Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!


(Brought to you this year in electronic format because Scrooge Jim said college tuition was more important than printer ink, Christmas cards, and stamps.)

Jeff is 22 and graduated in May.  He graduated cum laude and we're very proud of him.  Danielle, his girlfriend, also graduated, and Jim and I met her parents when we were all in Oregon for their graduation.  The ceremony was outdoors and it was a rainy weekend, but there is a God and he bathed us in warmth and sunshine for the entire ceremony.  It began raining as we walked out of the stadium and by the time we reached the reception, we were drenched.  This made for some wet graduation photos, but by then no one cared.  We learned that the Hawaiian tradition is to heap leis on any and all.  We could barely see the grads.  Since 30% of the students at Pacific U are from Hawaii, there were a lot of leis in the room.  After the reception, we went out to lunch with Danielle's family.  Later that night we met up at McMenamin's Grand Lodge for music and snacks.  We had a really great time until we got home and discovered that leaving Jesse at home alone is a very bad and expensive idea*.


Jeff and Danielle spent the summer in Forest Grove; Jeff worked on campus and Danielle worked with children in the foster care system.  They came here for a visit in August and then went over to Hawaii to visit Danielle's family.  In September they moved to Walla Walla.  Danielle is doing a one-year grad program there.  Jeff started working graveyard restocking grocery shelves while he looks for a daytime job.  He would like to work for the airlines and has recently interviewed for a part-time job with Horizon Air, so he's hoping that will work out.


Tim is 20, in his junior year at Pacific, and looking forward to turning 21 in February.  He yet again spent the summer life guarding and working on his tan at Useless Bay Golf and Country Club.   He has a season pass at Mt. Hood for the ski season and can't wait for snow.  Not sure if it's because he really enjoys snowboarding or just wants to work on his winter tan.  Maybe a little of both.  In addition to his classes, he works on campus building sets in the theater department.  He's decided to major in business with anemphasis in accounting.  He loves coming home to visit (and we love having him), and in recent years has really gotten into tv sports, so he and Jim spend a lot of time tuned in.


Jesse is 19, and our sweet baby boy graduated from high school in June.  We collaborated with our backdoor neighbors and threw a joint graduation party for a number of families.  Then the kids went off to grad night and I tagged along as a chaperone.  Jesse did an excellent job of making sure we were never in the same area for more than 1.25 seconds.  In August the boy who couldn't wait to get away from home and his parents went off to Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.  He was home twice for visits before Halloween even came around.  (Not that I'm complaining.)  This entails a 6-hour car ride to get home and a 9-hour bus ride to get back, but he said it's worth it.  At least until the third bus ride home for Thanksgiving, and now he's sick of spending all day on a bus, so I imagine we won't be seeing him as often unless he can find a car ride both ways.

I've spent the last year gearing up to return to the court reporting field, practicing on my new equipment and shopping for a new business wardrobe.  I have not actually gone out and taken any depositions yet because life keeps getting in the way.  I hope to soon.  If only because I want to wear my new clothes!  Of course I continue to work at the movie theater on Tuesdays taking tickets and sub throughout the year in the snack bar.  I did corsages and boutonni√®res for the prom last May, and in August I catered a small picnic for Island County Master Gardeners, which I am a member of.

Jim is still working for Evergreen Construction in Auburn.  He upped his commute to three days a week and then works from home two days.  He doesn't really do a whole lot aside from working and writing tuition checks.  Unless you count cleaning up dog poop, grocery shopping, and ironing.  I for one am getting really tired of his hedonistic lifestyle.

Kenzie started having seizures early in the year and as the year progressed they got worse until finally we were not able to control them with meds anymore.  So Buddy is now an only dog and is loving that.  He is my constant and faithful companion and is unbelievably well-behaved.  Finally I have someone who listens to me.

Charlie is still gainfully employed keeping the vermin population at bay, and we have our little flock of 6 hens.  (We started out with 7 but 'Gracie' (barred hen in the background) sadly became a hawk's dinner the day before Thanksgiving). Turns out I didn't need to be worried at all about chickens, dogs, and cats coexisting peacefully.  I wish I had a video of the two hens racing, and beating, Buddy for a piece of popcorn I threw on the ground.  'Nina C' (buff hen in the foreground) has turned out to be a handful.  She routinely wanders off and either gets lost or just decides to not return to the coop for the night.  We find her the next morning either back at the coop or stranded in the rose brambles.  She never seems to learn her lesson.  I have written her off as a goner many times, but she always reappears.  She has more lives than a cat.  Too bad the same couldn't be said for 'Gracie.'

In July Jim, Jesse, Buddy, and I drove over to Montana to visit our friends, the Kosloskys.  Some of my PNW gardening friends also made the trip over so we could all meet up with a member of the group who lives not far from Keith and Barb.  We had a good time visiting friends, gardens, and nurseries and playing in Steve's massage chair.

Jan, Sawyer, and Tristyn came for a quick visit towards the end of July.  There was lots of trampolining and endless trips to the chicken coop to chase and fondle the hens.  By the last day of their visit, the hens went on strike and quit laying. It was the only time since they started laying that we didn't get any eggs.  Sawyer and Tristyn declared 'Dottie' their favorite.  In truth, poor 'Dottie' was the slowest and therefore, the easiest to catch.

We had a gorgeous fall – beautiful sunny days, and with no frost the dahlias just bloomed their heads off.  It more than made up for the summer we never had. (Rain, rain, and more rain.)

Our annual apple pressing was our most successful yet.  It took us four years to figure out, but caramel apple martinis will be on the menu henceforth.  There were about 20 people in all.  Besides our Whidbey apple-pressing regulars, Jim and MaryAnn Nahmens, Barb and Keith Koslosky, and Mike Roantree came in from out of town to spend the weekend with us.


A great time was had by all, except for Jim.  While out on dog poop patrol, he thought he was picking up a dead mole that Charlie had killed when suddenly it came alive and bit him in the finger.  Naturally much fuss was made over this pitiful and miniscule wound with a great deal of beer drinking necessary as a painkiller.  The unfortunate creature grew larger and more vicious with each beer consumed.  Somewhere on Whidbey Island there is a zombie vampire mole leaving a trail of victims in its wake.

We had a nice Thanksgiving with our friends Jeff and Barb Ewing at their home.  Jeff and Danielle weren't able to get the time off to come up and the passes were too snowy for us to make it to Walla Walla, so we  joined the Ewings along with other friends for a great feast that included turduken.  Don't you have to wonder about whoever was sitting around one day and decided to start stuffing various birds inside each other?!


Jim is eagerly awaiting 2011.  2010 was the year of unexpected expenses and he would like to put the spending to rest.  All three vehicles have needed extensive and expensive repairs – new engines, new radiators, new doors*, new tires, more new tires when the brand new tire was damaged (a very bitter pill to swallow), new window rolling mechanism, new brakes, and the list goes on. 

Then there have been the vet bills, the most recent being today when Charlie Cat had to go in to be sedated so he could have a five-and-a-half-inch blade of grass extracted from his nasal cavity, which had resulted in swelling and infection. It perhaps would have saved us $287.26 if someone had just mowed the grass.

And my late night visit to the ER (see next paragraph) followed the next morning by a visit from the fire department when the dryer caught on fire.  Turns out a previous owner rerouted the venting incorrectly.  The fire chief said we were very lucky.  We weren't feeling real lucky as we paid a contractor to come out and reroute it all according to code.

Medical expenses have run high and we haven't even gotten the bills for my recent angioplasty.  After about a month of chest pains, the run-around from doctors, and news that I may or may not have had a 'silent' heart attack, I had an angiogram last week that revealed a 95% blocked artery.  So they stented that and I'm now good as new.  Even better than new because upon arrival home from the hospital, I checked out my incision in the mirror and discovered that I was sporting a new 'do.'  Surely it qualifies as the most expensive Brazilian ever.  I'm on restricted activities for a month or so, which to me means no housework and no lifting anything heavier than a wine glass.  Red wine, of course. 

So as we head into 2011 much poorer but at least one of us a bit more stylish, I raise my wine glass to all of you and wish you a very merry Christmas and happy holiday season.

Jim, Gwen, Jeff, Tim, & Jesse


Just when I thought the hawk was gone and it was safe to let the chickens out – he returned and got 'Mary Lou' (white chicken in above photo).  Very sad.  So it looks like we'll be putting up some sort of 'roof' over the chicken run in the near future.  I wish chickens came in green or camouflage.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Last weekend we held our 4th annual apple pressing and harvest party.  We had 7 friends come in to stay from out of town and with their help, we took this fun event to new heights.

First off, we hit upon the idea of serving appletinis.  I have no idea why it took us 4 years to figure this out, but I sure am glad we did.  I looked up online some recipes for apple martinis; then, armed with these recipes, set out for the liquor store.  I bought all the ingredients for all the recipes, printed up the recipes onto one piece of paper, and set everything out on a 'serve yourself' table.  Hands down the caramel apple martini was the favorite of the day.  The butterscotch schnapps used to make it was the only liquor we ran out of.  I'll definitely be getting another bottle of that stuff!  Someone mentioned it was good in hot cocoa and with winter approaching...

We had 20 people this year, our largest gathering yet.  No doubt due to our friends who drove and flew in from Montana and California and -- where is Mikey from anyway? -- Oregon/Washington/Alaska.  For the first year since we moved here, we had no apples from our trees.  Well, we had a very few but the dog ate them as they fell prematurely from the trees.  So I had to drive over to Wenatchee the weekend prior to pick up apples for the party.  A couple other people brought some as well, so we ended up with plenty.

Our out-of-town friends came in the day before and we put them right to work.  Barb and Mikey helped with the decorating.

Then there is the added benefit of the allure of the riding mower for city folk.  

After a quick lesson from Jim, MaryAnne is raring to go!

And the next thing ya know, the south 40 is mowed and it's time to move on to more 'pressing' matters.  (Get it?)

First the apples go into the hopper thingie.  (I'm going to give it to you in technical terms.)

I'm the one hard at work with a caramel appletini in my hand.

Next the mushed up apples get put into the press.  Muscle is required at this juncture.

Apple juice!

But we're not done yet.  Many hands make light work when it comes to bottling.  Some are in the kitchen rinsing and sterilizing bottles, some are funneling juice, and some are flaked out on the couch shirking their duties.

(Just kidding.  This photo was taken at the end of the night.)

Once the apples are all pressed and things are cleaned up, it's time to admire our efforts and then get down to the business of dinner.
Some of us didn't want to miss the game, so set up ringside seats just outside the tv room.
Some of us were more civilized and social.
 This is my attempt at an artsy photo to get everyone in the picture.  Or maybe this is my attempt at an artsy photo after too many appletinis.

A great time was had by all, due in no small part to the appletinis, great friends, and delicious food.

Caramel Appletinis

2 parts butterscotch schnapps
2 parts sour apple pucker
1 park vodka

Mix in a cocktail mixer with ice; then pour through the strainer into martini glasses.  We rented martini glasses for this party.  Small expense, big impact, so much fun! 

Apple Wild Rice Salad
This recipe is from my friend Jill Engstrom.

6 cups chicken broth
1 cup uncooked wild rice
4 cups apple, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 tablespoons green onions, chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 cups pecans, finely chopped

Bring the broth to a boil.  Add the rice, bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook until just tender (maybe about an hour).  Drain well.

Transfer the rice to a large bowl.  Mix in the apples, peppers, and green onions.

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil.  Drizzle over the salad and toss to coat.  Season with fresh pepper.  Mix the nuts into the salad just before serving, reserving a few to sprinkle on top.  Feeds a whole bunch of people.
Caramel Apple Cookies

1 cup butter
2-2/3 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 or 2 teaspoons cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups apples, chopped fine or grated
2 cups raisins or golden raisins
1/2 cup apple juice or cider
2 cups chopped or broken walnuts

Cream the sugar and butter together; then add eggs and cream.  Mix well.  Add in the dry ingredients and mix lightly.  Stir in the apples, raisins, and walnuts.  You can decrease the juice and/or add in extra flour or oatmeal to get the right consistency.  I have never needed to change anything when I make this.  Refrigerate for at least one hour before baking.  This step will firm up the dough considerably.
Drop onto greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 12 minutes.  Let cool before frosting.

Caramel Frosting

Melt together 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar.  Do not burn but allow it to get a little brown for flavor.  Mix in 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2-1/2 teaspoons light cream or evaporated milk.  I usually use evaporated milk because that's what I usually have on hand.  Frost the cookies while the frosting is still warm.  You may want to double the frosting or add more cream, depending on how thick you like your frosting.  It's really sweet.  I thin it out and drizzle it on in a pattern.  Pretty!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guinness Beef Stew for St. Patrick's Day

Even though I'm not Irish, I do love many of their customs - Irish coffee and Guinness Beef Stew being at the top of that list!

I first had Guinness Beef Stew in a little pub in Seattle, the Owl N Thistle Irish Pub and Restaurant. I liked it so much, I've been back a few times for more and have also made it at home several times.

Today, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I thought I'd make it again and come up with a recipe, rather than just throwing stuff in a pot and adding beer, and I think it turned out pretty darn good! I read online about adding sugar, bittersweet chocolate, or prunes to counteract the bitterness of the Guinness Stout. I went with prunes today; next time I may try the chocolate, just to compare.

Guinness Beef Stew

1-1/2 to 2# beef stew
olive oil
1 or 2 onions, finely diced
1 to 2 cups carrots, finely diced
2 to 4 T minced garlic
2 t thyme
1/2 t pepper
1 t kosher salt
1-1/2 cups Guinness Stout, divided
1 cup water
2 cans beef broth
2 t Worcestershire sauce
2 T tomato paste
2 bay leaves
8 to 10 mushrooms
3/4 cups prunes, pitted and chopped
2 T flour

(I have written the directions for this recipe as it would be made using an Aga cooker. For those using a traditional stove, you can translate as follows: BP means a burner with high heat, SP means a burner with low to medium heat. SO means to simmer, either on top of your stove or in a 250 degree oven.)

I browned the beef in some olive oil on the BP quickly, just enough to brown at least one side and give it some color, then tossed that into a large pot.

Next I sauteed the onion and carrots, again on the BP, adding the garlic toward the end, and then added it to the stew. I diced the onions and carrots so that they were pretty small - I wanted them for flavor and bulk, but I wanted the beef and Guinness to be the stars of this stew.

I moved the sautee pan over to the SP, and poured in 1-1/4 cups of Guinness to deglaze any bits left behind, then added the thyme, pepper, and salt, and poured it all into the stew.

I poured the water, 2 cans of beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, and tomato paste into the sautee pan and got it warm enough to dissolve the tomato paste, then added that to the stew. Finally I threw in some bay leaves and mushrooms. My bay leaves were very small so I put in 6, but I think aiming for around 2 large leaves is the goal. After wiping the mushrooms clean with a paper towel, half or quarter them depending on their size. The goal is to have them about the same size as the beef. I just love the flavor of mushrooms and beer together.

I put the stew pot on the BP to bring it to a boil, and then into the SO for about an hour. I then added the chopped prunes, put it back into the SO until I wanted to eat. The prunes pretty much cook away and you cannot even tell they're in there. An hour before I thought I'd be eating, I mixed the 2 T flour with the remaining 1/4 cup of Guinness Stout in a small pan on the SP, and once it was smooth, I added it to the stew to thicken. At this point, taste for S&P. I do not use much salt in most of my recipes, so you may want to up the salt for this, depending on your tastebuds. I put the pan back into the WO at this point as it had been in the SO a long time and I didn't want the beef to get overcooked.

I served this alongside potatoes. I could have put the potatoes into the stew, but my husband likes mashed, so I left them out so he could have it over mashed potatoes. I also think that putting the potatoes on the side is handy because if there are leftovers, the potatoes always get sort of mushy after refrigerating and reheating. This way you can make fresh potatoes the next day or whenever you're finishing off the stew.