Friday, December 23, 2011

I'm a mommy!

We are thrilled to share with you the joyous news of our son's arrival.
8 pounds, 1 ounce
20.5 inches

About his name...

Kaelen is a Gaellic name meaning strong, fair-skinned, and slender.  Some sources add "mighty warrior" to the list, but we won't tell him that.  It is pronounced KALE-in.

The cats were unimpressed by his homecoming.  Rudy, our tabby, sat on my lap often during my pregnancy.  This afternoon he did again, this time competing for space with Kaelen.  As soon as Rudy started to purr, Kaelen fell fast asleep.  It makes me wonder what Rudy's purring sounded like to him when he was in utero.  My parents are bringing Rosemary home this afternoon and we're looking forward to her reaction.

We're so excited to share the news of our precious boy's arrival with you.  He has forever changed our lives, and will likely become a regular on the blog as I look for ways to incoporate living sustainably, frugally, and purposefully with having a child.

The blog may quiet down (even more) for a little while as we find our footing but I promise: I'll be back!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Update on molting hens

I posted earlier this month about our girls going through a hard molt.  Here are a couple of pics of them.
Front to back: Animal (standard blue cochin), Dozer (barred Plymouth Rock), and Nugget (Rhode Island Red).

The girls are so pretty, soft, and fluffy after a molt.  Animal's lacing (the appearance of an edge around her feathers) is quite striking.  We've noticed that the girls' colors change slightly with each molt.  Nugget's head and tail are considerably darker than they've ever been.

Curry's tail is still rather stubby but she's so soft right now.  Her head, too, is darker than ever.

Croquette, on the other hand, looks like dookie.  She holds up one leg to conserve heat.  She wouldn't let me near her to take any decent pics. 

Scooter, the top of whose crest you see below, was proud to show off her new white plumage.  Polish cresteds are the dorkiest birds, I swear.

The australorps are, hands-down, the softest things I've ever touched.  Once Croquette's new feathers are fully grown, she'll be black and green and gorgeous.  Until then, however... not so much.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Instead of a tree

Taking down a Christmas tree is never one of my favorite activities.  The thought of doing it with a (yet-to-arrive) newborn made it even less appealing.  Instead of dragging the artifical tree and ornaments out of their corner in the attic, this year we decided to decorate our mantel.  The entire process took less than 20 minutes, if you exclude the provisioning of the greens.

I even dusted.
Don't ya love the rabbit ears?  We don't have cable.

I work down the street from a tree stand.  One day during lunch I walked over to ask if they had boughs or garlands.  They had a sign that said "Boughs: FREE".  Awesome!  But when I inquired about the boughs, the guy at the stand looked at me blankly.  He didn't know what "boughs" are.

How do you work for a tree stand that gives away free boughs (branches) and you don't know what they are?  It's not like the menu of offerings at the tree stand had more then 6-7 items on it in the first place.  I was dying to eat lunch and my preggo patience was worn thin.  His coworker told me that they'd have boughs later in the day but didn't have any at that moment.  Being nine months pregnant and facing an uphill hike to employee parking alone after dark, I decided against returning later in the day. 

The following weekend Gene and I ventured out to a nursery in town that sells cedar garland by the foot.  We bought 8' of fresh, lovely smelling garland and headed home.

My mom and her sister had recently divided up my grandmother's ornaments and I was able to procure a few, including a handful of handmade blown glass ornaments from Romania and a couple of strings of antique beads.

I've tucked a glass ornament engraved with Bean's name into the garland, ready to pull it out when he comes home with us from the hospital in the next few days.  (I'm scheduled for an induction on 12/21 if he hasn't decided for himself to arrive.)  I can't wait to display that particular ornament.

In my attic there were a few Santa figures.  I like them because they're tall and narrow.  OK, the smallest one is technically a nutcracker ornament... close enough.  Decorators like things in odd numbers so three of these guys get to spend a couple of weeks on the mantel with the African violet.

I think I got rid of my string lights during last summer's attic purge.  But I had a ton of the IKEA tea lights and several juice glasses.  Mason jars would work fine, too.  I tucked five of these behind the garland, being careful to make certain that no part of the greenery was above the glass.

When lit, the candles emit a lovely flicker because of the vertical lines in the glass.  It's much prettier than string lights anyway.

Finally, I hung our stockings.  The snow scene on the right is mine, which my mom made for my own first Christmas.  I found the Santa stocking at left hanging on the back porch of my house, which I bought the summer before Gene and I met.  The Santa has a very pretty petit point face.  Who could have known that just a few months later I'd meet the man I'd later marry?  Good thing I kept that stocking.

The mitten in the middle will have to make due for Bean's "stocking" until he gets his own.  I think that my mom wants to make one for him but is waiting to learn what his name is before she starts it.  Besides, stocking kits will be on killer discounts in about two weeks!

Since putting up the greens our antenna reception has improved, allowing us to receive an additional channel.

