Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rainy Sunday

Ryan and I made eight half-pint jars of strawberry preserves today. Drew supervised while wearing his sisters' lavender apron.  I'll share more on that this week.

If you look closely, you'll see where he knocked his tooth out a few months ago.
I painted this (free!) desk.  The top needs a coat of poly and then it'll be ready to share with y'all.

Thank you, Craigslist divorcee.
Ryan enjoyed a lovely salad topped with two soft-boiled eggs.  Since I'd rather not be sued for encouraging you to eat under-cooked eggs, I shall merely link to the boiling instructions, for which I take absolutely no responsibility.  

  A little runny yolk.  
We also planted Hosta, mint, and basil, drank Summer Shandy beer, baked brownies, and enjoyed a family trip to an empty grocery store (thank you, Sunday morning).  Leisurely weekends are a good thing, and Martha Stewart didn't even have to say it first.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

One day, three bites

I never do tutorials, mainly because around here, we don't have much to teach.  But I did something so well yesterday that I have to pass it along.  You will want to know how, I promise.

First, let me introduce you to Trifle.

Trifle is an English dessert, usually made in what looks like a large cocktail glass (technically called a Trifle Bowl-go use your new term with pride. "Her feet were bigger than trifle bowls!"). It usually consists of layers of cake or cookie, jam, custard, fruit, liqueur, and whipped cream.  There are dozens of variations involving chocolate, lemon, marscapone...just about anything.  It is one of my favorite desserts on the planet and has been ever since Hazel the caterer made it for a party I attended when I was about 8 years old.  Hazel was a well-known caterer in Memphis, TN, but she wouldn't share her Trifle recipe, and I'm sure she's long gone now.  (note to self: if I have a great recipe, I will share it.  It will not die with me)  I haven't made Trifle in years, partly because I might have consumed a whole Trifle Bowl-ful of the delight in 2005 and been dairy hungover for weeks.

So now that we're well-acquainted with Trifle, let me also introduce you to Book Club and the mandatory food contribution it entails. The past few occasions, I have failed miserably.  About a year ago, I made delicious cookies, only to realize that I had baked hair into every last morsel.  You see, I was a couple of months post partum, and my hair was falling out without any intervention from me.  It had tried to kill the vacuum, clogged the plumbing, and now infiltrated my baking. So my husband ate the cookies, and I brought a bottle of wine.  

The next book club, I tried to make pound cake. It completely fell apart.  So that time, I went empty-handed.

Yesterday, though, I refused to fail.  I was going to try a pound cake again, and I would get rave reviews.  It would be my crowning glory!

So here follows my tutorial.  I'll get to what I'm teaching you at the end. Please. Humor me.

1. Make pound cake from Paula Deen's recipe.

2. Feel smug until you realize 90 minutes later that the timer never went off.  And you're about 10 minutes late.

3. Cake is ruined.  Dry as "a tree" (according to Katie).  #$%^!!!

4. Realize Trifle will save the day.  Surf the webs to find Martha Stewart inspired recipe made with lemon curd. Lemon curd: delicious AND sophisticated.  The raves are sure to follow!

5. Pack up your kids for a trip to the Hyvee.  Bribe them with Spiderman fruit snacks.  Buy the curd, whipping cream, strawberries, and pudding.

6. Once you're home, have a sneaking suspicion that MS's recipe might not taste that good. Lemon curd and pudding?  Try it out in a small bowl. Feel heart sink when the bitter curd tastes terrible with the other ingredients.

7. Look at strawberries.  Look at saucepan.  Have a brilliant epiphany.

8. Dump cut strawberries and the sugar you have on hand into pan.  Don't bother measuring.  You're in survival mode.

All you have in the house.
9. Boil the hell out of the berries and sugar.  20 minutes. Mash with potato masher.

Steaming goodness.
10. Put mixing bowl into freezer to prepare for whipping cream (FYI: Cold utensils will help the cream whip faster.).  Dump jam into another bowl and put that into the freezer too for a few minutes.  Whip the cream.

11. Taste jam. Roll your eyes in delight.  Envision the accolades to be showered on you at book club.

12. Layer bits of cake in the bottom of a glass dish. Since your mother, when you were 13, asked you if you would ever want to make Trifle and then gave the dish away when you failed to foresee this day, you find a small dish of your grandmother's.  Your daughter says it's sparkly.  Spread jam on cake.  Pour on Jell-O White Chocolate Pudding you made five minutes ago.  Feel temporarily guilty you didn't make homemade custard. Get over guilt fast.

