Monday, February 20, 2012

Vegetable Oil by the Gallon

A few months ago I broke down and bought a deep fat fryer.

I had a good reason: oven baked donuts just don't cut it. I mean, if I'm going to go to all the trouble to make homemade yeast donuts, they really do need to be deep fried. In my old farmhouse, I used a heavy-duty pot for donut frying, but now that I'm in the Lilliputian cottage, complete with nice new kitchen, I thought I'd go highbrow and get an actual deep fryer. I justified the expenditure by reasoning that cleanliness is a virtue in a new kitchen. Especially my new kitchen.

Maybe I need to explain the kitchen concerns: When I bought the Lilliputian cottage three years ago, I moved in after kicking the squatters out...which happened to be a family of racoons. That should tell you something about the state of affairs I found upon moving in. But it's amazing what a willing group of friends and family can do with lots of cleaning equipment and paint. Well, that coupled with a large dose of carpentry work.

You see, I knew this house from years before, and I knew it had good bones. The family who had called this place home for so long took great care of the place. But times were hard, and the family had to leave, and the house stood empty for many months. There was a doggie door into the garage, and another doggie door into the kitchen, and the racoon family figured that out and set up housekeeping at the end of the hall in one of the linen closets. They lived here rent-free for at least six months, or so the neighbors say.

This derelict little place needed some TLC. My friends and family and I scrubbed and scrubbed, and painted and painted, and the carpenter was here every day for two months. At the end of all that work, everything was spic and span, except for the kitchen. My twin sister had tried her best to make it habitable, and she did an admirable job of it. She'd used vinegar and bleach and cleanser, and she'd worked for hours. But even after all that work, we just couldn't talk ourselves into putting my dishes and food into those cupboards. Racoons. Food. Couldn't do it.

So I pinched my pennies, checked my numbers twice (and then twice more), and decided that if I was really frugal, I could pay cash for a new kitchen. Suddenly that seemed like the very best idea in all the world. Yes! A new kitchen! I went to the local home improvement store and ordered one up:

One of my sons, who is an electrician, installed under-cabinet lighting all across, so when I'm working anywhere in the kitchen I have impeccable light. I love it! In case you're wondering, the writing above the top cupboards (you can see a portion at the top of the photo) says, "May the warm winds of heaven blow softly on this house." My sink was a splurge for me. It's an extra deep farmer's double sink with an extending faucet and instant hot water. I purchased good, solid appliances--workhorses without much pedigree. They have served me well so far; and the best part is that my stovetop has an extra large canning burner, plus a warming burner. Nice! And cheap! (Sort of...)

Okay, so back to the deep fat fryer. I found a great sale. Two models caught my eye. One was small, and the other large. Well, I reasoned, if small is good, large will be better. (Classic "Super-Size" thinking. I had a moment of madness, I'll admit it.) I trundled home with my new, large deep fat fryer and promptly set about frying things. It was so satisfying: tempura shrimp, vegetables of every kind, corn dogs, french fries (the trick with fries is to fry them twice: makes them nice and crisp outside, with soft interiors), onion rings, and the aforementioned donuts.

But here's the rub: I was woefully unprepared for just how much oil this monster takes. Before my first go-round, I had to run to the store for more oil. Then I had to run to the store yet again for still more oil. It takes a lot of oil.

But there's nothing so good as fried donuts on a cold winter morning. Plain, old-fashioned donuts, with chocolate frosting, cinnamon sugar, or powdered sugar. Nothing fancy, mind you. But eaten warm and fresh? Now that's donut heaven.

And one thing I've learned: I now buy cooking oil "super sized." That way I don't run out quite as often.


6 cups all-purpose flour (possibly a bit more)
1 cup lukewarm water
4 1/2 tsp. yeast (2 packages)
1 tblsp. sugar
1 cup scalded milk
2 tsp. salt
3 tblsp. sugar
1/2 cup shortening, slightly humped
3 eggs, beaten

Sift the flour and set aside. In a smaller bowl, pour the water over the yeast, adding the tblsp. of sugar; stir the mixture and let stand. Meanwhile, pour the scalded milk into a large bowl and add the salt, 3 tblsp. sugar, and the shortening. When it cools to lukewarm, add the water/yeast mixture and 3 cups of the flour. Beat the mixture until it is smooth, then add the eggs and the remainder of the flour, a bit at a time. Continue to beat or knead until the dough is well worked. Cover bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place until it is double in size. Roll out and cut out the donuts. Place them on baking sheets that have a bit of oil or flour, or else use waxed paper so they don't stick when you go to (carefully!) taken them off to fry. Let the donuts rise again. Fry the donuts in hot grease. Frost or sugar as desired.
Eat and enjoy!

