Thursday, September 25, 2008

I was on the front page!

.... OK, not me... but one of my bags... the little one with the raindrops.

For those of you not in the know, being on the front page of etsy is kind of a big deal. It drives traffic to your shop and increases views and sales... or at least, that's what the mythology is. In reality, based on my experience and from what other people say, it makes views of items shoot up (it also depends upon what day and what time of day your item is up there.) Many people add your shop and items to their favorites list, but it's hard to say whether it leads to any actual sales. I suppose all exposure is goood exposure. Besides, it's sort of a thrill to see your item on the front page.

This collection was chosen by one of the etsy admin people, HeyMichelle, for a storque article. For many of you, I might as well have just written, "gieoafne a;ruth 488477fna." Sorry.

And also another bag (upper right hand corner) was in a Treasury West called "Chouette" by fleurfatale:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Loot Loot Loot

Two weekends ago, I was pulling down a small part of the ceiling in our sketchy basement bathroom, when I found these next to a little access hole.

The husband who lived here before spent a lot of time doing little home renovation projects. Now we understand why many of them were done very poorly.

I imagine that when he put the ceiling in the bathroom, he left that little opening to stash his vodka bottles, out of sight of his unwitting wife.

Or maybe I'm the unwitting wife and Eric has been popping down to the basement for a little nip every now and again. Thankfully, I'm pretty sure the bottles are pretty old -- or at least pre-date our July move in.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Twin Cities Parade of Coops

The afternoon I headed out on the Parade of Coops, a gentle mist was falling which I assumed would keep the crowds away this obscure Twin Cities event. I was wrong.

The blurb in the Star Tribune, which my mother-in-law had spotted and thoughtfully e-mailed to me, had said that chicken enthusiasts should meet at an address in Seward where we could get the addresses for the rest of the tour. Like the organizers, I imagined a manageable group of a dozen or so. During the course of my visit to the first yard, no less than 60 to 70 people ventured into the backyard to gawk at the chickens, to ask the owners how they keep the water from freezing in the winter, and enjoy warm tomato soup and zucchini bread.

The organizer, a young man in a jaunty plaid cap, quickly ran out of address lists and had to run off several more batches on the family's home computer. It was a long wait but it was free and a means to see other people's backyards without being creepy.

I only had time to visit two more homes. Each had four or five chickens, although some had permits for many more than that. All of them had children, as if raising chickens was a way to teach caregiving to their own offspring. All collected their eggs and ate them and all had charming coops. One of them had a dog, which, being a herding and not hunting dog, got along fine with the chickens and did not appear tempted to bite and shake them. They ate the eggs, but their children had grown too attached to the feathery critters to kill and eat them. Indeed, one of their daughters pet and held her chicken, perching it on her shoulder for visitors to admire.

At the third and final house I visited, the owner explained that he and his wife's reasons for having chickens had evolved over time. Initially they named them and kept them as pseudo-pets. Now they ate their eggs (they get about one or two a day) and when the chickens egg-laying months are behind them, they slaughter and eat them. In the corner of their yard, they were canning tomatoes over their turkey fryer. They had me sold. This is the attitude with which I would one day keep animals.

One of the things that struck me and that I keep trying to tell my husband is that none of the coops took up much space. One of the families had a very small backyard and the coop definitely dominated it, but they still had room for tomatoes and piles of firewood. The other two yards were large -- they both had extensive vegetable gardens, but also enough room for the kids to run around.

I also try to remind my husband that his pop-overs get extra pop with farm fresh eggs. How much fresher can you get than your own backyard?

Friday, September 12, 2008

John McCain and Sarah Palin Think We're Stupid

I am not a democrat and never have been. I'm an independent who, in the past few elections, has considered voting for the democrat but has been more strongly pulled toward third party candidates like Ralph Nadar.

This year is different.

From the beginning of this election, I was an Obama supporter. I saw him speak in St Paul. I tuned in to all his debates and primary victory speeches along the way. I watched the DNC. I like the guy. I think he's smart. I think he has great ideas for service (tuition breaks for college graduates who take less than glamorous, but necessary positions in under-served communities and creating "Energy Corps"), education (keep teachers accountable, but give them the resources they need), and foreign affairs (diplomacy first, military only as a last resort). Perhaps just as importantly, he's made me excited about the future of America. He's made me think that a united America is possible.

