"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Slightly Diminished Chaos

The floors are done. Finally I am quit of the Carpet of Shame and instead am basking in the mellow glow of solid oak. The children are enjoying the floors too: they have invented a game they call "dogsled" in which one of them sits on a sheet and the others pull them down my immensely long hallway as fast as they can. They played Dogsled for about two hours straight last night. I am so happy - I literally cannot WAIT for somebody to come over here and see how much better it looks and feels.

The roof is another matter - the evil racist roofers (Joostens Roofing, Skagit and Whatcom counties) are not coming back and will not be providing any compensation unless and until a judge orders them to, so I have gone ahead and contracted another company to fix it. They will begin next week - but at least the rest of the work on the house will be done outside. No more will 9 people have to try to live a normal life with major renovations being done all around them. Installing hardwood floors is LOUD, what with the air compressor, the nail gun, the table saw...

Life with double the number of people in the house is stressful, no doubt, but it's just a matter of space and numbers, not personality or culture clashes (not yet, anyway.). Feeding nine people every day uses a lot of pots and pans, a lot of dishes, and a lot of food. There's twice as much shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and noise. But I am actually doing a little bit less work than usual because my mother and sister in law are both WAY better housekeepers than I am and pitch right in and get to work. A little too much, actually - they spent their first week here cleaning almost non-stop and uncovered enough embarrassing stuff that I really wish they hadn't. Like a mummified mouse under one of the kid's beds. A bit of cat poop where no cat poop should be - stuff like that.

I guess I can live with a slight sense of space invasion and a little bit of shame in exchange for the good company, the very happy husband, and all the new skills I am learning - like tamale-making and working a sewing machine. And the girls are so happy with their cousins. They are speaking better Spanish already and the four girls have the best time laughing and giggling together.

Really, life is pretty good, chaos and all.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

How to Make Real Tamales

Part of yesterday and all of today (so far) was given over to making tamales. From actual scratch. It's something I've always wanted to learn to do, and now my mother-in-law has taught me. Here is how we did it, step by step, start to finish. This pictorial recipe is as detailed as I can make it - I do believe that if you want to make tamales from scratch, this post will show you how. It's not easy, but it is fun if you have lots of help and the tamales are incredibly delicious. This is for real!

I can break the recipe up into three parts: the masa, the filling, and the process. Here we go.

1) The Masa

Buy three kilos of dried Mexican corn - available at Mexican groceries. Hopefully. We had to use "posole" corn, which Senora Maura said wasn't right, but which worked in the absence of the right corn. Also buy at least 1 cup of "cal." Cal is lime, and is a white powder. It looks like baking soda. Be careful with it, as it is actually a mild form of sodium hydroxide and will burn you if you aren't careful. Mix the cal with a quart or so of water. Use a spoon to blend and make a slurry. Set aside. Put 2 gallons of water to boil in a large kettle. When water is hot, add corn. Now take the bowl of cal-slurry and start pouring it slowly into the kettle of corn. Most of the cal will have settled to the bottom - this is good. Pour only the water off the top, do not add the semi-solid slurry from the bottom. That is too strong.

Now comes the first part that calls for judgment - judgment that you will not have if, like me, you have never done this before. Nevermind - resolve to go boldly where you have not been before. Taste the water from the kettle. It should "bite." That means, to my mind, that it is bitter and you can taste the cal, but it should NOT burn. Bring the kettle to a boil and simmer for about one hour. The hulls of the corn will turn yellow and they will rub off with your finger.

Let the kettle sit overnight. In the morning, test the corn. It should be soft enough to pierce with a fingernail, but still very much "al dente." The outside should be butter yellow and the inside chalky white. Rinse some and taste it - now you should barely be able to taste the cal - if it tastes strong, rinse the corn and let sit in fresh water for a while. Rinse and rub off the corn skins. They are very delicate and sometimes barely visible. Don't worry about getting every little bit.

Run the corn through your grinder. I used a meat grinder with the finest disk.
After the first grinding, the masa was still too textured for mama, so we added the other ingredients and ran it through again.

