Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Beans and blame

I hate my Crockpot right now.

This morning, I put about two cups of dry black beans, a can of diced tomatoes, a big old smoked ham hock, a couple whacked-up cloves of garlic, a small can of diced jalapenos, some cilantro and cumin in there, added water to cover, and turned it on with the expectation that I could, you know, ignore it until shortly before dinner time, when I’d need to add some caramelized onions from the freezer and chopped up smoked beef steak from the fridge, nudge the spices a bit in the ‘chili’ direction (but not too far, because I don’t want to lose the caramelized onion flavor, because that would be downright criminal)…and maybe make some cornbread, because I’m pretty sure there’s an actual law that says you have to have cornbread with even faux chili.

BUT NO. I can’t ignore it. Because you know what it’s doing right now?

It’s sending this smell through the whole house. This insanely rich, savory smell.

It’s wafting up the stairs. It’s drifting down the halls. It’s curling up on the front porch like a smug, overfed cat.

There are still a whole lotta hours between now and dinner-time, and it is making me continually hungry this afternoon.

And I think the beans are actually probably getting close to done already, too.

It is entirely possible that I will have dinner for afternoon tea.

And then have it again in a few hours.

And when my jeans don’t fit right tomorrow? => I will blame the Crockpot manufacturers, because, uh…well…WELL, CLEARLY, they did not make the lid tight-fitting enough on this thing.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Garden Report: May 18, 2014

A lot has been happening in the garden this year; unfortunately, most of it is the kind of work that doesn’t necessarily show.

The bane of my existence right now is this.


Doesn’t look like that big a deal, does it. This is a pile of dirt that measures about 3’ high, 5-6’ wide, and 15’ long. It’s all the dirt excavated from the greenhouse site, and it all has to go somewhere else.

Happily, there really isn’t any such thing as too much garden-bed dirt. I’ll need every last grain of sand in that pile somewhere.

Unfortunately, this is not garden-bed dirt yet. I can’t just toss shovelfuls into the wheelbarrow, race across the yard and dump them into beds.

Well, I could, I suppose – but it wouldn’t do me a whole lot of good.

It is clay with a lot of trash in it (bits of concrete and broken glass from the original construction, the green webbing from the original sod, bits of broken plastic toys from its time as ‘support for the play structure’, etc.) and absolutely zero nutrients left.

So before I can dump it into a bed and start growing things, I need to tinker with it; sift out the trash, mix in things like finished compost, peat moss and vermiculite to lighten it up a bit and add back some nutrients.

It’s a lot of hard, sweaty, really dirty work. The kind of work that when you come in after a few hours of doing it and get into the shower? The water running off you is murky.

And it is slow-going. I feel like I’ve been doing battle with that damned pile for months, and it only just started to look like I’ve made any progress.

But that aside…what else is new? Well, we started a small orange grove in the front.

These are three different kinds of dwarf orange trees, each of which is supposed to fruit up at a different time of year – hopefully, once they get comfortable, we’ll have some kind of orange to enjoy for all but a few months each year. The one in the middle is trying to set some fruit, but I’ll be very surprised if anything actually comes of it – they’re still babies.

The horseradish has done its usual oh, is it spring? I’M HERE!

Of the five currants I planted, only one is still thriving at all.

The rhubarb made me so happy; I was 100% certain that it was completely dead. And then it was all, Nope, I’m still here.

This whole area needs a makeover right now; it’s a tremendous mess, but, it also suffered the worst impact from the damned gophers this year.

I started to pull out the poppies, but they were too pretty. Plus there was chamomile in there. And if the one wasn’t pretty enough, the two of them together are kind of swoon-worthy. So I left them alone. 

We’ve gotten a few artichokes this year, but I have to say: The plants are not doing too hot, overall. They aren’t getting particularly good growth; I think the “old” plants died over this last winter, so we’re only getting growth on their newest babies. Circle of life and all that. 

Meanwhile, we have been discovered by the rabbits: I looked out the kitchen window one evening to see one happily perched on the edge of the bed, daintily nibbling on the celery I’d just transplanted.

Your move, Wabbit…

(The white stuff is coyote pee. So not only is the celery caged up, it is surrounded by Eau d’Predator.)

Likewise, the squirrels have discovered the Shangri La that are our trees. The stone fruit tree was trying to create some fruit for us.

But the squirrels had a marvelous time picking each and every one of them, taking one bite out of it, and going, “BLECH! NASTY UNRIPE FRUIT! Hmm. Maybe this one will be tasty-good…BLECH!” <= lather, rinse, repeat.

Dumb animals.

I’ve got some cucumbers starting to catch their stride.

I had to replant and cage a bunch of these as well, since the disgruntled rabbits didn’t waste much time moving over to this bed; while they’re still small, those little green baskets like strawberries come in work really well for it.

