Cherry Sweet

I bought sweet cherries at the market recently, at S11’s insistence. She ate most of them, but we bought more, and a cherry pitter to go with them. The cherry pitter is a big deal because I am not one for single-use gadgets in the kitchen. I shun such frippery with zealous disdain. However, after manually removing pits from a few dozen cherries for a fruit salad, I hastily pulled up mobile Amazon from the kitchen and ordered one tout suite. Hooray for the single-use cherry pitter gadget.

Our local discount store had cherries on sale for $1.99 a pound, which- after paying $5.99 a pound at another store- is an enormous bargain. Accordingly, I bought an enormous amount… about 10 pounds’ worth.

Of course, we ate a couple of pounds right off the bat. Hey, we had to test out the cherry pitter.

20150626_110546This pitter is a relatively inexpensive model by OXO, which can be found on Amazon for about $13. I like it because the shield minimizes splattering as the pit is pushed through. (It’s also removable for cleaning.) I also like that the pit drops out on its own, so you don’t have an extra movement to unload it. That’s important when you’re processing a lot of cherries! It pits correctly about 80- 85% of the time (I did have a few that needed extra “help”, especially if the cherry was overly ripe), which seemed like a pretty good percentage considering what a pain cherries can be to process.

Enough about the pitter. I have several projects in mind for these cherries over the next few days.

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I have already turned a pound of them into Candied Sweet Cherries, because I am on a mission* to make all the ice cream recipes in David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop, and those are a main ingredient in Toasted Almond and Candied Cherry Ice Cream (page 60)!.

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I have also turned three pounds into sweet cherry jam. This lovely jam, courtesy of PickYourOwn (one of my go-to canning resource websites) uses low-no-sugar pectin and 2.5 cups of sugar. I included the optional lemon juice for a bit of acidity since these are destined for holiday gifts and I don’t want to give botulism to my friends and loved ones. That’s worse than coal.

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Hey, do you see my new jam pot there? I read about it on another canning blog, though sadly I can’t tell you which one (Food In Jars, perhaps?); and since I’m highly suggestible interested in outfitting my canning kit with quality equipment, I gave it a go. It was expensive, but I make a lot of jam every year and I think it will be worth the extra price in the long run. Silly thing, but my favorite feature is the graduation markings inside the pot. I hate guessing how much product I will actually end up with, and found the yield markings to be surprisingly accurate (for this first batch, anyway).

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Tomorrow, I plan to make a different cherry jam recipe, one that uses tart apples instead of powdered pectin. I will probably turn the rest of the cherry haul into either frozen cherries for snacking and baking, or canned ones in syrup for winter fruit.

*Just because a mission seems nearly impossible does not mean it’s not worth attempting!

This Is Not My Problem

My van is happily back from a two-day stay at the auto mechanic.

This is what was not wrong with it:

Power Steering Pump
Replacement Power Steering Pump

 

We took it in to the garage hoping to get rid of a squeal that’s been getting progressively louder and more insistent.   My husband, who is usually quite right about mechanical things, stuck his head under the hood and listened to said squeal for several moments, before deciding that it was probably the power steering pump. So he went and bought a replacement pump (see photo above), and we took the new pump and squealy van over to the mechanic so he could work his magic.

Too bad that wasn’t what was causing the squeal. While the power steering pump would have cost us dinner out at a nice restaurant:

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the actual problem was, of course, a bit more expensive:

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That’s like dinner out for a week.  Plus ice cream.

The good news, though, is that the van is no longer squealy, thanks to its new idler pulley (a.k.a. “belt tensioner”). Apparently, it is not a good thing when these break. Unlike the power steering pump, which simply aids in steering and could, theoretically, be compensated for in its absence, the idler pulley/belt tensioner is one of those vital parts, without which one’s motor pretty much does not run. According to WiseGeek:

A driver will know if  [the belt tensioner] has failed, because the belt will be impaired or even snap off of the vehicle, and it will not be drivable without a working pulley and belt system.

So I am extremely happy to have a working one.   Well, technically, my last one was still operational, but the alarming noise coming from under the hood leads me to believe it would not have been operational for long.  I might have found out the hard way, as described above.  So hooray for new belt tensioners!  Hooray for new belts!  Hooray!

 

Up To Our Elbows

I like that saying, “up to our elbows [in] [insert random task or item in quantity]”.  I have an image of people with rolled-up sleeves, grinning maniacally while about to tackle something outrageously complex, difficult, and/or tedious.  It’s not a bad image but it does imply that there are Big Things Happening (and that the people doing them are pretty much nutso.)

