Sunday, October 20, 2013

Punkin Season

No, I am not in New York. I know everyone is in New York. Life has been so awfully real in the last few years that Rhinebeck hasn't been what it once was for me. In the very beginning, it was Meg and Gene in sweaters I had knit for them, Dan dragged along for the ride, and a few barns and a couple of tents of things I had never seen before. There were no crowds, no lines, and it was a small slice of heaven for me, really. I am at my core a simple person with simple values who prizes small and undiscovered above all. That was a long time ago, before books, weddings, and grandbabies. Maybe next year, or maybe not - it depends on when this next book launches, I think.

But it is still autumn in New England - my New England, the one I've known since I was a pup. The colors change, the tourists come and take a gander, and clog up route 91 with their craning necks and indecisive speeds. Should we go fast? Should we go slow? Or can we just not make up our minds?

This week I spent a fair amount of time just being "in" autumn, as I prefer to know it. Girl and I went for apples in a local hill town, and made a splendid apple butter. I bought sweet pie pumpkins. I shredded and pounded ten pounds of cabbage into the Harsch for future sauerkraut. Tonight I chopped up an apple, added some extras, and stuffed a pumpkin. I am calling it dessert. Want to see?
Now, want to know what's in it? Ok, I'll tell you.

First, cut the top off of a tiny sweet pumpkin or two, and hull it/them with their tops. Then combine the following in a small bowl:

1 tart apple, cored and chopped
2T brown raisins
1 quite small sweet potato, peeled and chopped (about a half a cup when all's said and done)
2T brown sugar
1/4 cup apple butter (substitute 1/4 cup of applesauce plus a bit each of cardamon, cinnamon, clove and allspice)
2T butter cut into small pieces

Oil the outside of the pumpkin, including the top, with your choice of high-temperature oil (I chose peanut). Fill with the apple mixture, packing a bit as you go. Leftovers here went into a buttered custard cup to cook, but you can do what you will with them, if there are any. Place the top on the oiled, filled fruit and roast in a 375 degree oven for about an hour, or until the side of the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit - so it is still warm, but not too hot for what comes next!

Scoop some of the pumpkin stuffing and a bit of pumpkin meat into a dessert bowl. Top with rich, creamy premium vanilla ice cream. EAT ALL OF IT!

Happy Harvest, and may God smile on you as much as He's smiling on me!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seeing is Believing

Well. I almost have a heckuva kitchen. You may remember that I had this kitchen about 15 months ago:

(Be aware: if I come to look at your house and I eventually buy it, I will post pictures from various showings on my blog, with all your stuff in them. Also if you look at a house with that many microwaves and toaster ovens? CHECK THE MAJOR APPLIANCES!)

What is not evident in the images is that the wood was in horrible condition in many places, rotted in some, worn beyond repair in others. The appliances, original to the house, were not great - although they did turn on and off - and sometimes without anyone pushing a button or turning a knob. The cabinets were not really functional for modern living, and certainly not for a cook. I think that this kitchen was a bit of a space age, TV dinner sort of a thing really. But I don't live that way, and for me this kitchen was just really intolerable. Kitchen snob: I am it!

Then I had this kitchen which I felt I had for entirely too long:

Then very (very) briefly I had this kitchen:

And then this kitchen:

which turned out to be a big old failed attempt to retain some of kitchen one in a misguided attempt to save money and resources.

Last but not least, I had this kitchen:

Definitely not a big favorite, except that it paved the way for the kitchen I have now. Because now I have a totally different kitchen, which is not quite yet ready for a full reveal. But trust me, it's amazing!

I have also had, for a long time now, a microwave cabinet of forgotten origin. You see it up there in a fair number of those images. I remember that it cost me all of about $100, and I know I bought it specifically for use in our old-old house during our kitchen remodel there. Thanks to a slick real estate deal I was able to double my money on a piece of land by selling it back to the original owner for twice the price I paid. Long story - just never sell a piece of land you think you might be attached to, or you'll find yourself buying it back for a lot of money. Anyway, I used the profit to invest in our old-old house - I had both kitchen and bath completely redone. At the time we still had kids at home, and we lived for a few weeks out of this microwave cabinet. It housed a microwave (who saw that coming?), toaster, and coffee pot along with lots of paper plates and utensils, bread, and peanut butter. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

Since then it's served us around the house(s) in a variety of ways. It has been used to hold video game systems along side it's junior sibling - who is identical in all but size. It has housed craft supplies. It was used by Mr. W to hold his cycling DVD's and two small televisions for when he rode on his bike trainer in the basement. It eventually became the island in my 1950's kitchen nightmare, and then most recently was again put into use as part of a temporary kitchen during this latest kitchen update.

I have loved it's usefulness, but it's appearance has left me pretty flat for some time now. I preferred it hidden in finished basements or craft rooms. It's junior sibling, for example, holds my primary sewing machine so that I can sew while standing up - a boon for ye old sciatic nerve problem. Out of public view, it does not offend. But in public view...well, I guess maybe I am just over it. Love, love the butcher block top, but over the unfinished exterior and the big blocky handles and drawer pull. So I decided that in order to continue to use it in the new kitchen (it makes a great island!) it would need a serious face lift. Initially I tried staining it the same color as the cabinets, which proved to be a hideous fail. The color wasn't a match at all and - worst of all - the stain clashed pretty violently with the aged and heavily treated butcher block top.

