Friday, April 27, 2012

The Garden: its history and future plans

I love gardening.
Earthworms are awesome!
I'm not sure if I'm good at it, but there's something wonderful about digging in the dirt, being warmed by the sunshine and getting fresh air. And if my plants grow, wonderful. If my own food comes as a result: SWEET.

My problem is that I've never had much of a chance at gardening. We live in an apartment that doesn't have a balcony, or even a front step. Our front door opens to a hallway. Blech. But I love plants. And being outside. And there's something about growing things that has drawn me in.

It started with mint. I wanted a pot of mint to keep on my windowsill and I'd water it and trim it and drink fresh mint tea any time I wanted.

Ah, another problem. Mint does not like pots. My mother-in-law says "You can't kill a mint." Oh yeah? I say, well I have, TWICE. 

The first spring we spent in our apartment, the associating apartment buildings had volunteers plant flowers in the beds around our buildings. People came out and beautified the lots of land around us with flowers and fresh mulch around the trees. But one little plot didn't get any attention. One right on the side of our building. It looked as if it had once had a couple trees or shrubs there, but they had been hacked down. Nothing but weeds and stray grass grew in this little patch.

So after a few months of watching it not be attended to, I decided I would use it. I took my third attempt at mint, already dying, down to the apartment yard. I pulled up a bunch of weeds and patchy grass so I had a clear area of dirt. I dug a hole and stuck my mint there. I poured water over it and walked away. I forgot about it. It was late autumn and I did not expect it to grow. I thought maybe something might happen in the spring, but I'd just have to wait to find out.

Then one day, the next spring, while walking passed, I saw it. It was flourishing! It may be possible to kill a mint, but bringing them back to life didn't seem too hard. I mean, when I had planted it, it had like two green leaves left on the stem. I was thrilled. In a few weeks more, I'd be harvesting my own mint regularly.

Ahem. Until the apartment association employed some landscapers to mow the lawn and whack the weeds and my poor little mint got whacked into oblivion.

Enter stones. In order to prevent such a thing from happening again, I gathered a bunch of smallish rocks to surround my plant. If it looked cared for and attended to, surely they would not attack it viciously with lawnscaping tools, right?

It worked! I was so pleased I planted oregano too, making sure to give it a rock boarder to protect it. And then I obtained some lemon balm and I planted that too. I had a regular little herb garden going.

As yet unattended to earlier this spring
Cleaned up and ready for planting
 My friend gave me some of her proliferating violet plants too, so now I have three little violet patches blooming. I was a little nervous at first, planting that first mint, that someone would come along and ask me what I was doing. I wondered if I'd get in trouble. But successive months passed and no one has said a peep. I haven't even seen any general notices put up in our hallways about "unauthorized planting in apartment yards."

Sadly, my violets are white

So, since my third year living here and growing invasive herbs has proven quite safe, I've decided to expand. It's still early and most vegetables (that I have access to, at least) won't grow until warmer weather, but I have some big plans. Tomatoes, peppers, squash!

Saved tomato seeds, not guts. On the right are pepper seeds
Okay, that's all. It's a small plot, remember?

Planted in egg shells, how clever

So far, the tomatoes, sprouted from seeds are doing all right. The peppers haven't peeked yet, and it's been almost a month since I planted them. They may not make a show. This is what you get from store-bought vegetable seeds, I guess. Who knows if the tomatoes will actually bear fruit. They're from a Mexican hothouse and not organically grown, and quite possibly irradiated. And I ate that. gross.

Go little tomato plants, go!
Here's hoping for fresh tomatoes this summer. If anything I know I'll have plenty of mint and oregano.

I'm hoping that I can use these apartment years to try my hand at gardening on a small scale, when I haven't put a lot into it and I don't have much to lose. Then maybe, if (when) I have a house with a big yard, I can have have a huge garden. I can feel okay buying seeds or little plants to put in and grow my own produce.

I keep thinking "be faithful in the small things." So that's just what I'll do. And when I have a chance, I know I'll be faithful in big things too.

