Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Eleven Lessons I Learned Whilst Afflicted with Influenza

1) If you only order pizza once in a blue moon, don't do it when you've got the flu. You won't be able to taste it.

2) You really can't will it away or "work through it." I can't even shower, much less wash the dishes.

3) Aloe/lotion Kleenex are absolutely worth the extra 30 cents.

4) A heating pad on the chest is very comforting when one aches from coughing.

5) Chicken soup seriously has mysterious healing qualities.

6) The world can and does revolve without my directing it.

7) Retail therapy is just as effective when done online, flat on one's back.

8) The absolute best time for hacking up a lung is 2:00am, 2:10am, 2:13am... repeat every three-ten minutes for approximately three hours.

9) Hot tea clears the mind as well as the sinuses for a few minutes. It's temporary relief, but most welcome, nonetheless.

10) If we had a lot more money, I could run an awesome micro-dairy with artisanal cheeses aged to perfection in our custom-designed cheese cave... all while dressed in stunning dresses and a tasteful strand of pearls (see #7).

11) My husband loves me. A lot. (See #'s 2-10)

Feel free to add your own in the comments...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Sad History with Hybrid vs. Heirloom Tomatoes

For years I've been trying to grow tomatoes. Goodness, the very first blog post I ever did was about my desire to plant them.

Year 1: Planted 8 hybrid tomato plants, but largely forgot them. They died of neglect, bearing a lot of fruit that went unharvested.

Year 2: Planted 0 hybrid tomatoes and 12 heirlooms. I took relatively good care of them. They all died of disease, bearing almost nothing.

Year 3: Planted 0 hybrids, 14 heirlooms. They all died of disease, making a valiant effort to produce some fruit before they bit the dust.

Year 4: Planted 0 hybrids and 20 heirlooms. I babied them! Death, disease, and dashed dreams.

{Image Credit}

I will readily grant that my gardening skills leave much to be desired. If the apocalypse happened and I had to produce all of my own food or die, I'd die.

But looking back at the records, I think I've set myself up for failure by trying to do heirlooms. Yes, purple tomatoes are fun, knobby yellow tomatoes are thrills to give away, pink striped fruits would look so lovely in my salad, and it's charming to know that I'm planting varieties that my forefathers ate. But it's hard to argue with years of dead plants.

This year, by golly, I'm going back to hybrids. I never saved seeds, anyway, because there was no fruit to save seeds from! Out with the Purple Cherokee in with the Better Boys!

Have you had any success with heirloom variety tomatoes? If so, what are your secrets?

Monday, January 28, 2013

SearchTempest: A Better Way to Use Craigslist

I am forever haunting Craigslist. I just love it.

I've scored some pretty sweet deals on it in the past, but one of my long-standing complaints is that there are many different Craigslist cities within easy driving distance, and that require separate searches. To see if there are any, *cough cough* jersey cows *cough cough* within about a 200 mile radius, I have to search over a dozen different Craigslist sites.

About a year ago, somebody told me about SearchTempest. You simply enter your zip code, the amount of miles you're willing to travel, and voila!

The results can be displayed as either "Combined Results Mode" which will put all of the cities together on one page, or "Direct Results Mode" which keeps the cities separate and allows you to toggle between them in a new window.

If you do any kind of regular shopping on Craigslist, please do yourself a favor and check it out.

Friday, January 25, 2013

This Week on Pinterest

As always, there were a ton of cute and good ideas on Pinterest this week. Here were some of my favorites:

{Pin from Number-2-Pencil}

This recipe for chocolate chip cookies is ingenious because it makes only two cookies. No leftovers to tempt you beyond your steely resolve!

{Pin from}

Here's a simple idea for hanging pictures. Put some toothpaste where the nail holes go, push the frame against the wall and nail there -- no more guessing or measuring.

{Pin from}

This is a tasteful compilation of 25 Ikea Hacks (cheap Ikea furniture redone to look high end). Some of the results here are beautiful!


