Friday, September 11, 2015

Summer, condensed.

After returning home from Santa Fe, I hit the tomatoes with gusto. Ten pounds of San Marzanos out of our garden have become tomato paste. Of course, ten pounds of tomatoes yields only 4 cups of paste, but the process is very easy. And the result... is simply amazing. I'll never cook with canned tomato paste again if I can help it!

A few years ago I did a "taste test" in my own kitchen a la America's Test Kitchen. I had made a sauce with some paste, and it tasted very metallic -- and sure enough, tasting the paste from the can and it tasted... awful. Like metal. I set out to see if that could be solved. I found that MOST did, actually -- even pricier canned pastes. The exception was expensive import pastes in a tube. While I use this a lot now, if you need 4-6oz of it for a soup or sauce, that's not really practical.

In my canning adventures, tomato products are my favorite WIN. In most areas, a tomato in the winter is as rare as a unicorn. Canning tomatoes is the best way to preserve the wonders of summer for enjoyment all year 'round. 

This year I decided to make tomato paste. Here's the process I used -- simple! 

Oh. My. God. 

Essentially, I did two batches. 5 lbs of San Marzanos (with a stray Roma or two thrown in San Marzanos were halved, and thrown in a pot with a small amount of olive oil. Cook until they start to break down, with all tomatoes soft and skins starting to peel off.

Run this through a foley mill or food strainer (I use the former) over a large bowl. Stir in one teaspoon sea salt, and a quarter teaspoon citric acid (you can find this in the spices section; I had it as a result of cheese making. It's mainly to keep it acidic enough for a hot water bath canning; you can skip the citric acid if you are going to freeze the product).

Here's the magic: pour the thick "tomato juice" into a rimmed baking sheet. Pop into a 350 oven, and set a timer for an hour. (TIP: sit your pan in the oven, and pour the juice into it from there so you don't have to move a sloshing pan of liquid.) Basically you are creating a large surface area evaporator.

Stir the pan after an hour, then set the timer for another hour. Stir again. At this point, I had paste with a small bit of moisture still left -- but I feared if I left it at temp for much longer, I'd get burned edges. So, I just closed the oven, gave it a few minutes to return to temp, then turned if off and left it to cool down. The result was a nicely reduced paste without any burn.

The paste is a deep and vibrant red, with a pure tomato flavor unlike anything I've ever experienced.

Yes, 5 lbs of tomatoes resulted in two cups of paste. But it's well worth it, IMO. I did two batches, and it was quick and easy. These little freezer containers are the perfect size for a 4 ounce block of paste, to pop into a recipe. 

And this weekend -- our own little Leith style La Tomatina! Tomorrow morning starts off with getting about 30 lbs of tomatoes from a you-pick, and setting about canning some stewed tomatoes, tomato soup, and some tomato sauce. The sisters-in-law are going to join in! We'll cap the day off with some pizza on the grill. I just made two batches of Alton Brown's pizza dough and stashed them in the fridge to rise overnight. YUM. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Well, we have ONE potential herd dog in the family.

Jackson, Solo, and hit the road to visit a farm today. At Brigand's Hideout in Battle Ground, Washington, we took part in a Pembroke Welch Corgi Club of America (PWCCA) Sanctioned Herding Instinct Test held by the Columbia River Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club. While advertised as open to Pembroke and Cardigans, I asked if I could bring Jackson as he's a mix, and he was welcomed, too. Herding is not only a farm chore, but also a sport for many dogs of working breeds who don't live on a farm. This event is the first step in determining if your dog may have the natural ability to enjoy this activity. We were just doing it for fun.

The "test" is simple: in a moderate size pen with a tester/evaluator and three sheep, you work to see if your dog reacts to the sheep with herding interest and instinctual behaviors. It's a simple pass/fail event, and it means nothing more than your dog did or didn't exhibit the behaviors on that certain day.