May God richly bless you and yours!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Aprons, Treadles, and Memories

I love sewing with my treadle sewing machine! I've had it for many years, but it's way older than that. This machine and cabinet were manufactured more than a hundred years ago. I take good care of it, regularly putting oil in all the little holes, making sure my needle is straight, changing the belt occasionally, and wiping all of the wood surfaces with wood conditioner. It's in great shape and has many more years of use in it.

My antique White treadle sewing machine

There's something incredibly restful about this machine. The up and down, up and down, of my feet on the treadle, and the quiet sewing that takes place, sans the whir of electricity, is always soothing. There are no fancy stitches with this machine. I can straight stitch--and that's it. And if I want to reverse to anchor my stitches? Well, I lift the presser foot, turn my fabric 180 degrees, and then sew the other way. Because there is no reverse on this thing.

Often when I'm sewing, I use one of my kerosene lanterns for light instead of flipping on an electric light switch. On a cloudy day or in the evening, it might be a bit harder to see, but the perfect fit of the treadle machine and the old-fashioned light make for a pleasurable time. Something else I do when I'm sewing with my treadle is wear one of my homemade aprons.

All of my aprons (and I have an entire "wardrobe" of them) are made using a one-yard pattern that I've used for the past thirty years. And they have all been sewn either on this treadle machine or by hand. They are old-fashioned aprons, and I make them the old-fashioned way. I have "good" aprons and work aprons, and I love them all. Two of my oldest aprons are used only for canning and harvesting veggies from my garden--they are a perfect "basket" for carrying my harvest into the kitchen. These old aprons are permanently stained, and I love them dearly! I wear my good aprons for everything else, and I choose which one to wear based on my mood.

When I wear my aprons, I also wear memories: My three newest ones, in lovely, summery calicos, remind me of a summer lost when I had major surgeries that included months long recuperations. My twin sister set me up with those. She cut out fabric, gave me needle and thread, and encouraged me to start handsewing them. In the end, both the aprons and I emerged in one piece, ready to take on the work of life.

My oldest apron is faded and stained...but I still have it because it reminds me of when my sons were a lot younger and we were all under one roof. It used to be my favorite apron, so it saw a lot of hard use. This old apron helped me cook and bake countless meals, chase chickens out of the garden, gather eggs, bring in a load of firewood to feed our woodstove in winter or lettuce and tomatoes to feed my family in summer, and wipe off dirty hands and faces. How could I throw away such a treasure?

My old treadle sewing machine is full of memories too. I've clothed my family, made gifts, and prayed for my sons' futures all while using it. I sometimes like to sit and sew and wonder about who used my old sewing machine before I did. Was she a mother? A farm wife? Was she content with her circumstances? Did she sit by lantern light and dream dreams for her family too? I hope so!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Handy Woman...Sort Of...

For the last two weeks I've been having trouble with the water in my bathtub draining too slowly whenever I take a shower. Even though I hurry, I'm always standing in inch-deep soapy water by shower's end. Every morning I'd frown and think, I really need to do something about this problem. But all I could think to use was one of those store-bought caustic drain cleaning mixtures, and I didn't want to do that for several reasons: I can't imagine that stuff is good in the sewer system, something so corrosive can't be good for the aging pipes in my Lilliputian cottage, and I didn't have any because I don't buy things like that...

(Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I'm not particularly handy. My sons have bailed me out countless times over the years, and Mother's Day and birthday gifts often consist of the family coming over to my place for a work day. It's a nicely workable solution to my ever-present list of "Stuff That Needs Fixing Around Here." God really knew what He was doing (doesn't He always?) when he blessed me with three very handy sons.)

