Writing on Windows


I was chugging along doing errands yesterday when I pulled up behind a Chevy truck at a red light. The back window was covered by what I assumed was a memorial decal. I couldn’t make out the full name, because the font was very curly and difficult to read, but I saw that the young man had been 21 when he died. It reminded me of another “memorial window” experience I had a few years back.

We live on a dirt road, which means that in the summer the back window of my station wagon is usually covered with a layer of dust. I do wash my car occasionally, but not often, because it’s only going to get covered in fresh dust on the drive home from the car wash. My nod to visibility is to wash the back window when I stop to get gas. The accumulation of dust makes a perfect canvas for my daughter, Emily, who loves to draw designs and leave me messages.

I was on my way to work one morning and I passed a car on the interstate. Then I noticed the same car tailgating me. This  made me nervous, but I was almost at my exit. I put on my turn signal and got off to get gas, and the car followed me right into the gas station this made me nervous.  I pulled up to a pump and the car pulled in right behind me. A woman got out and walked toward my window. She apologized for making me nervous, but she said she wanted to thank me for what was on the back window.

I got out of the car and walked around to the back. In the dust, Emily, who was four at the time, had written “I <heart> U MI MI.” The heart was a drawing of a large heart, and I assumed MI was her attempt to spell ‘me’. As she got older, she started to write “Wash Me,” but at four it was still okay to make public statements of affection. I was at a loss as to what this could mean to a stranger, but the woman told me.

“My grandson died a few years ago, and he always called me Mimi.,” she said. She had been having a rough morning and feeling sad, and when I passed her on the highway, she noticed the message on the back window. She had to speed up to make sure she wasn’t seeing things, and then she decided to follow me to the gas station to let me know how much it meant to her. “I feel like my grandson sent me a message, and that made my day.”

It made my day, too, and I didn’t wash the back window that time. I left it on until the rain washed it off. I thought about that when I saw the decal on that truck window yesterday. I hope it helps the driver feel connected to his or her lost child.


Tin Can Challenge: The Aftermath


My daughter, Emily, and her cousin, Sarah, did the tin can challenge the other day. This involves buying ten cans of miscellaneous food, taking the labels off and numbering the cans. Then they each picked numbers and had to eat at least one spoonful of whatever was in that can. They filmed it and my sister, Tricia, and I were amused by the whole thing, but I have to admit that I think the real challenge begins after you open the cans. What do you do with all that food?

Immediately after filming, Sarah ate the rest of the pasta Os, and Emily ate about half of the cherry pie filling. After they were finished, I covered the cans and put them in the fridge. The next morning, the fruit cocktail became a casualty when it fell out as Sarah got out the milk. So much for No No Cake. I decided to pull the rest of the cans out to prevent any more mishaps. I took the pie filling; the sweetened, condensed milk; cream of mushroom soup; black beans; tomatoes and jalapenos; and whole berry cranberry sauce home with me. I left the canned spinach for Tricia, because she said she liked it, and I left the canned peas for her chickens because I loathe them.

When I got home, I made some black bean dip. I melted a tablespoon of my home-rendered lard in a skillet, and added the beans. I let them cook and then mashed them. I added the can of tomatoes and peppers plus a teaspoon of ground cumin and about a cup of shredded cheddar cheese. That and half a bag of pita chips became dinner (Emily was staying with a friend).

The next day, I was planning to make a small cheesecake with some cream cheese and the sweetened, condensed milk and top it with the cherry pie filling, but I discovered that Emily had eaten the cream cheese. I made some pie crust and made mini cherry pies instead. I used a biscuit cutter to make rounds, put a spoonful of pie filling on each round and covered it with another. They were yummy.

The sweetened condensed milk was mixed with a can of milk my mother gave me a while ago and a couple tablespoons of Irish cream coffee flavoring. Now I am ready for upcoming Irish holidays and I don’t have to buy fancy creamer.