I started with a splotchy and brush-stroke-laden coat of the gray paint I'd used previously on the old cabinets we tried to salvage - Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo. I liked that color a lot - I think it's a Martha color, Chinchilla, which handily can be dumped into any Ben Moore paint. The neutrality of it would, I thought, work well in the kitchen again. Then I distressed the gray with a series of power and hand tools. Specifically, I beat the hell out of it with, in no particular order: a pair of scissors, an ax, a wire bristle brush, and my little DeWalt random orbit sander. Then I covered the whole thing with a brown glaze using a sample of brown paint left from Girl's wedding birdhouses and a jar of Martha Stewart glaze. I brushed that with a Martha Stewart wavy graining brush, being sure to go out of my way to get as much effect and odd layering as possible, but no waving. I just wanted the brush strokes and the removal of excess that this tool offered. Once that dried I coated the whole thing with Zar Ultra Max waterborne polyurethane; another leftover from a previous project. Waste not, want not!

And now I love it. I wish the butcher block was squared and not rounded. That's my only complaint.

It's neutral, distressed, abused, and has me written all over it. I love the rudely and roughly filled holes, the sand marks, the chips from the ax, and the lovely uneven brown glaze.

In the middle of this amazing new kitchen, surrounded by perfect cabinets and pristine flooring and appliances, it somehow fits right in. Just don't look too closely at the underside of that butcher block. I may have gone a little nutty...

Now, to find perfect knobs and pulls. Ideally I want something salvaged and old, maybe from a dresser, and with that in mind I stopped in at Fat Chance today on my way home from the Depot (where I procured a host of items ranging from silicone caulk to one ivy plant for that rejuvenated Crock Pot that works and still has it's cord but for now I've decided is a planter and is that a run-on sentence or what?):

I didn't find knobs. But I did find things to amuse me:

An adorable copper fondue set! It has forks, and even an old Sterno ad tucked inside.

Bunnies! Primitive bunnies missing body parts but needing love.

The new kitchen counter top doesn't come for days and days. Between now and then I can work on a book,  install the dishwasher, plan a baby shower, and make some newborn diapers for said baby. And try not to count the minutes before I can give you a tour of the whole kitchen, and explain how, on a budget resembling a shoestring, I managed to get a whole new kitchen in a matter of about 5 weeks. It's a good story, I promise!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

You'd Have to be There.

Sunday Morning Lap

Five women at prayer
enter into their chapel in Sunday best –
two in violet, one in blue;  two wear black.

A steeple rises outside the window
of their small watery church.
Each one comes to find solace in this place -
which to whom we do not know.

Their bodies slice through liquid blue like knives
as each finds the rhythm and pace of her prayer,

unspoken on the rippling waves that melt around them.

Sunday morning lap.


Saturday, September 07, 2013

Bed of Nails

Spent the morning tangoing with this... :

 (I did this one all by myself!)

which turned out to be the easy version of this... :

(I did not do this one by myself!)

a sheet of plywood sub-floor with enough nails to hold down a double wide in a tornado. The whole floor looked like this - nails, nails, nails, everywhere nails, in all shapes and sizes and styles and types. Everywhere. Nails. Mr. Wonderful pried the sheets up a little at a time, and I grabbed pieces as they came loose and held tension on them as high as I could from the sub-sub-floor so he could better position the pry bar for another round of tug o' war. As each sheet came slowly and gradually up, I found myself grappling to find a place to put my hands that didn't involve nails - hard to do when the nail-side is down, and my eyeballs are up. Once a sheet was free we carried it out of the house. Then it was lather, rinse, repeat until all sub-floor was removed.

We had visions of the "bed-of-nails-mouse-trap-effect" (use your imagination) described by a contractor friend, but managed to avoid it (Thank you, Father!). The most interesting moment came when I was holding tension on a sheet while Mr. W. pried on the opposite side. It was a tricky one; oddly shaped and resistant, so he told me to "go ahead and let it down" for a minute so we could rest and regroup - which I would have cheerfully done, because they are not easy to hold up when the forces of a million-billion nails (in a million-billion shapes and sizes and types...) are pulling them back to earth. But I couldn't let go without risking a partial mouse trap effect from knee to foot. Two of the nails had become stuck through my jeans, and had been scraping my leg with every movement. I hadn't mentioned it because I thought we'd have the sheet up and out in a few more tugs of the pry bar. One slip and I would have had nails embedded in my thighs just above the knee. Mr. W. was himself on the other side of the sheet of ply in such a way that he could not come around to assist. Eventually I managed to extract the denim from the nails, and let the sheet down for a minute before we resumed. Certainly an experience to add to the list of experiences we had at our first house (aka "hell house") and the new list we've begun compiling here. Based on the number of nails first in the cabinets and now in the sub-floor, Mr. W. has taken to calling it "Zombie Apocalypse House", as in "the builder thought one was coming any day, and wanted to be prepared".

Then we did some other little bits, much cleaning, and some temporary taping in of fixtures for visual support as we move through this. It's better to decide now that those recessed cans over the breakfast bar should be a little further back than to realize it after they're installed!

We won, in the end. And to reward ourselves we went to the fair for supper. Because nothing says "balanced diet" like real, skin-on french fries with vinegar and salt and ketchup, kettle corn, and lemonade, consumed while watching people, rides, and horse pulls. The sad part is that I did this - stuffed my freezer full of healthy meals so we would not end up living on popcorn until our kitchen is done.