13. Layer more cake and jam.  Top with whipped cream sweetened with powdered sugar.  Garnish with cut strawberries you've already sweetened a tad since they traveled from California and aren't exactly vine/plant/bush-ripened.

14. Take your triumph to book club, where everyone is on a diet.  Seriously, everyone. One gal went back for seconds, but everyone else eyed it while munching celery.  Don't even think about guilting everyone by revealing how it's made with homemade jam.

15. Drink margaritas.  Talk about books.  Bring home five books and tons of leftovers.

16. Eat aforementioned leftovers for breakfast the next morning.  

17. Hide in the closet, and devour the rest of the homemade jam with a spoon while the kids yell, "Mommy? Where are you? Drew has your cell phone and just called Canada! And he's converting to Socialism!".

See, wasn't that easy? You've now learned how to spend hours making something everyone admires and nobody eats!  

I know I learned an important lesson with this exercise. Always bring something indulgent to book club, so I'm left with plenty to enjoy later.  

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What I've been reading

Y'all know I read a lot.  I read so much that people tell me I need a hobby, to which I respond that reading IS my hobby.

There are a few missing, partly because I have zillions of books on my Kindle, but also because books tend to disappear into troll holes around here, only to be found thousands of years later, petrified with sap along with dinosaur DNA.

A few worth discussing: Bucolic Plague is the tale of two citified gentlemen who buy an estate in upstate New York as a weekend getaway.  They turn their lives into blog-worthy fodder (partly boosted by one's employment with Martha Stewart), but the image they portray on their blog is not exactly what's going on behind the scenes.  Very very funny. Very very gay.  Probably explains why an 18 month old book (practically brand new!!) would be discarded from the conservative Utah (Did you know you can buy used books on Amazon and use Prime shipping benefits?  Yikes, it's been hard on my wallet, but I've ended up with lots of discarded library books).

The Dirty Life.  Another NYCer-turned-country story, except this gal becomes a big-time farmer.  Kristin and her husband have a unique business model of providing all the food a person can eat through a huge annual farm share ($3000/year/person or so) rather than the tiny $17/week we'll be paying through our CSA.  The writing is beautiful, and I could relate to the writer--frightened of long term commitment, always seeking new things, loving horses (that last one isn't quite true.  Wait, it's a lie, I really do not like spending time with horses, although I appreciate their contribution to agriculture and other things, whatever those things happen to be).

Anything Barbara Kingsolver.  About seven years ago when I was teaching high school (a time I have tried to block from my memory), a colleague recommended The Poisonwood Bible.  At the time, it was on everyone's to-read list and teachers loved using it in their literature courses. That immediately turned me off because I find that when everyone loves it, I often don't.  Partly because of my indisputably "superior" taste in literature, but also because I'm a natural contrarian (yes, mother, you were right. And it hurts to admit that).  Anywho, I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a couple years back and have returned to it many times, so I had to finally jump into TPB.  The basic plot centers around a family of missionaries in the Congo over fifty years ago.  Voices abound in the book, and the ending is quite cathartic.  Loved it.  I then had to read a couple more (nonfiction) books on the Congo, a country that is still in bad shape all these years later.

For those who don't know, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, is Kingsolver's account of a year of local eating with her family. She grew much of her own food and sought out ways to get everything else she needed within a rather small radius (except coffee, spices, and a few other things).  My only beef with the story is that it can make somebody like me, with my less than 1/5 acre and general lack of funds, feel a tad inadequate.  It's best to take what you can from the book without feeling judged because having read some of her other stuff, I don't think food elitism is her goal at all.

I'll save the rest of my thoughts of food snobbery for another post, but it's been on my mind lately.  More to come.  And lots more reading material for you.  I seriously have dozens of books I could talk about.

P.S. I won't spend a post rambling about Simplicity Parenting, but I do recommend it, even though I typically hate parenting books.  Next time you're feeling overwhelmed by your kids' schedules, pick up a copy.

P.P.S I think y'all would know this, but I haven't been comped for any of these book recs.  The authors and publishers don't even know I exist.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Why I love Kansas City: Part II

Some time in the last couple years, a fella I know called Kansas City a "hole".  This proclamation was hilariously inaccurate in my eyes, and it was also quite ironic considering his current abode is in a small country town where the Olive Garden is considered the height of sophistication.  For one reason or another, I have been unable to forget his statement, and every time I learn about something awesome in KCMO or Eastern Kansas, I think "Ah-HA!  This is a booming metropolis, fool! You call it a hole.  I call you A-Hole!".

Aaaaaanyway, I'm still in love with my new city.  So let me give you a few more reasons why, other than BBQ.

