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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sausage Fest

What do you do when your husband plops 26 pounds of pork into your shopping cart at Costco? You roll your eyes and then you go home and make a lot of sausage!

A couple of years ago my dad and I decided to try making a breakfast sausage, like Jimmy Dean. (I personally looooooooooooove Jimmy Dean: it reminds me of my grandma and her wonderful Southern cooking. Whenever I smell it I think of her in the kitchen, baking homemade biscuits, stirring a pot of grits, and frying up eggs for a hearty breakfast. The best days start with crumbled sausage mixed into a serving of buttery grits. YUM.) My dad bought country-style pork ribs at Costco for about $2/pound, which we ground using a KitchenAid mixer attachment. We weren't too sure what seasonings to put in, or how much. Sage was pretty obvious and we just sorta added whatever we thought would be good: dry mustard, ground cloves, a little salt and pepper. The only cloves we had on hand were from my dad's college days (so they were from at least the 1700's right....?). Everyone knows that you should restock your herbs and spices annually, but my parents are "waste not, want not" folks so these cloves were a little, um, tired. We had to add quite a bit of the ancient cloves so we could taste them at all. The sausage was super delicious.

Then last fall we made another, larger batch of sausage with Dave. We'd run out of my dad's sleepy cloves and were left with a jar of whole cloves. Since my parents live out in the boonies it didn't make sense to drive all the way to town for more ground cloves. So Dave set to work grinding the whole cloves using the mortar-and-pestle. It sounds simple enough, but is hard work. (Adding an abrasive like a little salt or sugar in the mortar helps a lot.) In case you're wondering, freshly ground cloves are not tired: they are wide awake and spicy! Of course, we didn't realize their potency until after we'd finished the sausage. This batch of sausage was pretty potent, especially for my dad's sensitive taste, but Dave and I loved it. I think we finished our 6 pound ration within only 4 months.

The other day I realized that Dave and I didn't get sick at all this past fall and winter, which is unusual for us. I joked with my dad that maybe all those cloves in the sausage kept us healthy: we ate some every few days for breakfast and clove oil is an antiseptic (it inhibits the growth and reproduction of disease-causing microorganisms). Wouldn't that be crazy if our breakfast meat could prevent colds? We could sell flu-fighting sausage! Haha! In reality, getting plenty of sleep and having the type of lifestyle that allows us to sit down to eat a relaxing, hot homemade breakfast a few times a week is what really kept us healthy.

The pork Dave picked out at Costco this time was only $1.79/pound--the very low price resulted in the whooping poundage that is now in my fridge... Anyway, we decided to make half of it into my daddy's breakfast sausage and experiment with the other half. As you know from previous posts, we really like chipotle and Chipotle (the smoked jalapeƱo and its nameake restaurant, respectively). So when we got home I searched online for chipotle seasoning mixes and/or chipotle sausage recipes. Half the experimental pork was mixed with a Southwestern chipotle dry rub and the other half was made into a Creole-style chipotle sausage. The latter one was about 1/3 vegetables: bell peppers, Serrano peppers, white and green onions, celery, garlic. Since I'm a vegetable freak Dave said it was definitely a "Julie sausage."

Our babies were on raw protein patrol while Dave cut the meat into little chunks to fit into the meat grinder:
First you grind the pork chunks, then you mix in the seasonings with your hands. Then you regrind it so the seasonings get really incorporated. For the Creole sausage, the veggies when into the grinder the second time, too.
The only way to test the seasoning while you're making sausage is to fry up little pieces of it and taste it. The breakfast version was so good that we made extra sure the seasonings were right by frying up two big patties. (It was scrumptious.)
To let the flavors develop, I rolled the meat up into freezer paper and let it hang out in the fridge for 2 days.
The easiest way to clean the meat grinder assembly is to run chunks of bread through it to push all the little bits of meat out. Then you just toss the meaty bread bits down the garbage disposal. Except that we don't have a garbage disposal...so we fed it to the dogs. I love having my pooches around because they happily clean up anything and everything that I drop on the floor. When I'm cooking and they aren't around I just stand there looking at the spilled food for a few seconds before I realize that I have to stoop down to clean it up. (We just don't give them too much and make sure they never get walnuts, grapes, raisins, garlic, onion, chocolate, or other doggie no-no's.)
video

After thoroughly scrubbing and sanitizing all the cookware and the kitchen counters, it was already after midnight. I collapsed into bed, only to discover that my hands were on fire. At least it felt like they were on fire--they were burning so badly. I quickly turned on the bedside lamp expecting to see flames shooting from my fingers. It was those darned Serrano peppers that I chopped up. I had to take an Advil just so I could fall asleep. Two days later I could still feel the capsaicin under my thumbnails.

Last night we put the rolls in the freezer for a few hours to let the meat harden so we could easily cut the rolls into patties. The patties were stacked into gallon freezer bags between waxed paper squares. So now we have 5 gallons of sausage patties to enjoy...I wonder how long these will last us? I have big plans for yummy Southern breakfasts, steamed collard greens with browned sausage, and spicy sausage pizza. The possibilities are endless...