(speaking of long do I think this kitchen will take, anyway?)

But who can resist the excuse of no kitchen to trot off to a fair and eat garbage for an evening? Between raw dog food and freshly killed chicken for people and meals ready to thaw and eat, I am officially declaring myself done with tomatoes. See this? Going to the chickens, every last fruit (excluding the corn), first thing in the morning.

I am completely out of freezer space. There's bags and bags of the things already in there, taking up space. They should be canned and processed and in the basement in tidy jars by now. But with an incomplete kitchen, that isn't going to happen until months from now. Frustrating, but it's just the way things will be. The fridge is stuffed with pickles (can't can those right now either) or I suppose I could make a whopping huge batch of salsa or something. Shame, but just the way it is. Figures that I have a bumper crop and no kitchen available.

Tomorrow I swim, leaving Mr. W here to finish off some kitchen things, and it may be the last swim for a week or two. On Monday things begin in earnest. Electricians and plumbers and cabinet deliveries, oh my! This means no kitchen, more or less at all, for the duration. As of tomorrow, dishes get done in the leaky bathtub on the other side of the house. Pray for me. I think I am gonna need it!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Make It Stop (No, Don't)

I signed up for a class today at A Notion to Quilt. A quilting class in which I will learn how to use "the big machine" to top stitch my own quilts. This is probably good because quilting anything bigger than a wall hanging on my machine is not at all fun. But I am not planning to buy a $10,000 long-arm machine that takes up the whole house. And hand quilting - well, I toyed with the idea briefly, but since this is 2013, and we have the option of machine quilting, who am I to stand in the way of progress? I've got one project ready to go and another one soon to be ready, and plans for a minimum of three more right behind these two. There's no way I could quilt those all by hand AND write a book AND keep up with real life. My ancestors may be spinning in their graves, but polyester thread and machine quilting, here I come! I wish I could stop obsessively sewing fabric into quilted things. Or do I?

I am trying to take the edge off of my new-found quilt problem with some simple projects, like napkins, more place mats, and flannel baby blankets. I love flannel unreasonably and I have tons of scraps in my stash; enough to do a scrappy flannel quilt, which I plan to do someday - just not today. Today we focus on simple baby blankets. These blankets are super fast and easy. They are made from two layers of flannel and so don't really count as receiving blankets - they're more like a tummy time blanket, or a snuggle-down-for-the-night blanket.

I begin by cutting two pieces of flannel to 43" x 43" - or "width minus selvedge square". Pin neatly around, and then sew them right sides together with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, leaving open about 10 inches along one side to turn right side out. Clip the corners on the wrong side, and then turn the whole blanket to the right side. Then press all the way around to set the seams, and finally top stitch 1/4 inch from the seamed edge. The sewing part is done now, and really they could be considered finished at this point. I wanted to amp them up a little, so I am crocheting a simple edging on them. I haven't done this in ages - since my friends and I were all young and having babies of our own, in fact. I used to use the awl from an old leather working kit to poke holes around the edges to accommodate my hook.
But today I used the doffing pin from my drum carder and poked holes through the two layers of flannel about 1/2 an inch apart, and worked 3 sc in each hole, then a chain one between shells. At the corners I worked one 3 sc shell, ch 2, and a second 3 sc shell in the same hole.
I will probably change this a little for the second blanket. The gauge of the yarn for the second blanket is smaller, so I may make the holes closer together, or change the number of stitches in each shell. I am in love with both of these, and I still have four other pieces to make two more blankets from. The problem with flannel is that I see one I love and I buy it (and a coordinating piece to go with it), and I bring it home, and I sew it up or just ogle and pet it for a while until i decide what to do with it. But then I go out again, and the seasons change and new fabrics come into the shops, and the next thing you know I am buying more - and more and more and more. I always buy 1.5 yards of flannels because I know it's enough for a blanket OR for pj pants for me should I decide I can't part with a print. I wish I could stop buying flannel...but really I don't want to stop at all.
The garden has been kind of amazing this year. We didn't get anything in last year because we were busy just settling in. This year I planted in the "lasagna" beds I started last fall. I didn't expect much to come of them. It's been a pleasant - mostly - surprise to be wrong. But I wish I wasn't quite so very wrong. Well, what I mean is, this is probably not the best year for me to have a bumper crop of tomatoes, and a minimum of 6 small to medium eggplants every few days. I put about 8-10 lbs of tomatoes in the freezer some days, chopped up and put into zip lock bags. When the kitchen is done and I have counter space again, I will pull them all out, thaw them, and process them in proper canning jars. We've also had a huge outpouring of zucchini and cucumbers and baby lettuce from friends. The result is that we're eating salad daily, and there are three huge jars of refrigerator pickles tucked behind the raw dog food and bags of baby lettuce. Some mornings I think if I see one more eggplant, I will scream. Mostly I am grateful for the bounty, if a little tired from all the extra work. I could say no to friends, and I could hand the tomatoes and eggplant over to the chickens - but make hay while the sun shines, so they say!

