Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Household product recommendations

1) Never buy cheap store brand aluminum foil. Always buy Reynolds Heavy Duty - the large width. Bargain aluminum foil tears, and the wide width comes in handy most of the time. You can always make it smaller, but you can't make the narrow width wider.

2) Only buy Saran Wrap...other plastic wrap doesn't stick. I avoid using plastic wrap wherever possible, but some times, only Saran Wrap will do. You know, for when you need an airtight seal in the fridge.

3) Use Waxtex bags for packing items like sandwiches in sack lunches. They are biodegradable - other bags aren't. They can be found at Hillier's in Ann Arbor. I am currently coveting this neoprene lunch bag like my friend Nancy has, but until I get one, I try to reuse any plastic bag that has managed to creep into my life to pack my lunch in. If I get two uses out of a bag, I feel better.

4) Chico bags are the best reusable shopping bag around. You can get them in Ann Arbor at Tree City Diapers. They're so small, you can carry them with you anywhere. No more forgetting them in the trunk.

5) Wash Away is the best stuff to get most laundry stains out. I've tried everything, trust me. If it is a grease stain, you will need Afta dry cleaning fluid. (not environmentally friendly - handle with care). Can be found at Hiller's or some high end fabric shops.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Bad Day of Canning

Ever hear the old saw "A bad day of golf is better than a good day of work?" I am wondering if it applies to home canning. Is a bad day of canning better than a good day at work? It's been a while since I've had a truly good day at work. I am an automotive engineer, so any day that I am still employed is considered a good day in this economy, but I digress...

I often post about successful canning episodes, yesterday's canning went so badly I have to write about it. The root cause of my problem is too much multitasking. I started out with the best of intentions. My neighbor Martha and I headed out to the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market early. Having just picked up my Girl Scout from Camp Linden after a week of horseback riding, the weekend was my oyster. I haven't had a weekend all summer where I didn't have a bunch of commitments or was out of town camping myself. I decided if cherries were still available, I'd make cherry raspberry conserve. I also wanted to make brined dill pickles because of a great thread on pickling that we have going on the AAHomeCanning list. While there, Erie Farms had these fluorescent looking green plums called "Green Gage" that *would have* made a beautiful jam. That is, if I wouldn't have blown it....but I did.

The root cause of my canning problems was multitasking. I got home and dumped the cukes in the laundry room washtub. Pickling is a laundry room activity for me, because it is the coolest room in the house. The laundry room in Maison du Mothers Kitchen is downstairs, as was typical of the architecture of it's day, circa 1978. This was long before builders got the excellent idea to put them upstairs, where the laundry actually is.

Being a mother in a laundry room, I did what I had to do. I did what every mother would do - throw in a load. Ever since I became a mother, I've been unable to resist it - I am called to continuously do laundry. When I walk anywhere near the laundry room, it's like Pavlov's dog, I've got to do the wash. (or "warsh", as my mother in law pronounced it). My mother in law felt compelled to do the warsh every day, long after her 5 kids left home and her husband passed away. She didn't even have enough to do once a week, but she couldn't stop herself. I vaguely remember some times in college where I wouldn't do laundry until I ran out of underwear. Those were the days....

The load tucked into the machine, I headed upstairs to the kitchen to pit the plums. I forgot to ask if this Green Gage was free stone, and it wasn't. I only cut my thumbs a million times trying to pit these tiny beauties, but at last I was done. I added the sugar and put the pot on to cook. Meanwhile, it was about then that I realized that the cukes were still in the laundry tub, and the washing machine was about to disgorge it's dirty soapy water on them. Quick, down the stairs to rescue them! I dumped them into the only vessel I had which was my pickling crock that had 15 years of dust in it. The cukes had to be rewashed.

I went upstairs to get the pickling spice when I smelled what I thought reminded me of cotton candy. This made me think of the Michigan State Far, and I started day dreaming about winning a blue ribbon in canning with my plum jam and it was then that I remembered the plums. The cotton candy smell was actually the scent of sugar and plums burning to the bottom of my pan. Sigh. I put the pot in the sink and ran water into it. The plums were welded to the bottom of the pan.

All is not lost! A bad day of canning is STILL BETTER than a good day at work, I cheerfully reminded myself as I went back downstairs to commence on the pickles. It was then I realized I didn't have enough dill in the garden. Finding dill for pickling in this town is a difficult task, as I should have remembered from other pickling exploits. What's required is bunches of it with flowers on it, not those petite little fronds you find in sealed in plastic containers in the produce section at the grocery store. Used mostly by people making pickles, (probably only two of us in the whole county) I can understand why fully mature dill might not be stocked. Whole Foods = Nope, Hiller's = Nada. I headed out for Alexander's Farm Market on Whitmore Lake Road after I said a prayer that they had some. I wasn't sure which saint I should ask for to intervene at this point. St. Jude? The patron saint of lost causes? Seemed like overkill. It's just dill. St. Anthony, who helps find lost things? But I didn't actually lose the dill....The Blessed Mother? She would certainly understand, especially the part about the laundry. But I like to save her for special requests, like not getting speeding tickets and getting promotions at work. Is there a patron saint of dill? Instead, I just went right to the Big Guy himself. I bowed my head in prayer. "Dear God, please let there be some dill at Alexanders. Thank you from your humble servant." This brought gales of laughter from the middle schooler in the back seat. "You, HUMBLE? snort. Good one, Mom!" Ha ha ha...very funny.

