Monday, July 26, 2010

What do I want in my country's leaders?

Honesty. Start out telling the American people what you believe and why. Don't sugarcoat it, or spin it, or try to make it sound better than it is. Then when we see what *all* the candidates really believe, we can make the best choice.

Commitment to the Constitution. Our founding fathers were wise men, and they created a document by which future generations could govern this country wisely. I want leaders who know and understand the Constitution, and are not afraid to defend it vigorously.

Financial Sanity. Most Americans understand what it means to live within a budget. You can't spend what you don't have. So don't ask me to give the government more of my hard-earned money - instead prove to me that you will use what I've already given wisely.

I could go on and on, but I think - at this point - I'll stop. No sense making my blood pressure rise again. ::heh::

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nothing a grenade can't fix??

We have a problem. It's not a terribly important problem in the grand scheme of things. (You know, those BIG problems like "Will the philosopher find a permanent teaching position next year?" and "What kind of ice cream should I have for dessert?") But it's something we'd rather not deal with right now regardless.

When we moved to the southeast, we bought a house that has an in-ground pool. (Nota bene: we didn't buy the house because it had a pool - we bought the house despite the fact that it had a pool.) This pool is about 30 years old, and has now degenerated to the point where we must either replace the liner and repair the liner track, or remove the whole dadgum thing completely. The repair job will cost upwards of $6000 according to the bids we've received. ::shudder::

We're still waiting on estimates from a few landscapers to find out how much it will cost to remove it altogether - busting up the concrete skirt, ripping out the vinyl, filling in the hole, and regrading the back yard. (Now, before you start making suggestions - a grenade would actually be too small, and a small nuclear device might just be overkill. And the philosopher driving a bobcat with a jackhammer attachment scares the living daylights out of me!) So that leaves us with finding a contractor who does reliable bobcat work. We've called a couple of "official" landscapers, one of which came out to our place last week and one who's coming out tomorrow. I figure they're going to be on the high end of the bids because they're landscapers - they'll do the pool work, of course, and THEN they'll want to make some shrub beds and plant some trees and lay a fancy cobblestone patio (called an "outdoor living space" these days) and screen in the porch because that's really how they make their money. I don't mind someone doing the hardscape work - pouring and leveling a bunch of concrete is Not Fun. But I think I'd like to do the beds and pick the shrubs and choose the perennials and dig in the dirt.

Anyway, we're also making some calls to excavation and grading contractors. My dad knows a guy named "Snake" who does bobcat work, and someone at work recommended a company nearby called "Dirt Cheap". (You do recall that we live in Alabama, right?) I'm thinking if I can get an estimate from either Snake or the Dirt Cheap folks, they'll be the best in terms of cost. I'm just not sure I want someone named Snake working in my back yard! ::heh::

So if you couldn't tell, my vote is for removal even if it costs nearly the same as repair. (I don't think it will cost as much, but that might be just wishful thinking!) Why, you ask? I don't like the pool. Well, it's pretty to look at, but I don't swim in it, and I don't think it's worth the upkeep. And really, I don't think it adds that much value to the house as a selling point, either. I think a really nice area with a path and trees and shrubs and such would add just as much value, and cost a lot less for a homeowner to maintain.

Now if I can just convince the philosopher!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Holiday Project

Over the 4th of July weekend, the philosopher and I endeavored to improve a festering eyesore on the back quarter of our property. We have a workshop - a goodly sized one - that we use for all sorts of nefarious undertakings (like weed whacker maintenance, and woodworking projects, and dining room table refinishing, and lots of sundry storage).

The shop, though quite useful and watertight, looked pretty rough. Actually, that's an understatement. It looked like a heap. The small door was an interior door, slowly decaying from being exposed to the elements. The big double doors (the ones we drive the tractor through - yes, close your mouth - we have a tractor) are OSB. Waferboard. Pleh. We don't think it had been painted in at least 20 years, and some of the siding had actually turned to dust. We had a goodly amount of paint left over from when we painted the house exterior, so we undertook a Herculean labor. Replace the damaged siding slats. Kill as many of the mud daubers, spiders, paper wasps, daddy longlegs, and other creatures who un-naturally thought the shop walls were their homes. Sand the mildew off the trim, and then prime and paint the whole mess.

Here's the "Before" (but after we replaced the small door with a steel exterior door):

Then, after three days of hard labor and less than $150 outlaid, here's the after!

Now when you pull into our driveway, you don't see this looming hulk in the field and wonder whether or not it is part of this property. You see a nice workshop that, given the opportunity, would be fun to spend some time in routing a picture frame for a favored work of art. And the completed project also appeases my sense of orderliness and tidiness - it matches the house!