The other ingredients are a) a liter more or less of melted lard - in this case from our own pig. I'm afraid that if you don't have access to lard from a pasture raised pig, your tamales will suffer. The lard you can buy in the store is snow white and almost entirely flavorless. Good lard is golden yellow to light brown and has a rich, porky, unctuous flavor. Add your lard to the ground corn in a large kettle. Also add a biggish pint or so of strong pork broth (this comes from boiling the pork for the filling - see next section), and about 2 tablespoons of salt. Use your clean hands to mix and mash everything together. Run through the grinder again. More judgment is called for here - the masa should be thick and should easily hold it's shape when squeezed. It should not be dry or crumbly. It should be spreadable, like peanut butter. It will feel slightly gritty but not chunky. If you have a very fine disk or a different kind of grinder, you may be able to skip the second grinding.

While the corn is boiling, or whenever it makes sense, make the filling (2) thusly:

put 5-7 pounds pork roast (shoulder, butt, whatever you have that isn't too fatty or boney) into a large pot. Cover with water. Add an onion, roughly chopped, a pinch of cumin, and a few cloves of garlic. Boil at a fast simmer until very tender, about two and a half to three hours. Remove meat from broth. Broth will be used in making the masa. Meat, when cooled, should be shredded more or less finely. Set aside.

Make salsas. We made green and red salsa. Green salsa is made by:
simmering together 1 kilo husked, rinsed tomatillos, 5-10 whole serrano chiles, 2 cloves garlic, and a pinch salt. When tomatillos are quite soft, strain and put everything into a blender. Blend until smooth. Remove to refrigerator until ready to use.

Red salsa: Heat a few quarts water in a large pot. When hot, add 25-40 guajillo chiles and a small handful chiles de arbol (these are dried red chiles, available in most groceries and in Mexican stores. If you don't want it too spicy, omit the chile de arbol). Add two cloves garlic and a pinch salt. Keep hot but not boiling until chiles are soft - about one hour. Remove chiles to blender and blend on high until as smooth as possible. Pour result into a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and use a spoon to force as much paste as possible through the sieve.

Bring red sauce to a simmer and heat until somewhat reduced. It should coat a spoon. Meanwhile, put a few packages of dried corn husks to soften in warm water. When soft, and when all the components are ready (masa, salsas, and meat), bring everything to the table and call all your friends to help out forming the tamales.

The process (3):

You should have laid out in front of you a big crock of masa, a bowl of each kind of salsa, and a plate of shredded pork. You really ought to have, at a minimum, two people. The first person takes one of the corn husks and turns it smooth side up (it will curl upwards like a boat). Use a spoon to put a blob of masa on the husk - the size of the blob depends on the size of the husk. Use the edge of the spoon to spread the masa out in a thin layer, leaving a space at the thin end.

Now put a blob of salsa on the husk, and a little bit of shredded meat. Fold the husk in thirds - each side over the middle and the tip folded up. Place the folded tamal in a kettle fitted with a steamer basket. Put it in standing up with the folded side down and facing out toward the edge of the kettle (this is so that as you go along you don't accidentally start putting tamales inside of each other and opening up the husks.). When all the tamales are in the basket, remove the basket and put three or four quarts of water in the kettle. Bring to a boil. Then replace the steamer basket and cover tightly. Steam tamales for about two hours.

After a couple of hours, open up a tamale and check it (well, okay, a couple of times during the steaming you should make sure you aren't running out of water and add a little if needed.). The masa should be firm and kind of "sproingy" to the touch. It should not stick to your fingers.
Call everyone to the table and open a whole bunch of cold beers. Eat until you feel just the tiniest bit sick and wholly satisfied. Turn on a movie and relax on the couch with another beer.

My notes

The table after assembling the tamales. I put down a sheet to protect everything from salsa and hot lard. Good plan.

Thanksgiving Tamales

My mother-in-law and I have been spending the last several hours making tamales from SCRATCH. Meaning, making nixtamal from dried Mexican corn and cal (lime, I think?) and then making the masa by running the slaked corn three times through my meat grinder (it still isn't smooth enough for her, but it's the best we can do) and mixing the ground corn with lard from my own pig.

