29 August 2014

Moving on to September

August.  The month from hell.  The heat was fine, it was all the other stuff that totally. fell. apart.
So.  August.  Good riddance.
  • Elderberries are now fair game.  The neighbor helped us pick a crapload and even aided the de-stemming process.  5 gallons of wine are fermenting in the carboy and I've got plans to make a small batch of port out of the berry remains.
  • Prickly pears.  I want to at least try some prickly pear juice, but I'd love to make wine out of it.  Right now all I've done is make a tiny amount of juice out of one pear.  It was not sweet.  It was not very good.  I did not die (or get really cold) after drinking it.
  • Buy a flippin house.  Ugh.  Can we not talk about it?
  • Car oil change.  Done.  By Kyle.  Because I find it impossible to make it to normal 9 - 5 businesses within normal business hours (hint:  I tend to work that same schedule).
  • Bus work.  Hey, that's done!  We did some of it and another place did some of it and hopefully when we get home it's going to be awesome.
  • Enjoy the pool more.  I went down to the pool a couple times.  It's pretty great unless there are kids.  There, I said it.
I feel really defeated right now, so I'm not even going to bother with goals for September.  I've already done some pathetic venting on facebook, so I'm going to try to give the cliffnotes here.  We've found two foreclosed houses that we've wanted to buy, but they were both being sold by super-sketchy online auction sites.  After doing research (the seller limits their liability 100%!  They won't turn on the water and electricity for an inspection!  It's not a scam, but it's close enough!) we've decided that any home being sold by these sites is off our table - as a first-time home buyer I'm not interested in taking on that kind of risk.

But our lease is up, so we're looking for a new apartment with a competent landlord.  We found one we both really liked, and kept trying to set up a showing with the current tenant.  We really wanted to see it before turning in our notice to our current landlord, and after two weeks of failed attempts I finally was able to see the house the morning before I flew out for a business trip.  Right down to the wire - I wanted to give notice before the first of the month and the day I flew out was the last day I'd be around in August.  It's been stressful.

While all this was going on, Kyle's vehicle overheated and died.  The mechanic quoted us $7k to put a new engine in it, which is about the value of the car.  Kyle ended up selling it as-is, although the money he got for it barely covered the $1200 mechanic bill just for taking the engine apart to see what would need fixing/replacing.  So that's been a huge loss of assets, which is why the bus is currently in the shop - we're lucky enough to not NEED a second vehicle but it sure is nice to have.  Plus we want to use the bus!  But losing the Escape has been very hard on both of us.

We scrambled to get all this figured out before last weekend, because we both had business trips this week that ended with us both in Michigan to say goodbye to someone who might not be around next time we make it north.  So while trying to squeeze as many hours from the day as possible, I've also been dealing with the emotional ramifications of contemplating death and what I should say to someone I might never see again.  Not to mention the thought of someone I love suffering.  It's been hard.

I know all the right words - we'll figure it out, things will work out eventually, this will pass.  Just do what you can today, tomorrow will be a new day.  

I feel like I'm barely recovering from yesterday's bruises before today starts swinging.  I'm actually writing this on the 24th, as I don't know how much time I'll have this week whilst traveling.  I'm really looking forward to this week.  I'll finally have some downtime where there's literally nothing I can do about my situation, which means all I can do is enjoy exploring a new city.  There will be no work-life stress and minimal home-life stress.  And at the end of the week I get to see my family.  So by the time you read this, I'm sure I'll have recovered from August a great deal.  Right now I'm still pretty black and blue.

And as always, photos from my month.  Starting with hiking on a rainy day.
The scenery is a little different than hiking in Michigan.  The spiders are bigger, too.
I love it when it rains here.  It is a quick, intense storm.  The temps drop a little afterwards.  The sun comes back out.  
We stopped at the favored taco truck for some tacos al pastor and the horchata that inspired this post.
We tasted Kyle's first homemade Belgian - and approved.
And, you know, this happened.
And life goes on.  The photo at the top of the post is from pinterest - my mother-in-law just sent it to me a few minutes ago.  I may not feel better today, but I know after this month, I can handle just about anything.  Except the ridiculous comma that I edited out of the image before I posted it here.

