Saturday, March 29, 2014

Weather Check for the Spring Season

Because this winter has been so deeply cold, snowy and seems to be lasting forever, I thought I'd just make a post to compare each year with the last to see how bad or good things are. Apparently I didn't really post any info last year, and the previous year was an anomaly because of the unprecedented 2 week heat wave.

But for the record, last night's low was 29.1 F. Yesterdays high was 41.3 F and very windy. There was rain in the morning yesterday mixing with snow before it ended around noon. Though the high did hit 41 most of the day averaged around 37. There was some major melting though which is good. The ground is still frozen solid, no sign of any crocuses.

The forecast low tonight is 9 F. Brrr. Way too many single digits for this time of year. But last night was 7 degrees warmer than the forecast, we shall see what really happens tomorrow.

eta: the high was 38.4 F, the low by next morning 19.1F.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Brother's Beans and Rice Dish

The other day I decided to try and recreate the veggie dish my brother made when he visited in December. I emailed him first and got a reply with what he did which was a good thing because I couldn't remember anything in it other than peppers and onions! Sometimes my memory (or lack thereof) is frightening. He gave me his main ingredients, suggested some spices and told me to just experiment. So this is what I did.

2 sweet green peppers
1 sweet orange pepper
2 yellow onions
3 heaping tsp chopped garlic, (about 10 cloves)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried basil
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 c sweet chili sauce
2 cans black beans
1 can light red kidney beans
1 can great northern beans
The main ingredients

3 cups white rice
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp salt

Cut up the peppers and onions and saute in olive oil till the onions wilt, add the garlic, cook a few minutes more, add the tomato and chili sauce with spices and rinsed and drained beans. Let it all cook for an hour or so over low heat covered.

Peppers and onions on the left, rice on the right
Cook the white rice with the salt and turmeric in water and a cup of chicken broth. Add to the peppers, mix well and let cook on stove another 30 minutes or so.
I also threw in some leftover roast chicken
The rice is where I might have let things get out of hand. My brother said 3 cups of rice. I assumed 3 cups uncooked rice. When I combined it all there was a huge amount of rice to peppers and onions. It still tasted great but I think he may have meant 3 cups of cooked rice. I may try that the next time, or at the very least drop it to 2 cups of uncooked rice. (I would also decrease the turmeric accordingly.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Yarn and Birds

As usual I've been crocheting. It was good to realize that I still enjoyed it even after a 2 month hiatus. But in the time since my last post in February I finished the shawl I started in September as well as the sweater I was testing (for the same designer). Neither of the projects have been blocked and the sweater still needs buttons but here are my latest photos.

The first project finished was the Anemone designed by Michelle DuNaier. I was one of the testers for the design to help make sure it was typo-free and understandable to the average crocheter. It was pretty straight forward and fun to make (once those granny square motifs were all finished, they seem to take forever!)
Anemone without Buttons
 My other project was her Goldberry shawl, named after a character in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. (One that didn't make it into the movies.) It was pretty easy except for making sure I had the correct number of stitches in each row, toward the end there were over 500. The hdc's were easy to make but a headache to count. However I really love how this one came out, it's big and heavy, warm, and ought to look even better once it's steam blocked. The perspective in the photo looks a little odd because I flipped it 180 degrees.
I finished it on March 12 and immediately started another shawl also designed by Ms DuNaier called Ginny's Patronus Cloak. I used some Red Heart Unforgettable in the Candied colorway and bought some skeins that coordinated really well. There are 57 rows, I think I am on row 44 but the photo was taken a couple days ago and is only to about row 25 or so.
Patronus Shawl
This pattern has been really easy and I had to learn to make post stitches. I thought it was supposed to be a fairly large shawl but I am starting to wonder. It's possible the yarn and hook size were just wrong for a big shawl. I'm using an H hook (5 mm) mostly and yarn that is about US size 3, DK weight rather than the fingering weight which the designer used in her sample. (She also used an H hook)Then again the model wearing it is probably fairly small and maybe it just looks big on her, I guess I'll find out when I get to the end. That will take a while because the rows are becoming very long.

