Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Turbografx-16: Legendary Axe Edition

This christmas we decided that the family was going to try to make all the gifts. We managed to get the immediate family covered (next year, grandparents!), but I managed to fall ill pretty much constantly since Halloween and barely made it through (and I still have to apologize to Duncan because I'm still working on his backpack). But I did manage to get my hubby's present done: a Legendary Axe Turbografx 16 with led mod. You can see his reaction:

For more on the system, including video, you can check out his post: The HuPack: Turbografx-16: Legendary Axe Edition. I'm just glad he liked it :)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Best Cream of Chicken Soup

Update: I can officially call this my award-winning soup, since it won the soup contest at my husband's workplace. Woo!

Yeah, this is bragging, but this is the best recipe for cream of chicken soup bar none. This recipe makes about 12 cups- just enough to feed our family. Enjoy.

Sweating the onions
Broth added, starting the 40 minute cook
Crazy Good Cream of Chicken Soup

Yeah, this is bragging, but this is the best recipe for cream of chicken soup bar none. That's just my opinion, of course.

  • 1 meduim-large onion, quartered
  • 3 celery stalks, trimmed
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 2/3 cup wild rice
  • 1/2 cup long grain white rice OR
  • 1/2 cup brown rice
  • 7 cups chicken broth
  • 2 lbs chicken breast
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in about 6 tablespoons of water
  • Salt & pepper to taste


Puree onion, celery, and garlic in food processor. In stockpot heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat and add puree; sweat 10 minutes. Add wine, and reduce about half, another 5 minutes; add thyme, wild rice, chicken broth (and brown rice if you're using it). Bring to a simmer and cook 40 minutes. While it's simmering, sear chicken in a cast iron pan over high heat - you're not trying to cook it through, just get nice color on the outside. Cut into small 1/2 inch cubes. After the 40 minutes add the chicken breast and white rice and simmer an additional 20 minutes. Add cream and salt and pepper to taste, add cornstarch mixture and stir until thickened. Serve with crusty bread or dinner rolls and a nice white wine.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Excuse me, please, and thank you

One of the things we've tried to teach the kids from the start are excuse me, please, and thank you. You say excuse me when you're interrupting someone or you want someone's attention (not "Excuuuuuuse me!", the polite "Excuse me?"). You say please when you'd like someone to do something. You say thank you if someone has done something for you (or something you generally appreciate).

These words are more than just polite manners (this isn't like keeping your elbows off the table). They inform how we view the world. By using please, thank you, and excuse me you're acknowledging the other person, and re-enforcing your empathy and compassion towards them. You're saying "I understand that you are a person with your own plans, thoughts, and feelings, and I respect that."

I'm hopeful that the kids, as they grow up, will continue to use these words even if they aren't face to face with someone. If everyone kept "excuse me, please, and thank you" in mind while driving, for instance, there'd be a lot less problems with traffic. The internet would be much better if people used these words in earnest instead of in sarcasm.

It's essential that our kids know that they are important, and have a sense of their own self worth; it's equally essential that they know that they aren't the center of the universe and that other people are also important. Excuse me, please, and thank you are good steps to remembering the humanity of others.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Jambalaya - chicken, shrimp, pork, sausage, seafood, whatever

Photo by liz west
I know there are tons of recipes for jambalaya out there; this is the one we use (and put up by popular demand). One thing you'll notice with our recipe is that we puree the vegetables. This is a good way of hiding the veggies from the kids so that they don't even know that they're eating them.


Makes enough to serve 6ish, depending on people's appetites. The nice thing is you can sub a pound of whatever for the chicken and or shrimp; often I'll make a braised pulled pork several hours or the day before, rubbing it with the spice mix and then braising it in a little water at 350 until it was fall apart tender (6ish hours), and then add it when I'd usually add the meat. For seafood, chicken, and tender cuts of pork, you'll want to add it raw when the recipe says.

