Friday, November 19, 2010

A few of his favorite things

Yellow Wellies. 

Natty's old Disney Princess Roller-backpack

and his favorite of all....
Reading with Ta-Ta

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cooking a cow

Here's the thing: I was a near-vegetarian for 10 yrs. By that I mean I would eat meat if it was served to me, but I didn't buy it, order it or learn to cook it until my 30's.

I chose that lifestyle because of reasons that are still valid. Foremost, it takes 16 lbs of grain to make 1 lb of beef. That's a lot of food lost in the translation! And with so many people starving who could have eaten those 15 lbs of grain, it's a high price to pay for living on the top of the food chain. Additionally, have you ever seen/smelled a feed lot where cows live until they are slaughtered? I have. Gross. Not to mention my apprehension about overuse of antibiotics - any creature kept in such close quarters will be at high risk for disease so they are prophlactically fed antibiotics. Which contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Not a good thing.

Now that I've almost talked myself back into being a vegetarian, I'll tell you about the copious amounts of meat we eat. Murray has a partner who raises 2 cows a year (and taps the maple trees on his property. Therefore his house qualifies as a farm and he can take some tax writeoffs - sounds like a lot of work to me but it makes him happy). We bought 1/2 a cow from him last year and boy is that a lot of meat! We still aren't done with it.
This year we planned to split the same amount with the Greaters (1/4 cow each), but we still somehow got the lion's share of the meat. It is great meat - no feed lots involved and I dream it's a smidge lower on the food chain because they're somewhat grass fed. Finally I've come to peace with cooking and eating it.

But therein lie's the rub: Cooking it. When you buy a 1/2 cow, you're not getting 300 lbs of T-bone steak. You get a few of those (if that's the way you choose to get it cut - that's another story for another time) but you also get lots of things you haven't ever cooked before. Here's a romantic metaphor that helps me wrap my head around it: Cooking our cow is a bit like shopping at the market in France - you learn to imaginatively cook what's available. Isn't that a nice way to look at a freezer full of frozen chunks of red meat?

To be honest, I was really thrown into the proverbial fire back when we moved to Cordova 6 yrs ago. The first fall there Murray went out hunting with the guys and, when they came back with the deer, I was expected to help butcher it - hel-ooo! Former vegetarian! Don't know a tenderloin from a chuck steak! (On the bright side, wild game answers my philosophical issues with red meat. And, honestly I grew up eating a lot of moose so I have a taste for it.) Thankfully, our veterinarian/great hunter-killer and his amazing chef wife were there to talk us through the first deer. Once it was in our freezer I muddled through cooking it. My take home tips: 1. stew is great. Cook almost anything long enough in enough red wine and it will taste good. 2. Roasts are our friends. Sure, they take a long time to cook, but it's time in the oven - not requiring anything from you. 3. Find some good cookbooks and use them.

I'm butchering a deer with Natty on my back in Cordova - she looks thrilled, doesn't she?
Now that we've moved on from venison to beef (although Murray sometimes gets venison from patients too) I've gotten a few dishes under my belt; some I've made so often I don't need a recipe, others I've only tried only once. Most things have been a success. I still love stew. Now that we have a grill, I've learned to grill steaks and hamburgers (not rocket science, but a new skill for me). Pot stickers are our family's favorite way to eat ground beef, but they're really fiddly so it's a special occasion food.  And roasts still rock, if I can preplan enough to thaw one. Truly, buying meat like this has been a great way to expand my recipe repertoire. Barbequed brisket anyone? It's delish!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A few of my favorite things

I am not a gadget person - the more stuff I have means more to lose/break/wash/pick up. However, there are some things that bring me glee and/or are just plain convenient. I'm sure we all have them, some wackier than others. These particular favorite things reflect that I'm in a home improvement phase:

My glue gun - I recently broke it out for Halloween and had so much fun with it, I'm looking for new projects. I glued all the petals onto Natty's Sunflower hat, then glued ribbon around it to hide the unsightly petal ends. My working theory is that anything you want to sew, you might want to try glue-gunning instead. As Alexa and I were getting Sebastian's costume together, she kept saying, "I'll just sew that hem, those dots, etc" and I would say, "Well, let me try glue gunning it instead." I'm not sure if my enthusiasm was wonderful or appalling, but it got the job done.
Since I don't have a sewing machine, I am getting a lot more done now that I stopped saying, "I should sew that" and am going nuts with the glue-gun. (Obviously, for things that actually must be sewn (and they do exist) - sew them. Beg, borrow or buy a machine and go for it. Or wait until your mother comes to visit and takes pity on you and your children! I am blessed to belong to a family of very talented seamstresses. I, on the other hand, can sew if I must - it was a part of growing up, like learning how to set the table - but I would never seek out an opportunity.)
Caution: the tip gets VERY hot (think about it: molten glue.) and children must be kept out of the vicinity when it's plugged in. That's both a plus and a minus.