For supper, I thawed a chicken breast, cut it into chunks, and sauted it in butter with some onions and garlic. Then I mixed that with some frozen veggies, the can of mushroom soup, and a cup of brown rice. Then I added a quart of home-made chicken stock and popped it in the oven for about an hour. I would have added mushrooms, but I didn’t have any.

I probably should have had some cranberry sauce with my chicken casserole, but I forgot it was in there. I think that I will use it sometime this week to make a sauce for pork chops. It should be yummy mixed with the juice of the last two mandarin oranges that are rolling around in the fruit bowl. All in all, the tin can challenge was fun!

This is the No No Cake I was planning to make.  Shelly Sutter gave me the recipe years ago.

No No Cake

1 1/2 C all purpose flour

1 C sugar

1 t baking soda

1 T vinegar

1 t vanilla

1/3 C oil

1 C some kind of liquid

Mix everything together in a greased, 8 inch cake pan. I double the recipe and use a 13 X 9 pan. Once you have all of the ingredients in the pan, add some kind of fruit. Canned fruit cocktail works well, as does pineapple or peaches. Sometimes I add chopped apples and a bit of cinnamon and cardamom to the batter, and put a streusel topping on it. It is great with frozen blueberries or blackberries, too. For a really decadent treat, add about 1/3 C of cocoa powder, some chocolate chips and some chopped nuts.

Bake the cake at 300 deg. F for about an hour until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out  clean. Let it cool as long as you can before cutting. Shelly told me that this was called No No Cake because there are no eggs in the batter. I just call it delicious!


The Comfy Chair

I am finally finished with the cover for the Comfy Chair! This was one of those projects that are easy, but extremely time-consuming; however, I am definitely pleased with the results.

Everybody loves the Comfy Chair

Everybody loves the Comfy Chair

The Comfy Chair is a piece of furniture that was given to us by Mini’s sister when she didn’t have room for it any more. It is, indeed, extremely comfortable, and everyone likes to sit there. Over the years, it became worn and dingy, and it was not only comfy, but downright ugly.

A couple of months ago, my mom gave me a white canvas chair cover that didn’t fit any of her chairs. It did work on the Comfy Chair, but there was no way white was going to survive in my house. I decided to dye it brown.

Whit is a no no at my house.

White is a no no at my house.

I used Dylon Woodland Brown fabric dye, and I put the chair cover in my big dye pot. After rinsing and drying, I took the chair cover to the studio.

It 's great to have a really big dye pot!

It ‘s great to have a really big dye pot!

I began stamping leaf designs on it using DecoArt SoSoft fabric paints. It was easy and fun, but it’s a big chair cover and these are small leaf stamps, plus you have to let the paint dry before you can safely move the piece without smudging it. It took two months to finish.

Ready to go.

Ready to go.

Stamping, stamping, stamping.

Stamping, stamping, stamping.

It took about two months to complete.

It took about two months to complete.

But it is all done now! Just in time for the Comfy Chair to be taken out of the living room to make room for the Christmas tree.

It's done!

It’s done!

And the cats still love it.

And the cats still love it.

Getting Ready

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get by without many of the things we consider essential in our early 21st century lives. The most obvious of these things is electricity. I found this article by Anita Evangelista in Backwoods Home Magazine, http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles2/evangelista73.html, on how to live without electricity. She isn’t talking about moving beyond the grid, although she has lived that way before, but rather what to do when the power goes out because of a natural disaster or other sudden, unanticipated event.

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Evangelista covers the basic information for how to prepare for a power outage, and that is an important point. You have to get ready before it happens, because if you wait until the electric goes out, you are pretty much stuck. The author makes another interesting point when she says that you should try to keep your family’s routine as normal as possible during these times. It is easy for people to give in to fear and paranoia when their surroundings are altered suddenly and beyond their control. However, if you have prepared for that occurrence, it can be less disruptive. We have a habit at our house: when the power goes out, we light candles, break out the dice, and play Yahtzee.

Crab Apple Jelly

I love this thing. It’s a Mehu-Maija, or steam juicer, that I picked up at a second-hand store in Finland several years ago. It took some finageling to get it home:  one piece in each bag and then stuffed with socks and underwear. It was worth it, though. I bought it for 1 E, and they sell for a couple of hundred dollars new.