It's fair season here, with our local county fair kicking off with a parade Thursday. That fair will end this weekend and will be followed by "The Big E", also known as the Eastern States Exposition. When my kids were small I spent the weeks leading up to fair time canning, sewing and baking like mad. I would enter things and come home with ribbons to show for all my efforts. I beat my mother more than once in the canned goods classes which always felt really good! One year I even entered "Homemaker of the Year", and won. I was so thrilled! I also had a couple of "Best in Show" items over the years - most notably a hand-crocheted infant's christening gown that someone later insisted on paying me $150 for. I would appear at the round house on Wednesday afternoon with my wares in hand. Everything would be neatly labeled with my exhibitor number, class number, and description. It was the focus of weeks for me, and I loved the simplicity of it - and the good honest competition. I miss that side of life. They changed the rules though - you have to enter weeks in advance - and I am more a last-minute, pull out all the stops and make something amazing sort of girl. It's how I got through college, and it's how I go through life, most of the time. Stop, think, plan, plot, debate, decide, stop again, discard, reevaluate, plan anew, plot, and at the last second, produce! 

I doubt if I will go to the local fair this year - it has changed so much in the past decade, and not much for the better, but I'll most likely make it to The Big E. Now that the kids are grown I've traded the round house and french fries with vinegar, for state buildings and smoked salmon on a stick. Now that I don't want to stop ever! 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Blame it on the Rain

It's raining today, and I am trapped (?) inside. It's been very busy here this past week from lots of produce needing to be put up (without canning since there's no kitchen to speak of), to fabric emergencies (yes, they can happen!), to my relentless need for swim time. Refrigerator pickles, frozen tomatoes, and Eggplant Lasagna, oh my!

We slept badly last night, so slept in late this morning. I blame Yoshi. At around 3 am he woke abruptly when loud rumbles of thunder invaded his peaceful slumber, the poor darling. Never one to keep things to himself, he shared the news with a series of sharp barks and some rumbling of his own. Gene seemed to recover quickly, but I tossed and turned. And it'd taken forever to fall asleep in the first place.

'Sleeping in' here usually means 7:00 or 7:30, but this morning the dogs let us lay there until 8. I think the cloudy morning let time sneak up on them. I crawled forth from my bed craving a fried egg in the worst way. My feathered friends are pretty useless right now - the 'babies' are still not quite old enough to lay eggs, and the two older girls only spit out one egg every few days - not enough for reliable food stuffs. As a result I have been getting eggs from friends; friends with 12 kids who just inherited a farm and are now stretching their agricultural wings in more open spaces than ever before. Their garden is huge, they have a lovely flock of 50 layers, Barred Rocks, and they're hoping to add pigs or a cow next spring.

When your eggs come from a fledgling farm with 12 kids, you can get great surprises in your cartons. First, you might get someone's stash of double-yolkers, as a thank-you for services rendered - I took one of the boys for his drivers' test a week or so ago. Second, you get happy eggs. I mean REALLY happy eggs!

I smiled all through breakfast.

When I reduced the kitchen I managed to pack all the skillets. Don't ask me how I did this, because I really don't know. In a pinch last week making lunch for a friend I ran to the attic and retrieved one to make quesadillas. The good news, at least from the perspective of the egg-craving maniac I had become in the moment, is that I hadn't managed to get off my rounded duff and get the skillet back upstairs. So eggs it was - his n' hers.

I leave you to determine which belongs to whom. It may help you to know what's on the plates. To the right we have a large pile of braised spinach, half of a tomato, sliced, and one double yolked farm egg. On the left there's a leftover brat, sliced and fried, two eggs over medium, and "some kinda garnish..."

It was a nice and peaceful breakfast, which should have led me to believe something was coming. Nothing can be as easy as breakfast was today without some payment due at a later time. And that time came.

I stopped at my father's to grab Girl - Gerbil is doing some outdoor work for my dad on weekends. Keeps both of them out of trouble. We were heading to New Hampshire to a place called Fat Chance, which is one of my favorite places on earth, most of the time. Today was no exception. I found the perfect (if modern) pie safe there on Thursday but it had been sold to a dealer before I arrived (Reflections Country Collections in Winchendon, MA). I was shopping with a friend, and we were very excited over the piece. We didn't know it was sold, and were taking pictures to email to Mr. W for his approval when someone let us know it wasn't available. I was kind of sad. I'd been planning on buying some kind of pantry cabinet from Ikea to put on one wall of the kitchen, and the discovery of this pie safe meant something with a little more character instead. But I swallowed my disappointment as best I could. And then the very nice man suggested that maybe I could call these dealers and maybe work something out. And then the very nice lady (Nancy O'Conner of Handweaving by Nancy, in case you need any handwoven shawls or scarves for gifts this holiday season) who was twisting scarf fringe inside while tending the counter said the same thing. She sent me their information via Facebook, and I figured nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? So I asked them if we could make a deal.

