Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why I love the lake

There's the same kind of peace at the lake that there is at the farm. That silence that is seldom interrupted by the far away motorcycle reverberating off the hills or the party boat headed to a swimming cove.
There are beautiful sunsets and cool breezes. And air so pure I wish I could bottle it.

Then there's also the day's catch. This year has been a lot better year for us so far. When I went home for Mother's Day weekend, the Hubs went out to Stockton with a fishing guide and learned which fish to fish for in which areas.
Here we have bass, crappie and walleye. I actually caught fish on Sunday for the first time ever (well except for catfish on the farm a good ten years ago). I had one that was big enough to keep, a 16 1/2" bass, and reeled in probably a dozen more. I didn't realize until we pulled in to clean them that my fish was the biggest catch of the day. I looked in the live well and said "Who caught that huge fish?" and our friend Chris informed me it was mine!

Front porch

Sunday the Hubs informed me were going to (FINALLY!!!!) tear off the front porch on Monday. Almost three years ago when we first came to look at this house, I was scared to walk across the front porch. It sagged between the stairs and the door and moved more than I liked. However, it was not in the budget or timeline for repair in the 7 weeks we took to gut and renovate the interior.
There were several problems with the porch:
1. The leaning column.
2. The sagging boards under the window air conditioner (which we discovered yesterday weren't even attached anymore because the nails completely rusted through. We didn't even need the crowbar to pry them up.)
3. The Hubs looked on the right side to see why it was sagging and the joists that run parallel to the house were separated from the rim joist on the right side (that runs perpendicular to the house) by at least an inch. That's the side we've always had our adirondack chairs on... It's a wonder we never fell through!
What I like to call the "Leaning column of Kangas"
The 4x4 supports were in place and demo was ready to begin. 
The Hubs started tearing apart the right column, because we expected to see a 4x4 in  the middle of it, but there wasn't. The columns were literally boxes made of 1x. SCARY!
What's even scarier is what we found once we tore into it further:

According to the structural engineer at the office, this was a typical way to build stairs back in the day. It's a little hard to tell, but there are brick and concrete blocks piled up inside the stairs, and then concrete was formed around them. Except about half the brick/CMU had fallen out at some point in the past and was just laying under the porch. Our house was built in the 1930s, but we don't know when the porch was added. The decking was the same as our subfloor, so we wouldn't be surprised if it was original, but I'm not sure wood lasts 80 years in the elements.

Unlike the foundations that I draw for buildings, the porch foundation consisted of a brick on top of three 8x8x8 concrete blocks on top of a 12x12x12 concrete foundation. There was no mortar between the blocks, no anchor bolts or rebar holding the blocks to the ground, and no grout in the blocks. Oh, and there was dirt between the foundation and the first block. Like at least 1/4".

Our porch was literally held up by a brick on each end, supporting a 1x column.
We now have new 4x4 posts in place on the corners, atop a quickrete foundation that extends to the frost line. Currently, our 4x4 braces are still in place, to keep everything steady until the concrete cures.  
Tip for the day: if you don't have a building jack, a car jack works nicely for leveling.
For now we have to get into the house by ladder.
Which I might add is a little difficult when you're headed out the door to work in the morning in heels with a purse, lunch bag and thermos of coffee. But fun. I feel like I'm living in a tree house.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Music Monday: Guns N' Roses - Sweet Child O' Mine

I don't understand the issue some people have with Guns N Roses. How can you listen to this song and not crank it up and sing along?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cheese grits

Today for breakfast I made Baked Cheese Grits, bacon (we bought half a hog last year), and coffee from Mudhouse.

Can we say delicious? Already dreaming of possible add-ins for the grits for the next making, like bell pepper, or crunched bacon, or Melissa's suggestion of chorizo. This is another recipe from The Joy of Cooking, possibly the last recipe from that book for awhile. Well, except I need to do something with the two other leeks that came in the bunch, which may require some potato leek soup. (However, I've been tearing out recipes out of Food & Wine magazines so I can recycle the magazines and came across a few leek recipes!)