I mostly use the Mehu-Maija to make juice for jelly. It is so much easier than cooking the fruit and then hanging it in a bag! This one is aluminum, so I don’t use it for juice that we will drink, but we don’t eat that much jelly, so I’m not going to worry about that.

I love the color of the crab apple jelly. You can also spice it with cinnamon or even steep mint leaves in the juice and make mint jelly if you like such things with your roast lamb. One of the best uses for crab apple juice, however, is as natural pectin. Forget that store bought stuff! I freeze the juice in ice cube trays and then throw a couple of cubes in with other fruit juice that I am using for jams and jellies.

Crab Apple Jelly

I started with one peck of crab apples. I washed them, sorted out any dried up ones and put them in the top pan of the Mehu-Maija. I didn’t cut them or take the stems off. Then I filled the bottom pan of the juicer with water, added the middle pan–this is where the juice collects–and put the top pan and the lid on.

I put a step ladder up to the stove to sit a stock pot on. This is so that the juice would run through the little hose on the front of the juicer and collect in the pot. It took about two hours to cook the apples down and get the juice out of them, and I had to add water to the bottom pan about half way through. I poured the juice out of the pot and after freezing some for future use, I had eight cups of crab apple juice. At this point, I watched a Halloween movie with my daughter, and then went to bed.

The next morning, I heated up the juice, and then added six cups of sugar. I decided to cover all of my bases, so I used a candy thermometer, but I also tested the jelly periodically with a spoon. When you hold a spoonful of jelly over the pot and tilt the spoon, the liquid will drip back into the pan. When the jelly is ready, the last few drips will come together to form a single one. This is called “sheeting.” Supposedly, this happens when the liquid reaches 220 deg. F, but I find that it happens just a few degrees shy of that. I decided to take my pan off the stove when I saw the sheeting, rather than wait for the temperature to get to 220.


It was the right decision. The jelly is perfect. I love that red color!  Happy Autumn!

The Cider Press Rises Again!

To celebrate our marriage in 1994, Jay and I bought a cider press. We spent many glorious fall weekends squeezing apples and grapes, and turning them into cider, wine, hard cider and vinegar. The marriage didn’t last, but the cider press is still around. I’m afraid I haven’t treated it very well. It was stored in a shed that collapsed and it got really wet and then sat around for several years when I was either too busy to make cider or there were no apples on the trees that season.

The cider press when it was delivered to Rich.

The cider press when it was delivered to Rich.

This year the apple blossoms didn’t get hit with a late frost, and it looked like we would finally have a decent apple harvest again, so I decided to send the cider press for a “spa treatment.” It was long overdue. All of the metal pieces were rusty and seized up, and some of the wood was dry rotted. My friend, Rich Konkol, got the metal pieces apart and his neighbor sand-blasted and painted them. Then we picked the press up and took it to another friend, Chris Herendeen, who made a new follower, a new bottom tray, a new hopper and stabilized the supports.

The restored press with one of it's saviors in the background.

The restored press with one of it’s saviors in the background.

The press had its second launch yesterday. We made six gallons of cider from our own apples and pears, and there are plenty more on the trees. I now have five gallons of cider turning to vinegar in the basement, and some of the next batch will go in a carboy with an airlock to become hard cider. And, no, I do not pasteurize  my cider. I wash the fruit before it is pressed and cut out any bad spots. It is a gorgeous, opaque, somewhat thick, brown beverage that is more refreshing than anything else you can drink. Home-made cider from your own apples is the essence of autumn.

Two bushels of apples and pears from our trees and Mini trying to avoid my camera.

Two bushels of apples and pears from our trees and Mini trying to avoid my camera.

Here is a video of Rich at work. He is a welder and always works in a kilt. http://www.goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013309179955




Saving Seeds

This is the fall garden. We have been enjoying salads for a couple of weeks and are looking forward to peas, carrots and beets.

This is the fall garden. We have been enjoying salads for a couple of weeks and are looking forward to peas, carrots and beets.

