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Scarlet Quince Ramblings

Cross stitch ... art ... life

Very cold, apparently
Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Last year we got 3 heating pads for the cats. These are special pads designed for animals that get warm only when there is weight on them, and just warm, not hot. Although we have 3 cats, I didn’t think we really needed 3 pads. I was wrong. Apparently, it is very, very cold. They like the heat from the lamp, too.

Topsy & Lucky

This is only a 2-cat table so Jemima has her own place. It’s best this way because she can’t really be close to Topsy or Lucky without taking a poke at them.

Jemima on the heating pad

Topsy is a good sleeper.

Lucky & Topsy


Potstickers
Sunday, December 6th, 2009

We finally got the potstickers made and they were delicious as always. (If you don’t know what potstickers are, they’re Chinese dumplings filled with cabbage and pork, then fried on the bottom and steamed on top. Sometimes Chinese restaurants have them on the menu but usually you have to find a dim sum place.) These are the active ingredients:

ingredients

I’m always surprised when they turn out well because we don’t follow the recipe much at all (we open the “The Key to Chinese” Cooking by Irene Kuo to the relevant page to remind us of the ingredients, and then the negotiation begins: “I’m going to put in 4 green onions”. “It only calls for 1! Let’s have 3.”). We use napa instead of bok choy — I think the first time it was a mistake, or maybe the store didn’t have bok choy — but we’ve stuck with it because we like napa. It calls for a small amount of ginger but we used almost that whole piece and it was just nicely gingery.

Nowadays we make two batches because ONE of us doesn’t eat meat and the OTHER doesn’t eat veggie burger stuff. So one batch is made with pork and one with Morningstar Griller Crumbles (rank). MRA makes the filling, which involves a lot of food processor work, and I make the dough. Making two versions of things isn’t a lot more work but it does make a lot more dishes. At least the napa can all macerate together:

macerating

Meanwhile I am making a hot water dough (just hot water and flour). We need 64 4″ circles so the first step is rolling the dough into a long snake and dividing it in half. Then each snake is rolled thinner and longer, divided into 4 pieces and then marked into 32 sections. I cut the dough apart, roll it into balls, and mash the balls into cookies before rolling them out. This was my mother’s rolling pin and it’s so nice to use.

rolling pin

After the napa macerates (you mix in a little salt and let it stand for 10 minutes, after which a lot of juice can be squeezed out) it gets mixed with the previously chopped pork, ginger root, and green onion and then bits of other things are mixed in. There’s a little corn starch mixed with water, sesame oil, a pinch of sugar, and so on.

As the dough circles are rolled out, I put them under a damp paper towel to keep them from drying out. Once they’re all rolled out, one side is pleated. This makes the dough into a shallow cup shape (and also makes the potstickers cute when they’re done).

pleating

With any luck the filling and the pleating are done about the same time. MRA is in charge of dividing the filling into even portions and allocating it to the wrappers. Since they vary somewhat in size there’s always some redistribution. Meanwhile I’m getting the floury paste off my hands.

filling

To close them, you pinch the edges together, then holding the pinched edge, mash it down flat so it has a bottom, and bend the corners around to make a crescent.

closed

I add a little water to a drop of food coloring and mark the veggie ones. It took us an hour and 45 minutes to get to this point. Cooking is about 10 more minutes.

To cook, you first fry them briefly, then pour on boiling water, cover and steam for several minutes. Then they are uncovered and the water is cooked off. )Oh, and do yourself a favor and use a non-stick pan. The name wasn’t chosen at random.) It makes an awful mess of the cooktop.

frying

At this point the top is soft and tender and the bottom is crisp. I like them a red-brown, just short of being burned (they’re not black although the picture makes them look that way).

finished potstickers

Delicious! They aren’t very good reheated — the dough gets tough and the bottom is never crisp — so instead we cook just what we’re going to eat and freeze the rest. If you put them on a sheet of waxed paper in the freezer, not touching, and freeze them that way, once they’re frozen you can put them into bags and take out whatever you want the next time. You don’t need to defrost them before cooking — just start them frozen.

As a nod to the season, I also made a sweet potato pie, though not the same day.

pie


Thanksgiving, Plan B
Friday, November 27th, 2009

Our original plans for this week were:
Tuesday: Go out for Ethiopian food.
Wednesday: Go off-roading.
Thursday: Thanksgiving (potstickers).

Early Wednesday, the plans were revised:
Tuesday: Go out for Ethiopian food. done
Wednesday: Be very sick.
Thursday: Go off-roading.
Friday: Thanksgiving (potstickers).