I may even convince John that we can buy a cow! Maybe.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Twenty five for twenty five, a birthday post

April 21st was my birthday. I turned 25 this year. I'm wicked excited to reach this number. Finally, a grown up sounding age!

Enjoying sunshine and flowers on my 25th birthday
There's a lot of preconceptions about age. Some people reach a milestone like...25 or 30, or 40, and groan (I've even heard a few lame-o's groan at 22 or 23, like that's "old" or something.). They worry and fret about "growing old." Not me, I love it. Every year God gives me on this earth is a blessing. Every full rotation I make around the sun is an achievement. Another year to learn, grow, experience.

But I'm still kind of surprised by my age. I think back to when I was just a sprout, eleven or twelve, when I met people who were "twenty five" they were so grown up. I know that when kids meet me, when they call me "Mrs." (To which I still haven't gotten the hang of responding) I know they see me as an adult. I am so grown up to them. I'm married. I'm pregnant. I live on my own in state far away from my family. Even teenagers probably view me as a full fledged adult.

So why do I still feel so...Young? I thought I would know a lot more at twenty-five. Maybe even be a different person all together. But I'm still me. I still have the same experiences and memories I had at 18, just a few more now. And the few more aren't enough to make me feel "Grown up."

Is it always like this? Every year? I thought I'd feel grown up at 22, honestly. When it didn't happen, nor the years after, it's starting to make me think... Maybe I'll always feel sort of "young" and inexperienced. Maybe I'll always just be Me, but with a new number attached.

I kinda like it.

But enough of philosophical rambles! Let's celebrate!

Because I love lists and I'm incredibly vain, here's 25 facts about me. (I remember thinking of doing this when it was floating around Facebook, but since I cringe at doing what everyone else is doing I refrained. Now I'll give in to that desire because after all, it is my birthday).

1. Purple is my favourite colour. Followed closely by green and then orange. I love these colours separately and paired. I wear them when I can, but purple tends to make me look pale. According to quite a few people, I look really good in orange and green though.

2. I think about what I'm going to wear often. Picking out unusual clothing combinations is my favourite. I love breaking "fashion" rules; mismatching my earrings, mixing patterns, skirts over pants, contrasting colours. I love when people tell me I have an interesting style. I probably seek this type of attention more often than is good for me.

3. I think about food even more than I think about clothes. Food blogs are my most frequent time-consumers. I love cooking, for myself because I LOVE food, but also for other people. I crave people's compliments on my food. I like making interesting and different food. I enjoy pairing unusual flavors in desserts. Like rose cupcakes with sea salt and black pepper frosting. Or lavender chocolate scones, or dandelion icecream.

4. I imagine posting to this blog 100 times more often than it actually happens. You'd know all these facts by now if I actually posted some of the stuff I think of or plan to post.

5. I have several albums worth of photos that I took specifically for use on this blog, that have never been seen by human eyes. (Uhm, except mine.)

6. I don't use shampoo. No, I don't use baking soda either (though I used to.) No, my hair isn't disgusting. In fact, its more perfect, beautiful and shiny than it's ever been. I used to have a major greasy hair problem. No longer! (Should I do a post on this?)

7.  I make my own deodorant. It's very effective, too.

8. I make my own laundry detergent.

 9. I make my own mayonnaise (and ketchup and sauerkraut too, now!)

 10. I make my own bread, and have done so for more than 3 years.

11. I make my own clothes frequently. Usually refashioned out of some premade thrifted garment. And except for a swimsuit, I haven't bought a new item of clothing in more than five years.

12. If it occurs to me that I can make something from scratch, instead of buying it, I will not rest until I figure out how. Then I decide if it was worth the time, effort or cost of base ingredients to continue doing so. In the case of the above, it most certainly has been. Sometimes its not, like home made tortillas, those things are hard work, man!