22 August 2014

Authentic Mexican Horchata (and a bonus recipe)

It's been way too long since I posted a drink recipe, so after trying the horchata at our favorite Mexican taco truck I knew I had to recreate it at home.  I've already described it as the Mexican eggnog, but don't wait until the holidays for this drink.  It's perfect for hot summer days, and pairs well with spicy carnitas!
Horchata can easily be made vegan / dairy free (and possibly even improved) by using almond milk instead of cows milk.  In fact, I would bet that a homemade roasted almond milk would add unbelievable flavor to this cinnamon-spiked drink.  Or if you're really getting into the holiday spirit, a shot of rum wouldn't be out of place either...
And I know I've posted a recipe for carnitas before, but PEOPLE! you need to try this version.
The great news is that carnitas take extremely minimal effort.  Take all the ingredients, throw in the crockpot and...that's it.  And with my crockpot in long term storage (why!?  Why would I do that!?) I've found that you can also make these just as well on the stovetop.
Top with the most minimal topping ever - minced onions, cilantro and lime juice marinated for a couple hours - and you have the. best. taco. ever.  I don't even like onions, but somehow the cilantro-lime marinade just works.

Authentic Mexican Horchata (based on this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 2 c. long grain rice
  • 3 c. hot water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 c. milk*
  • 1 c. sugar (or less - to taste)
Instructions:
1.  Put the rice and hot water in a large bowl (with a lid).  Break the cinnamon stick into a few pieces and add it to the bowl.  Let sit for 2 hours up to overnight.  It does not need to be refrigerated.
2.  Blend the rice/water mixture until the rice is finely ground.  Using cheesecloth, strain out the rice solids.  Mix in the remaining ingredients - I found that one cup of sugar was too much, so I would start out with half a cup and taste test from there.
3.  Refrigerate the horchata up to four days. 

*I would highly recommend making almond milk out of roasted almonds and subbing that in.  It is less traditional, but makes the horchata dairy-free!
Even Better Carnitas (based on this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 3 lbs pork shoulder
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 onion
  • 1 orange
  • 2 cinnamon sticks**
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp roasted cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
Instructions:
1.  Trim the fat off the pork as you cut it into 2-in. pieces.  Heat a large pot dish (cast iron or something with a thick bottom works best) over medium-high heat on the stove.  Sear the pork for a couple minutes.  Gently pour in the water.
2.  Quarter the orange and chop the onion.  Add both to the pork.  Break up the cinnamon sticks into a few pieces and add those too!  Add in the rest of the ingredients.
3.  Bring the pot up to a boil then turn the stove down to a low setting OR throw the whole mess in a crockpot.  Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid.  Cook the pork on low for 5 to 7 hours, until it easily shreds.  Drain the broth (save for later use - makes an awesome soup!) and shred the pork.  Discard the cinnamon sticks and orange remains.

**Seriously, do not skip the cinnamon sticks.  Seriously.  You won't believe the flavor they add.
Make these spicy carnitas and soothe the burn with a sip of this amazing horchata.  And if there's anything that can be done with rice flour strongly tinted with cinnamon, let me know - I'd love to try it!

Edit:  I made these snickerdoodle cookies with the rice flour (first I dried it in the oven on the "warm" setting for about 45 min, then I ran it through the blender again, then I put it through a sifter that didn't really help too much).  The cookies were still pretty grainy.  But delicious.  Oh, also, since there was plenty of cinnamon in the flour I didn't add any to the cookies as the recipe directs. 