It's was great to watch the dogs! I didn't count, but it felt like we were half and half Pemis and Cardis. Great to see so many Cardis together! Some of whom, like our friend Terra, exploded almost immediately upon entering the ring, working the sheep together and into a direction. Before entering the ring, the dog is placed on a long rope of a lead, with knots in it. This is so you can stop the dog by getting anywhere close and stepping on the lead. If a strong instinct was displayed, after the dogs got really into the sheep, the tester would stop the dog and try to distract them, or distract the dog with a flag on a long plexiglass pole. They'd shake, wave and smack the pole on the ground between the dog and the sheep. A dog like Terra would just dart her eyes around flag and tester, clearly saying, "Hey, I can't see my sheep!" She was amazing!

I learned that... sheep are bigger than I thought.

Other dogs entered the ring and were like, "What is going on?" But, with some coaxing, they would have an "aha" moment, and start running and chasing. They just took a little warm up.

Then... there was Solo. LOL.

Solo and I entered the ring as (un)lucky #13. And... basically, I chased sheep for 3 minutes while Solo chased me. Seriously. The tester asked me how much obedience training I'd done with him; I said just basic. She said that was surprising because he was all about focusing on me. He honestly did not care one bit about the sheep. He wasn't afraid of them, wasn't freaked out, but just didn't give a shit about the sheep, even when they kicked up and sprang off.

Nothing. Nada. Zip. "No interest," was the mark on his report card. Now if they'd been giving out awards for Mama's Boy.... well, he'd be the winner.

Hey, that's okay! This was just something fun and different to do with the dogs, and he had a great time traveling, meeting other dogs, and just being his handsome old self. A great day for Solo, period.

Another dog ran, and then I entered the ring with Jackson. Sometimes he's nervous in new situations, lots of people, or lots of dogs but he was doing great today. He was a bit stressed when I would walk away -- he spent much of my away time in Megan's lap!

In the ring, he was interested right away, but you could tell he was like, "Mom, am I supposed to do this?" We HAVE spent so much time stopping him from chasing other dogs, and doing... well, most of the things we were now asking him to do. We humans sure are confusing! But in just a few moments, once the sheep started moving, he perked up and started doing a bit of a chase here, a bit of a pursuit there, and eventually a few really good runs to keep everyone together. "He'd make a great cattle dog," the tester commented.

He passed the test! He has a nifty little certificate and everything!

There were multiple groups of three sheep penned up, and they worked "shifts" of a few dogs each. The sheep were moved around by a handler and a "real" working herder. The cooperation between them was awesome to witness; the dog knew what to do, clearly, but the handler gave specific direction that the dog would respond to. The sheep were twice the size of the dog, but the dog could easily stop or direct the sheep as desired.

Walking around before leaving, we saw another woman working with her dog in a large field wit some more sheep. Again, a beautiful activity to do together.

Here's an interesting article about the tester, Nancy Ward, and her facility, Brigands Hideout. They have a huge barn with an indoor agility ring.

Much fun was had by all!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Canine travel safety

Traveling with dogs can be a handful. For years, we just threw them all in the back of whatever vehicle we had, and off we went.

With age comes more caution. Working in insurance begets more caution. Flirting around the edges of dog events suggests more caution. And, every Facebook group and mailing list shares horror story after horror story of everything from poodles embedded in steering wheels to dogs who survived horrific crashes, only to escape from the car and be struck on the road while emergency services worked to free the driver.

With plans to work more with Jackson and Solo -- together or separately -- I took a look at my canine car safety plans. Which was easy, because it was essentially ZILCH. "Load up, let's go!"

Immediately, a tough challenge was at hand: I have a 2006 VW Beetle. Not exactly known for copious and versatile cargo room. Bought new, the initial intent was to drive her until the wheels fell off. I maintain that intent.

After searching, reading, measuring, considering, etc. I came up with a solution that, while not perfect, is about as good as its going to get for me in this vehicle.

Two collapsible soft crates that fit perfectly -- they actually wedge -- between the back wall as it cuts away for the hatchback and the seats in front.

I'm going to take a "test ride" with them this afternoon. They are both crate trained, and I've had the crate out in the house for a few days and we play in/out with it a few times a day, so I don't anticipate any issues.


It's not perfect, but it's better than two crazy dogs lose in the car.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Ugly Quilt

I'm back working on what is affectionately called, "The Ugly Quilt."