I went in and there was no dill to be found. I poked my head in the back room where Sharon Alexander's man was standing, and asked him if he had some and he DID. It was in the cooler! There is a GOD! I went home and brined my pickles. Feeling renewed, I poured myself a big glass of wine and started pitting the cherries. Another big mistake. One of my cardinal rules of canning is I never start drinking until the last jars are in the canner, but I felt I deserved this. Big mistake! While drinking wine and surfing the internet, I cooked the cherries too long and my conserve seized up tighter than fruit leather. I decided to sample some this morning and couldn't barely get a knife into it. Double sigh...

Today, I am a lot more humble about my canning skills. If I can find a patron saint of pickles or maybe cooking I will pray for the pickles. It will be a month of fermenting before I know if I messed them up. I was cleaning the lint trap out of the dryer this morning and almost threw the lint in the crock instead of the garbage can. (whoops!). But the dill smells great and there is hope that come August, there will be pickles and hopefully I will still have a job and all will be right with the world again.

Friday, July 25, 2008


The other day on NPR, I was listening to an interview of Exene Cervenka, of the band X. She said something about herself which fit me to a tee as well. She described herself as being very agitated person that has to be doing something every minute. One thing I can't deny about myself is that I am the kind of person that has to be doing something constantly. While others can sit and relax, I can't. My good friend "A" described her vacation as a perfect time to sit and read a book. I'm the kind of person that usually has 5 books going at once. I read in the bathroom, while eating dinner, while blow drying my hair, while trying to fall asleep. I am never just reading one book at a time. When I go on vacation, I bring at least 10 books, because I am never committed to one book.

I'm very agitated, like Exene, who now lives on a farm in Missouri. It gives her lots of stuff to do. Instead, I tend to take on a lot of hobbies:

Playing the guitar - At age 38, I had the burning desire to learn how to play the guitar before I was 40. So I finally did it. I found a great guitar teacher - Alex Johnson, who owns the Ann Arbor Music Center and I learned how to play. I don't play great, but I can play, which is great. If I just spent more time practicing....

The monastic life - I borrowed "The Cloister Walk" by Kathleen Norris from my kids piano teacher, and that got me started. The whole idea of checking out of the real world is appealing to me at times, that is for sure. Haven't yet read any Thomas Merton, but it's inevitable.

Cooking contests - Before I had kids, I loved to enter in cooking contests. Developing recipes is something I think is really fun. This got me started into reading cookbooks all the time, which I still do. Recent cooking contest that captured my attention? Best Lost Supper Recipe Contest from Cooks Country magazine.

More to come....

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mindfulness about the food you eat and cook

What led me to be mindful about the food I prepare and eat? Diana asks....I will answer here:

Hmmmm....I think it was winter 1985, and I was living in the U.P. and in college. A friend organized a potluck to watch the movie "Amadeus" which was newly out on video, and it was right before a school break, so we decided to make it be a "clean out your fridge" potluck. I remember made pancakes out of Bisquick served with some imitation maple flavored syrup and instant mashed potatoes out of a box. I didn't have a lot of money and was putting myself through engineering school at the time, and I relied on foods that were easy and cheap to put together.

My friend Ray came in carrying two pots - one had scalloped potatoes that he had cooked with some leftover ham, and the other was a pot of baked beans, from scratch. They were both so wonderful, and actually cost less to make than my instant food, I became a convert to cooking things from scratch right then and there. Since that time, we've had many culinary exploits together. I can remember us grilling lake trout with herbs and also making the first fondue I ever tasted standing over his stove dipping some crusty bread into a stockpot (all he had to make it in) at this student rental cottage in Chassell while listening to "The Prairie Home Companion".

To this day, listening to PHC reminds me of Ray and his lovely wife Jen, who live in St. Paul. Occasionally, our family camps with Ray and Jen's family (our kids are about the same age) and his cooking is still wonderful, as I can personally attest. You should see his camp cooking rig! If it weren't for his inspiration, I'd probably still be eating Hungry Jack.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lady Food Bloggers Get Together

I really have slacked in my blogging. I've been out of town a great deal. We went camping in the U.P. for a week, to a friend's wedding in Grand Haven, and I went to Boy Scout Camp. This weekend, it is the St. Joe's Family Fun Festival, and I volunteered to handle the food. I have spent this evening making tons of fruit salad.

But I would be remiss if I didn't write about the Ann Arbor Lady Food Bloggers get together that was hosed by Kim and Patti last weekend. It was great! I made cherry pie, because if it weren't for Kim, there would be no Pie Lover's Unite. My pie was nothing extraordinary...just my old reliable pie crust with sour cherries I bought at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market that morning, with some sugar and flour to thicken it.

Yes, I've got some work to do....I've got to update my links to show all the fine blogs of A2LFB, I've got to post about everything that's going on, I've got to weed my garden, I've got to organize volunteers to bring refreshments to the church blood drive this week. More to come!