We sort of have Big Things Happening around here (and are up to our elbows in them).  DH has found a lovely contractor (is that even possible?) who is going to replace the retaining wall along the steps that go to our basement door.

Unfortunately, I did not take a photo of the “before” wall.  Suffice it to say that it was a grey block wall, slightly bowing out in some places and slightly sagging in others, which was both unattractive and unpleasant, and probably even a little bit dangerous.  The contractor is going to re-set the wall and put in new block with a lightly less “death-warmed-over” tone.

Here is where the wall once stood.  (There’s another wall on the opposite side of the steps which is also being replaced, but you don’t quite get the full effect if I shoot the photo down the steps.)

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The remains of the old walls:

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The project site:

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A random onlooker:

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Bob [PLEASE STOP ME BEFORE I TYPE “THE BUILDER”] should be here this morning with new block in the “desert sands” colorway. It will not necessarily match our pinky-grey house, but it should look nicer than death-warmed-over grey, and definitely better than white or red (the other choices). When in doubt, go with the beige, my Realtor mother would probably say.

Meanwhile, I am pleased as punch that the transplants I have randomly scattered painstakingly placed about the yard seem to appreciate their new homes.

Last week, I moved these two large Zebra Grasses from the front yard to the back. I put them alongside the bridge that leads off the bottom of the deck to the yard, near the kids’ playset. I think they soften the bridge and look lovely. Happily, it has been a week and they are not dead!

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Even more amazing is this Lamb’s Ear. It was a cutting given to me by a friend a month ago. A month! And still alive! That’s got to be a record around here.

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I also found these two Coral Bells plants at the grocery store. They were 50 cents apiece; who can pass up plants for 50 cents? Not I. They’ve been in the ground for a few days now and- fingers crossed- are still yellow. That’s good. These ones are supposed to be a chartreuse-y yellow-green.  I have several plants this color in the yarden, but these ones are supposed to look like that.

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In the wings is one other large-ish project, namely putting some steps off the back of our deck.  We do have some steps leading off the deck, but they lead towards the south end of the yard.  Our firepit is on the east end of the yard.  We would like people to be pointed in the proper heading when they leave the deck so they end up at the firepit and not, say, at the neighbors’.  Or in Virginia.  (The real reason, of course, is that we are lazy and want to waddle down off the deck and directly to the fire pit, without having to slog through grass and without having to take 100 extra steps to get there.  Because it’s SO FAR AWAY.) Here. I will illustrate with clever photos and schematics.

Our firepit, awash with heavenly morning light:

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Now, here is a view from the deck. As you look off the deck towards said heavenly fire pit, the current set of steps lead way off to the right, AWAY FROM said fire pit. And they’re dark. And one has an extra deep tread, so they become treacherous, especially when one is carrying marshmallows and a pointy stick for toasting them on. You can see that this is not a good plan. A much better plan is to have steps go directly toward the firepit, with proper lighting and a railing. (If you’re going to dream, dream big.)

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Here is the current view of that part of the deck from the yard. As you can see, we are not going to lose any valuable landscaping with this project.

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This next drawing/photo will give you an idea of what the steps will look like. Of course, in reality they will look a lot less like an inflatable emergency airplane slide and a lot more like real steps. They’ll be wood and stained to match the deck, instead of baby-poop brownish yellow. I’m working with limited resources (and ability) here, so just go with it.

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However, before we tackle the steps, we must first replace the air conditioning unit.  Our outside condenser unit has been damaged by a marauding band of pirate mice, who chew up wiring insulation and trade it at the salvage yard for cheese.  There are so many tasteless jokes to make with that metaphor that I’m going to just drop it right now.  Suffice it to say, our home’s air is not very cool at the moment.  And that sucks, because it has been in the upper 80s F all week and yesterday was incredibly humid to boot, so while I very much want steps with the proper heading, I am a selfish human who lives in the moment and at this moment would rather be cool than walking down nice steps.  Because, you see, I can just not go down the steps for now, but I can’t just not be sweltery hot.  Not now.  Unless I go into the basement, of course.  But then I would just hide there and not come up til September, and that would not be very productive.  And I so want to be productive (*snort*).

 

Perfect Day

Not trying to brag or anything, but today was pretty much a perfect day.  It was so nice that I want to write it down so that, later this winter, when we’re stuck inside and miserable, I can look back with jealousy fondness on these past few gorgeous hours.

