Monthly Archives: December 2013

Carpet Cleanup Caper

The Carpet Cleanup Caper

I bargained hard when Hubby wanted to get a second dog. We already had one Norwegian Elk Hound. These dogs are notorious for shedding. I even have a T-shirt that says “EMBRACE THE FUR” above a silhouette of an Elk Hound Dog.

We did indeed have dog hair all over the place.  Dogie Fur “dust bunnies” were overrunning the house the way real rabbits would overpopulate a community in the absence of predators to keep their numbers down. Dog hair covered the carpet, the sofa, the upholstery in the car too. We purchased a Dyson vacuum as the cost of replacing dust bags in the old Sears canister unit was costing us a fortune. But vacuuming was almost a daily chore and Hubby was not sharing the work load here. We started a discussion about what would need to happen if a second prolific shedding machine was added to our household.

It was a given that the fur would increase. So how to make it less of a challenge to keep cleared up? If fur stuck to the carpet and upholstery then we could replace it with wood flooring and leather covered furniture and car seats. I bargained hard. All of this needed to be done before the second puppy arrived in our home.

Hubby decided his first task was to remove the old carpeting and replace this with wood flooring.  As newcomers to the Great Northwest, we spent a few weekends down at the local IKEA store.  There was no store like this in Arizona, although I hear there is now one location out in Tempe. I can only imagine how the locals there are enjoying the IKEA cuisine! I doubt the hardy pioneers of the Southwest been daunted by the recent “horse meat” stories. I seem to recall a shop called “Ye Olde Meat Market” that sold horse meat.  The shop garnered much business when local beef prices went through the roof back in the “seventies” they put a limit on how much one could purchase at each visit.

Anyway we’d spent many weekend afternoons, down in Kent looking at the new fangled IKEA store, specifically at the varieties of manufactured flooring. Of course one developed quite an appetite wandering through the maze.  Inevitably we dined on the Meatball Special in the cafeteria located conveniently at the middle of the maze, so that shoppers could refuel and continue on with their shopping quests through the rest of the store.

Hubby decided the Pergo laminate  flooring would be a relatively inexpensive way to replace the gray carpet that was currently installed in our recently purchased home in Seattle. Anything we could do to brighten up the coloring in the home would be welcomed. We made it through our first winter of no sun but saw the need to improve our surroundings artificially when at all possible to add more light and improving the color scheme.  The blond wood flooring seems to be a solution to our darkness issue as well as provide smooth surfaces to be easily vacuumed of dog hair.

For some reason many of Hubby’s Home Improvement Projects take place when I am out of town on business trips. This is probably due to the fact that it would be quieter around the house with me out of screaming range.  My youngest son’s room walls would probably not have been painted bright blue if I’d been home at the time. Oh well.

 

The carpet replacement job was well underway when I left town for a Gourmet Foodie convention in San Francisco.  The old grey carpet was stripped away and safely at the local dump. The dump is called the sanitary landfill up here, but it is still the same scenario as Phoenix. You drive in and they weigh your car before and after and charge for the weight lost. Hmmm, I wonder if that would work for a weight loss clinic. The work of cleanup and preparation for replacement with the new flooring seems a fairly benign activity to happen while “Mom was gone”.

Upon my return I saw that the floor debris was completely gone and the sub flooring not yet in place.  I could actually admire the cleanup work and rejoice that finally he had completed a job without leaving a monumental mess for me to clear away!

Back in the kitchen, inspired by the Gourmet Foodie offerings at the convention, I looked for a favorite saute pan. I started to whip up a tasty treat to reward my hard working Hubby. I reached up to retrieve the pan hanging on the pot rack in the kitchen.  As I pulled it down I noticed it was a bit dusty.  I chalked this up to not cooking with it for a few weeks.  Later on I needed a strainer which was also located on the pot rack. This item was equally dusty and upon closer inspection was covered with dog hair as well.