One final note, since winter is hanging on (happy first day of spring, everyone!) I am still putting out seed and suet for the birds. I caught a small pileated woodpecker on the suet behind the house. Not the best picture in the world, but it's still pretty cool, I think. I'm surprise it could get its huge beak into those little holes. The other suet feeders are much larger. This one is more squirrel proof which is why it's behind the house.
Pileated Woodpecker, probably female
Kinda cool.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Cold Continues with Blips of Teasing Warmth

I really should complain less about cold winter temps, even if those temperatures are 10-20 degrees below average for March. But after a nice 51 degrees F two days ago, night temps dropping below zero and day temps only into the high teens and low 20s is just cruel. Thankfully there was plenty of sun yesterday which did cause the thermometer to achieve 30 for a split second even if the winds made it feel much colder. Had to be fairly nice though, even if I didn't feel warm because Luna and Ziggy spent most of the afternoon laying on the deck instead of pestering me to let them back inside or go for multiple walks. (Don't worry my faithful reader, they still had at least 4 separate walks yesterday!)

Tonight's forecast low is -13 which is probably likely as wunderground has been pretty pretty accurate in their forecasts lately. Hopefully it really will hit 40 Tuesday, and then rain for Wednesday! We just have to slog through the barely 20's predicted for today and tomorrow. With the vernal equinox arriving Thursday (when it's supposed to reach only 34 and snow besides) I really would love the weather to match the season!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Beef and Barley Soup in the Pressure Cooker

So the first thing I decided to make with my new pressure cooker the day after I put it together and washed it was beef barley soup that normally takes all afternoon because I have to brown the beef and then simmer it for a few hours till tender, etc. It also involves pre-cooking the pearl barley for about 45 minutes and adding it to the meat. I still needed to cook the barley first so following the instructions I put 1/2 cup of pearl barley into a small stainless steel bowl with about 1 3/4 cups water (the directions called for 1 cup barely and 2 cups of water but as I didn't need 4 cups of cooked barley I used less and as I didn't know if the 1 to 2 ratio would be consistent when changing the amount I used a little more water to play it safe) and then covered the bowl with aluminum foil.
I placed the bowl onto the metal trivet in the center of the pot and added 2 cups of water to the pot secured the lid and turned the burner on high.
 It took a few minutes for the water to steam which after a few more minutes of hissing out of the pressure release valve in the handle which closed up when 15 psi was achieved. Then the rocker in the center of the pan started rocking and chugging a little to vigorously releasing lots of steam so I moved it from my highest output burner to the medium one and got a better, slower rocking on the lowest setting. I set the timer for 10 minutes (said 9-12 though oddly, on line everywhere it says 18-20 minutes for pearl barley) and waited. After 10 minutes I turned it off and let the pot cool down on it's own while walking the dogs. The walk took about 15 minutes and when I got back I saw the pressure relief valve had dropped and it was safe to open the cooker.

It turned out there was a little too much water left so I strained it and this is what the barely looked like. It was also nicely cooked with just a bit of a chewy bite to it still which was fine as it would be added to the finished meat and vegetables at the end of the its cooking.
Next was the meat part for which I used a couple T-bone steaks that I have never had much success with cooking as steaks. I cut them up into 1 inch pieces, browned them in a little oil in the pot, removed it, then sauteed half an onion or so, threw the meat back in along with a chopped carrot and numerous other spices, added water and beef broth, put the lid back on, got the pot up to pressure and cooked for 12 minutes (according to the Presto directions for beef stew.) Then I threw the barley in, adjusted seasonings and there it was, beef and barley stew in under an hour.
Unfortunately, I did this all in the morning but we didn't eat dinner till 5 so we had to wait 5 hours to eat it. I think that was fine though as it allowed the barley to meld with the broth. It was very tasty.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My New Pressure Cooker

While I was growing up my mom used a large Mirro pressure cooker to make dinners for our family of six. I remember being fascinated by the jiggly round piece that danced on top. It was the kind that had separate holes labeled with numbers denoting which pressure was being used; 5, 10 or 15 pounds.
You can buy this as a replacement part for older cookers
The 2 meals I remember coming from the cooker were pork chops and rice. I believe she spread mustard on the chops and browned them first. The other meal was pot roast which would then be served over baked noodles. It is highly probable there were other meals but these are the ones I remember.

I've canned many foods in the past with my 17 quart Presto canner including venison and tomatoes though I have since used a water bath canner for the tomatoes. I received it as a gift from my mother-in-law back when we lived in Virginia, but I never owned a smaller pressure cooker to be used only for meals till this week.

For years I'd been telling Hal I should probably buy one but had been putting it off because I really wondered how much use it would get. Then a couple weeks ago I made chili using dry beans. I'd done it in the past, soaking beans over night, boiling for a few minutes, rinsing, etc., but this time the beans just did not want to get soft.