Here are the recipes for making 1.5 pounds of sausage (which is much more reasonable than making 26 pounds...):

Daddy’s Breakfast Sausage

  • 1.5lb meat+fat
  • 1t salt
  • 2/3t mustard
  • 1t black pepper
  • ½t ground cloves
  • ½t red pepper
  • 1 ½ t dry sage (or double that amount if you're using chopped, fresh sage)

Creole-Style Hot Chipotle Sausage

  • 1.5lb pork+beef+fat
  • ½ each red, yellow, green bell pepper (roughly chopped)
  • 1 capful liquid smoke
  • 2 stalks celery (roughly chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic (smashed)
  • ½ medium yellow onion
  • 2 stalks green onion (sliced)
  • 1 serrano pepper (minced)
  • ¼ cups chopped, reconstituted dry chipotle peppers (or canned)
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil (chopped)
  • 1t black pepper
  • ½t salt
  • ½t garlic powder
  • 1/4t cumin
  • ½t chili powder
  • 1/4t cayenne pepper
Southwest Chipotle Dry Rub
(This would be good as a dry marinade on steaks, shrimp, grilled chicken...pretty much anything! We mixed 2/3 cup with 2 pounds ground pork.)
  • 1/3 cup chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons dried cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican oregano, leaves
  • 2 tablespoonsdried sweet basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon crushed/ground chipotle pepper

Monday, May 26, 2008

Knock Knock...Who's There?

One of our projects this weekend was to remove our icky-ghetto-crap-nasty front door. I've been yearning to replace it since we first looked at the house, before even buying it. Replacing a door seemed really intimidating at first--I didn't know how it was attached to the frame, nor did I understand what the frame was composed of. But while we were doing the flooring project, we exposed the frame when we removed all the icky casing around to replace it with pretty little rossettes and fancier casing. Once you can see what the frame looks like it isn't all that complicated.

Here are pictures as proof of the extreme nastiness of our original door:
We went to Home Depot on Sunday and picked out a nice door with a pretty window in it. My dad assured me that replacing a door and frame is "just as easy as making a huge wedding cake," meaning that in practice you just follow the basic directions: get all the ingredients, follow the recipe, put the biggest layer on the bottom, and the smallest on top. Doors from Home Depot do come with directions, much like a recipe. But like making a huge wedding cake, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. (I tried to make a wedding-type cake once, just for fun, and it was very difficult to man-handle the heavy pieces of cake into a respectable--and level--arrangement.)

Once we removed the old door (finally!), Dave gave me the go-ahead nod to start whacking away with my hammer and prying to my heart's content to remove the old frame. Boy, was that satisfying. There was 50 years of paint on there, plus all the dings and gouges that paint was trying to hide. We saw two colors of green (teal and olive...gross), white, and the graham cracker brown it is now. This house, as in other rental units we've lived in, has thick layers of paint peeling off of the door hinges in every room. Why why why do people simply paint over their hinges?! Ew, it is just so gross, trashy, and ugly. It is also an inconvenience to folks like me who try to remove said nasty hinges. In this case it wasn't so bad because I just tore off the frames to which they were attached. Normally, however, you have to dig through the paint with the tip of your screwdriver just so you can get to the darn screw grooves.

Everything was going fine as we dutifully followed the installation directions: we set the new door-plus-frame unit temporarily into the opening to make sure it would actually fit. (On a house this old you can't be sure everything is level and/or square.) It did, so we moved on by removing it and running lines of caulking on the underside of the new threshold, which Dave had already improved by adding a piece of redwood for stability. We placed the door back into the opening and then shimmed it in the correct places, in the correct order, as indicated by the directions. We checked and double-checked that everything was level and square after each shim was added. You'd think that'd mean our door was perfectly installed, right? Well, you'd be dead wrong.

After all the shims were placed and we had screwed most of the shim-spots, Dave decided to try opening the door, just to triple-check that everything was working right. You can tell from the look on his face that it wasn't working right (see next picture, below). He couldn't get the door open! He finally pulled it open only to discover that it wouldn't close again. The stinkin' frame wasn't square! Mind you, this is the frame that came with the door...it came around the door.

At this point we weren't sure what to do. It was visually obvious that the framing on the knob-side was not straight--it was bowed out like a cowboy's legs. We fiddled around with it by pushing it in towards the house, mimicking what would happen if we were to screw it down tight against the house framing. That seemed to do the trick, except at the top. We thought about returning the defective door, but frankly, it was 5pm on Sunday and we were just plain lazy. We'd already made a bunch of holes in it and had covered the bottom with caulking. It would be such a pain to explain this huge mess to the clueless Home Depot return clerk. We decided to try screwing it on really tightly against the house framing--failing that solution we'd just cut that part of the frame away from the rest of the frame.

Luck was on our side...it worked! We finally have a functioning and pretty door on our little house. On Monday we went back to Home Depot to buy solid wood exterior door casing and a bunch of annuals and shrubs for the front of the house. He busied himself on Monday afternoon with the casing, which oh-so-conveniently matches the indoor stuff, while I planted some more of the dirt patch my daddy and I created on Easter weekend.

Here's our pretty new door and casing, less a coat of primer and paint. Doesn't Dave do such a good job? His dedication to doing a good job never ceases to amaze me:
My landscaping--11 six packs of annuals, 3 shrubs, and a chartreuse stripped grass (just for fun):
Here's that wedding cake I mentioned earlier. See how it is sorta "off" looking? And I'm not referring to my cartoony icing colors.

Laid Off

In the back of our minds, we all knew he had it coming...

