Friday, August 22, 2014

This just stinks!

It's been a rough week.  And busy.  We've had two girls leave for college: Sad.  Teen car troubles: Frustrating.  More teen car troubles: Frustrated and angry teen.  A trip to Fargo: Tired mom.  A member passing away, to make the second week in a row with a death in the parish: Tired Pastor.

We're leaving tomorrow to attend the Bethany Lutheran College parent orientation and opening service.  We'll stop first at Joe's parents' for the night and then attend church at the congregation of their parish that has the early service.  We plan to stop on the way to Mankato to see Joe's Grandparents. 

We hope to get to see Elsie and where she's living, and meet part of the couple she's living with.  We'll hopefully get to see Jeremy and perhaps eat lunch at Five Guys where he works.

We're planning to stay Sunday evening with Ryan and Marie M.  Marie's dad was a seminary classmate of Joe's.  Marie used to help me with Jeremy when he was a baby and she was just nearing babysitting age.  It will be fun to meet her husband and children.

After that we continue Monday morning on to Madison, WI, to see the "old gang."  We're going to be staying with my cousin Claire, who is not part of the "old gang," but part of the "new gang."  Claire is a handful of years older than I am, so I didn't know her well when we were growing up.  But I have enjoyed getting to know her through facebook.  And as it happens, she's friends with some of the "old gang."  It will be wonderful to see everyone.  

But also bittersweet, as one of our "old gang" is suffering with what appears to be terminal cancer

Oh, Beth, we love you so.  We are caught between wanting you to stay with us, and knowing that you will be out of suffering when you are with our Father in Heaven.  Our selfish hearts don't want to let you go.  But we pray with all the saints, "Kyrie Eleison! Lord Have Mercy!"  and, "God's will be done!"

 ~   ~   ~
On a more mundane note, and to explain the origins of the photo I used to symbolically represent our week, I'm going to share a story from this morning.

I did get one walk in this week, with my friend, Lana.  We walked this morning in a light drizzle before the downpours and hailstorms that came later.  Everything is so nice and green now.  It had gotten really dry the last several weeks.

As Lana and I left the driveway this morning, we were greeted by a nice fat black skunk lying on it's back, looking for all the world like a fat kitty waiting for his tummy to be rubbed.  He was dead, of course.  But still nice looking.  He didn't stink at all, which was strange.   At first we had a hard time deciding, the way he was lying there, whether he was a cat or a skunk.  Most of his stripe was underneath him, and there are several black and white cats in the neighborhood. 

We passed him by, giving him wide girth, and continued on our walk.  As we were heading home, Joe passed us in the car, on his way to his funeral planning meeting.  He pulled over and lowered his window. 

"Mary, I don't have time, but I'd like that skunk off the road.  Do you think you can move him a little bit, and I'll carry him further over when I get home."

"Um, ... He doesn't stink at all.  Can't we leave him there."

"No, if someone hits him, he'll spray.  And then he will stink.  And that stink will blow right into the house."

"Oh, OK, I can probably manage it.  But only for you, Dear."

Lana and I giggled and laughed nervously the rest of the way home, wondering how I'd manage to move the skunk.  After we got back to the driveway, I headed up to the garage to get the scoop shovel and Lana headed to her truck. 

"Lana!  Aren't you going to stay and give me moral support?"

"Oh.  I'll stay if you want.  Do you want me to?"


After fetching the shovel, we walked back out to our well-bloated friend.

We joked about whether it would be worse for him to spray his skunk smell, or if he burst open from being bloated.

I started the procedure at the head end.  It wasn't quite as swollen there, so I thought there'd perhaps be less risk of him bursting, and I knew I didn't want to be at the hind end if he sprayed.  I slid the shovel under.  And gave it a little push.  It slid a little further yet. 

But after I got the shovel under the skunk about half way, as it got under the swollen stomach area, I found I could get no further.  The skunk's bloated belly was like a filled water balloon.  If I pushed from one side, it all rolled and flopped and jiggled to the other side. 

