Random Thoughts of – spring?

Someone called me the Compost Lady recently, and I realized I hadn’t written as ComposterMom in ages. A lot of my shorter posts end up on Facebook. I’m on the computer all day at work, so I don’t automatically pick it up when I come home. I need to be offline for a while every evening.

But anyway, random thoughts.

Shopko is bankrupt and going out of business. Their clearance and liquidation sales are disappointing a lot of people. I haven’t even stopped in to check it out, to be honest. They’re at the point where the liquidation company, not the Shopko corporation itself, is running the show, and shoppers can tell. Discounts are weak, inventory isn’t very high quality, and there are more complaints than deals. We did get lucky with the smaller Shopko Express’ clearance. They transferred most of their inventory to other stores before the ax fell, but they couldn’t do that with their liquor stock. We picked up wine and specialty beers for pretty darn cheap. And that was all.

Meanwhile, we reminisced about the irony that is our kitchen. We bought some very high quality pots and pans and other equipment dirt cheap from not one but three high end kitchen stores that were going out of business. One was in Green Bay, one in my little burgh, and one in Rochester, Minnesota (we were there for a barbershop chorus competition). Those were small shops, not corporate entities, and the owners were interacting with customers as they made deals.

Oh, what a difference! Cast iron cleaning tools, towels, scrubbing cloths, and the best, a really nice wok. The Wire Whisk had used the wok for cooking classes, so we made an offer. The owner accepted the offer and reluctantly let it go. She talked about cooking classes, gave me good advice about seasoning it, and I think she shed a tear or two as I left with this wonderful piece of cookware in my arms. I hope she knew we’d treat it well – literally and figuratively speaking.

Meanwhile, we are appreciating the newly remodeled kitchen and especially the storage space. The pantry cabinet has so much room it feels like a luxury. We have cupboard space for basic everyday goodies, and we have room to stock up when there’s a sale. I haven’t reached prepper stockpile level (yet), but it makes more room for my own canned goods, too. No longer do we have to trek down the basement for a new jar of jam or pickles.

So on we go, my friends and family. It’s a crazy world out there, and I hear there’s a possibility of another late snowstorm next week. I hope the forecasters are wrong, but you know the saying – whether the weather, we’ll weather the weather.

The Year Without a Canning Season

It started with kitchen construction. It ended with a brain aneurysm treatment. It makes sense; I didn’t can very much last summer. I’m still a little bummed.

With a major kitchen remodel in progress, I got up by 7:00 every morning even after school let out in June. I moved both vehicles out of the driveway so the carpenters could pull in. Then I would start my coffee, watch the morning news, and all the rest. I didn’t make jams or jellies because I didn’t have a stove in June and July. One result: rhubarb takes up much too much space in the freezer this year. I must find a way to use it up. Maybe in May. But anyway, no stove? No canning in early summer.

Later on I went under – not under the knife, but under a catheter. Part I: cerebral angiogram to determine the size of the aneurysm. The nurse wore Crocs with the Swedish Chef on them. How awesome is that? But I digress.

You can guess what followed – an overnight in the hospital after a three hour surgery to line the aneurysm so it will not get bigger. I had this done on a Thursday, and then headed off to school meetings the following Monday. And yes, I was tired.

But back to canning. In between the two events, I managed to can a batch of sweet bread and butter pickles and a batch of kinda-meh dill pickles. I put up one batch of tomato sauce – only one batch, and it shows. We opened a jar of store-bought tomato sauce last night. I used commercially canned tomatoes last time I made chili. All the homemade ketchup, the last jar of enchilada sauce – it’s all gone.

I’m a little sad looking at all the empty spots on the shelves that usually overflow with the goodies from the garden and the farmers’ market. Next June, I’m going to start canning like crazy. Canning like crazy and loving it, too!

Cooking without a Kitchen – still

Monday was a Planned-overs type of day. Planned overs are like leftovers, but cooked on purpose. In this Era of No Kitchen, we are cooking planned overs at least once a week so we have something decent that can be reheated in the microwave.

