Saturday, July 30, 2011

That is Some Pig

Some time ago, an idea crept into my head that I should try to cook a whole pig.  In bits and pieces, mind you, not a whole luau apple in mouth sort of thing.  I recruited a friend to assist me in this venture; we would buy a whole pig, freeze it, and then slowly cook it all over the course of a year and experiment with new techniques and recipes.

It seemed a good idea at the time but this friend of mine is always busy and switching from project to project to project and in the end I knew it would probably be me doing it and it would be a little too much.  For starters, I would need to buy a stand alone freezer.  So the idea was pushed to the back of mind.  It would come up every so often at dinner parties: "I had this idea to...." and that was as far as it got.

But just a week or two ago a friend of ours mentioned she was splitting a pig with another friend of ours but she was worried it would be too much for her or her freezer.  What could I do but step in and volunteer to buy half of her half?

Well, our little quarter pig became reality and we went and picked it all up today.  Turns out it wasn't that big of a pig after all.  Poor thing had lived a good life on a farm in a field on Lopez Island but had suffered from a hernia.  That's right, a hernia.  How does a pig get a hernia?  Answer: Forgetting to bend at the knees.

They had to slaughter him.  (No hernia surgery for pigs.) 

Our share: ribs, stew meat, chops, neck meat, butt, tenderloin, belly, and roast.  The neck meat is the only thing throwing me for a loop right now but I will come up with something.   I am thinking to cook up some ribs tonight.  Now, a quarter of a pig seems just the right size.  Maybe if this all works out I will do my Cooking the Whole Pig by myself . We'll see!  Our friend Howie nicely chopped this one all up for us.  I have a feeling if I buy a whole one that it will be up to me to butcher it.  Not sure I am up to that task.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Like Little Pillows of Sweetness

I first made marshmallows from scratch nearly 2 years ago.  I haven't thought to make them since but my sister and her family are in town for the month and my niece wanted to see how they were made. I had casually mentioned one evening while we were roasting marshmallows at my dad's house that I had made marshmallows from scratch and she became obsessed with the idea.  So I had her over for a sleep over and we made marshmallows and dunked them in hot chocolate while we played Sorry.  Overall, a very satisfying evening.  (Or rather, I made marshmallows and she watched.)
Many people are mystified by candy making.  The whole candy thermometer, soft ball stage thing can seem a little weird at first.  If you are interested at all, read my original Making Marshmallows From Scratch post. They don't take long at all and they really impress people.  Also, they taste way better than those stale, plastic tasting ones from the grocery store.  Like little pillows of sweetness.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yard Beautification

This post could have been titled:  How to Make an Ugly Yard Look OK.  I don't think this is ideally how I want my yard to look, but when a free source of wood chips came into my life, I jumped on it!

It all started with some friends of ours moving.  They have a lot of boxes right now.  And then another friend is a source of all these wood chips.  So. I put 2 and 2 together and came up with finishing the back yard.  Here it is all covered with plastic.  We suffered from truly horrible, invasive weeds and covered the whole spot with tarps and plastic for the past 2 years to kill everything.

It was truly awful and shabby looking.  I really hated it and spent most of my time ignoring it.

The side yard was looking slightly better, but barely/

So I spent 2 days working and now have a very sore back. I started by weeding everything.  Then I carefully overlapped the cut apart cardboard boxes that we had diligently removed all the tape from.  Then, I wheel-barrowed in much of the 6 yards of wood chips we shoveled into my dad's trailer and had dumped in the alley.  (Two trips in the trailer, mind you.)

This whole side is naught but shade and dandelions, so the wood chips will work well. 

I am really liking how the back looks.  Okay, after blue tarps, anything will look good, but I love the path I put in and the focus of the Ginko tree.  I love my Ginko tree.   Also, in the background are 2 small blueberry bushes.  They may be small this year, but they both are getting fruit.  Hopefully they will grow more next year. 

 This bit is right by the deck.  Now I have to finish the veggie garden and start on the front. 
As we were telling our friends that just bought their first house, it really is a never ending process and maybe too expensive or too much work for some.  But I would never give up my own yard or space for anything.  Ask me again this weekend after I have spent another 15 hours or so and I may be singing a different tune.  For now, I am content.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What I Ate: Black Bean Soup

I don't make black bean soup that often; it requires foresight of soaking the beans and I am usually a spur of the moment sort of cook.  But it was a little cool yesterday and I knew I was going to be working in the yard all afternoon weeding and then laying down cardboard and wood chips so I was able to get the beans soaking in the morning.  I let them soak for about 6 hours and then cooked the soup for a little over 2 hours.  It worked out perfectly.
Black bean soup can have many variations but I stick to a simple recipe.  I just cook up some onions and peppers and cumin and then throw in whole, peeled garlic, black beans, and stock.  Then I let it cook for an hour and then add a can of whole tomatoes in their juice and a can of corn and cook for another hour.  Then I puree it all with my immersion blender.  Now, that is some okay soup, but nothing to write home about.

