Saturday, November 03, 2012

Obviously I am busy...

I must be busy with many things if I am not blogging much, right?  Just what am I doing? 

Work is getting busier again.  I am also vice president of the local chapter of the underwriters' association this year which means my main job is lining up the venues for our meetings and coordinating all that goes with that (menu choices, getting accurate counts on number of attendees from the treasurer, etc.).  There was a lot of time spent researching, calling, comparing and touring multiple potential facilities for our day-long seminar coming up in May.  I got free coffee and some cookies while doing the tours (on a "vacation" day from work) but otherwise, there is no compensation for this work.  It is not easy to plan events for 150 people!

Our main bathroom shower/tub area is finally complete!  It has been awhile but the tile is in (and looks gorgeous, I think), and the fixtures are installed so we are once again showering upstairs.  I won't even say how long this has been in the works.  If you have been here, you know.  Now we are coordinating with electrician, tiler and plumber to get the rest of the room to look as nice as the shower.  Of course this involves multiple trips to various stores to pick out the lights, vanity, faucets, tile, etc., that we need and also will require a bit of work on our part.  So it is fun and time-consuming.

Here are the other less boring-sounding things I have been doing.

Reading: I am reading a bit.  As of the end of October, I have read 36 books this year.  Or I should clarify, I have finished 36 books this year.  Some books were started last year and took a long time to finish because I would only read them in the car to E.  Here are some I have read but not blogged about with short commentary on each.
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson - My choice for book club.  I liked this book a lot.  It is definitely a different writing style than I typically read (hard to describe.  The author is Norwegian, so I don't know if that explains it or not.) and the story/plot was subtle but I am glad I read it and that I chose it for book club so there were additional thoughts added to the ones I had on my own.  The story is told from the point of view of one man, Trond, in two time periods: in the present as a 60-some-year-old-man, and as a 15-year-old after WWII during a particularly life-defining time of his life.
This Must be the Place by Kate Racculia- I don't remember how this one got on my list of books to read but it was a pretty easy read with interesting characters and a plot that kept me guessing a bit. I sometimes like it when I don't figure out what is going to happen and how it is going to go.  The main character is a quirky teenage girl whose mother owns a boardinghouse.  A man they do not know checks in and inadvertently turns their lives upside down and challenges things they thought they knew about themselves.
Candide by Voltaire - I have had this book since college and just read it for the first time, in English, not in French (I think the French version is also around here somewhere.)  I have seen the musical at least twice but the satire in the book is much stronger.  And, yes, the songs did occasionally run through my head while I was reading.
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous - a classic.  Somehow I did not read this in high school like most people seem to have.  I would have been even more freaked out about drugs if I had read this then - it was bad enough I saw the after-school special where the girl jumps out the window after taking PCP.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson - This is the one I was reading to E.  So glad I didn't work for Jobs, though I truly enjoy my iPod and admire his genius. 
Marley & Me by John Grogan - Sorry, dog lovers.  This dog mainly annoyed me and I did not get upset or sad when he died.  This was another one we read for Friday night book club.  I think we are done with the series of animal books now. 
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer - This is one that had been recommended to me by multiple people over the past couple years.  So glad I finally read it!  I liked the epistolary form of the book.  The characters, time and setting were all interesting.  An interesting time in history told from a unique perspective.  I chose this one for Friday night book club after I had read half of it.  Hope the other members read it!
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan - Current book for Sunday night book club.  Another interesting historical perspective, the same time frame as Guernsey but instead of post-Nazi-occupation of an island in the English Channel, this one takes place in the US.  The story is seamless told from multiple characters perspectives and one of the main storylines follows a young African-American who has fought in WWII on the European front and is now returning to his sharecropper family's home in Mississippi.
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut - I remember reading this one multiple times in high school and college but had not read it in a long time.  I don't remember what I liked so much about it back then, but I think I liked it differently on this reading.  And I had Sparks Notes to help understand it more now, too.  And looking back at this list, satire and WWII appear to be the recurrent themes. 

started at the center and knit in the round

Knitting: Now that the weather has turned cooler and my hands are less dirty from gardening, I have done a bit of knitting.  At E's request I made a baby afghan for the newborn daughter of one of his friends.  It was a simple pattern and turned out even cuter than I expected.  I first read about this one in Knitalong: Celebrating the Tradition of Knitting Together by Larissa Golden Brown.  This was a book we read when I was in the Knit Lit book club/knitting group a few years back.  When I pulled the book out to get the pattern for the blanket, the discussion questions I had created were still in there including one to provoke discussion about a time when knitting has reformed one's character, either by keeping her out of trouble or by helping her relax or heal. Anyway, my pinwheel blanket was knit with a soft chunk yarn on size 11 circular needles.  I knit while listening at my Mini-Medical School class and while watching TV.  I think the baby was waiting for me to be done knitting because she was a bit late, arriving the day after I finished binding off. Welcome to the world, baby girl!  

Weeding: Not much happening in the garden this time of year but I did finish fall clean up, harvested about 3 dozen potatoes and about 10 pounds of carrots, and helped E with the leaves. 

