DC memorial day weekend

Well my darling and now official goddaughter has now been baptized, confirmed and had her first communion. Those Ukrainian catholics do not fool around, it gets done all at once though not quickly. It is a lengthy ceremony with several parts during the service. It includes total immersion and three blessed oils and a presentation at the alter and stuff at the church door and stuff I can't even remember

Kat was so good, it was remarkable. It was quite the challenging weekend for such a little person but she got through the heat, humidity, her first food, tummy upsets and all. The love and devotion lavished on her by all of us probably helped.

It was so nice to see some of my family even for such a short time. It was really nice to be in a big Eastern city again. The weather was not very nice but I was expecting hot humid weather so it didn't disappoint. Really everything went amazingly well, even the glitches got taken care of somehow. We never made it to the Smithsonian but since I was there less than 36 hours that wasn't much of a surprise.

I loved the townhouses, each painted their own colour. I loved the metro system, I loved the hills and the walking. The food was good as well. The hotel was expensive but quite lavish for the price. I missed Rome the last big city I visited.

I have to say I love being a godmother and I bet it just going to get better from here on out.

fresh fava beans

In my quest for seasonal eating I have been reading several cookbooks. I want to be more engaged in my meals and appreciate my food. Get off the whole buying out, eating automatically tilt a whirl. Several places I read mentions of fresh fava beans a spring time delicacy. I read that they took some effort to cook, but the writers all claimed they were more than worth it. I noted it was spring now, but went no further.

Then at the coop this weekend there they were. Great big pods with a sign beside them 'fava beans' and I knew the moment had come. I bought a big bag and cooked them up.

The commonest recipe [even in the Silver Spoon] seems to be making a puree out of them and eating with bread. So after I shelled them, blanched them, iced them and skinned them that is what I did. It was fine, but worth all that work, I don't think so. They were more work than pitting cherries, more work than the homemade meatballs I also made today, but not worth it in my opinion.

Perhaps like so many fresh beans [and peas] the best thing to do is to pop them raw directly into ones' mouth. I have never been a Lima bean fan either so perhaps that's why I found them just ok. So my quest for newness satisfied I don't think Fava beans will be reappearing on my plate any time soon.

wallpaper, weather, and ticks

There you go the 3 things that encapsulate our cottage experience currently.

There is a wallpaper border in every room and the whole bathroom is wallpapered. Being an old hand at wallpaper removal I was not daunted. I bought a circa 1905 house in 1989 that had wallpaper in every room, including some ceilings. Here it was mostly just borders so I started pulling and scraping with a light heart.

These are borders with the strength of 10! I did a pitiful few feet of border removal with bucket and sponge, it took hours. I returned last week with a friend's wallpaper steamer, this helped but it was still hellish and slow. All of the LR is done. I view doing the bedrooms and bathroom with some skepticism. I think it's all going to take longer than what we hoped. I have pictures of the border that is now gone. I think most will agree it had to go!

The weather was rather gloomy most of the weekend. It was absolutely beautiful when we had to leave. I have heard that this is common and something to just get used to...but really it was uncanny. You start to pack the car, walk down to the lake to say good bye and out pops the sun. It feels 10 degrees warmer and it makes leaving for work stuff just that much harder.

The ticks are one thing I don't mind leaving behind when I am not at the lake. They are out full force and we tick check each other every night. Since we are in a Lyme's disease area we even put Frontline on Rosie, but we still find the occasional tick on her. It is really something and I am such a bug wimp.

Two quotes to share. From a Mother Earth article:
"the only good spider is an outside spider".
and from a sign:
"Unattended children will be given espresso and a free puppy".
I stood for 5 minutes laughing after I read it.

bear possibilities

So... there are bears in the area of WI that we have our cottage. I wasn't surprised exactly, in fact there were bears in Pepin county several hours south where I used to have my farm. But since I never walked around much in the woods down there and we and our neighbors never had any bear sitings I didn't worry about it much.