As of you know, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL, or more simple "The Lab") has been laying off a lot of people. When the new contract came into play, it was suddenly clear that it was running way over budget and the only logical way to avoid major problems was to fire a huge number of people. So far, I think there have been two lay-off events. The most recent one was this past week and it was based on a person's usefulness to current projects. My dad figured he had a 80% chance of being let go.

To ensure that the folks remaining on his projects would be set up for success, should he be fired, my dad worked in his lab every weekend for the last couple of months, finishing things up and synthesizing test materials. This sucked for Dave and me because we really wanted my dad to come up to Davis to hang out...and to help us on the house. (This isn't as selfish as it sounds--my dad loves sweat equity work.) He was supposed to come up with my mom for Mother's Day so we could celebrate and go on the cancer walk together. At the very last minute he had to call and cancel because he felt he had to get more work done at The Lab.

This past Friday I called my dad for advice on choosing a pressure regulator for my vegetable garden irrigation system. He wasn't there so I left a voicemail, not sure he'd even get it. I half-assumed that he was away from his desk being laid off. The night before he'd stayed in his office until 1am clearing out all his personal stuff to take home. The only items he'd left were containers of coffee, sugar, his mug, and spoon--his absolute essentials. After he didn't return my call by the afternoon I called him again. This time he picked up. He sounded very grim. He'd just been visiting his supervisor (Chuck Stevens) down the hall where he'd mentioned that he needed to call me back. He told Chuck, "I have to return Julie's call, but I don't want to spoil her weekend with the bad news about the lay-off."

Then he told me: "It really sucks, but I wasn't laid off." My heart sank. Our whole family was hoping he'd be fired this time. He's so close to retirement (he'll be 60 in January) that it would have been perfect: because he's been there for over 20 years he'd get to work remotely for 4 more months with regular pay, then get 5 months of severance, then his retirement would kick in. There'd be no lapse in benefits, no monetary loss, but lots of extra time for him to do whatever he wants. (Specifically, to work on his own house and to come hang out with us in Davis.)

While I was chatting on the phone with him, Chuck came into his office. He asked to speak with me. "Hi Julie. I'm really sorry about your dad's job. I know you were hoping for a different outcome. But we just couldn't let him go." I giggled, and told him I understood. (What's to understand? My dad is invaluable to The Lab. He's actually had sponsors in DC who have said they'd only pay for a project if my dad were working on it. I guess I should have known he wouldn't get laid off.)

The problem with my dad is the he's just too smart: every girl will tell you that her own daddy is the smartest man in the world. Us daughters are programmed to look up to our fathers. It is probably a genetic thing to protect ourselves from the dangers of the world: being kidnapped, dating bad boys, not going attaining our highest potential in school, etc. Unlike other girls, I'm the only one who's right: my dad really is the smartest. Or at least int he top 10 Smartest Daddies Ever list. Ask anyone. If you have a problem, call my dad for advice. He'll be able to outline the problem you're having and offer not one, but three options, complete with all the pros and cons of each alternative. (When his friends call for advice, he'll answer the phone by saying "Hello, this is Acme Diversified Specialties. How can I help you?") My friends Steph and Justin Pearson are the only people I know who can claim that their dad is also on the SDE list.

The project manager that he's been working for lately does a lot of his actual lab work at UC Davis since it is way cheaper to pay folks here than pay all the administrative people AND the actual lab techs at The Lab (bureaucracy sucks). So if my dad had been laid off, his PM would have simply moved my dad to the UC--which is yet another reason being fired had so much appeal. (Dave and I always fantasize about my parents moving up to Davis so we could see them all the time. I was hoping that my professor would be able to hire my dad to work in my soils lab. But that isn't likely since my lab is funded by CalTrans and CA is knee-deep in a state-wide budget crisis...but really, whatever gets him to Davis is fine with me.)

But, darn it, he has to keep on working. The next lay-off event will probably be summer of 2009. There's no telling how the atmosphere at the lab will change by then (I mean, how productive can The Lab be after losing half it's scientists?). He may choose to retire in January or just work part-time. Until then, Dave and I are stuck working on our house alone, making lots of calls to the Home Improvement and to the Troubleshooting divisions of Acme Diversified Specialties.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What a Trip

Our trip to NY was great--too short as always, but full of fun. I never go on vacation to relax; I go on vacation to do things I wouldn't otherwise be able to do at home. Dave dreams of vacationing in Hawaii (can you believe that neither of us have ever been there?!) so we can just lay around on the beach. Poor thing, he knows that would never happen. I'd have us hiking all over, exploring museums and small towns learning everything about the local history. This trip was no different: we went letterboxing the very first day, hit the mall, saw movies, went daily walks around campus, went on a riverboat cruise, attended a graduation ceremony and colloquy, drove to Massachusetts for a cheese class, and cooked a bunch. I also managed to watch several hours of the Food Network in high definition--it was AMAZING. Whew...it all went by so fast.
Ok...where to begin? We went back to Troy, NY last Wednesday so we could attend Edward's masters graduation ceremony. He received his masters degree in computer science. Since he and a friend started a company last year, my dorky little brother also received the Glenn Martin Mueller award for being the "most entrepreneurial." The awards ceremony was held on a riverboat cruise that puttered us down the not-so-scenic-but-very-industrial Hudson River. Edward's graduation ceremony was long (like 4 hours) but grand. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, which is our county's oldest technological university (it was founded expressly to teach engineering and mathematics). The day before the ceremony my mom bought Edward a fancy RPI diploma frame; right when we got back to his apartment after the ceremony we hung the diploma on the wall. I can't believe he has a masters degree--it is pretty amazing. I'm so proud of him! He already landed a position as an instructor/lecturer for introductory computer science. His first day of teaching was the Monday after graduation. Craziness...