While traipsing across NW Oregon with my Mom during the Snowflakes and Stitches Shop Hop earlier this year, a jelly roll caught caught my eye. Ombre dots, a fabric series by Quilting Treasures, was busy, modern and enticing.

After completing all the squares from the shop hop, I was eager to start another project. Looking at various projects online, the possibility of paralysis was palpable -- I could look for that perfect project forever. Chances are, the choice would be a project that would then require more learning, more tools, more fabric... and ultimately just be one more thing that would never see completion.

Opening the (already growing) fabric stash drawer, I perused things for a moment, then just grabbed the roll, unfurled it, and started sewing strips together.

Like the kid that bellies up to the ice cream counter and asks for a scoop of everything WITH all the different sprinkles, too, I quickly found that too much of a good thing is, indeed, just too much. All that color, the busy dots, the fades... just TOO much. It almost causes motion sickness, I'm not joking.

But... I was committed. Besides, how does one learn from mistakes, unless you go boldly into and then through them? Deciding to make two square variations, each of five colors, the strips were cut down into large blocks. Opening up Illustrator, I played with some layouts and grid sizes. The aim was not for a specific size, just something big enough for a couch blanket.

On the one hand, I have no idea what I'm doing. On the other... I did it.

Fast forward until the next time my Mom was here... four months later. She, Scot and I went to Fabric Depot, and my goal was to find a fabric to flow between the blocks. Something sturdy enough to stand up to it, but not add to the cacophony. In my mind was a strong idea; but, as usual, Scot had a better eye than I did, and made a suggestion that I didn't quite see, but, frankly, trusted more than my own.

One step at a time.

It was put away, just stacked squares and the hunk of whatever-it-is-you-call-between-the-squares, until today. My craft room continues to be -- slowly -- cleaned out and organized. All "Projects Yet to Be Done" are stored in the open, in a special little basket. (OK, so it isn't that little; it's a laundry basket.) Approaching the basket, a voice reminded me to do the projects in the order they were received. Which, meant The Ugly Quilt was up.

Today, three rows. In another short evening, those will be married together, and the border completed. At that point I'll have a quilt top. A very busy, ugly, but well loved quilt top.

Then, backing, sandwiching, quilting and binding. All things I've never done. Yet.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rush R40 Tour stops in Portland, OR

About 30 minutes before curtain. Yes, seats filled up. Show was sold out I believe. 

Lessons learned earlier this week when Rush rocked Portland, Oregon:

1. Going to a concert stag is awesome. While some worried, I assured them that with ~18,000 other people there, surely someone would talk to me! The situation kind of comes primed with, oh, AT LEAST ONE THING IN COMMON. As suspected, I had no lack of conversation when it was desired.

And sometimes when it wasn't.

But also, your attention is completely free to focus on people watching. The air was filled with stories of how life long best friends met in college because they heard the other person listening to their favorite band, along with men of all ages trying to explain their deep love and devotion to the Holy Trinity to their wife/girlfriend.
My view from Floor Row 27 Seat 3 @ Moda Center

2. Floor tickets are not bad, but better if you are 6 ft plus. If I ever see a rock show in Moda Center again, I'll perform geometry to determine if the rise and run of a lower section seat would provide better viewing than the run on the flat from the stage to my prospective seat. I saw plenty, mostly thanks to their use of massive screens, but I know many around me -- shorter than I -- saw nothing but the back of someone's head.

Word is the sound mix was AWFUL elsewhere. Sounded good from the floor, but apparently not elsewhere.

3. Oregon is awesome. As the crowd filed out, the men behind me said, "Look at this! Everyone is so calm, friendly and orderly. What the hell, are we in Canada?" "We're close," said another. "It must trickle all the way down here!" I chatted with them a bit. They were Not From Around Here.

4. In this crowd, I'm nowhere near the oldest. (Yea!) And the draw is for my preferred demographic for window shopping: 45-55 nerdy guys. Niiiiiice.

5. This was my third Rush show, having seen the two previous (Clockwork Angels and Time Machine). It's a damn good show. Many people say, "Oh, I hate Rush," but all they have to go on are memories of early work -- and, yeah, if you didn't like Geddy's high vocals back in the day, I get it, neither did I.

