Sunday, January 30, 2011

Return of the Sofa!

We just sit across the room and admire it. Yes, this is better than television: our reupholstered sofa!

A few posts ago I told about the two chairs that we recently got back from David Wieberg, our upholstery guru. Well, today he brought us the sofa, which is kind of the pièce de résistance.

What do you think?

I don’t know about you, but I think I’m in love!

—With a sofa!

Here’s a link to my post some months ago when we said goodbye to the chairs and sofa as they were. On it you’ll see pictures like this one—the “before” picture of the sofa:

Obviously, the excitement’s been mounting around here, once we found out the sofa was ready to be delivered. We moved our now-second-string sofa out onto the sunporch (where this one used to reside) to make space in the living room. For the past day, this is what we’ve been staring at:

Since they’re predicting some pretty serious snow this week, and since the only way to get large furniture onto the second floor of our house is to remove a wall from the sunporch and carry it up the back porch steps, this weekend was our window of opportunity for delivery.

For the record, this is what it looks like with the storm windows and wall removed from the back porch. (And yes, this is the way that Great Aunt Polly’s grand old upright piano was moved in and out of the house—before my time: via the back porch steps. Yeah—there used to be a piano in this living room!)

Suddenly, moving a sofa up here doesn’t seem so daunting, eh?

Here are some more views of our luscious sofa.

. . . And here is Sue saying “Wow!” when she got home this afternoon and saw the sofa for the first time!

Now, we’re sitting in the chairs across the room, facing the sofa, and occasionally saying things like, “Wow, it’s like something you’d see in the lobby of a classy old movie theater, isn’t it!” and asking each other questions like, “So, is the correct word for a sofa like this boofty, or boopfy?”

My dad was here when the sofa was delivered, and his comment was, “It looks like furniture that would be fit for the palace of Kaiser Wilhelm II!” Ha ha ha.

Sue and I had an awfully hard time deciding on sofa fabric last fall—we wanted something that looked like the 1930s, but we needed it to be sturdy enough to be “usable.” And we wanted it to feel comfortable. Maroon-burgundy seemed to be a popular color for the period. We found this fabric in St. Louis at Artistic Fabrics—it’s from Waverly.

Of course, it’s hard to guess from a little swatch what a color and pattern will look like when spread over the surface of something as big as a sofa. But this afternoon, we were congratulating ourselves totally on our selection.

And yes, already it seems to be a cat magnet. Tomorrow, I’m going out to find us a throw-thing to put over it!

Well, that’s about all I wanted to tell you tonight—I just wanted to share the joy du jour!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Jewel Orchids: Blooming!

If you don’t think you can grow orchids, guess again. There’s hope for you! But don’t get too excited—the types that produce large blossoms of intense pinks and yellows, say, the cattleyas and phalaenopsises, still require special substrates, special moisture, and special temperatures. I’ve tried growing them, and the humidity requirements were always more than I could fulfill.

But you can still grow orchids, if you choose an easy terrestrial type such as the “jewel orchid” (Ludisia discolor). I guess it’s named for the remarkable leaves, which are velvety deep green with pink veins above, and burgundy-rust on the bottom. The flowers, however, are smallish and white—fortunately they form in clusters.

The reason these are “doable,” even for a lackadaisical houseplant grower like myself, is that they are terrestrial, as opposed to epiphytic. (The epiphytes don’t grow in soil like the terrestrial types do—instead they have adapted to life perched on a tree branch or some such, in a tropical situation—which is why I have such trouble with them. They need humidity. And this time of year, especially, the house gets so dry, my sinuses just—well, you don’t want to know.)

If you’ve ever grown a “wandering jew” (Tradescantia pallada or T. zebrina)—these are very popular houseplants—you can grow a jewel orchid. Like them, the jewel orchid roots easily from cuttings and is attractive year-round because of the colorful leaves. We put ours in the backyard in the summer.

Anyway—I’m telling you about this now for two reasons. First, it’s January and they’ve started their annual bloom, so, Huzzah! It might not be spring, but we’ve got flowers anyway!