13. I hate consumerism. Can you tell?

14. In every pattern, print, blob, wrinkly curtain or bedspread, ceiling design, grains of wood, bundle of sticks or leafy bush there is a picture, a face, a figure. I will find it, I will find multiple ones. I will look at it from different angles to see how it changes. I will imagine stories about this animal or person. I will draw them. They will become mine. *cackle*

15. I want a house with a huge plot of land. I want to plant an herb garden just outside my kitchen door, and a vegetable garden in the back yard. I want lots of chickens that I can move around in a little chicken train to fertilize land as I need and eat their scrumptious healthy eggs. I want goats and cows and to drink their good milk and make cheese and yogurt every day. I want bees and orchards and berry patches. I want to be as self-sustained in my little farm as much as possible. My own homestead kingdom. This is quite possibly my number one desire in life. It is, no doubt, an idol that I should cast aside so I can focus on God again.

16. If I could choose any time period to visit, it would be early colonial America. Back when Americans were hardcore, rugged and awesome.

17. If I don't go outside in a day, especially if the weather is sunny and breezy, I get seriously depressed.

18. I'm a researcher and a looker-up-er. If I plan to embark on something I thoroughly search out all the facts, read the guides and pore through the information. Sometimes I'll do this multiple times before I do or decide.

19. The above fact is probably why I have such strong convictions about what I believe.

20. But it doesn't necessarily mean I'll follow the rules, (directions, recipe, or whatever.) In fact, I'm very bad at following directions, even if I've read them over a few times. I pretty much can't follow a recipe without changing at least one or two things, if not more.

21. I have 8 siblings; six sisters and two brothers. I'm number four. I enjoyed baby sitting. (No, really, I did.)

22. I was homebirthed, breastfed, homeschooled and catechized. I plan to do the same with my children.

23. I'm very passionate about foraging and herbalism, though I'm still quite an amateur in the area. I would love to advance in my foraging so well that I can live off the land without planting a seed. Except I would plant a lot of seeds if I had room to. (see fact 15)

24. My husband, John, is my best friend. I love him more than anyone in the world. I can't imagine a more amazing man to spend my life with.

25. I can't imagine a life more beautiful than the one I currently have. (With the exception of my life added to fact 15.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Things I love Thursday: My cast iron cookware.

I'm going to try out this Things I love Thursday thing for a while and see if it makes posting on Thursdays an easy task. I'm on my own in this, as in I'm not joining some other blog co-op with it, since it was just a random idea I came up with. Though, I don't think I made it up, there's probably tons of other bloggers doing the same thing out there. I just love alliteration, really. You probably know that by now.

This could probably be more appropriately called "Things I really like Thursday" but it doesn't quite have the same ring.

This week I want to tell you about my cast iron pots and pans. Why? Because I love them.
In my sunny living room for a photo shoot
Why do I love them? Ah, let me count the ways...or tell you the reasons.

I get amazing results when it comes to food quality. Cast irons are fabulous for browning meats, sauteing vegetables or making sauces. I can make the most delicious home fries and hash browns with my pan. They hold heat like nobody's business and keep your food hot while you wait for your husband to wrap up his projects and come to dinner. And food cooked in cast iron pots and pans just tastes better. It has some magical taste properties that it adds to each dish, making it yummier than food cooked in a regular pan.

It's indestructible. You can use metal spatulas, knives, spoons, forks, you name it on these guys. All those tools that if you even hover one above a non-stick tefflon pan, wears and scratches the surface before your very eyes. I've scratched up the seasoning of my cast iron frying pan tons of times. All it needs is a little swipe of oil and some time in the oven and it's back to its good as new self.

The best set of pans a girl could wish for

It's non-stick. Who needs that tefflon crap? I don't even know if I'm spelling it right, but I started my married life with a full set of pots and pans in that tefflon-coated line and all of them are scratched to death. Some have been thrown away in their unusable-ness. (Turns out, they don't withstand oil fires very well, either.) My cast irons, have been with me for about 3 years now. I got them all used or free, (with the exception of our wok, which I bought for John as a Christmas present.)

I've brought them camping and I've set them on fire, put them in the oven; I've used them as hammers and pounders, you can even use them as a weapon like the girl from Tangled does. I loved that!

This is reverting to the indestructable thing again. Where was I?

Ah, non-stick. So long as you keep them in good shape (and trust me, it's not hard) these things will release your eggs, crepes, etc. perfectly every time.

