Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kneed More Time

Hello everyone, so sorry for the loooong break, but my father had knee replacement surgery last week and I have been helping out a bit. He is 83 and lives alone and manages quite well, but when you're laid up with one of these
you just can't hop out of bed and do your normal activities anymore. He seems to be recovering nicely and is now in a convalescent facility that provides physical therapy. I'm sure he will regain his strength and independence soon. Now if I can just keep him off his bicycle... and off the roof...

Hope to be back to crafting, creating, and blogging Amongst The Oaks real soon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mince Pies Revisited

Pippajo asked what was in mincemeat, so I did a little research. Originally mincemeat did indeed have meat in it, and many traditional recipes still include suet. But nowadays it's mainly fruits, peels, spices, and nuts. With a little brandy.

The label on the Robertson's that I bought includes fruits, peel, and (surprisingly) palm oil and sunflower oil, making it ok for vegetarians. It was nice, but I jazzed it up by adding more apples, nuts, and brandy. If you are interested, this site has a nice summary of mince pie history.

I think it would be nice sometime to make my own from scratch, but you have to make it well in advance and let it age, so for now I'm happy with the Robertson's. And the Lord of the Manor was certainly happy with it. Even though he had never tasted it before, he proclaimed it wonderful. Could it be his Scottish genes rising up to assert themselves?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Installing Signs

Times are tough all over and here Amongst The Oak it's no different. We are having a difficult time making ends meet at work, so guess who is installing signs again? You guessed it; the Lord of the Manor and I. Just like the old days when we first started our business.

Saturday we installed two sets of metal letters at the local university. The previous week we had cut the letters out of 3/8" thick aluminum on our CNC router. Holes were drilled and tapped in the back for the studs. Then the letters received a clear coat of polyurethane paint and a hanging pattern was made.

Early Saturday morning we lugged all our tools and the letters across the lawn and got set up. The first sign was about 12' to the bottom. We used extension ladders on this job, but sometimes we use scaffolding. First we taped the pattern onto the wall. The pattern shows the outline of each letters and the location of the stud holes. Next the Lord of the Manor drilled all the holes with a masonry bit whilst I put in the studs and spacers.

The studs are 2" pieces of threaded rod and the spacers are 1/4" thick plastic that we also cut on the router.

Here are the letters ready to be taken up the ladder. You know who took all the letters up the ladder, right? I can carry three or four letters at a time up the ladder, but with my hands full, I have to use my forearms to hold on. Doesn't really seem safe, does it? And the second set was even higher, so it took even more steps to get to the top. By the time we were done I was really tired of those ladders!

Anyway, I carried them all up, and the Lord of the Manor applied the silicone adhesive and pounded them into place.

So here we are all finished. I bet you've always wondered how these things were done, so now you know; little old ladies and tired old men do this on Saturday mornings when no one is looking. But you know what? It's good to know we still got it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mince Pies, Anyone?

I've been wanting to make some mince pies for ages. During Christmas I even bought some mincemeat, but I never got around to it. So today I got it out again and finally made them. First I jazzed up the mincemeat with chopped pecans, minced apple, orange zest and some brandy.

Then I made the pastry, but since it was an English recipe and I don't even own a kitchen scale, I had a little trouble with the measurements. {Note to self: get a kitchen scale!} And I don't have mince pie tins, so I used muffin tins and just filled them about 2/3 with the pastry. Then I spooned in the mincemeat and topped them with stars.

After baking and a sprinkle of powdered sugar, they actually looked like something you might see in England. So we made a pot of tea and had a wonderful little snack on this rainy afternoon.

So here we are running a little late here Amongst The Oaks, but maybe next year I can make them before Christmas.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Scampi con Fagioli

I don't now what it is about January and cold weather, but it seems this weekend was all about eating. I did finish pruning the roses, but mainly we ate! Tonight for dinner we had Scampi con Fagioli from this cookbook. And it was just as good as I remembered it from the restaurant.

First you cook and marinate the shrimp in a vinaigrette. Then you warm the beans with garlic and sage leaves and simmer them for 10 minutes. Finally you plate the beans, garnish with the shrimp and tomatoes and arugula and serve. Actually we didn't have any arugula, so I used tiny lettuce leaves, but it was delish!

Warm beans, marinated shrimp, cool tomatoes - what a wonderful combination.

And we served it on the plates we bought at Stagnero Bros. last summer. The Lord of the Manor likes dishes too and says we must get more plates like this. Who am I to argue?

The scampi con fagioli was really yummy. I highly recommend it.

We also made the baked vegetables from the cook book Saturday night and they were delicious too.
And we made Julie Child's leek and potato soup for lunch on Saturday and it was delicious too. We made enough to have leftovers as a starter Saturday night with our sauted chicken and baked vegetables, and we had it for lunch again today. We had fun playing with the sour cream garnish, do you do this?