  • 8oz raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined
  • 8oz chicken breast, cut into 2 inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregeno cut fine (for dried 1/2 teaspoon powdered)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, crushed (for dried 1/2 teaspoon powdered)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (or whatever your favorite hot pepper powder is)
  • 1 andouille sausage, chopped
  • 1/2 large yellow onion
  • 1 large red bell pepper (or two. Really. Can't have too many red peppers.)
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 6 medium garlic cloves, chopped fine
  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (I recommend Bourbon Barrel Worcestershire sauce, it's YUM)
  • 2 teaspoons Louisiana hot sauce (Franks is probably the most well known, but any Louisana style that you like would be fine)
  • 1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
  • 5 cups chicken stock
 Mix together spices and coat meat in it; set aside (if using more/other meat, just use about a teaspoon per lb). Puree onion, pepper, and celery in food processor and saute in large stock pot over medium heat for about four minutes. Meanwhile, puree the tomatoes. Add garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce, and cook for 4-5 minutes longer. Add rice and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add meat and sausage and cook 12 minutes more. Serve in bowls.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pizza 'N Games V logo

Thought I'd show everyone the new Pizza 'N Games 5 logo and website. OK, it doesn't really have any new info on it, but it does have a new design and logo, inspired by the Final Fantasy series (obviously). Lemme know what you think!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Another website update

Short one today.

So I wanted to show at least some of what I do on my website, so I added a section near the top that shows a little bit of what I actually do. I even managed to make it responsive and fade between images (which was surprisingly more difficult than it sounds). Did learn a little more jQuery. Wooo!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday Kiddie Cocktail -- Pumpkin spice tea latte

Tis the season for pumpkin everything! This is not a bad thing. I love pumpkin, personally, so this is one of my favorite seasons. This is my recipe for a pumpkin spice tea latte (you could make it with coffee, but this one's for kids.... and I'm not fond of coffee). This makes about 8 normal/small size servings; if you want something like a grande then you'll get maybe 4 servings.

Pumpkin Spice Tea Latte

  • 1 can pumpkin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons vanilla
  • 3 cups milk
  • 3 cups black tea (brew your favorite)
  • Whipped cream for topping
Combine pumpkin and spices in a saucepan over medium heat, cook for about 5 minutes. Add sugar, milk, and vanilla, and heat stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture is steaming. Add tea and serve hot with whip cream on the top.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My current design reading list

It's heading towards winter (obligatory reference), and that means less stuff outside (no more painting/varnishing large pieces this year), and more reading. I've got a large reading list in general, but here's my current list of design reading. some of these I've read before and will be refreshers, some are new. You'll notice a lot of "A Book Apart" on here; they really do make nice little books on important web design topics.

I'll try to get reviews of these up as I get through them. (Full disclosure: if ever someone would click though to Amazon thru my site and buy something - which has never happened - I'd get a commission. Personally, I got Beyond Trend at the Dollar Tree.)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Happy Hour - the Negroni

With NPR celebrating bitter in a story this week, I thought nothing could be more appropriate than the recipe for the Negroni, a champ of appertifs, slightly sweet and with a nice bitter bite. It's a great go-to cocktail for before dinner as it leaves you nicely hungry and relaxed.


1oz gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz Sweet red vermouth
Optional: dash of fruit flavored bitters - cherry, grapefruit, orange

Add ice to a tumbler, combine ingredients and stir. Serve.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pizza N' Games IV is here!

Tomorrow: it's on like Donkey Kong. Quite literally, we will have Donkey Kong. Pizza n' Games 4 has finally arrived! Come to Les & Jim's in Merrill for some epic game playing - video games, board games, RPG, and much much more. Vendors will be selling games, game related merch, and other nerdy stuff. There will be various SCA demos. I'll personally be running Call of Cthulhu and the Doctor Who RPG (the old FASA one). Come and join us - only 6 bucks for a full day and pizza!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thursday Kiddie Cocktail -- Ginger Apple Sparkler

Another fall recipe this week; not hot this time but with distinct fall flavors. There is an alcoholic Gingered Apple Sparkler as well, but this is decidedly virgin.

