Monday, December 13, 2010

Not-So-Random Acts of Kindness

The past few days have really helped me believe in the goodness of humanity.  We had about a foot and a half of snow on Saturday-- much more at one time than we are accustomed to.  It was declared a snow emergency, everything was canceled, and some roads are still not cleared of snow.  The parking lot at my apartment is one of those places.  On Saturday, I stayed inside all day until about 7pm, when I decided to go out and see how badly my car was buried, and try to dig it out so I wouldn't have to Sunday morning before church.  I found a shovel near the entrance to my building, so I borrowed it.  I had been working for fifteen minutes or so, getting totally absorbed in the work, insulated by my hat, scarf, and hood, when suddenly a voice behind me says, "Digging out?"

I think I jumped and perhaps yelped in surprise.  It was the guy who (I think) lives above me and works maintenance on the building.  He offered to help me finish moving the GIANT drift of snow, and as he is taller and stronger than me, was finished much quicker than I would have been.  It was very kind of him, especially considering that he said he had been shoveling snow all day.

Sunday morning, having already dug out (or so I thought), I went to get the car out.  But I realized that digging out my own car was not enough; there was a single set of tire ruts to drive in, but getting into them was another matter.  To back out of my parking space enough to clear the huge piles of snow on either side, and then turn around enough to get going the right way, required more space than was there.  Even with four-wheel drive, I got stuck in the snowbank.  So I went to find the shovel and dig out again.  Who should be using it but the same guy from last night, having the same problem with his car that I was having?  He was trying to get out to buy some gas for the snowblower, so he wouldn't have to shovel all day again.  So I helped him dig out and pushed the car while he gunned the engine, and he finally got going.  Then he helped me dig out and get going the right way.

Later on Sunday, I went church again for the rehearsal for the evening service.  When I got there, I realized that I couldn't get into the parking lot my usual way, because the city snow plows had shed snow about two feet deep blocking the entrance.  So after I found the other entrance clear, I parked, got a shovel from the narthex, and started clearing the snow.  There was a lot of it, and it was taking a while.  I was taking a short breather, when I realized that there was a car behind me, coming out of the parking lot.  I turned, and it was an older couple in a big SUV-- with a plow on the front.  The man got out and said, "Can we help you with that?"  I said, "Yes, please!"  They proceeded to clear the entrance, saving me at least half an hour of hard work.  As they were leaving, I asked if they were members of the church.  They said no.  I asked for their name, so we (the church) could properly thank them, and they wouldn't give it!  Just said they were "two angels, passing by".  So sweet.

Then today, before work, I stopped by the apartment office because my heat hasn't been working.  They said they'd take a look at it while I was at work.  Then I went to Target to buy my own shovel-- figured it might come in handy.  Then after work, around 6pm, it did!  I was about to head out to do some errands, and I saw an older man trying to drive out of a snowy parking space he had backed into.  His tires were spinning and he was not moving.  I offered to dig him out with my (brand new) shovel.  Tried that a while, still wasn't moving.  Then I tried pushing.  Still nothing.  Then we switched; he pushed, and I drove.  Finally, I put his car in first gear and we were able to rock it out of the snow.  Hooray!

THEN, when I was home again after my errands, I found the notice on my door saying they had been in to look at the heater.  Turns out there's something wrong, but they're not sure exactly what it is, so in the meantime, they gave me a space heater.  As if that wasn't enough, a little while later the friendly maintenance man stopped by and made sure I was okay, and explained what the problems might be and how/when they might get fixed.  Again, very kind and thoughtful of him.

All of this to say, Minnesota is a great place to live if you want friendly neighbors and the opportunity to "pay it forward".  It's hard to say whether this is Christmas Cheer, or Holiday Spirit, or just the natural human urge to band together against the elements, but it's a pretty amazing feeling-- that you're a part of a network of people who don't even know each other, but support each other all the same.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Eater's Worst Nightmare

Well, maybe not worst.  But pretty bad, all the same, especially if it's cold and snowy and you have little food left in the house.

