Saturday, July 28, 2018

Miser Family Update: happy in your nose edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household, in spite of a head cold that seems have moved into my bedroom recently.  When I was a little kid, my preschool teachers would sing that cheerful song,
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands . . .
But what I used to hear was,
If you're happy in your nose, clap your hands . . . 
It didn't make sense, but neither did a bunch of other little-kid-songs people sang to me.  Why would This Old Man play Two on your Shoe?  Why would Old MacDonald grow vowels on his farm (e-i-e-i-o . . . ), and what happened to the other vowels?   So I sang about being happy in my nose, and I dutifully imagined some tiny person in a tiny armchair, sitting comfy and happy in my nose, clapping hands, patting heads, stomping feet, doing all three. 

All that is to say, I'm not happy in my nose right now.   But the rest of my life is pretty darned good. 

For one thing, I got to see my long-lost I-daughter, who'd been consumed by her theater show for the past few months.   She's sad it's over, and I'm sad for her, but I'm also glad that at our annual Purple Dress Dinner I got to put my arms around her again, and to meet one of the many friends she'd made during her foray into musical theater.

N-son has heard that his orientation for his culinary arts school is scheduled (yay) for October (ooooh . . . okay). We're kicking the job search into a much higher gear, since we now know that the earliest he can actually start school will be January, and we want to fill his time between now and then productively.  N-son to his credit is actively engaged and cheerful about all the paperwork and searching and such he's taking on. 

K-daughter watching A-child, mid-somersault 
My granddaughter A-child has started gymnastics.  She's had two or three lessons so far, and I get to see pictures of her on balance beam, and doing twirls on a bar.  At this point, she's clearly nowhere as good as my niece who teaches gymnastics, but she's probably surpassed her grandfather, who can do the balance beam just fine but would not want to attempt the twirl-bar thing.

Speaking of her grandfather, my husband had a wonderful trip down to Charlotte for the AICHE meeting that he volunteered at, and he had a long, sloggy, storm-delayed set of flights back . . . but now he's back.  Yay!   I'm reading bits and pieces of the excellent book, Strangers Drowning, to him.  I recommend that book to anyone who loves to try to imagine lives of extreme dedication to a charitable cause.   How can people be both inspiring and truly weird at the same time?  I want to be half of those people.

As for me, in spite of my nose, I'm floating around because the reviews for the draft of our book came in, finally, and our publisher has green-lighted the project.  Better yet, the reviews don't even require major revisions --- they're filled with words like "groundbreaking", "innovative", "impressive".   But apparently, I can't spell "pixilated".  "pixalated".  Some word that looks something like that.  So I have some cheerful work ahead of me. 

And that's the latest news from the Miser Family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous, and may you also be happy in your nose.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Turnips masquerading

Our family continues to be rich beyond all imaging in vegetables.   There are CSA-accumulated veggies from last year in our freezer.  There are husband-friendly veggies from the grocery store in the freezer.  There are dehydrated summer squash by the quart jar in our basement pantry.  There are new CSA vegetables rolling into our kitchen like weekly clockwork.  We have *so* many vegetables, it's almost like they're  even coming out of the dirt in our back yard!  (Wait, they ARE actually coming out of the dirt in our backyard, too.  Fancy that!)

My next-door neighbor is traveling for two weeks, so we've inherited her CSA share these past two weeks, which adds to the incredible vegetable wealth we find ourselves in right now.  This explains how I found myself with two giant stalks of celery last week, in addition to the mounds of summer squash, lettuce, golden beets, broccoli, onions, and what-all-else-that-wandered-in.  Don't forget this list, because it's going to come up again.  And then hang tight, because I'm going to explain how this celery led me to make a welcome discovery about turnips!  Whoop!

People keeps saying, and I mostly agree, that attitude is everything.   I like to think of extra vegetables as a puzzle and a challenge:  vegetables from the  freezer section of the grocery store are like the Monday NY Times crossword puzzle; our regular CSA delivery is more like the Wednesday or Thursday version.   (And that matches our household: my husband does the M-T-W puzzles, but I get the Th-F-S-S puzzles to play with).  Getting double CSA delivery is like upgrading to the Saturday puzzle.   What a fantastic challenge! 

