Thursday, December 31, 2009

The other good beet recipe

Way back in October I posted one of my favorite beet recipes. This is my other favorite beet recipe. And that's all the beet recipes you'll get out of me!

Secret Chocolate Cake (from the Simply in Season cookbook)

Cook a bunch of beets first. They'll be peeled and chopped up to make 2 cups, so how many you cook depends on how big they are.

Throw the peeled/chopped beets and 1/2 cup of applesauce (we used our homemade applesauce) in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

In a large bowl combine sugar (I used 3/4 cup honey), 1/2 cup oil, 1/2 cup yogurt (alas, we didn't have any homemade left!), and 3 eggs (from our chickens of course!). Beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes.

To that mix, add the pureed beets, 1/2 cup of sifted baking cocoa, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla. Beet for 90 seconds - here is where it can get really messy!

Mix up 2 1/2 cups of flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour), 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (I tried out my new Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cinnamon).

Sift the flour mix into the batter and mix with a wooden spoon; don't overmix.

Mix in about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips (or more, oops. =)

Pour into a greased bundt pan (or other baking pan) and bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes.

Fresh out of the oven:

And - hey, someone got a slice out before I could take a picture! =)

Supposedly no one will know the secret ingredient (beets) if you don't tell. Perhaps because I don't add as much sugar as they call for, I can sort of taste it sometimes. Solution: must be eaten with ice cream or fresh whipped cream. Yummm!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas, part I

Jeremy and I just returned from 8 days in Kansas City, visiting with relatives of Jeremy's. We went down a day earlier then planned to avoid all the awful weather that was brewing. Sure enough, it snowed in Minneapolis quite a bit on Wednesday. I was bummed that we had missed out on the snow - it was completely dry in Kansas City. I think it was even 50 degrees on Wednesday. But then on Thursday it started snowing and it didn't stop! Then I was much happier to be in KC because it stayed cold and kept snowing, while in Minneapolis it warmed up a bit and they got freezing rain and all sorts of ugliness.

Its tradition in Jeremy's family to go out for Japanese food on Christmas eve (this started many years ago when they were feeling sick and looking for some place that sold chicken soup...) We braved the icy, snowy roads and had a great dinner at Jun's Authentic Japanese.

The next tradition is to get up at 5 in the morning on Christmas morning and go to the Swedish service at a Baptist church in town. Apparently the Swedes celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, partying all day, opening gifts, and staying up all night. They end the celebration by going to the church service at 6 in the morning. Then they nap on Christmas day!
5:30 am Christmas morning: the snow had really come down and nothing had been plowed. The snow was still coming down and the windshield wipers were frozen to the windshield. We squashed into the car and drove carefully through the white, abandoned streets. Karin, Jeremy's mom, was tempted to stop many times as we approached hills, valleys, ruts, and piles of snow. We all yelled encouragements: "Keep going, keep going! Just drive through it!" And then whoops and hollers as we plowed through another pile of snow. We finally got to the church and discovered a van stuck trying to enter the parking lot.
Jeremy and his brother leaped out of the car to render assistance. After about 30 minutes of shoveling, scooping, pushing, and conferring, the van was finally able to back out of the parking lot. In the mean time we found out the church service was canceled! Another would-be church attender showed up in the midst of this and she had brought a car full of the Swedish tea cake rings that would have been served after the service. She handed us a whole ring, still warm, and we all drove back through the snowy streets to our warm homes.

We opened gifts later that morning. I'll post some pictures of gifts later. We still have some gifts to hand out! But, here are the awesome new boots I got!

And here I am testing them out (tags still on!) and trying to eat some falling snow.

An unfortunate addition to the holiday spirit, we saw this sign on a walk through the neighborhood. Tucked in with santas, polar bears & penguins, and a giant Noel: "No Trespassing. Violators will be shot. Survivors will be shot again." That's the spirit...

We had a great, long, relaxing time down in Kansas City. I received a box of t-shirts to be made into a quilt for next Christmas. Oh boy do I have a lot of sewing projects ahead of me!