Ugh!  Lana and I talked over different solutions.  And finally we decided to just push him gently with the shovel until he slid off the roadway, and then let Joe worry about moving him further away later. 

As I slid him onto the shoulder, though, he simply rolled over onto his belly.  And stood up.  Really! 

Lana hooted, "Mary, look!  Look how he's standing there!"

And he was indeed standing there.  He was so fat and bloated that his head stood straight out from his body, looking for all the world as if he was still alive.  As if like Lana and I, he was just out for his morning walk. 

I couldn't find Joe's camera to take his picture right away.  So what you see in the picture at the top is from this evening after several downpours and at least a couple of hail storms.   He has sagged some throughout the day, so that his head is drooping a little bit. 

It reminds me of that old Bill Cosby skit about the British, and how proper they are,  "I'm so sorry to be leaning here, but it seems my life is leaving me."

Friday, August 8, 2014

My Morning Rainbow

Today I walked along the minimum maintenance road near our house.  I have not walked there for a few years, since they sprayed it and killed all the pretty things.  I noticed the other day that some of it is re-greening, so I thought I'd give it another chance. 

Lovely things I saw on my walk today:
  • black birds, twittering in the tall weeds at the side of the road, fluttering up when I neared.
  • silvery, white Foxtail grasses shimmering in the morning sun.
  • deep yellow Sow thistle blossoms
  • rich pinkish-purple Canadian thistle flowers
  • the snowy glow of the spent Canadian thistle flowers
  • white and yellow sweet clover waving happily in the morning air
  • the pale yellow  of the ripening wheat field
  • the deep green of the verdant soybeans
  • wild canola-like weed thing with dainty yellow flowers
  • a sharptail grouse who flushed from the field along the way
  • bladder campions greeting me with their clean and fresh whiteness
  • pale purple milkweed flowerettes
Ugly things I saw on my walk:
  • dried grasses along the edge of the apparently Round-up resistant soybeans
  • the harsh woody stems that remain after they mowed.  So many less desirable things growing there after the previous growth was killed off.  Sigh. 
  • so many of the milkweeds were brown and dead from apparent spraying. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Detective Mom and the Mysterious Case of the Missing Beans

Earlier this week I had to clean out the chest freezer a bit to have room to flash freeze the blueberries.  One of the things I removed at the time was a baking dish full of refried beans. 

Periodically during the course of the week, I have wondered what I did with those beans. 

They certainly are not in the upstairs fridge. 

The question that kept tickling in the back of my mind was, "Did I put the beans in the basement fridge or leave them sitting somewhere within arms' reach of the chest freezer?" 

About a day after I took them out, I remembered them.  "Oh, good thing I remembered them now, thought I.  "They will still be thawing and therefore useable." 

But at the time I had this thought, my hands were occupied with fixing that days' supper. 

"John, run to the basement and see if you can find a baking dish of refried beans anywhere."

John looked at me as if to ask, "The basement's a pretty big place, Mom.  Anything more specific."

So I continued, "It would either be in the basement fridge, or sitting among the heaps and boxes and shelves nearby."

and then I immediately forgot about it. 

Until later that night.  "John, what did you find out about those beans?" asked I.

"They aren't anywhere, Mom." 

"Hmmm," thought I.  "Hopefully they are in the fridge and he just didn't recognize them as beans."

and then I immediately forgot about it. 

Until yesterday.  I remembered them briefly at some point in the afternoon, but not long enough to check on them. 

This morning, I checked myself.  I wanted to use the missing beans for supper and was so hoping I'd find them in the fridge. 

With a little bit of fear and trepidation, I opened the fridge. 

No beans.

"Perhaps I put them back in the freezer," I thought, still feeling somewhat hopeful.

With a little bit of fear and trepidation, I opened the freezer.

No beans. 

With much fear and trepidation, I scanned the the heaps and boxes and shelves nearby.  No beans did I find. 

By that time, I confess, I was a bit frantic.  Where in the basement would I find a baking dish of spoiling beans?  And more worrisome yet, when?  How long would they sit spoiling before I happened on them in some strange and mysterious nook or cranny?