In the past, I've delegated celery-consumption to my husband, who claims to love celery.  But he loves it in small quantities, and he also is sensitive to the celery losing its crunch after an extended refrigerator stay.  Two celery heads would be more than he could handle, even if he hadn't been biking to Boston (which he was). So delegation wouldn't work.

Instead, I decided to whack at the celery (figuratively speaking) with my new kitchen tool.   I googled, "cream of celery soup instant pot", and almost immediately had a bunch of great recipes to choose from.  Awesome!

But the next challenge loomed:  apparently, Cream of Celery soup requires potatoes, too.  And in the wealth of vegetables that are overflowing the drawers and counters of my home, potatoes were conspicuously absent.   But the over-abundance of vegetables also explained why I didn't want to add to the pile by going out and buying potatoes, either:  I didn't want to bring home new vegetables just so that I could make soup with existing vegetables.   What to do?

So I improvised.   I went back to the vegetables I already had, and I interrogated them.  I looked carefully at " . . . the mounds of summer squash, lettuce, golden beets, broccoli, onions, and what-all-else-that-wandered-in . . . "    And I told the golden beets, "guys, you're going to get to fill in as understudies for the potatoes tonight!".   And you know what, it turns out that in Cream of Celery soup, beets make great potatoes!  (Also, fyi, yogurt can slip right in to play the role of heavy cream).

N-son loved the soup, and had seconds.  So when Sabbath rolled around and I was gearing up to make my sabbath soup, we improvised once more.  Cream of broccoli!   The beets were all gone by now, but I rummaged around in the freezer, and I found diced turnips that I'd set aside from last year.  Well, those turnips weren't getting any younger, so out of the freezer they came.   I tossed them in the pot with broccoli and a bit of onion and butter, some water, and zam!   Lunch for a week!

So that's what celery taught me.  That turnips can masquerade as potatoes.  And now you know that, too.

Monday, July 16, 2018

My change agent

Some people find coins between the cushions of their couch.    Those are lucky people. 

Me, I find coins on my dresser.   Like this:

Just piles of coins.  Almost every day.  Sigh

You see, I happen to be married to a guy who spends dollars faster than I can spend dimes.   Even though my guy has credit cards and knows how to use them (zowie, he knows how to use them!), he also plunks down cash on a regular basis, and then he pockets the change, and then he comes home and un-pockets the change on my dresser. 

In giving me his pocket change, he's forking over money almost faster than I can spend it.  Part of the reason it's so hard to spend the coins is, of course, due to my parsimonious personality:  I don't actually buy stuff hardly ever.  But the other reason it's hard to spend the coins is essentially the fault of the coins themselves.  And that's the real purpose of this post:  to contradict Cassius, and say:
The fault, dear friends, lies not [entirely] in our selves,but in our coins, that we have so much change.
Here are just a few reasons why coins make themselves unwanted or unhelpful:
  • Sorting a bunch of coins requires table space or jars; sorting a bunch of bills can be done mid-air.
  • Coins jumble around in our pocket or our hand or wherever they are, where bills stay neatly lined up in whatever order we stacked them.
  • Coins are heavy and bulky, where bills take up little space.
  • You need to carry a lot of coins to pay for a $2 jar of curry; you only need to carry two bills (or one bill, and get three back in change).  

I'm sure there are more reasons that people can think of; the point is that the problem my husband has with coins (and that he foists off on me) aren't entirely about laziness:  they're also structural.

Fortunately for us both, there's a second part of this story.  Which is, my husband happens to be married to a woman who loves figuring out structural solutions to structural problems.   The obvious solution is to sort the coins, which I do.  I quarantine the quarters (they perform the bulk of their duty during yard sale season).   I push the pennies into their own penny-tentiary; when I get enough of them, I roll them with paper into homemade 50¢ rolls. 

And then I nickel-and-dime the folks at my market.  More specifically, I made myself a change purse, large enough to put my hand in.  And I fill it with one kind of coins:  only dimes, until those run out.  Or only nickels, until those run out.  Back and forth, forth and back.  Segregated money, taking turns at going to market on Tuesday mornings.   