We met more neighbors while at the cottage this past weekend. They showed us over their lovely house with 2nd story deck, no staircase to ground. She warned me to bring in all bird feeders overnight if I had them. They had a bear up on their deck one night munching at the feeder. 'especially this time of the year in the Spring when they are really hungry'. She said a lot of people bear hunted in the area. She also shared all kinds of great information about local snow mobile trails that are great for xcountry skiing in winter and walking in the warmer months. She told me about a loop, that is called the Hanson loop right off of our road that people used for walking. She gave us a lot of great information.

I don't have bird feeders so I mentally noted the information about the bears and forgot about it. Then Cervyn and I went out for a walk trying to find the loop. I think we did find it. We found a path that led us back through the woods. The trees up there are just starting to bud, it was super quiet and pretty and suddenly I thought 'what if we met a bear back here?'. Realizing there wasn't a whole lot that I could do, and that calling 911 in this case was useless I picked up the pace and tried to enjoy my walk. Surely the neighbor wouldn't be so enthusiastic about hiking if there were tons of bear encounters. I tried to observe Cervyn, she may be deaf, but her nose is certainly sharper than mine and I tried not to think about a bear being downwind of us. I realized it's harder to not think about bears when you are in the woods.

monday frustrations

It's just been kind of a frustrating Monday. I thank the goddess I got to work from home today so that I could do any eye rolling in private.

Let's see the dates for the India trip are still not finalized. The lead at the meeting didn't seem too concerned still plenty of time [to buy plane tickets] It did not seem to occur to her that perhaps some of us have, well lives and lots of duties and people outside work that we need to plan for and around. I may need to send her a gentle nudge via email.

I got a very strange phone call that turned out to be legitimate but the caller was so overly friendly in a cold sales call [or scammer] way that every alarm went off for me. [kind of funny to be suspicious of friendliness but I hope you know what I mean] I told him I would have to verify who he was and hung up the phone. Going by my cell phone log he had called before but never left a voice mail message which also seems very unbusiness-like to me.

I was able to verify with my insurance who he was, but you know I wouldn't have had to do it if they had told me in the first place that they wanted to inspect the wood stove at the cottage. Still I am glad to know he wasn't some scammer trolling for information on me.

A co-worker got very agitated when I asked her for information. She was very pessimistic and upset, though since none of the decisions were made by me, I bore no blame. But I spent a lot of time and emails trying to soothe her down and find out when she was going to be able to complete the tasks I told her about months ago and which are now due in 2 weeks. Perhaps she was just defensive because she totally forgot what I had said many months ago and it came out kind of sideways. Just another reason to be happy that my lead returns from maternity leave next Monday. I can't wait.

Well the other frustrations are even more petty so I won't immortalize them, instead I am off to the local nursery to find some things to plant! And maybe make some risotto. More reports later.

Lettuce can be funny

I think I have mentioned how I have been planning a very modest food garden. Did I also tell you that I have only ever planted flowers and herbs from pots in my life? And that I have never successfully started something from seed [and only tried once]?

Anyway, in order to make my attempt small and manageable, thereby increasing the chance I will actually do it, the only things I have planned to start from seed are the ones that can be sown outside and are known to be dead easy. Like say, lettuce.

So yesterday I prepped a small area of the garden for planting. Then I was ready to put in some easy bean seeds and bibb lettuce. I read the packages. For the beans: plant 1" deep, 2" apart, yadda yadda. Very clear. For the lettuce: plant 18" deep. My reading screeched to a halt. I get stronger magnifying glasses, yes it says 18". Huh. Can that be right? Then I remember I have no knowledge about planting lettuce so maybe it is. I know it likes cool weather. I check the package several more times. I go outside and start digging a trench thinking things like: 'well I'll go down 6-8" inches only" "I remember hearing about how peas are trenched" "surely there is a typo on the package" "I am so going to look this up on the internets later" and finally. "this cannot be right" I pick up the package one more time and I see next to 18" (3mm).