1oz ginger syrup
3oz apple cider
1 oz orange juice
3 oz seltzer (or, as usual, replace ginger syrup and seltzer with ginger ale)
dash of bitters (Angostura, a popular brand, adds a negligible amount of alcohol, little enough that this is still technically non-alcoholic aka <.5 ABV; there are a couple of industrially produced non-alcoholic bitters as well, if it is a concern. Or, leave it out.)

Put 2-3 ice cubes in a highball glass. Add ingredients, stir lightly, serve.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My crazy idea for the week

Photo courtsey Kainet
So here's my crazy idea for the week on how Merrill can attract businesses and create jobs in the area:

Invest in fiber optic infrastructure.

Feel free to discuss.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Race and northern WI

I grew up in Merrill, but I spent 12 years - most of my adult life - in the Bay Area. Growing up, there were a couple of kids who weren't white (most were of pacific-rim east asian extraction, and a couple of Native Americans), but for the most part everyone was about as white bread as you can get. In the bay area, there was an absolute melting pot of all kinds of different peoples and cultures.

Growing up I heard many people complain and make jokes about the Hmong (our only local recent immigrant population at the time), yell about Native Americans spearfishing rights (using more racial epithets), and casually use the N word. "Pollack" jokes too, but at least those were mostly made by people of actual Polish decent. I was raised - by my parents, by Sesame Street and Mr. Rodgers, by everything that I knew about science - to deplore such actions, but I got used to it.

Then I moved away, into a place where racism still exists but it is conversed about, and blatant racism is called out much more. I got to interact a lot with people from all over the globe.

When I moved back to Merrill I discovered that the population has become more diverse in northern WI, and some of the more blatant signs of racism have gone away, but it's still much more prevalent here, especially amongst the older generations. My stepkids' cousins - some of the sweetest kids you'd ever meet- are multiracial, and I hate to think of the things they are called, both behind their backs and to their faces.

I have still heard the N word used since I got back. I've still heard jokes about how lazy -fill in the blank- race is. I've heard the jokes about Mexican immigrants (who've apparently replaced the Hmong on the local scale of "scary immigrants") I've still seen the cops called on someone because they were playing "urban" (how's that for a cover word?) music.

Systemic discrimination is a problem everywhere (look at the headlines in the news! When your case is suddenly much better because of your witnesses' skin color, we have a race problem!), but it is so ingrained up here that I think we have to take a good look at our institutions and ourselves, and start to talk about how racism is effecting us all, and not for the best.

I'm calling this out. If I hear someone being racist, I will not look embarrassed and sheepishly turn the other way. I will tell them they are being inappropriate, and explain exactly how and why they are wrong. I will encourage people to learn more about other cultures. I will encourage people to learn more about the history of race relations in this country (at the very least, I'll encourage them to watch some Spike Lee joints). And I will not accept that this is just how things are up here.

Apple, Windows, and UI design

No, this isn't going to be a rant about Apple. At least, it won't be after I explain why I'm not a big Apple fan to start with; then I'll complain about both Apple and Windows. This is a rant about UI design and how I'm incredibly sick of  function following form rather than vice versa.

 OK, so I'll start this off with a caveat: I am not a fan of Apple products. That isn't what this is all about, but I know that everyone (including me) gets their panties in a bunch when it comes to their favorite OS's. The reasons I don't like Apple specifically are:

  • Price point; these are luxury items. The OS is a locked-down linux distro. You're paying for a name.
  • Press to click. I hate pressing to click more than almost anything, because nothing aggravates my carpal tunnel more than pressing and dragging with the same finger - and when I want to reset my finger location on the trackpad I have to let go. With my Thinkpad I can move the cursor with one finger and click with a completely different finger, saving my wrist years of pain. (Yes, wireless mouses are nice, but less wrist movement is better.)
  • The fact that you have to use their hardware and software. If I could use their software on a machine that I customized for myself (see trackpad above) I wouldn't have nearly the level of loathing that I do.
That being said: I'm not a Windows apologist. Windows 8 is one of the worst operating systems I've ever seen. I do like that I can put Windows on basically any computer that I've built for myself, but I can do the same with Linux -- if only Linux would run Adobe products. And yes, Windows isn't the most secure environment ever (but in large part that's because it's so widely used and therefore widely targeted). Windows isn't getting a free pass. I do like PC hardware much more than Apple hardware, because I can make my own and it doesn't cause me physical, literal pain. Windows I currently just like better because I can turn certain things off. Which leads me to the bulk of my rant:

When it comes down to it, I'm not happy with either Windows or Apple, because designers need to STOP making things animated and flashy and "pretty" just because they can. In my mind, the ideal UI is one that is nearly invisible - you don't notice it, you just notice that you can get things done with it. I'm currently on Windows 7 (well, the whole house is either Win 7 or Linux; Linux where we don't need to connect with school systems that only work with Windows or Mac and also don't need Adobe), but I still turn off all the animations, fancy see-through color schemes, etc. I basically make my Windows 7 look like it's 1996, because I don't want all those fancy shiny animations and see through rendering load bogging down my system. Of course, I don't really have the option to do this on a Mac, but my complaint is the same: all the major OS's... ok, both of them... are suffering from function following form. Especially Windows 8, ick.

OK, I get it. Oooo, a shiny now toy!  Look, it can do all these really pretty things! That's pretty much how the kids look at their new toys, but the toys that end up sticking around are the ones that are well built underneath, are custom made (or customizable), don't have unnecessary bits that can break easily, and wherever possible can be used in different or more complex ways as the child also grows. The same should go for UI design.

Steve Jobs always said he wanted Apple's UI to get out of the way, but I've found that Apple products love to get in my way: for instance, iTunes takes my carefully curated file folders of songs and mashes them into some order that it wants. This is getting in my way. Windows has tried to do the same thing with its documents system: oh, you downloaded something? Then it's in your Downloads folder. Even if it has absolutely nothing to do with anything else in that folder. Fortunately this is currently turn-offable, but I fear that soon we will be held under the tyranny of having our files stored the way someone else wants.

And yes, I do love Linux, but Adobe stubbornly refuses to support it. Also, the command line is not great UI (sorry, command line friends, but I can double click into a folder faster than you can type into it). 

So, in the end, this is my plea to my fellow designers: stop making things shiny (animated, marquee, blink, parallax scrolling, using the latest and greatest visual tricks) just because you can. Let the UI get out of the user's way and let them do what they want to do, make it easy for them to do so, and try not to dictate what it is that they are allowed to do.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Happy Hour - Pink Squirrel

Yeah, it really looked like this.
I had a hard time writing this entry. I'll get to why in a bit.

I was introduced to the Pink Squirrel at the Peppermill in Santa Clara. The Peppermill was like a little bit of early 1970's Las Vegas in the middle of the Silicon Valley. It was ridiculous, over the top, with fake indoor trees and neon and the water and fireplace. It was also ridiculously cheesy fun, and the drink list included many over the top drinks that went out of favor with the era that the decor represented.

One of those was the Pink Squirrel.

It was actually invented closer to my current home, in Milwaukee at Bryant's Cocktail Lounge. Now comes where I had a problem. The original recipe called for 1 part creme de noyaux, 1 part creme de cacao, and 2 parts ice cream. I started here, and almost completely stopped here. Overly sweet doesn't begin to describe the horror. We drank it, but I couldn't recommend it. So, moving on, I looked at other recipes, and saw that they called for unsweetened cream or half and half instead. This is the recipe I finally ended up enjoying the most. Many people talked about the difficulty of procuring creme de noyaux, but apparently WI residents like the stuff as I didn't have any problem getting a hold of it.

