Cider Press is a Hit

We’ve learned quite a bit about making our own apple cider in the past few months.

No matter how much we make, it won’t last long.

I looked into recipes and processes for making hard cider. I considered other “flavors” such as cherry and rhubarb infused cider. Hahaha! Fresh apple cider is incredibly delicious. Chuck and Amigo drink it in place of orange juice at breakfast. I heat some up after school instead of an instant cappuccino. We froze a few containers, only to thaw them a few days later.

Nothing is better than fresh apple cider.

See above.

Pasteurizing apple cider on a plain old fashioned kitchen stove is easier than you might think.

Details: I did a lot of surfing on sites like the USDA and the CDC to find information about home pasteurizing for cider. The results were consistent: heat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and maintain that temperature for 6 seconds. 6 seconds? Is that all? I maintained it for a full minute, just because.

There are more people making their own cider than I thought!

Amigo offered up some of our homemade apple cider for a barbershop chorus celebration, and several of the guys in the chorus let me know that they, too, press their own cider. One or two talked about antique cider presses. Another talked apple varieties; we like ours a little more tart, so Macs are the main apple. That, and the tree outside my office that I pick for free, keep the recipe pretty straightforward. A few buckets of Macintosh apples and a few pounds of something else will make a tasty mix.

Sweetener? Unnecessary.

I found this out by accident when I bottled a batch of cider and then realized I hadn’t added any sugar. Any. Sugar. At. All. And – it was delicious. Maybe it was the Honey Crisps, or maybe I’m just getting used to having my apple flavor straight, no chaser.

Next year, I’ll be more aggressive in foraging for apples earlier and oftener. Er, more often. I learned that orchards keep boxes or buckets of “seconds” or “imperfect” fruit, and that fruit is still delicious. If I can make friends with a few people who have apple trees and don’t pick them – don’t laugh, it could happen, just like the tree outside my office building – I can procure enough for a large batch of cider.

And then there are pears. I know at least three people with pear trees, all of whom seem to have excess pears come September. Pear cider – why not?

Post- Thanksgiving News and Views

Ah, Thanksgiving. In the absence of the fairies, we split the responsibilities and managed to put on a good spread ourselves. We learned a few things in the process, too.

Our kitchen needs more counter space. It’s a little like the commercial with the guy realizing he has enough food for his guests, but doesn’t have enough room in his refrigerator. I thought I was brilliant in the way I plugged in an outlet strip and connected the crock pots to it. There they were, spread out on the kitchen counter, heating the mashed potatoes, curried squash soup, two kinds of stuffing, and mulled apple cider. Then we took the turkey out of the oven and realized there was no room to carve it. Chuck ended up setting a large cutting board across two burners (turned off, of course) on the stove and carefully carving the bird there.

La Petite’s stuffing and mashed potato recipes were delicious. She even made small quantities of plain potatoes and stuffing for those family members known for their preferences toward the traditional versions.

When you’re seven years old, drinking mulled cider from a wine glass is really cool.

A traditional holiday is often a good time to create new traditions. We served the holiday dinner on Friday for suppertime instead of on the calendar’s Thursday. It meant more relaxing travel for those on the road, more sleep time for the late-shift person in the family, and all in all simply worked better. We’ll be open to moving Thanksgiving off the Thursday in the future if needed.

On the same note, my birthday and my sister-in-law’s birthday land near Thanksgiving every year. Chuck’s birthday and La Petite’s are in mid-December, just a few days after our niece’s (she of the apple cider wine glass). We were universally not ready with gifts wrapped, but we exchanged presents anyway. After we were all done, the laughter had died, but the smiles remained, we decided that maybe this No Wrapping was a good idea.

There’s a lot for which to be thankful this time around.  Chuck no longer has to fear getting sent off with the satellite truck. When our Packers played on Thanksgiving, that was a very real possibility. Chuck left the television industry about a year ago, and it was a good move. We were all (relatively) healthy. Everyone traveled safely. Most of all, we enjoyed spending time together.

And that, my friends, is the best tradition of all.

The Fairies Return with Thanksgiving!

Have you wondered what happened to the Fabled Fairies of Thanksgiving? They made an appearance several years ago, along with a Butterball turkey. We’ve been having Thanksgiving over the river and through the woods at Grandma’s apartment for a while, but it’s our turn again. We organized who will bring which dish with a google doc to keep track, and now it’s time to get it all together. It’s time for the Fabled Fairies of Thanksgiving to come out of hiding and help us again!

 Thanksgiving Dinner? No problem! I’ll call in the fairies. They’ll do everything.