Ok I am not a child of the metric system but I know that 18 inches does not equal 3 millimeters. I then realize that the package must say [or meant to say] is 1/8" whether I can see the slash or not. I fill in the mini trench laughing and put the seeds underneath a tiny bit of earth [3mm]. We'll see what happens in 7-10 days. Please cross your green thumbs.

Water Works

We did it! Ok I did it. The water in the cabin has been turned on, and aside from slight flooding in the utility room [which was totally my own fault] it is working great.

I even got intimate with the hot water heater and figured out how to light it. It is amazing what a bed and running water does for a girl. It also made me feel a boat load of gratitude. There are how many people on the planet who don't have running water? Tens of thousands, millions? Mind blowing. They have no choice and they live their lives and ... well let's just say a big boat load of gratitude. We are fortunate.

The weather was decent. The wall paper borders are adhering with ferocity. A lot of primo work was done on the steps to the lake and a railing added. The ticks are everywhere, and yes it is in an area where there is Lyme's disease. Lots were pulled off the dogs, even the dog who had the frontline. We ate out 3 times! in 3 days. It's really hard to cook meals when you kitchen is barely set up with essentials. I don't know that May is going to be a bid sucess as far as 'no eating out'.

And then there was the spider. It was big and surprised me in the bathroom at a vulnerable moment. I could joke and say it was the size of a chevy or a kitten. I could be more accurate and say it was the size of a field mouse. But when I tell people it was the largest spider I have ever seen outside of a zoo, that seems to convey just how big it was. The conscious part of my brain was totally bypassed when I saw it and I went into flight mode and fled the bathroom, speechless. She [I assume] is no more. I am not proud of this. I ask all spiders publicly to stay in the ample wooded area surrounding our abode not in the house and then we can all coexist.

creating recipes

I love to cook, most times. Then there are times where I dread the idea of shopping and preparing another meal, but usually my mostly Italian upbringing holds and I turn to food for many things. Comfort, celebration, union and on and on. I am not saying this is always a good thing, I am just making the observation of what I do.

I had two food triumphs yesterday. First, I made risotto for the first time. I love risotto when well made and I don't find it on many menus and even when it is offered it may not be good. When we ate out last Thursday I was dismayed to get a bowl of 'risotto' swimming in a pool of broth. It was edible and it was for charity but that's all I will say.

This is not a dish that I grew up eating [my family is southern Italy] but I enjoyed it several times when I was in Rome last year. Knowing that the anniversary of our Rome trip was coming up whetted my appetite and I bought the proper type of rice. I read up about it in the Silver Spoon. Yesterday my wife got some bad news and I wanted to show my support, I had all the ingredients and I made some then and there. It worked! It was yummy and I think it cheered her a bit.

I can't wait to eat the leftovers, even though I know they won't be as good as they were fresh. I won't give a recipe here since it was very basic and you can find a risotto recipe anywhere. But it was wonderful. I look forward to making this again.

Then I made blondies later. I was wanting something sweet, always a failing of mine. I wanted to use ingredients I had on hand. I wanted it to be quick and not fussy. It also had to be adaptable to whole wheat flour and alternative [not artificial] sugars. I have been reading How to cook everything vegetarian by Mark Bittman I found his blondie recipe and then modified the recipe a lot. I am so pleased with my version that I share it below.

These blondies are made with palm sugar, my current favorite sugar. I bought mine at a local "asian" market. [4.4 lbs for $4.99] I used the thick paste version here. Palm sugar has mild, bit caramelly sweetness compared to the highly processed cane or beet sugar. The biggest downside is that it is certainly not local. You could probably make these blondies with local maple sugar, but then the sweetness will be greatly increased. Since I am so sensitive to sugar I choose to use the palm.