About to graduate:
My favorite people:
Edward and I on "The Approach" steps at RPI, Mueller award in hand:
The first morning we were there I made us all trek out to the cemetery so we could try letterboxing. This is a treasure-hunt type outdoor activity where you use clues to find hidden "letterboxes"--little weather-proof boxes or baggies containing booklets where people like me can record that they found it by marking it with a personalized stamp. The boxes also have a unique stamp inside so you can record that box find in your own little booklet. The one we found was called Uncle Sam because it started at the iconic Uncle Sam's gravestone. My high school friend, Kaitlin, and her sisters introduced me to this activity. Although I've only found one so far, I'm definitely into it. (We spent a good 2 hours hunting around for another letterbox in a park near my brother's house on our last day. The clues were confusing and we finally decided that the groundskeepers probably threw the box away during last year's pruning. It was supposed to be inside a bush but the bush was stuffed full of garbage. Even though we didn't find it we had fun trying to decipher the clues.)

Dave is happy because he found the box hidden under the log:
Edward and Allison in front of a very cool house in South Troy:
The day after the graduation ceremony my mom, Emmy, Edward, Dave, and I drove to Massachusetts so the last three of us could take a cheese making class. Since it was two hours away from Troy, we spent the night at a dog-friendly hotel. Emmy was such a good girl and didn't potty in the room or bark too much. My mom babysat Emmy while we learned all about cheese. The cheese class was on Sunday from 10am-4pm, which seems like a long time but went by quickly. We learned to make Farmhouse Cheddar, Queso Blanco, Mascarpone, Whole Milk and Whey Ricottas, a quick Mozzarella, Fromage Blanc, Creme Fraiche, and Mascarpone. The best part was the we got to taste all the things we made, as we made them. For lunch, the instructor's daughter made a delicious lentil soup, salad made with local veggies, roasted chicken, and lots of appetizers using all of our cheeses. It was soooooooooo delicious! Of the 40 people in the class, only 6 were male (including the two I dragged along with me). We had to introduce ourselves at the beginning; my introduction went something like "I'm Julie, I'm from CA, and I'm out here in New England for my brother's graduation and I'm taking this class because I looooooooooooove cheese." Edward went next and said "I'm Ed, I'm the one who graduated, and I'm here because she likes cheese." Although I can't claim the same for the boys, I was deliriously happy during the class--I can't wait to try making my own cheeses here at home! I will probably make one of the soft cheeses this weekend. (I bought supplies for making goat cheese--my favorite--hard cheeses, and mozzarella. We didn't buy a fancy hard-cheese press since it was pretty expensive, so we're going to figure out how to make one ourselves. Until then, no hard cheeses for us.)

Stirring curds for our Farmhouse Cheddar:
Like every visit-Edward trip, I made sure to leave him with a huge supply of some sort of frozen food. Sometimes I make chili or braised chicken. This time I made EIGHT batches of tikka masala. His house smelled sooooooooooooo good and sooooooooooooooo much like an Indian restaurant when I got done it wasn't even funny. I made it super spicy, just like he and Allison like it.

Well, it is getting late and I should go to bed now. I hate not being on vacation anymore...it means that I have get enough sleep so I can pay attention in class tomorrow and be able to get my homework done. At least there's only one more day until our 3 day weekend. I can't wait...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Almost on Vacation

Yay! Tomorrow we fly off to NY to see Edward, Allison, and of course...Emmydoos (my brother's pooch). We can't wait! All that stands between me and the flight is finishing my statistics midterm and laundry. I'd so much rather focus on the latter rather than the former.

We also need to figure out how to program our new sprinkler timer and electronic valve system so our recently-planted veggie garden won't die while we're away. On Sunday afternoon we planted all those tomatoes, basil, parsely, dill, and onion plants that I grew from seed back in February. After all that work we came inside to relax and watch some TV. The forecast came on and it said it would hit 100 degrees by Wednesday. Holy crap! We looked at each other in dismay, thinking that all our back-breaking work could be dried to a crisp while we're in NY. Even with plenty of water I'm not sure those tiny plants can survive that sort of heat so soon after being planted. Keep your fingers crossed!

I had to give a talk yesterday evening in my foods class. The professor is a food chemist and an engineer so I was a little nervous about her high expectations. The class is physical chemistry and if you don't know what that implies, I promise you that you don't want to know. (It is basically the mathematics that explains all of chemistry--energies, motions of molecules, etc.) Unlike the other students in the class I'm NOT a hardcore chemistry student, nor am I an engineer. So this class is a little intimidating. However, it is my favorite class I've taken in graduate school because it is a challenge but so interesting at the same time. Overall I think I presented well. When they started asking questions it was tougher. The professor asked some very detailed questions about the energies of interaction between the polymers, the water, and the salt in the system. I had to cough up the equation and work through it. She seemed satisfied with my answers, even though she had to coach me through it a little bit. I kept thinking to myself "Why is she asking me this? This is NOT my oral qualifying exam, lady! Ask easier questions!" When in reality, professors assign presentations like this to prep us for our orals, and I do appreciate the opportunity to practice answering tough questions. (I hope I did well; I have a hard time "reading" this professor. I can't tell if she likes me or thinks I'm completely stupid. She said she wouldn't give us our grades until the very end because she tends to grade harder on the earlier talks. And I was the very first person to present...)

