Saturday, June 5, 2021

Floating Islands: A Labor of Love

In an effort to, um, encourage the older two children in their bathroom-cleaning endeavors this summer, I decided on a combination threat/bribe. 

The threat is that if they don't do their bathroom chore, they don't get Sunday dessert. 

The bribe is that whoever is on toilet-cleaning duty (they trade off every week) gets to choose what the Sunday dessert is.

This is how I found myself making Floating Islands last weekend.

There is, of course, a backstory to this, because Floating Islands is not a dessert your average 11-year-old would think of on his own. Or even your average 21st-century person, of any age. It is a very old-fashioned dessert. Which is why A. knew about it.

See, when A. was growing up, Floating Islands was a kind of a running joke in his house. The rich older relatives of more-affluent times in his father's family were served Floating Islands by their servants. And so, when A. was a kid, the joke was that the only proper dessert was Floating Islands.

The MiL actually made it a few times, so A. has had it. And he, in turn, has told that story and the joke to our children.

So when Cubby was presented with the opportunity to choose any dessert at all, he chose something he knew I would never otherwise make: Floating Islands.

I, of course, have never made this, nor eaten it. And it's not in any of my cookbooks. So I looked up recipes online, and decided to play it safe with a Julia Child recipe for it, via this blog.

It's a very detailed recipe, which I appreciated, because this recipe is a complete pain to actually make. The prep time for it is two hours.


I split it up over two days. So on Saturday, I made the creme anglais, which is a very thin vanilla-flavored custard. That's what the "islands" float in.

The "islands" are meringues. In this recipe, the meringue is baked, all in one big pan. I've never made meringue before. It was kind of fun how it puffed up in the oven.


Somewhat disappointingly, it deflates as it cools, though.

Definitely not as dramatic.

The meringue, incidentally, tasted just like a giant marshmallow.

Then there's a caramel sauce to make at the end. The final dish is a pool of the custard with a piece of the meringue in it, and the whole drizzled with the caramel sauce.

Like so.

The whole thing was kind of annoying to do, because every step requires quite a bit of slow cooking and attention. And that does not jive with my life. The kids were really excited that I was making this famous dessert, and spent most of the time I was making it in the kitchen with me. So right behind me while I was carefully stirring my creme anglais so the eggs didn't scramble, or watching the caramel sauce to make sure the sugar didn't burn, I had this:

Just like Julia Child's kitchen, right? Oh wait. SHE HAD NO CHILDREN.

Everyone was SO excited to try this:

Including this curly girl.

And in the end? Eh. 

As I was making it, I noted the granulated sugar I was dumping in quantity into every part, and thought, "This is going to be way too sweet." And, indeed, it was definitely too sweet. It was also very one-dimensional in flavor with the vanilla in everything. 

And really, really sweet.

The MiL found a different recipe for me to try, with less sugar, should I ever make this again, but I can't say I'm that motivated. 

It was fun to try, and definitely more an Event rather than just a dessert, but I would much rather have some chocolate pudding.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Friday Food: Harvest Pictures!


Short version: Tacos with leftover taco stew meat, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: Nah.


Short version: Very exciting bull stir-fry, leftover rice, fresh bread

Long version: Lately I've gotten very lazy with my stir-fries, relying on pressure-canned bull meat and bags of frozen stir-fry vegetables from the store. There's nothing wrong with this, and it does make a tasty dinner very quickly.

It is, however, nowhere near as good as this stir-fry was.

I took out a bag of bull meat labeled "stir fry" in the morning. Every time we butcher, I save some of the cleanest lean pieces and slice them very thinly, labeling them this way for (I bet you guessed this) stir fry.

However, knowing what I know now about the toughness of this bull meat, I elected to cut the thin slices of meat again in thin slices in the opposite direction, thereby creating much smaller thin pieces. Those I marinated in soy sauce, corn oil, vinegar, garlic powder, and ginger powder all day.

I was going to use one of those handy bags of frozen vegetables, but decided to take a tour of the garden first to see what it had to offer in the way of stir-fry vegetables. This is what I found:

Lots of garlic scapes, a little sprouting broccoli, and some collard greens. Not bad.

