Archive for January, 2009

In one of our very first posts on this blog, we talked about Trading Kids. We put that system to the test a couple of weeks ago when Mark and I went to Steamboat for 5 days of ski heaven. Without Junior.

Before we left, I let both our Nederland friends and Junior’s preschool know that Jr. could call us any time. Since Junior now has my cell number memorized and has been pretty obsessive about using it (he called me the other night to tell me that dinner was ready….I was downstairs in the office.), I expected at least one call a day. Um….no. Not one call…at all!

Finally, I caved and called him four days into the trip. I half expected a meltdown when he heard my voice, but after we talked for 2 or 3 minutes about how much we loved and missed each other, he casually said “Did you have anything else to tell me, Mom? OK. Bye.”. Other parents might have been offended at this blatant dismissal. I prefer to think that he is simply comfortable and secure…and apparently enjoying his own vacation from his parents!

(photo courtesy of our very own Rich Seeley: www.pix2love.com)

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We had tired of paying $4/qt for our coop yogurt…the same price as a half gallon of coop raw milk…and I was minutes away from buying another gadget – a yogurt maker. Really, I was sure it would pay for itself…after the first 5 gallons of yogurt! 🙂

I researched, and polled, and studied, and finally identified the perfect maker. Then, I did a very strange thing. I didn’t buy one. Surely there was a non-gadgety way of making yogurt. How hard could it be? Ten minutes of googling taught me that all I had to do was heat up some milk, dump in some culture/starter, let it sit around in a warm place for a while….and yogurt would happen, just like it has for thousands of years!

That said, my first attempt worked (warm place = oven with a warm cast-iron skillet to keep the warmth coming over time), but the temperature wasn’t very even, and I worried over it the whole time it was culturing. There had to be a better way!

Finally, a little more research yielded the “bread machine” method. OK. It’s a gadget. But at least I am making a gadget I already own do double duty! It turns out that my bread machine has a “home cooked” setting, on which I can program 12 hours of “rise” at 82 deg. F. How perfect is that? Pretty darned perfect if you ask this family’s tummies!

Homemade Bread Machine Yogurt

1. SLOWLY heat 1 qt. milk (we prefer raw) to 110 deg. F
2. Add 1c. of the warmed milk to 2-3T yogurt (from your last batch) in a qt. mason jar and mix thoroughly.
3. Fill bread machine bucket with cool water (not cold and not warmer than ~80 degrees).
4. Place 1qt jar of milk/yogurt starter in bread bucket and keep at ~80 deg. F for 8-10 hours.

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Two weeks ago, Mark, Junior and I drove to Boone, CO to get a pig. No, we haven’t added pigs to our pet menagerie, but we did come home with about 100 pounds of frozen pork. Not just any pork, but free-range, 100% grass-fed pork, raised with utmost respect by Kim and Doug, the lovely couple who own Larga Vista Ranch. While I would prefer to find grass fed and finished pork closer to home, I feel no remorse in supporting the work that Kim and Doug are doing at Larga Vista.

So far, we’ve been pretty basic in our prep: ham steak stir-fried with cabbage, bacon and eggs, and the most delicious pork chop/apple/shallot recipe ever. I’m now on the lookout for pork recipes….if you’ve got any must-haves, send them my way!

Pork Chops with Apples and Shallots
— adapted from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

* 3 T butter
* 3 medium shallots, quartered
* 2-3 large granny smith apples, peeled and cut into eights
* 3/4 cup white wine
* 4 1″ thick bone-in pork chops
* Salt and pepper

(While Martha calls for broiling these chops, my stove has no externally vented fan, and doing so meant opening every window in the house for about 1/2 hour to keep the smoke detector from constant alarm. Do yourself a favor and fire up the grill!)

1. Pre-heat your grill. Season the chops with salt and pepper.
2. In a large skillet (I prefer cast-iron), heat butter over med-high heat. Add shallots and cook (don’t forget to stir!) for about 5 minutes until brown. Cover, reduce heat to med., and cook another 5 minutes until tender.
3. Add apples and wine. Cover and cook for 5 more minutes. Uncover for 5 more, until a lot of the liquid has evaporated. (Martha says “most” of the liquid, but I would leave a little behind for a more saucy effect).
4. While the apples are cooking, grill the chops until they reach an internal temp of 160 deg F.
5. Spoon the apples and shallots over the chops and serve with brown rice and a green veggie of your choice. Prepare to Ooooh and Ahhhh. A lot!

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While the girls get along nicely in the coop that came with them, the design wasn’t quite right for this “shorter” mama. Egg collection required squeezing my entire head and left shoulder/arm into the tiny coop door while simultaneously trying not to inhale the chicken poop that was invariably on the threshold.

Enter my two handy boys, who promptly fashioned a couple of large doors on the back of the coop. While this might be a tad cooler for the chicks when we get a westerly wind, it was a necessary modification! And it makes cleaning out the nesting and roosting areas a whole lot easier!

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The best part about having your own flock of backyard chickens is, of course, the supply of fresh eggs. While we got off to a slow start, most likely due to arctic-like cold and a little bit of chicken disorientation after their unexpected relocation, we are now gathering about 3 eggs a day. Just about enough to satisfy our eating and baking needs.