This is the groundhog that has been scoping out my fall garden. So far, the dogs seem to be keeping it at bay.

This is the groundhog that has been scoping out my fall garden. So far, the dogs seem to be keeping it at bay.

I’m trying to save more seeds this year for next spring’s garden. I have been saving tomato seeds for quite a while now, but this year I decided to save seeds from beans, broccoli, cauliflower and chard. In the spring, I hope to get seeds from beets, carrots and lettuce. You can gather your own seeds from all kinds of vegetables as long as they are heirloom varieties. Heirlooms are vegetables that have been grown for many years and seeds from these varieties will “grow true,” which means that when they are planted the following year, you will get vegetables that look very much like the ones you grew last year.

This is not true for hybrids. When a vegetable is labeled as a hybrid, it has been produced by crossing two different varieties to get a new one, but it will not grow true the following year. Seeds saved from hybrids will grow, but you don’t know what you will get, and it will not look anything like what you grew before. Also, hybridization is NOTHING like the bioengineering that creates GMO seeds. Don’t get me started!

Most seeds are easy to save. With beans and peas, I simply leave any pods that have gotten a bit too big for eating fresh, and when the plants stop producing, I pull them up by the roots, tie them into bundles and hang them in the barn. In a few weeks, the pods are brown and dry, and the beans can be removed. With most other seeds, you can simply dig the seeds out, let them dry on a plate and then store them in paper envelopes. Being the kind of weirdo that I am, I save envelopes from the mail, put seeds in them, write the contents on the envelope and tape it shut. Do not store seeds in plastic bags! No matter how dry they may appear, there will still be enough moisture in them to create condensation and that leads to mold which leads to dead seeds in the spring.

Tomatoes are a bit trickier. Tomato seeds have an outer covering that needs to be removed in order for them to germinate in the spring, so they have to be left to ferment for a bit. Remove the seeds and put them in a plastic container, then add an inch or so of water. Let the seeds soak for a couple of days and stir them daily. Eventually, you will see a white film beginning to form on top of the water. That is a good thing, because that means the coating on the seeds is breaking down. Let the coating build up for a few days, and then add more water to the container and stir. Skim off the stuff on the top and any seeds that float–they won’t grow–and then strain. Keep rinsing until the seeds are clean. I put them on paper towels on top of paper plates, and write the name of the variety on the plate. I stick them on the upper shelf of a cupboard and forget about them for a while, but eventually I put them in envelopes.

A few more things to consider: if you plan to save seeds, try to isolate each variety in the garden to keep them from cross-breeding. Also, seeds need some time to mature before they will be viable, so choose a nice specimen of whatever you plan to save and leave it on the plant much longer than you would if you were going to eat it. Don’t let it rot, though.

This article from Organic Gardening has some good information. http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/saving-seeds-for-next-season?page=0,2 Happy seed saving!

Rolo’s Dog Treats

The weather continues to be uncooperative as far as collecting sap is concerned, so faced with another snowy, blowy day, I decided to bake some dog treats.  I’ve been saving bacon grease and I had a little bit of peanut butter in the bottom of a jar, so that became the flavor.  I don’t have much experience with dog treats, so I figured I would just proceed as I would with cookies:  cream the fats, add egg and any flavorings, add the dry ingredients and some water to mix.  That seemed to work well.

Cream the fats to start, just like you would for cookies.

Cream the fats to start, just like you would for cookies.

Some recipes call for sugar, but I didn’t see any reason to add that.  I may be culturally conditioned to consider sugar a treat, but my dogs have always seemed to prefer three-day-old road kill, so I left out the sweetener.

All mixed up

All mixed up

Rolo smelled them before they even made it to the oven and came out to the kitchen to watch and to see if he could trip me and get to eat some raw.  I was on to him, though, and they all made it into the oven.  When he finally got to taste them, he pronounced them delicious.

Roll out to about 1/8" thick.

Roll out to about 1/8″ thick.