Which leads me to the fact that they are very easy to take care of. I'm lazy. I frequently go days without washing my pans, even when they really should have. It's easier when you do it right away, but even if you slack off, it's not too bad. You can take comfort in the fact that while you might take off some of your seasoned coat while you scrub with all your might, you'll still have a pan when you're done. And you can always put a new coat on.

Part of the ease in caring for cast iron is that it doesn't need soap. Just hot water and a good scrub. Then I dry it on the stove and wipe it down with an oiled rag. Good as new for the next go. And if you make sure to wash it right after your done using it then it hardly even needs a scrub, more like a swish.

Even when you get your pot super old, dusty, rusty and worn it's still good!


Good as new. Not bad for a free pot.

Cast iron also keeps you strong. When your frying pan weighs five pounds, you get a work out even when you cook! Carrying an eight pound wok FULL of food to the table builds your muscles big time. Add to that the fact that cast iron actually imparts some iron to your food every time you cook with it. Iron is a very necessary mineral to keep your blood working. Lack of it can lead to anemia and fatigue. Despite the fact that I rarely eat red meat I've been told multiple times that my blood's iron levels are absolutely fantastic. This is to the girl who was once diagnosed as "slightly anemic." Actually, that iron thing might be the reason behind why food cooked in cast iron tastes so good...

The wondrous weighty workable wok
When I was reading Nourishing Traditions, the author mentioned that "non-organic" iron was bad for the body. Which made me worried for a little bit that she didn't approve of cast iron cook ware. But then in the "recommended equipment" section she lists cast iron pots and pans as a great alternative to aluminum or non-stick cookware. So no need to worry! It's Sally Fallon Approved!

If you're interested in cast iron, ask around or check out some thrift stores. I've found that people frequently have them laying about and are willing to part with them because they fail to see the value, or like my mother in law, they simply collect them because they can't get over the value. Even if you end up buying one new, you can be sure that it's a great investment. I mean they'll last you forever, your great grandkids might end up using them.

I've grabbed up a few cool cast iron pans that I don't even know what to do with. Like this heart pan.

Too bad I hate Valentine's day
Cute, yeah? It was a dollar at our thrift store and even though I don't see my self using it often, it still makes a nice country kitchen kind of decoration. (You know, for when I have a country kitchen.)

Here's a link to a good guide on seasoning and general care. This is more or less how I do it, but if you look around you'll find everyone has their own little quirks; some people suggest a tiny bit of soap, others cringe at the thought. Some people won't even use water, preferring to burn off food matter. Some people are picky about what kind of oil they wipe in their pans. Do what works for you.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sally Fallon is making me paranoid: a milk rant.

About two weeks ago, I used our inter-library loan system to check out Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. I had heard the book mentioned a few times by bloggers I liked so I thought I'd take a look. I figured it probably had a great selection of fermented food recipes and maybe some other interesting stuff.

Scary but fascinating

What I did not expect was to be scared out of my whits concerning nearly everything I eat on a regular basis. And we eat fairly healthy compared to the standard American diet. I make my own bread and every baked item we eat. I use whole wheat flour the majority of the time. I'm always reducing sugar in recipes if I can get away with it.

When shopping, I read labels and ingredients carefully. If a food item has more than ONE ingredient, I scrutinize it closely. The only product with high-fructose corn syrup that I allow into my house is ketchup (although, not anymore. I'll do a post on my homemade ketchup soon). If I can't pronounce an ingredient I put the item back on the shelf.

As I've mentioned before, I don't buy organic in general because of the cost. But we eat primarily vegetables and whole grains and if I'm going to buy meat I usually will splurge on that to make sure it's actually good (i.e hormone free). I do buy free-range eggs for when we eat eggs, but I still use the cheap store-brand ones for baking purposes. I even drink whole milk, because separating all the fat from milk just sounds nasty and wrong.

But even though I felt good about the fact that I love olive oil, real butter and whole milk, I soon became panicked. I used regular non-extra virgin olive oil for cooking (saving my good stuff for when I'm not going to be heating it up) but the way they process olives after they get the first press causes the resulting second pressed olive oil to be rancid and unhealthy. I learned that my butter was missing valuable nutrients because it came from cows who possibly never saw the light of day and have been fed soy-products (among other nasties). And not only was I putting undo stress on my digestive system because my milk is pasteurized, but I was also endangering my heart by the tiny fact that my milk is homogenized.

