Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Fun Has Begun!

For the past four weeks, we had been waiting on our city to get back to the pool company, Sunrise, with the permit for our pool. Last Thursday, Eric went down to the city's offices to see if there was anything they were waiting on from us (a nice way for us to say, "What the heck is taking you people so long?!?") - and depsite the fact that their answer was that it was "in Engineering", magically, that afternoon, Sunrise called to tell us that the permits had been approved!

Now I wish we'd gone by to check up on the permit earlier.

We're certainly in no rush to get the pool constructed because, in case you haven't noticed, it's no longer summer. (Damn.) But this was pretty much the worst timing possible. Why? Because we were heading off to New York for a weeklong vacation up in the Adirondack mountains!

Thankfully we have good friends who live close by and one of them has been kind enough to swing by our house daily to take photos of the pool construction (thanks, Jim!) and so now, I present you with...

Minus grass! Plus tractor!

We're sad not to be there in person to see this mayhem, but our trip couldn't be postponed...And so in the meanwhile, we're relaxing - reading, napping, kayaking, playing cards and Scrabble, cooking (so far Eric made Boeuf Bourguignon - inspired after I made him watch Julie and Julia - and I made a pasta bake; tonight we're grilling filet mignon with roasted red potatoes with rosemary and garlicky spinach), and hiking to see views like this:

Just don't expect 5 hour walks every day, Tater.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The highlight of our weekend: Dealing with Cox


Okay, so this has nothing to do with the garden or the pool or cooking, but it does have something to do with our attempts at spending out time more enjoyably, so let me tell you about our fun experience with Cox this weekend.

We decided that we were going to cancel cable. Eric drove to work at the end of last week (versus taking the bus as he usually does) and stopped by Cox to take care of it. He came home that night and delivered the news: we were officially Cable-less. Good riddance.

But we weren't! The channels still came in - some fuzzy, some perfectly clear! Okay, yes, this defeats the goal we were trying to accomplish (spend our evenings more thoughtfully! learn German! read! whatever!) but hey, if we're paying like $75 less and still getting basically the same service? Awesome!

And then the next day when Eric was working from home,  both the internet service AND the TV signal went completely out.

He called Cox. He was told "Your modem is too old!" to which he replied, "And that caused my TV service to go away?" He then spoke to someone else a bit more competent...

Turns out they had completely canceled our service. Not downgraded - CANCELED. Brilliant.

So they immediately sent someone out to our house to hook it back up manually. This person worked their magic outside without ever knocking on our door or anything. When we saw him drive away, we checked the TV and indeed, service had been restored. (Minus cable.)


Upon opening our web browsers, the Cox splash screen wouldn't allow us to get onto the internet! And then up came a window explaining why.

Our modem was too old.


Okay, so the modem worked this morning...but after you incorrectly canceled our service and then had to reconnect it, now it's no longer sufficient?

We called the company again, but of course no one at Cox could assist us at this point. After being transfered to one too many unhelpful customer service reps, Eric was fuming and I swear he would've marched straight out to Cox to give someone a piece of his mind if it wasn't all the way out in Herndon and a Friday night. He printed out the list from their website of acceptable modems and the next day, went to the store and bought one of them.

So we connect the modem. It didn't work right away. I call Cox.

I am told that this particular modem is also "old" and while they will support it if you have problems, it is not one of their preferred modems and therefore the speed of our internet may be slower than if we had a different modem.

Are you %^&*ing kidding me?!?!?

After reading off the serial numbers on the back of the new modem, we were finally connected - but by this time, a giant welt had formed on my forehead from banging my head on the desk. (Okay, not really - but this could be true.)


Monday, September 21, 2009

Finding Peace in Nature When Cox Customer Service Makes You Want to Strangle Someone

I had a really nice weekend. (I would say "we", but Eric spent much of the weekend working on the fence construction, so I'm not sure he would so enthusiastically make such a claim.)

On Friday, we started our weekend off on a delicious foot (wait, maybe that's not the best way to phrase that) by making stuffed peppers with three of the 60 peppers we pulled out the garden the previous weekend. We used this recipe, but substituted quinoa for the rice (because that's what we had on hand), used tomatoes from our garden, and didn't add any tomato paste. It didn't matter - they were delicious! Great job, Eric!

Early Saturday morning the air was crisp and cool and the sun was shining so I decided to start the day by taking a dip in our hot tub! Daytime dipping, for me, is even more enjoyable than soaking in it at night...It was blissful!

I had planned to make several stops around town on my bike that morning, but found it in the shed with two flat tires. This was especially upsetting given that I paid somewhere around $100 to have it tuned up (and more) earlier this year. I brought it up to the gas station and only then did I notice that one of the air valves was jammed into the wheel itself. I kicked and pulled at the tire to try to get it out (giving the guys standing outside the station something to stare at, I'm sure) but it wouldn't pop out. Fantastic. With the back tire inflated, I was able to ride home (all down hill) but then ended up taking out my car to run my errands.