And they said YES! I paid more than they paid, which I expected, but less than if they'd had to drag it back to Winchendon and clean it up for their showroom floor. And less than if I had to buy a new one and have it finished or finish it myself And I was very, very happy. It's not a small object by any means, but I was sure it would fit in my Rav, so I declined my father's offer of his truck for transport. I picked up Girl and we headed north to the wonderful world of pie safes, antique sewing tables, and barns full of books for a quarter (for such Fat Chance is) with plans to retrieve the furniture before heading deeper into New Hampshire for shopping. About a half an hour later we were headed south in an empty Rav. There was just no way the pie safe would fit. Adding insult to injury it was only off by a couple of inches; just barely too wide to fit. I called Mr. Wonderful. I think I sounded slightly - or possibly overwhelmingly - desperate. I don't know what it is about new furniture that can drive me to this kind of pathetic madness. It's like I become obsessed and MUST have the new thing NOW, and nothing short of NOW will do. Someone will sneak in and steal it? Someone will sell it a second time? I don't know. I just get all nervous and obnoxious and demanding (because I am not the rest of the time? Really?). Anyway, Mr. W agreed to meet me at my father's house, follow me back to New Hampshire in Dad's truck, retrieve the pie safe for delivery to our house, thereby allowing Girl and I to continue on our shopping trip.

When we got back to the house I immediately insisted it be moved inside, cleaned, and filled with items formerly in residence in the odd-pantry-closet in my kitchen - a closet that soon will be converted into something truly useful and logical - a coat and broom closet with shelves at the back to hide all those things you only use once a year but can't bear to part with, like Christmas platters and the big griddle!

And when the kitchen is finally done, against the entry wall will rest this - stuffed to the brim with essentials (and not a single pie!) like oats and black beans and raisins... and Teddy peanut butter in big tubs for filling the dog's Kong toys. Yoshi seems to think he needs a little something out of there now...

I have been obsessed lately with place mats and other things quilty. I made these recently. It started with the two nearest the dog and expanded from there.

And there's backs and batts cut out in my room to make four more Christmas ones, although maybe not all with that same tree motif. The trees are leftover from a table runner project I started last year and just finished. I got the idea from this Missouri Quilt Company video. I love Jenny's videos!

The others are scrappy place mats of my own design (if you can call it that) using leftovers from a quilt I never finished in the 1990's. I am going to teach Girl how to make them. I was thinking about doing a tutorial here on the blog, maybe a step-by-step, as I teach her what I do to make place mats. Then EVERYONE can make them! They are super easy, and use up lots of scraps and leftovers from previous projects.

For now I am going to go sit quietly, sip some cool water, maybe watch a movie and be grateful for the rain that's stopping me cold for a few hours. It's good to stop and sniff the roses now and then.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Is This a Hack or a Good Marriage?

I love my old Oreck XL9000 vacuum. It was my mother's, and she hated it, which I think in the beginning was part of it's charm. I do love to be contrary. She discarded it immediately after having it serviced it for some new-fangled red thing (Dirt Devil?) that lasted about a year, as I recall. It came to me with the service tag still in place. She just wanted it gone and I happily escorted it into my car. I wish I'd kept the tag. It was used when she got it, and I just can't remember when exactly I brought it home, only that it's been here for what feels like forever. Over the years the motor has weakened, and who can blame it around here, but otherwise it's in fantastic shape.

Since we moved in here it's been relegated to the sun room, a sort of retirement villa, if you will. I dust mop and sweep the rest of the house usually, since there's no carpet, and since the Oreck lacks that one little thing I need in a vacuum in a house full of dogs n' cat - cool upholstery attachments. There's awful indoor outdoor stuff in the sun room over a rough concrete floor. That rug is a repository for chicken shit, grass, bugs and dirt. It's where my boots get scraped clean on my way in from chores, and where I regularly spill everything from diatomaceous earth to garden fertilizer to pond-fish food.

I recently "upgraded" to a Shark Euro-Pro Navigator at Target, which I found on clearance for $125.00. It came in handy when I was sanding all those cabinet doors, drawers, and fronts before painting them - right before the contractor told us the recycled cabinets were not going to work. I spent forever in front of those vacuums that day in Target trying to decide what to get. Gerbil and Girl adore their Dyson, which was a wedding gift. I love the idea of Dyson, but that's not in my budget.

Anyway, I have nothing against the Navigator; in fact I rather like it. It does the job well, has good power, and came with a handy little special pet hair power brush attachment that did beautiful things on Mel's preferred sleeping spots. But the Oreck has a special place in my heart, and as the motor weakened and I knew it was getting to be time to let go, I grieved. I like having a second vacuum around, and I like having a separate one in the sun room, which often feels disconnected from the house.

The other day Mr. Wonderful asked me to swing by the dump, a thing he rarely does. As I rounded the corner of the Re-Use Room, I saw before me a thing of great beauty. An Oreck XL2540 with a big bag full of hypoallergenic CELOC bags - three full packages!

Now, Gene really tries to keep me away from the dump for just such reason. I will come home with 1970's kitchy red electric woks, used-once-at-Christmas-and-discarded hand-crank popcorn poppers "in case ours ever breaks " (we now have three back-ups and one in use), worn-out 1950's tinsel Christmas trees, and ANY slow cooker (as long as there's a cord and the crock isn't cracked). When I grabbed this Oreck, I knew there'd be trouble, but my only thought was for the bags - free bags! I had no idea what I would do with the vacuum itself, except that I figured if it worked, we could have a... a basement vac? I really didn't know.

I brought it home and stood them side by side. That's my old XL9000 on the left and the Oreck XL2540RH on the right. They looked pretty similar. The 9000 is a little more basic, I suppose. The on/off is in a different location, and the handle is less ergonomic.

