Saturday, July 03, 2010

Fitting In

From Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace. It's near the end of the book when Betsy is looking for that guy, Joe. She checks the library (the most likely place to find him) and he's not there. The librarian is telling Betsy about Joe (a teen-age orphan who needs to support himself) and why he doesn't hang out with the other kids so much.

He has to work for a living. And being barred from the usual things high school students do, the things requiring money and time, he takes refuge in books. He not only reads them, but he dreams about them. He sees himself as the heroes he admires. He is confident that he could behave as Ivanhoe did, or Marco Polo, or D'Artagnan.

He isn't a boy who pities himself. Not at all. He has to work, but he makes that an adventure. He would really like to play football or baseball after school, but he can't. He has to go to [his job]. So he just makes plans about playing them in college. It helps that, when he has a spare hour and can play, he is better than average.

His routine is quite satisfactory to him but only because he puts out of his mind the things he cannot have. And they are the boy and girl pleasures. If he let you draw him into your Crowd, he would be constantly embarrassed. He would be forced to admit that he isn't, perhaps, quite so lucky as he thinks he is. Don't you see, Betsy? Living as he does now, he doesn't mind shabby clothes. But he is a proud boy. He wouldn't like coming to call on you in shabby clothes. When you urge him to come he gets desperate. He just has to be rude. Don't you see?

Today's Laugh

The best part of procrastination, is that you are never bored, because you have all kinds of things that you should be doing.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Today's Laugh

This Kentucky horse breeder had a filly that won every race in which she was entered. But as she got older she became very temperamental. He soon found that when he raced her in the evening, she would win handily, but when she raced during the day she would come in dead last. He consulted the top veterinarians and horse psychologists to no avail.

He finally had to give up because it had become a real night mare.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Bread Prices

Our church school has a flea market coming up. I'm thinking about getting a booth and selling some junk and some used books. But I've also thought about selling some bread. Wondering how much to charge, I figured I should take an honest look at what the ingredients cost for my bread. Last time I checked that, it was running me about 25-cents per loaf. Uh. That was a while ago.

Since then, flour and sugar prices have quadrupled. And I've started using healthier ingredients: olive oil instead of Crisco, sea salt instead of refined Morton's, flax and wheat germ and oat bran and millet as additives.

The ingredients alone (no fuel for the stove, no factoring in the cost of my time) is $1.15 per loaf for the plain boring bread. Yikes! I guess this means it would be unreasonable to charge $1 or $2 per loaf at a bake sale, eh?

This is like the sticker shock when I looked at dresses a couple of years ago. I thought a decent dress would cost $20. But no, Lands End and Penney's catalogs are selling dresses for $100.

LaLa-Land is the result of trying desperately never to buy anything. I don't KNOW what anything costs any more. And when I find out, it about blows me away.

Today's Laugh

My mother always told me to finish what I started, but she had no idea of some of the people I'd be dealing with.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dry-Bean Primer

Once upon a long time ago, when we were signed up for WIC, each month we were to receive a couple of pounds of dry beans. I had no clue what to do with them, other than turn them into bean-bags for the kids. Shame on me. So here's a primer on what to do with dry beans, in case anyone else is intimidated by the prospect of turning a little bag of hard things into an edible dinner.

First thing to know is that you probably want to start the day before, especially if you aren't going to be home to cook during the day that you'll be eating the beans. If the beans are for Sunday lunch, you can start Friday morning, Friday night, or at the latest Saturday morning. If the beans are for Thursday supper and you're at work during the day, sort your beans on Tuesday night, and start soaking them Wednesday morning.

First thing is to sort any mudballs or rocks out of your pound of beans. When I first started using dry beans, I was looking at each individual bean. What a pain! If you're not experienced at sorting beans, try this: pour about 1/3 or 1/2 cup of dry beans onto a dinner plate, and scan them to see if there's anything icky. Usually it's hard balls of dirt. In 25 years of using dried beans, I've only found an actual pebble once or twice. Sometimes you'll find part of the seed pod or another part of the plant. Sometimes you'll see a bean that was significantly bug-gnawed. Sometimes you'll find a different kind of bean (which wouldn't be a problem unless the oddball is a bean that takes much longer to cook than the rest of the crowd). Once you've picked out anything icky from the beans on the plate, dump them into a colander or sieve, and scan another 1/2 cup of beans. When you've checked the whole bag, rinse the beans under running cold water, rubbing them a bit between your hands to wash them.

Put them in a pot or bowl. You want a 6-quart pot (or larger) for a pound of beans. Cover them with lots of cold water. I mean, you want them covered very deeply because they're going to swell to 2-3 times their size. Let the beans sit all day. Or overnight. Eight hours. Do not use the quick-soak method on the back of the bean bag. You're more likely to get mushy beans that way.