I made a new, small-ish bed-of-sorts and dropped some zucchini into it; as always with that plant, they are plotting world domination. I’m pretty sure we’ll have a good 5-6 decent-sized zucchinis to enjoy this week. This is a thing with zucchini, they go from “hmm, I think that’s going to be a squash eventually” to “holy mother of gahd, that thing is enormous!” seemingly overnight.

These guys actually came out today – dropped a couple wheelbarrows of fresh soil in there and planted kidney beans with a red onion border to help keep the pests down a bit. (That works pretty darned well, by the way – once those onions start sprouting, they do a really good job deterring creepy-crawlies.)

There’s a lot more back there – spinach, broccoli, golden beets, green beans, cantaloupe, carrots, yellow and candy onions, strawberries, and about eight different kinds of heirloom tomatoes.

It’s going to be a busy year; and hopefully a productive one as well. The last couple seasons have really sucked, mostly because I just didn’t put the time and energy into it that I needed to if I wanted anything to come of it.

But this year feels different. This year feels like it is moving again, like all the things that were just sitting there waiting for something, something I couldn’t seem to find…found their motivation.

Maybe it’s this: A bunch of scrap metal lying all over the yard suddenly starting to transform into a greenhouse.

It’s going to be something else, isn’t it?!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Pictureless instructions for sharing and candy

@PipneyJane: I blame you. I got totally sidetracked into the whole ‘share button’ thing. The easy, sensible way to do it is to go into your Design => Layout, click on the ‘edit’ hyperlink under ‘Blog Posts’, and fourth from the bottom there is “Show Share Buttons.” Which is what I was doing until I noticed that mine was apparently showing what was supposed to be hover-over text. And I couldn’t find the bit in the HTML where it would be doing that, because this sometimes happens when you use “shared, proprietary” code. They hide it from you. On purpose. Because otherwise people like me (who think they know some stuff but hahahaha, don’t), get in there and try to hack it. And suddenly everybody who uses it is all how come it doesn’t work like THAT?! and it just gets to be a real headache for the dev team.

ANYWAY. One journey down the rabbit hole later, I found this post from The Blog Decorator and about five minutes later I had much cuter share-buttons. At five minutes and thirty seconds I had a different set of buttons, because I’ve actually heard of Tumblr. Then at five minutes forty-five seconds I was all, how in the HELL would somebody ‘Tweet’ one of these posts?! and ended up with what I have now. Because sticking with the copy/paste I was given and which worked just fine would be too easy, apparently.

In other news, The Blog Decorator seems to be a fine purveyor of exactly the sort of thing I should stay away from and I hope they never notice a link back from this place to them because they may send me some kind of ‘cease and desist, we only want pretty blogs like the ones we design to link to us’ and then I might cry.

OK, not really. I mean, maybe, but they don’t look like the kind of people who send Nastygrams to people.

Plus, I’m a database developer. We don’t cry just because somebody called our code ugly. Pretty much we just look at you expectantly waiting for the actual content of your observation. Because saying that backend database code is “ugly” is kind of like walking up and saying, “Meetings sure are a pain in the arse.”

This statement is clearly not the core reason you are taking time out of your busy day to take time out of my busy day. That was just an opener. There is more to come.

But I digress.

So – the lemon peel candy. This is not your traditional “candied lemon zest.” It’s a lot thicker and chewier, and definitely not much like that delicate little curlie-queued froodiddery that sometimes tops $6 cupcakes that have, like, lavender essence in them or something.

The end result of this is something with a lot more substance to it; it’s thicker, a bit chewy (but not like Gummy-Bear chewy)…it’s a little hard to describe, actually. I’ve found that most people either really like it, or really don’t. Not a lot of folks in the middle of the road.

This is definitely one of those sorts of things you’ll want to do when you have a weekend mostly free; while the actual hands-on stuff is actually fairly limited, there’s a ton of “then ignore it for x-many hours” that goes on here, including one overnight soaking in syrup, and another overnight drying period.

Oh, and this is pretty much lifted from Canning For A New Generation, which is one of my favorite canning books. I mean, yes, the ‘Complete’ book put out by Ball is the go-to for “hmm, what do I do with THIS, I wonder” but the new-generation book puts together more interesting spices and spins on things, and has a lot of that sort of…Indian-Asian twist going that a lot of the more ’Murican cookbooks tend to avoid. (“How To Make Authentic Indian Curry: Step 1, buy premade curry paste…”). But I digress again.