From the back they looked pretty similar as well. I noticed a lot of dust on the 2540, but whether that was from age and lack of maintenance, I couldn't tell. I fired up the 2540, and was amazed by the sound of the motor. I gave it a push, and it sucked up anything in reach. It reminded me of the 9000, back in the day when it first came to live with me. Then I noticed the problem...

The bag attachment was damaged beyond repair. In the bag-full-of-bags was a note giving the location of a local Oreck repair shop. I briefly debated taking it in for an assessment, but then I had a better idea. Why not hack, or marry, them into one newer, stronger, better vac? I really didn't need two. I have the Shark for inside and the Oreck for the sun room, and Gene has a shop vac in the basement. I pondered. Analyzed. Briefly. And then I began disassembly.

Now, a fair amount of the time (ok, never) I don't think these projects through before I begin. I always figure that if I really thought about it for long, I'd see all the potential pitfalls and I'd wimp out and never get anywhere. So I just step forward in faith and begin shredding innocent machines, assuming that in the end I will either get my way, or not - in which case I reassemble and move on. This usually works. Never without some hitches, but generally more or less it works. And it did this time. With some hitches.

First, the on/off for the 2540 is on the handle as opposed to the 9000's foot-tap button on the motor housing. Second - and more importantly - the handles are not universal.

I used a utility knife to shave the plastic of one down just enough so I could slide the other over, and screw it into place - I pre-drilled holes to allow these screws to fit.

Then, too, the attachment from the base to the bag were not the same. Although they are the same size, and the new center tube slid easily into place, the hose clamp type fitting of the 2540 does not come close to working with the push-pin assembly of the 9000. But when I comes to a situation like this, there's always one handy tool I rely on, time and again, to save my butt from certain ruin.

Yup. Duct tape. You know the kind I mean - "if-it-can't-be-fixed-with-duct-tape-it-ain't-broke", handyman's secret weapon, primer gray, sticks to everything except what you want it to, duct tape. I love the stuff, as we've seen before...

Poor Yoshi. Anyway, once I got the 9000's  handle assembly married to the center hose of the 2540, I did what any rational person would do.

I taped it up. Really, really well. So now if I get a hose clog, I suppose there will be agony and whining, followed by removal and replacement of the tape. But really - it's a free motor for an old, dying vacuum that cost me nothing but time to make work. And the outcome?

Hopefully another 20 years of Oreck joy!

A little spit and polish with Simple Green purple (It's really called pro-something, but I can't resist the green-purple thing)...

A little practice on the icky sun room floor, and the proof is in the pudding! Good as new. Or, good as newly married anyway. Now the only trouble is... what do I do with this?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

This is What it's Like

Indeed, this is the life. 8:30 am and the garden is weeded. Coffee is in my hand and chickens are at my feet. I have a list of things to do today, but right now I just don't care. I will care later, when the coffee cup is empty and the sun gets too warm on my shoulders. Then I can worry about the rest of today, or tomorrow, or what have you.

That's how the day started, and in some ways that's how it ended as well. Summertime is always a busy time here, but maybe a little busier than normal for us this time around. The kitchen is in chaos, and will be more so by the weekend. Somewhere between running out for toe kick heaters and faucets and such it occurred to me that I could be ever so slightly better prepared for the days ahead when there is no kitchen - because those days are coming - and maybe sooner than I thought (please God).

The last time we did a kitchen remodel, as I recall, I lived primarily on canned tuna and coffee. Gene mostly starved, and the kids ate vast quantities of cold cereal, peanut butter, yogurt, and things from the microwave. They were probably the only happy ones. Convenience food? In OUR house? A miracle! And I do not mean that in the holier-than-thou, "Oh, we don't eat thoooose kinds of things!" way, either. I mean it in the "I'd rather spend a month of Sunday's grating cheese by hand than pay one cent extra for a package of the pre-shredded kind!" way. Last time, there wasn't much time to prepare. Things moved very quickly from decision to finished kitchen. This time, things are moving faster than I'd expected, which is good. BUT I really wanted to be smarter this time - I wanted to plan ahead, make meals-for-two in advance and freeze them in tidy little containers. I wanted, in short, to be something I never, ever am. I wanted to be Organized.

Well, if you can't be Organized, you can sure as heck fake it! And that's what I've done. In two days I managed to put into the freezer - par cooked and ready for finishing in the toaster oven - 5 containers of lemon olive chicken, 5 of turkey mole, 4 of fish pie (plus a big fish pie in my little casserole for supper tonight and leftovers tomorrow, because I love it) and 7 of mini eggplant lasagna, 5 meatloaves and 5 pairs of vegetarian enchiladas. I should probably write that down for later. 

Lemon Olive Chicken cooling - love how the watermelon is wearing a sombrero!

It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I've always heard about those women who shop once a month and then cook it all in one day, storing it away like good little hoarders. I envied them the simplicity of popping a tray of lasagna into the oven, fresh from the freezer. 

Jamie Oliver's Fish Pie - Oh How I Adore This Stuff!

No worries about what's for dinner, because dinner is already made. 

Mini Eggplant Lasagna - all veg from my garden

Well, for four weeks, plus or minus, that can be me! Here's what I learned, in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation - faking organization when really you're a complete slacker -

First, use from your recipe stash (or find on the interwebs) ONLY things that you know you and your loved one/s will consume. It would do me no good at all to freeze up a batch of Dal or Tandoori chicken because Mr. Wonderful won't touch it. Similarly, anything beef- or pork-based is out for me. I went with vegetarian, poultry and fish dishes that I know we both will eat. 

