any more than I have to. So don't even ask.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tomato Tales

Once upon a time, there was a very brave and very beautiful maiden named Kristin who grew tomatoes. She lovingly planted and cared for the seeds, transplanting the tender seedlings to her garden when the weather warmed, protecting her helpless seedlings from the cruel world with Walls o' Water, all in preparation for the day when she would have a delicious tomato all her own to eat.

That day finally came, and there was much rejoicing in the land when the brave and beautiful maiden Kristin ate the first tomato from her garden. And the rejoicing continued as the tomatoes proved fruitful and produced many more tomatoes for salads and sauces and soups. But soon, there was fear, as the tomatoes came in greater and greater numbers, and the maiden Kristin (who is, let us not forget, very brave and beautiful) despaired of finding a use for all those tomatoes.

But the maiden Kristin, being a practical sort, rolled up her velvet sleeves and got to work. She peeled and cored and canned tomatoes for days and days and days. Her hands became weary from the paring knife and she suffered great pain from the acidic tomato juices in the many cuts on her hands from that very same paring knife. At times, she felt she couldn't go on. But the maiden Kristin was very brave (and beautiful! especially when canning), and she pressed on until she had canned all the tomatoes there were to can.

And then the brave and beautiful maiden Kristin heaved a great sigh of relief that she had vanquished the great numbers of tomatoes at last. Until the night of the first predicted frost, when the maiden Kristin gathered all the tomatoes that were yet green on the vine. And those tomatoes proved stubborn, sitting in bowls on the counter, slowly turning red, it is true, but yet mocking the maiden Kristin for thinking she could ever, ever win in her contest of wills against such a mighty foe as the tomato. But the very brave and very beautiful maiden Kristin is also very patient, and she knows that the tomatoes must surrender before she. And so she waits, in a stand-off with the tomatoes, that are still sitting in the kitchen in mid-November.

Well-fought, sirs, but I shall prevail in the end.

The End (almost)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Operation Frog Rescue

I was going to post this yesterday, but then life (and a dead deer) got in the way. So today, here's a feel-good, happy-ending animal story for those of you who were saddened and maybe horrified by Bambi's death. (And if you were, don't ever move to the country, because you wouldn't last long.)

Yesterday, I took the first step in what is surely the road to sainthood. I rescued a frog from our cistern.

I don't actually know if it was a frog or a toad, because I don't know those kind of things. I'm the one who always called the spruce tree by the house the pine tree, driving A. and the MiL crazy because HELLO, DUMBASS, CAN'T YOU TELL A PINE FROM A SPRUCE? No. Anything that has needles is a pine tree to me. Similarly, anything that is slimy and hops around is a frog, even if it's really a toad.

BUT ANYWAY.

The water level in the cistern was getting low, so I ran the lake pump for awhile in the morning, and then went to take the hose out of the cistern opening in the afternoon when the pump had stopped running. I lifted the cover to see what the water level was, and I saw the frog. This stopped me for a minute as I weighed my options. I could leave it in there, but then it would die. I could ask A. to take care of it, but he would have to do it the next morning before work, and it would probably die before that. Or I could get it out myself.

I went with the last option. Because I am a saint.

Okay, really, my reasons for rescuing the frog were not entirely altruistic, as the thought of a dead, bloated frog decomposing in our water source was unappealing, to say the least. But I also just didn't want the thing to die, so I pondered how I was going to reach down five feet into the underground cistern (about where the water level was) and scoop it up.

My first thought was a bucket on a rope. So I got the bucket, looped the handle with a long rope, and dropped it down there. After it had filled with water, I tried to maneuver the bucket under the frog, thence to lift the frog up with the bucket. In case you've ever wondered, water-filled buckets on ropes are not very maneuverable. I got it near the frog, but then it swam away. Away to where I couldn't easily reach with the bucket.

Okay, now I needed something to prod the frog back to the side where I could reach it. I surveyed the various long-handled garden tools in the shed, finally going with the hoe. When I reached in with the hoe, I figured I might as well try to kind of scoop the frog up with the flat head of the hoe.

I first managed to squish the frog against the wall of the cistern. Oops. Sorry, froggy. No harm done, though. Then I actually did get it on the hoe, but it jumped off before I could raise it out of the cistern. There then followed a hilarious couple of minutes where I would chase the frog around with the hoe, it meanwhile swimming around frantically to escape the hoe, scoop the frog on the hoe and try to raise it really fast before the frog fell off. A couple of times I got it almost to the top before the frog would go flying off and take a five-foot swan dive back into the water. Meanwhile, I'm talking to the frog--"C'mere froggy. Come ON, froggy. I'M TRYING TO SAVE YOU, DAMMIT."

Eventually I managed to get it out fast enough and level enough that the thing was still on there when I got to the top. And then it sat there quietly (perhaps stunned from its unexpected high-dive experience) while I carried it over to put in the fenced-in garden so the dogs wouldn't immediately eat it.

Yup, it's only a matter of time before my canonization is finalized. I think Saint Kristin has a nice ring to it, don't you?