Archive for the 'odds and ends' Category

liver lady

Does death always come in threes? The mighty little community on Lake Superior’s south shore that I call home recently lost a handful of members, all unrelated and all unexpectedly. News of death is never easy and getting blind sided by it adds one more layer of emotion to sift through. When you finally hit the bottom of your grief, you’re left grasping onto the undeniable truth of how precious our time here really is.

And so it is that I’ve been muddling my way through a deep look at lifehow I give, how I receive, and how I show up. It’s kind of an overwhelming process. One that can almost set me into a panic. Which is not to say I’m unhappy with my life. It’s just revealing to step back and take a good, honest look at it. What time is it anyway? Is this a mid-life crisis lurking in the shadows? 

I’m getting off track. This post isn’t about me. It’s about my dog, Earl. And Rita, the liver lady. I live on a peninsula, and as far as I know, there is only one place to train a dog. The Blue Ribbon Training Club. So when Earl came into my life five years ago, I dutifully signed him up for obedience school.

I had been to Blue Ribbon with a former dog, so I knew what to expect. A damp, windowless, uninsulated, low ceilinged shed attached to the local groomers shop. Conveniently situated in a low wetland area (read, swamp). In the winter months the room is either freezing, or sauna-like, thanks to a big old barrel stove chugging away in the corner. There’s very little in between. This awkward space can easily become claustrophobic. 

blue ribbon training club

And then there’s Rita, the woman running the show. If you don’t know her, she can seem, well, a little gruff. It doesn’t take long to realize that this well-built woman means business. Rita runs a tight, no nonsense ship. Which is a good thing, as far as your dog’s behavior is concerned. But I always like to warn new people that the whole experience can seem a little surreal at first. 

A typical class finds Rita sitting on a perch, barking commands to follow—heeling around in a ring, reversing directions, halting, laying down, leaving your dog and advancing to work with the dog ahead, again and again until you reunite with your pup. And just when everybody is teetering on the edge of exhaustion, she yells out a joyous “Praise them!” If you’re not exuberant enough with your praise, she’ll yell it again. But it gets even better. The liver snaps. Homemade, garlic marinated, dehydrated liver treats that Rita slips to the dogs for good behavior. Earl will stand on his head and spit nickels for one of Rita’s liver snaps. I’ve seen it.

During his tenure at Blue Ribbon, Earl was more or less dubbed class clown. His starring moment came during a testing night. Owners lined up on one side of the room, dogs on the other. One by one we were to call our dog to us and have them preform just one command we asked of them. When Earl’s turn was up, he came to me as instructed and proceeded to fire off everything he had learned in class. Sit, down, finish behind me, sit, down and return. Rita laughed, looked me in the eye, and said “Don’t ever break his spirit.” And then she proceeded to give him a passing grade.

Rita is also the founder of Pet N’ Pals, a group of trained therapy dogs (and two cats) that makes weekly visits to area nursing homes. When Earl finished his obedience training, Rita encouraged us to go through the therapy dog class and testing. She could tell that Earl was made for this work. 

Earl has come along way since I adopted him, but he has a mysterious past. A fork dropped at just the wrong time can send him into a panic that lasts for hours. I agreed that he’d make a swell therapy dog, but I was dubious about his jitters. We made it through the classes without incident, and once again on testing night, Earl’s sincerity made Rita cave. One of the testing stations involves the owner sitting in a chair, dog at their side while a stranger lumbers forth with a walker. Earl managed to slink behind my chair and remain virtually unseen. Still, Rita noticed a little swish of his tail and passed him anyway. “He’ll grow into it,” she said. And he did. 

earl

As therapy dogs, Earl and his cohorts occasionally get called on to attend a funeral. They go and stage up in the back as an added measure of support. And it’s a really comforting touch. Every funeral should be so blessed. To be respectful, I always don Earl’s bowtie for these occasions.