And second, I wanted to remind everyone that the annual orchid show at the Missouri Botanical Garden starts today. This is your chance to see some of the huge variety of tropical orchids in the Garden’s permanent collection. Here is a link to MoBot’s Orchid Show page.

Each year they have a “theme”; this year it’s “Flora Maya”—thus the Orthwein display hall has been transformed into a Mayan jungle, with decorations evoking Mayan and Aztec ruins:

The Garden’s annual orchid show will feature 800 blooming orchids in lush, tropical display infused with an eclectic mix of Maya-themed accents.

The Garden maintains one of the world’s premier orchid collections and this is the only time of year when a vast, rotating selection from our historic collection is available for public viewing.

Now, doesn’t this look like a perfect way to spit in the face of nasty old bone-chilling winter? We’re planning a trip to St. Louis to see this—well, once the roads are cleared of this next big dump of snow they’re predicting . . .

I’m even thinking of bringing a change of clothes—shorts and a tee shirt—so I can luxuriate for a few hours in the hot and humid Climatron!

The orchid show lasts from January 29 through March 27; here are the show’s hours:

Monday through Friday
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (last weekday entry at 2 p.m.)
Saturday and Sunday
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission is $5, on top of the general admission to the garden. (Yes, it’s totally worth it. Bring a camera.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I’m Not Bragging

Okay, maybe I am, a little—but you can make this stuff quite easily yourself!

Yeah, I’m still on the subject of sauerbraten ’n’ red cabbage. Our dinner was Monday night, and everything went well—we had a great group of family and friends, and my only regret is that some couldn’t come on account of the reschedule.

Okay—backpedaling again—I have a few other things I would change, but then nobody’s perfect; I try not to be too hard on myself about, say, not having made quite enough gravy to accompany the entire bounty of beef and taters. Oh well—when you only make something once a year, you have to write down notes for improvements, or you’ll completely forget them by the next time.

I have to explain, also, that compared to other homes, ours has a relatively tiny dining room. It measures only about eleven by seven feet. Our venerable old table, however (which came with the house), though only forty-two inches in diameter when it’s a circle, expands to a majestic eight feet long when all five of the leaves are added. It creaks, and there are scuffs and chips in the finish, but I love it.

To me, that dining room table is magic. It’s as if no matter how many people you invite, there is always room for them at the table. And that’s a very cool property for a dining room to have.

So the dinner came off without any major hitches, even though I’d stayed up til five that morning working to meet an extended deadline on a project. Considering that I felt jet-lagged and loopy, it’s miraculous that I didn’t braise the kuchen and put meringue on the sauerbraten.

I wish I had some pictures to share with you of the meal, but we were so busy there was no thought of grabbing the camera. In midafternoon, when we had a few minutes to sit and relax, I did just that—and nearly fell asleep.

Needless to say, that evening I slept pretty well. I spent most of Tuesday morning washing dishes and putting serving platters and our largest heavy cookware away. Considering that I think of the sauerbraten dinner as a “Christmas” thing, it now feels like the “holidays” truly are over.

And I’m ready to start seeing signs of spring!

Jumping the gun a little bit, I ate my lunch today on our unheated the back porch, where it really didn’t feel too cold (at first). In the mornings, sun pours through the glass storm windows and heats up the room rather nicely. There’s a nice view of the birdfeeders from there, and I was surprised and pleased to see a flicker indulging in our seed—it’s the first one I’ve seen in ages, and the first one I’ve seen in this yard since we bought the house. (Welcome, friend!)

Here, I took a picture of my lunch for you: it’s a sauerbraten-and-red-cabbage sandwich. A simple, left-overey thing—and so delicious. It’s kind of like roast beef, only much tastier.

One more disjointed thought: It strikes me as strange that a nation having Germans as its second largest ethnic group is yet almost completely divorced from the flavors of the fatherland. (Hamburgers and frankfurters excepted.) Do you suppose there will ever be a rise in interest—in popularity—of German foods in our country? When it comes, it will be long overdue.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sauerbraten Preparation

It’s hard to get more Germanic than this.

What is it about midwinter that makes us especially keen on “traditions”? Is it because customs are comforting, when the weather and long nights tend to hamper one’s spirits?