You’ll need:

  • 5 pounds of lemons
  • 5 cups of sugar, plus about half a cup or so
  • LOTS of water


  1. Scrub and juice the lemons
    1. You want to get rid of the pulp (juicy, membrane-y inner parts)
    2. But don’t worry too much about the pith (the bitter white inner peel most recipes will demand that you pare away) – that’s the payoff of this method, you don’t have to make yourself crazy and/or lose half the skin off your fingers and/or give up gosh knows how many pounds over time of candy cutting away all that pith
  2. Cut the peel into fairly large slices
    1. I usually take each half lemon and slice it in half, and then slice that half into thirds for our monster-sized homegrown lemons, or into half for more normal store-bought sized ones
    2. Aside: The best way I’ve found to do this is actually to stack up 2-3 lemon halves and do that whole stack at once.
      1. It’s way faster than doing each one by itself
      2. Plus it makes me feel like a bit more like She-Ra, Goddess of Warfare And Also Kitchen Knives than Esmeralda Frump, Too Cheap To Throw Away Lemon Peels 
  3. Put the sliced-up lemon peel into a pot big enough to hold them and enough cold water to cover them by an inch or so
  4. Put the lid on the pot and bring to a boil, boil for 10 minutes
  5. Drain and do it again, another 10 minutes
    1. Don’t skip this
    2. Trust me
    3. The pith will still manage to be bitter somehow
    4. It is like nature’s little miracle, how elebenty-bazillion tons of sugar cannot overwhelm the bitterness of that pith…but an extra cycle of boiling can
  6. Cover with cold water one more time, bring to a boil one more time…then lower the heat and let it simmer for ~ 30 minutes, until the peel is tender
    1. Test this with, like, your thumbnail or a fork
      1. Not by biting into it
      2. It’s not nasty-bitter anymore, but it ain’t candy yet either
  7. Drain in a colander
  8. In the same pan, put the 5 cups of sugar + 5 cups of water and bring to a boil
  9. Stir just until the sugar is all dissolved, then stop
  10. Continue not-stirring while it boils and makes you incredibly anxious because shouldn’t I be stirring that? just a little bit? Or something? (No. You should not. Resist.) until it reaches 220 degrees, ~ 15 minutes of nail-biting, no-stirring anxiety
    1. …or is that just me…?
  11. Add the peel (carefully, that simple-syrup LOVES to splash up and burn ya), bring back up to a simmer
  12. Simmer without stirring again (they’re killing me here) until the peel is translucent, ~ 45 minutes
    1. It isn’t actually see-through translucent, more glassy-looking-lemon-peel than see-through-like-window-glass
  13. Remove from the heat and let stand, undisturbed, overnight
  14. The next morning, bring to a boil and let cook without stirring what is WRONG with these people?! until it reaches 226 degrees – about 30 minutes
  15. Let stand for 2-4 hours
  16. Bring back to a boil and again with the no-stirring thing until it gets to 228 degrees – this tends to happen really fast comparatively speaking, maybe 10-15 minutes, so keep an eye on it!
  17. …then ignore it for 2-4 hours again…
  18. ONE LAST TIME! Bring to a boil, then take it off the heat immediately
  19. Wait for it to cool down just enough to not be like handling living, radioactive death-juice with a grudge against you PERSONALLY
    1. You want to, you know, not die if/when it splashes a bit
    2. But you don’t want it to have gotten cool enough to start thickening up on you – that’s a stone drag to deal with
  20. Normal Finishing Method:
    1. Fish out with a fork or tongs or chopsticks or whatever floats your canoe and arrange on wire rackets set over baking sheets
      1. No fraternizing! Pieces should not be touching
      2. If they touch, they will never come apar
      3. Hopefully there’s a bunch of lemon simple syrup left over
        1. 1:1:1 lemon juice, simple-syrup, and water usually makes a pretty darned good lemonade – you can also mix up the syrup and the juice and freeze it, and “reconstitute” it with water when you want it.
        2. It’s like a magic trick! Behold! Homemade lemonade on-demand, I AM A WIZARD!! 
    2. Put them into a turned off oven to dry for ~ 24 hours
    3. If you have a pilot light, that’s fantastic, you’re done. Well. With this step, anyway.
    4. Otherwise, you can flip on the oven light for a bit now and again – mine will heat the oven to right around 100-115 degrees-ish, which is a great temperature for slow drying things like this…but it does get a little too hot if I just leave it on 24/7, so, it’s kind of like two hours ON, three hours OFF, which can get a little annoying
    5. The peel will still be distressingly sticky, so give it a toss in ~ ½ cup more sugar
      1. Any leftover sugar is marvelous in tea or on top of scones, just sayin’
    6. Set it back on the racks for 1-2 hours and ohmygah, FINALLY, you’re done
  21. Alternative Finishing Method For Crazy People Who Own This Kind Of Stuff:
    1. Fish out as above, put on your dehydrator racks
      1. Use the “non-stick / porous” liners, like you’d use for strawberries, banana chips etc. (not your fruit leather ones)
      2. Least Fiddly Way: Put them on the racks peel side up and don’t even THINK about the whole ‘which side up’ issue again
      3. Unnecessarily Fiddly Way For OCD Types, Part I: Arrange them peel side down
    2. Set dehydrator to ~ 125 degrees and let go for ~ 18 hours
    3. Flip racks halfway through: Top to bottom, back to front, the usual drill
      1. Unnecessarily Fiddly Way For OCD Types, Part II: Flip the slices peel side up when you restage the racks
        1. This makes them a bit less “gooey” at the end, and ends with a nicer ‘glossiness’ to the ‘up’ side of the peel
        2. BUT, it is 100% completely not necessary to end up with good tasting candy, so, it really is a rather silly thing to put yourself through
    4. Toss in ½ cup sugar to keep from sticking; if you like ‘raw’-type sugar, it makes an excellent finishing move here
    5. Bonus for owning the dehydrator, they are not generally still so sticky that they need a second round of drying – unless it is a bit humid out, I’ve generally found I can put them straight into the airtight container at this point