All of the pots and utensils were coated with dirt and hair. What had happened?

I went to the closet that held various cleaning equipment meaning to grab my vacuum and do a bit of clean up of the area.  I glanced over at the Shop Vac® and clearly it had not been used in a few weeks, the cord was still wound up neatly from the last time I had deployed this equipment.  However the leaf blower was there cord sprawled all over the floor, the attachment still in place too, indicating that Hubby had recently used it.

Even though I knew it was the wrong time of year to be blowing fallen leaves I could not resist asking what the heck he’d been doing with that leaf blower. Sure enough the answer I received more than explained the dust and dog hair that covered all of my cooking equipment on the pot rack.  In a brilliant ploy to save time and be efficient, Hubby had literally blown out the back door, all of the construction debris. Of course he never looked up! Obviously he didn’t cook using any pots or pans during this time. In my head was a cartoon-like image of Hubby screaming “Woo-hoo!” as he waved the leaf blower.  He opened the back sliding door to our deck and proceeded to blow, through the kitchen, all of the accumulated dust, wood scraps and contributions of hair from the family Norwegian Elk Hound, into the back yard.  Did I happen to mention the dog is a male? They probably did a  high-fiver (or pawer) each other in congratulations on the job well done.

Happily the wood flooring went down without further incidents. Leather sofa and chairs were purchased. Our new puppy was driven home in my newly upholstered car. Clean up of fur was easier and we enjoyed living with two Elk Hound pups, fur and all.

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Channeling Erma

I believe I channel Erma when I cook.

I refer to Erma Bombeck, the American humorist whose columns included a piece called “Substitutions, A Piece of Cake”.

Erma started out her career writing for Dayton Journal Herald. Very quickly her articles were nationally syndicated and loved by readers all over the world.

I believe Erma and I are kindred spirits, especially when we tie on the aprons and pull out the pots and pans.  I too grew up in the Midwest not far from Dayton, Ohio, where she was raised.

In the column I mention above, she substitutes ingredients with reckless abandon. Her hilarious results did not remotely resemble the finished product described in the original recipe. When you live out in the country, a good 30 minute drive from the local Kroger grocery, you may have to improvise… just a little bit.

Tonight I made “White Bean and Chard Soup”. This is a family favorite, made frequently.  It can be thrown together in about 30 minutes. It’s one of those “Go To” recipes that I have in my plastic green recipe box.

The avocado shade of green gives it away; it is an old box. The top hinges are broken.  I have to keep sliding them back into the grooves on the bottom half of the box. It is treasure trove of irreplaceable recipes. Some are so old and faded that if I did not already know them by heart I’d be searching the internet for similar recipes.

A favorite is my grandmother’s recipe for Spaghetti Sauce. Ingredients include “one 5 oz can of tomato paste; to be rinsed out and refilled with red wine”. This is to be added to the sauce and simmered for an additional 30 minutes.

Priceless! Just for the nostalgia factor alone.

I received this recipe box as a Betty Crocker promotional give away. I loved it because it was much bigger than regular recipe boxes. My Mom had a little white enamel box, decorated with red fleurdelis. It was rusted at the edges, from years of use in steamy Midwest kitchens.

I was in my “Earth Mama” stage of life.  I cooked from scratch with whole food ingredients. I immediately tossed all of Betty’s preprinted recipes that involved use of canned soup or boxed cake mix. The alphabetized place holders came in handy. The extra blank cards were put to use. I filled the box with my tried and true family favorites.

Prepping for the evening meal, I was in trouble.  I looked in the pantry. No cans of white beans! There was certainly not time to soak and cook the dried ones.  Going out to the store was not the least bit appealing.  We were in the middle of a drizzly, Seattle winter day. At 4:00pm, it was already dark.

Lucky me!  I found 2 cans of Black Turtle on another shelf. The rest of my ingredients were pretty close to the original recipe. Who would truly notice that I substituted Kale for the Swiss chard?