To that I added some thinly sliced store carrots (which I did with the mandoline blade on my grater--a terrifying procedure), some lamb's quarters that were already in the refrigerator, and some frozen green beans.

I also, very unusually, had fresh ginger. A. bought me a root awhile ago, which I peeled and froze. I grated it for this and used about a teaspoon.

I've never actually cooked with fresh ginger before. I couldn't tell that much difference from when I use ginger powder, but maybe I needed to use more of the fresh ginger.

Anyway, the ginger plus soy sauce, vinegar, and peanut butter comprised the sauce, and the whole thing was delicious.

I had pulled bread out of the oven only an hour before dinner, so when the children were all circling around the kitchen after consuming all the stir-fry, searching for more food, I let them have bread and butter. Which disposed of one whole loaf.


Short version: Pork and sauerkraut, baked potatoes, roasted green beans, lettuce with vinaigrette, Floating Islands

Long version: I used the very last pint jar of last year's sauerkraut on the same day I harvested the very first of this year's cabbages. I didn't use the fresh cabbage to make sauerkraut, though. You'll see that later this week.

Is it a salad if it only has lettuce in it? Not sure, but that's what it was: just lettuce with a vinaigrette.

And then we have the Floating Islands. What is Floating Islands? Well may you ask. It's what I made for Sunday dessert. The full story will be coming shortly. Until then, you'll have to live in suspense. Or take the time to Google it yourself if you're really desperately curious, I suppose.


Short version: German (?) stew meat, fried potatoes, coleslaw, chocolate pudding

Long version: I cooked the stew meat in the morning with just onion, green garlic, and some chicken stock I had hanging around int he refrigerator. I didn't have any specific plan for it. At dinnertime, I decided to make it sort of like barbecue, so I put in some ketchup, mustard, vinegar, and maple syrup. Then A. tasted it and exclaimed, "The flavor! It's German!"

It was kind of like sauerbraten, actually. I was maybe a little heavy-handed with the vinegar. Luckily, I love sauerbraten.

I made this pudding the day before because I had six egg yolks left from making the Floating Islands. The pudding was way better than the Floating Islands.


Short version: Wascally Wabbits, mashed potatoes, beet greens, leftover coleslaw, leftover pudding

Long version: Is "Iron Chef" still a thing? That was the show where the contestant/chefs didn't know what ingredients they were getting until it was presented to them and then they had to scramble to make it delicious.

I feel like I could do a rural mom version of that show. This day's episode would have featured the two rabbits that appeared in my kitchen at 10 a.m.

The reason they appeared in my kitchen is that two of the rabbits were out of the casita. A. thinks they may have been out there since the last time the door was forced by some predator, and those two had just been living like wild rabbits, hiding during the day and coming out to eat at night.

In any case, since they were out, they were, uh, harvested. 

So we had rabbit.

Because I have a lot of dill in the garden right now, I separated the rabbits into pieces, browned them, and simmered them with diced onion, lots of dill, and some rooster stock. Then I added some sour cream at the end.

The meat was tasty in the end, but you know, I just really don't like the rabbit meat that much. I find it to be a lot of effort to make palatable, and even then, it's not great, just pretty good.


I cooked beet greens because the heavy rains we got beat down my beets*, so I pulled out the worst-looking ones. The beets were very small, and I ate those in my lunch salad. The greens I cooked for dinner--butter, vinegar, salt.


Short version: Leftovers and randomness, leftover meringue and caramel sauce

Long version: The majority of the family had leftover pork and sauerkraut for their protein. Cubby had leftover rabbit. He also had leftover mashed potatoes heated up with cheese. The other kids had tortillas with cheese as their starch. And everyone had frozen green peas.

I had just a little meringue left from the Floating Islands, and quite a bit of caramel sauce. So I drizzled some of the sauce on the meringue and the kids had dessert yet again. Calvin announced of this, "This is pushing the limits on sugar."