Keeps in an airtight container for ~ 2 months at room temperature, or almost-forever in the freezer if you’ve got it well-sealed. Or so I am told, it doesn’t usually last more than a week or so around here, no matter how much of it I make.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

In which I am not keeping up with the Blogosphere

Every so often, I look at this tired old blog of mine and think, “Ya know, this thing is a bit dusty, don’t you think? How long have you had this particular template? Which by the way I think you downloaded free from somewhere, back in the day?”

And then I go poking around looking at what everybody else is doing and, somewhat stunned by the fabulousity out there, I stagger back and think, jeeeeeeez, I really do need a makeover or something…

Inevitably, this leads to me fiddling with settings. And flipping through endless and I do mean ENDLESS numbers of “fully customizable” templates. And trying to figure out how to make a banner do thisno no, dammit, not THAT, stupid thing, I want you to do THIS…

When I get to 28 dammits per hour, I get serious. Pretty soon, I’ve clicked my way to some site or other that is enthusiastically pointing out all the things I absolutely must do or have in order to put together a successful blog.

At this point, one of two things happens. Either I immediately start laughing and back awaaaaaay from the whole thing…or I burn another few hours reading articles about how to making my posts “relevant” or how to create pictures with “life” in them.

When that second thing happens, well, it’s really sad.

Because no matter how many times I read “how to write amazing content that will catapult you into blogging history” – what I will go on to produce will be…erm…this.

No matter how often I embrace the concept that I really-really-really ought to post at least somewhat regularly…well, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but, the thing is? It always seems to be that when my life is at its most interesting, it is also either very-very busy, or very-very exhausting, OR very-very full of stories I shouldn’t share for one reason or another (like, they aren’t necessarily my stories, I’m just involved in some way, and those whose stories they are might not appreciate me leaping into the Internet to start airing out their dirty laundry).

Plus I don’t like to post things while I’m still agitated about them. It’s like a super-fast express lane to issuing apologies to everybody I know.

And I could probably read every photography tip known to man, and what will I still end up doing?

Something like this.

Making Lemon Peel Candy

any questions…?

(Yes. This is all the pictures I took of a three day process by which I turned about ten pounds worth of lemons into lemon peel candy. I am a giver, Internet.) (WAIT, HANG ON A SECOND, I THINK THERE’S SOME LEFT DOWN THERE…) (…holy crap, it really is almost all gone…I’m not sure whether I’m more pleased that it is so popular, or irked because something that takes that flamin’ long to make should not disappear twice as fast…) (OK, here we go) (…wait, I’m not supposed to use colored plates because they make it look weird-colored or something…) (…crap, auto-flash was one, one sec…) (OK, so…wait…it’s not supposed to be centered because of…reasons…and stuff…)

Voila! Two (2) pictures. I am a photo-blogging machine right now, y’all…

OR, there’s always things like this.

…taken one-handed, with my phone, while juggling a coffee, car keys, and a bag in the other hand. But it shows ‘life’, right? right?!

The “life” is right there, next to the blue arrow only someone with truly mad photo editing skills could manage!

(And that life is saying, congratulations, jerk-face, you captured my fail-blog worthy first attempts at flight and posted them to the Internet, hooray for you…)

I am not laser-targeted on a single subject. I am not going to make networking my primary goal in life. I’m not going to go around slyly inserting link-backs to my blog everywhere I go.

Shoot, I’m hard-pressed to remember to use the one-button click to post links to my Facebook account. (This gets me in trouble sometimes. I’m still mad at Facebook for removing that feature where posting here auto-magically posted there, because that was the only reason that my scintillating stories were getting onto Facebook for family pickup in the first place. Curse you, Facebook, for not providing all the tools I WANT free of charge!)

So, to review:

  1. This is never going to be a “successful” blog.
  2. Baby birds do not appreciate having their pictures taken when they try – unsuccessfully – to fly for the first (dozen or so) time(s)
  3. Lemon peel candy is pretty delicious