The filling is more pork from my pig, boiled and shredded (the broth goes into the masa) and then mixed with two separate salsas - red and green. I mean, some of it is mixed with red salsa and some of it with green. Right now we are taking a small break while we let the corn husks soak, and then we will all sit around the table filling and folding and tying tamales. Then they have to steam for about two hours.

Then we can eat.

This process actually started last night (or last year, if you count raising the pig) when we put the corn to soak in the lime-water. I've wanted to learn how to make masa for years and years, and now I finally am learning. And learning what a hell of a lot of work it is. I really feel for those poor Mexican ladies in the days of yore who spent their lives bent over a metate (stone grinder).

I am taking careful notes and lots of pictures and I promise to put up a real recipe in a day or two. Meanwhile, I am giving thanks for having my family here and for everything I am learning from them in addition to making masa (like how to thread my sewing machine).

We are also enjoying the beautiful snowfall. My nieces have never seen snow and they have been having a wonderful time playing and making snowmen. Hope your holiday is as happy as ours!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Can't Let This Rest

For anyone who lives in Skagit or Whatcom counties: Please do not hire Joostens roofing. Not only did they do a shoddy unprofessional job, but when my husband asked them to come back out and inspect the damage, they told him "take me to court" and hung up on us.

Given that response, I wrote a letter to the better business bureau, and I forwarded a copy to Joostens roofing. Their response to that was to call my husband on his cell phone, start yelling racial slurs at him, tell him to "go back to Mexico" and threaten to "sic immigration" on him.

Yeah, I know! We were both just totally aghast. I have never personally witnessed such vicious, blatant racism. Oh, I know that much worse happens every day, to all kinds of people - I just hadn't actually heard anyone SAY such things out loud. When I myself spoke to Mr. Joosten, he started talking about how I must be a liberal and he was a conservative and that was "the difference." I reminded him that racial discrimination is illegal for conservatives as well.

I was so angry at that point that I couldn't keep speaking to him. I wrote this letter instead:

Mr. Joosten
> this letter is inform you that we have filed a complaint with the
> Whatcom Sheriff regarding the threats you made to my husband on the
> phone yesterday. You are on record. Frankly we are both shocked by
> your bigoted, offensive, and bullying behavior. The idea that you
> would "sic immigration" on a client whom you believe to be
> vulnerable and without recourse rather than address that person's
> complaints speaks volumes both to your business integrity and to
> your personal character. I invite you to reflect on your actions.
> I still willing to talk with you about how we can come to an
> agreement regarding the damage done by your poor work. Please feel
> free to call me directly at 206-xxx-xxxx (I doubt my husband is
> interested in speaking with you). However, don't call if you want to
> shout at me or insult me or otherwise harass me: only to calmly
> discuss resolving the professional issue.
> If you do not choose to resolve this privately in a very short time
> frame, we will relunctantly be forced to contact our attorney. Be
> aware that if we do so, your racially charged language will become
> part of a racial discrimination suit. If that is the case, we will
> also be contacting all relevant offices that regulate fair business
> practices in Washington, such as the department of licensing and the
> Attorney General's office.
> Sincerely,
> E.D.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gettin' Crafty Wit It (Or Something Like That)

Some four years ago, I came across this sewing machine at a garage sale. Actually, it was the garage sale that the previous owners of the house my sister bought held when they moved out. As you can see by the tape across the top, it was a steal - $15. I had no idea how to sew, but I plugged it in and stepped on the pedal and the needle went up and down and I knew that was good. The lady of the house told me it was in perfect working order and she had the original owner's manual. I have always wanted to learn to sew, at least a little bit. I have no ambitions of becoming a costume designer or anything like that, but it would be nice to be able to knock out a few pillowcases or some curtains for the kitchen now and then. I bought the machine and took it to my new house and set it on the counter in the laundry room and there it remained for the next 48 months.