First of all, the weather.  Can I just say that Ohio weather is like Longfellow’s There Was A Little Girl?  Because when it is bad, it is horrid.  But when it is good, it is very, very good.

beautifulSecond, the girls are doing an archery camp this week.  My husband wanted to check it out, so he drove them in this morning.  That meant I had two hours in the house.  To myself.  I drank my coffee while it was still hot.  I dawdled on the computer.  I putzed in my garden.  I had a shower.  Bliss.

At noon, I picked the girls up from camp and we took a picnic lunch over to a local park for a few hours.  They played, I knitted.  Then we went for a little hike.  We followed the Yellow trail and found a zillion wildflowers.  They picked some to give to their music teachers.

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Next, we went to lessons.  At violin, O7 played without a single complaint.  She was excited to show off her new violin and tell Miss Tina about all the fun things she did at Suzuki camp last week.  It was like a different person had come back from Columbus with me.   She even started a new piece, Étude, which is a big deal in Suzuki method.  Students work on one piece for many weeks, even months (years, in our case) before moving on.

At piano, S9 trotted through all of her pieces as well.  She is close to finishing one of her books and is really doing well with nuances like dynamics and tempo.

Later, we grilled things for dinner and ate out on our beautiful deck in the perfect weather.  It was just the right amount of breezy: enough to keep the bugs away, but not so much so that you had to hold onto your napkin.

Funny how such an relatively uneventful day can be so sweet.

How Not To Bake Chicken

A lot of people have spent considerable energy, time and bandwidth telling us how to cook chicken. And that is useful advice, if you’re going to follow it. Today, I’m going to tell you how NOT to cook chicken. This is also very useful advice, if you follow it.

Yesterday, we were going to a ballet matinee in Akron and I remembered that there were some split chicken breasts that had been defrosting in the fridge for a few days. I knew that they needed cooked before they spoiled, and figured if I cooked them before we left, DH could have some for his dinner since he was not going with us. So, an hour before we were supposed to leave, I put them in the oven. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

After 45 minutes, they weren’t quite done, so I left the oven on a bit longer while I got my things together. And then there was a rush of stuff all at once: DH wanted me to pick something* up in Akron near the ballet, so we had phone calls to the seller and hasty arrangements to meet him at a McDonald’s near Akron U’s campus. And then there was girls’ hair to brush, and shoes to find, and GPS units to be programmed. There was a melee of coat-donning and purse-grabbing.

There was not a moment of oven-turning-off-ing, unfortunately.

This was at 1pm, by the way.

At 7PM, when I returned home, the house smelled like a burnt porkchop. I know that smell intimately, because that is how my mom’s house smelled whenever she made porkchops. She cooked them until they were stiff and dry, because to her generation, pork was a dirty meat that had to be cooked ruthlessly until it harbored neither pathogen nor vitamin nor molecule of moisture.

So I’m here to tell you, from very personal experience, that if you leave your chicken in a 350F oven for SEVEN HOURS, it will be inedible and smell very much like a burnt porkchop. And you shouldn’t cook your chicken this way. Ever.

Seven hour chicken

You’re welcome.

*a Nerf blaster, if you must know

It’s Curtains. Understand? Curtains!

About two years ago, I made curtains (actually valances) for our sunroom.  I hung them to measure the hem.  And there they sat, hem-less.  For a long time.  They sat for so long, I never even took a photo.  Poor, neglected curtains.

Finally, it was too much.  (Read: guilt finally overtook laziness.)  I took down the curtains, washed them, and hemmed them.  And in my ever-so-humble opinion, they look great.  Look how even the bottoms are!  Amazing what some careful measuring with a ruler can do for you.

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Look, I even used some lace on the hem to make it interesting.

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I am very proud of these curtains, obviously. I made them with my mother’s antique (circa 1955) sewing machine.

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That sewing machine was her eighth grade graduation present. How cool is that?!  It also weighs about 55 pounds.  I know because I had to carry it into a shop to have it tuned.  Yikes.

Anyway, I was so happy with the curtains that I was finally motivated to finish the other set for our long window over the kitchen bar. Miraculously, I still had (a) the matching fabric and (b) exactly enough trim to complete the job. Sweet.

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And so, after ten years of living here, my kitchen window treatments are finally finished.

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Well, almost.

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By the way, if this post’s title means nothing to you, then you need to check out Racketeer Rabbit.