Now maybe the problem was caused by using my new crockpot which doesn't seem to get as hot as my older ones, but it was still frustrating as I had to pour the beans into a pot on the stove, boil them and then return them to the crockpot. Or the beans may have been older than I thought since I've mainly been making chili with store bought canned beans. Whatever the reason I figured there must be an easier way because I'd like to use dried beans more often. They are more economical and there aren't those cans to dispose of. So of course I searched on line and discovered that I could use a pressure cooker.

So next I had to decide what size, 6 or 8 quart and aluminum or stainless steel. Though being much less expensive I decided against aluminum simply because acidic foods like tomatoes will stain the interior. Plus there are those who say the aluminum will oxidize and leach into the food. I don't know how scientifically accurate that is, but why not just avoid the possibility all together? As for size, I was leaning toward the 8 quart because I read that beans foam a lot and could plug the vent hole in a smaller pot that could lead to all sorts of problems, primarily over-pressure and the disastrous consequences. But the one I had my eye on at Amazon suddenly jumped in price $16 and that bugged me. I was not going to pay more for something that could drop in price again tomorrow. But I didn't want to wait (it has since dropped $6, but still!)

Plus, do I really need to have 4 quarts of cooked beans to make a pot of chili for 2 people? (pressure cooking beans means filling the pan only half full, but 4 quarts of dried beans would be a lot of beans when cooked.) So I went with the 6 quart and I went with Presto because they've been around for decades, parts are sold everywhere and they are still cheaper than most other brands. Turns out that very same cooker had been on my Amazon wish list since August of 2009 and it had dropped $5 since then.
My cooker arrived this week in a huge box that felt empty but inside there was my cooker which weighed a lot less than I expected for being made of stainless steel. Heck, my stainless steel pots and pans seem to weigh more. The box was square which means the handles could not have been attached and sure enough, it was up to me to put it all together.
All together now
Note the weight on top is not the interesting round one but one that is designed for 15 pounds of pressure. Fancier pricier ones apparently have 2 pressure options, the other being around 8 pounds and used for more delicate foods (I assume). The 15 is for foods like meat and beans.
 After a thorough washing and drying to remove the manufacturing oils (particularly on the rubber gasket)I was ready to cook. But let me put that in my next post.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My Third Rug

My last area rug did arrive last Wednesday as Overstock said and I am pleased with it as well. Being small and round I was afraid that the design would be placed oddly, a huge empty space in the center with the big flowers lopped off along the edges. While it's not as perfect a selection of the flower pattern as I would wish for (I would have loved that big blue flower in the center that's in the middle of my runner) I still like it just fine. The dogs seem to like it, too.
3' diameter Wool rug
Luna looks a little sheepish. Perhaps she's thinking she shouldn't sit there without permission?
Luna discovered it pretty quickly.
Ziggy and Luna sunning themselves. No sheepish looks here. I think the rug looks very nice in front of mom's old living room chair.
Rug in the Sun with Dogs
As an added bonus to this rug post, here are some recent yarn purchases. The cones on the the right came from WEBS and are a lace weight merino-tencel blend called Colrain Lace. Colors are whipple blue and chocolate. There were on sale and even with shipping charges were a good buy. The others are just a Caron simply soft bought to make a shawl. I'm not sure what the lace will be used for yet, I just couldn't pass on something I've been wanting to try for a long time. And don't they look nice on my rug?!!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

YAY It's March!!

I've never cared for February, it's usually the coldest, snowiest month and feels like it takes forever to go away. This year I believe January was probably colder than average but somehow it's not so bad being as it's still "early" winter. February is the month before spring arrives so I think the desire for spring makes it that much harder to bear. But it's gone, it's the second day of March and it's still only 15 F and supposed to drop to -13 tonight. I hope that is wrong, after all it's been a few degrees warmer than all the predictions lately  (except for 2 nights ago when it dropped to -23.1!) These colder than average temps will remain this low till at least Thursday (today is Sunday) and then barely squeak into the low 20s. Everyone I know is very tired of this weather.

We are almost out of cut up firewood. It was supposed to last longer than this but we anticipated a more normal winter. Today Hal dragged some long logs that were up the driveway and hidden under the snow down to the stove. Later this week he will probably cut them up. He's hoping for much warmer weather to do it in though. I will probably be heading downstate Friday to visit his sister again. The last time I went at the end of January we did so much running around it wasn't very relaxing. We are going to try harder to relax this time. The dogs are not going to be pleased but they'll get over it.

It's taken me all day to get this post finished so I'd better just quit now.