Thursday, July 23, 2015

Livin' La Sous Vide Loca

So I probably haven't mentioned this, but I keep a quarter jar in our living room, where I save my shiny $.25 pieces for a couple of years, and then roll them once the jar is filled and go buy myself something frivolous, sinful and fun, something I might not purchase otherwise.  I give myself permission to blow my quarter money on anything I want. I generally get about $200 from the jar, so it allows me to gift myself with absolutely no guilt whatsoever.  It's a little "I Love Me" present. One time I bought a great pair of boots, another time I actually brought the quarters with me on a cruise and used them to have fun gambling (I won all my money back!) ... and this time I bought a sous vide system.

I first heard about this wonderful appliance on my friend Stephen Andrew's blog (here's a link if you are interested: Stephen Andrew's Sous Vide blog post ) and was insanely jealous at the ease with which he appeared to put together his holiday feasts.  With the sous vide system, it appeared as if he actually had enough time to decorate beautifully AND enjoy the company of friends and family. I have a feeling he could probably do this anyway, but anything I can do to give myself a leg up I will take. Of course for me one immediate benefit presented itself in my mind, which is that I could start drinking champagne at noon without worrying I was going to forget my expensive free-range bird or cut of meat. (like last time) That decided it. I started thinking about buying a sous vide system after that, but waited until Quarter Jar Day to do it.

And so here it is, the Anova sous vide system hooked up to my spaghetti pot, gently cooking a cheap chuck roast for 36 hours as an experiment. (According to the instructions, you can cook a cheap cut of meat in the sous vide system for a long time -- like 36 hours or so, and it will emerge as soft and malleable as a more expensive cut of meat, only needing to be browned up a bit before serving.)

I will be out of the house for at least half the day tomorrow, and so the thought of coming home to a home-cooked meal is tantalizing. It's even more appealing to know that it will happen without 1) the mess and occasional overcooked quality the crock pot's meals sometimes have or 2) dining with a grumpy husband who has accidentally overcooked a meal because he was trying to cook whilst simultaneously talking to one of his vineyard workers who needs instructions on irrigation, and playing a rousing game of solitaire on his iPad -- all at the same time. It happens.

But not with the sous vide, baby. It has one task, and one task make a silk purse (tender steak) out of a sows's ear (cheap chuck) and I'm believing it's gonna happen.  I'll let you know how it goes.

And as a final note, how grand is it that it will cook dinner without either heating up the house via the oven or needing to physically go outside and turn the solar cooker every half hour or so to follow the sun while I'm cooking out there? 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Storm of the Century (for July, anyway)

It is a rare week in summer that I don't have to water the crops at least two or three times. Vacations, work, everything is scheduled with watering in mind.  Skip your scheduled watering day when the weather happens to be really hot, you'll probably get some wilt...skip two of them and things are completely dead when you come back. Trust me on that one. I've learned the hard way.

But the past three days have been freakish, as I have not had to water, we've had three inches of rain and the humidity levels are currently hovering at about 85 percent. There's very little dust on the furniture and my hair has decided to make a break for it and style itself into a lovely (or not) soft frizz. Even my bangs are frizzy.  On the positive side, everything also feels slightly damp and so dust has not been an issue, as it usually is in these parts.

Saturday night was the worst as far as weather.  We had a genuine midwest-style lightning storm, and were incredibly worried about brush fires until the rain started a couple of hours later, and kept going for another 12 hours. With our parched and dry land, that two inches of rain was gratefully soaked up by every plant and animal in the area. The lightning storm, while beautiful, was also pretty scary since we live on a hilltop, but we did occasionally step outside to watch the splendor.

But there was no sleep to be had that night, as the thunder shook the walls and the lightning strobed us every few seconds.  The next day, we found a water pipe in our pasture (near a metal windmill) burst, and we suspect lightning. Big Ag said a huge oak tree in one of his vineyards came down, crushing a half-row of vines along with it. It also struck a generator that runs a well. So it's a trade-off, in a sense.  With storms, come damage.  But I'd say the positives far outweigh the negatives at this point. We'll take any water we can get.

But this 85 percent humidity is something else...honestly, I don't know how all of you in the midwest and back east deal with it. I'm sure all that green is lovely,and truly, I am envious. But the frizzy bangs?  That's a whole other story, and for having to deal with that on a regular basis, you have my deepest sympathies.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Granny Smith Apples

The days may be warm here, but the mornings are always cool and inviting. Today I woke up before six a.m., and decided to do a little walk around the property and check on things before the sun came up. I checked vines, fruit, and growth.  It's amazing how much plants can change just within a few years; the fig tree we planted in 2013 that was just up to my knees is now as tall as I am, and the cherry trees which were sticks now have sizable trunks and stand well over 7 feet tall.

Baby pumpkin.

On the more short-term end of things, the pumpkins are growing in anticipation of fall, and summer squash is in its usual state of over-abundance.

Ollalieberry vine.

For some folks, Sunday is a church day, and I have total respect for that, but I have always found God more present in the land than in the cathedral.  And so this morning left me especially grateful for the fruit, for the clouds, and for the good land we live on.

Seckel pears.