Baked Cheese Grits
(another recipe that claims 4 servings, but three of us ate healthy servings and there's still about half left!)

Melt 1/4 butter in a large saucepan.
Add 1/2 c chopped onion and cook about 5 minutes, until tender. (Or if you're like me and convinced you need shallots and not onions, use a whole shallot...)
Add 1 clove garlic, minced and cook for a minute longer.

Add 5 cups of water and bring to a boil.
Stir in 1 c old fashioned grits ("Corn Grits Otherwise known as Polenta" is what the carton says. It wasn't in the cereal aisle with the oatmeal, but over in the baking aisle with cornmeal.)
Cover and cook over low heat for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 2 quart dish (I used my 9x9 glass Anchor dish).

Add 2 c grated cheddar to the grits.

In a separate bowl, mix together:
1/2 c milk
2 eggs
1/4 tsp ground red pepper (I put about 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes in my mortar and pestle and ground it for a little bit)

Stir the above into the grits, then pour into the baking dish.
Bake 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Mothers beer

Last night I went for a walk with Melissa and her new Akita pups. They are 4 months old and she got them from the Humane Society a couple weeks ago. They like to eat grass! (and chew on my socks, and harass Chuck the cat...)
Mmmmm grass!
We saw these flowers in the rose garden on the way back from walking the dogs. Guessing they weren't labeled because they aren't roses. I'm thinking they're Love in a Mist. What do you think Mom?
Then we headed over to Farmers Gastropub for dinner, and to try out beer from a new local brewery: Mothers Brewing Company. This is Melissa's Towhead American Blonde.

and my Lil' Helper India Pale Ale.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Coucous with Chicken, Lemon and Olives

I told you this was on the list to make this week!
This is another recipe from The Joy of Cooking. Boy am I glad I joined the crazies the first weekend of Borders' closing. The 20% off deal on this book was nice...

If you haven't figured out by now, I think of recipes as guidelines. This drives the Hubs crazy. He wishes I would just follow a recipe word for word!

I didn't understand the point of browning the chicken in a couple tablespoons of oil, then removing the chicken and draining the oil and then returning the chicken to the pan. So I used less oil instead. And I don't have a dutch oven; I have a Calphalon stock pot similar to the link but mine is all aluminum with a glass lid.

Couscous with Chicken, Lemon and Olives
supposedly 4 servings, but those would be pretty large servings

In a large ziplock baggie, combine:
4 lbs chicken parts, skin removed if desired (I used 1.75 pounds of boneless skinless chicken tenderloins)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, diced (this was not in the recipe, but I bought a bag of shallots last week, having convinced myself that there were shallots in this recipe!)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp saffron (I used turmeric.)
1 tsp salt (I didn't use that much because I knew the olives would be pretty salty)

Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. (I didn't have time for that. I was hungry and tired, so I mixed it all in the stock pot and cooked on VERY low heat for a few minutes.)

Simmer the chicken until nearly cooked through. Add more olive oil if needed, to prevent sticking.
2 c water
1 large leek, thinly sliced
a few sprigs of parsley and cilantro (my cilantro isn't big enough yet to harvest so I only used parsley)

Reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes (closer to 20 if using boneless chicken)
1 preserved lemon, sliced thickly (I used a fresh lemon)
2/3 c cured green olives, pitted and halved (I used about 20 Kalamata olives) 

In the meantime, prepare 2 1/2 c couscous per package directions. (You want to end up with 2 1/2 c of couscous, so it takes a little over 2/3 c dry couscous and about 1 1/4 c water)
When the couscous is finished, transfer to a serving dish (or to your huge Pampered Chef glass bowl). Top with the olives, chicken and lemon pieces. Leave the sauce in the pan and bring to a simmer. Add:
1/4 c lemon juice
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro
(Or a squirt of lemon juice from the bottle, and about 1/2 c of fresh parsley)
After it has reduced a little, pour over the couscous/chicken mixture.