Second, prep ahead. I wish I had done this. Trying to chop onion for the chicken while mustering mole from the oven while searching for a space for the cooling fish pie among the disassembled cabinetry and absent counter top was not at all enjoyable. If the onion had been chopped before I ever started, things would have moved along with less stress. At one point I drafted Gene, who's home sick, into grating cheese for me. I figure at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, whatever germs he has will die in the oven, right? And if not, they'll get it in the deep freeze!

Third, plan your time well. I literally decided at about midnight to do this today, and so I went from weeding the garden to grocery to car place to that toe kick heater purchase mentioned above to chopping veg and de-heading and de-veining prawns in a matter of a couple of hours. Bad plan. The result is that I am now rather tired out, sipping a glass of Malbec, and patting myself on the back while simultaneously kicking myself in the butt for poor planning (remember - organized I am not!). At one point I was attempting to cut through partially frozen chicken. An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of exhaustion and a gallon of blood spilled from knife wounds. 

Fourth, wash as you go. It was really wonderful as I pulled the last batch of whatever from the oven, to turn around and see a spotless kitchen and a dish drainer piled high. Truly a thing of beauty, that empty sink was! 

Oh, I forgot one last thing! Dress for the occasion!

Nana's Garden apron bought for my mother a billion years ago and never worn. Till now!

In the beginning I was all "it's too hot in here, all I need is a sundress, who cares, what's a little spillage?" That lasted about ten minutes. Apron. Lots of food, lots of mess. Apron.

The best part of this is that if I croak tomorrow, Mr. W. now has a month's worth - more if he eats half - of food to sustain him during his difficult time of mourning (one hopes it wold be a difficult time). 

Now for the rest of the week, encapsulated version:

Made placemats! out of twenty-ish-year old discarded quilt scraps. I made a quilt top in these colors and then decided I hated it and never finished it. Instead, on our last move it went into the trash - or more correctly it went into a bag of scrap fabric that got given away. I found some remnants the other day, and now here they are. A scrappy mat for me and a tidy stripe mat for Mr. W. 

Tormented dogs! This is my favorite time of the day! Every morning the boys have to sit and wait (or in Yoshi's case "stand-up-and-be-bad-but-leave-it") when the chickens come out of their house for the day. On occasion the birds fly right up into their faces, no joke, and they never, ever snap. After, they celebrate - Bradley, by spinning in wild circles and Yoshi, by allowing me to pet him for five seconds. Sometimes, if I am lucky, he even wags his tail for me. 

Got Healed! That's right. Apparently, if you are unwell, achy, feverish, sore and generally poorly, one good cuddle from Bradley will set you more or less right. Or at least you'll feel well enough to sit upright and prepare a couple dozen par-cooked meals for your freezer. 

Finished a caterpillar, and stuffed a cat in it! (the yarn is Northampton Bulky - try it and you will not be sad, I promise!) Please remember that Mel is basically evil. He once took a chunk out of Gene's chest just because the man tried to play with him (toy with him, play with him; it's all relative). Finishing the cocoon was easy. Stuffing the cat in it? THAT was HARD! 

Chilled! Yes! We spent a day at Lake Compounce - and I bought a mug (featuring a blueprint of my favorite wooden coaster within 100 miles). We have issues with this place - or with Boulder Dash anyway. Blame Bill Childs. He started it. Best wooden coaster for many a mile. Best seat? Dead last! Bought a season's pass and I am going to milk every coaster-loving second out of it, for sure!

I hope your summer is treating you as well, because this is THE life! 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Impulsive But Effective

I love my KitchenAid stand mixer. The fact that it is about 20 years old and pulls about the lowest possible wattage for a KitchenAid (300W) does not diminish my love. It was a gift from my mother who could not believe I didn't own a stand mixer. In retrospect, considering how much baking I was doing, neither can I. I've had to replace the motor once, very early on, when I overloaded the poor thing and killed it. I probably should have had a bigger mixer with more power - back then, I made all our bread. And by bread I mean pizza dough, loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread, bagels...everything. We bought wheat berries in 50 pound bags and I ground them with the KitchenAid. We drove to the King Arthur store and bought bread flour in #50 bags. (Yes, there is a King Arthur store. They also have an amazing teaching center. I've never taken a class there, but have always wanted to). But that mixer stood by me faithfully through cookies and breads, muffins and cakes, and still works like a charm (if a slightly loose-in-the-joints charm) today.

In all these years I've only ever truly lusted after one other mixer. This one:

Now, obviously, the chances of my ever owning (sans divine intervention) a mixer with a retail value pushing a grand are about nil. I have instead my faithful little 5-quart Artisan with a motor more suited to the 4.5-quart model, complete with spatter shield, bowls, whip, dough hook and beater. 59-point planetary action! Perfect meringues!

As much as I love my KA, it does have one very obvious flaw. 

See what I mean? It' And not just any green. A dark, dated, glossy hunter sort of green that in 1994 matched my kitchen perfectly. In retrospect I should have gone with black or white or - my (second) favorite - grey. And if I had it to do over again, that is the way I'd go. But bygones are bygones, and you can't remake a decision you made more than twenty years ago.... or can you?