A couple of weeks ago, we went with Ryan's parents to Deanna Rose Farmstead in Overland Park, KS, and spent the morning petting goats and smelling poop (it IS a farm, where poop is plentiful).  There's fishing, pony rides, playgrounds, gardening, and just downright fun in general there, and Monday thru Thursday it's FREE.  Even on weekends, only $2/person.  Awesome.  The kids had a blast, and so did I.

Speaking of super fun, we visited Science City when my dad and stepmom were here last month.  I had more fun than the kids, and they loved it.  You can make music in a dozen ways, build towers with neat stuff, do balance and reflex tests, explore what plumbing is like, try out mechanical advantage, build a dam, dig in the dirt for fossils...the list goes on and on.  It is kind of expensive, so if you think you'll go more than once, buy a membership and you'll make your money back very quickly.

But you know what's got me the happiest about Kansas City lately?  Our local 1/4 beef.  The pastured chickens we ordered. The local eggs and milk.  The dozens of CSAs to choose from.  In short, we can get good food here.  At restaurants, sure.  But also for our own kitchens.  The last town we lived in, only the fringe really participated in the local food movement.  Chain restaurants abounded, and I could only find one CSA.  I'm sure it's better now--that city does not exist in a vacuum-- but it's still constrained by small-town politics and a huge resistance to change.

I am so happy to be in my awesome hole of a city, where the exotic peacefully exists next to the bland, the suburbs are pleasantly urban, and the aging hipster and militant youth can enjoy their supremely delicious bbq side by side, humming a rousing rendition of Kumbaya without the slightest hint of irony.

Kansas City, it's the Paris of the Plains!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Where's Dionne Warwick when you need her?

May I call you friend, lovely reader?

Perhaps.  Maybe we've built an online relationship or one in real life (yes, online friendships are real.  I am a founding member of a virtual group that just celebrated its 5 year anniversary). Or maybe you're my enemy who cannot help looking at my blog because you want to laugh derisively when I do something stupid (which is often) or scoff at my lame attempts at humor.  Or maybe we were friends before but you haven't figured out how to break up with me.  Or maybe you're a complete stranger who came across my blog because you're looking for that damn castle in Kiefer, Oklahoma (something for which we get dozens of clicks every week).

I have been thinking a lot about my friendships recently.  Those who know me in real life might remember all the entertaining I used to do at my previous dwellings and think I've continued all these shenanigans in the Midwest.  Others might think all I do is go out to eat every couple of weeks and otherwise sit in my house and read.  Why the drastic difference?  Three children, for starters.  Kids don't necessarily get in the way of a social life, but they certainly can change it.  Frequent relocation to foreign lands (Kansas is soooo exotic!!) doesn't help either.

But mommy, we're best friends! That isn't enough?

This past move, though, has been the most difficult for me and often, quite lonely. Partly because I became a stay at home mother to my children in a brand new place, and also because when you reach a certain age, it just seems more difficult to start from scratch.  Trying to nudge my way into social networks that are firmly entrenched from years of cultivation by their members has been frustrating (it was hard back in Georgia, too, but at least I had work colleagues).  I have been lucky enough to have a few local people I think I can call friend (as well as many throughout the country)--hell, one of them decided to move right around the corner from me, so yes, she is definitely a friend--but I've been feeling the itch to spread my wings more and expand my circle.  Or at least deepen some of the relationships I've already formed.  As the children get older, it has become easier to be social. I now have no excuse, right?

So is it even possible?  I think so, but it will not be easy. I'd really like to have a big farm dinner this summer, and I am dreadfully afraid no one will come.  It's like high school all over again (side note: the blogging world is very high school, except with fewer meanies, and more nice women.  The amount of sucking up to some bloggers is hilarious, and I even find myself doing it, too.  Please love me!  I'm your biggest fan! That's the most beautiful chalk-painted toilet seat EVER!).

But I guess that the ball's in my court.  If the party consists of me polishing off my delicious shepherd's pie all by myself, then I'll start being friendlier with the local fauna.  Or I'll make more dental cleaning appointments so that the hygienest and I can talk more about the weather.  Or I'll become a helicopter parent and suddenly declare my children my best friends. Yup, that's the ticket! The world needs more hovering mommies!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Big Fat Green Thumb

See this lettuce?

Crisp. Fresh. Delicious. Abundant.  And I grew it.

Hold your horses, Starr.  It's good, but you ain't got much of it.

Thanks for outing me.  Yes, it's a plate's worth.


Excuse me, a dessert plate's worth.

In my defense, I could've picked more, but I would have decimated my crop.  And while I think eating micro-greens is awesome, I figured I could let a few of the plants grow some more.