Delicious. I need to take less blurry pictures with my camera phone!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


... but not in the sense of photos and keepsakes of family events with captions. One of the architects I work with told me he keeps an inspiration book. Instead of keeping 30 years worth of Architectural Record magazine, he clips out articles and photos that inspire him and puts them in a binder.
I kind of do this with recipes. I have a pile of Food & Wine magazines; I put sticky notes on the recipes I want to try. Last year I did that and tore the recipes out that I wanted to keep.
I need to do the same thing with the Architectural Record, GreenSource, Architect magazine, Ecostructure, ED+C and Construction Specifier magazines. (I don't pay for any of those subscriptions separately; they are all "included" in my membership dues for various organizations.) I have an entire bookshelf devoted to these magazines, plus several piles around the house. They can be condensed! (Think the Hubs could reduce the car magazines, popular mechanics and porn this way? haha)

What brought this on? Several reasons:
1. magazine pile overload
2. needing inspiration for a couple projects I'm working on.
3. I don't know when we'll move out of this house, but we'd like it to be in good enough shape that we could put it on the market and let people tour it. Right now, the Cloffice doesn't make the cut.

OK. So this is where I explain the Cloffice. The house that we purchased nearly 3 years ago is only 24'x28', not including the front and back porches. There are two bedrooms. To get our king size bed to fit in the front bedroom, we had to take out the (small, we're talking 3'x3') closet. So the other bedroom is the Closet-office, or cloffice. This is because my desk, my bookcases, all of my hanging clothes and my hopechest are in here. There is also a rack with our luggage, a couple boxes of pottery from my ceramics classes, the china I got when Aunt Linda died, seeds, and the growlights. All in a room about 10'x10'. I would take a photo, but it's quite embarrassing to almost be an architect and have a room like this in my house.
Why such a small house? We bought this house because of the low payments. Our rent was $600 a month and the payment on this house is less than $350. We're doing a snowball (I think this is the website the Hubs uses.) effect on our bills and when I graduated three years ago it was our plan to have everything paid off in 5 years: credit cards, school loans, car loans and house loan. We are down to my school loans, the house loan and a couple payments on the car. (We would be done with the car loan if I hadn't lost my job for half of last year.) It's an amazing sense of freedom to say "That's paid off"!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Enchilada Casserole

This is based off a recipe my mother in law Terry gave us a couple years ago. It's a pretty simple, throw-together kind of meal. And kind of like stew or soup, it seems to get better the day after baking.
Enchilada Casserole

6" round corn tortillas
1 pound hamburger
1/2 an onion, diced
packet of taco seasoning
olive oil if needed

can of corn
can of pinto beans
can of enchilada sauce (I think in the past I forgot to buy enchilada sauce and used salsa instead.)
can of cream of mushroom soup
can of nacho cheese soup
shredded cheddar

Terry also includes a can of sliced black olives. 

Preheat the oven to 350. 

Brown the hamburger in a skillet. Drain the grease, then add the onion and saute until tender. (I didn't have any onions, so I used a shallot.) Mix in the taco seasoning and the water per the package directions.

Spray a 9x13 pan with non-stick spray. (I use olive oil in the spritzer I have from Pampered Chef.)
Arrange a layer of corn tortillas in the bottom of the 9x13.
Layer half of each can of the corn, pinto beans, mushroom soup and nacho cheese, half the hamburger, a handful of shredded cheese and 1/3 of the can of enchilada sauce.

I usually make two layers. Then for the top I put another layer of tortillas, the last 1/3 of the can of enchilada sauce and another handful of shredded cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes or so, until the cheese is melted. Baking it is really just to warm it through since the hamburger was cooked prior to it going in the oven. Serve with a dollup of sour cream.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A weekend in the life of Anna

I went to the farmer's market in the morning and then came back and worked on the greenhouse and garden. Yesterday however, we went to the lake bright at early. As we were leaving Lake Stockton, it started sprinkling. Then it seemed like the moment we got home it started pouring. Then there was devastation last night in Joplin. For photos, see here: http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20110523/news/705239934/photos/

I'm going to try menu planning. At least to the point where I can purchase groceries more efficiently. On the books for this week:
Enchilada Casserole (a recipe from the Mother In Law. I thought I posted it on here, but I can't find a link to it)
The Couscous dish takes one leek, but they're sold in a bundle of three, so there may be Potato Leek Soup (also from The Joy of Cooking) this week as well. 
Baked Cheese Grits (I'm going to make these Saturday morning) All I can say is Mmmmm... cheese, grits and eggs. (Oh, and this is from The Joy of Cooking as well... I think I need to venture out of this cookbook next week.)