I was eating leftover chicken and potatoes.  Had reheated in the micro, was about to sit down with a nice glass of Pinot Grigio.  Needed to season the plate with a little salt and pepper, both of which, in my house, come in grinders.  Can you see where this is going?

The pepper went on just fine-- a light dusting of black specks.  The salt, however, was another matter.  The whole grinder-lid fell off, along with about a quarter of the jar of sea salt.  Sad, sad day.

Fortunately, because it was unground sea salt, I was able to scrape or pick off most of it.  Still, it was a very sorry, salty, disappointing dinner.  I thought about just ditching it and going to Applebee's or something, but my paycheck hasn't gone through yet so my bank account is dangerously low, plus there's about a foot of snow still covering my parking lot that I don't feel like walking or driving through.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Things that WILL get done today!

Posting this list in an attempt to self-motivate.

1. Dishes!
2. Laundry!
3. Vacuuming!
4. Making bread!
5. NOT going out in the four gazillion feet of snow!

That is all.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cranberry stuffing

OMG a real food post.

I looked at several recipes for stuffing, then just made my own based on the methods I found there.

toasted bread cubes
chicken broth
spices: sage, thyme, marjoram, salt, pepper

I started with about half a loaf of store-bought bread, cut into cubes and toasted on cookie sheets.  Then I softened the cranberries in simmering water on the stove.

One of the recipes I looked at said to drain the berries, and I did so, but I kept the water.  It's bright red and really yummy.  I might mix it with other juices, or make some kind of fruity spiced cider sometime.  Right now it's in mason jars in my fridge, looking very festive indeed.

Mix the reduced cranberries with the bread cubes.

My mixture was a little too large for the Pyrex dish, so I expanded into the pie plate.  [Sorry for the poor quality photos.]
Next, I sauteed a medium onion, two celery stalks, and two cloves of garlic in about a tablespoon of butter, just until softened.  I probably should have started with just onions and garlic, and let them fully brown.

Then I added the chicken broth (of which I only had about two cups; more would have been better) and the spices to taste.  I poured this mixture over the bread cubes and mixed together.  This did not yield the desired consistency; it was too dry, so i added some water.  Then the pans went into the 350 degree oven for, oh, I dunno, maybe half an hour.

When they came out, they were the right consistency, but didn't have much flavor.  I think they need some kind of meat (chicken, sausage, turkey) and more fat in order to get that awesome stuffing flavor.  Using more broth instead of water would also have helped.  Were I making this with a roasted bird, I'd use the drippings to boost the flavor.  As it is, I will certainly eat it, but probably only with a more flavorful main dish.

A New Venture

I have become a direct sales consultant for a major producer of cosmetics and skin care products.  To avoid any potential issues with copyright, I will refrain from mentioning its name here, but it is an anagram for yak army, if that helps at all.  [Note: if you try to guess (and really, it's not that hard) in the comments, I will neither confirm nor deny your hypotheses.]

This is a very strange move for me, I know.  I rarely wear makeup, and I just started using Yak Army products two months ago, tops.  But I really like them, and my friend and recruiter A convinced me that the product itself is not the most important thing in this business: making my dreams happen is.

A asked me what I would change about my current situation, if I could.  It was incredibly easy to answer that question: I would be living in my own house, on a small farm, raising chickens, having a large garden, and living with a dog.  Easy.  But lately I've felt stagnated in moving towards that dream; my day job, while fun and rewarding, doesn't pay enough to meet all my expenses, let alone save up for a house.  And with more debt and student loans on the way, it sometimes seems like I'll never get there.

Enter Yak Army.  Being a consultant means that I run my own business.  Through this venture, I will learn how to manage expenses, tax write-offs, etc., as well as hopefully bring in a few extra dollars.  If nothing else, I'll at least get the products that I love at half price.

