Saturday, December 25, 2004

Would you like a hockey puck, or perhaps a baseball?

Although I enjoy cooking and have been known, on occasion, to make something that tastes really good, I also have quite a history for culinary disasters. And being that I am extremely thrifty and conscientious about not wasting food, I usually always attempt to recycle the disasters. Earlier in the fall a batch of cinnamon rolls I made came out of the oven over-baked and burnt on the bottom and, indeed, did resemble hockey pucks. I put them all in the freezer to give me time to think about how they could be salvaged. Eventually I hit upon the idea of using them for bread pudding. I scraped off as much of the burnt part as I could, found a bread pudding recipe, and worked my magic on them. Unfortunately, the result was burnt-tasting bread pudding. I made two batches of it before I admitted it didn’t taste very good and threw the rest of the hockey pucks away (but on the compost heap so the freeloaders who cruise through at 3 in the morning could have them). I was curious to see what sort of disaster I’d have today as I put together Christmas dinner. And now that the meal is over, my husband has strict orders to stop me the next time I attempt to make a pie crust. I dropped one cooked, peeled potato down the garbage disposal, so that delayed the mashed potatoes while I ran another one through the microwave. The most interesting failure was yesterday, when I decided to get a head start and made the “quick yeast muffins” as our dinner bread. I misread the recipe and put in less than half the amount of water. So instead of a nice muffin-type batter, I had very dry bread dough that I formed into balls and put in the giant muffin tray to see what would happen. What happened was I had baseballs after 20 minutes of baking, so I redid the recipe. This morning I eyeballed the rock hard lumps while the mental wheels turned and while the sweet potato pie with its horrific crust was baking, I thinly sliced them and made “melba toast.” Turned out pretty good, too.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Bring us some figgy pudding; we won’t go until we get some

Well okay then. Step right up and have yourself a piece, and take a spoon of the hard sauce as well. It has a bit brandy in it (but it’s made by the Christian Brothers, so that makes it ok) and it tastes really great. It was fun making this. I got the recipe off the first Google hit (http://www.whitington.com/unclebubba/wing/figgy/) and divided it in half (there are only 2 of us, afterall). The dried figs have lots of little seeds that are kind of disconcerting to eat (R thinks prunes would taste even better) but I think it worked out well.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat

Not that I like Martha Stewart, nobody likes Martha Stewart, I don’t think even Martha Stewart likes Martha Stewart. Which actually makes me like her…” so says the main character in the first chapter of Elizabeth Berg’s novel Open House.

Some years ago I cleaned a dental office, which had eclectic assortment of magazines for the long-suffering patients to read. Martha Stewart’s Living magazine was among them. I always took a minute or two to thumb through the newest issue as I cleaned the waiting room, or even actually read the articles as I waited for the dentist to fix my teeth, as I was also his patient.

Not that I am Suzy Homemaker or care about decorating or crafts, which brings to mind the hilarious segment by Bill Geist on the Sunday Morning program in which he creates a “Martha Stewart Christmas Wreath" with beer cans and Cheese Whiz.

I do like to cook, however, and the magazine is so beautiful with its gorgeous photography and clean, crisp layouts. It’s a feast for the eyes. Her suggestion that one cook a goose for Christmas caught my interest. She gave very detailed instructions about the stuffing and how important it was to save the goose fat. So I decided to stuff a goose for Christmas dinner.

The goose was expensive -- very expensive -- and not much bigger than one of the Muscovy ducks we used to raise. The stuffing required expensive things like dried apricots and a bundle of fresh sage. By the time I got the thing assembled and in the oven, the kitchen looked like a bomb had gone off. I cleaned up that mess.

At the appointed time, I removed the goose from the oven and siphoned off more than 2 cups of fat. Almost immediately, I spilled it all over the floor. Dog (that was his name), always lurked in the kitchen when I was cooking because good things to eat would magically appear on the floor. So, naturally, he was right there and began lapping up this grease as I frantically tried to get it up without smearing it everywhere.

Finally, we sat down to eat the goose and it was terrible. Tough and stringy. The dressing was nasty. It was the worst dinner I had ever made. Things got even better.

Dog got very sick from eating the fat and threw up, and then had an attack of pancreatitis, and I had to take him to the vet the next day. That was not cheap either. So it was a disaster all the way around. Thanks Martha, but I’ll stick to turkey.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Woudja like a cuppa coffee?

Having poked fun at R for compulsive shopping, I guess I need to examine my own compulsive behavior about being thrifty and not throwing anything away. A couple of weeks ago we bought a new chest freezer. When we transferred the food from the old freezer into the new one, we didn’t cull the mystery packages (mostly jars and old peanut butter containers), we just loaded everything in and shut the lid. But I decided that anytime I put anything new in the freezer, I needed to take a few of the mystery containers out and find out what they contained. So today, I put in 2 dozen doughnuts (our Sunday morning treat) and took out three jars. When they thawed, I found a half cup of cooked hamburger meat, a peanut butter jar of pumpkin or squash puree, and about 2 cups of a brown liquid in a quart jar. I thought it might be beef broth or perhaps a marinade. It was none of these things. When it finally thawed, I took a taste of it. Coffee. COFFEE! For some weird and totally bizarre reason, I froze 2 cups of coffee, and it was in the freezer for a very long time. I can't imagine why I did that. R has been sniggering under his breath all day. I don't blame him. I'm sniggering too.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Gotcha! The triumph of technology

The little furry creature that had set up housekeeping behind the headboard of our bed is now outside where he/she belongs. And I figured out how to catch it. Unlike the mousie in the earlier post, this chipmunk could leap in and out of the 5-gallon pail of sunflower seeds with ease. But I figured if it had to leap up through a small hole then maybe we could hold it long enough so it could be turned outside. So, l got a newspaper, cut a small hole out of the middle, and spread it over top of the bucket and weighed down the edges with a few pieces of wood. Sure enough, it scurried across the paper at about 12:30 a.m. and jumped in, but then could not get back out. We won, we won, we won. Unless it comes back.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Chipmunks roasting on an open fire. . .