What the-!? I didn't even know what homogenizing was!

Turns out, it's when they blast the fat particles of milk into tiny pores so they stay suspended through out the milk instead of condensing at the top. Sounds clever, right? You don't have to shake your milk...or whatever it is they do when people drink real milk.

But because it changes the chemical make up of the milk - making the fat particles tiny, as opposed to the large fat molecules they used to be - the fat is no longer healthy. Now, rather than hanging in the gut and intestines and drawing in toxins to help your body clean out, the teeny, teeming fat molecules go into your blood stream and contribute to hardening of arteries.

See why I'm so scared?

Added to the fact that since my milk is from cows who are fed GMO soy, corn and other crap (like other cows and their waste, no kidding), crammed into tiny space, given hormones to produce far more milk than any cow should be able to - even if I were to get this milk raw, unpasteurized, non-homogenized, it still wouldn't be a beneficial food product.

And I've been drinking this stuff for a good five years now!

So what do I do? One thing is certain, I cannot not have milk in my house. John - a milk addict - would go on strike, riot, rampage, foam at the mouth....

Okay, I'm joking. He actually understood fairly well when I explained my terrors to him. The alternative, however, is finding a local farm and buying fresh raw milk. Um delicious, and I wish wish wish, I could. But it's so expensive. And one day I'd like to own my own milk cows and live off that, but that dream waits until we have some land.

At least turning my milk into yogurt arms it with beneficial bacteria and enzymes to promote healthy digestion. But it doesn't solve the homogenized problem. Even Stonyfield Farms, who I used to love and trust, started homogenizing their whole milk yogurt. It didn't occur to me to be mad about this until recently. In fact, I didn't even realize that the reason that their amazing, most-delicious-yogurt-on-the-face-of-the-planet cream top yogurt was non-homogenized until after it wasn't anymore. I just noticed that they stopped doing the cream top thing and started crying. (Well, not really.)

Then when I started making my own yogurt (and I've got a batch going right now) I thought, "I want to try to make that cream top kind. How did they do that??" so I looked it up. That's when I found out they started homogenizing it, much to the dismay of many people. But apparently it cuts their costs so they won't change (though I'm still going to write them to let them know my displeasure. You should too, if you care.) That said, I'll never buy anything from Stonyfield again. And that makes me sad because they're based in my state, a forty minute drive from my apartment, and I used to love them.

So local farmers it is. I asked John if we could start buying local raw milk and he said... Well actually we had a really long conversation about it and it involved many other things, but what it summed up to was "maybe."  The thought process went something like this: continue to buy gross cheap milk now and save enough money to buy a house quickly, buy our own cows (or goats), never spend a cent on milk again (other than upkeep costs) and drink the best milk we can imagine in the future. Or, buy expensive good milk now,  buy a house one day, and then buy cows (or goats) and cut costs on milk then by drinking our own (and possibly make money on it by selling some too.)

Course, let's be realistic here. I know nothing. Zilch, nada, zip, about cows. Or goats, for that matter. And increasing our food budget to pay five or six dollars per gallon of milk rather than $2.50, isn't going to set us back that much. Seriously.

I'm trying to think of it in this way (and convince John to as well): Local raw milk (hormone and antibotic free, but I'm not worried if they aren't certified organic because that certification is just dang ridiculous.) Is not actually expensive. It that mass produced, hormone filled, pasteurized, homogenized, cattle farm milk that's cheap. Way cheaper than milk should be. I should look at the price of that milk on the shelf and think "Okay, why's it so cheap? What's the catch here?" And well, now I know what the catch is.

Taking care of cows, even on a small scale, can be expensive (probably). But I want to support local farmers, small scale farms and real people making a living on growing real food.

It's the culmination of several things, this new attitude and revelation. I've always approved of small farms and eating as local as possible, but, except for when I grow and forage my own food, I've never really done it myself. Then I read The Omnivore's Dilemma and I realized just how bad the food industry really was. But I still didn't do anything about it. And now I'm reading Nourishing Traditions, and then one of my favourite bloggers wrote this article, and I felt very convicted.