But this whole experience has helped me put my financial goals into perspective.  First, pay off my credit card bills.  Second, pay off student loans.  Third, buy a house.  I realize there are probably some steps missing, but that's okay.  For now, it feels good to have priorities in order, and to know that the ultimate goal is actually on the list.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Day

When I left for church this morning at 7:50, my parking lot was a giant sheet of ice.  I felt about ninety years old trying to walk across it with three-inch steps.  Scraping it off my car was an adventure; it's hard to get any leverage when your feet keep slipping out from under you.

Finally made it to church, sang with the choir twice, bought some children's books at the Scholastic book fair, went home.  Had leftover pizza for lunch, doodled around on the computer for awhile, called my mom and got to talk to my grandpa, found out I didn't have to work at the evening service, took a nap.

After the evening service was over, LR came over to help make dinner for LH and SB.  We cooked chicken in a pan on the stove, made pasta, mixed frozen veggies, and sauce.  The sauce was the only thing that involved any creativity; it was chopped onions and peppers sauteed, then with canned tomatoes, cream of chicken soup, parsley, and oregano added and heated through.  Came out pretty good.  LH and SB joined us, we ate, then had some leftover crockpot cake.  Then the four of us played Cranium, which I own but never had the chance to play before.  LH and I won.  Then we played Disney Apples to Apples.  I have to say I prefer regular A2A, because of the more varied nouns and more interesting adjectives.  We finished up the night by playing "Do you want to buy an Apple?", which is "Do you want to buy a duck?" using Apples to Apples cards.

Then my guests had to leave because we all have to work early tomorrow.  I'm going in at 7:30 (UGH!) and staying until 5:30 (UGH!).  Long day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dear Readers,

all eight of you.  I'm so sorry I have not posted in the last month and a half.  I got a job (finally!) and am enjoying living my life, instead of writing about it.  My new year's resolution for 2011 will be to post more regularly, about my job teaching preschool and my classes in library science.  I will continue to do book reviews and food posts when I can.  I'm not reading or cooking as much as I was over the summer, but I'll do my best.

Help me out.  What kind of posts interest you the most?  What would you like to see more of?  Which ones are boring to you?  Let me know, and I'll try to tailor my posts to your interests.

In the meantime, here's the essay I wrote for my "Personal Statement" when applying to St. Catherine's Library and Information Science program.  It was quite good, if I do say so myself.  I wrote it in four hours the morning it was due.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Political Musings

A friend on Facebook linked an article on Eagle Forum about NEA campaign spending.  Although I have been a member of NEA, as it is required for student teachers in order to have liability insurance, I understand and agree that the organization's influence is extending too far beyond matters of education.  The NEA is often a bully and a monopoly; it seems to be more interested in supporting the status quo than making any progress.

However, after reading about Eagle Forum's mission, I became angry and sad.  Certainly, there are issues on which I agree with the Forum.  But there are other points in which I see intolerance, hatred, and most of all, irrational fear behind the Forum's goals.

I am usually not a very political person.  I don't pay much attention to politicians, and I don't identify strongly with one party over another.  But this website made me so upset, I had to say something.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Chicken Stroganoff

Last night I had some friends over for dinner.  Since I started my new job this week, I got home maybe ten minutes before they came over.  Fortunately, I had planned for this, and made Chicken Stroganoff in the Crock Pot.  Very easy recipe-- only two steps!

Step 1: put cubed chicken in the CP with butter and a packet of Italian dressing mix.  (The recipe called for margarine, but I don't buy that so I used butter.)

Do not add any additional liquid; this way, the chicken comes out browned and lovely 5-6 hours on low later, which is when you're supposed to do step 2.  I got home more like 6.5-7 hours later, but it didn't seem to matter.

Step 2: add one can cream of chicken soup (I used the Healthy Request low-sodium/low-fat version) and 8 oz. cream cheese.

Leave on low for another 1/2 hour or so (until cheese is melted and everything is combined).  Serve over rice or pasta-- I used tri-color rotini.

There are no more pictures, because we ate it too fast.  This made the perfect amount for four hungry people-- no leftovers!