The trick is in the condiments.  I like to top it with chopped cilantro, parsley, red onion, jalapenos, and a big dollop of sour cream.  
We just went and shoveled into the trailer 3 more yards of wood chips so after I finish my coffee it is back to the grind and then more black bean soup for lunch.  But the yard is going to look fantastic!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Making a Shrinky Dink Statement Necklace Part 1

 I've worked with Shrink film in making jewelry before but mostly I just made pendants or key chains.  My friend Kimberly made a pretty awesome leather, wood, and gold wire statement necklace the other day and it inspired me to make another statement necklace myself. (A girl can never have too many statement necklaces!)

Several different brands make "shrink film"--don't worry about finding the Shrinky Dink brand if your local craft store doesn't carry it.

I started by covering three sheets with free hand circle designs with black Micron pens.  Draw on the rough side of the film.  Sharpies work well too.   Make them big.  These will shrink over 50%!  I think I could have even made these a little bigger.   Next I colored them in with permanent markers although the markers smudged quite a bit all over my hands in the process!  Note: If you are not satisfied with your drawing skills, you can always print out a design and lay the shrink film on it and trace it.  Some people print on the sheets but I think that looks too commercial.

Next, carefully cut out the shapes with scissors.  Then punch holes with a normal paper punch.  If you forget you can drill them later but that is a pain when a hole punch is so much easier.  

Preheat oven to 325F.  Lay out a brown paper bag or parchment paper on a cookie sheet.  Lay the cut out and punched shapes color side up and make sure they aren't touching or they can fuse together.  Bake 1-2 minutes.  Pieces will shrink and curl up and then lay flat again.  Give them about 30 seconds after they have gone flat.  Pull out and use a piece of brown paper to flatten the ones that are still curled.  Sometimes they stay a bit curled and I don't mind with the jewelry. 

Note how much they shrink! The one on the right has not been baked!

I ended up with about 35 little discs.  

Next I will begin to lay them out and figure out how I want to arrange my statement necklace. 
Click here for my Making a Shrinky Dink Statement Necklace Part 2!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

I Heart Wine Parties and Potlucks

This month's theme for our wine group's tasting and potluck was Germany.  As you can guess, a lot of bottles of Riesling showed up at the party.  But other interesting wines like Lemberger and Müller-Thurgau made an appearance as well.  Once again, I really enjoyed drinking the wine, but I was more interested in the people and the food.  

Especially the food.  I decided to make soft pretzels and serve them with 3 types of mustard.  Now I know in Germany they actually prefer butter on their pretzels to mustard, but I like mustard. 
I'd never made pretzels before, but I make bread and pizza frequently so I figured it wouldn't be too hard.  And it wasn't.  The dough was much like a white bread dough but you cut it into little pieces and make the classic pretzel shape and boil it before you bake it.  I looked at a lot of different recipes but ended up using the one from Smitten Kitchen.  The only thing I changed was to double the yeast. 

These are really satisfying to make and fun for a group activity.  Below the ones on the right side have been boiled and you can see how they puff up after just a couple of minutes in the water. 

They are really quite cute!  The boiling water has 6 Tablespoons of baking soda in it to give it them the distinctive chewy crust.  In industrial bakeries, lye is used in the boiling water.  But lye is a harsh chemical used to clean drains and straighten hair and most home bakers just use baking soda instead.

Since I was making mini pretzels and they require a little more work, I recruited my husband to help me.  While I was boiling the pretzels, he was coating the already boiled ones with egg wash and coarse sea salt. 

Pretzels are best eaten on the day they are made and 31 of my 32 pretzels were eaten at the party.  (OK, I ate one at the house before we left for the party.)  I ate the last one this morning.  It was still good, but definitely starting to get soggy.  So make sure you have hungry mouths to feed before you start making these or make a half batch! 
Next month we are hosting the wine group at our house and doing something a little different by making giant batches of Sangria and requesting that everyone make Mexican food.  YUM!

