Saturday, September 27, 2008

Yahoo Groups

Whenever I log into yahoogroups, I see these two yucking it up. I am on a good many yahoo groups, but I can honestly say I have never had this good of a time on any of them. At best, they are great ways to find out information. At worst, they are spam havens. I run a few lists, and I find that yahoogroups seems to be totally ignored by yahoo. These two young people have been the face of yahoogroups for as long as I have been on yahoogroups. Don't they have any new people having fun on Yahoo? Also, the ability to post in html has been in beta test mode for at least 3 years. Aren't they ready to go production with it? Lastly, there's a problem with yahoo groups - which happens periodically, there seems to be no quick fix. There's no number you can call, no place you can email. Some have suggested that yahoogroups mess up when Mercury is in retrograde---I am not making this up, there's a pagan on one of my lists that claims this to be true. That's one of the great things about being on a yahoogroup, especially an Ann Arbor based one. You get to "meet" people you never come across in real life.

Here's a list of some Ann Arbor based lists I am on:

annarborfood - This list is about all things food and drink in Ann Arbor. It's got about 200 members. It's good for local restaurant reviews and recipes, generally people are polite and kind on it, but once the group got into an e-fight about BlimpyBurger.

AAHomeCanning - I started this list's just getting started and it's all about food preservation. It's got a little over 50 people on it. I was getting weary of another food preservation list I am on called homecanning, which is nationwide and huge, almost 2000 people. I got tired of it because there is a woman on it that knows lots about canning, but won't share the facts about what she knows, and she's rather mean about it. If you ask her a question , she'll give an answer but not explain why. If you ask why, she takes it as though you are questioning her authority or something. She dispenses her knowledge like the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz - never question the Wizard! I wanted to offer a smaller, local list that's more friendly....big lists get a little crazy, which brings us to....

arborparents - Now over 1500 people, I belonged to this list when it started and was actually about parenting. Now it rarely is about parenting. I have made and met some good friends on this list. Also, thanks to their posts, I have a short list of people that if I ever meet them in real life, I will know to give them wide berth. I'm always amazed at what people will post on this list, and using their real names, too! At it's best, the list is a great place to find out answers to questions about anything Ann Arbor. Are you looking for a place that sells a push lawnmower? Where you can donate your dryer? You can post and find your answer here. At it's worst, it is a microcosm of the darker side of Ann Arbor - sometimes we're smug and self righteous. I encourage local businesses to join the list so they can address any issues they have. There's a small group of folks on the list that will flame local businesses any chance they get, instead of taking their complaints to the owner of the business, which I think is really a sin. All in all, it's a good list to be on, but not for parenting advice. The list is way too big for that now. Every once in a while, discussions turn into wars on this list. Which brings us to the spawn of arborparents, which is.....

arborparents-politics This list was started because some of the arborparents got upset years ago when a member would post about local peace protests and they supported the war. Now it is used by the moderators to move discussions they deem "too hot" for arborparents, but they're pretty subjective about when they actually do this. I really don't like moderation of any kind. It's clear to me that the moderators are behaving subjectively, even if they don't realize it themselves. That being said, arborparents-politics is a much smaller list of about 100 people, and people are much more free about expressing their views about things, so you can get a really good judge of people's character on it. It's really fun when people post something really controversial and they accidentally cross post to arborparents instead. Then the fur really flies! Only post on arborparents-politics if you feel comfortable getting flamed, because you will.

So, what lists are you on?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Meal Calendar

My carpool partner Alison is a very organized person. Each month, she plans out her meals for an entire month, and puts them on a calendar. She tries out new recipes from magazines all the time, too. She is able to do this because she schedules them. I am not making this up. In addition, she plans each day so she can get dinner on the table by 6 pm each night. This means she gets up early if she needs to prep something in the morning, and if we have a late meeting at work she will put the whole thing together so her hubby can pop it in the oven before we get home. For years, I have dreamed of being this organized, but my personality type ENFP does not lend itself to such things. I tend to live for the moment, especially when it comes to cooking.

However, my schedule really can't contain this kind of lack of planning. At our house, we have at least one thing going on every night of the week - here's our list of regularly scheduled meetings Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, trumpet lessons, religious education class, piano lessons, church youth groups, pastoral council and social ministries commission meetings. Just typing all of these regularly scheduled commitments is making me feel panicky!