I may have mentioned (ahem) that Homero brought his mother, sister, and nieces home with him from Mexico last week. Temy, my sister-in-law and comadre, is an accomplished seamstress - at least by my standards. She once worked in a shirt factory in Philadelphia (actually from her stories about it it sounds like a sweatshop), and to this day she makes a lot of her own clothing and her children's clothing. She can turn out a dress you'd send your child to school in in less than two hours. It occurred to me that she might show me how to use my machine.

Of course she was delighted to. As I have said before, my Mexican relatives are the very best kind of relatives to have - I think the way I put it before was that they would "gnaw their own arms off and sell them on the black market just to be able to buy a chicken to cook for you when you show up unannounced at their house." Makes me feel like kind of a shitty hostess by way of comparison, but that's a post for another day.

Turns out, Temy is a very good teacher. I finally learned how to thread my machine, wind the bobbin, sew a straight seam, and untangle a snarl. Within just a few days, I have made several things - close relatives don't look unless you want to see your Christmas presents. That's called "fair warning."

On the left we have lavender-scented eye-pillows. In the middle a slightly misshapen neck-pillow. And on the right, several unfinished Christmas ornaments. I still have to sew on the ribbons to hang them by and attach jingle-bells. I was pretty proud of myself, having finally made some strides towards a long-held goal. Then Rowan asked Temy to show her how to sew. They sat down together for forty-five minutes. The next day Rowan had made herself an entire DRESS - I mean a real, wearable-outside-the-house DRESS. Cute as all get out, in fact. I am trying like hell not to be a total ass, but seriously, I have to admit, I'm pretty jealous. Could she have given me 48 hours to be the one who knew how to sew before she upstaged me?

Well. The benefits of having sewing as a new hobby go far beyond eye-pillows. Homero likes to spend an hour or two in the evenings on the computer, and it will be very nice to be doing something in the same room. Something that allows for conversation from both sides.

"What are you reading?"

"What are you making?"

It's a great winter hobby, I think. In the past, I have not often had the mental stamina to get really good at something complex like sewing or, say, playing the piano. Maybe "getting good" is not the right kind of goal ton have, anyway. Maybe the goal is, pass the time with my husband and do something creative and fun and a little challenging. I'm enjoying it so far.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Busier Than a One Legged Man in an Ass Kicking Contest

.... as my mom used to say. Alternatively, busier than a one-armed paperhanger. Yes, it is odd that her analogies all included amputees. No, I don't know why.

Anyway...things have gotten crazy around here. Real crazy, real fast. I have four unexpected houseguests (my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and her two children) through christmas. I have my floors being replaced. I have contractors of all descriptions crawling all over the house. Every time they look at anything they discover new levels of horror and destruction.

Frankly, I just don't have the strength at the moment, but now I am looking at replacing all the rafters on the north side of the house because the roofers who gave us a new roof four years ago didn't tell about serious rot problems and just covered it all up with new sheeting. The gutter-guys found it all when they started their job.

Now my husband is home, which is good in some ways, because he needs to be in decisions of this magnitude. He would never ever believe me if I were just telling him about it all: but of course he believes the contractors. Let's hope he believes them when they tell him how much damage he did with his stupid foam. It's bad in other ways because he wants to stop all the work until he gets things straightened out with the roofers.

He thinks (and to e fair, the gutter guys also think) that the roofing company should be paying for the rafter repair. But I doubt they will volunteer to; we may even need to go to court I'd really rather not, chalk it up to bad luck, and badmouth them all over town. But Homero insists on at least trying. So now the job is stretching out for weeks.

Wish me luck, y'all, and think long and hard before you buy that cute old farmhouse.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


My husband called from the road yesterday. He will be home late tonight, or possibly tomorrow early. He has a surprise for me! My mother-in-law and my sister-in-law, along with her two children, are all coming with him and staying through Christmas.

Whatever else you can say about Homero, being married to him is sure not boring!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Taking a Break from Home Improvement (Farmer's Market)

Unable to do anything more immediately on the house, and really really tired of thinking and writing about it, the kids and I took a personal day yesterday. We went to the YMCA and went swimming. We perused downtown thrift shops for christmas tins and craft supplies (yup, just about that time of year!). And we went to the Bellingham Saturday Farmer's Market, which goes on through December.