Anyway, now that the dreaded presentation is over all I need to finish is my stats midterm, which, like all our other assignments, is take-home and work-with-all-your-classmates type of thing. It'll be a long day of stats but I know I'll be able to do it.

Here we come, NY!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Breast Cancer Walk

This morning we participated in the breast cancer walk in Sacramento--our team, Divas and Doggies, had 13 humans and 5 dogs. Not bad a bad turn-out at all. This year I invited my friends, John and Jessica and their dog, Rudi. We all wore fake leis that I bought at the Dollar Tree so we'd match and look like a 'real' team. Even the dogs wore them!

Last year when we did this walk, we took Ruby and Potatoes, just like this year. But last year we'd only had Potatoes for a week or so. He was scared out of his furry little mind! He cowered between my legs and I practically had to drag him the whole time. And at each mile marker where there were people stationed to cheer us on, Potatoes was so scared of all the noise. Poor thing. Well, that was last year. Today he trotted along like he was the king of the walk. At in the Capital building gardens, a stupid squirrel taunted Potatoes by running straight towards him. He shot straight towards it, nearly yanking Dave's leash-bearing arm off at the same time. Since we were walking with the huge group of other walkers, lots of people around us saw Potatoes try with all his might to get that squirrel. The hooted and hollered with delight at what a good hunter he is. Haha. Later on by the rose garden Potatoes saw another squirrel on a low branch in the tree. Egging him on, Dave said "Oooooh, Taters! Get it!" And let me tell you, he tried: Potatoes jumped into the tree! Granted, it was a low tree and the branches came together to make a nice landing pad. But still! Dogs just don't belong in trees. Anyway...

All along the walk route there were police cars and motorcycles stopping what little traffic there is in downtown Sac on a Sunday. Since we were lagging at the very back of the crowd, at one point the police officer used her megaphone to tell us to move onto the sidewalk. Bernie was right to think that it wasn't appropriate--so she gave the lady cop a piece of her mind. She basically told her "Look, we can't walk any faster, lady, so stop bothering us. We have two breast cancer survivors here, one of whom is in surgery recovery! So I'd appreciate it if you would lay off us." And it worked, we weren't bothered anymore. Go Bernie!

We stopped at the rose garden to take some pictures. It made me so happy that my mom was so agreeable to having her picture taken with us; she usually hates it. I think her good mood had something to do with my buying her a selection of pink shirts to choose from. Since pink is the color of choice for breast cancer activism, I went out and bought Dave, my mom, and I new pink shirts last night. And by "new" I am only referring to my and my mom's shirts. Dave's never owned a pink shirt--but he does now! He choose the "manliest" one of the 4 I could find at the store. I chose 4 for my mom and I could tell she enjoyed trying them all on for me so I could see how each looked on her.
After the walk Bernie hosted a Mother's Day potluck brunch. I made a quiche and mini scones (lemon with vanilla bean glaze and cranberry-chocolate chip). My usual quiche is spinach and ham. This time I used beet greens (since I was too lazy to go to the store for a block of nasty frozen spinach) and mushrooms since Jessica is vegetarian so ham wouldn't do. The mushrooms were wild ones that we picked last fall up in Gualala. To preserve them we'd sauteed them in oil with onion and garlic and froze them in little jars. They are so tasty--I can't wait to go mushroom hunting this year.

Dave had a great time hanging with his brothers. Mike refused to act like an adult for a picture:
I just have to end this post by saying that Donna is nothing short of amazing. She had surgery only about a month ago, followed by a near death infection that landed her in the ICU. And today she had the courage, the strength, and the outright determination to complete the whole 3 miles of the walk.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Levie Household Staple: Cook Su

Tonight we had Cook Su for dinner. For our family this is a comfort food like no other. While serving as missionaries in Korea in the 1930s, my dad's grandma learned how to make this "peasant" dish. In the 1940s when my grandparents were married, my great grandma passed the recipe on to my grandma. Growing up, my dad made this often and we always looked forward to it.

Here is the recipe Grandma wrote for my dad. It is difficult to read, but one of the last steps says "Add garlic powder, ginger, and sugar--taste and if you think it needs any additional ingredients, add them." We always laugh about this, as if perhaps you might think it needs some jelly beans or mustard.
For my Christmas present two years ago, my brother's girlfriend, Allison, made me a photobook of all my grandma's recipes. She included pictures of her cooking and pictures of us as children with her. The recipes were mostly scanned rather than typed so we could see her handwriting. Allison, her mom, and my dad worked on it together in secret, searching the house for old pictures and recipes, then using my dad's high-resolution scanner to digitize them. It was the most amazing gift I've ever received. Thank you SO much, Allison! And of course, the Cook Su recipe is included.

This is a humble dish and it is perfect for left over steak or pork chop (we usually save some of our steak when we eat out at a restaurant since you only need a little bit). It is so delicious--I highly recommend that you try it sometime. Sometimes I add fresh slices of mushrooms or baby bok choy, although my dad balks at those "fancy" additions. To each his own...