I'm going to attempt the meal calendar, and it's my hope that by writing about it here will make it happen. Check it out by clicking here. It's my hope that if I indulge my creative side by blogging about it, it will make it more appealing to me. I'm going to try to follow certain themes by doing things on certain days, like my sister. Another organization queen, my sister actually lived by the "wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, etc." methodology. I can remember when she was a newlywed, I asked her to go out to dinner with me on a Friday night, and she turned me down because that was the night she does dusting. Really...she said that....I am wondering if she still does this, now that her kids are teenagers and her schedule is as busy as mine. I personally can't remember the last time I dusted.

So, here we go...
  • Sundays are reserved for big cooking projects because that's the only day I have enough time to do them.
  • Mondays are for crock pot meals - we have to be out the door by 6 pm on Mondays and usually have 2 things on Monday nights. Plus, work always sucks on Mondays and to quote that Bob Geldof song, I don't like Mondays and I want to shoot, shoo-oo-o-o-ot that whole day down. I just want to come home and have dinner be done on Mondays.
  • Tuesdays sometimes have something going on, sometimes it doesn't, so Tuesdays are on a case by case basis.
  • Wednesdays are take out pizza night. The kids have religious education (or as we used to call it in the Kum Ba Ya era 1970s in the Catholic church, CCD) and we carpool. I have pickup duty, and I have to drive right past Classic Pizza to get there. I bought a Varsity Gold Card off of a Dexter HS football player and with it I can get buy one, get one free pizza at Classic, so that means dinner for the family is only $9 total on Wednesday nights. What a deal - and they make their own dough, too.
  • Thursday requires something quick or something that can be made ahead, since that's piano lesson night and we have to drive all the way to Canton for them. Mr. Donato is worth the drive, but he does make dinner hectic.
  • Friday dinner usually accompanies happy hour, so it calls for small plates. On the Fridays where happy hour needs to be delayed a few hours because of other commitments, small plates would still be a good idea. Appetizers can be made quickly.
  • Saturdays can be just about anything - some Saturdays can be big cooking projects, others might require something fast, it all depends. Maybe I'll even want to go out to dinner. It's generally farmer's market shopping day, too, which lends itself to all types of inspiration in the kitchen. I am going to leave Saturdays unplanned, to honor my personality type. I don't want to chafe under too much organization.

Help me fill out the calendar! Please share with me your recipes. Upon review of my blog, I could probably use some more quickies and crock pot recipes. I've added categories to my recipes already posted to help me schedule, and to see where the holes are.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Books to read while camping

My son just returned from a weekend of very rainy camping with the Boy Scouts at Warren Dunes State Park. As we are experiencing the remains of Hurricane Ike here in Ann Arbor, I am packing to camp tomorrow with my daughter's 7th grade class in the Irish Hills. Camping isn't much fun in the rain, but at least I'll be in a cabin tomorrow. I am hoping the rain will stop. If faced with a rainy camping trip, the best thing you can do is to make sure you've got a deck of cards, lots of good books to read, and plenty of whiskey. But not if you are on a scout or a 7th grade trip, of course. On scout camp trips or 7th grade camping trips, you have to rely on lots of hot coffee instead.

Here's some good books to read while camping:

"Anatomy of a Murder" by Robert Traver, aka John Voelker. This week, Northern Michigan University is sponsoring a retrospective on Voelker's writing. This book is a classic, albeit a little sexist. Cut it some slack as it was written in 1958. I love the descriptions of the U.P. in this book.

"The Shining" by Steven King. Yes, I know you've seen the movie, but the book is a million times better, even though Jack Nicholson is great in the movie. I recommend this book to read when you are holed up in a lodge somewhere and the snow's coming down. Ski trip? Winter camping? I read it my freshman year at Michigan Tech, when it seemed like it would never stop snowing and we'd all go insane. Perfect setting for reading about a guy who goes insane because it won't stop snowing. REDRUM!

Fresh Water: Women's Writing on the Great Lakes edited by the appropriately named Alison Swan. This is a collection of nonfiction women writers.