So that was our weekend food-wise. I thought maybe we would eat less after the holidays, but that doesn't seem to be happening. But at least it's good healthy food, and not Christmas cookies, right?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Whilst Pruning The Roses

I saw some interesting things; like these buds surviving somehow in the cold.

And more appropriately, these rose hips that somehow escaped dead-heading last summer.

and this tiny fungus. Is it some sort of cup mushroom/pezizaceae?

And these yellow leaves.

And most amazing; this preying mantis egg case. Which I left in place. I'm hoping to see them hatch when the weather warms up here Amongst The Oaks.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Favorite Projects from 2009

Lots of projects got done Amongst The Oaks in 2009. It all started in January with painting Teen2's bedroom purple, then repainting the main bath, then repainting the laundry room. By Spring we were adding a disposal, hanging a map, planting lettuce, and installing more drip irrigation. Summer found us painting Acorn cottage, making drop cloth curtains, refinishing chairs, and making flowery bunting. As the weather cooled we prepared for Halloween by making tiny coffins, tombstones, graveyard columns, and potion bottles. Then came Fall with touches of white for the dining room, and finally Christmas with glitter houses and cranberry glass ornaments. Oh, and the Lord of the Manor totally rebuilt Teen1's car.

All great projects, but here are my favorite ones for the year:










You may ask how we got all that done plus the usual stuff, plus work every day. Well the Lord of the Manor and I have a system. Every January we put considerable thought into our goals for the New Year. We actually walk around the house inspecting things and looking for things that not only need doing, but things we'd like to do or change. And we write them all down on a pad of yellow paper. And we keep that pad handy in a kitchen drawer and pull it out often to see what's next. And you know what? It works! Sometimes you only have a few hours and need a small project, and you see "install drip irrigation to hanging baskets" and there you go - a perfect Sunday afternoon project. Other times you choose a big project, but even that can be broken down into manageable steps to make it less daunting or time consuming. Maybe the planning stage will only take two hours? Maybe the next weekend the shopping stage will only take three hours? Maybe prep work can be done a little at a time in the evenings? Then maybe the next weekend the actual work will only take six hours. Don't let a big project beat you before you even get started - just break it down into manageable steps.
As projects get finished and checked off, you have a real sense of accomplishment and at the end of the year you feel great as you look back at all you've done. Not everything gets done, but you can put that on next year's list or you can just forget about it. That's the beauty of this system: you make the list, so you own the list. You can change it, add to it, or delete from it as you see fit.
So we have already made our lists for 2010 and it promises to be a year filled with interesting projects which I will share with you as we finish them. But don't think I'm going to show you those lists - then we'd feel obligated to do everything on them!
Wishing you success with all your projects in 2010 from everyone here Amongst The Oaks.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Grandma's got a new toy...

and I'm jealous.
MIL and FIL came over last Sunday and had French Onion Soup for lunch with us. I was just starting to cook the onions when they called so we quick put two more bowls on the table and invited them. Anyway, she brought this new toy; a Hewlett Packard A646 photo printer.

So after she took a few photos of Teen1's new car she came back to the kitchen and showed us how it worked. And I was impressed. Very impressed. It has photo editing capabilities, prints beautiful glossy 4x6 or 5x7 photos, and can even print from mobile devices. Here are some of the photos she shared.

Since I've gone to a digital camera, I hardly ever make prints anymore because, truthfully, organizing my photos and going to the drugstore with a CD is such a pain. Is that the height of laziness or what? Consequently, my photo albums have come to a screeching halt. And I used to love scrap booking, too. So I'm thinking of getting a printer like this.

Does anyone out there have one? Do you like it and use it all the time? Any problems or issues? Thanks in advance for your help. I'm anxiously awaiting your comments here Amongst The Oaks.

Monday, January 4, 2010

1971 VW Beetle Restoration

The bug is finally done! After hours and hours and hours of work by the Lord of the Manor and a few hours here and there on my part, it is finally done and running like a finely tuned watch.

Whilst the Teens slept in on New Years morning, the Lord of the Manor and I tinkered with the last few nagging issues: brake lights, aligning the steering wheel, spraying on undercoating, and timing. But we totally missed the boat on the timing and it continued to buck and snort the next day so I Googled VW tune up and found this great page. It was wonderful to see that strobe light finally flashing on the correct timing marks and hear the roar {ok, purr} of the newly rebuilt engine.

So little Hidalgo {that's what she named him} is all clean, fresh, and new from his tiny trunk...

to his license plate which has also been restored. Did you know you could carefully scrape those stickers off and reuse them? Just be gentle and stick them back on with spray adhesive or double stick adhesive-on-a-roll.
So keep an eye out for this little yellow bug zipping around Amongst The Oaks and give Teen1 a honk and a wave. She'll be the one grinning from ear to ear.