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Archive for September, 2012

A new toy!

I have been fairly indecisive about what type of grain grinder I wanted to get. Do I get a manual hand-crank one? How about a Nutrimill? Then there is Vitamix. Well, I don’t like to jump in to a big purchase like that, so I have been thinking about it for over two years now.

At first I wanted the manual hand-crank variety. It made sense to me. I wouldn’t need electricity (even though I have it.) Then there was the Nutrimill. I have taken a few bread classes from a wonderful woman who used a Nutrimill to grind and a Bosch to do all the kneading and mixing and I was instantly attracted to both! She has a large family and bakes many loaves of bread at a time, where at my home there is usually just 2 of us. Then came the Vitamix. My neighbors have one and we make smoothies throughout the summer with it. I am always amazed at how well it does on those big ice cubes. My blender just laughs at me if I try something like that.

Not only does the Vitamix do a fantastic job of the ice, but if I purchase a dry goods container I can grind grains. Hmmm. A two-for-one.  That makes sense to me. However, the price tag on any of these options stops me dead in my tracks and makes me really think (and look and think and look.)

I have several friends that have a Vitamix and they use them a lot, but none of them have the dry good container to give me any feedback on grinding grain.  The one piece of advise they did give me was to watch Costco and QVC for their sales.  I do get to Costco every now and then, and I never watch QVC.

One day I was sitting down to eat lunch and turned the TV on. I was flipping through the channels (all 9 of them) and I was stopped in my tracks at the sight of a Vitamix on the screen. Wouldn’t you know, it was QVC. Q V C ? I didn’t even know we got that channel. Yikes. I was glued to the TV, watching every move, reading all the words on the screen and all of a sudden I saw a blip in the upper right hand corner that mentioned a dry good container. Before I could read it and have it go to my brain to process, it was G O N E ! What?!  I flew out of my chair and into the office telling my husband I needed the computer to look something up and I also still needed the TV at the same time, so don’t change the channel. “Yes honey, I know it is on QVC, just give me a second and I will explain.”

I pulled up the Vitamix website and found the unit and containers, then pulled up the QVC’s website to compare it all. Then back to the TV, then back to the computer. Now dialing the phone number. Reading off the credit card number. Done! What just happened?  I’ll tell you what happened. I just got my Christmas present, birthday present and any other present all in one. What a neat deal. A few years ago I asked for a pressure washer for my birthday – and got one. I don’t ask for the “normal” type present and normally we don’t do the present-thing. If we make a big purchase throughout the year, we just say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Birthday” to each other.

The Vitamix arrived and it sat on the counter a few days before I needed it. First up was grinding some oats into oatmeal flour and wheat berries into flour for pancakes. I was SO excited I forgot to take photos. All you get to see is the finished product – the pancakes. Next up was a Orange and Carrot soup for a culinary group I get together with. I’m pretty sure most people would be making smoothies and other beverages, and here I am grind oats and wheat berries, and pureeing soup.

Still no smoothie, but it was now time to make a barbeque sauce to go in the crock pot to make baked beans.

Is there a smoothie in my future? I’m sure there will be, eventually. Right now, I am having way to much fun grinding grains and blending other things. I do need to use the dry goods container a bit more to get a feel for it, but for now, I am having fun with it.

Do you use a Vitamix for grinding grains or other things? Do you have any advise for me? Or do you use another type of grinder?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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Burnt orange, brown and mustard yellow have always been my favorite colors. That is they WERE my favorite colors until i moved to Austin, TX: land of the UT Longhorns with the team color of burnt orange. Burnt orange coated, no SATURATED that city and i wanted nothing to do with any affiliation with a sport team, so i quit wearing burnt orange. Luckily i moved! Now i live in a town with team colors in….. ORANGE! haha. Ah well, it’s Fall and i’m wearing orange, darnit!

I picked up some lovely batts of pygora fiber at this summer’s Black Sheep Gathering and spun it into a lovely three-ply yarn. I’ve finished my husband’s knit hat in time for the cooler weather, and it’s not quite Christmas knitting crunch time (though in reality, it probably already is) so i’m knitting myself something. Despite never having worn a cowl, or knitted lace – i’m combining both into my current experiemental knitting project. Doesn’t this yarn just scream autumn? I think so.

Read more about my knitting adventure and get the “pattern” for achieving this lacey look over at today’s Pocket Pause.

Are you a knitter? Do you rely on patterns and charts, or do you ever just wing it?

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Waiting as fast as I can

As Autumn settles in, we northern zone gardeners start to think about next year, about the winter “rest,” about seed collecting, and canning, and weekends free.

And all of a sudden we realize—heavens, it’s mid September, the frost is only 3 weeks away, and I need to take the garden down! The garlic and the ornamental bulbs haven’t been ordered, let alone planted, and it’s a daily judgment call— leave the tomatoes another week? and another? and another? The last of the tomatoes and peppers and eggplants need to be picked and processed, the hoop house/cold frame built or repaired, the garlic and onions planted, the warm weather crops taken out, the soil prepped, the fences put away, the grass endlessly mowed as it starts to revel in the cool autumn days.

Oh yes, the grass. Huge swaths of the grass paths didn’t survive the last hot dry spell. Some just suddenly died for no apparent reason, some finally succumbed to the grubs (20 per square foot revealed when I peeled back the damaged turf. Ouch) I’ve patched with that seed-fertilizer-paper mulch mix, but it’s been two weeks and I’m not seeing any growth. I think my perennial decision as to whether to maintain the grass or give in and just mulch over the whole damned thing is about to be made for me.

I’m having to harvest the tomatoes a couple a day, just short of ripe, rather than letting them ripen on the vine. This is because the evil furfaces have a fine sense of the infliction of despair, getting the nearly-ripe fruits just one day before I would decide to pick them. I keep taking them off the vine greener and greener. I’ve lost probably a third of the crop this way, particularly painful this year as I planted only two thirds of my usual crop, and devoted a third of that to new varieties which didn’t do very well. Plus, the San Marzanos (more than half the pastes) are very blighty this year, so I got very poor yield from them.

Even as experienced gardeners, we fall into the trap every year— that summer is the busy time, and fall the wind down. In reality, summer is the watching time- waiting, weeding, slow and hot and lazy. Fall surprises me every year; the feeling that I am suddenly out of time, with too much to do. The frost is waiting, just around the corner.

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No, I’m not talking about the Hormel tinned “meat” product made from what was formerly known as ham (Shoulder of Pork and Ham). No, I’m not talking about Society for the Publication of American Music, the Space Planning and Management, or the Solar Powered Area Monitor. What the heck am I talking about?

I am talking about the SPAM that you get on your blog in the SPAM box.

No, this sunflower doesn’t’ have anything to do with this post at all. It’s just pretty!

If you look in a dictionary you will find two definitions of SPAM:

  • “A tinned meat product made from ham”
  • “Inappropriate or irrelevant messages sent via the internet to a large number of users”

“Inappropriate” and “irrelevant” pretty much covers most of it. And most of the time, it is just plain frustrating to see all that SPAM. From time to time I will find a legitimate comment that was routed to the SPAM folder. Aside from that, it is was it is… SPAM. Do they really think we are going to approve their comment with a link to something totally inappropriate and unrelated on all levels? Really? I don’t feel the need to advertise a certain Canadian Pharmacy that is selling certain enhancement drugs for amazingly low prices and I really am not interesting in pursuing the real estate in _______ (fill in the blank with what ever place you want to.)

In my book, there is a third type of SPAM comment – the one that can really lift your spirits and make you feel good (even though it still truly is SPAM!)  These people take time out of their busy day to say words of encouragement and send me a link to their website  – where I might find such helpful things as real estate, or where to buy gold or silver or even find pharmaceuticals in Canada. And let’s not loose that link to buying plastics on line or a certain special dating service in the Netherlands.

I must say, the encouraging words are so nice to read, but completely make no sense when you look at what post they have comments on…. “you have awesome ideas that you know how to express in so easy way” posted on Sunday Photos: Red! Well, I am glad photos of “red” made sense to you and that you think I know how to “express” it in such and “easy way.”

Not only do we (the wonderful contributors at NDIN) have such awesome ideas, but we get a lot of “thank you’s” and “appreciation” from these Spammers:

  • “Thanks to your post I can solve some of my problems, thank you”
  • “This is an awesome post, I appreciated it”
  • “Thank you for providing us so many information, I always learn something here” (oh, they learned something – now we’re talkin’)
  • “I really appreciate coming here everyday to see what’s new on your website, and I already told my friends to do the same” (they told all their friends on that “Special dating “website in the Netherlands that I mentioned earlier! So thoughtful, aren’t they?!

We are motivational, we are hard workers, we have great ideas:

  • “You are such a hard worker” – spam comment on my personal blog on this photo post.  Yup, it was hard taking a photo of a flower!
  • “You have awesome ideas that you know how to express in so easy way” attached to this post on the deer that got into my back yard.
  • “I love your posts, but I like this one more than the others, so i read it all over again” – Oh that’s so nice, but it is just photos.
  • “Your motivational words are very helpful to me”

It is so nice to know we are being helpful and informative (and intelligent too):

  • “I’m going to bookmark you here so I will be able to read at your new articles whenever I want. thanks for helping”
  • “A friend recommended your website and I’m glad he did because it is very informative and entertaining”
  • “This text is very well written, you must be a really intelligent person, keep up the good work”

Do you think the spammers think that if they are complimentary and nice in the SPAM comments that I will be smiling and think they are so nice that I should just click on their link to see what it is really about? Aahh, NO! The only reason I skim through the comments is to make sure a legitimate comment didn’t get over there by accident.

Has any of the SPAM comments in your box caught your attention before?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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I am going to get on a bit of a soap box here, folks. I hope this doesn’t offend anyone.

Teenage bullying has been a hot topic for the past couple of years as our culture has become increasingly aware of its impact on our youth and their peace of mind and quality of life. Something that we very rarely hear about, however, is adult bullying. This past week and a half I had the extreme displeasure of meeting (and accidentally becoming the target of) an adult bully.

I don’t plan to get into heavy detail at all here; my intent is not to vent, or even to make this incident public, but I do want to help make people aware that there are times in your life when you may encounter bullies as adults. I honestly had no idea they existed. I believed that every nasty little bully-kid grew up to be an enlightened and at-least-slightly-compassionate individual. My naivety knows no bounds. :)

My first encounter with the bully came after receiving many warnings from mutual acquaintances that I had made myself present on his radar. He and I had overlapping responsibilities at an event, and it basically ended up that we each believed the other was picking up more of this responsibility than ourselves so certain things were not getting done. Gosh I hope this isn’t too cryptic. I could’ve confronted him about the things he was not doing; he could’ve confronted me about the things I was not doing. When I realized that our “system” was falling short, I vowed to take more responsibility and that was that in my mind, until I was notified that he and I “had to have a serious discussion”.

Great, I thought. Just what I need. Some angry confrontation between myself and someone I’ve never even really met before where I hold my tongue about how he dropped the ball, while getting my face rudely rubbed in the ball that I had dropped.

See, I have a tendency to avoid confrontation in my business world. I have an incredibly short temper, an unhealthy dose of pride, a sharp tongue and a tendency to say intensely mean and offensive things when I get really upset. Oh, and sometimes I cry when I get super angry. That sucks. I recognize these characteristics in myself and over the past ten years have managed to form a system of checks and balances to keep myself (at least appearing) calm and understanding.

So. The confrontation happened and the bully used so many “You” statements and dropped so many names I lost count in the first few minutes. Oh boy, it was a whopper, and I was not prepared. He pointed at my chest with nearly every sentence. he talked with his head tilted back so that he had to look down at me. He held his arms planted firmly on his hips and he even did this scary little head-twisty thing while not blinking that was so over the top that it pulled me firmly out of the confrontation and into my head.

I realized I’ve seen this behavior before. I’ve seen it in horses and dogs that I’ve trained when stress is so high that they just can’t handle the situation anymore without becoming precariously poised on the edge of aggression. Once I became a little more aware of what was being displayed in front of me, I realized that this poor bully was wild with stress. he was beyond reason and had gone to that scary place that I know I am capable of reaching quickly when I feel threatened.

The rest of the conversation I attempted to diffuse, carefully, like a touchy bomb (or maybe more like a stack of sweating dynamite – it wasn’t quite as easy to navigate as a bomb). I spoke quietly and dropped my arms to my sides to open my body language, to remain confident but non-defensive. I became aware of my blinking and slowed it to a natural rate and I began to use “I” statements in a passive way, breathing deeply and taking the responsibility not only because I recognized that there had been a miscommunication and this bully believed the responsibility was mine, but because I realized  that if this bully standing before me was not going to be rational, there was nothing left but to be hyper-rational myself. I didn’t really want to be stuck in a deadlock for the rest of my day, staring him down and telling him he was wrong, and the truth of the matter was that we were both wrong. And right. The conflict had arisen from one big communication meltdown and there was not real resolution but to accept that miscommunication. Ah well.

So the conversation diffused, we went our grumpy ways and I believed that for the most part things were done. However. The one piece of this story that I have left out is that this entire exchanged happened in front of some of his peers. These were peers who he had established relationships with, who he worked with and these were people who knew (and had experienced) his temper and they had expected a totally different end to the conversation. I had no frame of reference, so I didn’t know that it’s not often that confrontations with this bully end so peacefully.

The thing about bullies – any bully, whether adult or youth – is that they have established their bullying relationships with all of their peers, even friends. When someone publicly refuses to rise to a bait, it is nothing but the very worst loss possible to a bully. It questions your hold over your peers and makes you seem less effective as an authority figure. I get that now.

It has been a week and a half of this exchange and the bully has finally found a place where he could firmly stand as an authority figure over me. He has authority over a few of my students in a certain organization and began intimidating them here and there, ending in a grand finale where he got my students removed from this organization that they had been proudly and firmly involved in. It’s disgusting, and it’s not to be helped.

He won, we yielded.

Except he didn’t win.

That’s the thing I’ve learned in all of this. When dealing with an adult bully, the important thing to remember is that we, as humans, aren’t bullies by nature unless nature shapes us that way. A grown bully is an ugly thing, but it’s also a thing to think on – to be pondered. This bully’s life is structured around his bullying behaviours. It’s structured around his verbal and emotional abuse and I can now see how that abusive behaviour likely permeates everything that he does and is.

Youth bullies are children who feel threatened, and given the right support can grow out of their bullying and into compassionate, understanding and aware young adults.

Adult bullies feel threatened as well, but when that pattern has become so engrained in them that it becomes who they truly are, I worry that there isn’t much that can teach them to become self-aware and empathetic.

My advice to anyone who ever encounters a bully as an adult is to keep this in mind. Bullies feed off of the stress that they cause in others. They need to see this inflicted stress in others in order to feel like they’re validated. Even if you survive your bout of being bullied, it’s possible they’ll take it to the next level, but even then it is important to see, and to help others to see, that a bully is nothing more than a person who feels scared and trapped in their own little corner of negativity.

Breathe and let the river flow around you.

Bullying can create bullies of all of us, but they can also create compassionate and enlightened individuals.

Have you ever been the victim of adult bullying? How did you cope?

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A million to one

It’s a trope– the million to one chance. We use it to describe unlikely scenarios, that probably are 100 to 1, or 1000 to 1 possibilities. I’m sure there are statisticians whose teeth are set on edge by these phrases, especially the more exaggerated of them.

A million to one.

Last week I lost a new earring while walking to the local movie theater. It’s a 2 mile walk, so I didn’t even think about trying to recover it. I had no idea where along the walk I lost it, or even if I’d been wearing it when I left the house. In fact, earlier in the day I’d been downtown (that’s downtown Chicago), and wasn’t entirely sure I’d been wearing it when I got back in the car.

After we got home I realized it was gone, and went to bed in a teary snit. The next morning I found out my darling husband had retraced the entire 4 mile round trip at midnight, with a flashlight, trying to find it.

And still I thought–not even going to try, it’s completely ridiculous.

But the next day I thought about that darling man, walking through the not-all-that-safe neighborhood in the middle of the night, looking for my earring. So I retraced the route.

Million to one.

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Like many things, I have wanted to start brewing kombucha since I started hearing  about it a  few years ago. Well, I finally met the right person; someone to get a scoby from and I was off and running. I was getting my photos ready (ahh, 4 weeks ago) and started writing up my post over on my personal blog when I read Miranda’s, “Who’s your Mother?” where she talked about making vinegar and a mentioned kombucha. I figured I would follow her lead and post about my kombucha experiences here instead of over at Sincerely, Emily

With my new scoby in hand I was ready to get started. I better back up a bit… what the heck is a scoby? You may remember from Miranda’s post about vinegar and its mother; it is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast  or scoby, and it turns a simple brew of tea and sugar into an amazing beverage. Kombucha is one of those wonders of the world I think. Chalk full of great stuff like beneficial enzymes and probiotics. Amazing things that will help with your entire body. Seriously, it is that good for you!

I am not the first at NDIN to write about kombucha. You can read a great post about it called “Kombucha” that was posted back in August of 2008. I encourage you to read that post, it is full of a lot of the details and benefits about kombucha so I won’t repeat it. Even though I had read a lot about it, I still had questions, so I wanted to share with you about the things I didn’t find in the books I read.

My friend handed me the smaller jar like you see in the above photo with an odd looking “thing” inside with some liquid. That “thing” is the scoby. The liquid is there to keep the scoby moist and alive, but that liquid is also used to start your new batch of kombucha. I didn’t go home with much more information. All she said was keep the scoby in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it (slows down the growing process.) Brew some strong black tea with sugar, let it sit over night and once it is at room temp you can add your scoby. How much tea? How much sugar? What do I put it in?

Kombucha – Day 6

When I have seen scoby’s advertized on Craig’s List most of them come with and a gallon glass jar (the kombucha will react with metal and it will absorb things from plastic, so always use glass), so I had already figured out I need the jar, now I needed to figure out what recipe to use. I have two books that touch on kombucha, but both have very different recipes in them.  Here is the recipe I use:

  • 3 quarts of filtered water
  • 1 cup of sugar (I use organic cane sugar) everything I have read advised against using honey
  • 4 scoops of black tea (I use organic loose tea, but you can use 4 tea bags also)

Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add tea. Let steep until liquid is at room temperature. Remove loose/bag tea and pour liquid into gallon-size jar. Add your 1/2 cup of kombucha that your scoby came in (or from your previous batch), place scoby on top of liquid and cover with a cotton dish towel. You want your towel to do two things; cover the opening in the jar to keep dust and critters out, yet allow it to breath and also to keep the entire glass jar covered and the contents in the dark.

Brewing your batch can take anywhere from 7-10 days. I initially went with 10 days, but after 2 batches I realized that 7 days worked much better because of the amount of heat in our house. I found that brewing it for 10 days the outcome was a very sour, vinegary tasting kombucha, while the 7 day brew was a bit tart and tasted much like a tart apple cider or apple juice and had quite a bit of fizz that had developed. I imagine as the fall temps start creeping in I will need to increase my brew time.

Kombucha – Day 10

So, I set out and brewed my tea liquid and was ready to start the following morning.  Some of my loose tea escaped through my tea ball so I strained the liquid as I added it to the jar. Next was to get the scoby out of the smaller jar. I wasn’t prepared for the feel and texture of it. It was much firmer than I expected, and spongy/fleshy (sorry). I was trying to gently get it out of the jar with out damaging it. I thought it was a tender, delicate “thing.” My brain kept telling me “it’s alive” and I as I was nervously laughing, I had to keep saying out loud, over and over, “it’s ok, you can do this” like it was going to suddenly move or wiggle. I finally got it into the larger jar and it looks like a big flat pancake in there (just like Miranda’s Mother), although this one looked like it had been used for a few batches (and that ok) and was sort of frilly around the edges.

On day 9 I brewed up another batch of tea/sugar and let it cool overnight. When day 10 came along, I was ready. I had peaked on and off at the kombucha brew as the 10 days went by and I could see the new baby “mother” forming. It was very white and creamy compared to the darker tan on I started with. I started by trying to separate the baby from the original scopy while it was still in the jar. I have since figured out it is easier to get it out, place it in a bowl and do the separating then. I poured the brewed kombucha into bottles and set them in the refrigerator to cool down. I washed my gallon jar and was ready for my second batch. I poured in the tea/sugar mixture and then set out to separate the two scobys. That first time was interesting. The were still quite attached to once another and it took me a few seconds to get them separated. My new baby scoby came off with a hole in it about the size of a quarter. I still used it and placed it in the new liquid helping it to lay on the top and then added some of my newly brewed kombucha. The older mother I placed in a jar along with addition kombucha and placed it in the refrigerator. I needed to make another batch of tea/sugar and then I could use that mother too.

Kombucha – separating the new scoby

I checked on the new baby after a day and noticed it was not floating horizontally on top of the liquid, but it was completely submerged and floating vertically. Vertically! What?! I think that happened because of the hole in it. The batch still formed a new scoby horizontally at the top of the liquid. It was so perfect and smooth that is was amazing looking.

I also now stagger my batches or I run out of empty bottles to use and run out of room in our refrigerator.

Brewing your own kombucha is easy, very affordable and very healthy.

  • Cost: One 16 oz bottle of kombucha in the store is anywhere from $4-5. I can brew 4-16 oz bottles for the price of 4 tea bags and 1 cup of sugar.
  • Scoby: You can buy a scoby online or get one from a friend. I was thrilled to find a scoby from a friend. Now I have a several scoby’s in my refrigerator just waiting to go to new homes. I will keep a few in there as back up, but the rest go into the compost pile.
  • Vacation: after you brew a batch, just place your scoby in a glass bowl w/lid or jar and cover it with kombucha. Store it in your refrigerator. It will be waiting for you when you get home.
  • How long does a scoby it last?: The scoby can be used for many, many batches. If you start to notice any black spots or the entire scoby turned black, it is time to discard it because it has become contaminated. Your newly developed scoby is so white and creamy in color, but it be more brown after your first batch with it, that is normal. If you batch isn’t souring properly, it is also time to toss that scoby and start with a new one.
  • How long does the kombucha last once you have bottled it?: I haven’t tested this yet. We drink the kombucha withing 3-4 days.

If you get a scoby from a friend or order one to get started, I hope you have fun with it. Even though you can buy kombucha in most health food stores (in the refrigerated section) you will find that making it yourself, at home, is very inexpensive and easy to do.

I think making ginger beer will take a back seat to kombucha in our household. They are both super easy to make at home, but I think, once you have a scoby, kombucha is so much easier and I think the benefits far out weigh those in ginger beer.

One book I read cautioned about allergies noting that some people may have a reaction to kombucha. With anything new (and fermented), it is always best to go slow. Try a bit and see how you feel and how your body reacts before you jump in head first. I remember an experience when I was younger that involved homemade sauerkraut. Eating too much right away lead me to spending a bit of time in the bathroom. So….  start with a little and work y our way up to more. Your body will appreciate you thoughtfulness.

Have you made kombucha before? Do you have anything you’s like to share about your experiences with it?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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