It was with a breaking heart that I recently had to dig out Earl’s tie and let him know that he’d been tapped again for duty. This time though, it was for our ring leader—the loyal liver lady. Rita died unexpectedly at the end of January, leaving behind packs of dogs who owe their good manners and love of liver to her.  

Rita got dogs. If you walked into her funny little training shack and did exactly as instructed, you’d leave with a well-polished canine citizen. Period. And she had plenty of practice. Between classes and therapy outings, she spent more evening with a pack of dogs in her command than not. If that wasn’t dedication enough, she also donated classes, food, and emergency vet services to those who needed it most. Not that anyone would ever know. This was one area where Rita exercised discretion.

Small communities are such caring, tight-knit places to live. Of course the downside is that when people make their exit, they often leave a gaping hole in their wake. Rita is no exception. Her contribution and presence are noticeably absent. I take solace in her living, barking legacy. And I can tell you this. Dog heaven just scored big. Carry on, Rita.

Rita’s Liver Snaps

Beef liver
Worcestershire sauce
Garlic powder
Food dehydrator

Slice liver as evenly as possible, somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick. Rub garlic powder over meat. Splash with Worcestershire sauce and a bit of water. Marinate 8 hours or overnight. Lay the liver out in an uncrowded fashion on food dehydrator trays and set temperature between 130 and 140º F. Dry until the liver is firm and crisp, with no trace of moisture, 6 to 8 hours, depending on thickness. Break into bite size pieces and store in an air-tight container. (I should also mention that while your dog might find this a delightful smelling process, others in your household may not. Consider running the dehydrator in basement or garage.)

earl

Rita’s service is on March 4 at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland, WI. Her pack of therapy dogs will be in attendance. I’ll try and get a photo of our crew. Check back if you’d like.

And thanks to my friend Bob for taking these photos of Earl.

sprout junkie

Last winter, in the middle of March, my friend Kris came to dinner. I remember this, because the hostess gift she brought changed my life. After everyone made it in the door and the rigamarole of coats, boots, and cold hugs had subsided, Kris came into the kitchen and set down a plate. I pulled back the covering and was greeted with several perky shades of green. GREEN. IN MARCH. Kris had brought me, of all things, a plate of sprouts.

As an (almost) lifelong vegetarian, I’ve always thought I should be more of a sprout fanatic. I mean they are quintessential vegetarian food, right? Maybe. But in all honesty, a plastic carton of alfalfa sprouts does absolutely nothing for me. Nor a bag of yellowing mung bean sprouts. Too often their mineral taste and chalky texture overpowers everything else, leaving a disparaging taste in my mouth.

soaking

But right away I could tell there was something different about Kris’s sprouts. For starters, they were so GREEN. And so FRESH. Kris gave me a quick run down. There were pea shoots, mung beans like I’d never seen, a spring mix with broccoli and spicy radish, crunchy lentils, and glorious pile of sunflower sprouts. I sampled a pinch of each and knew right then and there that my winter kitchen was going to be a different place.

I do my best to eat with the seasons, which means there are several months (too many really) where succulent leafy greens are more or less absent from the scene. Sometimes out of desperation I’ll let loose and bring home a bag of arugula or spinach, but besides that, cabbage is my leafy green stand in. So to know that I could replicate these flavor packed, crunchy green sprouts all winter long was almost more than I could handle.

I ruthlessly started quizzing Kris. Where does she get her seeds? (a Canadian company called Mumm’s) Do I need any special equipment? (canning jars, a few pieces of fine screen mesh, and maybe a aluminum pie tin) How long does it take? (2-7 days depending on the seeds and your preferences) How much maintenance is involved? (after an initial 4 hour soak, a good rinse twice a day). How long do they keep? (a week or so in the fridge). I could do this, I thought. And I did.