About the Annual Party

Anyway, a while back, Sue and I started hosting an annual sauerbraten dinner for the clan. We started by having it on “the Saturday between Christmas and New Year’s,” thinking that it would be most convenient for out-of-town cousins and others who were visiting for the holidays.

But we’ve had a number of years, now, where Christmas and New Year’s fell on weekends, and our solution has been to serve the sauerbraten (and gravy, red cabbage, and potatoes) buffet-style at our New Year’s Eve party.

There are two problems with that, however: First, with all the other party prep and the mutzens, that was more work than we really wanted to do in one day. Second, who wants to eat a hearty beef dinner at a New Year’s Eve party? Our guests would snack on it throughout the evening, and yes, it was a challenge to keep at the correct temperature, etc. (With such light grazing, it was good for leftovers, however.)

But a dinner like this deserves to be “served” and eaten from real plates that rest on a table.

This year, I wanted to have it be a sit-down meal again, but finding time on a weekday between Christmas and New Year’s was challenging. So, long story short, we rescheduled it for later in January. Tomorrow—Sunday the 23rd.

But uh-oh! Now they’re predicting snow. So back to the drawing board; it’s postponed until Monday night. (They should have the streets cleared by then, huh?)

The meat is marinating now, and it can’t sit there forever. So, whether we have guests or not, we’re fixing our sauerbraten on Monday.

Distinctive Flavors

Sauerbraten isn’t something you just whip up on a lark; because the meat must be marinated for some days before you cook it, you have to plan for it. I started the meat marinating on Thursday for Sunday.

The marinade is what puts “der sauer” into the sauerbraten. It’s a truly distinctive blend of flavors, and the distinctiveness is one reason it’s such a powerful tradition. Grandma would always make a sauerbraten around Christmastime, and it was always an “event.”

When I was a kid, I didn’t care much for red meat. In fact, I still never crave it. But I remember Grandma’s sauerbraten—her house was the only place we ever had it. I’m sure it wasn’t my favorite thing, but I don’t remember hating it. It was tender enough, and the flavor was “weird,” and anyway, there were other foods being passed that I certainly did like. Mashed potatoes and green beans, for instance. But over time, it grew on me.

By the way, the same goes for cooked red cabbage—it certainly isn’t a “normal” food, but the “kid me” didn’t consider it “bad,” either. It was just one of those ethnic foods that only the people in your family eat, and go nuts over. (If you saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you get this.)

The first time I made sauerbraten—years after Grandma had made her last sauerbraten—I was shocked by the distinctive familiarity of the aroma as it was cooking. You know how certain scents can stop you dead in your tracks—like when it’s early fall, and you’re walking around outdoors, and for the first time in the season you catch the smell of a wood fire. I always feel a pang of nostalgia—even if for just a second.

Thus marinating and cooking a sauerbraten fills this old house with a scent we all associate with bygone days, warmth and conversation and laughter on a winter night.

And . . . because the scent lingers in the house for some weeks after the dinner, each time we step in the door, it reawakens that sense, that diffuse memory of the past.

Starting the Marinade

Here’s what I did Thursday night. First, you combine the ingredients for the liquid part of the marinade: water, apple cider vinegar (come on; Grandma didn’t use wine vinegar, and wine itself was for drinking!), brown sugar, bay leaves, cloves, and other seasonings. (Some people use juniper berries, but I never have. And if I add other secret ingredients, I’ll never tell.) Boil it for ten minutes, stirring occasionally, then let it cool.

Meanwhile, chop up the “veggies” part of the marinade: celery tops, carrots, onions, and some garlic. No, I’m not giving you quantities. You can find other recipes online to start you off.

Also, trim the extraneous fat from your boneless beef chuck roast. I figure a half pound of meat per person, but I also get more so we have leftovers. (Ever had a sauerbraten-and-red-cabbage sandwich? On rye? It’s awesome!) In your grocery cart, it will look like a ton of meat, but it will shrink as it cooks.

(Whenever I make my “sauerbraten” trip to the grocery store and buy eight or ten pounds of beef, my usual quip to the cashier is, “We’re vegetarians. We’re falling off the wagon big-time.” It always draws a laugh.)