My paint sprayer - I splurged and got one this summer for my painting frenzy. While it won't bring world peace, it's a pretty nifty tool. I painted 2 bed frames and 2 dressers in 2 days (more or less). Pretty close to instant gratification.
To be fair, there's a learning curve you've got to ride and even when you have the technique perfected (mostly), the small-time model I bought can't handle everything. For instance, after the first coat of primer I found out I needed to re-prime the beds with oil-based Kilz to stop the bleed-through and I didn't attempt that with the sprayer because thick paint clogs it. It also wastes a lot of paint, and the clean-up is pretty intense. Nonetheless, I'm a fan. It's so fast! So, power-tooley! It looks so official and Murray will take the kids away for vast tracts of time while I'm doing it! Nice.
My paint sprayer/terrorist outfit
Yes, that is a dishtowel on my head and a surgical gown I'm wearing. My fashion sense is keen, no?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The British came

We just had a visit with our dear friends from London. How often do people promise to come, but it just never works out - All the time, right?
So it was especially great to have friends make the long trek across the pond with THREE boys (almost 2, 4 and 6 - yikes!). Murray took the 10 days off and we let'er rip.

Mystic, Sturbridge Village, Boston, Hartford, feeding the chickens, leaf jumping, cricket, hikes, ticks, wine by the fire, lots of chocolate, chasing the chickens, a bit of running by the adults (not enough though) and Halloween! I'm totally exhausted - it's the happy kind of exhaustion with no regrets (but I do have a cold).

The kids had a great time too - Natty is right between Max and Zach and the 3 of them had their ups and downs, but the downs were minimal and the ups were long and frequent. Such a relief - one never knows how/if the pack will run, does one?

For sheer fun to watch though, the babies won the day. (that's what we called them as we were managing the 5 - "We've got the Babies, can you watch the Big Kids?")

Those little guys were just plain adorable together. Two blondie-blondie toddler boys, harassing the rooster, tripping over their own feet, having spitting contests - it was priceless.

Obviously, that's Sebastian in the Halloween post's picture with Natty and Sam. Alexa and I thought the combination of bee and lady bug was pretty awesome.
Truly, the pictures do not do the fabulous cuteness justice. When they toddled, the bouncy suits wobbled and the antennae bobbled and the moms laughed until they cried.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Onward fearless decorator

In the year + we have lived in this house, Murray and I have done quite a number of projects. Yet there are still a few spaces that make me growl with irritation when I walk past.   The Nesting Place said there are 2 things you need for a project: inspiration and motivation. For myself, I would add one more thing: I need a deadline.

With the deadline of 3 boys and 2 adults coming for 10 days and the motivation of no sufficiently comfortable set-up for them, I took on one of my nemesis rooms. The "blue room" (aka the small playroom) opens off of the dining room and is part of a "loop" from the dining room, library, office, blue room and dining room again. I'm a big fan of household traffic loops when you have small children. But this one is not optimal and I wasn't too upset about breaking it by making the blue room into a guest bedroom (it has a bathroom attached) because, let's face it, there is plenty of room for kids to roam in this house. 
Here's what I was replacing: 

I wasn't particularly inspired, but felt that if I just got started, inspiration would strike. I initially planned to paint over the wall paper, but when I got out the trusty TSP to wash the walls, it became painfully clear that I should remove the paper. Which I really, really didn't want to do at first. Then I started and it peeled off in big strips and was hugely satisfying.  (Not to Natalie though. I had neglected to tell her of my plans and when she came home from school and saw what I had done, she burst into tears. And proceeded to weep every time she walked into the room for the next 3 days. Oh well, when she has her own house she can make her own decorating decisions. And she does have some input because she convinced me to paint it blue instead of green).

Unfortunately, removing the wall paper did leave behind the glue. Looking at that, I knew I had a job on my hands. I didn't know how to get it off, so I googled it and got a few techniques to try. First one: baking soda and water. It got the glue off all right, but really did a number on the underlying wall paint/stuff as well. It could be that the wall that I used it on was the external wall ("old house" plaster) and different than the others - it was the touchiest and the one I struggled with the most. Next up: vinegar and water. OK - just as good as the first, and didn't mangle the undercoat. Third option: Chomp, a wallpaper remover which I had had all along but hadn't bothered to try (?!?). I used it on a small, new wall, (so the experiment design had some flaws), but it was the best. They all required serious elbow grease but the Chomp will be my first choice next time. 

By now the clock was ticking. I started the project 10 days before the Thurs night I planned to have guests sleeping in the room - the walls were finally ready for paint perhaps... on Tuesday? Cleaned, spackled and primed. During that week we had house guests for 2 nights and on Tuesday we had to go pack our 1/2 of a cow - oh joy - so it's not like I was sitting around ignoring my glue splotched walls.

Paint choices - blue was the color that would make my weeping angel happy, and I'd had such good luck with my previous mixing, that I visited our paint storage shelf again. Not such instant success as before, but eventually, I found something I liked. Darker than I'd have thought, but I wanted it grown up, not a bright, child's playroom primary blue. Painting the room was quick, clean up a bit longer, and then it was time to pay a visit to Homegoods. 

Lamps, pillows, quilt - and a bit more, loaded in my car (I did this with both children on Wednesday night - that's what a deadline will do for you).

Here's the finished product. Except not quite finished. But good enough that I let our friends sleep there! Any ideas? Opinions?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween photos

Natty and Sam - quite a pair! 
Natalie the Sunflower with her two helpful bugs - Sam the Bee and Sebastian the Ladybug ("Ladybird" in English english)
Setting out, with Max the vampire and Rori the Monarch butterfly. Batman Zach, Hunter Ian and Superman Cal are already far ahead - they had no time for a photo shoot when candy was waiting!