Probably due to the mild temperatures we've been enjoying, there is still plenty of produce. Summer goods like the tomatoes above are gone, of course, but there are still all kinds of lovely greens, carrots and root vegetables, garlic, hard squash in all it's crazy variety, apples and nuts, and of course, mushrooms.

Again due to the long mild fall with a steady supply of rain, it's been a great year for mushrooms. There were chanterelles and lobster mushrooms everywhere. In the case of mushrooms and other foraged goods, it really pays to look around. Inside the market proper at the booths chanterelles were going for $10 or $12 a pound. On the sidewalk outside I got them for $6. A couple of years ago I remember I was able to trade for chanterelles - bacon and eggs, if I recall. This year I just forked over some cash. Oh well, there's always next year.

I decided to make mushroom gravy and serve it over baked potatoes for dinner. Mushroom gravy is great even if you don't have wild mushrooms to work with - and any excess can be stored in the fridge and used as the base for mushroom soup.

Mushroom Gravy

1 pound fresh wild mushrooms - or whatcha got - chopped
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup flour
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
little bit rosemary
white wine
salt and pepper

melt butter and add mushrooms and vegetables over medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon occasionally. Mushrooms will throw off a lot of liquid which must be evaporated before you can add the flour, but you don't want to burn the butter. So keep the heat moderate and just wait. When pan is fairly dry, sprinkle flour over in small amount, stirring until incorporated. This will make a weird, unappetizing paste. Don't worry. Keep stirring and when pan begins to look quite dry, add the wine (about a cup). Stir well. At this point you need to stir pretty much constantly. Any time the mixture starts to look dry, add milk by the half-cup. All in all I imagine you will add something less than a quart of milk. Let simmer slowly over medium low heat for a few minutes. Salt and pepper to taste (I like a lot of pepper). Pour over toast or baked potatoes or noodles and shower with minced parsley.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mold Monster Update

Yesterday I found a carpenter who was willing to come out first thing this morning. Rowan and I spent an hour cleaning out the closet in preparation, and we found that the mold situation was worse than originally thought. I guess that's often the case with mold. It.... grows. Here is a picture of the closet after we got everything out of it. I couldn't even get all the mold into one shot... it continues up onto the ceiling and off to the right. This is, keep in mind, a very large walk-in closet, about six by twelve feet or so. I know, it's hideous. I am deeply, deeply ashamed.

The carpenter, when he arrived, said "you need to get this out of here now!"

I said, "you think?"

Luckily, he was able to begin right away. He said we couldn't know what the true situation was until we pulled out the rotten drywall and took a look at the wood underneath. Then, hopefully, we would be able to see where the water was coming from and how extensive the damage was. The good news (there is some good news!) is that the wood underneath is not rotted. It is still intact. That means this hasn't been going on that long.

But that's also the bad news: the water is coming in because the gutters are non-functional and water is backing up behind them and just sitting there. The gutters are non-functional because Homero "fixed" them.

Okay, it's another long story, and I just don't have the energy right now. It's not really Homero's fault, of course, it's the fault of the stupid cheap ass previous owners who did everything the weaselly cop-out way. None of this is going to make sense without blueprints or a far more in-depth explanation than I am up to, but basically what happened is that Homero tried to correct a problem created by the previous owners and accidentally made it worse instead.

The long and the short of it is we need new gutters. Right now, what we have is actually worse than no gutters at all. So now I am faced with a dilemma. I have the motive, means, and opportunity to go ahead and get it all done before Homero gets home. But should I?

If I wait, I will have to try to convince him of all this all over again. He will insist on doing it all himself. But he DOESN'T KNOW HOW to do it right. Nor is he willing to spend the money to buy the right materials or hire help. I now have, alas, ample evidence that my dear, beloved husband is a really really crappy carpenter (He's a fantastic mechanic, by the way. One of the best. Really. He's a 100% ASE certified master mechanic. I guess it just doesn't translate). He used the wrong materials, he ran things the wrong way, he basically made everything worse in a way that could potentially result in lifelong lung disease for all of us.