So, Monday. Burgers were on the menu. Side dishes, cooked on the coals in foil, were potatoes – diced reds and fingerlings with Scarborough Fair seasoning (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) and green & yellow zucchini squash with onion, salt, and pepper. These turned out very well.

Ah, the planned overs. We had a pound of French Onion bratwurst from the local meat market, and brats are always better on the grill, so I jabbed them with a fork and cooked them on the top rack. Someone recently suggested cooking bacon on the grill, so I tried it. As I pushed the burgers out of the flames so they wouldn’t get charred, I wondered if Someone had cooked bacon on a gas grill, not charcoal. The bacon smelled good, as bacon does, but it had a definite char look to it. I tried a piece on a BLT, and it tasted like bacon. Okay, it was okay, but I don’t think I’ll try that trick again.

Monday, as you see, was an adventure. I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy moving bacon around to prevent total burn-to-a-crisp status. The veggies were a hit, the burgers were delicious (Amigo had two), and the bacon and brats went into the meat drawer for later.

Tuesday, I learned how to bake a pot pie in the toaster oven. Here I am, in my 50s, and I’ve never used a toaster oven. Now I can cross “Toaster Oven Use” off my bucket list.

Tuesday night I decided to do an experiment with the multitude of green onions in my garden. I pulled up several. Okay, if I’m honest about it, I pulled up a lot. I cleaned them up in the bathtub – no sink, remember – and packed the green tops into a crock pot set on low. I left it on Keep Warm overnight. In the morning, I removed the green tops, added the white bulbs sliced small, and seasoned the onion broth with a little salt and pepper and garlic.

Market Day with a Missing Kitchen

it’s Farm Market season again!

Lettuce, spinach, parsley, strawberries, blueberries, peas, kettle corn (for me!), pomegranate lemonade (for me!) – did I miss anything?

It’s Saturday, and it’s the first Saturday of the downtown farmers’ market. It’s also hot. Hot, muggy, steamy, sweaty. I heard several little kiddos complaining that they couldn’t walk anymore or that they were hot and sweaty. I saw even more young ones with beverages in hand. Families were smart and kept themselves and their kids hydrated.

But other than that, it was a normal and pleasant market. I got a good parking space in my usual ramp, there was still time on the meter, and I grabbed my rolling bag and headed out to stock up on good food for the family. I may have come back with more food than planned and a lighter wallet (dropped tips in three buskers’ cases), but it was a good First Market of the Season.

However, prepping is a challenge because we have no kitchen. I have no sink. Half of the colanders and bowls I usually use are stored in the basement. My favorite knife for shelling peas is also stored somewhere – where, I wish I knew. I rinsed the lettuce and spinach in big colanders with the hose – yes, you heard me, the garden hose. The peas were small enough to rinse in the bathroom sink. I had to set aside the strawberries and the asparagus – just no time to figure out how and where to get them cut up and cleaned.

The next few days may be ridiculously hot. I can spend my time inside, prepping strawberries and asparagus.

Coping without a Kitchen

“How do you survive without a kitchen?”

“Are you using paper plates?”

“Do you get delivery and drive through fast food?”

Actually, we’re doing quite well. It’s not easy, but we planned for it and we’re keeping up fairly well. Planning ahead, then and now, is essential to coping while the kitchen is under construction.

Making Chicken Dinner

Rice: Minute white rice and Uncle Ben’s ten minute brown rice, cooked in chicken broth (the freezer is full of good things like this) in the microwave

Chicken breasts: thawed and cooked on grill a few nights ago as “planned-overs.” I diced and reheated the chicken in the microwave.

Beverage: Sun tea, made on the deck on a (what else?) sunny day

Chicken Dinner!

A few pieces of leftover zucchini and onion, and there it is: chicken dinner, all prepared without an actual kitchen.

Not bad! But seriously, I look forward to having a kitchen again – and what a kitchen it will be!

Demo Day!

This kitchen project has been consuming us since…since…oh, at least since December. And finally, finally, it’s happening. The guys were here today. They hung a plastic tarp so the dust didn’t fly all over the house (it only piled up in the dining room), and they did demo. Big time. I can show you better than I can tell you, though.

Here’s one angle.

Here’s another way to look at it.