Happy Sunday, everyone.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Best crop ever

So Groceries is now a sailor, Big Ag is a proud Navy papa, and I have Empty Nest Syndrome. Actually, I'm almost over the last part, it does get easier after awhile.  But all the kids are moving on to life's next adventures, and I'm happy to see them finding success in life.  Possibly the best crop I ever cultivated was this batch of next-gen people I raised.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Best Quote Ever

From Morgan Freeman's character in "The Bucket List." it's the mist and the falls analogy again, but a happier one than I have perhaps been focusing on of late. I like this one better than mine, and it's where I choose to place my attention from now on....not on the river sweeping us away from all we know, but rather sweeping us towards home.

"My pastor always says our lives are streams flowing into the same river towards whatever heaven lies in the mist beyond the falls. Find the joy in your life. My dear friend, close your eyes and let the waters take you home."

Ollalieberries and apple pie

Every once in awhile we catch a huge break here at the Hot Flash Homestead, and in summer that means that for just a few days it's not so hot after all. I hate heat.  This is because, in general I do walk through life creating my own "personal summer," just by virtue of being a middle aged female. That notwithstanding, this morning we experienced the marine layer coming back in and cooling our outside weather, creeping in like summer fog does and cooling everything off nicely. And so the work began on the ollalieberries.  

The berry crop itself was a bust this year due to a number of factors -- heat being the biggest -- but thanks to some perfectly timed fertilization, next year's canes are growing like gangbusters.  Yet extremely long, wraparound canes is not what you want, because while some of the fruit develops on them, most grows on the side branches that emerge from the canes, with proper pruning.  And the side branches only sprout if you prune the canes before they become too stringy.  So that's what this foggy, cool morning was about. We've got a long ways to go, we'll continue fertilizing through the summer and get everything to where it's on the first wire -- the top trellis wire -- so that next spring there won't be much bending over to gather in the berries.

And speaking of fruits of the season, this last weekend I made an apple pie from my picked apples, which I preserved last November.  There were a few city types at the July 4th party I went to, and they were amazed that I preserved my own apples and made my own pie crust. It reminded me that although the homesteading lifestyle has become more popular in recent years, its by no means common.

Here's to being uncommon.  Hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The river and the falls

In a few weeks I will be 54 years old -- that's right, just one year away from all those senior discounts offered by restaurants, retail outlets and other establishments.  It will no longer seem out of character if we want dinner reservations at 5 p.m., or if we rarely get home after 11 p.m. or if we enjoy watching "Jeopardy" on television each evening. This next year will be my last as part of the "under 55" crowd.

Those are the light-hearted things that most people joke around about when it comes to getting more and more birthdays under your belt.  And while, for a long time, I never understood why people my age had a fear of aging, or worse, a midlife crisis, I now get it.  I get it completely. If you're not there yet, it works like this:

Imagine that life is a river you float down on in an inner tube.  At the end of the river is a giant waterfall you WILL go over.  People disagree about what's on the other side of the waterfall, but the point is, everyone goes over the falls in their inner tube.  There is no getting out of it.  

Now, for a long time, you are cruising along in your inner tube, taking note of the wonderful scenery on the banks and enjoying your life. You can't see up ahead, the river in that direction is always covered by a thick mist, but the mist clears as you enter each new section of the river and it's mostly sunshine. This is called "the present." Of course you never really know if you're close to the falls or not, but when you are young the probability is high you are a long, long ways away from them.

And then, one day, when you are about 50, you hear something, off in the distance.  And there is no question what it is:  It is the sound of the falls.  It seems like you just wake up one morning and it's there. You know the sound wasn't there before; it's a new sound.  And about the time you start noticing it, you realize that some of your peers -- people you loved or went to school with have already gone over the falls ahead of you. Holy shit. You can actually hear them when they go over. 

So let me be brutally honest with you.  At that moment, when you recognize the sound you are hearing is The Big Waterfall, you want nothing more than to start furiously backpedaling down the part of the river you came down from. You might even try doing just that, but you can't fight against the current.  You are meant to be carried forward, and forward you will go.   

So with that realization comes the knowledge that you're now geographically closer to the falls than to the start of the river where you began. 

How you deal with this information, from now until you inevitably go over the falls, is something I have been thinking about a lot lately.  I have complete and total faith that life beneath the falls -- after the fall over the cliff itself --is wonderful beyond imagining.  Yet the idea of going over the falls is still scary to me. The idea of hearing that sound of rushing water, louder and louder as I go on through life, is also unnerving.

Perhaps in time I will work it out in my own head and be OK with this, but for now it's something I think on often and am not yet comfortable with.  I believe this is the ultimate cause of the midlife crisis, the bad facelift, the insistence on wearing juniors clothing, and a whole host of ridiculous behavior. It's not wishful thinking. It's terror over where all that time went and how little seems to be left

So for now, my goals are easy: I am working on not doing any of the above things while also adjusting to the fact that the sounds of the falls is going to be with me from now on -- maybe for another 30 seconds, maybe for another 50 years.  The harder task is for me to make whatever time I have left on this river count -- to make people's lives better, to be a friend, a lover, a confidant and a mother, and impart the best of me to help make others better, and take the same gifts in reverse. And to try and ignore the rushing sound in my ears while I do it. Yet I also do not want to fill my life with meaningless distractions, trying to block the sound, but to be fully and consciously aware of my place on the river without feeling a sense of loss or desperation.  That's very difficult. To make the time count and matter, but still throw my arms up in the air and let myself be carried over the edge when it's time, with a whoop and a holler.

No mean feat, I'm telling ya.