In one last desperate attempt to find the beans, I turned to the further side of the room. 

And there they sat.  Among the painting stuffs.  Balanced carefully atop the Blueberry Grove semi-gloss. 

And balanced smoothly atop the beans, the somewhat discolored film of some unidentified colonization.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Detoured Yogurt, aka flavored homemade farm style cheese

Clockwise from front left:  Cilantro, Taco, and Garlic Basil
We have been going through yogurt like nuts lately.  In the struggle to balance the grocery budget, I waver, ... It's good healthy food, esp since I buy the plain, unsweetened.  But it is still a luxury.  And I can make my own so much cheaper.  So often, when I'm in a purchasing-rather-than-making stage, I tend to be kind of stingy with how much I let the kids use it. 

"Only a small portion," is my constant theme.

So eventually, when I sense we're using too much, I try to make up a big batch.  This is really an easy process, so it ought not to be a big deal.  I warm the milk to about 190°F in the crockpot.  I let the milk cool to blood warm.  I remove a cup or so of milk from the pot and stir about 3/4 c of yogurt into the milk.  When it's stirred until smooth, I return it to the crock pot and cover the whole business with a couple of thick towels or a folded quilt for about 8 hours or until I get to it.  Voila'!  Yogurt!  Easy-peasey.  

Unless I forget about it during one or another stage.  And it begins to sour.  Which is really a bummer, since sour milk has a different kind of sour taste than does yogurt.  And my crockpot holds over five quarts.

This time I forgot about it after the warm to 190
°F part.  I left it cooling on the counter.  But I missed the part about blood warm and left it there for a couple of days.  Sigh. 

But I didn't want to throw all that milk out.  Dairy products can generally be used one way or another unless they have obvious mold or strangely colored bacteria colonies floating on them. 

Often I simply freeze less palatable milk in smaller containers and then thaw later to use in baking.  But since we had that Wal-mart milk souring issue last month, I have many, many containers of sour milk in the freezer. 

So, ... what to do with the milk.  It was not terribly soured.  I think because of having heated it up, it slowed the souring process or something.  But because of the frequency of the aforementioned sour milk episodes, my kids are especially sensitive (read: picky) when it comes to sourish milk. 

I put on my thinking cap. 

How about that homemade cheese I used to make when we had raw milk?

What was that recipe?  Oh, well, who really needs a recipe anyway?

I once more brought the milk to about 190

(An easy way to gauge this is to heat until little bubbles form around the edges, but it's not yet boiling.  When I use  the crockpot, it's such a large volume, that I usually give it a good stir and then wait to see if the bubbles reappear quickly.  The crock pot doesn't always heat very evenly, and sometimes it's nearing the correct temp at the edges and still cool in the middle.)

And actually, I ended up simmering the milk for awhile, since I once again forgot about it.  It was covered with a thick golden brown skin by the time I remembered it.  That's what gives my cheeses their golden glow, rather than being a clean creamy white.

I turned off the crockpot and stirred in a cup or two of white vinegar.  I don't really know how much since I didn't measure it.  It was a little over an inch in the bottom of the big jug.  I slooshed in the first little bit and stirred the milk mixture.  It didn't feel like it was coagulating as quickly as I wanted, so I poured in the rest of the vinegar.  I put the lid back on the crockpot and went to bed. 

That was a couple of days ago.  Finally this morning I strained off the whey.  I was unsure what kind of a final product I'd find after all that forgetting. 

It was good!  Really  good.  Probably one of my best batches of homemade cheese ever. 

But it was quite a large amount.  So again, ... what to do with it. 

"You have all these fresh herbs sitting around here, Mary," thought I.  "Why don't you do something with them."

I ended up with about 2 quarts of curds.  

  • About 3 cups with a handful of minced cilantro. 
  • About 3 cups with taco seasoning mix and salt.  This was supposed to be a smaller amount, but I put in too much salt, and so had to add another cup or the curds.  
  • That left me with about 2 cups into which I stirred minced garlic and basil.   
Those who have tasted them have given me eager thumbs up!