Caramel "Apple" Grapes. These would be adorable for a party appetizer. I think they might be even better if rolled in toffee bits.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How to Can Dry Chickpeas, Kidney Beans, Pintos, Black Beans

I've read a lot lately about the health benefits of eating beans. Lowers cholesterol, helps maintain blood sugar, good for digestion, lots of nutrients, cheap (though incomplete) source of protein, etc.

My pantry has been stocked with dry beans forever. Every week I put them on our menu plan, and most weeks I take an alternate route because, "they take forever to cook!" Soaking the night before, a low-slow cook for most of the day, and then, worst of all, there are tons of leftovers. Why go through all the hassle just to make a small batch for the two of us? So I always make tons, intending to eat frugally on them all week.

I like beans well enough, but I've had to admit, I don't like leftover beans. There's only so much chili I can make them into, and there are only so many little containers of leftover beans I can stick in the back of the freezer for that afternoon when I tell myself, "I know! I want to eat beans today!"

The crisis point came a few weeks ago when we discovered evidence of mice in our pantry. My bag of dried split peas had bite marks all over it, so I was forced to toss the lot. I scrutinized the rest of the sacks of various dried beans but they appeared untouched, for now. "If I don't store these better, I'm going to lose them." I don't like throwing away food.

My canner called out to me.

Hm... a can of beans around here is 70-90 cents. A few pounds of dried beans (which makes seven pints) costs about the same.

And canned beans are always ready to eat... no soaking, no long cooking times, and no leftovers.

Compared to tomatoes and homemade jams, canning dried beans is really easy.

 Soak the beans in water (here I have black beans, pintos, and kidneys... I did chickpeas the next day).

I think they're really pretty.

By the next morning they've about doubled in volume.

 It amazes me that the black bean water turns purple.

Drain and rinse the beans well. Purportedly, this helps alleviate the... uncomfortable and indelicate symptoms that many people have when they eat beans.

Cover with water and boil for 30 minutes.

Put the beans in a jar, cover with water (cooking water or boiling water) leave 1" headspace, use a non-metal utensil (I used a wooden kebab skewer) to release air bubbles, wipe the rim, cap with sterilized lid, finger-tighten the ring.

Because I was canning three kinds of beans in one batch, I labeled each jar lid with a Sharpie before processing to keep them straight... P for Pinto beans.

Process in a pressure canner 75 minutes for pints or 90 minutes for quarts. Don't open the lid of the canner until the pressure is completely down and the canner is cool to the touch (removing the lid while the canner is still warm can lead to water reduction in the jars -- if they seal they're still safe to store, but they're not as pretty).

Truly that's it.

Refried beans, red beans and rice, black bean corn salad, burritos, black bean burgers, enchiladas, chili, falafel, roasted chickpeas, hummus... suddenly my meal plan doesn't look as impossible.

How To Can Dry Beans
(like chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, red beans, navy beans, etc.)

1. Soak beans in water (at least 2 parts water, 1 part beans) for 8-12 hours (overnight).

2. Drain and rinse beans well, put in a pot, cover with water, and boil for 30 minutes.

3. Put hot beans in warm sterilized jars, cover the beans with water (the cooking liquid or simply boiling water) and leave 1" of headspace. Run a non-metal instrument around the inside to release air bubbles, wipe the rim with a clean cloth, place a sterilized lid and finger-tighten the band.

4. Process in a pressure canner (I have always hated the direction, "process in a pressure canner," because it is so vague and non-helpful. But truly, I won't be more specific than that, because you should read your canner's manual to see how to operate it... they're all slightly different.) as follows:

For Dial Gauge Pressure Canner: 
Pints: Process 75 minutes
Quarts: Process 90 Minutes

If your altitude is: 
0-2000’ - process at 11 lbs. pressure
2000-4000’ – process at 12 lbs. pressure
4000-6000’ – Process at 13 lbs. pressure
6000-8000’ – Process at 14 lbs. pressure

Weighted Gauge Pressure Canner: 
Pints: Process 75 minutes
Quarts: Process 90 Minutes

If your altitude is: 
0-1000’ – Process at 10 lbs. pressure
Above 1000’ – Process at 15 lbs. pressure

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Our Love Story, Part XVII

It's been a year to the day since I published the last part of Our Love Story, and that is unpardonable. In the likely event that you've forgotten how it all started, you can read the back episodes here. Without further ado...