And that’s that. Nothing left. No sink, no stove, no dishwasher. And that’s where my good old Girl Scout ingenuity came in. We might go to paper plates sooner or later, but Daisy the Compostermom isn’t ready to go there yet. I washed dishes the way I learned at Girl Scout camp, minus the dunk bag.

One bucket with water and dish soap, one with hot water for rinse.

The result?

Air dry for a bit, and then we’re done.

And Chuck was surprised I found the dish soap under the bathroom sink? Hah. I’ve only just started to show my coping skills.

Stop Creating Emergencies.

Sometimes I call it “panicking over nothing.” But then I have to remember that whatever’s causing the panic might not be important to me, but it’s important enough to upset someone else.

In the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, there’s a chapter that advises the readers not to create their own emergencies. For example, it’s okay to buy cookies from a bakery instead of baking them from scratch. Pick up an already cooked rotisserie chicken instead of prepping and cooking a big meal. It’s not what I’d do every day on normal days, but sometimes it’s wise to step back and avoid creating unnecessary emergencies.

Right now, those emergencies are either kitchen or garden related. The kitchen remodel is coming sooner or later – most likely sooner. We have a lot of clearing and purging and emptying to do before demo day. We had to clear space in the guest room/office so that we could move the computer desk in there, and soon we’ll need to move the computer desk, the shelves on top of it, and the computer itself and all its cords into that room.

Garden! I started tomato seedlings and herb seedlings, and now I need to prep the containers. Yes, that’s right, the tomatoes are going in containers this year. I have the containers, I have the bags of soil, and I’m ready to start making those ready.

In addition to the containers, I have the pallet. It was glorious last year, and I have plans for the pallet garden again. I just haven’t had a moment to pull out the old, dead plants and fill it in with new soil and move it to its new home six feet away from where it is now – you get the picture. I want to do it all, and I want to do it all right now.

So, Daisy, why can’t you get outside and do it all right now? What’s stopping you? Regular readers, friends, and family all know that I’ve been sick lately. It feels like the last three weeks have lasted more like three months. I’ve been spending a lot of time resting, rehydrating, resting, icing or heating a sore back and sore knee, and resting. You get the picture. In between, I’ve visited doctors and pharmacies. Somehow, I managed to teach a few days and grade a lot, and I do mean a lot, of research projects.

It’s when I’m resting that it’s hardest. I might be sitting on the couch with an ice pack on my lower back and a glass of a refreshing beverage by my side, but I’ll be thinking that I really, really want to break up the soil in the main garden plot. It’s common to find me closing my eyes for a bit and then coming back to wakefulness with an Oh, No, I Need To — fill in the blank.

I’ve managed to sidestep cooking emergencies with the help of a crock pot and a well stocked pantry. I even filled the Stamp Out Hunger bag for the Post Office food drive. But as I patted myself on the back for that, I remembered that the spices will need a new, temporary home, along with the taco mix and my favorite sloppy joe mixes.

And then I say Stop. Little by little, all will be well. For now, I’ll rest and recover so I’ll have enough strength to cope when a true emergency comes along. I don’t need to create my own.

Pie Day!

We are a barbershop harmony family. Amigo sings, we drive him to rehearsal, and more. Part of the “more” involves supporting the local Sweet Adelines chorus, the women’s side of barbershop singing.

About a month ago, we attended the Sweetie Pie Social of the local women’s chorus. We bought our entry tickets. Amigo bought raffle tickets, 6 for $5, and I put in a bid on a triple fruit pie in the silent auction.

Then we had our own pie and listened to a wonderful show of fun barbershop music.

And then the announcements came. The winner of the triple fruit pie I’d bid on – the assistant director of Amigo’s chorus. He’s a great guy, and I can’t even be mad that he outbid me. Then they drew the winning ticket for the pie raffle. Amigo! Wow! I didn’t need that triple fruit pie after all! We were going to take home a pie anyway! Or so I thought.

Amigo, the young man who sings lead in the Fox Valleyaires barbershop chorus, the guy who bought tickets to support barbershop, male or female, won the Pie of the Month Club. He will get one homemade pie each month from a Sweet Adeline member for the next entire year.

He’d better share.

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?