  • 1 oz creme de cacao
  • 1 oz creme de noyaux
  • 2 oz half and half
  • Several ice cubes
Combine ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Pour into large martini glasses.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thursday Kiddie Cocktail - Maple Not Toddy

As it seems like we've suddenly been plunged into late fall, I thought I'd do a hot Kiddie Cocktail. Presenting the Maple Not Toddy. It's great for opening up the sinuses, and you can play with what tea you use to get different flavors.
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz maple syrup
  • 1 cup black or oolong tea
Mix and serve hot.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Design vs Art vs Craft

No idea if this is art or craft or design.
I'm still proud of it.
I was asked the other day what the difference between art and craft was. Being snarky, I answered "How snooty you are." It is an interesting question, however, and I'd like to get some of my thoughts on the subject down. Of course, this is all IMHO, and if you ask someone else you'll get a totally different answer - which is ok.

I think that there's a great deal of overlap between design, art, and craft. In their very pure forms, I believe that design is a process of planning and creating, art is a creation which doesn't necessarily have a purpose beyond itself, and craft is a creation with a function beyond just existing.

But there are so many fuzzy grey areas. Does this mean that a newspaper photograph (which ostensibly has the purpose of documenting an event) cannot be a piece of art? Or that a handmade, hand embroidered corset is just craft? Or how about the amazing bit of unasked for mural (sometimes called graffiti), is that art or craft or design or all or none? What is the stuff I make?

Who makes the rules about any of these things?

When it comes down to it: it doesn't friggin' matter. Did someone personally put work and thought and sweat and love into it? Then it is awesome.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Once there was a daisy: songs that get forgotten

Photo courtesy Kathy Kimpel
There was a song that my grandmother sang to me when I was young. It went:

Once there was a daisy
who raised her pretty head
"Robin, robin redbreast," this is what she said,
"Oh I am so thirsty, robin robin dear,
And all day the sun shines, in the skies so clear."
Then dear robin redbreast called the raindrops down.
Patter, patter raindrops on the daisy's crown.
Said the daisy "Thank you!" o'er and o'er again,
And dear robin redbreast
Sang out in the rain.

Now, I have no idea where this song came from; I never knew anyone else besides my mom who knew it. I sing it to my kids in the hopes that someday they will sing it to their children.

I was interested to find out more about this song, but in all the boundless information that is online, this song doesn't seem to exist. I wanted to put this here so that it'll be available in case anyone else ever looks for it. Maybe someday I'll learn more.

Until then I'll think of this as a folk song that almost everyone forgot.

Update  9/13/2015

Google books has come through in a big way. "The Daisy" is listed on page 27 in the periodical "Primary Planner" in March 1908. I can only imagine that my Grandmother's teacher subscribed and taught this song in school. The words (it isn't listed as a song) are nearly identical to what I remember. It's terribly exciting to find this song in another place, and to understand its origins a little better.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

So when I talk about design and sustainability, this is part of what I mean.

Image from Sustainability by design
Now, if you haven't listened to any TED Talks, you're missing out. They're generally fairly short seminars on a wide variety of topics where you can learn things that you might not have known.

One of my favorite playlists is Sustainability by design.  It ranges over a whole bunch of different ways where design can impact sustainability - from making plastic from mushrooms and growing your own house to things that might be counter-intuitive like environmental folklore (paper products aren't always a better choice than plastic) to landscape design to encouraging micro-flora. Design can impact our environment and sustainability in surprising, interesting, and innovative ways.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Happy Hour - Pairing wine with salt & pepper chicken

Everyone says that pairing wine with Asian food is difficult (seriously, when you say "Asian food" and it includes everything from northern Indian food to sushi... that doesn't really work). We love salt & pepper chicken. But, being a dish that includes copious onions and soy, it's got some challenges when it comes to pairing it with wine.  I've been working on a wine chart for a while, and matching the umami versions of various main ingredients has been interesting. So, we thought we'd try a Greco; herbal, citrus, not heavy, but can have slight hints of umami. Specifically, we tried a 2010 Torre Quarto Hirondelle Greco Puglia.

