Saturday, April 2, 2011

Maybe Today Is the Day

Though I don't want to promise anything. I mean, I would like to get the tomato seeds in their starter pots and into the bathroom (different bathroom this year, due to HOLY high electric bills and attempts to reign in the space heaters' use). I would like to, but I may be foiled by a certain child and his unfortunate teething.

I do feel bad when Cubby's getting teeth, because I can imagine that it hurts like hell to have sharp bits of bone breaking through skin, but the whining and crying might be the end of my sanity.

Luckily, infant acetaminophen* (what, you think I would use brand-name Tylenol? please) does seem to help. So, with any luck, there may be some actual sleeping today in a long-enough block to allow me to get those seeds in soil. Where they will, we hope, germinate and produce lots of juicy, drippy, delicious tomatoes.

Prepare yourselves. Tomato Crazy 2011 is coming.

* Damn. I spelled that right on the first try. I'm so impressed with myself.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Ah, Childhood

Remember when everything was new and interesting and rocks were completely fascinating?

Yeah, me neither. But it sure is fun watching someone else who feels that way.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gender Roles

Anyone who thinks that boys and girls aren't very different in temperament and interests at a very early age need only consider A.'s punching bag.

See, A. has this punching bag hanging from a tree outside the house. It's right next to the gate leading to the pasture the sheep are in. So yesterday, when the preschool kids were here to see the lambs, they were all clustered by that gate. After about ten minutes, the little girls were all still standing there looking at the lambs, but the little boys had all formed a circle around the punching bag and were . . . well, punching it. Kind of. Mostly they were pushing it, because it's pretty heavy. But the point remains, the gang of little boys naturally gravitated to the punching bag, and the gang of little girls totally ignored it.

And, lest we think that at three years old these boys have already been influenced by social gender constructs that inform their preferences and interests, we need look no further than my own son for more observation. Cubby's favorite thing IN THE WORLD is seeing A. punch that bag. A. hits that thing and Cubby straight-up lights up. He grins, he laughs, he squeals, he talks excitedly (not that we can understand what he's saying, but still), he is electrified. At all of a year old.

He also enjoys watching me blow a feather in the air, but that's nothing to the thrill of punching. I am not so enthused about this interest, of course, as I fear it can lead to nothing positive during his school years. Mothers are lame that way. But there is no denying his natural fascination with pugilism.

God help me.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sheep Stuff

Lest you think that perhaps I have forgotten about updating the current lamb count, be assured I haven't. We're still waiting on one Merino to have her lamb. And it's starting to make us kind of nervous. Chop chop, Millie! Let's get all these lambs on the ground already.

And speaking of sheep and lambs! We're supposed to get a visit from the local (tiny) preschool today. They're coming to see the sheep. Yes, we have become a field trip destination. I only hope none of them end up in hysterics when Bonnie yells right in their faces for food.

And speaking of sheep and yelling! OH MY GOD, are those sheep loud. They're in the pasture right by the house, which means they can monitor the activity of the humans and start agitating for food as soon as they hear any signs of movement. Plus, since they're all nursing, they're really hungry. I can sympathize with that, but four ewes yelling for food (the Merinos don't actually yell, thank God--it's just the Cotswolds) is DEAFENING. And irritating. If only we could just leave a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter out in the field for them.

And speaking of sheep and that pasture by the house! That pasture also happens to be right next to the road, which means there are a lot of people slowing down or pulling right over to look at the lambs popping around the pasture. This makes the dogs quite angry and they spend much of the day barking futilely at the threatening vehicles.

And . . . that's all. Have a nice day.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Microwave Is No Place for Popcorn

Seriously. If you eat microwave popcorn, do yourself a favor and stop. Because popcorn made on the stove is WOAH, SO MUCH BETTER. Also cheaper, unlikely to give you third-degree burns from escaping steam, and totally free of that scary chemical that gives people a condition actually called "popcorn lung." Really. That's just not right.

Plus, it takes about the same amount of time to make popcorn on the stove as it does to nuke a bag full of carcinogens. So really, there is NO REASON to eat microwave popcorn.

Maybe you're saying, "But I don't know how to make it on the stove. It's too confusing."

To which I say, "No, it's not." And I am now going to tell you how to make it on the stove, so you no longer have any excuses.

First you have to get your popcorn. It's in the aisle at the grocery store where all that evil microwave popcorn lives. You can get fancy popcorn other places, from special heirloom varieties grown organically, down with GMOs and Monsanto, etc. You probably should do that if you can, but failing that, just buy a bag of popcorn at the grocery store. There are even store brands, and I can vouch that they are just fine. The bag will have instructions for how to make the popcorn right on it, but I will still continue with MY instructions, because this wouldn't be much of a tutorial otherwise, now would it?

Okay! Now you have your popcorn. So you need a pot. Any heavy kind of pot will do. The size depends on how much popcorn you want. If you're making it just for yourself (which I do with some frequency), use a smaller pot--like a two-quart size. If you're making it for more people or you just like to eat a LOT of popcorn by yourself--and I will not judge you if that is the case--use a big pot. However big the pot is, that's how much popcorn you'll end up with.