Counting coins is a lot easier, it turns out, if they're all the same kind of coin.  A few weeks back, I spent $3 in dimes at the dairy stand. And then $2 in dimes at the spice stand, for curry.   And I still didn't spend all the dimes in my bag.

Then, I came home again to find my change agent had left me yet another present.  Man, am I rich in dimes.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Miser family update, three cheers and many states edition.

Wow, well life continues to be super rich and full in the Miser Family.  Where even to start?

Well, I guess it's not much of a surprise when I think about it, but my only birth child, I-daughter, has finally come out as a thespian.  I guess I should have seen it all along, given how she hung out in high school with the drama kids, and given how she's always dressing in costume.   And now, she's found her tribe with the cast and crew of our local theater's production of Hunchback.  The teenage sopranos have labeled her a "choir mom".   She's simultaneously loving being in the show, dreading the end of the run next week, and hoping for the chance to do something like this again.  I'm so, so proud of her.

And speaking of proud, I'm definitely launching metaphorical brag booster rockets for K-daughter as well.   She's landed a job that keeps stretching her and teaching her new skills, and she seems to be rockin' it.  She sent me this text late in the week:
I bar tended last night with my own section. (Half of the bar) it wasn't planned, but my bar manager called off all the other bar tenders to see if I could do it. Apparently I crushed it and even got a $30 tip on a $45 bill
What I appreciate even more is how incredibly supportive and encouraging her boss is.  This text below is not only feel-good, but the geeky side of me appreciates that it's also an awesome example of great management technique:

[Geek aside: notice the public encouragement, the naming of specific skills like lemons and service tickets, the call out to interpersonal skills, and also the encouragement to take on new challenges like handling a rush.   Even if this note weren't about my own kid, I'd want my kid to work with a boss like this.]

N-son had a moment of more personal-to-me pride.   I came home one day to find this pile of papers on the dining room table.  
What is this? I asked.   
Oh, it's some stupid credit card offer.  They just want me to waste all my money, said N-son.  
Even if that assessment isn't technically 100% correct, I'm really glad that I seem to have indoctrinated him in a healthy wariness of easy credit.  And I'm pleased as punch that he's earning money by watching his niece A-daughter, while K-daughter works her Saturday evening shifts.  During the week, I'm also a bit swelled up over getting the chance to volunteer with him at our local soup kitchen, where he seems to really know his way around "pulling meat" from the freezer and the variety of chopping knives.   

My husband has gone far in a completely different sense; on Tuesday he rode his bicycle from our home to Philadelphia (about 80 miles), and on Wednesday he rode from Philly to New York City, where he did laps around Central Park with one of his NYT editor friends, just so he could get some exercise, I guess.   On Thursday, he did a bit more recreational riding with his buddy before heading out on his bike for Long Island. From there, on Friday he cheated by taking the ferry instead of biking across the Thames river.  But once across, he biked to Rhode Island.  I presume that today he successfully biked the rest of the tiny distance (only 60 miles, I think) to Boston, where the Ig-Nobel picnic is happening.  

As for me, in spite of (or maybe even because of) the distance from my husband, I've had a marvelous math week.  My summer research student is wrapping up her work and bangin' out the LaTeX files.   I've almost finished up the draft of the second (!) paper I'm hoping to send out this summer.  And I started teaching a summer class for bright high-school students from underserved communities; it's an awesome class for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which is that I get to teach and do NO GRADING.  Everyone should be so lucky every once in a while.  

And that's the news from the Miser family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.  

Monday, July 9, 2018

How to fit four zucchini into a quart-sized canning jar

My sister wrote recently to say,
I got "zucchini shamed" at the market the other week.  Another shopper told me, as I was picking out a few zucchinis, that having to buy zucchinis is a sign that you don’t have enough friends.  I replanted my zucchinis (chickens got the first round) and am hoping to get a big enough batch to make sure my friends are well stocked.
Me, my zucchinis and summer squashes are coming in fast-and-furious (well, not "furious" -- perhaps "fast-and-festive"?), but not in my garden and not from friends.   My CSA is gifting me and my next-door neighbor with gourd-upon-gourd.  And, because my neighbor is heading out of town soon, I'm inheriting her share, which means my squash-stash is larger yet.  And I still have sliced summer-squash in the freezer from last year!  So I'm swimming in squash these days.  I've definitely been looking for good ways to eat and/or save these babies for later eating.  