“Is this KAAALE?” Hubby’s exaggerated pronouncing of the word gives anyone within earshot a clear idea on his lack of affection for greens.

I strategically first suggested a different entrée; Hearty Pumpkin soup. Hubby likes his pumpkin in the form of pie.   He was happy to hear the 2nd choice would be the White Bean and Chard recipe.  Good thing he voted for that one right away. I did not have a third recipe to offer that would not involve a major shopping trip.

Our middle son, dining with us on this evening, happens to be totally blind. He certainly would not notice the bean substitution. Black turtles are about the same shape and size as White Canella beans. If you cut the black ones in half, guess what? They are white inside!

This soup is so full of veggies that it makes a great entrée. I love it topped with a poached egg. Add some crusty whole wheat bread to dip into the egg yolk and the broth, there is no need for more than a glass of wine and maybe some dessert.

Hubby enters the kitchen and lifts the lid of the pot. He loudly announces the obvious; “There are black beans in this soup!”  I confirm “yes, indeed these are Black Turtle Beans.”

Hubby stirred suspiciously through the liquid mixture simmering on the gas burner. He replaced the lid on my Le Crueset® soup pot.

“What recipe is this?” he asks.  I assure him that this is the usual recipe with a substitution with the type of bean only.

Well just another slight change. I used Sun Dried tomatoes in EVOO. I normally would use canned Organic S&W roasted and peeled tomatoes that for this recipe.

And of course there was the Kale. But when greens are cooked they pretty much all look the same. I didn’t trouble him with this additional detail.

My son, now alerted to the switch on the beans, is asking all sorts of questions about the soup and dinner in general. I assure him this will be great and he will enjoy every spoonful.

It helped to remind him of the Flourless Chocolate Torte topped with Caramelized Pears that was for dessert.

Dinner went off without further challenges. I grated lots of Parmesan cheese over the servings.  Subterfuge needed to distract my diners from the fact that we didn’t have Aged Balsamic vinegar. Recipe called for vinegar to drizzle on top of the servings.

Hubby was delighted to try out Tabasco sauce on his poached egg topper. Tabasco and Sirracha Hot sauce are his usual condiments of choice on most entrees anyway.

Erma would be proud! Thanks to the chronicles of her adventurous culinary spirit, I certainly have little inhibition when the need to improvise arises.

I wish the Erma Bombeck Cook Book existed.  I’d love a quest to cook my way through all of her recipes? I’d substitute ingredients freely and blog about the results. Maybe write a cookbook? Hmmmm …

My recipe substitutions rarely result in “Erma Bombeck recipe disasters.  Not many of my entrees get tossed onto the compost heap.  My meals are not fed to the “In Sink Erator” garbage disposal. My culinary experiments turn out great!

I write down those “amended” versions on one of the blank cards and file in my big green recipe box.

PS: here is my recipe: Chard and White Bean Stew

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For the Greater Good

“In Service to Others” was the featured article in the Seattle Times Pacific Northwest’s Sunday Magazine on December 15th.  I often read inspiring articles to my son, who is blind.  He doesn’t subscribe to a service for news in a version he could “read” with his finger tips. He wouldn’t be able to grasp the full impact of the article in Braille anyway, as the pictures add a dimension he’d miss without my verbal description.

The article profiles many Seattle area residents and details their countless hours of service to their communities. Here is one statistic that stood out. The national average for volunteerism is at 27 percent – about 83 million people helped their neighbors, churches, schools and charities in 2011 according to survey by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In Washington state the figure was higher:  Nearly 35 percent of residents spent an average of 40 hours a year in voluntary pursuits, according to the survey!  I could see the wheels turning in Nick’s mind. We stopped and calculated his hours for the last year. He averages 2-3 hours every Friday at our local Senior Center playing the grand piano in the dining room during the lunch hour. In addition this year he has added the first Monday of each month to his hours at this site.  By our calculations he logs about 192 hours a year doing his volunteer work at this one location alone.  He added some volunteer sets at a few local area assisted living homes over the years too. He is beloved by all the folks who hear his voice and piano tunes. I often attend and let him know how wonderful I feel when I see the smiling faces that are a result of his sharing of his talent!