Verdict: good, but could be better.
Known issues:
1. All the cream cheese and CoCh soup made it VERY rich and thick-- too thick for my taste.  Solution: use sour cream (the traditional thickener in Stroganoff) instead of cream cheese and maybe a little milk or white wine to thin it out.
2. Rather salty, probably due to the Italian dressing packet.  Solution: use 1/2 packet, or preferably, mix up your own seasonings.

All in all, however, a very fun evening with minimal stress about food preparation.  What more can a working girl ask?

PS-- we also watched the movie Waitress.  Very funny and a little sad, all at the same time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

New Skills

Thanks to some great friends and quite a lot of time spent working it out, I can now sing the Alphabet Song backwards.  I can also play it on harmonica.

Ah, the things you can do with a music degree.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Powdered-Milk Cheese

I just made cheese out of powdered milk, water, and lemon juice!  Recipe here, photos and more after I try it again with a larger volume of milk.

3 cups of milk powder and 1/5 cups of cold, filtered water mixed together (no heat yet).

On medium low heat (about a 3.5 on my electric stove), bring to about 140 degrees.  I didn't measure with a thermometer, I just stuck my finger in.  When it's the temperature of a hot bath, you're good.  Add 1/4 cup white vinegar.  The milk should begin to curdle immediately.  (Note: the first time I did this, it only curdled a very little bit.  This means either your temp is too low or you didn't add enough acid.)

Immediately after adding vinegar.  The yellow bits are the whey.
 Keeping the temperature steady at hot-bath, stir and watch curds form.  After no more than two minutes (if you've added enough acid), it should be in one or two big globs of curd, like this:

Where's Little Miss Muffett when you need her?
Remove from heat, and pour through cheesecloth or a clean white tee-shirt.  (Note: the first time I did this, I used cheesecloth from Cub.  It had a very low thread-count, and the cheese stuck to it awfully.  This time, I used the tee-shirt method.  It still stuck some, but not as badly, and I think the shirt is salvageable for cheese-use again, unlike the cheesecloth.)

Sorry for the weird angle.  Trying to keep my shadow out of the pictures.
 Strain and squeeze out the whey (the liquid stuff), reserving it if you like-- I hear it makes good bread.  More on that later.  When you're done, you should have a lump of cheese, like so:

Now, the site on which I found the recipe says you should have as much volume of cheese as you originally had powdered milk.  I did not find that to be the case; I used 3 cups of powdered milk, and ended up with maybe a cup of cheese.  Anyway, I tried a little and it didn't taste like anything, so I took some salt in my hand and kind of kneaded it in.

As for the whey, I did save it, and will try making it into bread dough at some later date.  For now, it's going in the fridge.

Not urine, I swear.
Verdict: easy enough to make, although it tastes very bland.  But it melts correctly when heated, so I think it would work well in omelets or other dishes where the cheese is primarily a cohesive agent, not a key part of the flavor.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Happy Birthday to ME!

Yep, it's my birthday-- I turn 23 this year, which as my mom points out, means I am beginning my 24th year (same concept as 1900's = 20th century.  Please don't argue with me about this, because I am right.)

If this was a super-cool, trendy blog (like Pioneer Woman, for example), I would be doing a giveaway to celebrate.  Sorry friends; if you're looking for free stuff, look elsewhere.

But I will share with you the fun things I have done today.
My parents sent me a basket of flowers.  This is significant because they live on the east coast, and I live in Minnesota.
Aren't they pretty?  Clockwise from top left: Begonias, Golden Pothos, African Violet, and two unidentified spiky things.
And then I made cake.  Now, it's important to point out that I didn't really feel like eating cake; I just wanted to make it.  But unfortunately, making cake means that you then have a cake (you can't make a cake and... not... eat it too?), which has to be eaten by someone, and when you live alone that someone is often you.  BUT, I will be visiting some friends (who also happen to have birthdays right around this time) tonight and they shall help me eat it.