If I go ahead and get it done in his absence, I am courting divorce. He really takes this sort of thing extremely personally. Doing it before he gets here is a vote of no-confidence. I realize that. But... really, do I have to get COPD in order to keep my husband happy? Is that one of the marriage vows?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When the Cat's Away (the Mice Will Get Some Work Done)

Okay, bear with me, y'all: there's a lot of back-story here.

I am running the home place all by myself for a week or two. Yesterday evening, Homero flew off to Oaxaca to pick up our car from his mother's house and drive it home - a journey of some 4,000 miles. Our car is in Oaxaca because last summer, he drove the car down, left it at his mother's house, and flew home. He felt that we needed a car of our own on our two week vacation, and that this would be a wise action to take. Renting a car was apparently not an option. Don't ask. Symmetry. This trip is the mirror image of that trip, and hopefully once it is over we will once again have our lovely TDI Jetta and will never again have to argue bitterly about cars and Mexico. Which is something we have done a lot.

Those of you who know us personally are already all too familiar with the ongoing saga of Mexico and cars, and those who aren't - believe me, you don't want to know. All you need to know is that my husband left me for an undetermined amount of time - not less than seven days - with absolutely no notice ("Amor, I bought the plane ticket. I gotta go in three hours." Not kidding.). Oh also, you should know that these twin trips have cost a collective total of three thousand dollars (not counting lost wages); money which I felt was wholly wasted for no good reason at all. To be fair, Homero felt the money was spent in a good cause. He just couldn't articulate that cause to me in a way that made any sense.

Another long-running theme in our marriage (which you need to know about in order to understand my soon-to-be-related actions) is the issue of my husband's handiness - or lack thereof. A good synopsis can be found here: A Handy Man is Good to Find...? It's also pretty funny ... in hindsight. As a matter of fact, Homero IS unusually handy. He has a wide spectrum of skills and over the years, those skills have saved us a great deal of money. Yes, I'm sure the amount of money his skills have saved us is greater than the three thousand dollars wasted on his weird obsession with driving cars to Mexico. That's not the point. The point is - Homero is handy enough that he feels that any and all home repairs should be done by himself and himself alone. There seems to be an element of machismo here - apparently the idea of another man working in his home is about as welcome as the idea of another man ... well, you get the idea.

I wouldn't mind Homero insisting on performing all of his own handy-work IF

1) he were a little more realistic about what he can and can't do; and
2) there were actually enough hours in the day or days in the year or years in his lifetime for him to do what needs doing.

As a matter of fact, strike rule number 1. I wouldn't mind his trying to do things he has never attempted before - in essence, experimenting on our home - if he would just attempt them in a timely manner. In reality, he is one busy hardworking son-of-a-gun and does not actually have time to do diddley-squat. He doesn't have time to snake the bathtub drain, which got plugged up when my daughter used the tub to wash alpaca fleece. He sure doesn't have time for the kind of projects that I have in mind.

Just for example - and so you don't think I'm being trivial - there is a large patch of ugly black mold growing in a back closet. I mean a big ole patch. This patch of mold is at least five by ten feet square and three dimensional. It looks like it's ready to raise a flag and go off in search of new lands to conquer. Lands like, oh, say, our children's bedroom. In short, this is not a problem which can be ignored. Yet, Homero has been successfully ignoring it for several months now. I showed him the mold. I told him that mold can be toxic. I said that I considered this to be one hell of a big deal problem. Three months went by. The mold grew fangs and began mumbling audibly. I think I may have heard my name.

Okay, so now he's out of town. All of six hours have gone by since he left. Ring, ring... Hello, contractor? Can you come out here and give me an estimate today? Why the rush? Well, let me see if I can explain.....