Short version: Steaks, curried split peas, rice, sauteed garlic scapes and snow peas

Long version: I did some harvesting earlier in the day the resulted in this:

A beautiful sight indeed.

I sauteed the scapes and snow peas just with olive oil and salt until the peas were tender and the scapes were a little crispy. 

Crispy garlic scapes are one of my favorite vegetables. Hooray for A.'s excessive garlic. I will eat all the scapes he lets me have.

This was one of those meals where the children just kept on eating. Every one of them had seconds of something, some had thirds. I don't know why they do this some nights, and other nights barely finish their servings. 

Anyway, they ate a lot. It was a delicious dinner, I must say. A. cooked the steaks and he does better keeping them rare, so that probably helped, too.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

* Jack was really into their homophone lesson in school last year. He would appreciate that sentence.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

La Casita Labors

Yes, we have once again flung (flinged?) ourselves into the joyous and dirty labor of renovating the old adobe house next door. By which I mean we did some more cleaning and covered ourselves in filth.

When we last left our intrepid house-rehabber (that's A.), he and his short assistants had done some spectacular and very satisfying demolition. Leaving a spectacular and not-so-satisfying mess.

That mess sat there for, um, three months.

We're working in fits and starts, okay? Although I'm not sure which are the fits and which are the starts.


A. happened to have his trailer still hitched up from bringing sheep to auction, so the day before a Dump Day (which are Wednesdays, Fridays, and some Saturdays here), I suggested that he drive the trailer around to the casita and we could all go over there to help him load it with detritus.

So he did. And we filled it.

This trailer sure was a useful purchase.

All of this stuff came from the middle section of the house where we tore the dividing wall out.

Looks better than the last time I took a photo of this area.

Karen. asked me last time I posted about this what the layout of the house is like, and I never answered. Sorry, Karen. But I'll answer now! 

So in the above photo, I was standing in the exterior door leading into what used to be the two rooms we combined by tearing out the wall. Not sure what they were used for when the last occupants lived there, but that very first room is one of the original two rooms of the adobe. The other original room is a bedroom, the doorway of which is not visible in the photo, but is to the left of where I was standing.

So the original house was only two rooms. And there were probably like eight kids in the family. 

And there I was, complaining about one kid in four rooms.

Okay, back to our descriptive house layout tour . . .

In the next room up, on the other side of the wall we took down, are two doors on either side leading to added bedrooms.

Through that door straight ahead you can see in the photo is the kitchen. To the left in the kitchen is a door leading to a living room, which in turn leads to the only bathroom. To the right of the kitchen is another exterior door leading to the enclosed porch that houses the rabbits.

I hope that those details are enough to enable you to visualize the layout, because I would certainly not be a good candidate for drawing it. Although . . . I could have Cubby draw it. Maybe I will.

Anyway again.

It wouldn't be a workday at the casita is there wasn't at least a little bit of violent destruction. So we let the children pound at the terrible combination of concrete, nails, and chicken wire that A. pulled down from the exterior walls. I was hoping they would be able to break up the concrete enough that we could dispose of the chicken wire.

Despite their enthusiastic pounding, the concrete remained stubbornly stuck to the chicken wire. Boo.

A. spent some time chiseling the old plaster off the adobe walls in preparation for repairing them and re-plastering.

Tedious, but necessary.

Luckily, that is a job he can delegate to his least-junior assistant, as it is neither particularly dangerous nor difficult. So now Cubby has a summer job. For which he will get paid nothing but the satisfying knowledge that he is contributing to a worthwhile project. Ahem.

So that's where we are with la casita at the moment. I'm not sure what the next stage will be, but you can be sure I will document it. It seems to be a tradition now.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Remote Living, Part 3: Housing, Gas, and Cell Phones

I don't think I can honestly call these Tuesday Tips, so this series is moving to Wednesdays. Remote Living Wednesdays? Sure.

Anyway. More questions, this time simply in the order in which they were posted in the comments.

Do you ever get super frustrated living in such a remote area? Have there ever been times when you've wanted to just hop in the car and drive to town to do anything but stay at home? 