The Falls Church farmer's market was crowded, as always. I placed my order for a crepe but instead of standing idly by to wait for it, I walked over to Toigo Orchards' stand and bought peaches that would be used later that day to make jam! (Who knew that you could reach 3 lbs. of peaches with only 5 pieces of fruit?! Wow, those were some huge peaches.)

Peach with granola - excellent, but not as good as the banana/coconut/Nutella crepe!

Some more photos from the market:

I tried to erase the apostrophe in "Cheddar's" for them
but it seemed to be written in permanent marker. *sigh*

When I returned home with the preserving jars that I purchased at our local hardware store, I was able to make my first batch of jam! It took me a full three hours, but I blame much of that on it being my first attempt. Hopefully (dear sweet Jebus, HOPEFULLY) in the future things will go a bit (okay, A LOT) faster...

Here are all of the ingredients. Yes, that's two pounds of sugar. TWO POUNDS. (0.9 kg!)

The first step was to make some pectin because peaches are a low-pectin fruit. Yes, you can buy packets of pectin at the store, but I wanted to follow the instructions that we got in class last weekend - and I'm a fan of doing things as naturally as possible.

Pectin can be made naturally by chopping up apples (3) and a lemon (seeds and all), adding 1 cup of water, and then cooking it down. After you strain it, the resulting liquid (about 1 cup) is for 3 pounds of peaches. You add it to the diced up peaches and the cook that mixture for about 15 minutes (although I cooked it longer because I wasn't sure if it was ready for the next step).

Then you add the sugar (have I mentioned: TWO POUNDS?!?), along with 1 tsp of salt and 2 tsp of freshly grated ginger. Cook it until it reaches the "gel point" - which there are many ways of testing. If your mixture doesn't have enough pectin in it, it won't properly gel, but that's okay - a loose fruit mixture can still be used as jam and works fabulously drizzled over ice cream!

<-- Cooking peaches, sugar, salt and ginger

My mixture did gel, and although perhaps not as firmly as store-bought jams, I have to say: it tastes really damn good!

Extra bonus: I made just enough for the jars that I had "sterilized"! (I say "sterilized" because they're not actually sterile - they just as clean as is desired for preserving food. As my instructor at Hill's Kitchen said: we're not doing open heart surgery here, people!)

You know you want some.

Once I was done, it was time for Tater's walk which I knew he would never forgive me for if I jipped him (walks - and dinner - are the best parts of his days!), so off we went. We spent a few minutes at the dog park and then walked down the path along Four Mile Run. Tater went into the water for a moment and I was able to catch the moment with the camera that I'd brought along. Such a handsome pup!

And that was just Saturday - whew! 

Sunday I enjoyed my morning by sitting on the deck, eating English muffins with peach-ginger jam, sipping tea and reading the paper. Then I went into the yard and took down the tomato plant bed. Now the only surviving piece of the garden is our pumpkin patch with three gourds that are almost ready to come inside and become baked goods.

We finished up the weekend the way we started it: with a dip in the hot tub and followed by cooking up some pepper slices (to top the free pizza we got from Flippin' Pizza). Fabulous!

(More on why we hate Cox tomorrow.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Working towards our goals

Brock showed us several different methods for preparing high and low pectin fruit jams and jellies, along with two different ways to save them in jars. I'm excited to try it - and if all goes well, a lot of people are going to be receiving these as holiday gifts! Making jam yourself isn't cheaper than buying premade at the store (three large jars of preserves require a lot of fruit and a lot of sugar!), but:
  • you'll know exactly what's in it
  • you can customize the flavor and try things that aren't necessarily at your local grocery store
  • if you have a garden it's a great way to preserve summer's bounty
  • and it's just fun to say that you've made something yourself from scratch!
Eric worked on the fence all weekend and it shows - he finished the entire back length of the yard! As for the pool installation, we have yet to hear back from the pool guy. They should've gotten the permit back from Falls Church by now. I keep saying that I'm nervous that the pool guy just took our deposit money and took off but Eric has more faith than I do. He's sure that it's Falls Church that's holding things up. Either way, I guess we're in no rush because by the time the pool is completed (if it is ever completed!) it'll be cold outside anyway!

I ended my weekend by hosting our bi-monthly book club meeting last night. The host is responsible for providing all food and drink, as well as picking three books to choose from for the next selection. That can make for a fair amount of stress on the hostess, but the up side is that you only have to worry about hosting once every year and can relax every other time the club meets! We like to pick a menu that matches the theme of the book, if possible (often this requires quite a bit of creativity) but it was easy this time. We had read "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen and so last night I provided everyone with circus-style food! We had appetizers of kettle corn and caramel popcorn, animal crackers, and a veggie plate (to balance out all the sugar); dinner was a hot dog bar (all-beef and soy-based, too) with french fries and an heirloom tomato/mozzarella salad from the garden (again, to balance out the other crap we were eating)! Dessert was apples served with caramel dipping sauce. Our next book, which I am already currently reading, is "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortense

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pepper, anyone?