One I'd like to read is Crooked Tree by Robert C. Wilson. Robert C. Wilson was a 29 year old Wayne County prosecutor when he wrote “Crooked Tree” a terrifying horror tale that borrowed from an ancient Ottawa Indian legend about bears exacting revenge against human interlopers. It's long been out of print, but recently reprinted.

I came across an excellent blog that features Michigan writers called Mittenlit. Check it out! I love reading Michigan books while camping. Meanwhile, if you have some books I should add to my camp reading list, please let me know.

Canning jam without pectin

I was eager to find out how I could can jams without pectin because the stuff is expensive. I just got "Ball Complete Book of Home Canning" out of the library and I can't wait to buy it myself. In it, they have a recipe called "Natural Summer Fruit Jams" that rely on a pectin rich apple and lemon puree that thickens the jam without making it too sweet. The puree is made from boiling:

5 tart apples, stems and blossom ends removed and chopped coarsely, cores intact
1 or 2 lemons or limes, unpeeled and chopped fine *

*number and type of citrus depends on the the fruit type, some need more pectin than others

Boil apples and citrus in enough water to prevent sticking for 20 minutes until soft. Force through a fine sieve with the back of a spoon to make 2 cups puree.

Fruit and sugar needed to make different kinds of jams:
  • Blueberry - 4 cups berries, 3 cups sugar, use 1 lime in puree
  • Raspberry - 4 cups berries, 5 cups sugar, use 1 lemon in puree
  • Red Currant 6 cups currants, 5 1/2 cups sugar, use 1 lemon in puree
  • Peach - 6 cups pitted peeled and chopped peaches, 5 1/2 cups sugar, use 2 lemons in puree
  • Plum - 6 cups pitted chopped plums, 5 1/2 cups sugar, use 1 lemons in puree

Add fruit and sugar to puree in a deep pot, bring to a boil and stir frequently over medium heat. Boil for 20 minutes until mixture thickens and mounds up in a spoon. When I made the raspberry yesterday, I stopped boiling it after about 20 minutes. I wasn't sure that I went far enough with the boiling, but I didn't want to overdo it. I didn't see any "mounding up" on the spoon, but the raspberries seemed somewhat set when I ran my finger across the back of the spoon. Earlier this summer, I boiled a no pectin jam that ended up as tough as fruit leather.

Process 10 minutes. Shut off heat on canner and remove lid, and let the jars sit 5 minutes in the water before you take them out. This neat trick prevents the jars from spewing juice out of the lids before they seal like they sometimes do.

This morning, my raspberry jam was the perfect firmness!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

Jen of a2eatwrite asked where I was on Sept. 11.

Just looking at this picture makes me sad:

Most people have touching, heart rending Sept. 11 memories, myself included.  Mine's about leaf springs. While leaf springs might not tug on your heartstrings like they do on my cold, logical, engineering heart, they really are the perfect symbol to me about how life changed as we knew it on that day. Sept. 11, 2001 marked the beginning of the end for leaf springs, and life as we knew it then.

I was at work, just getting ready to start a weekly meeting I led at the time. It was called "Leaf Spring Forum" then - the same meeting still happens today at my work 7 years later and it's called "Leaf Spring Tech Club". It's a much smaller meeting than it used to be. There's only a handful of leaf spring engineers around anymore, largely because of what happened that morning. I no longer design leaf springs myself, but 7 years ago, I was up to my neck in the design of them. Leaf springs were then commonly used on truck suspensions, and back then, we made lots of trucks. Lots of work trucks, in fact. There are less people driving trucks these days for fun because of gas prices, but there are also less people working and building things because of the economy. So, now we make less trucks and therefore, there's less discussion about leaf springs at work anymore.

Steve, who now no longer works on leaf springs either, came up to my desk and said that his wife just called and said a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. My first thought was that it was an accident. I looked out my window at the beautiful day we were having in Detroit and wondered if it was rainy and foggy in New York City. Steve and I went to the conference room to start the meeting of all the leaf spring engineers and our suppliers. Back then, we didn't have work cell phones, we all had pagers that had a news feed on them. We started the meeting.