Initially, I was fairly neutral towards McCain. His "straight talk express" made him seem trustworthy and set apart from the average politicians. His service to the country indicated a love for his country that I think is important in a leader and yet, at least initially, he was somewhat humble about the experience. I didn't agree with a lot of his policies and ideas (he's pro-life, he voted against equal pay, and he supports school vouchers) but I didn't find him offensive... until three weeks ago.

When McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate, he made a decision that was purely political and had nothing to do with what was best for this country and its people. He was clearly pandering to the Republican conservative base and hoping to win over one-time Hilary Clinton supporters. What other reason could he possibly have for selecting such an underqualified candidate with a shoddy track record?

McCain obviously thinks that women voters vote with their uteruses and, seeing a woman with five kids, would automaticaly reward his woman-friendly choice with their votes. But one woman cannot simply be traded in for another.

On the campaign trail, Palin has been repeating her line "I said 'thanks but no thanks' to that Bridge to Nowhere" ad nauseam as late as Wednesday, her last day campaigning this week before she returned to Alaska.

In the meantime, every major news outlet -- from USA Today to NPR from her home state Anchorage Daily News to ABC -- was reporting that her statement was less than accurate. In fact, when running for governor in 2006, Palin supported the Bridge to Nowhere. Even once it was shot down (which, admittedly, Palin helped do in the end), Alaska, under Governor Palin's leadership, still accepted the $200 million for unspecified projects.

She said 'thanks but no thanks' the the Bridge to Nowhere and 'yes, please' to the Bridge to Wherever.

According to the AP, Palin is looking for another $200 million for similar projects for next year.

In spite of the fact that so many news outlets were pointing out the truth of what happened, Palin continued to tout her so-called refusal to accept Federal funding for the bridge on the campaign trail. As if we're not paying attention to the truth. As if we don't care. As if we are easily duped. As if we're stupid.

Prove them wrong.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Three Signs that Summer is Gone... Gone... Gone.

1. Eric and I scrambled to complete the one house project that, left incomplete, would have meant a giant hole in the side of our house.
I wish I had pictures of the actual process of replacing this bathroom window with glass block. But actually, if I did have pictures, it would reveal that truth -- that Eric's dad, Loren, did all of the real work. Loren removed the old window and then grinded down the concrete in the wall to give us a nice, smooth space to work on. He also did all the math and measurements to make sure that the blocks would fit precisely into the opening.

Installing a glassblock window is surprisingly easy -- if you have a handy, multi-talented father-in-law. We still have to grout the blocks, but at least now we won't have a big opening in the wall this winter and we won't have water dripping all over a wood window once our new shower is installed. (Our house previously had only one bathtub. How did people live with only baths?)

The next thing will be to get the fireplace in working order and load up on some firewood.

2. We're preserving the harvest in our giant freezer. I packed away some corn and raspberries this week: blanching and cutting the corn and washing and freezing the raspberries on cookie sheets before vacuum sealing them into plastic bags.

This isn't nearly enough corn for us, so I'll probably be doing more in the next week before the corn is all gone. Apparently, my timing is pretty good. I heard at the farmer's market that you want large corn kernels for freezing. I'm not sure whether or not this is true -- I'm going to experiment by freezing some young niblets next summer and seeing which turns out better mid January.

Hopefully I have enough raspberries so that I can make some preserves when things are a bit quieter around here. I already have some blueberries and peaches in the freezer, which means fruit and berry cobbler in the middle of the winter this year. (When I take my pathetic, last grabs for summer even in the middle of two feet of snow.)

I tried to vacuum seal them using my sister's Foodsaver Vac 550, but the darn thing vacuumed and sealed about ten bags and then broke -- it just stopped sealing. Laura, I know you hate it when I use my blog as a means to communicate with you, but I think it's the best way to tell you: your foodsaver is broken.