Cook Su
  • 1-2 cups cooked chicken, pork, or steak, sliced very thinly
  • 6 cups chicken, turkey, or beef stock
  • 3 or 4 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2T sugar
  • 1/4-3/4 cup soy sauce (depending on how salty you like it)
  • 1 lb angel hair pasta or spaghetti, cooked and drained
Heat stock to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and add green onions (and option veggies like bok choy or mushrooms, if using). Cook until onions are tender, 4 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, sugar, and soy sauce. "Taste and if you think it needs any additional ingredients, add them." Add cooked meat and pasta. Keep on burner for a few minutes until meat and noodles are heated thoroughly.

My preference is to cook the pasta only halfway in a separate pot of water. Then I drain off most of the water and dump the noodles into the cook su pot to finish cooking in the stock mixture. This way the noodles have extra flavor. Yummy!

Study Buddy

These pictures hardly need any commentary, except to point out that I did not invite my darling boy onto my study chair. He invited himself and settled in for the duration (like 3 hours). Needless to say, I had a hard time getting any of my work done last night.

Why do I tolerate it? Because he's sooooo handsome that he just melts my heart. Really, who could resist snuggling with such a sweet heart who wants nothing more in life than to cuddle up against you?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Office Re-Do

After we finished the flooring and trim work in the office (about a month ago), we decided to move the futon into the office so that the old guest room could be used for sewing projects. This isn't as easy as it sounds: our office is super teeny tiny, perhaps 10'x10'. And we still wanted the office to be useful and not cramped. To accomplish this, I dreamed up this idea of doubling the oak bookcase that my daddy built for me in high school as a desk, too. We went to Ikea and bought a table-top and three adjustable table legs (oh my gosh, I love this store!). Dave cut the table top in such a way that the majority of it rests on a shelf. Because Dave loves playing computer games with Edward when he's visiting (almost as much as I love cooking for him), we made sure to make an "Edward spot" at the new desk. To figure out how much room we'd need for this spot, I sat at the uncut table top in my chair with my IBM laptop (Edward has the same one) and wriggled around until we were sure there was adequate room for some intense Battlefield 2 action.

While at Ikea we also purchased some nice oak shelves and pretty black shelf brackets (to match the black curtain rods, of course) where we can store all the desk paraphernalia that we used to keep in the drawers of the old desk.

The shelving holds my ghetto rotary-dial telephone that I got to keep when I helped our family friends, Sue and Carter Wreden, clean out her parents' house in San Francisco. I've been waiting to use this phone for the last few years; I have very fond memories of this type of phone from when I was a kid. Edward and I used to challenge ourselves by dialing an entire phone number while only keeping our finger in the "9" hole. We'd carefully line up the appropriate number hole at the stopper tab. (It's pretty obvious from this type of thing that we didn't grow up with cable television so we have to create ways to entertain ourselves...) Anyway, Dave and I just signed up for a land-line telephone; until now we've always just had our cell phones. It came free with our new, cheaper-than-Comcast internet service and we figured it is always better to have multiple modes of communication. When Bear was staying with us he slept in the office, and as most teenagers do, he tended to sleep in until the early afternoon. He grumpily reported to us that the rotary phone is a great alarm clock: the ring is so intense that it rattles the entire wall and futon. Haha!

Flooring Project Status: Done (Almost...)

It was only 3.5 months ago (January 20) that we began our back-breaking flooring project. We'd started out in the isolated dining room to see how things went. The Ikea oak laminate floor tile installation went okay so we decided to keep going with the same material throughout the rest of the house. The guest bedroom was done next (along with crown moulding), then the office (again with crown moulding), then the master bedroom (with extra fancy/romantic crown moulding), and FINALLY the living room and hallway. Whew!

Here are some before shots of the living room, sans furniture. That nasty carpet grossed me out...and then we discovered even nastier linoleum underneath the carpet by the front door--imagine those ugly tiles AND linoleum! Man, I feel sorry for this poor house...
While I was at work the other day, Dave and I were chatting on Gmail chat (I don't know how I'd get through the day without Gmail chat...) about his progress on preparing the living room for the new flooring. He said that he'd gotten all the tiles removed and had also prepared each of the 45 termite poison holes for patching. Being a dorky accountant, he reported to me that he estimated that he'd whacked the hammer 8500 times that day (with 10 whacks per tile, roughly 600 tiles in the living room, and 50 whacks required to chisel out each termite poison hole, and 45 holes). Double whew! When I got home that night he was visibly worn out. He didn't move his arms any more than necessary that night (except to change the TV channel).

His 2.5 weeks of vacation are over now, so doing the final touches on the flooring project will go slower now. We have yet to paint the door casings in our room, install any of the trim in the hallway (there are SEVEN doors in there!), and install all of the 10 transition pieces at each door way. Yikes. Plus in the living room we have 4 "outside" corners where we'll have to figure out how to properly cut/install the baseboard. Before we can install the crown moulding in the living room we'll first need to purchase and install the much-anticipated over-the-range microwave and its vent pipe. This pipe will have to breach the kitchen ceiling, which means making a big mess of drywall sawing above the stove. Then we'll have to fashion a drywall "box" to hide the ugly pipe above the kitchen cabinets. (We have textured walls so to make it look intentional we'll need to try to match the texturing on the box...what a pain.) And there's more: the kitchen ceiling is that ugly "renter white" color so I will probably want to paint over it before we do the moulding. And since I've been cooking in there for over a year it means that I will have to WASH my ceiling to ensure that the paint will adhere. (Wow, all this sounds so familiar: "If you give a mouse a cookie, then he'll want a glass of milk...") I'm seriously tired just from listing-out all those tasks...