I decided to make Honey Cake ala Joy of Cooking because I have a JoC page-a-day calendar, and this recipe was yesterday's page.  It looked pretty simple, and I already had most of the ingredients.  Recipe is transcribed below; my comments are in italics.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  Grease a 13 x 9 inch glass baking pan.  (I didn't do this until later, but whatevs.)
Combine in a medium saucepan and cook, stirring, over low heat until well blended:
1 1/2 cups honey
1 cup coffee (I didn't have this, so I used chai tea instead.)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla

(Sorry, no picture of this step.  It looked like a pot of dark brown water on the stove, happy now?)

Remove from heat and set aside to cool.  Whisk together in a large bowl:
3 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup raisins (optional) (I used them.)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional) (I used them.)

Pre-whisking, of course.
Beat in a medium bowl on high speed until thick and pale yellow, 4 to 5 minutes:
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar

Little story about eggs: I had none, so I went to Cub.  I am used to buying eggs from pastured poultry at the farmer's market (at $4/dozen), which have really really dark orange yolks, are incredibly tasty and fresh (which you can tell by how much the yolk sticks up), and where they let the chickens live like chickens.  These, on the other hand, although supposedly "cage-free" and "vegetarian-fed" (both good things) are not comparable in any way to my usual eggs.  Pale yellow and flat, that's what these were.
Beat the cooled honey mixture into the eggs.  Add the dry ingredients (my bowl was too small, so I added wet to dry.  Didn't make much difference that I could tell.) and beat until well blended.

I think I need some bigger mixing bowls.  Or maybe a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, to augment the powers of my little handheld.
Scrape (pour) into the pan and spread evenly.

Mmm, raw dough.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes (52 minutes).  As soon as the cake is removed from the oven, use a fork to prick holes all over the surface.  Heat 1/4 cup of honey to lukewarm (I used the microwave).  Using a large spoon, pour and spread they honey all over the surface of the cake.  Let the cake cool completely in the pan on a rack before cutting.

Hey, my real camera decided to work again.  Hooray!
That means macro shots actually work!
Mmm, macro shots...
I'll give you the verdict later, after I've eaten some.

EDIT 9/11-- Verdict: Excellent.  Well-received by party guests and hosts alike.  We served it with Maple Nut ice cream, which IMO was an inspired pairing.  Problem: I still have half a cake left.  Who wants some?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Tomato Tasting

Yesterday, S and I drove down to Seed Savers Farm near Decorah, Iowa.  It was a long drive (almost three hours), but totally worth it.  The weather was gorgeous and cool-- just the first hint of fall.  The tomato tasting event was scheduled to start at 1pm, and we got there just a little after noon.  We had some time to tour the gardens.

Several varieties of sunflowers:
Giant sunflowers!!!

Some really tall corn, beans, herbs, and squash, among other things.
Is this a squash or a gourd?  I don't know.
Near where the tomato tasting would take place, there was a small folksy band, complete with violin/fiddle, accordion, guitar, and drums.
The band.
(Also many loud children playing in the sandbox and slide.)

Then, the tasting started.  Somewhere around 40 varieties of tomatoes, ranging in size from less than a centimeter in diameter to about six inches, and in colors including yellow, orange, pink, red, purple, black, green, and multicolored.

So many tomatoes!!!
At the head of the line, where they handed out tasting comment forms, pens, and seed saving tips, there was also this cool display:
I don't know this woman's name, but she was very friendly and helpful.
Some of my favorites were the Black Krim, a dark tomato from Russia with a really strong, sweet flavor, but not the typical sweetness you expect with tomatoes.  I can't even describe it, but I liked it.  I also enjoyed Dr. Wyche's Yellow (sweet and tangy) and the Velvet Red (a previous winner, cherry-sized).  At the end of the table, there were ballots to vote for your favorite; I voted for the Black Krim (which, incidentally, sounds like a great name for a pirate ship).

After we tasted, we took the 45 minute hayride around some of the outlying fields.  Our guide, Heidi, was very friendly and knowledgeable.