Confident that this was a kitchen habit that would stick, I placed a sizable order (with so many choices, it was hard to resist). I store a small jar of each variety  in the pantry and restock from the freezer – where the seeds stay vaible for a good long time. I’ll put my sprouting supplies away for the summer months, but from November through June, look out. My kitchen counter comes to life!

spouted!

I have become a full on sprout junkie. I enjoy them all, but two that always make the rotation are sunflower spouts (which I have a tendency to gulp down by the handful,  often eating the entire tray before it even makes it into the fridge for storage) and mung beans. But unlike the long, slightly yellow, slightly slimy mung shoots I find at the grocery store, I now enjoy what seems like a completely different food – crunchy, petite, fresh, protein laden nuggets. The key with mung beans, I have learned, is to only sprout them for a few days, until just the start of a shoot appears. Lightly steaming at this stage unlocks a world of flavor and texture.

I eat sprouts plain with a pinch of crunchy salt whenever I’m in the mood for something raw and green. All winter long I deploy them as edible garnish on just about anything. I cook with them too – adding the larger beans to soups and pastas and reserving smaller leafier sprouts for sandwiches and omelets. And for a night of ultimate wintertime culinary fun, I toss as many varieties of sprouts as I can together for a crazy, crunchy, flavor-packed salad. Whoowhee!

But in keeping with my quiet Scandinavian stoic roots, I often take it down a notch and opt for a more subtle, steamed mung bean salad. The toppings vary, but the result is perfectly satiating. It is, hands down, one of my favorite winter salads.

stoic-steamed-salad

Mung Bean Salad for 2 (or 1 if it’s the dead of winter)

2 large handfuls of fresh mung bean sprouts, steamed in a small amount of water for just under a minute. They should be green and toothsome.

Drain and divide among 2 small plates.

Top with any or all of the following:
a dash of oil (olive and/or toasted sesame oil)
a dash of rice vinegar
a dash of soy sauce
(or mix all of the above together with some fresh garlic and ginger for a simple Asian inspired dressing)
fresh scallion
dried shallot
preserved lemon
toasted sesame seeds
crunchy, coarse salt

* A note on sunflower seed spouts – you can sprout them in a jar like all other seeds, but Kris turned me on to using a disposable pie tin with small holes poked throughout the bottom. The seed hulls fall away to the bottom of the tin and the sprouts grow more upright, making them easier to harvest.

hello summer

It’s been wet here. Exceptionally wet. We’ve pretty much doubled our average monthly rainfall. Which means Bayfield County has gotten about seven inches – most of it within the last week and a half. I’ve replanted the jack-o’-lanterns twice. My peppers are pale shade of yellow. A lovely color really – just one not intended for a pepper plant. Pools of water were lapping at the honeybees’ front porches. But really, all of this is nothing compared to the tragedies that nearby Duluth saw last week. Neighborhoods were evacuated. Animals swam away from the zoo. Cars disappeared into sinkholes. Bridges collapsed.
green-gold-bluplerium
But then, right on cue – just a few hours after the solstice – Summer cleared her throat and gave Spring a stern tap on the shoulder. And it worked. It actually feels like summer, with sunshine and warm breezes and everything. The pumpkins sprouted. The peppers are hinting at light hue of green. I picked flowers for the windowsill. And to really drive it home, I boated out to Long Island in the Apostles for beach-side cocktails with friends. I wasn’t taking any chances.
Long Island Cocktail Club
My bees are in a fabulous mood. After a particularly slow spring, they are finally busy and mellow. I love that about honeybees. Hard work brings a sense of calm to the hive. It’s when they can’t get to the task at hand that they get cranky. If only we could all have such passion for our jobs. And their labor has paid off, their boxes are dripping with fresh honey.
The other day I did a hive check at 5 pm and the foragers were still out and active – another sure sign of summer. In the spring and fall I try to work the bees midday, when I know the bulk of the hive will be out. But in summer I can be a bit more lax. Because I know the girls will be taking advantage of the long, languid nectar filled days well into the evening.
summer bees
As a nod to my bees and warm summer nights I decided to mix up a batch of orange scented honey syrup – perfect for cocktails on the deck. Then I shook up a light and refreshing gin fizz, substituting in the honey syrup for the powdered sugar. It’s what I made for the boat ride over to Long Island to celebrate summer’s arrival. And something tells me I’ll make it all summer long – to unwind with after a long day, or to take to the garden with dinner and a blanket, or to sip on the porch during a thunderstorm, or maybe to sit quietly in the fading light and watch the bees come home. Here’s to sweet summer nights.
gin fizz