I'll post some photos of gifts we made next week after we have our second gift exchange with the sisters-in-law (and then there will be more photos after Christmas with my family in late January!).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The much-overlooked rowan berry

We have a mountain ash tree in our yard. I never paid much attention to these trees till we had our own and they are really quite beautiful. They bloom with white flowers in the spring then they get berries that seem to change colors from orange to red. The leaves turn orangey-red in the fall, but when they're gone the bright red berries are still there.

Over the summer a friend was visiting and she mentioned that jelly could be made from these berries. We were amazed. It just goes to show we're losing track of all the edible things out there. We set to work researching this a bit.

For one thing, it turns out mountain ash trees are not ash trees but members of the rose family. They are also known as Rowan trees, thus, rowan berries. Some people have thought the berries were poisonous, but they're not. Just very, very , very tart! Jeremy was brave and tried one this summer. Yech! But, the flavor improves (somewhat) after freezing. The berries also have a lot of vitamin C - more than lemons.

We were going to pick our berries and make jelly this year but then decided we didn't have the time. But then a friend found out about rowan berries and picked a ton of them. He borrowed our juicer and made gallons of rowan berry juice, then gave us some. So we decided to make some jelly.

We saw a lot of recipes and we'll have to keep tweaking ours. We used a 1 to 1 ratio of rowan berry juice and apple juice and we put in a lot more honey than we normally do (3/4 cup instead of 4-8 teaspoons!)

Aren't they beautiful? In the second batch we also added some cloves. I'm afraid the jelly turned out quite tart, almost bitter. We still have a lot of rowan juice so we'll keep experimenting (a higher amount of apple juice and more sugar!) In any case, the jelly is better as an accompaniment to meat dishes - not something you slather on hot biscuits. We'll let you know if we come up with a recipe that's not so lip-puckering tart!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I'm not sure how long it has been a tradition in my family to make Christmas cookies. My grandma made an assortment each year and I'll never forget her Anise cookies and Marzipan. Two of my favorites.

As a family we had a tradition of making boxes of cookies for our teachers at school. Usually there was just one or two teachers in grade school. Then in Jr High and High School we picked all the teachers we liked best, and we did the same in college, and I gave cookies in my workplace too! This is why my mom has had to make more and more cookies every year.

I'll try to remember everything she makes: sugar cookies (with fantastic, elaborate decorations!), peanut butter blossoms, snowballs, wreaths, spritz, hermits, baklava, and fudge. I'm sure if I'm forgetting something my mom will comment to remind me!

Each of us kids has our favorites and this year I made the three I like the best. (No boxes of cookies in the mail from my mom. We tried that last year and they arrived in many small pieces!)

First and foremost: peanut butter blossoms. You start out rolling them into little balls:

After they've cooked for a few minutes they start collapsing down and getting cracks.

Then you push in a chocolate star (NOT a Hershey's kiss! Ack!) and they are the tastiest best cookies ever!

Next are Spritz. They are flavored with almond extract which is probably why I like them so much.

And lastly, wreaths. These have cream cheese in them and the little red hots. I can't quite describe what it is I like about these. They are just tasty. These and the Spritz are both made with a cookie press.

Why are you so tasty little wreath!?

It turns out a neighbor of ours grew up with the tradition of giving out cookies too. She and I met a couple days ago and made some of these cookies and some of her recipes. In another day or so we'll put together plates of cookies and deliver them to neighbors on this block. Yay for new traditions!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Freezer challenge

I was reading a fellow blogger's post and was inspired that we should have a freezer challenge. My fellow blogger is having (and had last year) a pantry challenge. As she explains it, this is the, "thing where you don't buy any groceries and only eat what's in your kitchen as of...right now." She does it for a week or two to get things back on track.

I ran this idea by Jeremy.

"We should have a freezer challenge! We could make meals for the next month that use ingredients from the freezer!" (Note: that would be the royal we, as in Jeremy will be doing all the cooking)

"Hmmmm," was his reply.

Of course we realized pretty quickly it wasn't that practical. For one thing, we couldn't make a meal from the freezer every day because we don't eat that much. And we can't (or at least I won't) just eat a bowl of thawed corn or thawed strawberries. Most things in the freezer are ingredients to go in bigger dishes.

So perhaps we're not talking about a challenge, but about being more intentional. We've got plenty of food in the freezer (as well as canned) so we shouldn't have to buy as much food. Of course, there is the problem that there is so much in the freezer and it's so disorganized that we don't even know what's in there anymore!