Blueberry Pie - it's what's for dinner!

Well, ok. It's not really for dinner - it's for dessert. But you know what I mean. ::grin:: And it's - pardon the expression - easy as pie to make! It took me all of 10 minutes to whip together, and that included washing the berries and crumbing the topping.

Here's the recipe, for you adventurous souls!

Filling Ingredients
1 graham cracker pie crust
4 c fresh or frozen blueberries (fresh are better!!!)
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c granulated Splenda (not the packets, but the stuff found in the baking aisle)
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t allspice
7 T corn starch
3 T water
2 T lemon juice

Topping Ingredients
1/4 c granulated Splenda
1/4 c sugar
1/2 c all purpose flour
1/4 c butter or smart balance margarine

As Alton Brown would say, let's assemble the hardware and software.

For the filling:
1. Place the blueberries (washed and drained, mind you) in the pie crust
2. Mix all the dry ingredients together, then add the liquids and mix well.
3. Pour over the berries.

For the topping:
1. Mix the dry ingredients and cut in the butter until the mixture resembles course crumbs.
2. Sprinkle over the pie, covering evenly as possible (yes, some blueberries will peek through and that's OK)

Bake at 375 for 1 hour. (You may want to put a cookie sheet underneath to prevent any possible bubble-overage.)

Here's the really, really, really important part. You Must Let It Cool Completely Before Slicing. I mean it. No, I really MEAN IT. Cool it on the counter for a bit, then cover it with foil and stick it in the fridge. Forget it's there for an hour or two. When it is COMPLETE COOL, then you can slice. If you do not follow this step, your pie filling will ooze out all over the place and the center will squish down because the filling is oozing into the space vacated by the illegal piece you just cut and it will be a disaster of epic proportions! So ... Don't Do It.

I would also think this would work in a regular pie crust. The filling is pretty tart, though, and the extra sweetness provided by the graham cracker crust and the crumb topping are a beautiful counterpoint.

Nota bene
Now, if you're really against sugar substitutes, you can of course use sugar in the same amount in place of the Splenda. I can't vouch for the tastiness because I do use Splenda and it is a raving success. And, if you use Splenda, then you've only got about a tablespoon of "real" sugar in each serving, which is quite diabetic-friendly in moderate amounts. And you get the added bonus of blueberries - the superfruit!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tantalizing tastes of summer

So, we had some volunteer squash come up in the compost bin. And to my chagrin, they're doing better than anything I planted. ::sigh:: I call them MobySquash. They're almost white with light green stripes, shaped like a gourd and just as big. But you can cook 'em up and they're Really Tasty. We're going to stuff them tonight with an Italian herb stuffing (sage and oregano and thyme from the garden, of course) and make some fresh bruschetta to go along with it. My Roma tomatoes are coming in, as well as multitudes of the Sweet 100s. My Big Boys didn't do as well as I'd hoped, but I have vowed to redeem myself next year - better garden, better soil. The red and green bell peppers are also coming along nicely - the greens are especially happy. (I'm thinking fajitas are in our near future!)

We had a catastrophe in the carrot patch, tho. Not the rabbits, but the caterpillars. I've been so happy that the hornworms and the squash vine borers hadn't taken over the tomatoes and zukes that I didn't even consider something might attack my tiny little patch of carrots! Nooooo-o-o-o-o!!!!!

And the blueberries. We picked a gallon last Monday at the local U-pick place (I apparently offered up the few berries on my two bushes to the birds this year, drat them all.) We froze most of them, but five cups are waiting in the fridge ... I found a recipe for a blueberry pie in a graham cracker crust with a crumb topping.... AND it uses Splenda. WooHoo!

Finally, completely unrelated to the summer harvest but equally tasty..... I will never purchase packaged granola again. I discovered a very easy recipe for a fraction of the cost. Rolled oats, chopped toasted almonds, sunflower seeds, honey, canola oil and cinnamon. Perfection. My new favorite breakfast is 1/2 cup of vanilla yogurt sprinkled liberally with granola and some fresh blueberries. Can't get any better than that.

Oh, and eggplant! I completely forgot the eggplant! I'm not a huge fan, but the philosopher has come up with one sure-fire recipe... grill the eggplant and some onion with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Get some tasty cheese - mozzarella or monterey jack - and put it all on flat fajita sized tortilla. Cover with a second tortilla and grill until the cheese is melted. Presto - eggplant quesadillas! (You can add some chicken to the first grilling mix too, if you want some extra protein). And of course, I'll never, ever turn down the philosopher's eggplant parmigiana, either.

Sigh. I should never make these posts two hours before lunch.