Also, I have a feeling I'll be eating a lot of salad soon, so I got buttermilk to make ranch dressing, and to make garlic cheese biscuits (from The Taste of Home Baking Book).
The verdict on the cuban bean soup from last week? Amazing. It's probably the best seasoned soup I've ever had, AND the Hubs ate some!
The Hubs with the smallest bass I've ever seen. We brought home two walleye to eat and he probably caught half a dozen other fish, but they weren't big enough to keep.

Music Monday: Stereophonics "Dakota"

I came across this band several years ago. It's a good driving song, nevermind the cheesy video!

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Yesterday as I was planting green beans I discovered the lone artichoke plant actually has two artichokes on it! We'll see how this artichoke plant does in the coming weeks, but I think what I'm going to do is plant artichoke seeds in the greenhouse. Artichokes need a long growing season, or they will fruit the second year. So I'm thinking their first year can be in the greenhouse and then I'll transplant them outside next spring.

Today I planted Charentais melon, Marketmore 76 cucumbers, Butternut Rogosa Violina Giola squash and Fordhook acorn squash. I also planted Kentucky Wonder pole beans in the squash bed and put in some bamboo stakes for them. I sprinkled some marigolds in some hanging baskets.

I transplanted the tomatoes and peppers to the garden. I "ordered" some eggplant plants from a coworkers wife when I was at the farmer's market. She has a nursery but she left all the eggplant at home. I asked her to send some with her husband to work tomorrow.

This morning I picked 12 oz of strawberries, which brings the year's total to  49.5 oz.

Here's the bigger artichoke. It's probably golf ball size.
The smaller one is harder to see because it's only about the size of a marble. It's directly below the larger one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Garden Report & Plan 05.18.2011

I tried to scale down the tomato and pepper operations this year. Here's what I have available to transplant into the garden:

2 Amish Paste
4 Thessaloniki
3 Black Cherry
4 Quadrato d'Asti Rosso
4 Golden Marconi
2 Banana Pepper
3 Poblano

I will probably actually plant 2 of each tomato and pepper and keep the others in pots "just in case" the transplants die or get taken out by the water hose. Yes, that happened last year.

Need to buy:

This year has gotten away from me. Probably because I'm distracted by other things like reading and biking.

Other things still to plant:
Green Beans
According to the MU Extension planting calendar, I have until May 30 to get these in the ground. Same time limit for tomatoes and peppers. I told you I was distracted. Usually I'm checking the almanac several times a week to make sure I have the right "last frost" date in my head but I haven't looked once this year!

And I've decided I need another raised bed. I think the best place for it is between the garage and an existing 4x8 bed. I'm cramming other things into the asparagus bed because I don't have enough room. Right now I have a lot of herbs and some flowers growing with the asparagus and I think they are hindering the asparagus. Since the rhubarb didn't come back this year, I think I'll convert that 4x4 bed into an herb bed, and use the new 4x8 bed for flowers.

I also need to build a raised bed for the grape vines I brought back. They were Grandma Hadsall's and Aunt Patty took cuttings and got them started. I have two and they are sitting in a bag of dirt inside a styrofoam cooler on the front porch. I want to plant them on the west side of the greenhouse, the north end, where there is siding and not acrylic paneling. I also have to come up with some kind of trellis. What's holding me up is the greenhouse trim. My friend's dad is supposed to be coming over to make corners and flashing with a metal brake and coil stock, and I've been reminding her for the last four months, but it still isn't done. Granted, it's free because she's my friend, but I am paying with beer and grilled food.