But yesterday, I really, really wanted a nice, long, hot shower. I've been away for several days babysitting one of my grandkids...the sweetest, smartest one-year-old there is, mind you, but also very quick to take advantage of a situation where Grandma is otherwise occupied. So my shower times were rushed. I'd jump in and furiously wash up, hoping to be out and dressed before the little guy had managed to take every single pot and pan out of the lower kitchen cupboard. I was fast, but he was faster. If we were keeping score, the board would look like this:

Grandson - 2
Grandma - 0

So I really, really needed a nice, long, hot shower. But the draining issue was standing in the way of a good soak. Hmm, I thought. Surely there's something I can do. Well there was. And it worked!

I rummaged around in the kitchen and yarded out some white vinegar and baking soda. I shook about 1/2 cup baking soda into the drain, and then glugged some vinegar over top. The resulting eruption looked promising. I let things set for about 15 minutes and then turned the water on full blast. The clog was better, but it wasn't perfect. So, I tried a variation on this theme, and this time it worked perfectly!

I made a hook out of an old wire clothes hanger and tried to get as much gunk as possible out of the drain. Surprisingly little came out, which disappointed me because I felt I wasn't making progress. Next, I turned the water on long enough for things to back up, and then I used a plunger. I plunged and plunged until all the water had been forced down the drain. After that, I put in another dose of the baking soda and vinegar and let things set for 20 minutes. I turned the water on full blast and hot, and watched as the water slipped effortlessly down the drain (after a satisfying whooshing sound, like the remainder of the clog was going down the drain).

I enjoyed my nice, long, hot shower. When I was dressed again, I promptly texted my sons and told them of my victory. They sounded properly impressed, but I'm not so sure. Each of them ended their message to me with a smiley face...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pacific Northwest Dreaming

It's a beautiful, sunny Saturday here in the Pacific Northwest--such a rare treat this time of year! It's early February--way too soon to do much in my garden--but that doesn't stop me from dreaming. And dreaming at this time of year is absolutely the best, because I am not hampered by the vagaries of reality. No water issues, pests, crop failures, or disease in sight.

In my dreams today, my summer garden is stupendous! My flowers are the envy of all passersby, and my vegetables are producing so heavily that I'm hard pressed to keep up with the bountiful harvest. In this dream garden, I've tried some new-to-me varieties, and every single plant is a winner. I can't fail!

Even though we're locked in the throes of winter, I'm already gearing up for warmer days. I'm collecting, cleaning, and organizing my seed-starting tools. I have saved seeds, but I'll still get to the stores in the next several weeks to poke around and see what I can't live without. I can already tell I have a hankering for heirloom tomatoes. I think the juicy richness of the old tomato varieties put them in a different class entirely from the hybrid choices available. So, I'll try to find something I have never grown yet.

It doesn't take many tomato plants to get big results. I'm a mad tomato sauce canner in season, and I don't feel I've done my duty with anything less than 50 quarts in my pantry...but I try to can way more than that to last us all winter. When my kids were still at home I'd plant as many as 20 tomato plants, and I'd beg, borrow, and buy more tomatoes by the bushel to supplement what I picked so that by the time winter came around, I'd usually have 200 or so jars of sauce. Now I'm content with maybe a half-dozen plants, and the aforementioned 50 quarts.

When the tomatos are ripe, a pretty and tasty presentation is to slice different varieties of tomatoes and arrange them artistically on a large platter. I try to have different colors--green striped, pink, purple, orange, etc.--so just looking at the plate is fun. I drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and vinegar (try balsamic, malt, or rice wine vinegar), dust them with fresh chopped parsley or basil (whatever I have) and salt and pepper, and they're ready to eat. Not much is better than that!

Another easy way to use tomatoes is to cut the stem end off and dig a shallow hole in that end. Next, I salt and pepper them a bit and then set them into a baking dish that has sides at least 2 inches high. I sprinkle on pine nuts into the shallow holes, add some fresh chopped parsley, and bake them at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or so. How long they bake is really a function of how big the tomatoes are. The goal is to have them hot clear through and somewhat softened but not mushy. These are really good and they look elegant on the plate.

I'm getting hungry just thinking about this!