On the hayride, we got to see the compost heap (covered with blue fabric/tarp) and the diseased compost heap (well away from the usable one, not covered, smelled like compost).  It was very interesting to see the fields where they grow their crops-- those that are in danger of cross-pollinating with wild varieties are kept in tents to ensure the seeds will propagate true.  The tomatoes do not face this hazard.  This year, they're growing five varieties of tomatoes-- so many that they have them grow up fences instead of stakes.  It looks like a vineyard out there.

Surprisingly, Seed Savers sells absolutely zero produce.  All their crops are used for seed, which I suppose makes sense if your name is "Seed Savers".  But S and I wondered whether the staff ever just go out in the field for a snack.  At any rate, that's a lot of seeds to extract.

The hayride, while fun and informative, was not nearly as long or involved as S or I would have hoped.  But that left us time to explore a few last areas.  First, the livestock.  Seed Savers keeps heritage poultry and cattle:

This guy was making lots of noise.  Can you see the horns?
Sorry I couldn't get a better photo; these guys look crazy.  They've got big fluffy "headdresses" of feathers.  S didn't get why you would want a chicken to have that.
There was a nice herb garden near the visitor's center, as well as a giant old barn.
That's the visitor's center in the back.
View of the herb garden from the barn loft.
Finally, S and I took a short walk around the grounds.  There are some really neat trails to take around the property; alas, we only had time for the little loop around the pond.

All in all, a very fun trip.  Even driving there and back was fun-- we got to go through a bunch of tiny little towns we'd never heard of, and see all the pretty, just-on-the-brink-of-fall fields.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Book Review: The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax
by Dorothy Gilman

This book was recommended to me by my friend S (of the State Fair adventures).  She and I share a taste in somewhat-feminist-but-not-really fantasy novels, among other things.

The novel opens with Mrs. Pollifax visiting her doctor.  During the course of their conversation, we learn that 1. her husband is deceased, 2. her children are grown and live far away, 3. she is in good health "for a woman of her age", and 4. she feels she has outlived her usefulness.  The doctor recommends that she find a meaningful hobby, something she actually likes, as opposed to the clubs and volunteer work she does to keep busy, but secretly loathes.

As it turns out, as a child, Mrs. Pollifax always wanted to be... a spy.  So at whatever age she is (we can safely assume over 65), she makes an appointment with the CIA, and asks to join.  Due to certain scheduling mix-ups, she is actually given an assignment!  Hilarity ensues.

Not just hilarity, though.  Throughout the novel, we find that Mrs. Pollifax is made of stronger stuff than we, and the CIA, might have suspected.  When she finds herself in dire situations, it is Mrs. P, not the trained CIA agent, who makes plans to escape.  It is Mrs. P who befriends her communist jailers and wheedles special favors and useful items from them.  It is Mrs. P who is ultimately responsible for the top-secret information getting back to headquarters.

Not to get too heavy, but a character like Mrs. P makes us reexamine all the older ladies we know, who seem to live such sensible, somewhat mindless lives.  Mrs. P outwardly engages in all the activities we expect: Garden Club, the soup kitchen, listening to her neighbor talk about her travel slides.  But inside, she is possessed of a quick wit and a deep compassion for all people, even her so-called "enemies".

Grade: B+.  Very nearly an A-.  Lost points for predictability, but scored very high on humor and delightful characters.

MN State Fair

Disclaimer: all of the photos below, unless noted otherwise, are from and do not belong to me.

Yesterday, I went to the State Fair with my friend S.  Despite living in this state since 2005, I had never gone before.  It was a very fun time, and I would definitely go again next year.

First, we went to the Heritage exhibits.  Some nice pottery and other crafts; some really strange kitschy stuff.  After that, we went to the livestock exhibits.  It was 4-H Llama Day, so we toured the stalls with kids brushing llamas.

These llamas look particularly happy.
I was surprised at how intelligent these guys looked.  I was expecting the general interest level of a cow, and instead they were curious like goats.  Several watched us intently as we walked by.

