Saturday, August 23, 2008


James the cat was killed by a car on the road last night. He started his life as a barn cat, and was always more barn cat than house cat. He liked to roam, but I guess this time, he roamed too far.

Goodbye, James--you'll be missed.

Tomatoes Yesterday, Tomatoes Today, Tomatoes FOREVER

Yesterday, I began my quest to fill all 3 dozen pint jars the MiL purchased for canning. So far, the pint jars are winning.

I made pasta sauce (Finny's pasta sauce, as a matter of fact--thanks, Finn!). The discouraging thing about making sauce from tomatoes is that you start out with millions of tomatoes (actually about 20 pounds in this case) and end up with not much sauce. I got five pints out of that 20 pounds. Here, look.

Not impressive

That colander is not 2o pounds of tomatoes. Two and a half of those colanders is 20 pounds. And that left me with five pints of sauce. How is that possible?

But I should be happy it takes so many tomatoes to make sauce, because it's not like there's a shortage of tomatoes. God no. After using all those tomatoes, and then going out to the garden to harvest the tomatoes for that day, I ended the day with this many tomatoes:

I think they breed in the dish pan at night.

Anybody familiar with Sisyphus? Yeah, that's me--pushing a big damn tomato uphill all day, only to have it roll down on top of me right before I get to the top, covering me in tomato slime and acidic juices.

Or something. The tomatoes may be scrambling my brain.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Throwdown

Yesterday, the MiL announced her intention of picking up some more pint jars for canning, as we were down to only quart jars. She came home with this.

Oh, it's ON

Because I am highly, and sometimes inappropriately, competitive, I view this as a challenge. Three dozen pint jars are sitting on my dining room table, jeering at me, just DARING me to fill them all. Double dog daring me, even. Those jars don't know who they're dealing with. On my own, I might have some trouble meeting this challenge. But I am not alone. I have the support of five million tomatoes, all of which need a nice, air-tight home before the first frost.

Let the canning begin.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Day's Work

Cubicle life is its own special hell. I know many of you work in cubicles, and trust me when I say that I feel your pain. I did it, for three years in one place as a proofreader, and what really got to me was the absolutely mind-numbing monotony of it. Every day, five days a week, up at 6 a.m., at work by 7:30 a.m., breaks at the same time, lunch at the same time, same people, same documents to be proofed over and over and over (for real--we would read the EXACT SAME document in different file formats 20 or 30 times). It was dispiriting. My dad once came up to see where I worked and as we were leaving he said, "I would kill myself if I had to work at a place like that." Thanks, Dad. We can't all be fighter pilots. But it paid the bills, which is really all you can say about cubicle jobs most of the time.

And not to rub it in for those of you still working in cubicles*, but my life is most assuredly not monotonous anymore. If variety is the spice of life, then my life is en fuego.

So let me present yesterday's work. With pictures!

First, while it was still cool in the morning, I canned beef broth made the day before.

Mmm, beefy goodness.

That one on the left has tomatoes in it. I didn't have quite enough broth to fill the fourth quart, and the MiL suggested filling in the remaining space with tomatoes. Isn't she the clever one? Though there was some dubious separation in that jar and a lot of gross-looking gunk ended up on the bottom, so we'll see how that turned out when I open it sometime in January.

Next, I finally painted the chicken coop.

Home smelly home

Please note the ultra-clever name I not only thought of all by myself (look at me, all bi-lingual!), but was nerdy enough to paint above the door. I crack myself up.

Hey, you take your entertainment where you can out here.

After that, it was time to break a machine.

Meet Grasshole's evil little friend

Yeah, I busted the push mower. There was smoke, and something dripping out of the exhaust. It wasn't pretty. It may be dead. And the lawn is only half-mowed. Little bastard.

There was also some chicken tending, cooking, harvesting . . . Well, you get the idea. I didn't take pictures of it all. Use your imaginations.

Have a nice day!

* Would it help if I told you I still edit boring documents? If you would like to know about the decentralization of Kenya's health management system, I'm your girl. The papers may be boring, but the paycheck is not, so if any of you nice people who send me those papers (and paychecks) are reading this, please, continue to send me as many as you would like (especially paychecks).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Plastic Can Kiss My Glass

I don't know how it happened, but I've slowly and without noticing gone from a Plastic Person to a Glass Person.

It all started with the Tupperware. I've always brought my own lunch to work, and almost always that would be leftovers, because they're so easy. There's something uniquely challenging about making a sandwich first thing in the morning--slicing the bread, slicing the cheese, putting on the meat, adding mayo or mustard, lettuce or tomato. And then having to put it all away again. It's all just too much.


So, yes, lunch=leftovers in Tupperware. But you know how after awhile, Tupperware will get that rough rim of plastic around the inside, and it'll be all stained orange from spaghetti or chili or whatever? That started to skeeve me out, because it occurred to me that the plastic was melting off a little, most likely in the food that I was ingesting. Gross.

Enter Pyrex. They make cool glass containers with fitted lids that are pretty much the glass equivalent to Tupperware. So I started to use those. My collection now numbers about 20 of all shapes and sizes, and I don't use plastic anymore. Plus, I have an unnatural love of Pyrex. I always want to buy the variety packs of Pyrex containers, where you get 6 different sizes in one big box. It's like Christmas! Except we don't need any more dishes, so I don't ever get to have my Pyrex Christmas. Sad.