In any case, we've had several intentional meals this last week using freezer and canned foods.

Jeremy dug out a lovely venison steak which he put under the broiler. He made this incredible marinade for it with fish sauce, whiskey, tamari, sesame seed oil, and pepper. We only ate a couple pieces of that, so for the next meal Jeremy cut up some pieces to put into a fabulous stroganoff (including our own shiitake mushrooms, onions, fish sauce, roasted red peppers from the freezer, and fusili pasta).
There was still more, so the venison next showed up in a quiche, as well as roasted red peppers from the freezer, tomatoes from our CSA, salsa, cheddar & Gruyere, and the other usual quiche ingredients.

Here's the quiche:

(accompanied by blue chips found in the pantry and some sprouts.)

After this Jeremy whipped up a pizza. This had roasted kale (from the freezer), mozzarella, Italian sausage, and roasted garlic.

Then he was really inspired! He browned some mutton he had picked up at the farmer's market a few months back. He popped that in the slow cooker with chicken broth from the freezer and hominy from Native Harvest(which we've had lying around forever) Then he added some sauteed onions and garlic, celery, fish sauce, red wine, and miso and let that cook overnight. It smelled really good. It really cooked down and thickened so we served it over rice. It was incredibly tasty.

Jeremy is hoping to use up some corn and fruit next. Corn pudding? Smoothies? Cobbler? We will let you know what springs up next as we dive further into the freezer.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Yellow & Blue = Green (Or, Where Aimee & Jeremy Finally Get to Insulate!)

A snowstorm moved through Tuesday and Wednesday bringing a ton of snow and much colder temperatures - hovering in the single digits for highs, and lows (plus windchill) in the negative double digits! When it's this cold outside... one wants an un-insulated house!

But, we finally passed our electrical and framing inspection this week so we got to insulate. The ceiling of course was foamed over the summer. We're using recycled denim for the wall. Jeremy has made one trip per day for the last several days and picked up one giant bag of insulation per trip. Each bag fills up the whole back seat!

I guess I get pretty excited about insulation (or maybe just about getting this project moving) because it's done! I got started after 8pm last night and got a bit more than 1/3 of the way through. Then I finished this afternoon. I love looking at the bedroom side with the yellow ceiling, blue walls, and green floor!

I love the idea of house blessings so I took the opportunity to write some things in the walls before the last of the insulation went up. This is one of my favorites:

The text says:
May these walls be filled with laughter,
May it reach from floor to rafter.
May the roof keep out the rain,
May sunshine warm each windowpane.
And may the door be open wide
to let the Good Lord's love inside.

Things have been moving along this week. Jeremy also got up the sheer walls in the closet and the rest of that part (and you can see the railing we picked up this morning.)

While I was putting in insulation Jeremy went around attaching light switches and outlets. He just got the power hooked up and it's not quite working yet. Power is getting up there, but it's not getting out of the main box. So he's running around trying to solve that.

I'm just sitting around admiring the insulation. It feels warmer in here already.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Perhaps this would have been a good post around Thanksgiving since it is a post about thankfulness.

Jeremy just got off the phone arranging to pick up a railing tomorrow for our upstairs renovation. He's been looking at the Re-Use Center and local building supply stores and it was going to cost around $180 to get a simple 4 to 5 foot long railing for the top of the stairs. Crazy! A quick visit to Craigslist produced a perfect match for us, at only $10.

This started me thinking of all the other things we'd gotten from Craigslist over the past year:
  • all the brick pavers for our path;
  • plywood for our chicken coop;
  • wooden crates/boxes that we used in our root cellar;
  • fabric for sewing projects;
  • our rain barrels;
  • our temporary refrigerator (which we sold back to craigslist after a month!);
  • an outdoor light (which we have yet to install!);
  • tools like our sawsall, sander, compound mitre saw, table saw, drill, socket sets, clamps, wheelbarrow, shovel, shop light;
  • our new claw foot bathtub (which lives in the garage till we get to the bathroom remodel);
  • and a Christmas present or two which I can't talk about yet.
Craigslist is also how we found the guy we get logs from for Jeremy's mushrooms and the guy who will be making our flooring for upstairs.