Next, we went into the Swine Barn.  Pigs are big!  And, somewhat sadly, they look like meat hung on a skeleton.  Minnesota's Largest Boar was especially disturbing.

The sow and her piglets were cute, but also a little sad in that she's kept in that "sow stall", which keeps her from squishing, eating, or otherwise killing her little ones, for 21 days.  During that time, she doesn't get up at all.  She can't even turn over.  Sad.

We weren't able to go into the horse barn because it was being cleaned and prepared for a new set of horses to move in.

These were all over the place around the agricultural section of the fair.
There weren't any shows going on in the Colisseum while we were there, but it was a pretty cool space anyway.

Note the size of these cows-- significantly smaller than their handlers.  This is what I thought a cow looked like.
In the Cattle Barn, I learned that full-grown cows are HUGE.  Like whoa.

These are Jersey Cows, which, although still XXL, are not as large as...
Holstein cows.  Credit:
Holy cow!  (Ahahaha...)

Our last stop in the agriculture area was the Miracle of Birth center.  I found this building to be a little silly.  Basically, they get as many pregnant animals there as they can, and hope that some of them might give birth during the fair.  While we were there, there were a large number of people watching a pig give birth.  We didn't feel like fighting the crowd to get close enough to see, so we wandered around and looked at all the other babies.

Now, just so you don't worry, yes, we did look at other things besides animals.  But for me, that was the most fun part.  We ate authentic fair food: fried cheese curds.  We wandered through the international bazaar (but didn't buy anything).  We saw the Horticulture exhibit, including the largest pumpkins:

You could totally make a child's carriage out of one of those.  Cinderella, anyone?
Man, that would be a cool Halloween costume.  Hollow out one of those monsters into a carriage, dress your toddler girl-child up as Cinderella, and have your dog pull the carriage.  Awesome.

Just as we were leaving the Horticulture exhibit, we were halted in our progress towards cheese curds by the daily parade.

There were several high school marching bands, and they were good.  Certainly better trained and more disciplined than our marching band was, although in my opinion their playing left something to be desired.

Once the parade was over, we found cheese curds and walked back to S's apartment.  I was very glad to sit down for awhile.

Peach Syrup... ?

I have been traveling and doing exciting things for the past few days (see next post!), but on Tuesday, before I left New Jersey, I attempted to make the leftover peach peelings (from Peach Cobbler)...

... into peach syrup.

I had no recipe, just a vague idea that it should be like making chicken stock: boil the stuff in water for a long time, then strain out the pieces and cook down, maybe with some sugar added.  Good concept, but in practice, not so easy.

First, I covered the peelings with water and boiled them until I got bored, about an hour and a half.

Looks ugly, smells really good!
Then, I strained the mixture into a bowl in the sink, using a small strainer.  This worked pretty well to get most of the liquid out, but the mixture I was left with was still very wet.  I didn't want to waste any of the liquid, so I got out what I thought was cheese cloth (would also have worked), but turns out it was just a very thin kitchen towel.  Put the hot peelings (very hot!  just-came-out-of-boiling-water hot!) in the middle, and squeezed the rest of the juice out.

Big purple dish-washing gloves: very handy (ahaha!) when working with very hot materials.
I was left with some vaguely peach-flavored water.

This went back in the pot, onto the stove, to cook down.  I added about 2/3 cups of white sugar, to help it get syrupy.  I could have added more, but it was already quite sweet from the peaches themselves, and I didn't want to overdo it.

Long story short, it did cook down significantly-- I was left with about half the volume of liquid I started with.  However, it didn't every get really syrupy in texture.  I ended up with some runny but very tasty peach water.

Nice jar I found in the cabinet.  Thanks Mom!
I had some on vanilla ice cream-- tasty, but runny.  Might be good as a mix-in in tea?  I didn't have time to try it, as I had to leave for the airport and leave my watery-peach-stuff behind.  Hope Mom and Dad enjoy it.