The most recent glass conversion I've made is to these glass milk bottles from a local dairy. They're swell. They make me feel like Wally and the Beave will walk in at any moment for an ice-cold glass of milk and some cookies. I bought them so when they were empty we could use them to keep some water cold in the fridge. Now that we can drink the tap water, I wanted a container of water in the fridge. I thought about getting a plastic jug, but glass just keeps everything colder. The best thing about these milk bottles is that they cost less than $2 for a half gallon. So I got a gallon of milk and two re-usable glass containers for four bucks. Awesome.

But what about the breakage factor, you ask? In the five years or so that I've been using all Pyrex, all the time, we (and by this I mean A.) have broken only one. If you knew how destructive A. is by nature, you would know that this is a great testament to the durability of Pyrex.

And so ends what may be the most random and boring post of all time. How did I ever get so lame? And also, can you tell I was suffering from writer's block this morning?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kristin Kans: A Tutorial

Yesterday I reached maximum capacity with the tomatoes.

This, my friends, is only the tip of the tomato iceberg.

It was clearly time for drastic action. It was Time To Can.

Step One: Turning the kitchen into a sauna by boiling three pots of water at once.

Back burner=pot of water to sterilize jars and lids. Front left=pot of water for tomatoes, to facilitate peeling. Front right=the big, bad pressure canner.

Step Two: The peeling. To peel tomatoes, you drop them into boiling water (preferably in a nifty little basket so they can all be lifted out at once) for about 30 seconds, then dump them into cold water. This causes the skins to slip off, leaving you with a slippery, slimy, naked tomato.

On the left, the gigantic bowl of cold water for the boiled tomatoes. On the right, the not-quite-so-gigantic colander to wash the worst of the dirt off the tomatoes before peeling. And now you see why a farm sink is so necessary on a farm.

Step Three: Mashing the tomatoes into the jars and putting on the lids and rings. When the tomatoes are peeled, cored, and cut into chunks if they're really big, they get smushed in the jars (along with some citric acid, because my tomatoes weren't very acidic and we do not want to die of botulism). There are no photos of this step, because my hands were completely covered in tomato slime, which I did not wish to get on my camera. But trust me that you really want to jam the tomatoes into the jar. It's cathartic, really. Then the rims of the jars get wiped off (if the top of the jar is dirty, it will impede sealing), the lids plunked on, and the rings tightened.

Step Four: The canning.

Can you believe this monstrous pressure canner only holds seven quarts? What a screw.

I used the pressure canner this time, but tomatoes can be canned with a hot water bath, too. That's how we always used to do it before we got the pressure canner this year.

(Fun, science-y side note: At this point, the temperature in my kitchen was approximately equivalent to the surface of the sun.)

While the tomatoes were doing their thing in the pressure canner, I faced this:


There's a photo that will never make it into The Ball Blue Book.

And finally, the end result:

I see chili in my future.

So there you have it--the first of many, many canning days in the next couple of weeks. And by the way, remember that first picture, with the big colander and dish pan both full of tomatoes? Those seven quarts you see there only used the dish pan. I still have the colander full. And the tomatoes keep ripening.

Monday, August 18, 2008

How To Build a Gate--Blackrock Style

Weekends mean relaxation for most people, a chance to be lazy and recover from the demands of a job. At Blackrock, weekends mean my only opportunity to drive A. like a slave so I can get all the things done that I can't do by myself.

A. just loves the weekends. And me.

Yesterday's project was to build a gate for the new pasture we enclosed for the rams. We've built several gates in the last couple of years, all out of lumber scavenged from old barns and fences. But that wood has all been turned into barns and chicken coops. So what did we do?

If you guessed that we went to Home Depot and bought wood, then you are WRONG. And also, have not been paying much attention to this blog. SHAME!

We're cheap, remember? We have many trees growing in the gully. In case you didn't know, trees are wood. (I KNOW--you're astounded by my brilliance too, aren't you?) Problem solved. A. took the chainsaw out into the gully and cut down a couple of little, but fairly straight, black walnut trees. Then we hauled them back to the house, where we split them. With wedges. Like this:

The sledgehammer belonged to A.'s great-grandfather, Papa.

The wedges were Papa's, too.

History lives at Blackrock.

Ta da! Gate pieces.

We split them so there would be flat sides to nail together. Then there was a lot of measuring and hammering, some searching for small logs for cross-pieces, the attaching of hinges, and the discovery that this gate is one heavy sonofabitch and will therefore crush Kristin's toes when she shoves her foot underneath it to lift it for hanging.

Hi, I am not so smart sometimes.

But the gate was hung in the end (on hinges that I bought and that A. said were too small, with much eye-rolling about how ignorant I am about hardware, but then we put them on anyway and the gate swings just fine, so HA!), and has a very nice, decorative rustic look. See?

Welcome to the homestead.

Live trees to a gate in two hours. Yes, we do indeed rule. Thank you for noticing.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kristin's Kool Kitchen Tricks

I should send this in to "Cook's Illustrated." They would give me a free year's subscription to their magazine. But I offer it freely to you, because I am a generous soul.

Corn. We had/have a lot of corn. And when it comes out of the garden, it's always on the cob. How inconvenient. So, I've spent a lot of time cutting the corn off the cob to freeze and make maquechoux (look it up, kids). I hate to cut corn off the cob. But the process is made immeasurably easier and a hell of a lot less messy courtesy of a trick the MiL taught me. I think her father taught it to her. Cleverness is a family tradition.

You'll need a bundt pan. That's one of those deep circular pans with the tube in the middle. So what you do is, stick the narrower end of the corn cob into the tube part of the bundt pan, then cut with a (very sharp--trust me that it helps, a lot) knife. Instead of the corn free-falling onto a cutting board and ricocheting all over the counter, it will just fall into the pan.

Would you like a disturbingly phallic photo for illustration?


Aaaaand, end of lesson. You're welcome.