Would you believe me if I said, "Not really"? I think that's mostly a result of my particular personality, though. I'm about the most intense homebody it's possible to be without being an actual recluse. So I don't have any great desire to go anywhere, anyway, and I really hate driving a long way. 

That's not to say, however, that I haven't had my moments of frustration living here. When, for instance, I had shingles and had to drive myself three hours roundtrip to get to a pharmacy, I was frustrated. But those sorts of events are very rare, and the day-to-day positives of living here outweigh the occasional negatives for us.

Do you think you will remain in your remote home for the foreseeable future?

Yes. The biggest reason we moved here was because we wanted somewhere like this to raise our children. So as long as they are in school and at home, we plan to be here. That means 15 years, which is when Poppy would graduate from high school.

What would make you move if you ever did?

I will qualify that previous answer by saying that, of course, things can change in our lives, regardless of our plans. So there could be a fire or a terrible illness or any number of family things that could come up that would make it no longer reasonable for us to live here. But that's true for anyone, anywhere, I think.

Would you consider building a bigger home as the kids grow?

Believe it or not, our current home has plenty of space. There are actually five bedrooms. One of them we use for A.'s office, so two of the kids share a room, but it really is a pretty big house. So no, we will not be building a bigger house.

We will, however, continue to chip away at renovating the old adobe house we bought next door. Just for fun.

In this case, literally chipping, as A. removes old plaster from the walls.

How do you purchase cell phones and other technology?

The same way I purchase so many other things: Online. That said, we are very far from technology people (Luddites is probably the best name for us . . .), so it's not very important to us to get the best of technology for the very best price, or whatever.

What are some specific things you enjoy about living remote?

There are a lot of small everyday irritations that just aren't present here because of the low population. Traffic, for instance. Lines at a post office. Parking problems. Anonymity of the sort that requires excessive PINs or automated phone systems (when I call places like our mechanic or the grocery store, I talk to a friendly person every time).

More generally, I think one of the best things about remote living is the inter-reliance of the community. You cannot live here and not rely on your neighbors, few though they are. It is expected that every person will both give and receive help at some time. This goes for small things (like borrowing a tool) and big things (like helping the people affected by the terrible wildfires we had last summer). I think this sort of community cohesion is important, and the remoteness of our location ensures it without it feeling forced.

(The above paragraph also answers the question of whether the isolation here makes for closer interactions with neighbors. Yes, it does.)

Also, the MiL wanted me to mention that living in a place like this results in very self-contained and independent children. There aren't really a lot of formal clubs or activities for them, and they generally live pretty close to the elements on ranches, so almost without exception, the kids--all the kids, not just mine--are good at entertaining themselves and going with the flow. 

Who needs a gym with a climbing wall when you can pretend to be a squirrel in a tree?

When the heat at the school wasn't working in the winter was a good example of this. The students were remarkably unconcerned. I suppose "resilience" would be a good word to describe what living here creates in kids.

What urban characteristics are you happy to leave behind?

Generally, the over-stimulation of urban environments is not a good thing for me. Too much noise, too much choice, too much activity . . . none of it creates the sort of life I want to live. I prefer a very home-centered life, and while that is possible in an urban setting, it is much more difficult.

Also, consumerism as a lifestyle is harder to avoid in a city, and that is not something I want to be a part of.

Do you keep extra gasoline nearby?

Just a five-gallon can for the generator and so on. We are VERY lucky to have a tiny gas station in one of the villages ten miles away. If that ever closes, we'll have to be much more careful about our gasoline supply.

Will contractors and repair men even venture into your neck of the woods?

I'm not really sure. A. has been able to fix any issues we've had so far. I think there are people who will do roofing and so on, but we're definitely not finding them on Angie's List. Like most other things here, we'd have to ask around to see who might be available if we needed an electrician or something. And I bet there'd be an extra travel charge.

I'll stop here, but that's not the end of the questions! To be continued . . .

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

T.T.: One Coleslaw To Rule Them All

(Not to worry--more questions about remote living will be answered tomorrow. I just decided it wasn't so much a Tuesday Tips thing, so remote questions get their own day.) 