Aside: Why aren't there more cookbooks, good ones, highlighting whole wheat flour and other natural traditional sugars out there? Why not use the most nutrient rich ingredients available? Do I have to write one myself or what?! Just for the record for those who don't cook much there are very very few things where you cannot substitute WW pastry flour for white flour or palm sugar [or maple, agave] for plain white sugar.

Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8x8 or 9x9 square baking dish.

melt over low heat:
8 oz unsalted butter

mix with:
1 c palm sugar [scant]
until very smooth

mix in:
1 egg [room temperature]
1 t vanilla extract

stir in a
pinch of sea salt
3/4 c chopped pecans

lightly stir in
1 c WW pastry flour

spread into pan and bake for 20-25 minutes. It is better to slightly under bake than over bake these. Do your best to cool on a rack before cutting and Enjoy!

the no eating out -month 1

I wrote about my brilliant idea about a month ago. In order to save the money for a plane ticket to India we would only eat out once a month for 3 months. I also confessed how the first evening I was already whining, complaining , having some difficulties. The first month is over so here is my report.

First a rule I don't think I shared. We only agreed to limit our eating out with each other. If we were out and the other was not present then the agreement did not exist, although we could certainly curtail our eating out with others. This was because most of the time we eat out together, so just shutting that off would be a lot. Also sometimes it is hard to make other friends agree or understand the weirdness, so it was just a thing between us.

So back to the first month we failed in the strictest sense but did manage to basically change our habits so in that sense we won.

When we ate out:
-the weekend we closed on the cottage. Take out one evening and breakfast out. It was so incredibly stressful in other ways, and we didn't have running water which made cooking very challenging, well we gave ourselves a by.
-appetizer and drinks while out celebrating a good friend's recent homeopathic school [4 years] graduation. There was no way we were going to be there, so we compromised.
-gave in and bought a burrito one evening, in order to limit impact we shared it.
-breakfast up north while at the cottage, you know cause we had no water and we want to support local businesses and...we so caved.

We also ate out with friends on April 30 for Dining for Life. This was our planned treat. It was nice of us to let someone else pick the restaurant, that probably won't happen in May or June. We will definitely want to say where we are going.

This was a very successful month though we obviously did not do exactly what we set out to do. But we did eat out way less. I also feel like this made us really examine our urges to buy food out, something we were doing with out much thinking before. Certainly money was saved as well, which was one of the main points.

What I did: I allowed myself to freely say when I wanted to eat out, how I didn't feel like cooking or shopping and then didn't eat out. But at least I didn't pretend I was always happy about it.

You may be wondering: did they eat out more with others to get around this challenge? Nope, that did not happen. Although I was so desperate to see my friend and eat Indian food on Tuesday I made phone jokes in a bad Indian accent to get her appetite up.

So onto the May challenge! Since both of us will be going out of town at different times where a lot of eating out will occur I wonder if that will make things easier.

water and mailboxes

We only spent Saturday at the cottage last weekend. There were several reasons for this. The main one though was my wife, who is getting treated for allergies. Part of the treatment is avoiding the thing you are allergic to for several days after treatment. She is allergic to aspen and birch tree pollen and she got treated for this. Then she thought about our cottage, which stands in the middle of a birch and aspen forest, and realized staying a whole weekend up there was not the best idea. So plans changed. A bit disappointing but oh well.

We did do the most pressing cottage task. We put up our new mailbox and informed the post office that we did so. It was just another layer of 'wow, we have a cottage on a lake'. It's really a bit mind blowing at times.

We also got the green light from those who know to turn on the water system at the cottage. We didn't do this Saturday since we were there for such a short time, but it's wonderful to think we'll have running water the next time we are there. Scary as well, what if something leaks? Several somethings? What if that running water goes where we do not want it? Quite the little crap shoot the first time we turn it on and experience any and all issues that we'll be finding for the very first time. But still toilets can be beautiful things.

We also saw tons of people with their boats getting ready for the WI fishing opener. It like a whole different world up there sometimes.