I also made these peanut butter cookies (peanut butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and leftover Easter candy). But I did not grow the peanuts or sugar cane or vanilla or candy or egg (if only I could grow candy).  Tasty, though.

I did, however, help grow this good lookin' blond boy.  Lettuce and child.  Sounds like a picture worth painting.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dancing with the Green Fairies

Ryan's parents are visiting, so that means we got to go paint the town red (free babysitting!).  We could've held hands in a carriage in the Plaza, danced the night away at a club, gone cow tipping out in the sticks, gotten our hair braided... but we decided to go out to eat. Surprising, right?  Well, we did do something kind of cool.

Ever seen Moulin Rouge where the artists drink Absinthe and then Kylie Minogue dances around in a fairy costume while Ewan sings Elton John covers?  That's what we did last night!

Except Kylie wasn't there, and I'm not an artist.  And we weren't in France but at Nica's 320 in the Crossroads  District downtown.  When we ordered a round after dinner, the waitress looked at us sideways, as if we didn't look like the absinthe type.  And then she gave us a knowing look, "Yeah, maybe they are kind of freaky. I bet they like mayonnaise sandwiches, too. Yummmy, mayonnaise.  Wait, what was I saying?"

The Absinthe is first poured into the glasses, which are then placed under little water spouts.

A sugar cube is placed on a slotted spoon so that the water drips through it. Then it's all stirred together.


Friends we've been meaning to hang out with for six months now.  If you look up the words *fun-loving* and *spontaneous* you'll find pictures of this couple.  And now I bet they've been inspired by the little fairies to create, innovate, art-if-y stuff.  

Absinthe is not a girly drink, and despite the added sugar, it is not sweet in the slightest.  I might call it more of a tonic, filled with strong herbs like star anise.  You sip this, though, rather than shoot it from small glasses before eating your bundt cake with the flower pot in the middle. 

Ryan continues...

I took a lengthy sip and felt the slow burn trickle down my throat. It was quite pleasant, and I glanced over at Starr, expecting to see the aforementioned fairies floating around her head, taunting me. Unfortunately, but not sadly, only my beautiful wife stared back.

When we glanced over at our companions, however, we were rewarded with a magnificent vision -- our companions had melded into a single entity, whose unstably nebulous formed proceeded to regale us with delightfully hilarious stories. The entity seamlessly morphed from one face, voice, and consciousness to another, each telling the story from its point of view without so much as stopping for breath.

I looked back at Starr, who ignored me, transfixed by our new companion. I took another drink of the strange brew -- this time much deeper -- then closed my eyes so tight my ears rang. When I opened them again, as they pulled the scene back into focus, I observed with relief that our companions were once again themselves. The story remained as seamless as before, but no longer were they one being.

I finished the absinthe quickly after that, hoping to see something else new and incredible, but the drink held nothing more rewarding than its satisfying taste and accompanying buzz.

Starr concludes...

Yeah, I'm not sure where Ryan's story is coming from.  His drink must've been extra strong because I had no visions except of the bread pudding (which is divine).

Anyway, bottoms up!  Try something new when you can, y'all.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dead Oven Exorcism

The final step in re-appliancing our kitchen is to get rid of the ancient, tiny, disgusting, overheating oven.

We started by removing some of the trim around the outside to gain access to the mounting screws we suspected were hiding behind.

Behind the dirty glass trim panel, it was amazing how clean it looked.

This proved to be a fruitless waste of time, as there wasn't a single screw holding it in place. With some fingers wedged behind the edges, it came right out.

And then it stopped for no apparent reason. Thinking it was stubborn, we swore at it and pulled and swore some more, but it wouldn't budge another centimeter. I thought maybe the wiring was holding it back, so I found the junction box underneath and cut it free. Luckily, we had already killed the circuit when we re-wired for the new range, else I might have written this post from the ER.

And it finally let go! But... it made absolutely zero sense that it let go at that point, because there was enough wire slack for us to set the oven on the ground! We looked all over the oven and found no lip or protrusion that should have held the oven in place against our will.

Chalk that one up to the pervading, persistent insanity that envelops the Kiefer Cottage. There's really no other explanation.

With the oven tossed in the garage for later beating with a large hammer disposal on the List that is Craig's, we were left with a nice big hole in which to put the appliances that had been rendered homeless by the installation of the new range.

This will soon be finished with doors scavenged from the corner cabinet that was removed to make way for the big, green freezer, but for now, it's just nice not to have that eyesore scowling at us, constantly reminding us of all the burned cookies it produced.

As usual, Rufus helped by keeping the kids occupied while we worked.