15 August 2014

Bus Update: New brake lines

It's been a while since there's been a post about the bus - May was the last one - but there's a good reason for it.  Transition and apartment living haven't lended themselves to bus work.  Just letting it sit unused in the parking lot was driving us crazy, though, so we did a little stealth work this weekend (disabling a vehicle in the parking lot is discouraged at this apartment, so we're choosing to broadly define "disabling" - and also do our work after-hours).
Two of the biggest things keeping us from driving Sixer on a regular basis are the brakes and the exhaust leak.  The latter of those might take some serious effort, but according to the samba the brake issue was a pretty easy fix.
Our problem is that the bus would pull to the left when braking hard - we discovered this when a light turned red and Kyle hit the brake pedal like he meant it.  Prior to that we were babying her pretty well.  The samba reiterated the root cause:  "Sometimes the hose collapses inside & does not allow the fluid to return after braking."  Pulling to the left indicates there is an issue with the brakes on the right.  So, new brake hoses in the front of the bus (both sides).  In the above photo you can see the old hose and the new one.
Kyle hit the old hoses with PB Blaster every day for a week or so, which made the project relatively easy.  Unscrew the nuts, pull off the tabs, remove the old hose.  Thread on the new hose, torque down the nuts, replace the tabs.
Bleed the brakes, replace the fluid in the system.
Take her for a test drive.  No more pulling to the left!  All in all the project was pretty quick, and greatly eased by the tasty IPA we bottled a couple weeks ago.

08 August 2014

Simple Canned Jalapenos

We have been going through jars of canned jalapenos in an alarmingly short amount of time.  As with anything that disappears quickly in this house, it's probably more economical to make it myself.  So I canned jalapenos in water - very simple, no frills, just hot peppers.  There are not pickled, either.
Start out with ripe, firm peppers.  I got mine from a farmers market nearby - they were selling them by the bucket and I bought two buckets.  It ended up being exactly a canner load of pints.  According to this site, you need about a pound per pint.
Wash the peppers.  Slice them - a mandoline is extremely helpful here.  Now is the time when you should start heating water on the stove - one pot of water to pack the peppers, and also water in the canner.
Even more helpful is a set of gloves.  With this quantity of peppers I wouldn't try anything else - my normal olive oil method doesn't stand a chance against this kind of heat.
Peppers sliced! 
Wash the canning jars in hot soapy water.  Feel the sealing surface and make sure there are no defects.
Simmer lids on the stove to soften the seal.
Pack the jars with jalapenos.  I added garlic to two jars as an experiment.
Around this time, the water should be close to boiling.
When the jars are packed with jalapenos, add a teaspoon of vinegar to each jar.  Then pour in hot water, leaving 1 inch of headspace.  Wipe each jar top with a paper towel dipped in hot water - this makes sure there is no debris on the sealing surface that will prevent the jars from sealing.
Pop the lids on top, then tighten rings on each jar.
Then place the jars in the canner (prepare the canner according to the manufacturers directions - I needed 3 quarts of boiling water in the canner for pressure canning).
Follow the manufacturers directions for pressure canning.  The following will be the directions for my weight-style pressure canner.  Turn up the heat until steam is venting from the outlet on top.
Wait ten minutes, then add ten pounds of weight to the lid.  When the weight starts gently rocking, put 35 minutes on the timer.  Soon the air in the kitchen will start to taste hot, and maybe your eyes will start to burn a little bit.
When the timer goes off, remove the canner from the burner.  Wait until the canner relieves pressure on its own, then remove the jars from the canner.  Be careful when opening the canner, because the air is jalapeno air and it burns.  I think I only started coughing once, and other than that it was a good sort of burning (if that's a thing).
Spend the rest of the night listening for the "pop" of jars sealing...
...and each time one does, clap your hands and say "yay!"
These jalapenos ended up being a little softer than store-bought canned jalapenos, and also hotter!  But they are great for adding to tacos or burgers or whatever else suits you.