The laundry fairy washes, dries, and presses the table linens, including the cloth napkins. If she’s feeling generous, the sheets and towels might get folded, too.
The turkey fairy will practice her specialty and make sure the bird is cooked and carved just in time for dinner. White meat and dark, it’ll all be moist and savory and leave just enough leftovers for sandwiches and a turkey noodle soup.
The baker fairy will take care of pies, pumpkin and otherwise. He’s an expert on flaky crust, selected spices, and the perfect portion of whipped cream. Don’t let that Simple Simon guy get in the way; the kitchen’s too small for anyone who begs to taste the wares.
The brownie — the cunning little house elf — will clean the home thoroughly, put the leaf in the big table, and get the extra chairs out of the basement.
I wouldn’t dream of neglecting the wine fairy: the sommelier so tiny she only recommends, never lifts, a bottle. Her taste is impeccable. Now if we could stop her before she over-imbibes and falls asleep on top of the piano…
Did I mention the decorator fairy? She’ll fix the fireplace mantel with something tasteful and seasonal before she makes sure the couch and rocker are properly arranged for the annual holiday gladiator contests known as NFL football.
The ambiance fairy keeps the wood fire crackling in the fireplace, the aromas wafting deliciously through the home, and the family discussions neutral and apolitical.
The kitchen fairies: really, there must be a whole crew of these talented sprites. One to do the shopping early and avoid the crowds, another to make sure the cranberries are perfect (and local, of course), and a magical maestro with the potato masher. Then we’ll need a feisty fairy, one with attitude — yes, you, Tinkerbell, you can make the coffees.

Mom, you can send the fairies over to my house now that we’re hosting the annual family Thanksgiving dinner. Let them know that I’ll have their room ready and their favorite cookies baked. If they arrive on Sunday there should be enough time to get everything done.

Wait. What do you mean…they’re…not….real?

Barbershop Competition – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good? That’s easy. Two or three hotels filled with men who love to sing barbershop harmony! Everywhere we went, we saw or heard guys singing. We were in the right place at the right time to hear a singing telegram of sorts for a birthday. The quartet sang well, the recipient was so surprised she cried, and barbershop harmony sounded great in the large atrium lobby. Later on, we were making arrangements for a to-go order  when we heard another quartet singing “Let me call you sweetheart” to the restaurant hostess.

To follow in the “Good” category were the many short but wonderful conversations we had with other barbershoppers. (Get used to it, spell check. In my world, that is a real word.) It was hi, which group are you with, did you sing already today, how did it go, have you been singing long, and more. Barbershoppers are a friendly group.

But then, the bad. We had one bad experience that put all three of us in near-anxiety mode. We ordered from a pizza-type restaurant, getting assurance that the food would be ready to eat soon, and we’d be on our way to hear one of our quartets. Our order wasn’t ready, we were getting tense as we watched the clock, so we decided to ask for it to go and eat later, after seeing the quartet perform. Amigo and I hit the pavement (the Skywalk) and headed for the auditorium while Chuck changed our order and complained heavily to the manager. To make a long story short, we all made it to the performance, but not without some stress on the way. We informed the rest of the chorus of our experience so they wouldn’t be stuck in a similar tough spot.

How about a little more “good”? We decided to make the long weekend a family vacation of sorts. We didn’t rush to get to Rochester, relaxed in our hotel room when Amigo wasn’t singing or watching other groups sing, and there was a Starbucks down the road. Er, hallway. I’m a morning person, where Chuck’s second shift work puts him firmly in night owl mode most of the time. When I woke up Friday morning, I showered, dressed, and strode down the hall to get coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I spent a while relaxing (there’s that word again) and reading the morning paper.

Oh, well, the ugly. We forgot swimsuits. That was okay, though, because we really didn’t have time to swim in the hotel pool. What else – oh, yeah, the Chinese restaurant was never open when we wanted it. That’s not too bad, though, because there were so many other options. Ugly? Amigo’s tux pants are too short. But he stands in the third row, so that’s not serious, either. We can get that fixed later. Maybe there weren’t any truly ugly moments.

As for more good, the chorus placed 4th out of 18 groups. They sang very well, and even went home with the award for Most Improved.

Ah, barbershoppers. They’re a great bunch of guys. So spell check, get used to it. Barbershoppers is a real word.

I’m Back!

My laptop is in the shop again. I’ve been contemplating buying a tablet or a 2 in 1. To make a long story short,I did it. I am getting to know my new device, and you, readers, can expect more posts from the O.K. Chorale soon! But first, I’m off to take Amigo to the courthouse to sing God Bless America and thr Armed Forces Medley for Veteran’s Day.