My son, Nicholas Baker, has been blind from birth. In his early twenties he received an  additional diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, a high functioning  form of autism. Nick is an amazing young man. From birth, he has had a wonderful ear for music.  He was reaching for the piano keys as an infant and playing full keyboard songs as soon as his small hands could form the chords.

Nick is an accomplished performer and composer. He wrote songs for, performed and recorded his first CD, “Think Positive”, while attending the Washington State School for the Blind in 2002. He has always enjoyed singing and playing piano for others. He was involved in music programs all through his school years and college.

His volunteerism began one summer when his Grandmother came to visit our family. She is a very social lady and quickly discovered the senior center located close enough for her to walk down there for the daily lunch. It was her way of entertaining herself and getting out having lunch with friends her own age. She lamented about that “lovely grand piano… just sitting there in the dining room!” Not one to see things go to waste, she inquired of the staff as to whether they’d appreciate her grandson coming and playing for whomever was eating lunch of an afternoon. The staff was delighted, but stated they had no money in their budget to pay for entertainment on a weekly basis. Nick was so happy to have a regular audience he stated that he didn’t want to be paid, just was happy to be there playing for everyone!

The center director was overwhelmed! She offered Nick a free lunch and said he could bring his CD to sell and even put out a tip jar, if he wanted. A bargain was struck and Nick became a regular feature on Fridays.  They even occasionally hire Nick for special events when funds are allocated for entertainment!

Nick rides the DART bus every week back and forth to the center. This allows him to be independent to do his volunteer work and usually collects a few dollars in tips so his fare is funded both ways. The driver and passengers are often treated to Nick’s impromptu concerts as they drive along to their destinations. Nick has been riding DART Para-transit buses now for many years to visit friends and travel to some of his work sites, instead of relying on Mom to be his chauffeur.

Nick’s work as a volunteer entertainer eventually led to paying performances. He is now gainfully employed by many of the Assisted Living facilities in our area to provide music and song for the resident’s monthly celebrations of birthdays, special holidays and even the afternoon “happy hour” music.

Since the release of his first CD, he has added several more and most recently released one called “This One’s For You”. It is dedicated to me, his mom! He was playing at a facility one afternoon when I was serving in the driver mode. He knows I love his arrangement of Misty. Before he began to play he leaned over the piano and said in a stage whisper “Hey Mom, This one’s for you!” I was inspired to suggest that this become the title for his latest CD.  “This One’s For You” is  a collection of his jazz arrangements of my era’s popular songs like “Misty”.

If ever anyone asks “do you get tired of driving Nick to his gigs or helping him with his growing music and entertainment business?”  I just laugh! Where else could I get a job that required me to sit back, relax and listen to my son’s beautiful piano playing and singing for an hour or two? It is definitely one of the perks of having this amazing person in my family!

Just sign me “Nick’s Mom and Number One Fan.”

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What’s For Breakfast?

What’s For Breakfast? Such an innocent question! NOT!

Me to Hubby: “What would you like for Breakfast this morning?”

Hubby:  “I don’t know, what are my choices?”

Me: “Well it is Sunday, so I could cook something more complicated.”

Hubby: “I don’t know, tell me what the choices are, please.”

Me: “OK, there are eggs and bread so I could make something like French toast. There is yogurt and granola, or I could make hot cereal…”

Hubby:  “I’ll just have raisin toast.”

Me: “That was not one of the options I just listed.”

Hubby:  “Oh, now you are going to be difficult.”

Me: “You obviously WANTED raisin toast, why didn’t you just say so in the first place?”