If you want to use the crockpot to cook your beans, drain them in the evening, cover them with plenty of water, and leave them in the crockpot on low overnight. Don't turn the crockpot on until right before bed, and check first thing in the morning. Sometimes I've crockpotted beans overnight and then woke up to find them too soft. If you're okay with cooking them on the stovetop, drain the soaked beans, put them in a heavy pot, cover with plenty of fresh water, and bring to a good boil. Then turn the heat down to a simmer and let them bubble gently for an hour. The bag may say to cook them for 2-3 hours. It seems to me that I've been having my beans become soft in 40-90 minutes. So start checking sooner than the instructions on the bag indicate.

Do not put a lid on the pot. Well, if you LIKE cleaning messes off your stove-top and scouring the outside of your pots, go ahead. Beans, like potatoes, will boil over if there's a lid. If you must have a lid, then make sure it's sitting a bit cock-eyed on the pot, so that you've got an inch or two uncovered for steam to escape.

Oh, by the way, don't use your soaking water to cook your beans. And once you've simmered your beans, you're going to want to dispose of that water too. Recipes will often say to cook the beans in the soaking water, and then to reserve the cooking water for your recipe. Do that only if you eat beans ALL the time. My father-in-law has a rhyme that he recites every single time beans are served: "Beans, bean, the magical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot." The people you live with and work with will appreciate it if you use fresh water at each step of your bean-cooking. Granted, you lose nutrients if you keep changing the water. But you also lose odiferous farts. I think it's a valid trade-off.

Sometimes your beans will foam. If they do, you may want to get a wide-mouth jar or tin can out of your recycling bin and skim the beans. Use a slotted spoon to lift that 1-2" tall cloud of foamy stuff off the water and dump it into your disposal container. (For those of you who don't have septics, it can probably go down the drain. I've never experimented to see if bean foam has a deleterious effect on my septic, though.) Usually my beans don't foam. But now and then they do, and you probably want to scoop that gunk off.

You know the beans are done when you lift one bean out of the water with a spoon, blow on it, and the skin begins to crack. If the skin really really cracks open, they're probably overcooked. Oh well. That happens. They're not ruined. When the bean is cool enough to put in your mouth, bite it. If it's still hard, keep cooking. If it's actually soft, turn them off, but cook them a shorter time next time. Hopefully you will catch the beans when they've just begun to not be hard any more, but still have plenty of SHAPE to them. In other words, you want them done to the point that they are firm but have NO hardness in them. If you cook them to mush, turn them into soup, or flavor them like as if they were refried beans without the refrying.

Do NOT add salt, any salty meat (such as salt pork or a ham bone) to beans during this first stage of cooking. Nothing acid either, no vinegar, no tomato. Acid and salt slow down the cooking time immensely. It gets very frustrating to cook your beans for 12 hours (or 30 hours) and still have them be hard. Heads up: old beans take longer to cook. If they've been in your cupboard for five years, expect them to be simmering for quite a while!

When the beans are done, drain the water. (Hooray for less farting!) If you're ready to put them into a recipe, go ahead. If you need to wait before you put together your recipe, you can easily store your cooked beans in the refrigerator. Rinse them a few times with water to cool them down. Then put them in a big bowl or a water pitcher and cover with cool water. They will store nicely in the fridge for a couple of days. If you want to store them longer (maybe a week), then you should drain them and give them fresh water every other day to prevent spoilage.

Don't be afraid to add salt. Beans need salt. Just make sure to add it after you've cooked them the first time.

There you go. Dry beans cooked up so that they're handy for soups, baked beans, salads, hummus, burritos, etc. And at a fraction of the cost of canned beans.

Today's Laugh

He was a mediocre conductor of a mediocre orchestra. He had been having problems with the basses; they were the least professional of his musicians. It was the last performance of the season, Beethoven's 9th Symphony, which required extra effort from the basses at the end. Earlier that evening, he had found the basses celebrating one of their birthdays by passing a bottle around. As he was about to cue the basses near the end of the Beethoven piece, the conductor knocked over his music stand. The sheet music scattered. As he stood in front of his orchestra, his worst fear was realized:

it was the bottom of the 9th, no score, and the basses were loaded.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Not-a-Side-Dish Baked Beans

These beans started as a side dish one evening. But by the time we doctored them up, neither Gary nor I wanted the main dish. We just wanted to hog the beans. And lick the spoon. And the plates. And the pan. And then make more and start all over.

So at the family reunion we started over, with no recipe but only a vague memory. For 30 people instead of 4. Again with the lack of self-control with regard to the beans.