Summer has just begun, and that means that coleslaw season is upon us. I have mentioned more than once that I have a really good coleslaw recipe. My children agree. A., who doesn't like mayonnaise-heavy salads, agrees. The MiL agrees. She makes it, too. The MiL's friend Jane agreed, too, and asked me for the recipe many years ago.

It is not a mayonnaise-y, very sweet coleslaw, of the sort available at delis. I don't care for that kind of coleslaw, but I really love this one. I can drink the dressing on its own.

This is the only recipe for coleslaw I ever use, and I'm going to share it with you now. Because sharing is caring, and more people need this recipe.

The recipe comes from Serving Up the Harvest, which is a wonderful book with recipes to use garden produce by Andrea Chesman. I discovered just now that it's available online in Google Books, which means you can see the actual recipe (and the rest of the book, too) right here.

I'm still going to write it out for you here, though.

Andrea Chesman's Creamy Coleslaw

8 cups shredded green cabbage

3 carrots, shredded

1/4 Vidalia or other sweet onion, finely chopped (I just use a yellow onion)

1.5 cups buttermilk (I use plain yogurt)

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

3 tablespoons cider vinegar (if you add the previous three ingredients in this order, you can use the same tablespoon measure for all of them)

1/4-3/4 teaspoon celery seed

salt and pepper (she gives no measurements for this, but I would say at least a teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper)

This will make a TON of coleslaw. The recipe says it serves 8, but I think it serves more like 12 as a side dish. I usually make a half recipe for my family. 

I use a food processor for shredding when I make a whole recipe of this, but my box grater to make smaller quantities. Either way, you're going to get cabbage and carrots all over the place. Shredding is messy.


All you do is mix together the vegetables, mix together the dressing ingredients until smooth, then combine them both. She notes that the coleslaw will look dry when it's first mixed, but the longer it stands, the wetter it gets. This is true. 

She also notes that you should refrigerate it at least an hour. Longer is better, though. I usually make it in the morning to have for dinner.

To be honest, I don't measure the celery seed, salt, and pepper. You're going to need to taste it to make sure the balance of flavors in the dressing is right, anyway. Especially the salt.

You need a picture of my coleslaw, right? I thought so.

You probably didn't need this, actually. I promise it tastes better than it looks, though.

Monday, May 31, 2021

A Memorial Day Re-Direct

Before you commence all your Memorial Day preparations and celebrations, please go here to read the post about what this day is really for, and then take your moment.

Okay! Carry on. 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Snapshots: A Horse, a Girl, and Plastic Tea

Let's see what stunning photography I managed this week, shall we?

A happily grazing horse. Between the horse and the sheep, we provide many free weed whackers as a courtesy to the fellow residents of our ghost-village. 

This time of year, I get my wildflower bouquets on the table, and Poppy gets her wildflower hair accessories. Everyone's happy. (This is a weird angle and picture because she was sitting on my lap at the time.)

I buy quite a few pantry staples from Walmart periodically, but my most recent order came not with giant tubs of peanut butter and olive oil, but with a giant box of this:

Definitely not peanut butter.

I got a box full of plastic cups filled with plastic herb tea "sachets." A total of 400 sachets, as a matter of fact, of the "Jade Mint" and "Peach Tranquility" variety. Still not sure how my order was replaced with this, but Walmart told me to keep the tea and didn't charge me for it.

That's nice. I guess. Except I am not dropping tea encased in plastic mesh into hot water for imbibing. Yuck. So I painstakingly cut a bunch of the sachets and poured the tea into mason jars. This left me with a lot of plastic waste.


The cup part has a lid, so I washed those out and will use them to hand around snacks in the car, I suppose. 

I brought about 20 of those cups up to the post office and put them out for anyone to take. They were all taken, so that's good. 

Still upset about the packaging on those, though. Not that I'm even close to zero-waste, but that was just ridiculous. It's a Starbucks brand, by the way. 

Yes, I'm calling you out, Starbucks.

And there you have it! My life, snapshotted.