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Dyeing Sort of Afternoon

I went jogging this morning.  A long run: 7.25 miles.  And yes, I count those .25 miles.  I had big plans to do yard work today but my legs sent me a memo that they needed to rest so I decided not to work in the yard nor lounge around either but get to work dyeing some silk scarves instead.
The Shibori Zebra scarves are done but the extra long plain ones are meant for greater things.  I will be covering them with wool to make some poppy nuno scarves.  I love dyeing fabric.  It is immediate and satisfying but with a twist of surprise in how things will look.  I just received a big shipment of silk so I will be dyeing, dyeing, dyeing, in the next couple of weeks!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cleaning Up the Mess That is My Life

This is the view on my desk of my new computer hook up.  And this was after I tried to clean and reorganize a bit.  That circular hub is a life saver; I found it in the check out line at TJ Maxx for $4.99 and it was money well spent.  I have four USB cords plugged into the back of my computer and then four more attached to this hub. 

I keep seeing all of these supposedly space saving cord organizers but I am not sure how that would work since all the cords are of varying lengths.  What you aren't seeing in this photo is also 3 more power cords stretching to the left across my desk to reach the power strip.  One day I will be able to have a wireless mouse, keyboard, screen, external hard drive, printer, camera, Ipod, wireless router, speakers, and headphones and then I will be a happy camper.  For now I have an extra large monitor to block it all from my view.

The Most Delicious Things in the World

The most delicious things in the world are often times the simplest and least adorned.  Like these perfectly ripe local raspberries.  I try to only eat berries when they are in season because the things you get in a plastic clam shell in January taste nothing like the sweet, juicy and tangy berries at the market today. 
My husband is on an overnight business trip so I don't have to share these and I am eating every single one all by myself and savoring each one as I go.  Yum.  If you haven't eaten any local raspberries yet this year, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Worthy Try to Get to the Mountain

This was the view from the van as we were eating a picnic lunch on our way to visit Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument last weekend.  Even though I have lived in Washington State my whole life, I had never been to see Mt. St. Helens in person.

I was just 6 when it erupted on May 18th, 1980, but it gave me a lasting impression of the power of the natural forces of the earth.

The weather was supposed to be clear up near the mountain, but we had to eat in the car due to pouring rain.

I thought it would be fun to take my nephew up to see it.  He lives in Dubai and even though he visits here a lot, he is not quite used to rain.  He only had a flimsy sweatshirt as a jacket, but he was a good sport.

We visited two interpretive centers: one outside the park, and one right at the Johnston Ridge Observatory.  A very cool, topographical map lit up with multi colored LED lights to show the flow of water, ash, and avalanche. 

The clouds cleared enough for us to get a quick peek at the mountain.  This photo looks pretty obscured but we could actually see quite a bit of it.  I think it must be gorgeous if the weather is clear. 

Inside the park a lot of the debris has been left where it landed.  Millions of trees were snapped apart and shredded like toothpicks.  
If you live anywhere near enough to drive and visit Mt St. Helens (It took us about 2 1/2 hours from Tacoma), I highly recommend the effort.  Funny thing about this trip is what is had made me think about once back home.  While the strength of a volcano erupting is pretty darn impressive, I was moved by the two movies we watched about the eruption and the people that lost their homes and/or their lives.  We can try and chase material things our whole lives and then it can be gone in just a few minutes. Food for thought.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I Love My (Fresh) Vegetables

During the summer I like to eat my veggies raw.   But I get a little sick of green salad.  Vietnamese salad is a perfect way to eat a lot of veggies with a lot of flavor, especially when you are sick of plain old salad greens salads.  This salad might look complicated, but the components are easy to make and can be prepped in advance and since you don't have to cook the veggies, it is faster to put together than a lot of meals.  It is also easy to adapt since you can use whatever you have on hand.

This recipe originally called for two types of pork, but I prefer thin, medium rare slices of grilled flat iron steak.  Chicken, shrimp, or tofu would work great as well. 

Vietnamese Salad with Flat Iron Steak
adapted from Quick and Easy Vietnamese by Nancie McDermott
For the steak:
1 flat iron steak, roughly 1.3-1.5 lbs
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 bunch finely chopped green onions

For the salad:
1/4 lb dried thin rice noodles, soaked in very hot water for 20 minutes  (vermicelli or linguini style can be used, just check soaking times)
Nuoc Cham dipping sauce (recipe follows)
Pickled carrots and radishes (recipe follows)
1 cup shredded cabbage
1/2 cucumber halved and sliced thin
1/2 can baby corn
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 jalapeno, sliced in half, seeds removed and sliced thin
1/2 cup peanuts or cashews

Nuoc Cham:
2 Tablespoons chopped garlic
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce
5 Tablespoons fish sauce
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in jar with lid and shake well.  Smash garlic first with side of knife for extra flavor.