Really this cocktail could  just as easily be mixed straight in the glass, but like 007, I prefer my drinks shaken, not stirred.

Honey Gin Fizz

2 tablespoons gin
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey syrup
5 ice cubes
club soda

Shake gin, lemon juice, honey syrup, and ice in a cocktail shaker. Pour into an 8 oz cocktail glass and top with a glug of club soda. Garnish with a lemon twist and toast to summer nights.

Honey Syrup

3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Heat to a boil while stirring. Reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture is reduced by one-fourth. Cool and store in a jar in the refrigerator. Keeps for months. Makes a healthy 3/4 cups.

solstice-sun

coming clean

This is embarrassing, but it’s undeniably true. I am forty years old. That’s not the embarrassing part. The embarrassing part is that up until a week ago, I still took laundry home to my mother’s house. Or to my brother’s. Or to my best friend’s. Really, I was open to anywhere that wasn’t a laundromat. It’s not actually going to the laundromat that I take issue with – I mean really, it’s a nice excuse to sit and read for 45 minutes while your clothes spin. Or, if you’ve been smart and timed things properly, to pop off to the nearest bar for a pint. And the closest establishment to my laundromat happens to overlook Lake Superior. Not a bad venue.

My real beef with the laundromat (despite the inevitable screaming child phenomenon) is that my clothes seldom come clean. Yes, they smell fresh and generally look at least slightly better than when they went in, but not much. Nor is it unheard of for items to come out even worse for the wear. And so to drop twenty bucks in quarters, squander a couple hours of my time, and return home with only marginally clean clothes is something I have come to truly loathe. So when a nice, clean, highly functioning washing machine presents itself, I have no qualms with taking advantage of it. Nevertheless, it’s hard to feel entirely grown up when you’re still driving around with a basket of dirty clothes in the back seat.
washing machine
But this is it. I have crossed the threshold. I am now an exceptionally grateful owner of a perfectly sized Asko washer and dryer. They are so cute. And my clothes are so clean! I feel so adult. Along with our new house, I am also the proud owner of a kitchen faucet. And a bathroom faucet. And a shower. And a toilet that flushes even.
It occurred to me the other day that I have lived almost as much of my life without running water and indoor plumbing than with. Mostly by circumstance and choice, granted, but still, it’s time. I’m ready. It was the laundry that really pushed me over the edge. I love our outhouse. It has a great view. I still opt for it over the new toilet that flushes. As far as the laundromat goes though, I will never, ever look back. Ever.
outhouse
We haven’t officially moved in to our new house yet, but we’ve gradually been making our way over there, dabbling in the various conveniences of modern day living. Yesterday I looked up from my desk to see Mark trudging across the lawn with the stand mixer in one arm and his slab of marble in the other. Pizza night. He popped his head back in an hour or so later and shouted up for me to bring over a bottle of wine. It was a little sparse, but still, we enjoyed our first real meal in the new house. We even broke a glass. Actually the cat broke it. Which made it feel even more like home.
kitchen
It has not escaped my notice, however, that along with all the pleasures of our schmancy new house comes upkeep and cleaning. The nice part about not having had a bathroom for the last 18 years is that I have not cleaned a bathroom in 18 years. Rustic living has its perks people! After just a week’s worth of showers though, the new bathroom is already demanding my attention. I always keep a spray bottle of homemade, planet-friendly cleaner in our kitchen now, but I decided it was time to mix up two more bottles for the new house. One for the bathroom and another for the laundry room. Have I mentioned how adult I feel?
I love this cleaning solution. It smells great, it’s cheap, and I can spray it liberally in my new shower without fear of poisoning my lungs, or the planet. It’s super quick to mix up and it does the trick on almost everything. Even outhouses.
outhouse seat
Good for Nearly Everything Cleaner