I'm not big on zucchini bread or cake (I could imagine adding zucchini to bread or cake I was making for other purposes, but I don't want to make a bunch of starchy stuff whose sole purpose is to be a vegetable vehicle).  I love adding sliced squash to soups, but there's only so much soup a person can take on hot summer days.  

So, I just want to put in a plug for drying zucchini.   The east coast has been bathed in a heat wave recently, and so my homemade solar dehydrator has been operating at peak performance.  My backyard motto this past week  has been Sol, solar, solest!  (I have no idea what that means; I just like the way it sounds).

Drying sliced zucchini has a number of awesome advantages.   Whoop! Among these are:
  • Preserving:  dried zucchini are good for about a year, so I don't have to watch my gourds wrinkle, wither, and rot in the course of two sad weeks in the refrigerator.
  • Reduced space:  four hefty zucchinis, after drying, condensed down to a space of about a large canning jar.  After noshing on a few of these, we did in fact manage to fit the remainder into a quart-sized jar.
  • Shelf storage:  I could freeze these instead, but (as last-year's squash keeps reminding me), it's hard to make good use of freezer veggies, because hunting through a freezer is just not anywhere as easy as looking on a shelf in the pantry basement.
  • Reconstitution:  Dried zucchinis plump right back up and make awesome additions to soups, especially tomato-y soups.  Mmmmm.
But most of all, and especially surprising:
Seven salted Summer Squash
  • Dried zucchini make excellent snacks.  Drying these babies somehow brings out the sweetness in them.  The snack comes out a bit like a cross between potato chips and popcorn, although with a bit of extra vegetable flavor.   N-son would disagree; he tasted one and did not like it one whit, he said.  But my husband, after trying one, started chowing down on them.  K-daughter also expressed surprise after tasting one, and had another helping.

    The second batch I made, I salted lightly before drying them.  Wowzers, are they good!  In fact, I offered some of those back to my neighbor, who had just gotten through a litany of the many ways she was done with squash, and she, like my husband and K-daughter, grabbed extra handfuls of the dried, salted crisps in my canning jar and noshed on them. 
So there you have it: yet another way to turn a bunch of large imposing vegetables into appetizing appetizers.  mmm.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Miser Family Update: Hot stuff version

Life continues to be hot and hotter in the Miser Family.  Temperatures soared into the high nineties almost every day this week . . . until Saturday (today) the heat wave broke and we had a beautiful day straight out of Eden.

In fact, today closed out the week with one of my favorite events of the year, a giant neighborhood yard sale.  I got to spend a couple of hours wandering up and down the beautiful streets in the beautiful weather, checking out an amazing variety of artifacts that my neighbors used to keep in their homes, and no longer wanted in their home.  I explained to my husband that seeing so much stuff that we -- my neighbors, the other yard sale people, and me -- have all agreed that we don't need in order to live a full and rich life,  . . . well, seeing all this makes me happy.  It reminds me that I already have a good life, with just the belongings I already own.

And yet, I managed to splurge and bring home two large bags ($4 worth) of new-to-me clothes and kitchen items.  I'm just rolling in the riches, here.

N-son's momentous event earlier this week was his first job interview, with our campus dining services. He says the interview went well; if he gets the job, his commute will be even shorter than mine (and mine is maybe a quarter mile).  Plus, I know the d-hall folks, so I'll have folks ratting on him if he steps out of line (heh-heh).  We've got our fingers crossed.

My husband has been nursing an achey knee, hoping that pampering it a bit will allow him to undertake a bike ride next week from our home town to Boston, which Google maps tells me will take only 40 hours of riding, and that's not counting the time it takes to get knee surgery or crutches or such, so let's hope the knee holds together.   This past week has, of course, been a good one for taking exercise somewhat easy, because of the amazing heat.

We also got to attend a fabulous July 4th party at our neighbor's house.  I brought a cheesecake, decorated with blueberries and strawberries to look like the American flag.  Somehow I misread the recipe and mixed  the sour cream into the batter instead of reserving it for the glaze on top, and then I scrimped a bit on the sugar, because of a prejudice that sugar is some kind of evil substance . . . so it was kind of a wonderful surprise to have the other unsuspecting guests come over to rave about how much more they liked this version of cheesecake. 