Pickled carrots and radishes:
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
1 bunch red radishes halved and sliced thin

Combine water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in pan over medium heat.  Cook for 5 minutes or until sugar is well dissolved.  Transfer to cake pan to cool in fridge or (briefly) in freezer.  Once cooled, pour over carrots and radishes and mix well. 
Start by making marinade for steak.  Make crosswise cuts across steak to aid in marination.  Combine steak with fish sauce, brown sugar, oil, salt, pepper, and green onions and toss to coat.  Set aside while preparing other ingredients.  (OK to be on counter 30 minutes prior to cooking.  If marinating early in the day, put in fridge, but put on counter 30 minutes prior to cooking.)   Heat grill for cooking.

To cook:
Soak noodles in very hot water.  After 20 minutes, drain, and rinse in cool water.  Drain and set aside.

Prepare accompaniments.  I like to make the pickled carrots and radishes and the nuoc cham first so they have plenty of time to let the flavors meld.  Arrange shredded cabbage, cucumbers, baby corn, cilantro, jalapenos, and nuts on a platter.  

Finally, grill steak 5 minutes on each side or until medium-rare.  Slice thin on diagonal.  Can also be cooked in cast iron pan if no grill is available.  

The fun part of serving this dish is that you can let your guests assemble their own serving.  Start with noodles.  Add veggies and then top with meat.  Finally add Nuoc Cham sauce and sprinkle nuts on top.  

You will never be disappointed with this dish! 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Economic Gardening: Expanding Your Business

 The City of Tacoma has a wonderful resource called the Economic Gardening Program.

From their brochure:  Our program seeks to grow our local economy by providing businesses with the tools and training that they need to be successful in today's marketplace.

They provide one on one consultation along with free quarterly classes that teach you how to run a more successful business.  I have been to about 5 of these workshops.  They are hit and miss of course because they bring in different people to talk about different topics and not all of the people are the best speakers or the best organized.   For the most part I can walk away with at least a few ideas I need to make my business better.  And all sorts of people come to these classes: artists like myself, massage therapists, restaurant owners, professional organizers, retail shop owners, etc. so it is a great way to network.
Today's session was "Four Ways to Grow Your Business" presented by Audrey Godwin.  It was a little too business-y for my taste.  I know, I know, it is a business workshop, but when people start talking about "synergy" and developing "unique core differentiators" I start to zone out.  Why, oh why, can't people talk in normal speak?  A lot of people in the class were pretty shy at first because she just jumped into business-speak and then kept asking, "What, aren't you people awake yet?"  

Let me give everyone out there some advice about public speaking:  NEVER ask your audience if they are awake.  It makes them uncomfortable and afraid you are going to call on them when they don't know the answer.  So everyone looks down at their notes.  We think we are going to the class for her to tell us info;  we didn't know we were expected to bark out answers to things we might never even heard of before we walked in the door.  It was also tough because she was acting like we are all making $100,000 a year and knew how to map out sales forecasts and track conversion rates at the drop of a hat.  

I am making this sound like the worst workshop in the world.  She did eventually cool it on the "Are you all asleep?" question and the class got better after she gave us some worksheets to fill out.  I took away a lot of ideas for putting together a marketing plan and catering my different products to their target markets.  I am excited to implement some of my new ideas.  I also might have found a shop to sell some of my products in. 

Whether you live in Tacoma or not, if you own a small business, you should definitely look and see what free resources your city offers.  I am very surprised more people don't turn out for these classes! 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I've Got My (Taxidermy) Eye on You

I just received these taxidermy eyes in the mail.  I bought them on Ebay.  I don't really like to bid on items and freak out over bidding wars.  When it comes to supplies, at least, I like to buy things that have a "buy now" button.  When I first started using Ebay I was very excited over bidding, finding special items, etc, but luckily I kicked that habit.  (I still have a whole bunch of fabric I "won" and never used.)

Anyways, I thought it would be fun to try and use these little eyes in my needle felting.  They have wires attached to them so that I can twist it or loop it and needle felt it into a critter.  Haven't thought of what to use them with yet, just thought they would be fun for some experimenting.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bead Show Goodies

I went to a little bead show at the Tacoma Convention center this weekend and brought home some goodies. These red beads are called "Red Velvet" and they really do look like velvet.  Those black and white polka dot beads are lampworked glass.

None of this stuff I actually need of course, but I gave my self a $60 limit and spent $57.

These little caps are inspiring me to make a big fancy statement necklace.  

And these big hooks, far more than I will ever get to, have such a nice weight and feel to them.

This Afghani bracelet is by far my favorite item.  These are all old coins.  I am going to take it apart and use them in necklaces.  
Bead shows are dangerous!