That is a little bit of what I have been doing lately.  Here's hoping I put blogging as a higher priority in the new year, if not before.

Until we read again,

When Life Gives You Kale, part 2;

Eating: You may recall a few weeks back, part one of this post, about what to do with abundances of certain types of produce.  Well, now I have a bunch of beets (actually, I still have roasted beets in the freezer from last year) and some large cabbage, as well as several pounds of apples we picked.  Here are some more recipes in the same spirit as When Life Gives You Kale, Make Kale Chips.  I am thinking of cross-stitching that saying and hanging on the wall.  By the way, I really really like that roasted tomato soup recipe I posted last time.

Beets.  Was there ever a  vegetable that divided groups of people more?  Well, maybe brussel sprouts but more on those later.  Beets seem to be something you like or something you definitely do not like.  I like beets.  I liked them canned when I was a kid, I like pickled beets, I like them in a salad.  But...there is a such thing as too many beets for me.  I think part of it is that I don't know a lot of ways to prepare them and so when I have a lot of them, I am overwhelmed and get tired of the roasted-beets-as-side-dish preparation.  So I found something new to do with them: Roasted Beet Borscht.  In the same vein as carrot soup and zucchini soup, this is a pureed soup.  I made one sample batch to see if I like it (made with a very large golden beet - it was a very beautifully colored soup), then made a triple batch and froze most of it for later (mix of red and gold beets, deep red color, also quite lovely).  Recipe is courtesy Tyler Florence of Food Network.  Have I mentioned that I love Tyler?
Roasted Beet Borscht (for when life gives you beets)
1 pound beets
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 sprigs fresh thyme
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 cups chicken stock (I cheated and used chicken base/bouillon and hot water)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
To roast the beets (same as I do when I make them for a side dish), heat oven to 400.  Scrub beets and place them on a pan. Salt and pepper and drizzle with 3 T olive oil.  Add 3 sprigs of thyme. Bake until the beets are tender, about 1 hour (depends on the size of the beets).
When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip off their skins, and chop them into large chunks.
In a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Put in the onion, carrots, garlic, and remaining 3 thyme sprigs and cook until softened and just starting to color, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs. Put the chopped beets into a blender and add the cooked vegetables and most of the stock (SMALL BATCHES!! to avoid soup scald shower). Blend until smooth, add more stock if the puree is too thick. Add the vinegar and honey; season with salt and pepper. Blend again to incorporate flavors. Can serve hot or cold. (The borscht is good without the vinegar and honey but definitely add those because it enhances the flavor A LOT.)

You can also make a garnish for this (I did not do this part, because it was just for me - I don't need to be so fancy eating my lunch). Grate a Granny Smith apple on the large holes of a grater and mix 2 T chopped fresh dill.  Add a big dollop of sour cream to each bowl of soup and top with the apple and dill mixture.

I was also going to blog cabbage recipes but realized I did that last year, so if life has given you cabbage, check out Cabbages Galore for recipes for a soup that uses carrots and for the very handy Freezer Cole Slaw recipe. 

I know everyone likes apples, so an abundance of apples is probably not a problem, but here are a few of my recipes and ideas for when you hit the orchard in the fall and pick way more than you really know what to do with.  Not that I would ever do that...

Apple Cake - two different recipes posted here.

Taffy Apple Pizza - an old Pampered Chef recipe that I have made many many times and previously blogged here

Grandma Nellie's Apple Crisp
(I received this recipe from my mother-in-law as part of a bridal shower gift and it is the only apple crisp E likes because it does not have oatmeal in it.  I lost the recipe and had to call my MIL to get it again.  Grandma Nellie's original lacked a few directions, so this is slightly modified.  I will give you cooking temp and time, for example.)
Fill bottom of a 8x8 or 9x9 pan with sliced, pared, cored apples.  Sprinkle with 1 C sugar (lately I have cut this back to 1/2 or 2/3 C) and sprinkle with cinnamon (lots of cinnamon if you are making this for E).
Combine: 1 C flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 C butter (I melt it in the microwave first)
1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 t salt
Mix until forms crumbles.  Crumble over the apples.  Bake at 375 for 45 minutes until the top is golden.

I make mine in the crock pot because then I don't have to watch it so closely and it makes the whole house smell delicious!  This year I bought a food mill which is not necessary but does make the sauce smoother and (maybe more importantly) I don't have to peel the apples or worry about getting all of the seeds and core out.  I just use the apple wedger.  I also make mine without added sugar.  Then I can use it in recipes without altering the sugar content of the recipe.  And you can always stir in a little brown sugar to taste.
Wedge/core about 10 apples (peel if not using a food mill).  Place in crock pot along with about 1/2 C water.  Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.  If not using the food mill, you can mash with a potato masher or use an immersion blender.  Cool and store in refridgerator or freezer.  I freeze mine in 1 1/2 C portions in freezer bags.  That is what I use to make muffins.

Applesauce Streusel Muffins are yummy and the recipe is here.  I usually mix up the batter on a Saturday morning and bake half the muffins then and half again on Sunday morning. 

Now I am hungry. 

Until we eat again,
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