So here's what I need to remember for next time. We scratched down only an ingredient list, but no amounts. So this is my best guess, to be tweaked next time I make them. This is definitely one of those recipes where you have to "season to taste" and adjust, then taste, and adjust, then taste, and adjust. And pretty soon you'll get it just right. But ... you will pretend you're still trying to adjust the seasonings ... just so you can get by with dipping the spoon into the pot again and popping another bite into your mouth again. Mmmmmmm.

32-40 ounce can of Bush's Baked Beans
1 pint can of cheap pork-n-beans
1/2 pound of hamburger
1 medium onion, chopped fine
plenty of black pepper
1/2 or 3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon Emeril's Essence
1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon Frank's Red Hot cayenne sauce
1/8 teaspoon (or less) liquid smoke
1/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Cook up the hamburger and onion. Add to the canned beans. Add spices and flavors. Can be heated on the stove or in the crockpot. But it's even better (less runny) if it can be slowly baked in the oven.

The Best Lover

Sunday's gospel (end of Luke 9) included the incident where the man who was called to follow Jesus asked if he might first go back and bury his dad. Jesus replied (in what Pastor referred to as one of His "most callous" responses), "Let the dead bury their own dead." During Bible class there was a brief discussion of the fourth commandment ("Honor your father and your mother") and how that doesn't clash with the verse in Luke 9 or the spot a few chapters later where Jesus says we cannot be His disciple unless we hate our father, mother, brother, sister, and even our own life.

Pastor talked about how our focus is entirely on Christ. Our loved ones can easily become idols. That does not mean we are not to love our loved ones. (After all, they wouldn't be our loved ones if we didn't love them. Righto!)

But when we love Christ, when we look to Christ, when we listen to Christ, His love changes hearts. The mercy we receive spills out to those around us. Those who love Christ most will be the ones who love family best. The husband who loves his Jesus more than he loves his wife will be the husband who loves his wife better than he could otherwise have loved her.

Today's Laugh

Give a person a fish and you feed him for a day; teach that person to use the Internet and he won't bother you for weeks.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Naked Kitchen

When we went on vacation, we stayed in cabins with kitchens. The kitchens had dishes and pots and silverware and towels and dishsoap. But no foil. No cling-wrap. No wax paper. No Tupperware. And none of my specially set-aside garbage. [gasp]

Until that first night at the family reunion, I didn't realize how much I rely on junk that most people toss in the trash. Where do you put leftovers? In an old peanut butter jar, right? Oh. No old peanut butter jars in my vacation cupboards.

When you make a big batch of food that needs to be stored until the next meal, doesn't it go in an old ice-cream pail? What happens when there's no old ice-cream pail?

When you nuke something and don't want it to spatter all over the inside of the microwave, what do you cover it with? Some people use paper towels or wax paper. I use a dinner plate. We also use plates as "lids" on bowls of leftovers in the fridge. But when you have only 4 plates for 6 people, you've gotta watch to ensure you've got plates to eat off of.

So what's another option as a leftover lid? Obviously, a plastic bag that you picked up in the produce dept, the bag which transported your lettuce or your tomatoes home. Or an old bread bag. But in a naked kitchen that you're borrowing for the week, there is no stash of old bread bags, no stash of old sandwich bags, no stash of little glass jars to shake-shake-shake up your flour and liquid for a white sauce.

I found a reprieve when we discovered that the clean coffee mugs were covered with sandwich bags. That enabled us to get through the first day until we made it to the grocery store and brought home [ta da!] lettuce bags and apple bags! As we progressed through the week, I built up my stash of Good Garbage, and thus began to function better in my little vacation kitchen.

And then came the day to leave. I was compelled to [gasp] throw all that perfectly decent garbage into the trash! (Fear not. Although it was traumatic, I managed to live through the waste of all that helpful garbage.)

Reason for My Blog

Just a reminder (in light of something I heard recently)...
This blog exists for two main reasons.
1. So that Mom and my kids can keep up on some daily happenings in our household.
2. Because the margins in my Bible aren't big enough to write down all the notes I want to scribble there. Don't be offended if I write about theology; I'm not being didactic: it's just that this blog is my own little pensieve.

I do need to rethink the posting of daily happenings. With a huge increase in recent months of strangers visiting my blog (via the "next blog" button on blogger) I've been hesitant to post things that I previously would have put up.

Oh, wait. There's another reason for my blog.
3. Writing helps me keep my hold on sanity. It's an outlet.

Today's Laugh

I recently asked my friends' little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President of the United States. Both her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there.

So I asked her, "If you were President, what would be the first thing you would do?"

She replied, "I'd give food and houses to all the homeless people." Her parents beamed.