But don't worry, I went out and bought a Foodsaver v2440 yesterday and I think it's much better than the one you had. It's chugging along and, although pricier, seems to be overall a better machine: a few more bells and whistles, but more importantly, it feels more solid. We can share it -- you know -- like those pants that you bought last year for us to "share" that I haven't seen for months and months?

Who are we kidding? When are you ever going to vacuum and seal food items?

3. The Canada Geese are passing overhead, honking loudly with a course set due southwest. I wish I could follow them, but I have cobblers to bake and stews to stir and fires to stoke.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I really need to quit the pig licking.

The old man wanted me to post this picture with the caption "The ultimate in local eating." So here goes.

The ultimate in local eating.

This was from the miracle of birth center at the State Fair. Those piglets were something like nine days old. All the mothers were just laying on their sides, half asleep while the piglets furiously rooted and sucked, sucked and rooted.

It made me crave pork chops and bacon.

Fortunately, I was at the State Fair where pork products are abundant. After visiting (warning: gratiutous use of the best beauty contest name ever) Princess Kay of the Milky Way, we headed to the porkchop on a stick stand. Porkchop on a stick was one of the first things I had had at the State Fair many years ago when I visited with my sister, her husband, and our friend, Jess. It was delicious and gave me the impression that every food item at the State Fair is solid, simple, delicious street food. I was mistaken.

Last year I made the mistake of trying something new. The week before I went to the State Fair I had read about the Ufda Brat -- a brat wrapped in lefse (Norwegian potato flat bread) with mashed potatoes and sauerkrat. I love brats. I love mashed potatoes. I love sauerkraut. I love lefse. Why wouldn't I love an Ufda Brat? I wouldn't love the Ufda Brat because it was a bland, flavorless goo. It was as if they thought that because they were packing so much stuff into each Ufda Brat, they needn't use any salt. Big mistake. You always need to use salt.

This year, I vowed to stick with the tried and true. I was not disappointed. Porkchop on a stick is an incredibly simple, spicy, salty porkchop grilled with a jerk-like rub and stuck on a stick for easy, portable enjoyment. Here I am enjoying it in front of the snake zoo.

Eric got a corn dog, like he always does and I had a bite, like I always do. So far the vow to only eat the tried and true was working out.

At the day wore on, I started to feel my defenses weaken.

Perhaps it was my Al Franken sighting.

Perhaps it was the seed art depicting Barack Obama in a quaint Sambo-like way. (Maybe it's just one of the constraints of the art form?)

Perhaps at was registering to vote. (We moved which means we had to re-register.)
Perhaps it was the totally random Loreal tent that was plopped down right next to the eco-building and the church coffee stand and was pumping techno over its totally State Fair inappropriate red carpet.

The sights and sounds of the State Fair must have gotten to me because suddenly I had the urge to break my vow and try something new. We made a beeline for Famous Dave's.

Pig Lickers had been the talk of the State Fair. Bacon dipped in chocolate. Need I say more? Yes I do.

A few years ago, I celebrated New Year's Eve with my friends Yas and Dean in DC. Yas is a pastry chef. A great pastry chef. For dinner they had cooked up a lovely honey baked ham. For dessert, Yas had melted a giant bowl of chocolate and laid out a tray of cut fruit and her amazing olive oil pound cake. We dunked and ate -- lucious chocolate dripping off of sweets -- and enjoyed our 1970s fondue flashback. We ate more and drank more and the menfolk got to talking about how much they love ham and other pork products. Someone pulled the ham back out.

More chaos ensued and in a "your chocolate's in my peanut butter" moment, bits of ham ended up getting dipped and eventually drenched in the chocolate. Most of the rest of the evening consisted of Dean sitting on the floor next to the coffeetable moaning with pleasure over the bowl of the now grease-stained chocolate.

A few years later, I was at another gathering at Yas and Dean's house. I'm not sure if the inspiration was that New Year's Eve, but Yas had refined the bacchanal experience into a neat little truffle. Peanut butter, chocolate, and bacon. In a word? Yum. She'd been making the truffles for the cafe where she worked and they flew off the shelves -- and with good reason. A perfect combo of salty and sweet.

I was hoping too recreate the whole experience at the State Fair with these little guys.
No such luck.