01 August 2014

The Heat Gets Hotter

July offered a brief reprieve from the humidity this week (and I spent several hours on the porch enjoying it!), but now that humidity is back with a vengeance.  I've taken cover in my air-conditioned apartment with some no-cooking-necessary recipes (cevichemarinated mushrooms! sushi! summer salad!).
Here's what July brought to my world:
  • Drinks with friends! We had a lovely but short evening out - we still have more catching-up to do.
  • 4thof July road trip.  The Outer Banks are fantastic.  There, I said it.  And luckily, we have a few great excuses to keep going back.
  • Get photos printed to finish off last month’s goal.  Photos printed!  Captions written!  Mail sent!
  • Keep the plants alive.  Well, they're all alive and doing...okay.  I've had a huge number of flowers falling off due to excessive heat, but I'm still eating the fruit of my labors.  The first tomatoes went into a delicious guacamole last week.
  • More summer clothing!  Thank goodness for Goodwill.  I now have a couple more dresses, some tshirts and shorts that are more weather-appropriate.  In Michigan, I could go the whole summer without wearing shorts.  Things are little different here (for reference: see title).
August is upon us!  I have no significant plans for this month, so maybe I should make some.
  • Elderberries are now fair game.  It's wine time.
  • Same thing with prickly pears.  I want to at least try some prickly pear juice, but I'd love to make wine out of it.
  • Buy a flippin house.  I'm tired of looking at houses.  Just buy one already!
  • Car oil change.  This needs to happen soon.
  • Bus work.  After a few months of neglect, we're ready to start attempting some parking lot projects.
  • Enjoy the pool more.  There's one at the apartment complex and I need to take advantage of that.
We found a new hangout this month.  It's really great.  You should visit us, and we will take you there.
This is dinner on a pretty regular basis.  Tacos are the best.
Mornings on the porch with coffee and a book?  I could get used to this life.
The Outer Banks, immediately post-Arthur.  Not a lot of damage, but the water was still turbulent.
These are NOT cherry tomatoes.  I don't know why they're so small.  Also in the last week, the tomato leaves have all turned very yellow.  Sigh.
 
Here's a garden buddy I found hanging out!
Kyle made some candied sugar (?) in order to start a Belgian Dubbel beer.  I'm hoping that gets bottled soon because I can't wait to try it!
I made this.  Double chocolate zucchini bread.  You should make it too.  Like, yesterday.
Goes well with red wine.  Do it.
All in all, a pretty fantastic month on the outside.  I also started to really miss a lot of people that I used to see regularly.  So if you're reading this, drop me a quick note or text!  I miss you!

25 July 2014

Italian Marinated Mushrooms

I have wanted to try marinating mushrooms for quite a while, so I was excited to finally give it a shot.  These mushrooms are marinated in a basic Italian dressing, and I put them on skewers for some tasty kabobs.
The dressing has salt, Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper flakes.  We kick it up a notch with some fresh basil.
The spices get mixed up with extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar.  Cloves of garlic too!

Mushrooms typically come in 8oz packages, and I could only fit about 3/4 of a package in my jar.
Marinate in the fridge for 8 to 24 hours, then they are ready to be served as-is.
Or they can be used to spruce up some kabobs.  I even took a tablespoon or two of the dressing and added it to the meatballs.
Italian Marinated Mushrooms (based on this)
Ingredients:
  • 6 to 8 oz of mushrooms (one package)
  • Fresh basil - ten leaves, give or take a few
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs red wine vinegar
Instructions:
1.  Chop the basil.  Mix with the Italian seasoning, pepper flakes and salt.  Take two garlic cloves and smash them with the flat side of a knife.  Mix the basil, spices, and garlic with the evoo and vinegar.
2.  Put the mushrooms in your marinating container - a bag works fine, use something that can be sealed.  Pour the dressing over the mushrooms.  Shake the container to ensure that each mushroom gets fully coated.
3.  Marinate in the fridge overnight, up to 24 hours.  Drain and *serve.

*Can also use the mushrooms on kabobs.  Highly recommended.  Also, the marinade can be used as a regular dressing.
So there's another recipe to cross off my list!  Give it a try.