I've known it all along.

It's time to make some changes. I've been slowly getting around to it with my fermented foods kick, which has given me a new appreciation for what I can do with what I normally buy. But I need to change what I buy, too. So maybe we'll be drinking (homemade) almond milk for awhile until I find some local milk. And then we'll start small. We'll just have to cut back on our milk intake for awhile. A gallon every two weeks instead of one a week, whatever, no big deal. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Because even though I'm just one person, I think I can make a difference. Even if it's just a tiny one

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2011 reading round up

Here's another one I've been intending to post for awhile.

I read a lot. I've always thought it would be cool to do some book reviews on a few of the many books I devour, but I never seem to get around to it. In past years, I've found that I read so many books in a year and then look back and can barely remember which ones I read and liked, or disliked or found meh, so many books crammed into that little space I call "brain". So this past year I wrote down the title of each book as I finished it.

Just having a list is helpful for recalling the subject matter and quality content of the book. I also annotated my list with a number of stars beside each title.  From 0 to 5.

My scoring method is as follows.

 Five stars means the book was amazing; positively life-changing and inspiring. And zero meaning I either found the content of the book to be very bland, disturbing, or out right lousy. For everything in between, I generally gave at least one star if it had even one thought-provoking concept, or a well written character, good descriptions or interesting premise. Occasionally, a few of these in moderate goodness were enough to equal at least one star.

Here's the list of books I read last year, mostly fiction ranging from young adult fantasy to classics, and a few non-fiction

Books I have read in the year 2011, in basically the order I read them:
The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx - 4 stars
The Rag and Bone Shop by Robert Cormier - 0 stars
Starlighter by Bryan Davis - 2 stars
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut - 2 stars
Troubling A Star by Madeleine l'Engle - 0 stars
Woman: And intimate geography by Natalie Angier - 3 stars
The Book Without Words by Avi - 3 stars
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom - 5 stars
Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt - 4 stars
Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix - 3 stars
The Silver Spoon of Solomon Snow by Kaye Umansky - 4 stars
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - 3 stars
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - 2 stars
Magyk by Angie Sage - 3 stars
Flyte by Angie Sage - 2 stars
The Fisherman's Lady by George MacDonald - 3 stars
Silas Marner by George Eliot - 4 stars
Sorvay by Celia Rees - 0 stars
Beauty by Robin McKinley - 3 stars
Physik by Angie Sage - 2 stars
Persuasion by Jane Austen - 1 star
Starcrossed by Elizabeth Bunce - 4 stars
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas - 3 stars
The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge - 2 stars
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson - 4 stars
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson - 2 stars
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce - 4 stars
The Truth by Terry Pratchett - 3 stars
Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain - 3 stars
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne- 3 stars
The Blue Castle by L.M Montgomery - 4 stars
Twilight by Stephanie Meyers - 1 star
Watership Down by Richard Adams - 4 stars
Turn of The Screw by Henry James - ?
Warrior by Bryan Davis - 1 star
Sarah's Daughter - 1 star
Serendipity Market - 1 star
Queste by Angie Sage - 2 stars
A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schiltz - 4 stars
The Aneid - 2 stars
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks - 3 stars
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt - 3 stars
The Girl With the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier - 3 stars
A Short History of Myth - 1 star
Enter Three Witches by Caroline Cooney - 2 stars
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien - 4 stars
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck - 4 stars

Forty-seven books in all.

Forgive me that some titles do not have the author's name beside it, I neglected to write this detail into my list on occasion. If you have questions about any book in particular or want a review, please feel free to ask! I would be happy to have a good motivation to write a book review.

Monday, April 9, 2012

This is what happens when you put me in charge of the s'mores...

John and I and a group of friends planned a cook out for this last weekend; a bonfire on the beach with hot dogs and tin-foil wrapped potatoes smothered in the coals. And of course, s'mores. As far as I'm concerned, s'mores are essential to any fire-centered party being successful. Well, since I'm so adamant about marshmallows and chocolate melted between two slabs of sweet cinnamon-and-honey-crackery goodness, I found myself being placed in charge of the s'more round up.