Greco also is well known for pairing very well with lots of dishes, so it made for a fairly safe choice.  It turned out to be the right one; it had just enough mineral to make it interesting, and enhanced the savory flavors of the chicken, while still providing enough of a contrast.

Bottles are going for about 10 bucks now, so if you want to try something with "asian food" I have to say that Greco might just be a winner.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tacos with Carnitas

One of my favorite meals to make for our family is homemade tacos with carnitas.  I like to make my carnitas by a slow braise.  This allows the pork to get very tender, and it practically melts in your mouth.

  • 4 pounds pork shoulder (or similar cut - not loin or tenderloin. You want tough and fatty. I've used boneless fresh ham too.), cut into 3-inch chunks (if you have something bone-in leave it in one piece, but it will take longer to cook so plan accordingly!)
  • ~1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons frying fat (light olive, peanut... my personal favorite is duck fat because NOM)
  • 3 medium cloves of garlic, minced or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • cinnamon stick (I like ceylon - less spicy/sweet, more citrus-y)
  • 1-2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 
  • ~5 cups water (depends on the size of your cooking vessel)

Heat oven to 350. Coat the hunks of pork with kosher salt - not too thick, just a nice coat (about a tablespoon all together) In a large, cast iron pot on the stove (isn't mine GORGEOUS? THANK YOU HOLLY!) heat your frying fat, and put chunks of pork in. Let them brown on all sides, then add water to about 3/4ths of the way up the chunks. Add all the spices and stir. Pop it in the oven for 3 hours, or until the pork shreds easily with a fork. Take the pot out and shred the pork. There still should be liquid in the pot; return the pot to the oven until most of it has evaporated/absorbed by the meat, and the meat is as dark as you'd like.

I like to serve carnitas with salsa fresca (usually about two large tomatoes with seeds and skin, 1/2 medium onion, 2 cloves of garlic, a mild banana pepper de-seeded, a tablespoon of lime juice and salt to taste) and guacamole for which I freely admit to just using Alton Brown's recipe because it is fantastic. I make homemade corn tortillas (for which the recipe is: masa harina and water; ok, there's no real recipe.) I also like to have rice and grilled corn on the side.

As an aside, sorry I only have pics of the first few steps... I ended up being too involved in the cooking and eating. Trust me, however: you cannot go wrong with this recipe.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thursday Kiddie Cocktail Hour - Ginger Lime Fizz

This one is one of the kids' favorites. For extra fun, serve it in martini glasses.

  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz ginger syrup
  • 3 oz seltzer water (as usual, you can sub ginger ale for the syrup and seltzer)
  • Large cup with ice

Pour lime juice and ginger syrup over ice, add seltzer. Stir very gently and strain into martini glass.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why my food photography looks like... a family dinner.

My chicken makhani, on our normal plates, complete with Subway napkins
and sweaty plastic cup.
There are a ton of food blogs out there with beautiful, mouthwatering pictures of meals, plated perfectly, glistening under really good lighting, on a sparkling surface.

My food pictures tend to look more like what would be served up at someone's house. The plates are serviceable (let us say "durable"), the napkins are mismatched, water has spilled on the table (and sometimes some of the food has too).

The reason for that? I don't cook food to take pictures of it. I cook food for my family to eat. If we get a couple of pictures of it along the way, then great. The fact is, with a family of seven, we rarely have time to worry about how well it is plated, and getting the lighting and angle just right.

And this is all ok. Really, really ok. Because I think that people should see what the food will look like when you really make it. This isn't primped and primed or anything except thrown on a plate. Because 99% of the time, that's how you're going to eat it. So my pictures aren't all beautiful. Heck, I'm happy when they come out in focus. But they are real, and you can know that that's what it really looks like.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Running our house - food and meal planning

I was asked to write a post about how we manage to run our house with all seven people in it. Now, it somewhat depends on the season. During the summer we don't have to worry about school lunch meals (which Joshua faithfully packs every day for the each of the kids, along with making bread daily for their sandwiches).