This is a mondegreen for “chestnuts roasting on the open fire” (see http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/humor/mondegreens.asp) and rather humorous I think, especially when one considers how tiny chipmunks are. We now have a chipmunk in the house. R saw it in the kitchen yesterday and the night before the cat was chasing it all over the bedroom in the wee hours of the morning. This morning there was a small pile of sunflower hulls on the propane heater (it's sitting on the propane heater eating sunflower seeds???) I am not sure what we are going to do about it, either. Glue traps, poison, and spring traps are out of the question. We think it is probably way too small to trip the live-animal trap we use for squirrels and rats. We haven’t figure out a plan B except to hope that maybe it will end up in the bottom of the bucket of sunflower seeds and we can let it go. This is not the first time we have had chipmunks in the house. When we still had the homemade doggy door (a wood insert into the bottom section of the storm door with a hole cut out and a piece of cloth stapled over the opening), the cat would bring them in on occasion and let them go, and toward the end of summer, a chipmunk had figured out that it could come in anytime it wanted, help itself to the sunflower seeds that were sitting by the back door, and leave. Things got interesting when the cat and the chipmunk both decided to use the doggy door at the same time. The last straw with the doggy door occurred when the cat brought in a rat and let it go, and it got up inside our propane heater. We had to dismantle the heater and take it outside so the rat would leave. But in the meantime, what are we going to do with the chipmunk?

Friday, December 10, 2004

Wee timorous beastie . . .

The guerilla warfare has been ongoing for thousands of years, and probably started soon after humankind first began to live together in small groups, first in temporary settlements that eventually became permanent villages and later, cities. One wonders how long it took before rats and mice discovered that humans in dwellings meant an easy source of food and relative protection from natural predators. Something to ponder, I suppose. But whenever it began, the battle skirmishes continue. My uncle, who was a zoologist, did a study on rat eradication for the Army during WW II. He discovered that when rat populations were being extensively exterminated, the fertility of the females increased: they gave birth to larger litters and had more litters per year. I wonder if that is happening around our home place here, where we have been exterminating rats and mice since we took up occupancy in 1981. These rats are not the scroungy, ugly animals associated with the city, living in filth and rummaging in the garbage). No, our rats are a variety of Neotoma albigula— the pack rat—a beautiful animal (except for that nasty tail), light fawn in color with a creamy throat and underside. The beauty ends there though. They are as fully capable of spreading plague and other diseases via their fleas as their citified cousins and they are extremely destructive. Their obsession with chewing on electrical wiring ruined our 1978 Volvo, which is now beyond repair and rusting away in the side yard, disrupted phone service when our phone lines were chewed through, and almost caused a house fire (now all of our electrical wiring is in metal conduit). Smaller, but no less destructive and no less capable of spreading disease (remember Hanta virus?), are the two main varieties of mice that run through the silverware and kitchen towel drawers, leaving poop and spots of urine behind, and who shred clothes and/or papers in my husband’s files to make nests: the “house mouse” and the beautiful little Peromyscus leucopus, or white-footed deer mouse, which is what was staring up at us from the bottom of a 5-gallon pail of sunflower seeds in R’s office other morning. “Look what I have,” he says. “What shall I do with it?” We have killed hundreds of them over the years (I am frequently the executioner if no gun is involved) so it was a stupid question. Maybe he asked it because he didn’t want to kill it himself and he thought maybe I would say “I’ll take care of it.” Only somehow I just didn’t feel like killing anything either and it seemed a better idea to take it far away from the house and let it go, which is what he did when he left for town. Later he said, in reference to the mouse, “you know something, we are weird!” Yes honey, I know. We are weird…

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

My Mongie…

When I was learning to talk, Mongie (hard “g” as in garage) was what came out when I tried to say the name of my mother’s mother, and that name stuck. During the recent visit to see my parents, I looked through photo albums and saw a picture of Mongie that I could not recall having seen before. I fell in love with it, and Mom sent it to me so I could copy it. The photo was taken sometime after 1906 at their old home place, which was a ranch in Elbert, Colorado (no electricity, no running water, no indoor plumbing) and where my mother spent her childhood. In the background are a windmill, a barn, a clothesline with long johns pegged out, a fence line. Mongie is posed at the corner of the porch, where a path has been laid out with white rocks on the bare ground; one foot is up on a rocks. She is dressed in a man’s clothes that are somewhat too big for her. She has a derby-style hat on her head, her hands are in the pockets of a suit coat, and the old-fashioned collar of a white shirt that is not fastened properly is sticking out. She wears baggy man’s pants work pants (Levi’s?). She has on pointy-toed shoes with thick heels (cowboy boots? women’s button shoes?) Her hair has been tucked up underneath the hat but a few wisps hang down. Her head is at a jaunty angle and she has a wonderful smile on her face. She looked young and carefree then, maybe early 20s, before the hard life on the ranch took its toll. What was she doing? Why was she dressed like that? I only knew Mongie as an old woman. Although she was only 63 when I was born, 63-year-old women who had been farm wives and had gone through the Depression looked OLD in the 1950s. I wish I could have known her in 1906!!