Do you ever take a break from holiday decorating?  Do you do any sort of alternative decoration?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Under pressure

The title to this post is a little double entendre

First, I'm officially overdue.  My due date of 12/14/11 has come and gone without "Bean" sprouting.  I open facebook every morning to a slew of messages from friends around the globe asking if the baby has arrived.  The notes usually are along the lines of "haven't see a post from you in 8 hours - the baby here yet?".  These crack me up as I tend to sleep for about 8 hours daily.  Maybe I need to post at 3a when I heave my bulk out of bed to pee?

I've begun maternity leave.  I decided that I wasn't going to get any sort of medal for sitting around at work wasting time until my due date.  So now I'm at home and have my days free to... well... I'm still figuring out what to do with myself.

Yesterday I went with a girlfriend and her 3-year-old daughter to Watson's, a nearby nursery that had 2 reindeer on site.  Here is Bean with the oh-so-curious Donner.  Blitzen is the brown reindeer in the background.
"Your belly looks like Santa's."

After our visit with the reindeer, my girlfriend fed me a delicious beef stew made with the last of the veggies from her incredibly prolific garden.  My own veggie garden suffered badly from neglect and I spent much of the summer green with envy of her gorgeous vegetables.

The beef stew gave me a hunkering for more.  But with a doctor appointment that went from 2-4 yesterday afternoon and no ingredients in the house for stew, I'd have to wait until today to create that simmered-all-day flavor.

... or would I?

Pressure cooker to the rescue!

I stopped by the grocery store on the way home and picked up stew meat, bagged carrots, baby red potatoes, and bagged green beans.  In my pantry there were home-canned tomatoes, broth, and corn, plus onions, garlic, and all the requisite seasonings.

The great thing about beef stew is that you don't really need a recipe.  It lends itself fabulously to what I call "method cooking".  Once you have the general method of how to make it, you can repeat and create new variations based on what's in your own pantry.
Make sure veggies are bite-sized.

I made this in my pressure cooker but you could easily make it in a slow cooker or on your stovetop.

Here's what went into my beef stew.  Change up the veggies in your own version based on what's available to you.

2 lbs beef stew meat
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 quart home-canned tomatoes
1 pint home-canned corn
1 lb baby carrots, cut in half
1.5 baby red potatoes, cut in quarters
1 pint chicken or beef broth
1 lb green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces
salt & pepper to taste
enough cornstarch to thicken the mix

1. Brown meat in the oil.  Add chopped onion, whole garlic cloves, and tomatoes.  Close the pressure cooker, vent according to directions, and cook on the highest pressure for 25 minutes.

2. When time is up, open the pressure cooker (safely!), add the corn, carrots, potatoes, broth, and enough water to cover everything.  Bring to a boil and close the cooker again.  Cook for 10 more minutes under highest pressure.

3. Next, add green beans to the stew and cook without the lid until crisp-tender (approx 4-5 minutes).  The prevents the green beans from getting mushy, over-cooked, and turning grey. 

4. Add salt and pepper to taste, and thicken with cornstarch if desired.  If you've never thickened hot liquid with cornstarch, be sure to stir it into some cold water then add to the hot soup to avoid clumps.

Start to finish, this stew took about an hour in the pressure cooker.  It was the first time I'd used my cooker in stages, meaning that I'd cook, then open, the cook, then open again.  It worked well.  I served the stew with toasted, buttered asiago cheese bread.  It was hearty and perfect for a cold December evening... and tasted like it had been simmering all day.


Thursday, December 8, 2011


More years ago than I should admit, I spent Christmas in Europe with friends.  The days leading up to Christmas were in Bavaria, possibly the most Christmas-y place on Earth, and afterwards I continued to stay with friends in the Grenoble area of France.  Not technically the Alpes, but close enough.
My German friends lived in and around Munich and took me to a variety of Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt), both the enormous one in Munich's famous Marienplatz as well as a small one in a neighboring town called Aichach.
photo: Borderless Adventures
My mother's family has roots in Northern Germany and I suspect that's part of the reason I so dearly loved Christmas in Bavaria.  It's Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker wrapped up in a living, lovely package.  The sights and smells of a Christkindlmarkt bring to mind everything that is wonderful and magical about Christmas: sweet pastries filled with nuts and raisins, nutcrackers ranging from elaborately decorative to utilitarian, pine trees weighed down with hundreds of white lights, hand-painted tin ornaments, cedar wreaths, sweet treats like lebkuchen and pfeffernüsse.  I always crave marzipan stollen this time of year, too.  Here's the stollen I made last year:

And glühwein (pronounced gloo-vine).  Oh, good heavens, don't forget the glühwein!
Glühwein is soul-warming, spiced, sweetened wine served hot.  The name literally means "glow wine", and for good reason.  It's red wine steeped with cloves, cinnamon, and orange slices.  Some recipes call for extra alcohol to be added, such as brandy or amaretto.  "Glow" indeed!