We’ve discovered that there is nothing more satisfying than fresh eggs…and we’ll eat them just about any old way, but one of my favorites is poached. The only problem I have with poached eggs is that our old fancy pants Williams & Sonoma egg poacher had seen better days: the non-stick sticks (a lot) and was a pain in the arse to clean – the pan, cups, cup frame, lid. Sheesh!

Enter Gadget Girls’ November find – the Silicone Egg Poachers . A little bit of butter smeared on the inside (silicone is NOT completely non-stick), a pot of boiling water, and 6 minutes (at altitude) will get you perfectly poached eggs. The cups are deep enough that the eggs don’t splash into the boiling water, which means that the cups are the ONLY things that need washing.

So, by all means, get yourself some chickens. And if that’s too large a commitment, then at least get yourselves some of these handy poachers. Hmmmmmm…….eggs!

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What do you do in the winter in Nederland, CO when the wind is howling at 50-80 miles per hour? Ski at Eldora? Only if psycotherapy isn’t working as well as you’d hoped. Curl up at your friends’ house with mug of chai and some delicious Gingersnap Cookies? Well, yeah……and you also brave those 50-80 mile per hour winds to take up a new family activity: Geocaching!

Now, maybe seeking out a cache called “Spirit of the Four Winds”, at the top of a rocky outcropping, was not our brightest move, but it sure was the most adventurous of our three finds today!

Many thanks to our dear friends for a great New Year’s adventure!

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I don’t remember too many classic “family traditions” when I grew up. Of course, I have fond memories of certain favorite meals, and my mom’s homemade goodies, but no “every Christmas Eve we _______”.

When we had Junior, I vowed to have at least one tradition around the holidays, and my choice was one I had always wanted to do as a kid — Gingerbread Houses. The decadent kind, with lots of icing, and at least 20 kinds of candy.

We’re on our third year of Gingerbread Houses at the DINKs, and we’ve learned a few things along the way — like

  • DON’T STIR the caramelizing sugar after it starts to boil (you would think the chemist in me would have guessed that)
  • DON’T accidently drop hot caramelized sugar on your fingers (HOT!)
  • Be patient. Caramelized sugar takes a lot of time to, well, caramelize. Make sure it is good and dark.
  • Let the caramelized sugar cool quite a bit on the house parts before you try to stick them together. Hot caramel = slippery mess.
  • Don’t wait until the night before the party to try to make, bake, and assemble 6 houses.

    Can you tell that the hitch in all of this usually has to do with the caramelized sugar glue? That said, we finally worked out the sugar kinks and this year was the smoothest yet. Dough on Sunday. Rolled and baked on Tuesday. Assembled Thursday. Decorated Saturday.

    The Hows and What-Nots:

    Dough Recipe c/o Epicurious.com

    Keep in mind that I don’t normally cook with Crisco. And had I known that so many families would actually eat their houses, I woldn’t have chosen this recipe. That said, it is the easiest to make and roll. I should know, since I have made 18-20 houses over the last 3 years…..but look for a recipe change next year!

    * 6 3/4 cups all purpose flour
    * 4 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
    * 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    * 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
    * 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    * 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
    * 1 1/2 cups solid vegetable shortening
    * 1 1/2 cups sugar
    * 3 large eggs
    * 3/4 cup robust (dark) molasses

    Sift flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and cardamom into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat shortening in large bowl until fluffy. Add sugar and beat to blend. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Add molasses and beat on high speed until well blended. Add dry ingredients in 4 additions, beating at low speed until dough forms. Divide dough into 6 equal pieces. Flatten each piece into rectangle. Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, at least 6 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

    While Epicurious does give basic template instructions, this year we relied on our friend Sean….an architect…to provide us with some fancier models – a New England Saltbox, and a modern wonder. I’ll keep you posted on the book of Gingerbread House Plans we want him to publish in time for next season!

    If you want to get fancy, use a knife or cookie cutters to make doors, windows, and skylights. If you want to get really fancy, crush up some butterscotch candies (or assorted jolly ranchers for a stained glass effect) and put them in the windows after the cookies have baked. Return the cookies and candy (on parchment paper) to the oven until you see the candy melt. Remove it promptly, and you’ll have some pretty snappy windows!

    Rolling the Dough
    Years of Experience leads to these few pieces of gingerbread wisdom:

  • Ignore the instructions – ice cold is not best for rolling. Let it warm just a tad and you will have an easier time.
  • Roll the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap.
  • Replace the top sheet with parchment.
  • Flip the dough using a piece of cardboard wedged under the dough.
  • Place design cutout on top of plastic wrap, outline with knife of pizza cutter, remove plastic, and cut dough through. Use the bottom parchment paper to move cutout to cookie sheet.

    Caramelized Sugar Glue
    While a colleague of Mark’s confesses to pulling out her glue gun to assemble her Gingerbread Houses, I’ve spent too many years, and sacrificed too many fingertips, perfecting Caramelized Sugar to succumb to modern technology. To use sugar glue:
  • Place 3:1 Sugar:Water into a large sauce pan
  • Heat over low heat, stirring until all sugar is dissolved
  • Raise heat until sugar begins to boil. DO NOT STIR at this point, or the sugar will come out of solution and you will have a big mess on your hands.
  • Be patient….caramelization takes longer than you think!
  • Dip, or spoon, a stripe, of sugar glue on each edge to be glued to another. Let cool until touch-able and tacky. Hold respective edges together until reasonably stable.

    Decorate to your heart’s content. Each year, the kids get older and more creative and use candy in ways we adults could never imagine!

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