I took my role very seriously. These would be the best danged s'mores of all time.

It started when I made marshmallows...

Last year I had learned to make the whipped sugary gelatin confections. They were scrum-diddly-umptious, bouncy and fluffy. More yummy than any store bought marshmallow could even imagine tasting. You don't even need corn syrup to make them.

 And the best part? You can flavour them. Any flavour you can imagine!!! ... Well, almost. I have a really vivid imagination when it comes to flavours and some pretty clever means of bringing them into existence...(though, I do say so myself. *cough*)

Of last year's production
Last year they were Earl Grey flavoured marshmallows. This year, inspired by pine edibilities, I made them...of course, Pine flavoured. But in case my very normal friends thought this to be too outrageous for their taste buds I made an alternate Vanilla Orange flavoured batch.

The result?
Oh heavenly goodness. How could such lovely perfection be wasted with nasty, grody, waxy, fake "chocolate" as those hershey "smore sized" bars? No no! I would have GOOD chocolate with my marshmallows and that was that.

But the prices. Oooohhhhhhhh the prices. A bar of silky, cocoa-y, marvelous Ghiradelli chocolate was ever so expensive. They were being priced at more than NINE DOLLARS A POUND. Even the yucky Hershey chocolate was more expensive than I imagined it could be.

So you know what I did?

I went to the BAKING section! Ah ha! Two 12oz bags of Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips for $5! That's under four dollars a pound! (I think...) Who needs Ghiradelli to put their chocolate in bar shaped slabs for an extra five bucks a pound? I could do that myself!

And while I was at it I would sprinkle sea salt on them babies.


Now that's chocolate. Better than any sub-par Hershey chocolate could ever imagine tasting.

Well, that settled it. If I was going to go "cheap" and gourmet at the same time (funny how those two coincide more often than many people might imagine) I'd simply have to make my own graham crackers too.

Yeah, I've done that before too. And they were fantastic. More delicious than any stale store graham cracker could even imagine tasting. So I did it again and they were the perfect top and bottom to my marvelous marshmallow masterpieces and my clever chocolaty concoction.

The cookout was amazing. Fire + food + frisbees = forever fun.. (I'm fond of alliterating, you know.) How could it go wrong? Okay, well it was on a New Hampshire beach in April, so yeah, it was cold too. But that just added to the adventure.

 And the s'mores?

 Yeah, you know it.

Absolutely amazing. Better than any combination of jet-puffed marshmallow, waxy Hershey chocolate and Nabisco graham crackers could have ever even imagined tasting. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only way to have s'mores.

Wish I had a photo of the final product, but my camera is not beach friendly.

Even my normal taste-budded friends were impressed. Please excuse me while I go and be smug.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Considering life without a car

The state of New Hampshire requires yearly car inspections. If your car doesn't pass the inspection, you can't drive it legally. I think this is the case in most states, but I'm from Florida where the folk are blissfully allowed to drive their cars into the ground no matter what the car's condition. The first time I had even heard inspections was sometime after I met John. Now I have to deal with this every year in April, when I need to renew my registration etc.

Meet my car:
96 Honda Accord, nice n' snowed on.

(Well, not the greatest photo to show the actual car, but who cares? Cars is cars, they all look basically the same. Snow is prettier anyway.)

Her name is Lady Lethe, and she is a super duper, great, great car! I bought her five years ago, used, for $3,000. And if I did not need to spend $30 on getting her inspected every year and then spend upwards of $400 on getting all the little things fixed in order for her to pass inspection, then I probably wouldn't have spent another cent on her other than gas and a few oil changes. None of these "fixes" for her to pass inspection were things that affected me while driving. I don't care if she makes a ruckus because there's a hole in her muffler, and I didn't care that the electric window couldn't roll down (despite lack of A/C) and I'm definitely not worried about the steering rack breaking on me suddenly while I drive! (I'm very reformed.)

But the state of NH does. Or so the mechanic says.

