Winter. Ugh. Tea, syrup, and sunsets. Good.

Winter is not my favorite season, not even close. The kids were supposed to go back to school last Tuesday after their “winter” break. They went a total of one day. So far, this week is starting off with a bang, too. There’s a two-hour delay this morning, because we had freezing rain for most of the night. I looked outside, and it looks like about a half-inch of solid ice coating everything. I doubt that’s going to melt anytime soon. I’m surprised that we still have electricity and internet. I suspect that the end result will be a call in an hour or so canceling the remainder of the day as well. Yippee. Hallelujah. Where’s the Tylenol?

There are very few things that I like about winter. Fires in the fireplace are nice, but you can’t have one when it’s in the single digits, because then you’re just sending your expensive heat up the chimney, for the most part. Sunrises and sunsets can be extraordinary, especially here in the flatlands with no hills to block out the view. I love a brilliant red sunset with bare tree branches silhouetted in the distance. Red sunrises, if you believe the old sailor’s warning, can spell trouble later in the day (like yesterday), but they make the sky look as if it’s on fire. That’s something wonderful to watch while you drink your morning coffee.

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Sunset

Since we, mostly David, started producing maple syrup three years ago, that has become one of my favorite things about winter. We had been buying syrup from local producers in the adjoining county, which has an abundance of maple trees, but when David retired and was looking for a project, a friend who was visiting from Michigan suggested he try making syrup. Being an engineer by profession, he researched and designed and planned the heck out of his new hobby. A good strategy, of course, and it has paid off very well. His first year was the learning year, but he still managed to make quite a lot and sell a lot at the local farmer’s market. Last year, he designed a reverse osmosis system to remove about 50% of the water to speed up the evaporation process. He made 17 gallons of beautiful amber liquid gold, even though it was a short season. Ironically, he couldn’t sell it at the market, because there was no time due to the moving, so we had a LOT to give away to friends and family, and for our own use. We use it to sweeten pretty much everything that doesn’t require sugar for structure, such as cookies.

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The made in the USA evaporator doing its work.

Probably my favorite thing about winter is tea. I love hot tea, all kinds. I can’t really drink it in the summer, because it makes me break out in a sweat. Coffee doesn’t, but hot tea does. I don’t know why.

Black tea (Lipton’s is the best), rooibos, herbal, fruity blends, cinnamon-y ones. Coffee is my wake-up call. I set the pot to be ready in the morning, so when I head down the stairs, I can smell it wafting up to me, calling my name. But tea saves me from killing people who are stuck inside because of bad weather. I can drink it all day long.

My favorites right now include loose teas that I bought from Tea Forte´. African Solstice, English Breakfast, and Earl Grey, which is amazing. If you’ve never used loose Earl Grey, you haven’t really experienced it.  I also love their cute individual tea pyramids. I bought their Kati brewing system, the one with the birds. It doesn’t have a handle, but it’s double-walled, so the tea stays hot longer. Tazo faves are Zen and organic baked cinnamon apple. Then there’s Yogi Detox and Stress Relief. Good Earth Sweet and Spicy. Lemon and Raspberry Zingers and Sleepytime from Celestial Seasonings. Yep, there’s a whole cabinet shelf dedicated to tea. It’s my winter blahs therapy.

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Sunrise, Butler County

BTW, they just called to say school is canceled.

See you soon,

Susan

Addendum: I should really reread my previous posts, as I duplicated some maple syrup talk in this one. Oh well. It’s good stuff and bears repeating. 🙂

Random musings—mostly food

I wish I could like quinoa

I’ve tried quinoa. In fact, I have a Pinterest board that I titled “It’s pronounced KEEN-wah!” The pictures look beautiful, and it’s so healthy for you. I tried it once, and that was enough for me. There is something about the texture that makes me shudder. That little pop/crunch when you bite into it. It’s probably the same reason that I don’t like caviar. I also don’t like the slight sweetness. I’m not sure why I don’t delete the board on Pinterest. Maybe it makes me look more interesting, or healthy, or something.