We could have gone off-roading on Friday but it wasn’t supposed to be as nice as Thursday. So I had the most unusual Thanksgiving I’ve had since the year we flew to Louisiana to go birding (we arrived mid-afternoon, weren’t hungry then, and foolishly headed into the boonies thinking we would get something “later”. We didn’t find an open restaurant until about 10 PM.)

Do I hear you saying, “I wouldn’t have guessed you were the off-roading type”? You are absolutely right. But 8 years ago, MRA bought an old Toyota FJ-40 (like a little jeep) and has proceeded to turn it into a monster ORV.

FJ40

I had never been in it. It has only been in the last year that it has gotten to where it is both running and sort of reliable (as in, if you drive it somewhere, you can plan on also driving back). We’ve discussed taking it to Big Bend Ranch to get into the back country but thought it would be a good idea to go somewhere close by first to see if I could stand riding in it at all. So yesterday was finally the day. We went to an “adventure ranch” near Marble Falls which is about an hour from Austin (when you’re pulling a heavy load). I forgot the camera so have no pictures of us plunging over cliffs and climbing vertical surfaces. The step comes about chest level on me, though, so I wouldn’t have been hopping in and out to take pictures anyway. It’s not as noisy as I thought it would be and if you keep moving the exhaust fumes aren’t bad (damned by faint praise, I know). It’s pretty scary jouncing along high off the ground in a vehicle with no doors but once I was strapped in with 4 parts of the 5-point harness I felt safer and eventually stopped gasping at every jolt. There wouldn’t even be much of a story to tell except that we ran out of gas.

Technically, we weren’t OUT of gas but we stalled going up a steep hill and there was no starting again. By amazing luck, we were less than 1/4 mile from the trailer so we took a gas can (I had assumed that they were there for a reason but both were empty), walked back to the truck and tried to siphon some gas out of it (there actually was a siphon). That didn’t work so we had to drive into Marble Falls to fill the gas can but it was only 6 miles. We then drove to the foot of the hill we were stuck on and lugged the gas can up, filled the tank, and we were off. Barely a minor inconvenience and it happened early enough so that we were still home before dark.

So Big Bend Ranch next? Maybe. Probably. MRA says it’s perfectly flat which I know not to be true (I’ve been there) but if we can stay in the canyons and not try to climb the walls, I can do it.

And now on to potstickers. I’ll let you know how they turn out.


You’ve come a long way, baby
Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

My latest project (like I needed another one) is scanning old photos and memorabilia. Partly this is to make pictures that there’s only one copy of accessible to other family members, and to get our slides out of boxes and onto the net where we can look at them without having a major production (plus usually when we get the projector out, it’s broken), and also to get some electronic copies in case the house burns down.

One of the things I’ve scanned so far was an old copy of the Wooster College (Ohio) alumni bulletin, which ran an article on my grandfather when he was about to retire in 1959. Here’s a snippet from the table of contents:

On the cover we present this month another professor, Roy I. Grady ’16, who will he retiring officially at the end of this year. To hundreds of alumni this picture will bring back memories of the chemistry “lab” — not only to those who took a few courses, but to men who have gone on to vocations where they have used the knowledge they learned here as well as to those who have received in this room the inspiration to continue work in graduate school. There will be memories, too, for women who “worked off the science requirement” here and later, to their surprise found an amazing number of uses for information they acquired, in their own kitchens.

OK, I know it was 1959, my mother didn’t have a paying job, I didn’t know anybody whose mother worked outside the home (aside from school teachers). But still! This is a COLLEGE magazine, remember. Maybe girls weren’t taking chemistry so they could have a career, but the implication that they were too dumb to guess that it might ever be useful irks me. My mother and her friends raised funds and got a swimming pool built in our little town. They got the school playground paved so kids didn’t get covered with mud at recess on rainy days. They organized and ran scout troops and libraries. They were smart and capable and they kicked ass at whatever they did.

I know a number of young women these days who feel that women’s lib did them no favors. They would rather stay home with their babies than go to a job, and wish that their husbands would just support them instead of expecting them to bring home a second paycheck. I understand that being Wonder Woman is exhausting. But yikes! Before we wish the “good old days” were back, let’s remember what they were really like.