"Wow ... what a worthy goal," I told her. "But you don't have to wait until you're President to do that. You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my driveway, and I'll pay you $50.

"Then I'll take you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house."

She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, "Why doesn't the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?"

"Welcome to the Republican Party," I told her.

Her parents still aren't speaking to me.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Garden Report

The problem with weeding is the original Pringles jingle: "once you pop, you can't stop." You start popping those clover roots and deep dandelion roots out of the soft mud, and you just can't stop. I want to finish the job, and clear the jungle of weeds away so that you can see the soil in all the garden patches, and not just in the lovely tomato patch which I weeded yesterday.

Note to self: make sure shirt is tucked in when weeding. There are certain parts of my body that have not seen sun in 30 years, since the bikini days of long-ago summers. With my shirt untucked yesterday, and mid-day June sun hitting a couple inches of my very white lower back, I now have a glaring red streak just above my jeans' waistband.

I don't know what it is, but my fruit trees didn't do well this year. The cherry harvest was less than what I would have gotten in 15 minutes last year. One apple tree has no fruit; the other has only 3 apples. The grape vines are very sparsely fruited. But the grapes are babies. They have an excuse; they need time.

Still haven't harvested the spring beets. They're getting big.

Lettuce is almost done. My second planting still has a small head or two.

None of the carrots have germinated.

My early-June planting of cilantro seeds (bought fresh a few weeks ago!) is coming up. Finally I'm seeing some cilantro. And smmmmmelling cilantro. The cilantro plants that I bought and transplanted are going to seed already. I hope I can still use them. Or that the seeds will hurry up and form, and fall, and grow, and get me some more cilantro. Can't have too much of that!

Bye-bye to my organic tomatoes. I found little red aphids on one of them. Hello Sevin Dust.

Yesterday I staked the tomatoes and pruned them. These hybrid tomatoes sure put out gobs of leaves. That was a problem last year. This year I pruned earlier, hoping to give the tomatoes room to grow, and sun and air, and hoping to put a little more of the plants' energy into creating fruit instead of lots of lovely greenery. Doing all 10 plants at once helped me figure out which branches needed to go and which were the fruit-bearing shoots. Woo hoo! I've tried to figure that out before; it's been explained to me. But sitting there, following branches from the roots to the tip, and seeing what was on them, and making careful observations, well, it paid off. I figured it out!

How come so many slugs? I'm going to have to figure out what to do about them. I'm hoping there won't be so many when I'm caught up with the weeding -- not so many moisty dark hiding places. On the other hand, maybe they'll be hungry for the plants I'm trying to grow instead of being satisfied with the invading weeds. Eek.

Been meaning daily to plant more beans and more carrots. But it's SO wet out there that I'm afraid to try to dig. Loosening the soil at this point may have the same lumpy results as trying to dig in mid-March. I could just shove bean seeds into the soil, but that wouldn't work with carrots.

Strawberries still have some fruit. I haven't even tried to harvest them the last week, what with other duties and some illness. Need to get out there tomorrow. I hope.

While weeding near the asparagus, I saw pretty little red growths on the raspberry canes. Oh boy! I better prune next year's canes pretty quickly, so that I'll be able to find the fruit on this year's canes. I pruned back a lot of next year's growth already, but I need to hack back more of it. Jam soon, raspberries to snack on sooner. And my favorite raspberry pie!

Not Fit for the Kingdom of God

We had the story today of Elijah, post-Mt-Carmel, when God told him to go anoint Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19). Elisha wanted to go back and say goodbye to his family and have a farewell meal. Perfectly reasonable, seems to me.

We also had the story from Luke 9, where Jesus tells the guy to follow Him. But the guy says he wants to go back and say bye to his family, and Jesus says, "No one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Now, I don't know about you, but I could never make sense of that. Is it okay to tell your family instead of simply disappearing? Or is it not? Why one response from Elijah and a different response from Jesus? What's the deal?

Pastor addressed that today. He suggested that Elisha (according to Jesus' words) was not fit for the kingdom of God. And why are we shocked are that? Is anyone fit for the kingdom of God? Only Christ didn't look back. Only Christ had no regrets. Only Christ was fully faithful. Only Christ is fit for the kingdom of God. We are worthy only because we are found in Him, with His "fitness."

Well, duh! Once he says that, it's so obvious! The fact that I didn't see it before just shows how much I see the Bible as a handbook on how to be good, how much I think Christianity is about my trying to follow the rules. But even so, He still declares me to be fit for the kingdom.

Today's Laugh

One summer evening, during a violent thunderstorm, a mother was tucking her son into bed. She was about to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, "Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?"

The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. "I can't dear," she said. "I have to sleep in Daddy's room."

A long silence was broken at last by his shaky little voice: "The big sissy!"