I remember people that were there - and very few of us design leaf springs anymore. There were some senior engineers that were offered early retirements because of the downturn in the economy because of what happened that day. They no longer work as engineers. There was a couple young engineers who no longer design leaf springs because they have since left the company because of what happened on that day. If you are a young engineer with no ties to Michigan, you think your opportunities are better in another place and career than automotive. So you go back to Seattle or Pittsburgh or where ever you came from and start anew. There's lots of jobs in the defense industry now. Why not be a part of the "war machine"?

There were a couple engineers that weren't at the meeting because they themselves were in an airplane, flying out to the test track we used to have in Arizona. We don't have it anymore, because of what happened on that day. Because of what happened on that day our country ended up in a war that we didn't need to get into, which led to a downturn in the economy, which led to us selling that facility. Out of all the 15 people in the room that were there that morning, only one designs leaf springs today.

We tried to start the meeting, but we kept reading our pagers and it said that a plane crashed in Pennsylvania. Now, that seemed kind of odd. Two big plane crashes this morning? Something was up. There was a commotion in the hallway; we tried to ignore it and talk about leaf springs - plate stresses, u bolts, leaf clips and tip liners, just like we did every week. Leaf springs have been around since the time of the Model T, but we are still working on making them better. Curiosity got to the better of us so we went out into the hall. Back then, we had TVs in the hallway that usually projected "good news" stories about our business, but usually no one paid attention. Now there were easily a hundred men (and a few women; there's not many women automotive engineers) in the hallway watching the screen. The channel was switched to CNN and we were watching the footage of the plane crash in Pennsylvania. That was interrupted by the news about the other tower at the WTC. There was a mild panic that spread through our group huddled in the hall. What was going on? We thought of our friends who were flying west then - could it be possible it was their planes?

We gave up on leaf springs that morning. We went back to our desks and tried to do our work. So many of us were checking the internet, the traffic on our T1 lines slowed to a crawl. I got my first ever email from school that day - it was from the principal of my daughter's school, telling me that they were in lockdown mode for the first time in their history. Students would stay at school until the normal dismissal time, and they weren't told what was happening. My daughter was in her first few weeks of kindergarten. To this day, the clean and shiny newness of the school year is forever marked with the memory of this day. People started to get a little edgy at the office. It was rumored that they were evacuating the north side of our building and our headquarters because of a bomb threat. My friend Sharon was puzzled when I told her this - after all, she was in NYC on Sept. 11, and she thinks it's odd that we would think that terrorists would go after us in Midwest. But no matter where you were on that day, the terror came from not knowing what was going on.

People wanted to go home, but were unsure of whether they should go. We were not yet dismissed by upper management, so we kept trying to work. Engineers, who don't normally get emotional were getting a little frantic. It was worrisome to see them freak out. I kept telling them it was okay to go home, and that I would cover for them. It was then my 3 year old son's daycare in Ann Arbor called. They said he was the last kid left at the center - all the other parents had picked up their kids, but they would stay with him until I could get there. It was then that I started to panic. What did they know that I didn't know? Was something happening I wasn't aware of? I called my husband on his cell, and he was locked in a government building in Lansing. No one could leave. It was then that I decided I had to leave to get the kids - it was about noon. I didn't ask for permission, I just told my boss I was leaving and he said "Do what you have to do."

It was eerie driving past the airport on my way home. When you drive west on I-94, there's normally a bunch of planes landing and taking off over your head. Instead, on this day, it was quiet. There were a bunch of planes parked all catty wampus over the runways. The radio news said planes were being forced to the ground. I kept thinking about my two colleagues flying to Arizona. It was later I found out that they were forced to in Albuquerque, NM. One had forgotten his wallet that morning, so he had no money or ID. Do you remember when we could fly without ID? The other was a Mexican immigrant, and since he looked like he wasn't "American", he was hassled constantly for the days that followed. No one could fly anywhere for quite a while. It was impossible to get a rental car for a week after that day - they finally got one and were able to drive back to Detroit from NM weeks later. It took them weeks to get home.

I picked up my son and went home and put him down for a nap. It was a beautiful day - the sun was shining. I tried do some work at home, but couldn't keep my mind on it. Finally, it was time for the school bus. The bus driver opened the door and said "The kids don't know a thing" and one of them piped up "Don't know a thing about what? The bad guys that crashed the airplane?" Evidently some of the middle schoolers didn't get the message that they weren't supposed to share that info with the elementary schoolers. I spent the rest of the night watching CNN and explaining to a kindergartner about the bad guys.