The next part is easy: put the meat into big plastic bags (gallon-size zip-bags are perfect), push the veggies all around the meat to allow for circulation of marinade, and pour the cooled marinade over. Seal; massage; then stick into the refrigerator. (I put my bagged sauerbratens into a big plastic Tupperware container so our butter doesn’t start smelling sauerbratenny.)

Visit the meat occasionally during the three to five marinating days, and massage and turn it to get the flavor rubbed in real good.

And yes, by this time, your house will already start smelling like Germany!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Our Chairs Are Back!

Elation! Elation!

Remember when I told you about how we'd found someone to reupholster some old furniture that came with the house? Here's a link to that post. You'll want to see it so you can view pictures of the chairs "before" reupholstering.

Well, we finally got them back! Today! This very afternoon!

And they look fantastic!


They probably date back to the 1930s, apparently. The gold one is my personal favorite, and it has been for ages. It was the one I'd always choose when we came to visit Grandma.

The pink chair, I'm pretty sure, had belonged to Great Aunt Minnie (pictured in that earlier blog post I referenced above). My dad says he saw a chair (or chairs?) apparently identical to this at Mrs. Delong's house, out on ritzy Moreau Drive. (Mrs. Delong lives in a castle!) Dad was visiting her recently and noticed her chairs then. Mrs. Delong and Aunt Minnie were friends; maybe they bought the chairs at the same place--?

David, the fellow who did this lovely work for us, commented on how much "fun" it was to get the pattern on the back of the pink chair to be symmetrical: "I had to just walk away from it once or twice; it was more difficult than I'd thought it would be." I think he did a fine job, don't you?

I wasn't expecting it, but he also managed to create a sequential pattern on the back of the gold chair, too. Wow!

Check it out.

I include this picture of the foot of the gold chair, because I had included a "before" photo of it on that earlier post. David has a friend who does the refinishing for him. I think this was a good job, too. The legs of both the chairs look fantastic!

Ahhhh, here they are again. If I didn't have to be sitting up here in my office, I'd be down in the living room reading a Jane Austen novel to Sue, and we'd both be sitting in these chairs!

So: they're refinished, tightened and reglued, springs retied, webbings, twinings, burlap, and bindings and whatever all reattached or replaced, plus the new cotton cushioning and the foam pad, and, of course, the new fabric. He did more stuff, too, inside there, but I'm not smart enough to be able to describe it to you.

Oh, yeah, and when I asked him if he could make arm covers, he said "sure" and used the plastic wrap he'd used to transport them in to make a rough pattern for arm covers for both the chairs. He'll bring them to us, with the leftover fabric, when he brings us the finished sofa.

I asked David if he wanted me to get his name "out there"--I wasn't sure he was wanting more business, since he's got another job and only does reupholstery on the side--but he said yes. So here's his name: David Wieberg, in Centertown, Missouri. His upholstery business is called Greenridge Upholstery. I'm not gonna post his number because I'm afraid that telephone spammers and solicitors might latch on to him. But if you can't find him in the book, let me know and I'll give you his number.

Yes, uh-huh, I'm smiling tonight.

And the Snow Continues

Hi! I continued to take pictures off and on through the night. Same view, same evening as before. These take us up through about 11 a.m., January 20.

As I write this, more snow has started--just about the time we've got our sidewalks tolerably clear! Oh well. The snow is pretty, and I love how quiet make makes the nights.

Lots I want to tell you about--the upcoming sauerbraten shindig, our orchids (such as they are), and our furniture! But unfortunately I'm behind on a work project. Soon, I promise, I'll have more.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Hope Everyone Got Home Okay Tonight

Hi there! It's another snowy night here in Central Missouri, and we're really gettin' it this time. They're saying up to nine or ten inches in some places, by the time it's done snowing tomorrow. And of course, the snow started right before 5 p.m. rush hour.

This is the kind of snow that, once it started, came down fast. An inch per hour, they're saying.

I tried to encourage Sue to leave work early, but you know how she is. Such a dutiful employee.

By the time she got home, she was pretty shook up. "There were times when I absolutely couldn't see the road. If it weren't for those reflectors along the roadside, I wouldn't have known where I was."