For goodness sake, they got together as a band when I was 3. My first Rush album was Presto, in 1989 as a junior in high school, after getting turned into them by some friends at Rose Hulman (geeks I met through dial-up BBS). Rush's work through the naughtie's to present is filled with really rich wall-of-sound productions, silky, deeper vocals, and some awesome lyrics. This ain't your Daddy's Rush, you could say. But, there's still maniacal drums and more sound than you'd expect from one guitarist and one bassist.

Really -- their catalog has a little something for everyone, really.

6. I picked up the bass for a few semesters in college. It's the second instrument I wish were still here beside me today. Damn me and my short attention span.

7. Never stop doing what you love. These guys are 60-62, and they put on a three hour show and made it look effortless.

Pics from OregonLive:
Live review: Rush blasts through 40 glorious years in epic Portland show

Pics from other shows and a cute, but true, list of Rushisms:
21 ways to keep out on what may be the band's last tour

The night wasn't cheap. Floor seats, after "convenience fees," were $148. Parking $20. Bottle of water $4.50. The thinnest known-to-man but well printed concert t: $45.00.

And I'm happy to say that I got up and through the next day without issue. I'd call it all good. My boss did notice a pile of coffee and soda cups at my desk later in the day, however. But if a little rock and roll and caffeine are my biggest vices, I'm not doing too badly.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

My old sewing machine will get a second life.

In what has become an odd sort of once-every-22-year tradition, my Dad bought me a new sewing machine last year. (An awesome new sewing machine, a Pfaff Ambition 1.0.) He'd bought the previous machine for me, some 22 years prior. A metal body Kenmore 12 Stitch, a real workhorse of a machine. It was in great shape, but had developed an odd behavior that would require a full overhaul, to the tune of around $250.

With that news, I decided to wait, and put that money towards a new machine, perhaps after getting a tax refund. To make a long story short, Mom was visiting around this time. We'd been looking at machines together, and when Dad got wind of this he immediately said, "Well, I'll buy her a new one."

He's warned me to take good care of this one, because I'm not getting another one for another 22 years. "Deal," I told him.

Yet, I couldn't get rid of the old machine. It's been sitting in my closet for a year. Somewhat randomly, I stumbled across Coffee Creek Quilters, a program that teaches women in prison to sew and quilt. Sometimes I take the many skills I've learned for granted; but I can imagine how powerful the experience of learning to sew, learning to create beautiful things, and sharing those with a community could be. Those who complete the program during their time there will be given a "starter kit" to take home with them upon release from the facility. These kits include reliable refurbished machines and basic sewing tools and supplies to make their own quilt.

I talked to the organization about making a donation; they were happy to receive it. But I thought I had to get it fixed, first. I approached Montevilla Sewing Centers, where I'd purchased my new machine, asking for a deal on the repair given the destination of the machine -- and they told me they do all the repairs for the program for free, so just donate the machine! Awesome!

The box contains the manual, all the original accessories and parts, the extra feet I'd purchased for it, and some quality sewing basics that I'm donating along with the machine. (The box will be full after a trip to Jo Anns tomorrow.)

So, my little metal baby, you're going to get a new lease on life. I hope you can be a good, solid friend for someone who needs one. Make beautiful things together.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Here's a #TBT, text style.

That's me in my middle-school band uniform with my best buddy, Tobie.

Yes, I was a band geek. As a child, I played a variety of instruments, most significantly viola and later saxophone (tenor, thankyoueverymuch). Music, specifically making music, plugged me into a furious passion I later came to understand as primarily an energetic issue. The incredible highs and even bodily pleasure that playing music created is about energy. Both of the individual, and the larger creation of a group. But that's for another post.

Anyway, while I was overall outgoing, my feelings about my own musical talents were somewhat meek. Improvising, or playing solo in a crowd terrified me. But I knew I was pretty good. High school had three levels of band, with the top being symphonic band. Usually reserved for super players, seniors or band-director pets, I wanted in. I'd started playing in middle school, and had been in marching band as a freshman.