Rolo’s Treats

1/2 C. of bacon fat

1/2 C. of peanut butter

1 egg

1 1/2 C. whole wheat flour

1/2 C.  wheat germ

2 T. water (approximate)

Cream bacon grease and peanut butter.  Add egg and mix until creamy.  Add flour and wheat germ.  Mix to combine and add enough water to mixture so that it forms a ball.  Roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut into one inch shapes.  Bake at 300 deg. 18-20 minutes until slightly brown.  Cool on wire racks and stash in a container before the dog eats them all.  Makes about 70 treats.

Gimme the treat!  Gimme the treat!

Gimme the treat! Gimme the treat!

Sugaring, Part One

I tapped the maple trees today.  While my neighbors in New England are digging out from three feet of snow this weekend, it is sunny here and the high is supposed to be close to 50 degrees today.  Warm temps with a foot of snow on the ground mean the start of sugaring season.

It feels good to get out in the woods again after a couple of months indoors next to the stove.  I get a bucket and gather my tools:  a cordless drill with an extra battery (charged, of course!), a bag of plastic taps, 50 feet of plastic tubing, a tubing cutter, a handful of rubber bands, six plastic jugs, and my camera.  Off to the woods I go with Rolo running out in front.  After a few yards, I hear insistent meowing behind and there is Nyan Cat following behind.


Rolo waiting patiently for me to finish.

Rolo waiting patiently for me to finish.

It has been four years since I tapped the maple trees.  It was something my husband and I did together, and the year after we were divorced I felt too sad to tackle it on my own.  The next year was a warm winter with poor sugaring weather, so I didn’t bother.  The following year I was all set to do it, but I couldn’t find the taps.  I didn’t have the money at that point to go out and buy more, so no syrup that year.  Last year I was in Norway in February, and it was another short season, so I missed it.  This year I decided to switch to the newer system of plastic taps and tubing, since I still haven’t found the metal spiles.  The taps are called tree savers, because you don’t have to drill as deep into the tree and the holes aren’t as big around as traditional spiles.

There are many maple trees on the property, but I mostly tap six  old sugar maples that grow next to the west creek, three on each side of it.  They are huge, ancient trees, and I only put two taps in each tree.  I’m not doing this to make money, only to have some syrup for my pancakes, so there is no reason to get greedy.  Twelve taps usually give me a gallon of syrup; in good years we made three.

I tap the three trees on the house side of the creek first.  I drill into the trees on the south side, directly over large roots.  I clean out the hole with a piece of stick, and the sap is already starting to drip out of the hole.  I place a plastic tap in each hole, and gently hammer it in with a rubber mallet, and then attach a piece of tubing to the tap.  I attach the two pieces of tubing together with a rubber band and then push them through a hole I drilled in the top of the lid for the plastic jug.

Tap in the tree before the tubing is attached.  There is a drop of maple sap already coming out.

Tap in the tree before the tubing is attached. There is a drop of maple sap already coming out.

I am using kitty litter jugs to collect the sap this year.  I used to use milk jugs, but I don’t get milk in plastic jugs anymore, and when I got them from other people, they often had a sour smell no amount of rinsing would get rid of.  I have used two gallon kitty litter jugs for many years to carry water to the barn.  They are well-rinsed and have no odor to them.  As an extra caution, I rinsed them with the One Step solution I use when bottling mead.  I am not worried about using them, because, as I said, they are well-rinsed, the sap will not be in them for more than a day or two, and once the weather goes much above fifty, the sap flow is over, so I’m not worried about them getting too warm.  It’s my syrup.  If this bothers you, don’t come to my house for pancakes.

Finished sap collecting set up.

Finished sap collecting set up.

Once I finished tapping the trees and setting up the jugs, I headed back across the creek and home.  As I passed the first trees I had tapped, I could hear the sound of the coming of spring:  the plink, plink, plink of maple sap hitting the bottom of the jug.

Autumn 2012: Day Fourteen

This may be the peak of the color.  Dark clouds coming and weather forecast calling for rain all weekend.  If that is true, the rains may bring down many of the leaves, and the show will be over.




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