Then there's the carpet situation. Oh my God. I do not think I can adequately express to anyone who has not been in my house just exactly how disgusting the carpets are. Maybe if you also live on a farm in a part of the world that experiences 60+ inches of rainfall a year, AND if your husband is also a car mechanic, AND you have several large extremely hairy dogs AND an incontinent cat... no, even then, you just can't imagine. Sorry. My carpets are a biohazard. And also probably a large part of the reason I haven't made any good friends here yet. People come over once and then never again. I hope to God it's the carpets, because I don't want to think about what it could be if it's not. Ahem. Curtain of denial falling in three... two.... one...

So anyway. My feminine logic dictated that I have three thousand dollars owed to me to spend as I see fit. Regarding the car thing, my husband simply said to me "I know you don't understand or agree, but I'm going to do it anyway." I realized you can't die on every hill and said "do what you need to do, baby."

But here's what I need to do: solid oak hardwood. Yeah, that's what I said. Remove the "carpet of shame" and replace with gorgeous gleaming pre-finished oak planks. Floors which can be swept and mopped instead of vacuumed. Did I mention we have gone through three vacuum cleaners in the four years we have lived here? The vacuum has not been invented which can stand up to our lifestyle. Vacuums last about six months around here, and then they lay down and give up the ghost, Homero's small-motor repair skills notwithstanding.

I went out of town last weekend. I was gone for three days - a great girls-only birthday trip for my best friend. We had a wonderful time. I can't go into detail due to a non-disclosure clause we all signed at the weekend's start, but that's not relevant anyway. The salient fact here is that when I came home, I walked into my house and immediately broke out into an allergic rash. Within five minutes I was red, bumpy, sneezy, and itchy. That's like, four of the seven dwarves right there.

There are health related reasons for both the carpet-removal and the closet situation, and I will invoke them if necessary. Then there are the basic maintenance arguments - we have to try to maintain the resale value of the house. But to be perfectly honest, neither of those arguments are the flat-out truth. The truth is, I want hardwood floors. More than that, even, I want the basic authority to identify problems and implement solutions. I am a grownup, and I have my own money. I have certain desires, and those desires are both practical and ethical. I am not doing anything arbitrary, contrary to my family's well-being, or wasteful. On the contrary, I believe I am making a sound investment and a decision which is well within my rights to make.

So why do I have to wait until my husband is out of town to spend my own money to make home improvements which will benefit us all? Damn.

Any questions?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Holy Pork Chops, Batman! (the Backstory on Pigs)

My camera is eternally on the fritz, out of batteries, or both, so I can't take a picture of the lovely ham in the oven, alas. I will, however, give you a recipe, since the smell permeating my entire house is so luscious that I believe it would actually be a sin not to. Meanwhile, here is my favorite pork-related photo - I call it The Princess and the Pig.

The ham in the oven is not a part of the above pig. That pig was consumed last year. This year, I decided to buy pork instead of a piglet. We have raised three pigs in the past, and all of them have provided us with delicious meat. But pigs, as I believe I may have mentioned, can be seriously obnoxious (Everybody Hates Pigs, and Confessions of Laziness), and also seriously destructive to my limited amount of pasture. We will almost certainly raise another pig in the future, but I'm taking a year off.

The ham in the oven was part of a half hog that I bought from the same farmer from whom we have always acquired our piglets. That's an interesting story, and paging back in the archives, I can't see that I've ever related it, so here you go:

My addiction to Craigslist is long-standing: it was firmly in place before we had acquired any animals at all or done the preliminary work (fencing, barn-construction) to do so. I just liked to peruse the farm and garden section - it was part of my fantasy life. You know, the fantasy in which I am a competent farmer and head-of-household; the fantasy in which I provide for my family's every need out of my own hard work and knowledge. The fantasy in which I have laid out the plans for a fully self-sufficient homestead. You know - utterly bogus dreamland.

Anyway. I'm perusing craigslist and I see a "wanted" ad for a cattle chute. As it so happens, there is a big old metal construction out in the back field which I think is a cattle chute - meaning, if somebody put a gun to my head and said "name this piece of equipment" cattle chute is what I would guess. So I write to the person who placed the ad and I say "I think I have a cattle chute. Don't know for sure and have no idea if it is complete, but it's yours if you want it." They came up here from Sedro-Woolley (40 miles) and decided yes indeed, it was a cattle chute and they did want it.