This morning I was told that the fixes needed to get dear Lethe to pass inspection will be more on the side of a thousand (more, if I bother getting break pads replaced). Since I spent four hundred on her last year and eight hundred on her the year before.... Well, John and I just don't think it's a good idea to spend so much on a car that will very very likely not pass inspection next year for some other random expensive broken part. She is a very old car, after all.

This leaves us to figure out somethings. Buy a new car? Absolutely not. We want a house, not a car.  Buy a used car? Possibly. Go without a car? Hmm....

I remember when I bought my first car. I felt like I had just bought myself a whole new world of freedom. That car lasted about a month before it broke down. And so began my experiences with cars and the multitude of troubles they bring with their so-called convenience. Now I feel like not having a car would be freeing.

Considering that we already walk to church instead of drive. It's about a 12 minute walk. When we drive, we're so close that time goes backward. We only drive if we're really gonna be late. As in, church starts at 10:30 and it's 10:35...

I walk to my weekly bible studies (the ones that aren't at my house) and I generally walk to my friend's pottery studio when I'm going to hang with her. To go to her house would be a quick bike ride too.  I generally don't walk to the library, because I'm not fond of carrying so many books back and forth and it's a bit more of a time and energy investment than I want to put into a quick book refreshing trip, but I could. It takes me about 30 minutes one way.

Basically, if I have time and it's relatively close, I walk. I'd much rather walk than drive, when I have the option.

So when do we use our car?

Of the two of us, I use our car much more regularly, since John's work provides him with a truck that he uses all day long. I use our car, on average, about seven or eight times a month. I drive to the grocery store, because it would take me a good hour to walk there, and then back with groceries.... ergh, not gonna happen. I drive to a friend's house occasionally to help her out in her garden and herb studio. She lives pretty far, about a 20 minute drive. I drive to our local spring to refill our water jugs. The spring is not far; I could bike there in 15 minutes. The tricky part would be transporting six gallons of water home on a bicycle.

John and I drive when we visit his parents, they're about a 40 minute drive away. We drive to the airport to pick up friends and family (when that happens). We drive to the beach transporting a surf board. We occasionally drive to other friends' houses if they've invited us for dinner. And we enjoy having the option to drive to John's family's lake house for summer frolics.  We also frequently volunteer to give church folk rides and if my friend needed me to help her in teaching her pottery class again, I wouldn't be able to get there on my own steam (the school at which she teaches is a 45 minute drive).

If we were to give up the car, we'd work out groceries and water fairly easily, by simply having John pick up what we need on his way home from work. When John is on call, one week out of three, his company prefers him to drive his truck so he'll be free to use it any time on those weeks.  Those would be the weeks when we could visit friends or family, or take a trip to the lake house, but there's also be the threat of him being called out, since that's why he's allowed to use the truck anyway.

Trips to the beach to surf would be right out unless John's surfing buddies were also going and willing to give us a ride (a distinct possibility.)  I definitely won't be helping my friend in her garden this year, unless she wants to pick me up and take me home (not very likely). We'd also be in the "needs a ride" group rather than the "can give rides" of our church, which I wouldn't be too frazzled about.

My final thought on this for the time being is that we could live without a car, but it would limit us a lot. It would take some adjusting to simply not have the option of hopping in the car and going somewhere any time I liked.  And while I hate driving and prefer walking whenever possible, the loss of that optional ease does scare me a bit. But I also like the idea. Cars can really be a hassle. Plus, it would be nice to feel like I'm doing more of a part in being environmentally friendly (even though I hardly drive the one I have now.) For emergencies, we really could use John's work truck, though his company might not like it much.

I also think it would be a lot more difficult to live without a car when our baby comes along. But we have till late summer to figure that out. And that's just as well; going without a car in the winter would also be trickier, since bicycling would no longer be an option with snow on the ground. We walk to church all year long anyway.

The verdict on the car isn't totally out yet. We're checking with some other mechanics to see if it will actually cost as much as the first guys said. We'll also look into how much used cars are running in our area. We might go without a car for a few months and see how it feels, and if the perfect car comes along we'll buy it.

Could you go without a car if you had to? Anyone local who can replace steering racks?
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