We rarely buy bread products; we have a bread maker for sandwich bread, things like buns and dinner rolls are easy enough to make by hand, and you really can't compare the flavor of homemade corn tortillas to anything you buy at the store.

The really big secret for us is ingredients.  This is our freezer section (we have another little freezer entirely devoted to rhubarb, mostly for Rhubarb Chicken Risotto, a family favorite).

Last year we got a half steer, two pigs, 10 chickens (beef, pork, and these chickens are all pastured and near-organic; I prefer my farmers to be able to treat their animals when they need it than get something with an organic seal), about 240lbs of chicken breasts, 4-10 ducks, quarters of parmesan wheels. We also get bags of fish (I'm still looking for a good local bulk source of fish, but it's hard), and as you can see, Fla-Vor-Ice.  Because hey, kids!

Then there's the dry goods:

Yeah, we buy in bulk (side note to self: out of sesame oil!). You'll see gallons of olive oil and duck fat, five different kinds of rice in two to five gallon containers (regular long grain white, short grain japanese sushi rice, arborio for risotto, basmati, and brown), five gallon containers of flour (all purpose) and quinoa, one gallon containers of everything from whole wheat flour to mushrooms (shitaake, maitake, porcini, and when we're lucky morels), quarts of nuts, sesame seeds, various herbs and spices, polenta, masa harina, panko crumbs, liters of rice vinegar and soy sauce, and shelf-stable chicken and beef broth concentrate in ~gallon packages (seriously, this stuff is wonderful, best flavor next to homemade -- which I make as much as I can and it isn't enough).

Joshua and Duncan prepare to Farmer's Market!
So from these stocks of ingredients I start making my plans for meals. Next, during the not summer (most of the year) I look through the grocery store circular to see what veggies are on sale/special that week and check To Your Health to see what organic veggies are in stock; during the part of the year when the farmers market is open we go down to one of the local ones and see what's available.  Many times we also end up visiting Sam's Club (sigh, what I wouldn't give for a Costco) to see what they've got veggie-wise too. Here's what we ended up with for this week:

That's 3 red peppers, 3 banana peppers, two avocados, two limes, two lemons, five tomatoes, 10 tomatillos, six sweet bells, two bok choy, a bag of grapes (we usually go through fruit faster than anything; it's one reason multiple trips to the store are needed in a week), a bag of spinach, a bunch of carrots, two bunches of green onions, 13 ears of sweet corn, and multicolor swiss chard.

We have two half gallons of milk, but we'll be getting more milk and some cheese on Tuesday (the day the milk comes to To Your Health).

So here's the dinner meal plan for the week:

Monday: Tacos with Carnitas, salsa fresca and guacamole
Tuesday: Chicken and pork jambalaya
Wednesday: Hamburgers with creamed swiss chard
Thursday: Chili Verde (it's a pork-y week)
Friday: Yakisoba
Saturday: PROFIT!! Oh wait, no. Probably ribs or schwarma or something.

And... that's about it. Total cost per meal is usually around 10 bucks (wine always blows the budget, but it's yummy!)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Happy Hour - Brandy Horse Neck

This one is especially for my Wisconsin peeps.

Wisconsin loves brandy.  How much? Korbel, the leading manufacturer, has this to say: "We export 385,000 cases a year, and 139,000 go directly to Wisconsin." We tend to make everything with it; order an old fashioned in Wisconsin and you'll get a brandy old fashioned (with fruit and soda. This is not the current hipster old fashioned.) Order a Manhattan you're likely to get brandy instead of whiskey. (Actually, why has no one made something like a daiquiri with brandy yet?  Get on that, people!)

So allow me to add another drink to your brandy menu, friends: the brandy Horse Neck (can also be made with whiskey, but we are talking Wisconsin.). The name comes from the lemon peel that is supposed to go in the glass, but you should have learned that I just don't do garnish (look, I do this at home. Garnish is optional.)  So just imagine a lemon peel dipping itself into the drink like a horse's head, and you'll get the idea.