Tonight I pulled out the pepper plants while Eric continued working on the constructing the fence. Let's just say that if we would've left the pepper plants in place, we would've had even more peppers than we have now...and that's hard to believe!

For those of you who are counting, that's 60+ peppers. Oh. My. God.

Perhaps you're wondering how much that many peppers might weigh? Well it's your lucky day!

Can you see it? That's what 17.0 pounds of peppers (7.7 kg) looks like.

We also had a whole boatload of tomatoes to bring in (a shirtload really, because the basket was already full of peppers)!

Yeah. That's 27 tomatoes right there.

Here's what the pepper bed looked like before...and after:

And perhaps most importantly, here's the progress Eric has made on the fence. The first panel he completed perfectly blocks the light coming from our neighbor's back door when we're sitting in the hot tub!

 Excavation for the pool will likely start on Saturday - holy cow!

Croutons and rosemary and chives, oh my!

It's 9:30 p.m. and I've just sat down for the evening. Quite a night!

First off, as I walked from the bus to my house I realized that I'd forgotten my keys. I knocked on our elderly neighbor's door to grab our spare but didn't get any answer, so I walked over to one of our windows to see if I might be able to break in. Upon close inspection I knew that would be a no go (which is a good thing, huh?) so I walked back to the front door - and that's when I saw my neighbor walking up from her back yard. Phew!

So then I walked into the house only to find that I'd accidentally left a bag of trash from the kitchen out and Tater had gotten into it! Scraps of packaging everywhere - and ants crawling all about to top it off. Wunderbar.

After cleaning that up, Tater and I went on our walk and then I spent the evening in the kitchen, mostly cleaning, but also making croutons!

Very easy recipe... Take leftover hot dog or hamburger rolls (which I had a LOT of thanks to Amber's birthday picnic this weekend!), cut them up, coat them in melted butter and a bit of olive oil (just enough, not too much), and then sprinkle on seasonings! We have this stuff called "sandwich sprinkle" from Penzey's Spices and it's fabulous (salt, garlic, pepper, basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and majoram), but just garlic salt and powder with oregano would be delicious. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350°F until desired brownness!

Then I hung up our herbs to dry in the laundry room downstairs. If this works, I think we're going to have enough rosemary to last us for the rest of our lives!

The same goes for the chives - we're up to our eyeballs in it! Eric found a recipe in which he can use a large amount of them and I said go for it! If they last, I think I'd like to try to make an omelette this weekend with the chives. And I say try because I've never enjoyed cooking with eggs - I think they stink while they're in the pan - so this could be yet another culinary adventure!

Sweet mother of chives!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Weekend

We had a very busy weekend! I have to say, Eric definitely worked a lot harder than I did - but we both stayed busy, that's for sure. I did a lot of cooking and he did a lot of construction work. All in all it was a very productive long weekend! Click on the photo collages to see them full size!


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Big changes are afoot!

Let me start at the beginning...

Here's what our yard used to look like:

I know, it's not pretty. We're going to change that.

Here's what it looked like this past summer (more photos to come):

Raised garden beds alongside our composter and our ugly 1950s chain link fencing.

And here's what it looks like right now:

4 out of 6 beds have been removed; the peppers and big tomatoes
(plus our pumpkin patch on the side of the house) are staying put until the last possible moment.

We're in the process of pulling up our beautiful, bountiful garden of raised beds to make room for an in-ground pool! Madness, I know! Let me explain.

In June, we were married after 6 short years of dating. Then within 6 weeks of the wedding:
  • we found out that our 11 year old dog, Blue, had cancer (a hemangiosarcoma) - which he succumbed to after only 6 weeks

  • we got the news that Eric's mother was diagnosed with a rare type of skin cancer (thankfully, she caught it early and her prognosis is excellent)

  • my mother's house was broken into while she was upstairs sleeping with her big dog - neither of them heard anything - and her car was stolen! (It has since been recovered.)
So all of that sent us right into the mindset that life is simply too short. Enter: pool! (Sorry, garden. Don't worry - like The Terminator, you'll be back.)

I'm going to use this site to post photos of the pool construction, fence construction (to be done by Eric), and rebuilding of the garden, along with tales of my cooking adventures. (And with me - trust me - it's always an adventure when I step into the kitchen.) I've signed up for four cooking classes in the next 6 weeks (I'm on the wait list on one of the four) and I'm beyond excited about it!

This weekend we're going to be very busy. Not only will Eric begin constructing the fence and I'll be pulling up the rest of the plants in preparation for pool construction beginning on Wednesday, but I also have two good friends with birthdays to celebrate! I have a feeling I'll be back at work on Monday more tired than before the weekend began!