I'm just sure I'm missing a few other things. I should also say how thankful we are for Savers and Value Village, the Re-Use Center, and various friends, family, and strangers who have passed things on that they didn't want anymore.

Yay for re-using, re-gifting, re-selling, and recycling!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's Christmas time!

It's that time of year again: lights are going up on houses, the bell ringers are out, and half the cars on the road have trees strapped to the top. Hard to believe, but Christmas is in only 17 days! (A friend of mine has a great post for those of you who are upset by that fact.)

Our Charlie Brown-ish tree:

I feel it is one of my duties to spread the word about alternative Christmas ideas. Last year I talked mostly about wrapping your gifts in anything other than store-bought wrapping paper.

When it comes to gifts there are a lot of creative ideas that show you care about the gift-receiver - and won't break the bank.

If you want to go all out, participate in the Buy Nothing Christmas.

If you have friends or family who "have it all" and don't really need anything, buy a goat or chicken on their behalf. Check out Heifer International or World Vision.

Give experiences instead of stuff: tickets to a show, time spent together at a special place, massage, etc.

Give gift certificates for services you can provide: babysitting, fixing bikes, computer help, sewing, etc.

Try some good old fashioned bartering! Offer your sewing skills in a gift certificate in exchange for someone else's bike fixing skills. Both of you now have a great gift to give someone special.

If you are buying gifts, consider buying from local artists. There are a lot of craft sales this time of year where you can purchase fabulous hats, scarves, artwork, and all sorts of things.

Try your hand at making gifts for your friends and family. Making a gift does not need to be as complicated as learning how to knit and making a matching sweater set! There are many things we can make from simple to complicated, silly to practical.

  • Take a trip to the bulk section and get some ingredients to make some nice granola.

  • Make your own bath salts

  • Make a cookie kit

  • Make chocolate-dipped almonds or Oreos or....

  • Put together your favorite recipes in a little recipe book

  • Bake muffins or cookies or some other goody to give as a gift

I could go on and there are tons of ideas out there. Look for something that inspires you. Here are the links I included last year:

A Do-it-yourself Christmas
How to Make Your Own Christmas Gifts
Home-Made Gifts
Christmas Gifts You Make Yourself

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chicken bad habits...

drinking out of the toilet.

We've told them it's not sanitary, but you know chickens: if there is water around, they'll drink!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Secrets revealed (at least one anyway)

I'm a big believer in letting your house (or room) speak to you before you do anything to it. How do you use the space? What is the flow like in the space? What do you need in the space to make it more functional? Etc. You can't always figure this stuff out immediately. And, as we've discovered with this place, you may have a plan that is totally changed when you open up the walls and see what is on the other side of the drywall (or lathe & plaster).

For some months, everyone who comes over asks us about this particular wall upstairs. "What is that for?" And we say it is a secret. But we've totally changed our minds about this secret now!

We were basically trying to make our small study space more flexible and useable. We're planning to have a built in desk/table on the one wall (opposite what's shown here) where our computer will go. We watch movies on said computer, so of course we need a couch or other comfy furniture up here to sit on. But with a couch on one wall and the desk/table on the other, it left a very narrow pathway between the two. So! Our secret plan was to attach our couch, with a giant long hinge, to this bit of wall. We left the framing open so the couch could be folded into the wall, out of the way.

We were pretty excited about this for some time, but then just last week, for some reason, we decided against it. I can't recall our conversation but I think part of it was about the difficulty of this plan. We realized that if we just made a couch niche we could push/slide/roll the couch back into it, out of the way - and that would probably be much easier! So Jeremy had to rip out the framing and frame it again. It just looks right now.

Over in the south-east corner we had to come up with something creative because of the plumbing pipe sticking up out of the floor.

Actually, it's probably only sticking out about 6 inches, a couple inches high, and a couple inches wide. We're low enough on storage areas and I hate to see an opportunity pass us by like this one. We could have just framed out a little box on the wall to cover it, but we decided to make a narrow little window seat with a little shelf in the bottom.

Here it is all framed out and ready for when we get to finishing:

Lastly, Jeremy has pretty much finished framing in the closet and "hallway" area to the left of the closet.

Including the massive amount of electrical in there!