I decided that with the new kitchen on the way, the green mixer simply had to change. Not go, but change. Green is out. It will clash with the new kitchen, and I desperately miss having the KitchenAid out where I can see it at all times. In fact, it doesn't really seem like "my" kitchen without it. At this house and the one before it, the poor thing was relegated to a closet or cupboard, hauled out on special occasions, then returned to solitude. Well, a KitchenAid deserves better - and by golly, mine is going to get it! 

I began with some googling to see if anyone else had undertaken what I was about to do. Could a KA be safely and effectively repainted without destroying the machine? The answer, based on my quick look around the internet, was a resounding "yes". I was most relieved. This wasn't a project I undertook lightly, believe me. Should it fail, I would be without a mixer for a long, long time. But should it succeed, well, I would be bringing my poor tired old mixer into the light of day once more, to take it's rightful place on the counter, by the stove, near the sink, and unblocked by the coffee maker.

Did it work? Well, let's start at the beginning.

First, based on my perusing of the internet I made certain to take as many pictures as possible before I began the project. 

We are talking 50 or so, from every possible angle, of every screw, in different light. This was overkill. Ten would have been sufficient, or even five.

Next I removed any chrome parts that could easily be removed - the base that the bowl sits in, for example, and the deliciously classic chrome band that encircles the body. 

Then I meticulously scrubbed every nook and cranny with a TSP and water solution. We're talking pot scrubbie-toothpick-scrub-till-your-hands-hurt clean, every little spot. Using acetone and a paper towel I removed the adhesive smear from the back where some label had warned of some life-damaging injury or other if one did something incorrectly - I don't even remember what the label said any more, and whatever idiotic act it warned against I have apparently never engaged in, or I wouldn't be here to tell you about it. Anyway. And I removed the cover over the guts - this was important as I wanted to protect the motor from paint as much as possible.

But I left the rest of the body in one piece. I toyed with removing the head from the base, but decided against it. I probably could have rigged up something to hold the motor portion upright to allow for better spraying, but it wasn't worth the effort involved. I had some concerns about paint causing sticking where the head and the base come together, but it turned out they were not justified.

Then I very carefully taped every remaining exposed area, with one exception. I could not get the tape to fit neatly around the power hub, also known as "the hole in front", so I decided to just paint the chrome. My power hub cover has long since disappeared, and maybe someday I will replace it. Otherwise, all areas were carefully taped to ensure that they'd remain unpainted. I carefully wrapped the cord in a baggie which I then taped over the motor to protect that from paint as well. Then I very carefully and completely sanded the entire surface with 100-grit paper. Once the finish was thoroughly sanded, I vacuumed the mixer, and ran over it with a tack cloth to remove any residual sanding dust. 

Next came paint selection. I wanted something neutral, I thought, and preferably something forgiving in case of incident or accident, which we all know can happen with home spray paint projects. I wandered into our local Aubuchon Hardware Store and pondered options. I am a big fan of Rust-Oleum products based on prior experience, so I decided to stick with them for this very important one. I looked at all the colors, debated satin versus gloss, and generally was quite miserable and unable to make up my mind until I found Stops Rust Hammered Copper. It is intended as a paint-over-rust product with excellent adherence and a textured finish, so it was likely to be very forgiving. As I stood there gazing at the cap, having flashbacks to the KP26M8XCP 620-watt 6-quart professional mixer in satin copper finish, I knew what I had to do. I reached out and grabbed a can and, after paying for it of course, raced home like a seven-year-old heading for an ice cream truck on a July day. 

I cleaned and set up a spray area in the garage, then grabbed a mask and a pile of gloves - which I promptly forgot to use for the first coat, resulting in hammered copper MMO hands and a whopping MMO spray paint headache. Please do not follow my heedless example - glove up and mask up!  

And then I painted. I painted carefully and somewhat slowly, which for me is something of a miracle - I tend toward impetuous and impulsive most of the time. Of course there were problems along the way - two tiny fruit flies appeared as if by magic and embedded themselves in the paint, causing a minor crisis. A tiny hair drifted in and got stuck on the base right near where the chrome plate sits that holds the mixer bowl, requiring a tweezer removal. 

The paint accumulated on my glove on the second coat, resulting in droplets larger than I'd prefer in a couple of spots. Worst of all, after the first coat I rinsed my un-gloved, paint-y hands in thinner, and without thinking leaned across the mixer to grab a towel, resulting in a big droplet of thinner falling onto the newly painted surface. I debated dabbing to remove it, but instead left it where it fell. I actually sort of liked the result, and debated (VERY briefly) going at the whole mixer with thinner, paint-spatter style. But in the end I stuck with the original game plan. 

After about 18 hours of drying time, I applied two coats of Rust-Oleum Painter's Touch Ultra 2X clear gloss to finish the surface. This is maybe superfluous, but I think it will help the mixer stand up to abuse - and it does get that here! Once everything dried to the touch, back on went all the chrome bits. The tape came off and....

VOILA! About $20, a few hours of my time, and a couple of nervous moments later...

and I have the prettiest mixer in town. Or I think I do anyway! It can sit and cure for a day in the garage and the take it's rightful place front and center of my kitchen.

Now, someday the funds may be available for me to fall into that KP26M8XCP 620-watt 6-quart professional mixer in satin copper finish, (and when I do, Lucky Girl can inherit this old beauty) but until then this does me just fine!