Somehow, I didn't take many pictures this week -- not of the stars-and-stripes cheesecake, or of N-son's interview, or the yard sale, or my husband's knees.  The only picture I took was of a jar of dehydrated zucchini, and I'll spare you that photo.  You're welcome.

And that's the news from the Miser household, which continues to be sweltering in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly perspirant.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Cherry time has come and gone.

Note to self:  next year, I really  have to remember that cherries ripen a lot earlier than July 4th around here. We missed the bing cherries this year, but at least we snuck in under the wire for yellow cherries.

A-child emerging from the trees to show me a cherry,
with her mom's legs in the background.
I think the tree is chomping on K-daughter's head.
A-child loved picking cherries.   And why wouldn't she?   What I love about cherry picking is that a single tree is like a grocery store full of fruit.  How does it manage to make so much yummy food all by itself?   Standing in a cherry tree and looking around at the food hanging at eye level always amazes me.

Two students.  The cherry trees have swallowed them,
but eventually they'll swallow the cherries.
Speaking of which, I also love standing in the middle of a tree's branches, like I've gone into another world. A shady food world.  With my bucket.  To get food from trees.

We picked something like 17 pounds of cherries.   In previous years, I'd used a combination of low-tech, but fairly effective, pitters:  pencil tops with the eraser removed, and also paper clips.  This year, my daughter bought me a dedicated pitter that looks a bit like scissors.

And then, at the cherry check-out stand, I saw something that I immediately splurged on.  *SPLURGED*, I tell you.   A metal cherry pitter that attaches to the top of a canning jar.  Really, how could I resist something like that?!?

Two totally awesome cherry pitters.
Both of these worked great.  They not only trounce pencil/paper-clip methods in terms of speed and ease, but they also eject the pits amazingly cleanly.   I pitted cherries while watching TED talks, which also seems to be an improvement over previous year's pitting cherries while nagging my children about keeping up with me.  Go figure.

The pits, I washed and then dried in my homemade solar dehydrator.
Our rolling solar dehydrator,
next to our solar clothes dryer.
I used some denim and other scrap fabric to make a bean-bag toy with the cherry pits. Bonus: this bean-bag can go in the microwave or freezer to become a hot-pad/cold-pack as needed.  In the meanwhile, it's just fun.

And the de-pitted cherries themselves, of course, I canned up for the winter months that are sure to come.  Sixteen pints (sweet 16!), plus three more pints of cherry juice. Mmm.
Sunshine -y food in jars.  From trees I stood in.
Isn't that amazing?

Monday, July 2, 2018

What to bring to a summer protest

Next time I go to a protest, I'm bringing a hat.  Not just my bike helmet, but a hat to keep the sun off my face.   And more water.
As we gather on the courthouse steps; the shady spots are filling up
fast and the sunny spots are wide open.
There are shady spots to stand, but in a big crowd it's nice to give the shade to people who need it more.    Also,  bring sun screen.  And more water.

Cars that drove by beeped and cheered -- it was so encouraging.
And not water and hats just for me, because lots of other people would have willingly accepted some!  In fact, there were a few kind souls offering protesters bottles of water.  I don't take plastic bottles, but I appreciated the gesture (and I had water on the bike and in my thermos, anyway).  

There were also some really hardy souls:  I loved this dude with the flag, who stood at the top of the steps in the sun with the flag for the longest time, unflinching.  
The sign reads,
"My grandparents didn't flee
Nazi Germany for me to fight
 Nazi Americans
(but I will)
# EndFamilySeparation"
Oh, and a bunch of sheets with song lyrics.   I bet that people would have liked to sing together, but not everyone knows the words to songs.  What's a good set of songs to sing?  I'm working now on We Shall Overcome and America the Beautiful.  I don't know any songs that say "Reunite the kids we tore away from their parents."   Any other suggestions?
Other side:  "I'm Jewish,
but I think Jesus said LOVE ONE ANOTHER".
So here's the list of things to add to my protest bag:
  • a sun hat (or several)
  • Lots of water
  • sun screen
  • sheets with lyrics to songs