The snow was coming down so fast her wipers and defroster couldn't keep up. The wipers got iced up, then wouldn't seal against the windshield, and then a layer of ice built up on the windshield. She had to pull off the road twice to scrape off her windshield. Yuck!

It's usually a half-hour drive home, but it took Sue a couple of hours. (Granted, about thirty minutes of it was spent on messed-up roads in Columbia.)

All this time, I was trying not to worry about her--she has a cell phone; if something went wrong, she'd let me know. Right?

I thought about calling her, but quickly rejected that idea: Of course she would need both hands on the wheel, and completely undivided attention to the road.

So I busied myself with dinner. I had finally gone for a "big" shopping trip this afternoon, so I had cilantro and other goodies for my homemade vegan posole, which is the perfect thing for a cold night. Spicy and rich, and flavored of corn--what a comforting flavor. The soup was just finished when Sue came home.

I also had made a pot of chai for us. For those of you who "buy" chai, let me tell you, it's the easiest thing to make on your own.

When Sue got home and pulled off her wet coat, hat, shoes, etc., and slipped into comfy warm clothes, I encouraged her to sit on the sofa and sip chai. I had some too, while she told me all about the drive home, and I rubbed her feet. Poor thing!

So of course dinner was a success--actually, I could have served cold cereal, and Sue would have been appreciative.

She took "work" home with her, so she won't have to drive back to Columbia tomorrow morning. So we're home and fed and comfy, the kitties are giving us moral support, and I've been taking pictures out the front window as the snow accumulates.

I'm a big fan of webcams, but I don't have the technology to offer that yet. But here are my pics so far, taken about every half hour since 4:30 p.m. or so. This is the 600 block of Broadway, looking south.

If you had to be out this afternoon and evening, I hope you got home okay.

Stay warm!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King, "Beyond Vietnam," and Today

A few days ago I was driving around and listened to a radio program talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence." The conversation resonated with me, and I encourage you to look at the complete transcript of Dr. King's speech, which you can find online here.

This particular speech isn't nearly as well-known as his rightfully immortal "I Have a Dream" speech, but it's worthy of our attention, considering several of the discussions our nation is having today.

Some believe that this speech, in which MLK came out strongly against the war in Vietnam, and which was delivered exactly one year before MLK's assassination, was the reason for his assassination, and for the timing of it. In this speech, the activist for black civil rights came out as an antiwar protester.

But the speech was much more. If you read the speech today, you will find it rather chilling in its predictions about the course of US foreign policy and the effect it might have on the rest of the world. He questioned the fairness and justice of our policies in Asia, Africa, and South America, and he encouraged America to mend its ways.

Here's an excerpt.

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing--embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate--ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: "Let us love one another, for love is God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love." "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us." Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

I find Dr. King's notion of a "revolution of values" a compelling idea. He was urging us to reexamine our paradigm, which, of course, is what Jesus did when he encouraged his followers to not demand an eye for an eye, but instead to turn the other cheek. When he washed the feet of the downtrodden, and dined with the outcasts.

It's a hard role model to live up to. We're animals--we're needy, we're afraid, we're hungry, we want to survive and to thrive. And we're sneaky; even when we think we're being completely altruistic, upon reflection, we find we may not be.

But we're much more than animals--we think ahead, we reflect on the past, we have conscience, we have free will--and that's where the revolution must originate.

King pointed out how government funds for helping the poor had been sucked away by the Vietnam War. Instead of being helped, the poor were sent in high proportions to serve and be killed as soldiers. And in the case of human history, that's how it's always been. But must it always be?

Our country--no, our species--needs the revolution in values King talked about. If not for the sake of the poor, then for the sake of the souls of the rich.

And meanwhile, the recent speech that President Obama gave in Tucson still rings in my ears. In fact, that whole episode--the madman whose sickness was "overlooked," a nation with huge problems with its health care system, the hatred that political candidates use to acquire funds and get people to act, the question about whether it should be okey-dokey for people to buy semiautomatic weapons that can fire off 15 or 30 rounds without reloading . . . it all makes you think about where we're going.

Obama had a simple request: Let's all try to act the way our children expect us to act. That little girl who was shot down would want us to act like the grown-ups she believed we are.