The problem with the ham dipped chocolate of New Year's Eve was that the warm ham grease ended up in the warm chocolate. But on New Year's Eve with a few drinks, no one seems to mind.

The problem with the pig lickers is the opposite: in order to keep the chocolate solid, the whole thing has to be stored and served cold. The result is that the bacon is congealed. It is possible, apparently, to ruin mother nature's candy.

The congealed ham completely threw me off my game because then I went and tried something else new (to me). Smores on a stick are gooey marshmallow and chocolate neatly contained in a graham cracker dough shell. Good in theory. Gross in reality. Nothing redeeming about this. The dough was sour (but not in a good way) and undercooked. I took a bite. And then another just to make sure it was really as bad as I thought it was. And then I threw it away. I should have done what Eric did and just gotten a butter sugar lefse.

He's so much happier with his sweet treat than I was with mine. Even the guy behind him covets the lefse. At least it looks like he's coveting something.

Next year I'm sticking to: porkchop on a stick, walleye on a stick, corndogs, lefse, and honey ice cream and maybe mini donuts. I promise.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Locavore Experiment Might Be Over FOREVER.

So technically my month-long eating local experiment is over (more to come on that), but I was hoping that I would be able to continue to imbue my daily eating habits with some local treats. Now The Man wants me to stop eating local. What a jerk that guy is.

In her Minnesota Monthly column, Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl (our local James Beard awarded writer and all-around Minnesota food champion and critic extraordinaire) has come across at least one restaurant that is being told it can't buy its food directly from the farmer's market or from the farmer. They MUST buy from distributors.

She's following up on what's going on and I'm going stay up to date on what she finds out. I'll post update here so the outrage can commence.

The MN State Fair: Butter Sculptures For All

The State Fair (aka "The Great Minnesota Get Together) left town last week and, sitting in 64 degree weather, I fear summer went with it.

Really I meant to blog about the fair last week, but the old man and I have been busily renovating the home (demo, installing a glass block window, organizing the basement and various storage areas).

And so begins the State Fair blogging... a little late.

The thing that Eric and I always make a point of visiting is The Princess Kay of the Milky Way area of the dairy building. Yes, I did just write "Princess Kay of the Milky Way." Say it outloud. You will feel like you're in a Japanese cartoon.

Every year a handful of women are selected from various counties to be the faces of the Minnesota dairy industry. Minnesota produces more cheese than Wisconsin. We just don't wear those silly hats. (In the interest of full disclosure, I lived in Wisconsin for five years -- longer than I've lived in Minnesota. I have never worn a cheesehead.)

Here is this year's Princess Kay of the Milky Way, Kristy Mussman, in a parade with a chipmunk and some of her milkmaids.

Eric enjoys the ice cream in the dairy building next to the Princess Kay exhibit. I enjoy the exhibit itself, which features Linda Christensen making busts of each of the Princess's heads out of 90 pound block of butter. Yes. Butter. Yes. Ninety pounds. Nine. Oh.

Here's the artists working her magic in a chilled rotating glass display case.

I feel personally connected to the whole affair because last year when I got married I had a brief interaction with the illustrious Ms Christensen.

My sister, Laura, was the one who set me and my husband up. Needless to say, this was, in my sister's mind, the best aspect of my relationship with Eric. She spread the story of her yenta ways amongst friends and family alike with a large slice of pride and a dash of humility. Of course, we were happy that my sister had had such insight and wanted to pay homage to my her abilities. Around this time one of our friends, Jess, made a comment about the significance of my sister in our relationship. "They should have a butter sculpture of you at their wedding!" We thought it was a brilliant idea.

I called around trying to find someone who was adept at butter sculpture. turns out there aren't too many people who can do it. There was a woman down in Iowa who had sculpted a last supper scene and cows out of butter, but she was mostly out of the dairy art game.

I tracked down Linda Christensen in California. (The women at the State Fair had a big laugh when I told them why I needed to get in touch with her. I'm not sure if they were laughing with me or at me.) In order to accomplish such a feat during her annual trip to Minnesota (which was about two months before our wedding), the artist would need a freezer space to work in, pictures of my sister, and a 90 pound block of butter.