When we were at the MIA sometime this last year we saw some full-scale models of different building styles. We really fell for this one room. You entered through a very small hallway (like the one leading to our room) and the ceiling in this part was lower so there was a sense of opening out into a grand space. Of course in the case of the museum model it was opening out into a grand space! In our case the room isn't necessarily all that grand, but it will still be a cool effect.

So, Jeremy is working on a few last framing details and finishing up the electrical. We'll have the electrical inspection next week and the framing inspection on Thursday. Then comes insulation! And we can certainly use some of that with how cold it is getting...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Note to self

I was quite thankful this last week that I had posted such detailed directions about making yogurt last year. We stopped making yogurt when we moved in May and hadn't gotten back into the habit again. I kept talking about it, but had been avoiding it. Finally this last week we bought an extra half gallon of milk so I could make some. If it hadn't been for that blog post we would have done it all wrong!

I've been doing a lot of sewing over this last year, as I've blogged about before. And I found out this week it's the same with sewing. If I don't make notes to myself about certain things, I'll totally forget how to do them and mess things up. Such was the case with the tea cozies I've been making. I hadn't made any since this summer and even though they're pretty easy, I totally messed up the first one I made. I still haven't made notes to myself, but I remembered how to make them and whipped up a bunch of these chicken tea cozies:

I've been doing a lot of sewing the last week or two in preparation for a craft sale I'll be part of this Sunday. It's a small affair at a home a few houses up the street - if anyone wants to know more details, let me know!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Happy Birthday to me!

Well I was hoping to spend my birthday working an 8-hour day counting votes in a cold warehouse. And I was going to be very happy about that. A job! But the job ended so I had the day off (like I've had the last nearly two years off!)

Jeremy likes to dedicate my birthday to doing whatever I like doing for the day. So we had a lazy start this morning, sleeping in. Then we made breakfast together - pancakes from scratch, sausage, and scrambled eggs (which Jeremy just makes so well).

There are a number of places I still haven't been to in the Twin Cities so I had a few of those on my list for today. The first was the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. We ended up only seeing the conservatory part (and not even all of that!) and we didn't get to the zoo at all.

This whole glass structure is a tropical wonderland with various kinds of fish...

poison dart frogs (which apparently get poison from their food source, so these ones aren't poisonous)

leafcutter ants

and a skink!

The most amazing thing was all the flowers. It was 75-80 degrees in these buildings and there were tropical plants, ferns, orange trees, pineapples, bananas, and various palm trees growing all over. It was about 20 degrees and snowy outside!

And orchids. So many of the most amazingly beautiful orchids I have ever seen. Of course, I haven't ever seen an ugly orchid. I think I am now obsessed with them and I hope to acquire one soon!

As we toured around the buildings I remembered how I had first heard about the conservatory. There are a number of people that go there in the winter to just hang out in the warmth. They sit on benches amongst the ferns and palms reading books, working on laptops, knitting or crocheting, and just soaking in the warmth. There were plenty of folks soaking in the warmth today!

Next we went over to a lovely lunch spot in St. Paul, Bon Vie. We went there for lunch on my birthday last year and I wanted to return. Then we did a serious lot of window shopping at Cooks of Crocus Hill and Ikea.

By the time we left Ikea it was nearly dark and time for dinner so we didn't get to go to the sculpture garden which I still haven't been to. Oh well - there is always next year!

We spent a good hour brainstorming and dreaming over the kitchen. I know it sounds like a weird thing to do on one's birthday, but it was pretty exciting and we haven't really allowed ourselves to talk about the kitchen much. We wrote a list of all the things we wanted to incorporate and ideas we'd had and seen, then tried to see if we could fit everything in! We came up with some really cool ideas, if I do say so myself, put blue tape all over the walls to mark things, took notes, and had a great time. Now, if we can just get a whole lot of money to make it happen! =)

I love hot cocoa and decreed that I must have some today. We forgot while we were out so after dinner we made our own.

We used some new cocoa we picked up recently: organic Dagoba drinking chocolate with bits of pure dark chocolate. Holy cow it was tasty!

So now I've sent Jeremy off to work upstairs and I'm catching up on blogging, which is another thing I love doing.

What a great day this has been!