And over and over again, I think to myself that human culture is the biggest democracy there is. Culture is defined collectively, by the people. Every day, we each have a vote; we vote by the way we behave and speak. Human culture may resemble a school of fish, which all seem to move together as a unit. But even schooling fish are capable of moving independently, and so are we. No one is forcing us to follow the pattern.

I suggest that we not wait for television and our political or even religious leaders to shepherd us in whatever direction they think is best. Advertisers rule the TV; politicians answer to their funders. Ministers, sadly, too often follow their flock, who, sadly, too often follow their television. Instead, I think we should each strengthen our habits of big thoughts, fair thoughts, compassionate thoughts, and forethought.

I've recently been reading some of the writings of Benjamin Franklin, and I have been impressed by his expository powers. Did people in the late 1700s actually take the time to read paragraphs, and essays, and articles? If so, they are smarter than we are today.

There seems to be a great trend today to see things in black and white, good or evil, to make summary judgments. The quick decision, the simple thought, the pithy reply, the tweet, is valued over the ponderous essay that addresses many angles. To me, the trend away from seeing the "gray areas" is a trend away from true understanding. Big ideas require more than tweets and sound bytes. Take the time to read something "real," and reflect on it.

I wish that I could express myself as well as Dr. King, but I cannot, and that's why I'm not a writer. But I encourage you to read Dr. King's speech. It really made me think.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Amazing Zip-Bag Trick

Busy, Eating Out of the Freezer

Everyone else in the world has this weekend off, but I’m working. So I don’t have a lot of time for cooking, much less blogging. And the reason I’m working this weekend is so I can have money. Until there’s more money, I don’t particularly feel like going to the grocery store—and who has time for that, anyway. So thankfully we have the freezer to fall back on.

Preserving the Pesto

Part of my annual end-of-the-garden ritual is harvesting my beautiful, lovely herbs, particularly the basil, which always seems to me like tomatoes, they love the hot weather so much.

I have dried my basil in the past, but I’ve found I don’t tend to use a lot of dried basil. I don’t like using many dried herbs, in general. However, if I make pesto, I use it. And whatever it gets used on turns into something, well, a few notches above a cheese sandwich and a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

My Zip-Bag Idea

First, though, I want to share this with you. Sue thinks it’s a pretty doggone smart idea, and she keeps saying I should blog on it.

So! If you make up a bunch of pesto, how do you store it? Well, Martha S. and others say to pat it into ice cube trays, freeze it, and pop the pesto-cubes into zip bags.

But there are problems with this: First, maybe you don’t need exactly one ice-cube-sized quantity of pesto, and to get more or less pesto from a frozen “pesto cube” would be kind of difficult. Second, a cube takes a while to defrost, requiring advance planning. And who does that? And third, if you put the cubes into a plastic bag, it allows air in the bag to touch the various surfaces of the cubes, making for more freezer burn.

I have a better idea!

Spoon pesto into freezer-style zip bags, get rid of the air bubbles, lay it flat, carefully press out any remaining air, and seal it. Freeze it flat—like on a cookie sheet. The result should be a layer of frozen pesto less than a half inch thick. The flattened bags store extremely well in your crowded freezer, and when it’s time to cook, it’s easy to break off however much pesto you need. Because the pesto’s all stuck against the plastic, freezer burn is minimized.

I’ll bet you didn’t know I was this brilliant, did you!

Super-Easy Pesto Mini Pizzas

So with me being so busy forever tapping on my computer, I depend on my frozen supply of goodies. Yesterday, I made us super-easy, awesome pizzas. It was the highlight of my day. You can make these in the toaster oven, in fact, so it only takes a few minutes to prepare.

For the base, I use good-quality pitas that I get from the international grocery—the kind you often get when you order a gyro sandwich. Not the “pocket” kind—the kind that’s kind of fluffy. You can also buy naans that are essentially the same, just usually oval. We get flatbreads in abundance and keep them in the freezer, too. Here are a few brands we like: Kontos and Kronos. (Kontos, you’ll notice, offers a multigrain flatbread! And yes, it tastes good!)