Austin String Band Festival
Monday, October 19th, 2009

We went out to the Austin String Band Festival on Saturday, sponsored by Austin Friends of Traditional Music. It started Friday night and I’m sure we missed many good performances. Saturday morning there were workshops — fiddle, dulcimer, harmonica, mandolin, and singing. I had intended to attend a few of them but we got a late start — first I woke up feeling kind of oogly, then we forgot the folding chair and had to go back for it, and then we stopped at Academy to get a second folding chair because for some reason when we bought the first one years ago we only got one. Then off to Camp Ben McCulloch in Driftwood!

It was a beautiful day — low 70s, dry, clear blue sky. And my kind of festival — not crowded at all. (I hear that at the recent ACLFest people were standing packed like sardines, despite the fact that it rained the whole weekend.)

I missed some of the workshops I would have liked to attend but did arrive in time to join the Sacred Harp (shape note) singing in progress. That was fun. (If you aren’t familiar with Sacred Harp, the music is written on the usual staff but the notes are different shapes to help those who don’t read music. You sing through it once on the names of the shapes, fa, sol, la, mi, then again with words. I don’t really know the shapes so I just mumble through that part.) I accidentally ended up sitting with the sopranos and would have moved once I spotted the alto section but the sopranos were seriously outnumbered so I stayed where I was and “helped” them. They probably wish I would have moved.

We had lunch and then the performances started. There were 45-minute sets under a shelter (equipped with hard benches — we were glad of the folding chairs) with 15-minute sets outside by lesser-known bands to fill in the gaps. We only stayed until about 5 but there was a tremendous variety of music — Cajun, Mexican, Celtic, all sorts of takes on traditional, bluegrass, and old-timey music, and one band which categorizes itself as “alt-folk-progressive”.

It was a lot of fun and completely different (I don’t get out much). Usually on Saturdays I go to a yoga class then rush back and fill orders before the post office closes and then it’s three o’clock and I’m kind of going, wow, where did the day go? This was a wonderful change.


Andrew Wyeth wears army boots
Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

We’ve had quite a few requests for Andrew Wyeth’s work, most recently by someone who was enthusiastic enough to track down who I needed to contact about licensing it.  I emailed and got a quick (and admittedly, courteous)  response that they don’t license the work except for “art historical books and limited posters”.  If I were 8 years old, I would wonder why some of these people are so stuck up, but I’m supposed to be more mature than that.

I am not deeply grieved, in reality, because I am not Andrew Wyeth’s biggest fan.  Of course his work is very good, technically, but the colors are not to my taste, and the subject matter doesn’t move me (except for “Christina’s World”, which creeps me out — what sicko left that poor woman way out in the field dragging herself back to the house?).

My father was a big Wyeth fan, and I have been dragged to the Brandywine River Museum,  which has a lot of assorted Wyeths, way more than I deserve.  My dad was a big museum-goer in general, and it was always something of an ordeal, because there was no such thing as leaving before we had seen everything.  That’s more fun some places than others, but it’s always exhausting.  I’ve seen everything at the Franklin Institute (but don’t remember anything except the Foucault pendulum).  I’ve seen everything at the Franklin Mint, where they have a gallery with every commemorative coin and little model car that they’ve ever made.  Maybe, on all those occasions, he was tired too, and was waiting for me to say I was ready to go.  I never sensed that but it is theoretically possible.   When “Tora! Tora! Tora!” was in the theaters (yes, a LONG time ago) he wanted to go and I said fine.  We saw it, and then the next movie was going to be “Herbie the Mixed-Up Volkswagen” or some title like that.  He asked if I wanted to stay and see it and we did one of these “do you?” back-and-forth things and ended up staying.  In retrospect, I am pretty sure that he didn’t want to see it, but at the time I couldn’t tell, and didn’t want to say I didn’t want to see it in case he did.

Anyway, fair or unfair, that’s one more thing I hold against Andrew Wyeth (the museum trips, not the movie.  The movie is Walt Disney’s fault.)


The pond is finished!
Thursday, July 30th, 2009


I decided to put Oxford pavers around the pond. Ideally, this would have been decided and done when the pond went in. The pond should have been countersunk so the bricks would be level with the ground, and they should have been concreted in place. With the water and fish, it’s too late for concrete, and way too late to countersink the pond. So I GLUED the bricks with Gorilla Glue (they had a sign in the brick section about “don’t forget your masonry adhesive” so I figured that was permission). I didn’t get the masonry adhesive because it said it doesn’t bond to fiberglass or plastic. The glue should hold well enough. It’s possible to pull the bricks off but the glue is strong enough to keep the bricks from getting knocked into the pond accidentally. I backfilled around the bricks with mulch.