Once your pot size is determined, put the pot on the stove and add a little oil. Canola, peanut, vegetable, non-coconutty flavored coconut . . . whatever, as long as it doesn't have a flavor of its own (known to smart people as "neutral" oils--look! you're smart now!) and can be heated to a high temperature without smoking and getting gross (known as having a high smoke point). I don't measure the oil. You really just need enough to just coat the bottom of the pot.

Turn your burner to high and add the popcorn. I don't measure this either, I just add enough popcorn to make a single layer on the bottom of the pot. Now you need to put a cover on the pot. You can just use the lid that goes with the pot, but you'll have to hold it there a little ajar to let steam escape or you'll get tough popcorn. And a few kernels will find their way through the little gap. My preferred cover is actually either a mesh strainer (like this) for a smaller pot or one of those splatter guards for the big pot. These are perfect because they can be kept tight on the pot and the mesh lets all the steam escape without letting any of the popcorn escape. But just a lid works too.

You have to have SOMEthing on there though, or you will get popcorn EVERYWHERE. This makes dogs quite happy, but there's no need to waste good popcorn on dogs. So make sure you have a cover.

After a minute or so, the popcorn will start to pop. Turn the heat down to medium-high. Shake the pan a bit occasionally, keeping the cover on, to keep any of the popcorn from burning. When it's mostly done popping, which will only take a couple of minutes, pour it into a big bowl. Like, a BIG bowl. Not just big enough, but big enough so you can mix the popcorn around without pushing it all out of the bowl. Irritating.

Then, in your now-empty but still-hot pot that is off the heat, put in some butter*. A tablespoon, two tablespoons, whatever. Up to you. When the butter is melted, dribble half of it over the popcorn, then add some fine salt. Don't use kosher salt or coarse sea salt or anything--the crystals are too big. Ordinary table salt will work. Then mix it all around with your hands or a big spoon and add the other half of the butter and some more salt if you want.

And there's your popcorn. It kind of looks involved when it's all written out like this, but trust me, it takes about five minutes and is SOSOSOSO much better than that crap in a plastic bag.

Try it. You'll like it. Guaranteed.

* Confession: Until about a month ago, I always heated my butter separately in the microwave. Then I saw the MiL make popcorn, melting the butter in the conveniently still-hot pot, and I was all, "Oh. STUPID ME." That MiL. Such a clever one.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Buddy

As A. and I were making our laundry mucous this morning, I was reflecting on the incredible usefulness of my 8-quart stainless steel pot. That is a serious workhorse of a pot. I use it to the point of ridiculousness.

I got this pot as part of a set of KitchenAid pots my mom gave me for Christmas about six years ago. I believe my brother actually did the research and recommended that particular brand, though, so GOOD JOB, brother (and thanks, Mom and Dad!) because those pots are AWESOME. They're heavy and conduct heat really well without scorching. I use them all every day, but that stock pot is the best.

I can't find my exact one online, but the shape is something like this one. Except without that coating. I like that it's more tall than wide. And I like how big it is without being so big I can barely fit it underneath our low and incredibly irritating range hood (enormous pressure canner, I'm looking at you). But mostly, I just like how it cooks.

When making jam, it heats the fruit and sugar up to boiling very quickly. When making yogurt, it heats the milk without scorching (well, not MUCH, anyway). It's the right size for making laundry detergent, for boiling lots of pasta, for putting in a whole chicken to poach.

It is, in short, The Best Pot Ever. And so it joins the ranks of household items I have written love notes to--that includes, you may remember, the dishpan and dishrack.

It's a small and inconsequential life I lead, but full of little pleasures.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Breaking News from Blackrock

News Item Number One: The seed potatoes have arrived! WHEEE!! Yes, the MiL took her annual trek up north to the Cornell Potato Research Station (don't laugh--they do excellent work up there), returning with about 300 pounds of seed potatoes. Yikes. They're not all for us though. The MiL mules potatoes for several friends and family members in our area, because pretty much everyone we know has a garden and everyone agrees that the Cornell potatoes are the best.

But we do have plenty of potatoes, a few of which we ate last night for dinner (YUM) and the rest of which are on the dining room floor. They had to be brought inside last night because it got down to about 20 degrees and you don't want your seed potatoes to freeze. So thanks to the definitely-winter-though-it-should-be-spring weather, we will not be planting these potatoes anytime soon, but we have them! We're ready! YAY!

News Item Number Two: Yesterday, I attempted to extract lanolin from sheep's wool. You should never try this in your house. I will emphasize that: You should never try this in your house.

Let me tell you why: It smells. OH MY GOD DOES IT SMELL. The process basically involves boiling the hell out of a dirty sheep fleece, so I don't know why I was surprised at how much it reeked, but I suppose I wasn't prepared for that pervasive of a stench. The whole house smelled like dirty sheep to the power of a thousand. It was really, really gross. Plus, the pot boiled over when it was getting up to a boil on the stove in the kitchen and filthy sheep water went EVERYdamnwhere. Ew.

And THEN, after keeping the nasty thing boiling on the woodstove for three hours and stinking up the whole house, what's my reward? Essentially nothing. I didn't even bother skimming off the paltry amount of lanolin that ended up on the top of the water. BOO.

I declare lanolin extraction a failure. But at least I can comfort myself that my failures are a learning experience for so many others! You know, those countless numbers that have dirty sheep wool lying about and are thinking of trying to get lanolin from it. And read this site. Anyone?