So, break off a piece of pesto, let it thaw, and spread it on the frozen pita as the sauce. Then, the toppings are up to you. Hunt in the freezer and the fridge; poke around in the pantry. Yesterday, I used our last piece of awesome Schubert’s kielbasa (also frozen), which I sliced thin and precooked on the stove while the pesto thawed.

A tilapia fillet is good, too (precook, of course, and coarsely crumble it).

Then some feta, or mozzarella, and whatever else seems good, such as chopped kalamata olives or slices of grape tomatoes, or whatever. Chopped bell peppers? The red or yellow ones are especially pretty.

I think sardines would be good, too, though I haven’t tried it yet. Sardines are making a comeback, you know—Omega-3’s and all.

Anyway, I gotta get back to work. But one more thing.

Use This Trick on Other Stuff

My zip-bag trick also works well with other goos and sauces. When I open a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, I rarely use the whole thing at once (who does?)—a little of that goes a long way! So I dump the rest into a freezer zip bag (breaking up the larger pieces for uniformity’s sake) and freeze it flat, to use up at my leisure—a teaspoon into some mayo for easy chipotle mayo for your sandwiches; or mix a dab into some plain hummus so it’s not so plain anymore; spike up the vegan posole . . . you know.

An abundance of late-summer tomatoes from the garden? Clean, chop, put into the zip bags, and freeze them flat, just like the others—great for stews, curries, and sauces.

When I process a mess of concord grapes, I do extra and freeze enough for a pie. This is a great way to preserve them.

You can also keep fresh grated ginger this way. (I told you the magic trick for that earlier—remember when we made that cantaloupe sorbet? Ah, summertime.)

Okay—I really have to get back to work now.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Taking Down Der Tree