Tonight I also screwed down the trellis for the cukes/zukes/squash.

Cuban black beans (or pinto beans)

A couple weeks ago I asked what else to do with ham hocks besides ham and beans and Mom gave me a recipe for Cuban Black Beans. The Hubs is not crazy about black beans, so I substituted pinto beans. This makes the soup more monotone, but still flavorful.

Jack's Cuban Black Beans (Mom- any idea who Jack is?)

2 c dried black or pinto beans, sorted and rinsed (I soaked mine overnight)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 bay leaves
14.5 oz can tomatoes (I used a pint of home-canned tomatoes from last summer)
4 c water (more if needed)
4 tsp cumin (yes you read that right, 4)
4 oz can chopped chiles
1 tsp salt
1 ham hock, most of the fat removed and diced
1 beef bouillon cube
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano

This recipe was meant for the crockpot, but I didn't realize that until I had already started throwing items into a stockpot. If made in a crockpot, fry the veggies and ham hock in a couple tablespoons of oil to soften and brown before putting in the crockpot. Then cook on high for 6 hours.

Here's my version:
Put the bell pepper, onion, garlic and celery in a stock pot with some oil and cook until tender.

Dice the ham.

 Check out all those spices! Add them with the ham, tomato, chiles, and water (everything else on the list).

Cover and simmer. I simmered for over and hour last night and the beans weren't done. Tonight, I put the soup back on for another hour or so.

Enjoying with a dollup of sour cream.

Next time:
1. Use black beans.
2. Not only soak the beans overnight, but cook them prior to making the soup.

Update from the garden today:
5.5 oz strawberries, bringing the total for the year to 32.5 oz.

I rode 3.5 miles today in 24 minutes. Hopefully this weekend I'll have the time/good weather to ride to work and then start riding to work a couple times a week. Sweetness!

What I ate for lunch today: salad of mixed greens/spinach from the garden with leftover stuffed mushrooms, olives, feta cheese, olive oil, salt & pepper and oregano. Amazing!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lamb stuffed mushrooms

Lamb tartare? No, silly, it's the fixins for lamb stuffed mushrooms, from one of my favorite blogs Farmgirl Fare. This blog is about a woman, Susan, who moved from California to rural Missouri, from owning a bakery to owning a sheep farm. Here's today's version of the recipe, which changes every time I make it:

1 lb of ground lamb from Raised Right Meats (one of the booths at the Springfield Farmer's Market)
1/4 of a large yellow onion, chopped
2 oz feta cheese, crumbled
8 oz large mushrooms, rinsed, the stems pulled out and diced
1/4 c parsley, chopped
couple Tbsp greek oregano, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

Last time I made them, I didn't have lamb so I used ground pork and omitted the feta. Afterward, I though cheddar would have been tasty with pork. The first time I made them, I left out the herbs because I didn't have any fresh.

Mix all the ingredients together, form into loose meatballs and press onto the top of each mushroom. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.
I use an 9x9 glass baking dish, sprayed with olive oil.
The largest mushrooms I could find at the store were still pretty small, so there ended up being 5 meatballs, too.

Eating them with leftover grilled potatoes and onions, and a spinach/mixed greens salad from the garden.
I had a short bike ride today. My legs were really tired for some unknown reason, so I rode 1.75 miles in 11.5 minutes. About 9.05 mph.

I also have some harvest update numbers. Sunday we got
3 oz of strawberries

2 oz mixed greens
2 oz spinach
1/4 c curly parsley
1/8 c greek oregano

Totals to date:
Strawberries: 27 oz
Spinach: 15 oz
Mixed greens: 6.5 oz
Curly parsley: .75 cups
Greek oregano: .125 cups

When I go grocery shopping this week, I'm going to try to remember to write down how much these items cost at the store, and then update my "savings" whenever I update harvest numbers. I want to see which items are most cost effective.

The hardest part is bringing the produce inside and weighing it prior to eating it. I'm known for standing in the garden and munching on tomatoes...

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