  • 2 oz brandy
  • 2 oz ginger syrup (at the bottom of the Shirley Temple recipe)
  • 2-3 dashes bitters (herbal is yummy with the ginger)
  • 6 oz seltzer (or, if you want, replace the ginger syrup and seltzer with ginger ale)
  • Lemon peel for garnish (optional)

Friday, August 22, 2014

I created a steampunk LED Zepplin... lamp (part two)

I finished my steampunk zepplin lamp, finally!  Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take pictures of the construction. We finally hung it up in the front hall yesterday.

I used mulberry paper and white glue to paper mache over the frame; I purposely didn't do the most even job in the world (and it tore really easily!)

For the gondola, I cut the keel and back out of beech plywood; the sides are a very thin, paper backed oak veneer. The portholes are curtain grommets with mica pieces for glass. The jets are candlestick tops and a small urn. I connected the bottom "jet" with a piece of old copper tubing I had, then hung the whole thing from the frame.

From there it was a matter of using the plate from the previous fixture to hang it, wiring it up, and turning it on.  Ta-da!

Whadda ya think? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thursday Kiddie Cocktail Hour - Blumers Blueberry Cream Soda

OK, it's no big secret I'm a big fan of cream soda. There are so many interesting non-alcoholic, sparkling beverages out there... like this one, the delightful  Blumers Blueberry Cream Soda.

Now, I'm a sucker for the flavor blue. I know, I know, blue isn't a flavor, but you know what I mean. Ever since I was a kid I thought that blue-raspberry flavored anything was the very best thing (fruit punch a close second). Icee's, gum, freeze pops, blue moon ice cream (what IS that flavor anyway? For those not in WI, blue moon is a flavor of ice cream that cannot be described, only experienced, and apparently only exists in the upper midwest.  YOU ARE MISSING OUT.) Things that are blue, in my mind, taste good.

Which brings me to the amazingly delicious Blumers Blueberry Cream Soda. Made by Minah's Craft Brewery in Monroe, WI, it's a small batch (well, for soda), local product. In flavor, it's got a hint of vanilla, and a lot of blueberries, and... the flavor blue. It isn't too sweet, just right in fact. I don't allow myself to have any in the house because it disappears instantly. If you want possibly the best ice cream float this side of keg-tapped 1919 Root Beer (oh, we'll get there my friends) and vanilla ice cream? Use this and a scoop of blue moon.  I think my tastebuds just exploded.

But seriously, if you live somewhere you can get a hold of Blumers (which again, upper Midwest is probably your best bet), do it. Your tastebuds will thank you, even if your waistline doesn't.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My grandmother's toaster and sustainability

And it's ridiculously cute too.
This is my grandmother's toaster. We use it regularly. It was made in 1937.

Let me repeat that: this toaster, which works really well, was made in 1937.

I've talked before about quality design and manufacturing, and this is another amazing example.  I just can't imagine any small appliance bought today -- heck, almost anything I buy today -- being used nearly 80 years from now. When we have to buy something I've found myself buying either the commercial version (they still make ones to fix, even if I have to save up for them), handmade metal and wooden, or "antique" items. (OK, my parents recently replaced my un-fixable KitchenAid food processor with another, brand-new identical one gotten at an auction, and gave it to us free, so yeah, there's that.) That, or things get refinished and re-purposed, even if they weren't meant to be.

I recently ran across this great article about heirloom design, what it means, and what it will take to return to it. One thing that it does address that I think is incredibly important is the fact that currently people rely on WalMart priced goods because they can't afford anything better at a given time.

Then there's this gem:
"If products were more durable, Cooper argues, some jobs lost due to the decrease in consumption would be offset by the addition of more highly skilled maintenance and repair jobs. And whereas the lost jobs might be overseas, the repair jobs would be local."
Merrill used to have a thriving manufacturing base based on high quality, repairable merchandise (and we used to have more repair shops too). I think of what it could mean for us for this kind of manufacturing to come back, and I get all happy inside.

Now, how can we make it happen?