Spray bottle
Water
White vinegar
1 tablespoon Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds (or similar liquid soap)
1 tablespoon CitraSolv (or similar citrus cleaner)
Few drops of essential oil (I use geranium)

Fill a standard size spray bottle with half water and half white vinegar.
Add liquid soap, citrus cleaner, and  essential oil. Mix gently.

all-purpose cleaner

easing up

I have a new addiction. And I’m pleased to say that it is not NyQuil – though for a while there, that magical green liquid was in a tight race for second. But no, my new crush is something much more wholesome and liver-friendly. Puzzling. This isn’t a particularly new pastime for me – my husband Mark and I always tackle a jigsaw over the Christmas holiday, and sometimes we’ll break one out during a rainy stretch. But lately, I seem to be on a mad puzzling streak.

True to form, Mark and I kicked off the season this year with a rather tricky Monster’s Inc. puzzle – an affair that involved way too much blue monster fur. Still, it was Mike and Sully and therefore hard to resist. Nevertheless, I handily packed it up to pass on, ready to reclaim our table. But then I surprised myself by pulling out another puzzle. And then another. And there is still one more waiting on the shelf.

At first I thought it was just a way to pass the time while I was sick and under the weather. I’m still not running at 100 percent, but I’ve definitely turned the corner. Only my puzzling habit hasn’t let up accordingly. And now I’m starting to realize it for what it truly is – pure escapism. Ten minutes over coffee, extended lunch breaks here and there, and squandering away valuable kitchen time “just until I find that one piece.” Mark has even doled out a few mandatory puzzling sentences if I’m worked up or fretting about something. And let me tell you, it works!

My Grandpa Milt was a puzzler. He often had a special card table set up to accommodate his 1000 piece forays. I’d eagerly sit down to help, but it was never too long before I lost interest. I remember wondering what the point was. But now, after all these years, I finally get it. The point is to sit down at your table and disappear into a world of colors and shapes and textures. I love running my hand over the completed sections and feeling the smooth cardboard beneath my fingertips. The beauty of puzzling is that it lets my brain shut off while still maintaing a nice level of concentration. That’s a good mix – and hard to come by sometimes.

So I guess my addiction isn’t all bad, late dinners aside. But I should share how I kicked my NyQuil habit. After about my fourth or fifth dose I was eager to find a better and safer solution to the cough that had settled uncomfortably deep into my lungs. And so I tried a home remedy that has been scrawled in the back of one of my cookbooks for years. I was skeptical at first, so I made up just a quarter batch (I could care less about tossing out a little whiskey, but wasting a cup of honey – now that’s just foolish!) I took a few swigs of my concoction during an explosive coughing spell, and sure enough, I could almost instantly feel my lungs and chest easing up. Another shot before bed sent me straight to sleep. The next day I made a full recipe.

I used raw honey, which simply means it has not been processed or heated. But I think any honey would have the same soothing effect. I also forewent the schnapps, but in retrospect, I think it would have been a lovely taste enhancer. I stored my syrup in a glass canning jar with a lid at room temperature. I’m sure it has a pretty decent storage life, but after a certain point, I think it would probably be better just to start fresh.

Paw Paw’s Cough Syrup

1 cup whiskey
1/4 cup peppermint schnapps
1 cup liquid honey
2 lemons

Squeeze lemons into honey and add whiskey and peppermint schnapps. Stir until throughly mixed, shake if needed. Sip until your coughing troubles leave (or you just don’t care anymore).