We piled into the pickup and set off on our sledding adventure. Mr. Amazing and I were in the front seat, comfortably buffered by his youngest sister, Katarina. In the back were two of their little nieces, eager for the outing.

On the long drive to the hills we spoke of our favorite comic strips, books, movies and music. We agreed perfectly on comics, books and movies, but there wasn't much overlap in our musical tastes. He liked Billy Joel. Ugh! Nothing a little exposure to Tchaikovsky and Chopin wouldn't soon cure, I consoled myself.

The further we drove the hillier the terrain and the deeper the snow until at last we stopped.

"This looks about right," he said, nodding to a snowy slope on our right.

I eyed the terrain suspiciously. Ever since an incident from my youth when I'd careened into a gang leader at an ice-skating rink and knocked him flat, I've had a distrust of all frozen precipitation.

"You're not a chubby 3rd grader, you're an accomplished young woman," I rallied myself and took a giant leap out of the pickup onto the frozen earth.


The ground beneath my feet was gone -- I'd plunged into a snowdrift and was now buried, nay wedged, chest-deep in snow, helpless as a newborn babe and innocent as the driven...

What else could I do? I laughed heartily and freely at the absurdity of it all. Katarina immediately came to my aid and tried to pull me out, but it would not do; I was stuck.

"Help her!" she pleaded to her older brother, who was awkwardly fidgeting around the back of the pickup, nervously fingering a rope.

"I'm not a beached whale!" I yelled caustically, still laughing, but sharply enough for for him to drop the rope, embarrassed.

Honestly I really didn't want his help and was glad he was as reticent to give it. For all the dreaming young girls do of a knight in shining armor saving his fair damsel in distress, I was oddly conflicted. I didn't want to hold his hand for him to pull me out -- it was too much for my reserve to allow.

So I rocked back and forth enough to loosen the snow and, with Katerina's help, indelicately maneuvered out.

Despite not wanting his help, I was annoyed that he hadn't taken more initiative in the situation and was going to significantly glare as much when I spied him tromping up the hill, nieces in tow, packing down a sledding trail. All was not forgiven, but they were awfully cute. Having recovered my breath, composure, and a little self-dignity, I followed.

"Wanna go first?" he asked.

"I think the girls should," I replied flatly, still smarting.

"Oh, right."

He saddled them up on the sled and gave them a good push down the hill, but they didn't go too far; it wasn't the right kind of snow for sledding. Their shrieks of delight soon turned to, "I'm cold!" and "I'm hungry!" They huddled by the pickup. After one run they were done.

Katerina gave it a whirl and, though more successful than the girls, still didn't fly down the hill. "Nah, it's too powdery," she lamented.

Mr. Amazing looked at me, disappointedly, and then bolted down the hill, much faster than the sled had, and returned with a rope.

"Hop on the sled," he commanded, looking every bit an excited 9 year old boy who was hatching a brilliant plan.

I complied as he tied the rope on the sled and pulled me down the hill as fast as he could run.

"Does this mean he likes me??"

I watched him haul the sled up the hill and ask me, smiling breathlessly, "Again?"

We had two more exhilarating runs with him pulling and I holding on for dear life before the girls dropped the ever-effective, "I have to go to the bathroom!"

We packed up and headed on. I sat, quietly beaming and staring out the window.

I was surprised to find myself humming a few bars of Piano Man.


That night he, Katarina and I went for a walk around the town to look at the Christmas lights. After we set out I heard him mutter under his breath, "I wish I had brought a hat and gloves."

Several minutes later, Katarina was complaining bitterly of the cold and Mr. Amazing again remarked, "I wish I'd brought a hat."

"Why don't you just wear your hood?" I suggested.

"Oh, I'm fine," he said a little sheepishly, "but I was worried about you."

Reader, I assure you, had I been stranded in the arctic at that moment wearing only a t-shirt and shorts, I would have felt nothing but the warm happy glow of a woman who suspects she might be seriously in love.

To be continued...