Could we just go into the co-op week after week, collecting pounds of butter to melt and reshape into a giant block? Can we just call land-o-lakes and order that sort of thing? Did we know any restaurateurs with walk-in freezers? Where would we store it for the months leading up to the wedding? What would we do with this giant block of butter afterwards? Could Eric bake that many pies even in a lifetime? In the end, as much as we wanted to pay homage to my sister's yenta-ing, it just proved beyond our capabilities.

We had a great wedding. It was amazing to see all the friends and family who came from near and far to celebrate with us. The band rocked. We danced all night. But still, part of me thinks about that 90 pound block of butter that could have been.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sarah Palin makes me sad. Very, very sad.

Barack Obama's speech last week made me want to go out and be involved. He made me want to vote and knock on doors and encourage others to vote. He made me want to volunteer. He made me want to give my fellow citizen the benefit of the doubt even when I'm in a really crappy mood. His personal story made me think that maybe this country is the land of opportunity. He made me think it was possible that we'd start to rely more on alternative energy, that everyone might have access to health care, and that one day, the United States might regain its reputation on the world stage. He made me actually kind of proud to call myself an American.

After watching Sarah Palin's speech last night, I want to crawl into a very small, dark hole and never come out. It made me hate people. It made me think the world is a very smug, snarky, sarcastic, bitter place where it's every woman for herself. She made me feel like this is a last push to exploit natural resources, live it up, and do whatever we want because the world's going to end any second any way. She made me ashamed to be an American and she made me sad that she's the only woman on either ticket this year.

And then she air kissed her own children. She air kissed her children. Who does that?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I might be an anarchist...

Over this past weekend during the lead up to the RNC, several homes around Minneapolis were raided by the Ramsey County Sheriff. The occupants of the homes, which included one in my sister's neighborhood, were suspected of preparing to violently confront the police during the anti-war protests in downtown St Paul during the RNC.

My sister's neighbors have a house that is, well, seemingly overflowing with stuff and ... dare I say... crap. According to, the police found and confiscated a number of items during their search. The implication being that these items somehow showed that they intended to attack the police and destroy public property. I made a quick search of my own house to see which of these items I might have on hand. Here's the evidence that I might be an anarchist and that I might, at some point, riot in downtown St Paul.

  • Materials to create "sleeping dragons" (PVC pipe, chicken wire, duct tape), which is when protesters lock themselves together

  • A machete, hatchet and several throwing knives

  • a gas mask and filter

  • Empty glass bottles

  • Rags
  • Flammable liquids
  • Homemade caltrops (devises used to disable buses in roads)

  • Sledge hammers
  • Kryptonite locks
  • Empty plastic buckets cut and made into shields
  • So I'm not a perfect anarchist. My caltrops can't be turned over in any direction and still work. I don't technically have gas masks -- they're just dust masks. I haven't, technically, cut those buckets into shields. And, of course, I'm missing a few of the items that the police confiscated:

  • Rappelling equipment
  • Metal pipes
  • Axes
  • Bolt cutter
  • Material for protective padding
  • An Army helmet.
  • Wrist rockets (high-powered slingshots)

  • I'm missing the key item:
  • Large amounts of urine, including three to five gallon buckets of urine.

  • But the "anarchists" whose house got raided weren't perfect anarchists either. Turns out that the buckets contained rain water that the occupants had been collecting to flush their toilets and, indeed, some urine from a man who lives in a nearby garage that doesn't have a toilet. It's sort of sad that it was assumed that the urine was there for something nefarious when it was there because someone is poor.

    There's still a chance that I'm not an anarchist. From the state of things on my second floor, there's still a chance that I'm just a homeowner doing some demolition (or supervising while her in-laws and husband do all the actual heavy lifting).

    In fact, that switchblade pictured above was underneath some built-in cabinets -- likely tucked there decades ago by a kid whose parents didn't want him owning a switchblade or auditioning for Westside Story or perhaps an anarchist.
    I took the picture of the knife next to the dusty remains of a bat that we found in one of the walls that we knocked down. Or I maybe I'm a witch...

    Either way my house should definitely be raided.