This is going to go south fast and I have choices.  I can put raisin toast in the toaster oven and walk away. Or I can continue the conversation. I grab the bag of Ezekiel 4:9 Organic Sprouted Wheat Cinnamon Raisin bread from the freezer. There are four slices, counting the heel of the loaf,  in the bag. Here is another “choice situation” for Hubby. How many slices does he want this morning?

For those who are not hip to the whole “Sprouted Whole Grain Bread” product scenario, this is pretty special stuff. There is a reason it is kept in the freezer. At almost $5 a loaf it is ridiculously expensive and I do not want to have a single slice go to waste! The grocery department at our local health food co-operative is also cognizant of the potential loss of value on the product. The store stocks all of the Ezekiel 4:9 types of bread and other similar short shelf life bakery products in the frozen food section too. This is where I got the inspiration for maximizing the life of the raisin toast in my home.

So you can see the potential for waste of a perfectly good slice of this rather expensive product begs the question I ask; “How many slices?”  We’ve had days when Hubby only wants one slice and I’ve toasted two. He is too full to eat the second slice or in too much of a hurry to get catch the bus, etc. Once toasted, the extra slice moves quickly into the status of a pariah.  It can’t be put back and served up later. Hubby is way too picky for that trick to work.

He hates dry toast. Hubby will not consume any toasted product that has been in the toaster oven too long for his delicate sensitivities to tolerate and consume. Not burnt mind you, just in there a little too long. The inner portion of the slice has lost its soft texture and is therefore no longer acceptable for Hubby to chew and swallow without the possibility of gagging.  It is almost impossible to reheat the “extra slice” rejected by him on a previous morning without his detecting this trickery and rejecting it outright.

So Hubby elects for two slices this morning. After all it is the weekend and he has leisure time to consume it with several over-sized mugs of Organic Sumatra freshly ground coffee which is heavily laced with his favorite Dari Gold Hazelnut flavored creamer.

I leave the kitchen to go work on some laundry needing immediate attention in its cycle. Upon my return I see that Hubby has taken his two slices from the toaster oven at just the right time, slathered them with Sunflower butter and has eaten one slice already.  I have returned to the kitchen and retrieved my two slices from the toaster oven, spread on some Almond butter and taken a seat beside Hubby at the table.

“Oh, oh.” He has grabbed the “end piece” of the loaf from the depths of the toaster without seeing the other two slices further back on the rack. The heel pieces sits on the plate, barely spread with any of the Sunflower seed butter, growing colder by the minute, clearly NOT going to be consumed by Hubby this morning.

Me: “Why did you take the heel? I know you do not like all that extra crust.”

Hubby:  “I thought there were two heels in there and I was trying to be nice.”

Me: “But you don’t eat the heels, you don’t like them. Would you like to trade with me?”

Hubby: after about 2 seconds of hesitation, “Yes, I’d like to trade.”

At least now all slices of that expensive toasted Ezekiel 4:9 Cinnamon Raisin toast will be consumed by the humans in our family and not  by the gaping maw of the In Sink Erator®  Badger 500 garbage disposal in our kitchen.

Hubby used to simply toss his unwanted and uneaten slices of toast directly into the trash can, on his way out the door. I caught him a few times and rather than listen to me complain about wasting food, he became stealthier.  The subterfuge now enacted when Hubby’s toast becomes inedible for whatever reason, is to “disappear” the dried out or over toasted piece by stuffing it into the garbage disposal. Of course running the unit would make noise and give him away. Hubby hopes that I won’t notice the toast hiding in the dark depths. The toast will simply disappear under the onion peelings or other refuse fed to the metal monster under out sink later that day. Kind of like those dead bodies that are hidden in the trunks of cars at the junk yard awaiting their turn on the crusher belt. The evidence of the crime is disposed of and no one is the wiser after the smashed metal hunks hit the smelter.

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