So, 7 years later, I don't design leaf springs anymore. My work is a much different place than it was back then. Most of the guys that I worked with that day are no longer there. Because of what happened on that day, I felt compelled to sign up to be on the evacuation team for our building and we're all trained on what we're supposed to do when there's an emergency. Every time an alarm goes off, some folks get really scared. I think it is our own little midwestern PTSD. Because of what happened that day, we are at war and that made gas prices go up. People don't want to buy trucks anymore, and so we don't have that many leaf springs to design anymore. There's only a handful of guys that design leaf springs now for automotive applications.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Potluck Pie

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending another gathering of the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers (MLFB) which is a group of Michigan women that like to blog about food (or someday soon would like to blog about food). This is the 4th time the group gathered for a potluck - this time we met in Livonia at Shayne's house. I got there first and got to tour Shayne's garden and she made us some wonderful mojitos from mint she grew herself. She prepared toppings and dough for us all to grill our own pizzas, which is something I've always wanted to try. As a band mom (my kids both play the trumpet in band) I really enjoyed being serenaded by the award winning Livonia Franklin Marching Band rehearsal across the street at the high school. They were practicing when I got there at 4 pm, and still at it when I left around 7 ish. Who says that high school kids are lazy?

I always bring pie to potlucks, because no one bakes pies anymore. I think it is because a pie is a big commitment - a pie serves 8 people, and how many of us cook for 8 people anymore? But a dish that serves 8 is great for a potluck. I buy pie pans at garage and estate sales whenever I see them, so when I make a pie, I can leave the pan in the hopes that someone else will make a pie in it some day. I'm hoping it will make the art and tradition of pie making live on.

The particular pan I brought to Shayne's was one of three from a Dearborn estate sale that my friend Phil and I attended last winter. On Fridays, Phil and I hit garage and estate sales during our lunch hour. At estate sales, it might seem creepy, but we always try to figure out who died - the husband or the wife. You can usually figure out who was the spouse that died last by what is remaining in the house to sell. At this particular sale, it was in mid winter and the kitchen had lemon yellow 1950s style tile on the counters and walls. It was a tiny kitchen in an immaculately kept tiny house. Besides these pie pans, there were yards of vintage fabric, and closets full of women's shoes. Clearly it was she who died, and given the lack of men's stuff, such as fishing tackle and tools (always remaining at a male estate sale) the husband was gone long ago. See, if the wife died, the husband would have gotten rid of the shoes and the fabric and the pie pans already. It's not to say that men don't hang onto their wives things, but they only hang onto items that they think have value. Therefore, at a dead man's estate sale, you will find canning equipment and women's junk jewelry, because he thought they were "worth something".

These lovely glass pie dishes were a bargain at $1, so I bought them for potlucks. One went to Patti at the last MLFB get together, one went to my daughter's friend's house with a pie in it yesterday, and one went to Shayne. Patti and Shayne, please make a pie in them. I am sure the elderly lady who owned them will be thrilled that you did. After all, she hung onto those dishes, because she knew how everyone loves pie. Don't worry that it serves 8 - if you have left overs, you can have pie for breakfast, like I just did.

Here's the pie I made for the MLFB potluck. I actually made 3 of these beauties yesterday, because I had a lot of really ripe peaches. It is from the cookbook of the Family Parish Circle and Friends of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Hubbardston, Michigan. I bought it in the early 1990s at a farm stand near my future in laws house in Carson City, Michigan. I first made this peach pie on that September day at my in laws while we were visiting. It is the best peach pie I have ever had. It's a great "first pie" for a kid or an adult that's never made one before, because it has a press in crust. No rolling required.

Peach Pie
printer friendly

1 1/2 c flour
2 t sugar
1 t salt
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 T milk

Combine ingredients to form a soft pastry dough. It will be really soft, not like a rolled out crust. Press evenly into the bottom and sides of a 9" pie pan with your fingers


1/2 c powdered sugar
1/3 c flour
4 cup sliced peeled fresh peaches

Combine and spoon into unbaked crust.