Like most females, I am always wanting new stuff for the house, forever dreaming up ways to redecorate. And like most Levies, I am also addicted to books. In fact, for my 22nd birthday Dave bought me a complete 1976 Bicentennial edition Encyclopedia Brittanica set. That was 4 years ago and my book collection has only increased. Lately I've been ogling all the pretty bookcases at Ikea every time we go there to pick up more flooring materials. Dave was adamantly opposed to purchasing the ones I wanted since they are fairly expensive. I wouldn't settle for the cheaper, shorter ones because I like tall furniture. (This stems from my many years as a student living in renal units: for ease of annual moving and low cost, students never seem to have furniture taller than about 4 feet--or made of real wood for that matter. Since I'm finally married with my own house I really want to have "real, adult" furniture. And to me, that means tall and real wood. Unfortunately, that also means expensive.) Well, on Friday we decided to look on Craigslist for the millionth time to see if there were any good deals on solid wood bookcases. And--hot dog!--there were two available for less than the cost of one of those Ikea book cases. They are 7 feet tall (yay!) and solid oak. So yesterday morning we were off to Roseville with the trailer in tow. I think they look great with our new flooring. (And even after I loaded all my books onto the 2 new cases and the 2 old ones, there's still room for MORE. No that I need anymore books. Last weekend Dave threatened to put me on a "book budget".)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Instaurphiliac?

Two of my favorite things in life are storage solutions and organization. Few things make me happier than building storage spaces (cabinets, installing shelves in otherwise unused/non-useful places) and getting organized. I love rearranging everything from toiletry supplies and food to clothing and furniture so that it is more user friendly and orderly. (If they'd let me live in Ikea or the Container Store I'd move out of our house in second.) The last time I updated my resume I actually considered putting "organizing" in the list of my hobbies. As one of my stocking presents this past Christmas, my mom gave me a copy of the magazine "Organization". I was super excited...until I read through it and didn't learn a single new trick! I thought to myself "Well, duh! I know all that stuff already!" Dave wasn't sympathetic; he tartly suggested that I write my own weekly column for the paper on clever ways to get and stay organized. (Maybe I should do that...)

While I should be studying for my midterm on Monday, I'm actually sitting here at my desk dreaming up ways to get our living room to "flow" better by repositioning the 2 couches, giant redwood coffee table, and bookcases. We were going to sell the huge blue chair+ottoman from my "old becomes new" post but I didn't get any takers when I posted it on Craigslist. So we are toying with the idea of bringing it back into the livingroom (it has been under a sheet in the garage since--eek!--December).

I'm also procrastinating by creating a word to describe my infatuation with all things orderly. So far I have: instaurphiliac (from the latin root for storage: instaurare, meaning 'to store' and -philiac, meaning to have an--abnormal--affinity towards something, like being addicted to something). It is interesting to note that instaurare is also the root word for "restore," which I also love doing to old furniture. I could also describe myself as being addicted to organization, but that would yield a much less interesting word: organophiliac, since the root word for organization is "organ" like our bodily organs since they are "arranged" in a certain way.

Incidentally, we're almost done with the flooring project! Dave is at home finishing up the last few floor boards for the livingroom and hallway. While we were at it, we also purchased and installed another pantry unit at the end of the kitchen. Now I have SO much storage in there! I have an entire metal cabinet in the garage that is full of all the kitchen stuff I couldn't fit in the current cabinets--KitchenAid attachments, dutch ovens, conical sieve for making smooth soups, my 50 pounds of flour and sugar (I love Costco!), etc. Now I can put it all away in the kitchen, where it really belongs. Seriously, I wasn't lying in the first paragraph...

We bought our house a little over a year ago; when we moved in, one of the first things we did was to install more kitchen cabinets at the "end" of the kitchen. The kitchen was completely redone right before we moved in so adding more matching cabinets was as simple as buying them from Lowe's. We have a "dead end" kitchen (you can't walk through it) with a walk-way area at the end opposite the kitchen window. This space allows you to walk from the living room, through the kitchen, and into the dining room. Our Realtor told us that it is officially called an "eating area," a place where you put your kitchen table. Yeah, right! That space isn't very wide so your table would have to be up against the wall on one side, limiting the number of people who could eat there. So we just put a ton of new cabinets along that wall, which doubled our kitchen storage. (Yippee!) Originally, there were only a lone light fixture and a single electrical outlet smack-dab in the middle of the wall. (Honestly, who designs crap like that?!) We rewired the whole wall so we have both on-the-top-of-the-cabinet lights and under-the-cabinet lights, plus changed from two electrical outlets instead of one. Although we haven't gotten around to it, we'll eventually order a matching countertop for these cabinets. Right now we're using shellacked plywood. Here are some pictures of that spring 2007 project and what it looks like now with my snazzy new double-wide pantry.