I added the water dish because the birds were having trouble reaching the water in the pond to get a drink. (There’s a water dish on the deck, and a bird bath, but doves are pretty dumb.) It took the birds a while to discover the water dish but now they really like it. There’s a lot of bathing going on.


Lovely rain
Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

We’re having a respite from the glaring sun, hundred-degree temperatures, and endless blue sky with a couple of cloudy, gently rainy days.  I did a lot of work in the back yard over the weekend and now it is a pleasure to look back there.

The pond was ringed (until this weekend) with more-or-less flat limestone rocks that came out of the hole when we dug the pond. But you couldn’t mow up to the rocks without hitting them or getting grass clippings in the pond (and the grass clippers I bought have stayed in the garage, in nearly new condition), so over time the grass around the pond got very tall and wild and you couldn’t see the rocks at all. This weekend I picked up all the rocks (stacking them responsibly on the deck so they don’t kill the grass), dug up all that tall grass, and mulched around the pond. Some other kind of stones will follow, maybe pavers. Now the turk’s cap looks like a little woodland instead of a neglected lawn border. We also moved the yellow iris (the color is strictly theoretical; it never blooms) away from the edge of the pond in the hopes that the racoons will leave it alone.

I’ve also been reading about rain gardens. Isn’t that a pretty name? Very evocative. I have just the spot, on the uphill slope from the pond. The idea is that you dig into whatever slope you have, making a level area, and use the dirt to make a berm on the downhill side. Then you plant (preferably native) plants in there. This catches the water when it rains and holds it so that it can soak into the ground instead of running off. It’s suggested that you put it downhill from a downspout, but our downspouts aren’t in good places, for the most part, while the area above the pond gets the runoff from several yards uphill from us when it rains. I can make a rustic little stone wall from the leftover pond rocks along the outside of the berm.

I always seem to wait until it’s 100 out to do any yard work. I think what happens is, when it’s 85 it’s too hot and I think I’ll wait for a cooler day. When it gets to be 100, I know it will never be cool again, or at least not for months and months, so I might as well dive in.

The fish are enjoying the rain too. They get very active and chase and splash when it’s raining. One goofy fish was burrowing into the pond filter, which is dangerous — sometimes they get stuck and die in there. I whacked it (gently) with a stick but it wouldn’t come out so I had to wade in and haul it out by its tail. It may have been looking for a place to lay eggs. We are short on submerged plants at the moment.


Miracle Cure
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

The oak pollen has been very, very bad lately.  I’m forced to interact with it to some extent — the catkins land in great piles and if they aren’t swept up you just track it into the house, plus it stains everything yellow-green.  I swept one day wearing a mask but forgot about my eyes — big mistake.  I need a hazmat suit.

The pollen got so bad last week that I thought I had caught a cold — sneezing, coughing, itchy/watery eyes, tired to death, and all the rest of it.   We’ve had some rain which should have knocked the pollen down but didn’t, because — duh — it didn’t rain indoors.   The rain has made it cool and humid, and for exactly this situation we got a room dehumidifier a couple of years ago (when you want it less humid but don’t want to turn the AC on at the temperature that would be required to get it to run).   So I turned it on a couple of days ago, went to bed, and in the morning I was WELL.  Seriously.  I feel SO GOOD, it’s ridiculous, it’s miraculous.  I guess the pollen is caught by the water vapor in the air and the dehumidifier just pulls it out of the air along with the water.  Me and my dehumidifier.  We’re buds from now on.


…but for destruction, ice…
Sunday, March 29th, 2009

We had a thunderstorm the other night with a tornado watch, and began getting marble-sized hail almost immediately. We were watching it hail when a BOOMING sound began on the roof. We couldn’t think what it could be, but then the biggest hail I’ve ever seen began landing on the deck and in the yard.

Hail stones

Naturally we had to collect some.  The largest ones weighed 4 ounces and were almost as big as a baseball (a hardball, not a softball).  Just imagine the wind required to keep hail aloft until it weighs 4 ounces!  This kind of hail isn’t unusual in Austin but I’ve never seen it before, although I’ve seen cars that have been pummeled by large hail.  People who were caught out in their cars this time had their windshields craze on the first strike and disintegrate on the second.  And just about every year there is a swath of houses getting new roofs because of hail damage.  We had to have the roof replaced only 3 years ago due to much smaller hail than this.  I hope the newness of the roof means that it survived.  We haven’t checked yet, although I can see that our next-door neighbors, who also had a new roof 3 years ago have some broken shingles.

Roofing company signs sprouted the next day like mushrooms after a rain.  It’s a great town if you’re in the roofing business.




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