Looking back, my relationship with my band director was even more strange, bizarre and messed up than I realized at the time. To make a long story short, he wasn't inclined to put me into that band as a sophomore. But I was left somewhat unchallenged by the work of the band I was in. So, I pushed. The details of how that worked are somewhat fuzzy now, but involved some yelling, screaming, banging on desks and even crying. But there is one thing I remember clear as day.

I'm allowed to sit in with the symphonic band and play. Put before me is a piece derived from Dvorak's New World Symphony. I'd never heard it. I'd certainly never played it. Portions of the pages were absolutely crazy smatterings of notes, long chains of 8ths and 16ths that would be incredibly challenging -- ok, let's be honest, impossible -- on a first read. Off we go. I'm in the 2nd row, about 2 o'clock of the director, so I know he can hear every. single. note.

I nailed it.

He looked pissed off when we were done. So he says, "Amy, let me hear you play the first two lines on page 2." He grinned like the lion about to take down the gazelle.

Asshole! That's the hardest part. You know I hate to be called out. Even the first chair alto who is a freakin' superstar looks like, "What the fu...."

I know my face went white, and my blood ran cold. I took a deep breath and dove it.

And. I. Nailed. It.

To be honest, I have NO idea how.

I let my instrument hang by the strap, sat back, crossed my hands in my lap and stared at him. And he stared back at me. For about five seconds. Silence in the band room. I will never forget that. The usually boisterous, big room was silent, save for the whoosh of the AC.

He stared back, then looked down, shook his head and chuckled a little bit. And then we moved on, and I stayed in symphonic. And we continued to love/hate each other for another year until he pissed me off so badly that I quit band. I took my sax to college with me but never touched it. Eventually I sold it.

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Wild dogs, collar free.

Jackson (Border collie/Corgi) and Solo (Cardigan Corgi) play with a gusto I've never seen. Much of it is a wrestling match where one grabs the other by the ruff of the neck. There is pulling, tugging, taking to the ground, and twisting acrobatics--like nothing I've ever seen before.

I've heard horror stories of dogs strangled by collar mishaps (see here). I've not experienced an incident or close call, in 21 years and seven furkids. But I've read stories here and there, and have met some dog people who are strong proponents of not collaring a dog if you aren't present right beside them.
Watching them play in the lawn Sunday morning, months of thought crystalized clearly. "Take off the collars," I said, and the dogs were uncollared. In our ten years in Oregon, we've never had a dog go walkabout. Not that it can't happen, but it's not likely. And looking at them twist themselves into pretzles, with mouths around collars, it suddenly seemed that was a much more likely, and more dire, situation.

They are all chipped, of couse, Collars will be worn when out and about (dog park, vet visits, traveling).

They feel and look so wild without them!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Good food, good people, and good corporate ethics matter.

We stumbled upon fishpeople at the Mother Earth News Expo at the Linn County Fairgrounds yesterday. I'm intrigued, due to an impressive looking product with quality ingredients and amazing packaging. But the kicker? An incredible content-sourcing function on their web site. By entering a batch code, you can see exactly what is in your product, and exactly where it came from--down to the boat that caught it. Based in Portland, OR., The company is so slick, it seems too good to be true! I look forward to researching more.

Their materials say they'll be found in Costco, Safeway, Amazon and more.

When we decided to rely upon locally farmed meat, we greatly increased our own education. We also became even more concerned about the state of the our countries food system, and the average person's complete disconnection from any basic understand of their food, what it is, where it comes from, etc.

Dungeness crab bisque. Coconut red curry seafood bisque. Those were two soups we chose to try. A report will be forthcoming.

Just as concerning to me is the trend that natural, high quality, ethically conscious food comes with a hefty price tag. So much to consider and juggle. How can produce that was grown in another country, and shipped thousands of miles to my grocery be less expensive than something grown locally. Anyway, that's all many other posts.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Greta at the beach.

Greta at the Beach from Amy Young-Leith on Vimeo.

We relaxed at the beach this weekend. Greta went with us, while friends watched the little squirts. In short, she was an angel. Yes, she's well behaved, but this was above and beyond. She'll be 13 this year, but as you can see, she is getting along quite fine.