I wish I didn’t love sugar

You know it’s bad when you start wanting dessert after breakfast. I almost always eat a healthy breakfast. It’s usually one of three things: plain yogurt with dried cranberries (or fresh fruit in season), my homemade muesli, toasted slivered almonds, and a touch of granola for sweetness; steel-cut oatmeal with walnuts, cinnamon, raisins, and maple syrup; or, unsweetened boxed cereal, fortified with muesli, nuts, and a little granola. Occasionally I will have eggs and toast, or pancakes with our homemade maple syrup. But, when you’re done with breakfast and immediately think about having a cookie, that’s bad. I haven’t done it yet, but it’s tough resisting.

As I told my friend Bella, I’m my own worst enemy. The holiday season starts me off with a bang. I try not to bake much during the year, except for birthdays and special occasions. I don’t like having the temptation around. I know I can’t resist the sugary delights. I will nibble and munch my way through hundreds of calories before I realize what I’ve done. Then comes Thanksgiving with the array of pies—pumpkin, pecan, apple. I never used to like pecan pie. Too sweet, I said. Until a few years ago. Now, I really like it. I really, really like it.

Then, of course, Christmas with all the cookies, fudge, gifts of candy from other people. I thought I got rid of all of that by sending it away with other people. So, what do I do? I made brownies the other day “for the kids.” Who can resist a slightly warm brownie? Or two. The next day, yesterday, I decided I had better use the bag of cranberries in the crisper drawer before they went bad, so I made streusel-topped cranberry pecan muffins. They were a big hit. Especially with me. I had two while they were still warm from the oven. The crunch from the sweet streusel combined with the soft cake and tartness of the cranberries. Oh my goodness. The good news is I probably won’t have any this morning, because I really only like them when they’re fresh.

Rachael Ray owes me for dinner

While perusing the January/February 2015 EveryDay with Rachael Ray, I came across the recipe for “Turkey or Veal Meatball Stroganoff.” It looked delicious, and sounded achievable, even for cooks with less experience than I have, which is to say, I feel that I’m a pretty good cook with years and years of experience in the kitchen. I should have trusted my instincts in at least one stage of the recipe. It said to soak the fresh breadcrumbs in milk while preparing the rest of the ingredients, and then to squeeze the excess milk from the breadcrumbs before adding them to the turkey mixture. Have you ever tried to do that? It’s virtually impossible to have anything but a big soggy, slimy mess. I maybe got a tablespoon of milk out of it. Fighting my instinct to start all over with dry breadcrumbs, I added the mess to the other mess, and, voila, ended up with a big sloppy bowl of turkey goo. There was no way to “roll walnut-sized meatballs” with my hands, so I used my little cookie scoop and plopped them into the hot frying pan, whereupon, they immediately became “meat flats” (from my friend Cindy), instead of balls. At this point, I’m thinking, there is no way on earth that these grandkids are going to eat this. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to try it.

I had doubled the recipe, because it served four and we have seven people here. So, it took forever and a day to fry all of those “meat flats.” I had to keep the finished ones warm in the toaster oven while I finished the rest. To make a long story even longer, the sauce was thin, the sour cream wouldn’t incorporate well, and well, the meatballs had a weird texture. Big surprise. Oddly enough, the kids ate what was on their plates, with Kaitlyn even pronouncing that she loved the meatballs. What??? This is the kid who complains about everything I put on the table, if it isn’t pizza, spaghetti (no sauce), or plain rice. Go figure. I thought it was barely okay, and vowed to never make the recipe again. Or, in any case, I would do it my way, with ground beef, and no soaked breadcrumbs. And it definitely took longer than thirty minutes, especially the cleanup. Rachael, you failed me.

It’s almost maple syrup time

David is getting his “sugar shack” (see header picture) ready for the sap when it starts to flow. Last year, his second, on the Bear Swamp property, he made seventeen gallons of beautiful, delicious liquid gold. He had planned to sell most of it at our local farmer’s market. In fact, he joined and paid his dues, but with the moving of two houses, there was just not enough time to go even once. We had plenty of syrup for our family, plus lots of giveaways to friends and extended family, four gallons of which went to the old farmer on whose property he bowhunts. Mr. Eugene has diabetes, and he swears that since he started using maple syrup for all his sweetening, he’s been able to keep his blood sugar counts under control. That’s a lot of syrup for one man to use in a year’s time. Even with all the giveaways, David managed to sell almost $400 worth.