"What do you want for it?" they asked.

"Oh nothing," I said. "I'm not going to use it."

They briefly conferred in whispers and then asked me "well what about a piglet? We raise pigs."

"Umm," I said, thinking there's nothing I want less than a piglet, "I'll have to talk to my husband. For now, why don't you just take it?"

That was a big mistake. My husband fondly remembered his family raising pigs in Mexico and the delicious, nostalgic taste of farmstead pork. He insisted that we did, indeed, want a pig. He was so sold on the idea of a pig that he actually built a pigpen and a pig-house, so how could I say no? A pig we got.

When that pig was transformed into meat (death of a pig) I learned a lesson about the superiority of pasture raised pork, and decided I would never again eat supermarket pork ( a lesson that was reinforced by subsequent reading on the subject of factory farming). Two other pigs followed. But this year, I just didn't want to cope with the fact of a pig: the squealing, the mud, the wallows in the pasture. When I saw (on Craigslist, of course) that the same farmer from whom I buy my piglets was selling a hog by halves, I jumped on it.

The price is about the same - it's marginally cheaper to raise your own pork, but really not by much. The quality is the same, and I have seen their operation and know that their pigs are happy and healthy with room to exercise and freedom to root and breed. Frankly, I'm delighted to have avoided the bother of raising an organic, free-range pig while still enjoying the pleasure of eating one.

Spicy Raspberry Ham

One half-ham (I used butt end)

2 canned chilpotle peppers, with adobe sauce (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup raspberry jam
2 tbspns honey
1 tbspn vinegar
1/2 tsp rosemary
3 cloves garlic
1 cup white wine

2 yellow onions, quartered
2 garnet yams, sliced into fat rounds

Place ham (thawed if frozen) into a large cast iron skillet.
Score deeply with a paring knife. Place next seven ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Pour over ham and use hands to work into cuts. Turn ham several times. Around ham, place onion and yams. Bake at 325 about 2 hours, or until well done, basting frequently. Serve with rice and braised greens.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

All Quiet on the Homefront (Stuff That Did and Didn't Get Done)

Milking season is over. No more race to keep up with the goat-ladies making cheese and yogurt every day.

Garden is put to bed. Planted garlic a few weeks ago, threw a few cartloads of compost on top of the beds, and called it a season. See you in April, garden!

Preserving season is over. We are beginning to eat the pickles, pears and chutneys that I put up in the summer. There is still kim chee in the fridge. I didn't get around to sauerkraut.

Hay for the winter is put up (I hope we won't need more than what we have). Fences are recently mended. Animals are wormed, feet are trimmed, and everybody's pregnant who should be pregnant, and no-one is who shouldn't be (touch wood).

Homero has made two big batches of biodiesel, so we won't have to fill up the bug for quite some time.

Don't get me wrong - we can't sit back. There's always more to do. There's stuff we need to do to get ready for winter. We didn't get the small pasture fenced for a winter sacrifice area, so everyone will be out in the big pasture like usual. The beehives are not yet insulated and wrapped. The propane tank is only a quarter full. I have to get more mittens and socks for the children. There's something wrong with the gutters on one part of the house and there's a patch of mold growing on the walls and ceiling of the storage closet that is underneath that area. We never did set up the rain-catchment system; it's still just a bunch of big plastic cubes on the porch. I meant to get our diesel generator wired into the house so that when the power goes out we will have emergency power. The cars all need new tires - the van's tires are as smooth as a baby's bottom.

Some of the stuff that didn't get done didn't get done for lack of time. A lot of it didn't get done for lack of money. Sometimes it was a lack of guts: I just didn't want to open the hives again. And sometimes I just forgot about things. Money is going to be short for some time, most likely, so big projects will not get done soon. That mold? I'm thinking bleach and a fan, for now, and don't store anything important in that closet.