Yes, those are dinner napkins serving as a blanket for a very patient kitty.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Today, Chess Club; Tomorrow, Nobel Prize.

My mind is a strange place. This much you might already know from reading the bits and pieces I publish here on The Kiefer Cottage. However, strange though it may be, I've been told on occasion that what leaks out of that mind onto the screen is entertaining. Entertainment for which you'd gladly pay a dollar.

This reminds me, I really need to give my co-worker back his chess set!

Well, how about two dollars, minus one penny? You see, I've gone and written a short novel. It's called Chess Club, and it's the story of a man who, without giving too much away, gets in over his head with a sexy coworker, with often hilarious results.

You'll want to read it, I promise. And if you really like it, you could show me some love on Amazon and give it a positive review! A struggling fiction writer needs all the help he can get, right?

Convinced yet? Great -- you're out of excuses now, so go download it on Amazon.

Bonus? If you're a prime member, it's free to read right now.

Starr's note: Ryan hates talking about himself.  It shows, doesn't it?  Well, you should know that the story is quite funny. Laugh out loud hilarious in many places.  I wish I could take credit for it myself.  It is a piece of adult fiction, though, so I wouldn't recommend it for youngsters.

Would you allow your mother to read it?  Why, yes!  She just emailed me this morning asking how she can get it without having a Kindle.  FYI, you can read this stuff without the Amazon e-reader.  All you need is a computer or some computer-like device and the Kindle App.  I promise there is one made for the computer or device you own -- otherwise, I suppose you must have figured out how to access the internet using a soupcan and twine!  If you need help downloading the tale, send us an email.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

You-ston, we have a problem

Our range hood is finally installed.

Our old one looked kind of out of place with our new stove.

It was also disgusting.  The cover had these nice little black specks all over the interior.  No, not stains, but evidence of a pooping bug. Yeah. Gross.

At least it came out without damaging anything.

The new one looks great!  We didn't spend a ton on this hood (it's a low-end Broan), mainly because I was more interested in looks than function.  As long as it has a light and blows stuff out the back, it's fine.

Wait.  What is that I see?

Oh yeah, this hood is much more compact and doesn't cover the messed up wall.

So now we have another troll hole (every time I think of trolls, Dora the Explorer comes to mind.  I'm a grumpy ol' troll!).  We've been making plans for the back splash--some of it depended on whether I could get the existing stuff off.  Yeah, it's not moving without a fight.  It's screwed in AND appears to be glued, too.  It will probably destroy the drywall behind it to yank it off.  So we'll be covering it, unless we figure out another way.

One idea is pressed tin tiles. We just have to make sure they're installed well, which might be a challenge over the laminate.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Flu and Taxes

We've self-diagnosed ourselves with flu.  Not stomach flu (which isn't really the flu at all), but the full-on influenza virus.  Everyone else is doing better, except for the dry cough that lingers, but I'm in the midst of my turn with the pesky ol' disease and have spent lots of time in bed.  It's been over 20 years since my last official flu encounter. Do I even need to say I haven't missed her (why's the flu gotta be a girl?  Not sure, but this gal is nasty)?

To add insult to injury, I've had to complete our taxes.  I finished the Federal return on January 31st as well as our Kansas form.  Why? Well, we got a refund from those folks!  But we owe Missouri and the Kansas City earnings tax.  Not very much, thankfully. It took forever to figure out the part-time resident status form for KCMO because it's really meant for people seeking refunds--we had to pay instead since Ryan's employer didn't withhold the tax.  Bleh, whatever, I'll spare you the details. I'm finished signing the checks, and we're finished with Missouri and any earnings taxes for awhile.

In other news, Drew is using utensils at the table.  That means he's a genius and definitely better than your 15 month old.  

Yes, bragging about my son makes the flu pain subside. It even takes away the sting of taxes. You should try it some time.  Practice with me: "My child is reciting the Constitution!" or "My four year old daughter whipped up a souffle that Thomas said was divine.  And by Thomas, I mean Thomas Keller.  We've been braiding each other's hair for decades now."  or "My redhead's motor skills are so good that she can take her diaper off without removing her pajamas. I read somewhere that it's a sign she'll be an overpaid corporate stooge one day!  Whoohoo!"  You have to say these things without the slightest hint of irony.

Anyway, because Katie always demands equal treatment, I've included a photo of the girls. Winslow was mad about me asking her to wear the matching hat.  They got costumes for Easter from Yia-Yia.  Drew received a bunny costume, but I'll wait until I have backup (Ryan) before trying to get him in it and photograph the spectacle.

That concludes my random update.  Thank you for your cooperation.
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