We’re hoping this year’s weather will cooperate and give a bounty of sap. We don’t have as many maple trees on this property, but our next-door neighbor has eleven acres, and they told him he could tap all he wants. Plus, our former neighbor and friend is letting him tap trees there, as he has done the past two years. And the couple who bought our house is letting him tap there, so it all depends on Mother Nature.

Speaking of Mother Nature

It’s -5°F here in central Ohio this morning, with a wind chill of -22°. They cancelled school again this week. Tuesday, which was supposed to be their first day back from Christmas break, was cancelled due to icy road conditions and snow. So, January is starting out like a bitch. Let’s hope it isn’t as bad as last January. Our furnace is pretty much running non-stop. We don’t have the wood-burning insert now, just a fireplace, which is so inefficient. We won’t even have a fire when it’s this cold, because you send more heat up the chimney than you actually get in benefit. I really miss that woodburner. Hurry up, Spring!

See you soon,

Susan

SIMPLE MUESLI

4 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup flaxseed

1/2 cup oat bran

1/2 cup toasted wheat germ

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup dried Zante currants, raisins, or your choice of dried fruit (I prefer the currants)

1/4 cup brown sugar

Toss all together in a gallon Ziploc bag and store in airtight container.

Autumn and moving and life

Having lived in the (Bear) Swamp house for fourteen years, we had seemingly settled in for the rest of our days. Our grandchildren were nearby. There was room enough for them to visit for sleepovers. And though it was a bit crowded when we had the whole family there for holidays, especially Thanksgiving when the extended family descended for a few days, we didn’t feel too constrained. We had completed a major renovation of the twenty-three-year-old kitchen, and also added on a large laundry, full bath, and mudroom/office space with a walk-in pantry to the house just the year before. We were definitely settled in. Then life happened, and changes ensued.

Our daughter, after struggling through a painful divorce and its aftermath, and dealing with four children on her own, needed our help on a full-time basis. We had been helping a lot, because we were only seven miles away, but it still isn’t like having someone living with you and being there at night when one of the kids suddenly gets sick. She also wanted to go back to school full time and finish her degree in hopes of providing a better life for her and her children. There were also some extenuating circumstances that demanded our involvement, and so there we were with five more people in our medium-sized three bedroom house. To say that we were crowded was an understatement.

At first, we tried to make it work in our old house, but having three children in one small bedroom, the oldest being an almost teenaged boy, and the youngest being an eight-year-old (very sensitive) girl, and one boy in the middle trying to keep the peace, we soon realized that it wasn’t working. So, after grieving a bit over having to leave my secure little nest, we set out to find the “perfect” house. Of course, anyone who has ever had to do this kind of search knows that there is no perfect house. In fact, there were only two houses in the same school district that met most of our criteria. Our most pressing need was for more space, and we got that with this house. We almost doubled our living space, and though the decorating schemes weren’t to my taste, it was imminently livable and comfortable. The redecorating can wait.

We had to give up the barn, but the extra bay in the attached garage and the two-bay detached garage helped to store the things that we kept. It was quite the undertaking to scale down the junk we had accumulated over the years. A garage sale and trash pickers followed by a dumpster helped solve the problem. It is actually very freeing to purge in that way. I no longer feel the dread that I felt for years about what to do with all of it if we did decide to move. David had to come up with a new place to use for his sugaring house for his fledgling maple syrup business. That resulted in a brand-spanking new building built in about three hours by an Amish crew.

He’s a little peeved that there aren’t as many sugar maples on our property here as we had on Bear Swamp, but the neighboring properties have thousands, and he has already secured permission to tap as many as he likes from one of the neighbors. So, hopefully there will be lots of sweet maple syrup in 2015 to pour on the pancakes, waffles, French toast, and oatmeal.

Getting used to living with four children, from teenager to toddler, has been both challenging and rewarding. The toddler gives us tremendous joy. It is so much fun watching him learn and grow. He is our entertainment on most days. The older kids present their own set of challenges, but they’re nothing that we and their mother can’t handle together. They also help keep us young and they feel much more secure and happy in their new life with us. And that was the reason for this big change in lifestyle. When they are happy, we are happy.

See you soon.

Susan