Actually, because it goes in a closet upstairs, we technically take it “up.” Yeah, I know we’re all kinda sick of anything that looks like Christmas, but I’ve finally got all these pictures selected and ready for you. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like when we take this thing apart. (A lot of people ask us about this subject, so I figured you might like to see this.) If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then click here for my other posts about our family’s Weihnachtspyramide (“Christmas pyramid”). This decorated object, which functions like a Christmas tree for my family, has been in our family since the 1880s. Since this post is mostly pictures, I’ll just put ’em in order and comment on them like a slideshow. 1. Here’s the Santa Claus that goes at the very top. He’s surrounded by a bunch of old glass ornaments and stands on a stiff round piece of cardboard. I have no idea how he is attached to it. (I’m guessing he’s held on with toothpicks and posy clay.) 2. A view of the base of the Santa Claus, so you can see the round piece of cardboard. That hole in the middle is what attaches to the top of the “tree.” Note the cotton wadded up in there: I have no idea what that’s for. Maybe to keep Santa from being too loose and flopping around up there. 3. So Santa Claus gets taken off and put in a box, like the majority of other ornaments. Here, however, is the place where he stands. The little nubbin at the top of the silver-garlanded pole fits into that little hole in his base. (By the way: To my Schroeder clan readers, take note of the two rounded clusters of crystals—one at the lower edge of the picture, and one with light shining through it on the right: Those are a pair of Great Aunt Minnie’s earrings! Yes! I have no idea how they got associated with the tree, but there you go.) (Memories!) 4. I know that when the “tree” is all decorated and lit up, it’s hard to really “see” the basic structure of the thing. Here it is, though, with all the ornaments (that we take off) removed, and with light shining through. There are four uprights (one in each corner of the square base), and five horizontal “circles.” At the center of the platform is the music box that spins the center pole (literally a broomstick). There are two circular platforms on the central pole. The top one is heaped with shiny glass ornaments, and below, it holds numerous other ornaments from threads, particularly ancient glass birds. The lower platform (these days) is where we put our flock of old sheep (with real wool)—Grandma had taken to heaping ornaments there, too, but we noticed in old pictures of the tree that the sheep were originally here. We reinstated the sheep because (1) we have so many of them, and (2) they are much lighter than the ornaments. “Lighter” is easier on the old music box and overall rickety structure. 5. Here’s a view of the base. This area is called “the garden.” Great-grandpa Thomas, who made the tree, carved the little wooden fence. The Nativity scene goes front and center, just inside the gateway. The bell ornaments above are suspended by the lower platform. The wires you see along the fence are for lighting up the little cardboard houses that go along the sides and back; the mess of wires at the back right is where all of the light strands connect together. The music box was made by the Lador Company in Switzerland, and it chimes “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” My dad bought it for the tree in the 1950s; before that, the paddles had been turned by a small fan mounted on a nearby window frame. 6. When we cleaned and repaired the tree some years ago, I was amazed to discover details I had never seen before. Here is a view of the underside of the lower platform, which spins like the sky above the Nativity scene. Someone (Grandma?) pasted gold stars on it. 7. Here’s another thing I’d never noticed until about a decade ago—this pretty decoration is wallpapered to the underside of the very top piece. The illustrations are very delicate—holly, pinecones, and (it looks like) birdhouses. No one ever sees this—but here it is. 8. This view of the same thing shows part of the broomstick as it goes through the top wooden piece. 9. Here’s a look at the paddle assembly. Notice that Santa’s been taken off the tippy top. The paddles, I understand, were made from wood salvaged from orange crates. That “very top piece” I showed you in the previous pictures is the wooden board above the fruits and just beneath the circle the paddles are attached to. 10. So okay: Then you stand on a chair (well, at least, I do!) and carefully lift the entire paddle assembly off the top. It’s very lightweight, which is a good thing, because you can’t hold it by the paddles—you can only hold it by the center, with your arm extended parallel to the floor. (I think the paddles are held on with Elmer’s and matchsticks.) 11. Another view of the paddle assembly. Getting this thing through doorways and up the stairway to the third floor is scary, since it has to go sideways yet has all this fragile stuff hanging off of it. And you can’t bang it on anything. 12. I held it up so Sue could take this picture of the attachment area. There are three blunt nails poking out of the bottom. No, they don’t form a perfect triangle, so when you’re putting the paddle assembly onto the tree, you have to get each nail into its own correct hole. (This can get a little frustrating sometimes, because you can’t see, but people in the past have put pencil marks on the outside so you can line the nails up easier.) 13. Here’s an aerial view of the top, minus the paddles. See the three holes the nails go into? At some point, someone inked orange around them the holes. That circle you see is attached to the axle/broomstick, and it spins with the paddle assembly. Those four—um—tabs?—that seem to come out of the circle actually belong to the top of the tree instead (see 7 and 8 above, which show the underside of this piece). In the center of each “tab” you can see the top of the four upright posts. 14. We’re in the home stretch, now: Once the top is safely upstairs, it’s time to gently pack tissue paper inside the tree, to help protect the elderly bells and so on that dangle in there. However, the tree still tinkles daintily as we carry it upstairs. By the way, you can see the pattern of beaded garlands pretty easily in this picture. We removed, cleaned, and reattached these when we renovated the tree (and we replaced some strands that had become sadly unpretty). Grandma’s beaded garlands were much more numerous. 15. And then everything goes up in the closet. You know, even the boxes we use for the ornaments are interesting. One is a metal breadbox with a hinged lid. Another is an old box for Hoover vacuum cleaner attachments. And one is a nifty old box for Meister Brau beer from Chicago—probably worth about twenty-five bucks on eBay, don’t you think? (I wonder if that came from Grandma’s brother, Uncle Doodle? He lived in Chicago . . . Or maybe Dad picked it up in grad school.) And here’s another box of interest. No, I don’t know how this was acquired, and I’m not sure I want to ask! 16. Here’s the paddle assembly, sitting on a platform on a card table at one end of the Christmas Tree Closet, and draped carefully in old bedsheets. 17. And at the other end of the closet is the tree. We swaddle it in a number of old linens: Some old bedsheets that have been mended (yeah, people used to patch bedsheets!), part of an old parachute (I think), and (my favorite) an old smock that my Grandpa used to use for his customers at his barbershop. When we worked on the tree a decade ago, my mom made a cool little square skateboard that the tree can sit on. With wheels, it moves much, much more easily in and out of the closet. My mom’s got an excellent analytical brain for figuring out better ways to do things. She could have been an engineer. So . . . that’s the end of the slideshow. I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek at our weird Christmas tree. It’s not every day that you get to see it go topless!