3/4 c flour
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/3 c soft butter

Combine for form a crumb mixture, spoon over peaches. Also, adding ground mace or pumpkin pie spice to the cinnamon is tasty, too. For the MLFB gathering, I added 1/2 t of pumpkin pie spice just for kicks. I also love adding mace to peach desserts - I learned this trick from an excellent soul food cook named Irene who was a member of the Society of Women Engineers with me in the late 80s.

Bake at 375 for 40 - 45 minutes.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Pickled Eggs

After a bunch of really hot muggy days, I can feel a little bit of fall in the air, this fine Friday evening. Fall reminds me always of going back to school, and some of the fondest memories I have is my time spent at Michigan Tech, especially the pickled eggs. I'm pretty fussy about pickled eggs. I haven't been able to find pickled eggs served anywhere to my liking down here in the lower peninsula.

I did a quick spin through the "intraweb machine" to find out some more pickled egg recipes. The Ann Arbor Public Library has a terrific online collection of local cookbooks called Ann Arbor Cooks. Here's the pickled egg recipe I found that was featured in the Ann Arbor Cookbook, 1904 edition. Mark Bittman calls for pickling spices. If you are a fan of the pink pickled egg, you might want to try this recipe. Harold McGee himself suggests leaving the shells on and keeping them unrefrigerated for a year. Yikes! As for me, I'm sticking with my tried and true recipe which was rumored to be the very one made by the B&B Bar in Houghton, Michigan. Still my favorite after I've been gone almost 20 years from the place!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Top 10 camping supplies

We're just wrapping up our first summer as regular campers. In years past, we might have camped once a year or so, but this summer, we've gone many times, thanks to our new gently used popup camper and having kids in Scouts. This past weekend, we camped at Algonac State Park, and it was just okay. It's a little more crowded than I would prefer, and it doesn't have a lot of trees. Between the two campgrounds - Riverfront and Wagon Wheel, I think I would prefer Riverfront, because we got to see many freighters making their way up or down the St. Clair River. The Wagon Wheel campground has more trees, but less things to see. Both are a little too dense with people for my taste.

During this camping trip, I was reviewing all of my camping supplies and thinking about the stuff that I have always packed in the camper that are really "must haves". Here is what I came up with:

1. Wide width heavy duty aluminum foil. Foil can be used in a million ways for camp cookery. You can make individual foil packs of meat and potatoes to cook in the hot coals. I never cook in a dutch oven without first lining it with foil. Foil is a camping necessity. Never buy regular weight foil for either home or camp, it will just get holes in it easily. Always get wide width, which can be made smaller if you need it.

2. An electric kettle. One thing about camping is it always requires hot water, and lots of it. Even if you are tent camping, it is nice to have an electric kettle if you are camping in a spot that has power. Besides for doing dishes, hot water can be used with a French press style coffee pot to make coffee first thing in the morning, which is a must for me.

3. Books. Camping is the perfect time to get some reading done, especially about Michigan when I am camping in Michigan. This summer, I finally read "Anatomy of Murder" by Robert Traver while camping in the U.P. I am sure Voelker would have been proud!

4. Crocs. There are no better shoes for camping than Crocs. They are so comfortable to walk around camp in. You can leave them outside the tent, and if it rains, it doesn't matter, they can be dried with a towel. Canoeing? Crocs float. I have found that the cheap Crocs knockoffs aren't as durabile as the real thing.

5. Rain poncho. If it rains, you won't care if you packed a rain poncho. Put one in your camp box for each member of the family.

6. Mancala. We keep a Mancala set in our camper. It's our favorite camping game.

7. Dutch oven. Indispensable for camp cookery, I have two of them now. We love them both - make sure to get the Lodge brand. They are worth it - their sides and bottom have a uniform cast iron thickness.

8. Charcoal chimney. You'll never need to use lighter fluid again. I own a couple, my favorite is the Weber one that is a little more sturdier than the bargain brands.

9. Jiffy mix. You can make a gazillion camping meals with Jiffy Mix and some water.

10. Butane lighter. Too many nights with soggy matches convinced me that a trigger lighter is required for camping.

I'm looking forward to some fall camping...