2007: This is me installing an expansion to the light box (I don't know if you can tell, but I'm installing it backwards in this picture...I had to redo it later...oops). The kitchen is behind me. See what I mean about that area being too narrow for a useful dining table? There's the first pantry we installed, to my left. (And yes, I know my coveralls are very sexy.)

2007: All the cabinets installed (looking from the pantry-side):
Today: My new, extra pantry! Just because I could, I got inside. (Now that's PROOF to how much it can hold!)


All right, I'm off to Target to buy a dustbuster to suck up all the little wads of dog hair that are littering my house.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Few More Pictures

...more pictures from our morning walk along the airport runway this weekend:

Just Another Gualala Weekend

This weekend was a "Gualala weekend" for us; we took off on Friday afternoon to pick up 10 cases of bees (which amounts to no less than 120,000 busy little ladies) in Vacaville then headed north. Of course, we had to stop for our requisite In-N-Out meal on the way out of town. Conveniently for me, Borders books is near In-N-Out and I had just finished my latest book. So while Dave ordered our bugers and Neopolitan shakes, I walked over to buy myself a new book for the ride. (I love reading in the car.) Well, I ended up buying three books--Dave suggested that he might need to put me on a "book budget." Haha. I bought Marley and Me, Spook, and Naked.

We had to borrow my parents' Big Red Truck, Cliff, for the jaunt so we that we humans, the dogs, AND all those boxes of bees could ride comfortably up the coast. Well, it turns out that there really isn't enough room for two humans AND two dogs in the cab of the truck. Potatoes prefers to stretch out completely on the seat, leaving Ruby nowhere to sit but on top of him (literally). Otherwise, Potatoes likes to stand on my lap and stick his head out the window into the wind. Actually, he likes to stand on me even when we're in a normal car with an entire back seat dedicated to the dogs. We've just accepted the fact that Potatoes is just plain weird. Even with a lap full of canine, I was able to get through 1/3 of Naked by the time we pulled into Gualala. (My mom and Dave think it is weird that I can read in any moving car, let alone a car swerving up the coastal highway. They get super nauseous after reading more than 1 sentence.)

After dinner that night we hung out downtown at my brother-in-law's house, chitchatting about work, school, etc. It was nice and relaxing. We spent Saturday looking around my father-in-law's timber harvest area, where he harvested something like 20 acres of redwood, white fir, and douglas fir. There were burn piles from the day before still smoldering and smoking away. Potatoes walked straight through one of them; about halfway across he started walking a lot faster once he realized it was hot. It was really funny to watch (and his paws aren't burned).
Then we went down to the river so the dogs could swim. Unlike Ruby, Potatoes doesn't really like to swim; in fact, the only time we can get him fully immersed in the water to swim is when all his humans swim away from him. It turns out that he will also jump right in and swim like an Olympian when horses there are horses around. After we'd been there for a while, two horses and riders came down. The horses swam across the river, carrying their riders before heading down the river's edge for a nice walk. Potatoes sat there on the bank with us as the horses started into the water, contemplating what these huge animals were doing. Once the horses emerged from the water and started walking down the other side of the bank, Potatoes suddenly jumped up and charged straight into the water...then he tried to herd them. Ruby let us know how concerned she was that brother was over there; she whimpered and cried the entire time. It was sooooooooo funny. The riders were very understanding about herding dogs (folks on the northern coast tend to have border collies instead of other, less smart breeds). The lady rider let Potatoes run around them a bit before she and her horse swam back across the river, just to guide my weird dog back to me. The best part is, I got the whole thing on video. I apologize for the shakiness of the camera-- my uncontrollable laughter made it hard to keep steady:

video

After bathing the dogs, we suited-up to do some remaining bee work. Dave's dad and a friend had already hived the new bees that morning. Since new hives like this don't have reserves of honey to eat we had to put a jar of sugar water in each one. This is a super simple task, unless, like me, you're a small-handed gal who has to borrow gloves from her size XL father-in-law. My fingers only reached about 1/3 of the way down the gloves, making it almost impossible to grab small things. Each jar of sugar water has to be placed upside down on two small pieces of wood so the solution could drip out of the holes in the lid. I had to do place the wood in the hives chop-stick style and use two pieces of wood to scoot the jar holders into place. Right when we were done we headed inside to look through the Dadant catalog for some child sized gloves for me. I also told John (my Gualala dad) that I wouldn't agree to harvest honey with him this summer without running water in the garage. Last summer Dave and I spent 18 straight hours harvesting honey without running water in the garage. It was a pain to have to haul warm water from the house out to the garage where the honey extractor was. John assured me that he'd talk to the "water company" about installing a sink and mini water heater out there. Since he owns the water company, I expect I'll have my water in time for July's harvest. =o)


On Sunday we headed back to Santa Rosa for my great aunt Grace's memorial luncheon. The meal was at a strange hill-top Italian restaurant, whose building was Moroccan style. We heard funny stories about Grace, met some of her long-time friends, and mingled with my mom's side of the family. I don't really know that side of my family very well, so it was nice to see everyone again. Hopefully we'll be able to organize a Halliday family reunion thing in the next year along the coast someplace.


Before heading back home, my dad said he could use a cup of coffee. When I suggested the Starbucks just down the street, he grumbled something about wanting "good coffee." I assured him it is good coffee, just expensive good coffee. My dad has been known to boast about never having drunk Starbucks. Ha! I took a picture of him with his fancy frappuccino to document the occasion: