Saturday, March 28, 2009

Road Trip & Beachy's Bulk Foods, Arthur, IL

I mentioned this week that Clint and I went to an auction last Saturday, and that our travels took us through country roads with a lot of Amish farmhouses and scenery. We were on a mission to our final destination, but I've done nothing but think about those roads for the last week. I wanted to drive them again, and slow down, and watch, and stop, and look around, and explore.

I did just that today, despite the forecast of rain and snow. I left town a little after 7 a.m., with all of the necessities: 1 camera, 2 hats, and my friend Diane, armed with her new camera. Thelma & Louise, goin' shootin!

By the end of the day, we'd pulled over on the side of the road more times than we could count.

We made several cows ...

...and 1 donkey... for the camera, and I crawled on my belly with a herd of ducks...

...and 1 swan.

We trespassed...

...on abandoned farms...

...and ran roughshod through cemeteries,...

...all in the freezing rain.

The most lovely, and unexpected shot from today was when I was trying to focus on the swan, and in the interim startling a blue heron that I hadn't noticed. It took off and accidentally ended in this photo:

SNAP! WHAT WAS THAT?!! I actually had to lower the camera to see what had just happened. Seriously, kiddies. I could have been sleeping in at that moment, but I wasn't. I'm so glad we were HERE!

God, we were tired and happy when we got home. I have 145 photos to sort and post, along with 145 from last week. I have just a few more to share with you now.

On the way, Diane reminisced about an Amish bulk foods store in the area that she used to shop in years ago. Beachy's Bulk Foods, it was called, but she couldn't remember how to get there. Hey! I'm using our new Garmin for the first time, so I called Clint and asked him to look up the address: 259 N County Road 200 E. Beep boop boop; we were soon on our way.

If you're from around here, you have to go shop at Beachy's! If you're not from around here, make a note that when you visit me, you want me to take you here.

Beachy's is a small grocery, but it has has everything—everything—in bulk! I am stunned to discover that I've never heard of this store before today. It is so much better than any Trader Joe's I've ever been to (except for the lack of 3-buck Chuck).

There seems to be nothing you can't buy here in bulk, and a great deal of it home-made.

Notice that my photos are dim; there is no electricity in this store, so you shop by skylights in the roof. That is, if there is actual light in the sky. There wasn't much today, so the experience of shopping in the dark was both fun, and with my poor eyesight, challenging.

A challenge I was up to, of course. There are spices galore:

Flours, rices, pastas, bulgars, couscous-es, seeds, nuts, millets, groats, oats, polentas, corn meals, gluten-free this and organic that. Choose your size:

Candy! Candy from today, and candy from yesteryear. Gummy bears, Black Taffy, candy corn, sandy anise, nut goodies, sassafrass, rootbeer barrels, licorice bits,

and giant jawbreakers:

Ah, the frozen foods: I brought home cherries for pies, and sage pork sausage. There are gooseberries, apples, peaches, and more.

I left with this much food packed in to a box:

2 quarts apricots, basil, oregano, mint, garlic chips, chicken stock, bread & butter pickle chips, egg noodles, pasta shells for stuffing, miniature whole wheat pasta shells, 1 dozen farm-fresh brown eggs, 1 lb. farm-fresh pork sage sausage, 1 bag licorice bits, 2 c. Himalayan red rice, 2 c. thai black rice, and 1 jar of molasses, because my friend just told me that adding 1 bloop of it to spaghetti sauce makes all the difference in the world.


All of that stuff: $42.

Spending the day soaked to the skin and freezing my ass off, with my one of my best friends in the whole wide world:


Thursday, March 26, 2009

POM Pomegranate Martini

I was contacted a few weeks ago by the POM Pomegranate Juice staff. They were apparently targeting food bloggers and came across my cooking blog. They offered me a free case of Pomegranate Juice. That was it, just "you want some juice?" No stipulations about writing about it or sharing it or cooking with it. Just take it!

Alrighty! After scrutinizing the fine print, I gave them my mailing address. Yay, free juice, coming my way! It was just a few days before the case arrived on my porch, with a little cold pack inside of the box, along with 8 of these cuties:

I don't, actually drink a lot of fruit juice; it's so often chockful of sugar and calories that I steer away from it. When I do drink it, it's usually a splash in a glass of club soda, or Mendota Springs Sparkling Water.

The POM juice is enticing though. My box came with some literature about its benefits, and I, of course, surfed around the net for sources outside the POM company that would back up the claims they make regarding cardiovascular health, antioxidant potency, and prostate health (of which I am currently fine). Remember when my research for wheatgrass benefits turned up "unsubstantiated claims" over and again? Not so for the beneifit of the Pomegranate. Seems like it's a legitimate superfood—like spinach, only not.

Lisa, at Champaign Taste also accepted an offer for free POM juice, and she challenged me to a Pomegranate Cocktail Throwdown. That juice is entirely too healthy for us. Let's add booze.

I surfed around and compared different recipes, and came up with a possible version of a Pomegranate Martini. For my assignment. My project.

Then I gave the recipe to Clint, and said "you have to make a martini for my blog project. Here's the recipe." Seriously, he just mixes a better drink than I do. He can shake the shaker with more strength, or something. His drinks always come out with actual ice crystals on top. He was clearly the man to execute my project.


Pomegranate Martini

2 oz. vodka
4 oz. POM pomegranate juice
juice of 1/2 lime
2 Tablespoons simple syrup*
1/3 oz. Triple Sec (or, more than 1/4, but less than 1/2)
lemon for garnish

Shake it up!

For a sweet treat, run the edge of a lemon around a chilled martini glass first, then roll it in sugar. Pour:

Add a twist of lemon:

Then give it here, and let me drink it. This is one very yummy beverage. For a fruit drink, it's not too sweet; the POM is a little tart, and the lime takes the edge off of the other sweet ingredients. It's like a liquid sweet-tart!

I really like the POM juice in any form I drank it: straight up, as a spritzer, and in the martini.

I have to be honest, though, and say that I find the stuff a little pricey, at $3.99 (and more) for 16 oz.

On the other hand, my research showed that POM was much cheaper than most other brands of pomegranate juice:

Yes, that is $1.50 off of the regular price of a 32-oz. bottle; it's normally $12.99. In comparison, $6.50 for 16 ounces, twice what POM costs.

POM wins hands down on the price competition. It's good stuff, and good for you.

I don't want to bite the hand that feeds me (or gives me free juice) but honestly, pomegranate juice by any brand isn't very family-friendly. If you drink 8 oz. a day, every day, to get the benefits stated in the literature, you're looking at a $60 monthly juice habit.

Uh, for just you.

Want to give it to your husband and kids too?

My friend Frugal Mom would be looking at $300 a monthly POM bill if everyone in her household had 8 oz. a day of it. Judging from her screenname, I doubt she'll go for it.

I wonder if the POM people can do something about that?

That said, I'd still opt for the POM juice over a $4.50 cup of Starbucks tea, or be willing to put back a (one, just one!) bottle of wine and take home a couple bottles of the healthier POM instead.

It's an "occasional" drink.

And realllly good in a martini.

*Simple syrup: Water and sugar, 1:1 ratio: boil until sugar dissolves, set aside and let cool. Voila! Liquid sugar!

**I'll let you know when Lisa posts her cocktail!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Free Cat & New Hobby

I still have tons of photos from Saturday's farm auction to post, but in the meantime, I'll tell you about the greatest purchase that Clint and I made. The auction advertised tools and farm implements, so we were surprised to spy a gorgeous cedar chest back in the background, with a few other stray pieces of furniture. We set our top dollar, and waited.

Clint had reminded me to keep a poker face about me when our item was up, so when the bidding began, I remained stoic. Bored. I didn't even notice that it was my boyfriend bidding on that chest, $50 OHMYGOD, IT WAS SOLD TO US FOR ONLY $50!!! CARTWHEELS, IF ONLY I COULD DO A CARTWHEEL!

Isn't it gorgeous? We did a bit of research, and think it was built in the 40s. There's a skeleton key and a working lock, and it is pristine.

Our first piece of new furniture for the new upstairs. God, we are both so proud and excited! We coo and coo over it.

Monday, however, didn't start out as well as the weekend had been. Clint got off work at 7 a.m., and went straight to the country casa, while I prepared for work. I was speaking to him on the phone as I readied to leave for work, nonchalantly throwing out, "I can't find my keys." We talk, I search, we talk...I search....and finally I just had to get to some hardcore searching.

Nothing. No keys. The spare key was in Clint's truck, so I had to break down and ask him to bring me the spare. I e-mailed my boss, and waited.

Clint arrived, we searched for a few more minutes before I noted that I was then 1 hour late for work, and I simply had to go. I grabbed my bag and marched by the sink, only to have this catch my eye:

Need a close-up shot?

The CAT! I'd carried groceries and my purse in the night before, and set everything on the side of the counter. She had toyed with the keys and batted them right into the kitchen drain.

To make matters WORSE...

...sadly, sickenly worse...

...I can hardly bear to share this with you...

...the cat, in the middle of the night, knocked over a glass of water I'd left on the counter.

Our beautiful, 70-year-old cedar chest had been pushed up against the counter so that we could walk through the dining area...

The water poured all over the top of the chest, and sat, apparently for hours.

God, our beautiful chest; the top of it is ruined. RUINED, we want to lash out! Ruined, ruined, ruined; how did this happen to us? Stupid Cat! Stupid water! Stupid us!

When I stopped wanting to vomit (ok, I still want to vomit), I decided that there's nothing to be done but to fix this. Stripping, sanding, staining, and re-beautifying the chest is in my future; I've already begun reading up on proper procedures.

If you have any experience or advice—patch it or refinish the top entirely?—I'd *love* to hear it.

And if you're in the market for a sometimes cuddly, sometimes spastic cat with some current behavioral issues, it's a good time to make an offer.

I'm still mad at her.

Hurry up, before I fall in love with her again.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Magnificent Moment in an Everyday Day

Little time to blog at this moment, so I'll make it a mini blog, today.

Clint and I were out the door early, yesterday, to go to a farm auction in Sullivan, IL. He was on a mission for tools, while I saw the day as a cool photographic opportunity: Tools, farmers, a small-town neighborhood and country roads to wander.

We meandered through country roads to get there, and while puttering down one, we noted this Amish farmer. My camera, of course, was still in the bag. We meant to slow down, change lenses, and get the a shot of a lifetime, but I ended up just snapping this photo through the windshield.

Click to enlarge image.

The photo doesn't do anything to portray the magnificence of the moment. I know these are scenes that happen every day in this particular community, but for me and Clint, it was a surreal moment.

It was as if we had driven through a time portal for about 15 seconds. It was 2009, then 1856, and just as suddenly we were shaking our heads, back into the 21st century again. We were still driving when that photo was taken, and our car ended up parallel to the team as it turned at the fence. 8 powerful horses hooked up this plow, and in the midst of the cloud of soil they kicked up, one man, smiling and waving, like an Amish Zeus.

There are millions of moments in our life, many which we'll laugh at, maybe that we share with friends, and most of which we'll forget 2 weeks from now. This one, I think made an imprint on both of us; it was a "moment" that will be with us forever.

As the photo does it no justice, I find I can't write it as it was either. I just wish I could take you back there, and re-enact it. Let's go.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patty's Baby: circa 1919

My Grandmother is 90 today!

We surprised her on Sunday with a birthday party. Kids, grandkids, and great grandkids. She was a bit overwhelmed at first, thinking she was heading to the cafeteria, then to suddenly find herself being wheeled into the "party room."

The women in my family are nothing if not resilient, and she adjusted to the situation soon enough:

We carried out a feast from Carlo's, our favorite Kankakee diner. Grandma loves the hoagies, and we had those, along with burgers, italian beef sandwiches, and mountains of french fries. If that wasn't enough, we had two cakes to cut into after lunch.

There was a moment, before she blew out candles, that she became speechless. She was so happy, she said, that everyone was there, that she thought she might cry. And she did. She fell apart, and a few of us in the room did also, right along with her.

A little levity in the room a few minutes later, though, when she told us, after 3 attempts at blowing out the candles, "I think these are the kind of candles that don't blow out."

Ah, we wouldn't do that to her. She got a little help from a few nurses, Mom picked up the last two, and Voila! It was time to cut the cakes. Grandma chose white over chocolate.

She opened cards and unwrapped a few gifts, saying "Thank you, whoever," whenever she was unsure of what came from whom.

Brian couldn't get away, but as luck would have it, his girlfriend Courtney is visiting him during spring break. She arrived in Georgia on Saturday evening, and they set about the mission I'd assigned them:

They e-mailed it to me, and I printed it and took it with us. Grandma loved it:

Mom & Grandma back in the room, post-party:

Me and Grandma, smiling at a different camera than the one this was taken with:

The courtyard at the nursing home is filling up with spring babies. We'd seen a black squirrel earlier, and Grandma had commented on the ducklings she watches. When I entered her room, she asked me "did you see my little white bunny?" My instinct was to cross the room and look for a nest or something outside of window, when cousin Gina wound up this toy and let it buzz across the room:

It was, as days with Grandma always are, a day full of laughter. Grandma still tells it like it is, and keeps us in stitches. When my niece Brandi gave her a hug, Grandma reminded her, "You do know I'm your GREAT Grandma, don't you?" Brandi knew, and we teased Grandma at her reminding, interchanging "Grandma" or "Great Grandma" for the day, until she said "I'm never going to live that down, am I?"

As always, I wish I'd taken notes; she makes us laugh so, and I wish to remember it at the end of the day. I know that I feel incredibly blessed to be celebrating my Grandmother's 90th birthday with her.

Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Soldier Baby Home on Leave

I was honored to meet a soldier on our Toys for Troops mailing list a few weeks ago: SPC Chris Pearson. His parents showed up to the Christmas event, and packed their little hearts out, and I've been corresponding with his Mother, Carol since.

It's been interesting, talking to her, and tagging up to my own past emotions. Looking forward to his having him home after being deployed for the first time, her e-mails were wrought both with excitement and angst: "Yayyy! He's coming home!" is followed by "Will he be ok?" and scarier yet, "Will I know him?" She also wondered: "Should I drag him out and show him off, or let him call the shots?"

Being the Big Know-It-All, Been-There, Done-That Mom, I advised: "Hell yes, drag him out! You're the Mom! Grab him by the ear, and show him off! He still has to do what you say, and he has to come out and be surrounded by people that want to pet him!" (Like me.)

I don't know that my advice had anything to do with it but I got an e-APB a few weeks ago that Mom & Pop Pearson would be trotting Chris out to the Esquire. Clint and I burned rubber on downtown to meet him.

Polite introductions were made...and would never do—I didn't come all this way (3.5 miles!!) for a handshake, kiddo. Bearhugs for everyone! Yayyyy!!!

I really was happy to see him home, to meet him. Happy for him, happy for his parents. He was so gracious, and thanked me several times for all we do, reinforcing that care packages are much-loved. In my heart of hearts I wanted to monopolize his time, but there were others in and out waiting for their turn with him. I gave him another hug (and maybe one more), and let him back to other friends and family lined up to see him.

I rounded the pool room back to our table, and stopped in my tracks, at the room full of people dining and merrymaking there. I felt, momentarily, paralyzed. Panicked. I had a sudden urge to knock over the jukebox and silence the room and scream "We have a soldier, here, on leave! You HAVE to get over there and get in your own hugs! Go thank him! Wish him well! He's has to go back, back to Iraq! Do you hear me?"

I also had the wherewithal to consider "Maybe that would embarrass him." So I bucked up and moved back to our table, behaving myself like a good...somebody else's Mom.

SPC Pearson flew out of Chicago this morning, on his way back to Iraq.

I know what it's like to send your kid back to Iraq. Right now, here he is in your driveway, and tomorrow, he'll be in a war zone. It's hard. It sucks.

I also know that it's comforting to know that he's getting on that plane knowing that there are more people that care for him, and more people praying for him and his comrades than he ever, ever imagined.

As a parent, there's some comfort in sending him off with that information. "See?" we can say..."See, I TOLD you how many people asked us about you, how many people care."

We have to tell them we care, people. We have to tell our soldiers, and we have to tell their loved ones. I'm telling you that sometimes we're fine, and sometimes just knowing you're here is the only thing that gets us through a given day.

I've been there.

And I'll be there again, in about 6 months. It is already comforting to know that when my son deploys, and returns on leave, and when I trot him out to the Esquire, that one Mr. & Mrs. Pearson will be lined up with bearhugs for mine.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Blogger Down!

Sending up the Bloglight, for one of ours, kids.

You may or not be familiar with blogger Wil Kyle, of Paradise Driver. He began driving a cab in Hawaii after retiring as a San Francisco police officer. His stories from both careers have kept us in stitches since 2003. Alas, he's been down on his luck for the last couple of years. His eyesight is failing, and he is unable to drive now. He returned to California about a year or so. He changed the format of his blog, updating less with updates, and more with interesting trivia and political cartoons. He's been facing health, vision, and financial struggles, and potential homelessness, but has been gettin' by with a little help from his friends.

Wil has virtually been by my side by the last few years, holding my hand as I saw my son off to bootcamp, and to a war, and sending comments and notes of encouragement, to let me know he was in the wings. I consider him my friend.

Wil's son has been blogging on his behalf for the last couple of days, after a sudden (sudden to us, anyway) surgery last Friday. Wil is currently in ICU, and will hopefully be moved out soon.

Do me a favor and pop over and leave a get-well note for him, will you? His son will make sure he knows that we're cheering for him. It's nice to have people in the wings.

Sidenote: If you just want to help a brother out, there's a "donate" button in the sidebar, a button that Wil put up reluctantly, after a few of us urged him to. I have clicked that button, I hope you do too. Wil's a good cause, my friends. Seems the donate button has been removed.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Photo Dump Day with Bonus Brain Droppings

I've been crazy busy, but have found myself with a minute or two. I'm power-blogging; cleaning the slate of all that can be blogged, moving all of my great ideas and some of my lousy ones into the done pile. Here goes!

I forgot to tell everyone that my friend Buffy, who just started her own Confectionary Arts Studio, gave me a bunch of the coolest cookies before Valentines Day. You could write on them with edible-ink pens. I sent about 5 of them in care packages, and distributed the rest to soldier's children, mothers, and fiances, to write their own love notes on. Here's mine, to Brian:

The "Be Good Like Jesus" sentiment is a running joke between us; I got him this t-shirt for Christmas.

I started a stampede last week, when I stepped into the backyard to take pictures of these dear deer. They're never out when I have the good camera with me. Someday I will post an AMAZING photo of a deer, I just know it. IN the meantime, here's what I got:

With my Mom and my sister's permission, I recently took possession of my mother's old cast iron frying pan. This thing sat on the stovetop for most of my childhood years, never being put away. It had seen better days, but Clint is the King of restoring cast iron. The photo below was taken after the first round of restoration.

And, after two weeks of soaking in Easy Off, wrapped in plastic bags, elbow grease, copper brushes and scrapers, spraying and soaking again, and a bit of a hot oil treatment, here's Mom's fry pan, restored.

I love cooking in it, and Clint taught me how to take good-good care of it so that it stays in shape for the rest of it's life, which will probably be longer than the rest of my life.

We had a blast at Angie's wedding shower yesterday. We used Moscato D'Asti to make raspberry mimosas, and got that party started. Here's everyone drawing on their heads. The assignment was to draw Angie's dream campsite. The results were amusing and amazing. One of the ladies actually managed to draw a camper, 4-wheeler, boombox, and cooler. She actually wrote "cooler" inside of the box she drew. While drawing on her head. Suffice it to say that most of the rest of ours weren't that accurate.

Try it yourself. Put a paper on your head, draw something, then post it on your blog. DO IT!

Up next was the toilet-paper wedding gown game. We established our teams, then called over to the house and told the guys to send 2 volunteers over. We might have tricked them by saying we need to move a table or something. Let's just say they weren't really expecting a TP ambush.

Aren't they stunning? Homer (left) was the winning bride, despite Ryan's adorable mules.

As Seen on TV! God, I want all that stuff, that "As Seen on TV" stuff. I want ShamWow, and PediEgg! I want it all. I finally broke down and bought "iSlice" the other day.

(There's my toes, too).

I needed iSlice. You know, for cutting coupons and wrapping paper...and...1000's of other uses, like the label says.

It Opens Difficult Plastic Packages!!! Unfortunately, I could have used one to open this difficult plastic package; I had to hack into it with a chainsaw.

Also, IT DOESN'T CUT YOUR FINGER! God, how I want to see if I can cut my finger with that thing. For someone that can't stand blood, I'm still drawn to making it cut my finger, just so I can write a letter to the company or something, and say "it does too cut my finger."

My report: I love this thing. I wrapped a lot of stuff with it this weekend. It seems to only cut one layer of paper, too. I practiced on a scratch pad; it doesn't cut through the second page. How does it know? It's a miracle. They should advertise on TV.

Well, that's all for the photos, but I do have a few brain droppings:

1. Remember the soup Post Office nazi that I wrote about earlier? I forgot, and went to her post office last week. I had a handcart with 5 boxes on it. I set 2 on the counter in front of her, holding the others back until there was room. She totaled up the first one and said "will this be all?" I smiled and said no, I want to mail these 4 boxes also. She said "Will you hand me one?" I picked up the box sitting 3 inches away from her and put it in her hands. Always such an odd experience with her.

2. I finally used part of a Salon gift certificate that Clint had given me 2 Christmases ago. I'd held off since we were under construction for the last year, but decided to treat myself to a Spa mani/pedi on Valentine's day. BZZzzt!!! The technician sanded off the top of my toe, and the nail polish, even after hours of drying, never set up. The grand total for my mani/pedi was $89!!!

Ya'll know that's too much, right? I could have gotten 3 mani/pedis at most local places, for that—not have had to deal with a weeping scab for 2 weeks. Still, does one write a letter about nail polish?! My friends gave me a resounding YES. I did, and the manager called me at home, apologized profusely, and reimbursed all of my money. So yay them, and I will write them another letter, thanking them. I figure if we have the energy to complain about bad service, we should put equal energy into praising good service.

3. I invented a business opportunity for you. My mother can no longer sit in a bath tub; she simply can't get down into one. Are you ready?

Public Baths.

Like tanning salons, only bath salons, ok? Now hear me out.

I'd pay $20 to take Mom somewhere for a good hot, relaxing soak, yeah?

$20/an hour x 6 baths in your salon = $120/hr. income

$120/hr. x 10 hours a day = $1200 day income.

1200 x 30 days = 36,000 monthly income.

x 12 months = 432,000 year, monthly income.

I'm GIVING you this idea.

Ok. That tub is on winter clearance for $3000. So, you'd need 18K just for tubs. You'll need good hot water heaters; you can't have late bathers freezing their patooties off. Here's one for $12,000. See, I am doing your research for you! I have no idea how many you'd need to keep the place in hot water for a day. Research that yourself, I can't do all the work.

You'll need lots of sanitizers for spritzing down and making things germ free and polite for the next bather. Stock up on fluffy towels and bath salts and non-slip bath mats. Don't forget to buy lots and lots of insurance, so you won't be liable for the occasional stubbed toe, foot fungus or broken hip.

There you go. All you need now is some reliable employees that can withstand the probable occasional flashing and accusations of sexual assault.

Don't thank me now, just give me a discount on a package, and remember me in your will after you become a multi-millionaire tycoon.