At the Christkindlmarkt in Munich, paper cups of steaming glühwein are sold at booths around the market.  But in Aichach, the glühwein was served in ceramic mugs loaned to the market by the townspeople.  You pay a small deposit for the ceramic mug.  When you had glugged your glühwein, you returned your mug to the stand so that it could be washed and reused.  It keeps the liquid warmer for a longer period, too.  Talk about reducing your environmental impact!

Bavaria in December is cold.  And Ido  mean cold!  A warm mug of glühwein warms both your hands and your belly.  The spiced scent of it tickles your nose as you sip it on a freezing, perhaps snowy, winter night and allows you extra time to browse the market's booths.  It's an ideal beverage après-ski, for cuddling by the fire, for decorating the Christmas tree, or for accompanying a book or movie.  However you enjoy glühwein, do so in the company of loved ones.  And tipple slowly: its effects sneak up on you faster than that creepy coworker who is determined to catch you under the mistletoe.

  • Hot wine drinks (note the differences between glühwein and glogg)
  • Recipe for glühwein (I haven't made this one yet, but will try it Christmas day).  This blogger also has some festive pics of different markets around Europe.
My suggestions for making glühwein:
  • Use whole spices rather than ground.  Ground spices will cloud the liquid. 
  • Buy the spices in the bulk section of your supermarket to avoid having to mortgage your home for a few sticks of cinnamon and a whole nutmeg.
  • If you want, make a sachet of cheesecloth to contain the spices, or use a tea ball.
  • Allow the wine to steep, not boil.
  • If you use honey, reduce the amount you add by half because honey is twice as sweet as sugar. 
  • Taste the resulting beverage before serving to make sure it's sweet enough for you.
I'm dying for some glühwein.  I can't wait to make a pot of it and take it to my parents' house for Christmas Day.  Bean is making us wait for his arrival, however, so there won't be any glühwein for me until he's here.  My doctor told me today that he'll pencil me in for an induction on 12/21, which is a week after my due date and nearly two weeks from now.  I wanted to cry: I want this baby to be born!
Enjoy some glühwein for me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Eggs in winter

I used up the last of our girls' eggs this morning.  We're officially relegated to store-bought eggs until the ladies kick into gear again. 

Last year we got no eggs from December until sometime in April.  This year some of the girls starting molting in August, which was very early for them.  I took it as a signal that our La Nina winter was to be very cold but thus far it's been fairly mild.  I suppose we still have several months to go.

The cochin & Polish cresteds molted first, followed in close succession by the production birds.  As was the case last year, the australorps (black hens) were the last to go.  Also like last year, they look miserable: they're ratty and have broad swathes of bare skin in 40-degree weather.  We've found, too, that our normally friendly birds shy away from being touched when they molt.  It's got to be an uncomfortable process for them.

This is a pic I took of Croquette about this time last year (click link for more pics).  She and Miss Piggy, our other australorp, look like this again now.  Croquette has taken to standing in the middle of the yard, one leg pulled up to conserve heat, looking cranky.  There's nothing we can do for her but offer our sympathy.

When Gene and I first got chickens a few years ago, we made the decision not to force them to lay during the winter.  I'm rethinking that choice now, especially since they eat 50 pounds of feed each month at a cost of about $17.  Freeloaders.  Frankly, it's annoying to buy eggs at the grocery store when you know there's a flock of hens in your own yard.

So how come hens don't lay in the winter?  If you think about it from a biological perspective, it makes perfect sense: it takes warmth and ample food to raise chicks.  Neither of these things is available during the winter months so when the hours of daylight dwindle to less than 12 hours, hens' laying tapers off until it stops completely.  As the hours increase in the spring, the production of eggs follows.

Modern chickens have been bred into two categories: ornamental and production.  Ornamental birds, like our cochin and two Polish, tend to lay less frequently, go broody (i.e. desire to hatch eggs), and "switch off" for a longer period during the winter.  Production birds, as the name implies, lay more eggs per week for more months of the year.  Our nine-hen flock has six production birds: buff orpington, black star, Rhode Island Red, barred Plymouth Rock, and two australorps.  They're the workhorses of the group.  Other common ornamentals include "silkies" and others.  Most of the birds you find in feed stores are production birds, though ornamentals are increasingly more common.

We've definitely seen the difference between our breeds.  Beaker, one of our Polish cresteds, spent much of the summer trying to hatch the other girls' eggs or even sitting in an empty nesting box.  When she finally quit being broody, she laid a half-dozen eggs, then molted.  We'd get another standard cochin in a heartbeat - they're sweet, gentle, curious birds who don't mind being handled by children - but probably won't get any more Polish.  The Polish are noisy, neurotic, and poor layers.  That said, they're easy to catch because they can't see anything!

As an aside, we used to have a bantam cochin, who was also gentle with kids.  Tribble's short legs, feathered feet, and our rainy climate meant that moisture wicked up onto her body all winter.  She hated the rain and we constantly struggled with mite infestations on her.

Getting back to my point about laying cycles: it is possible to get the hens to lay during the winter.  We've decided that the girls will get a much-needed break through December.  They laid well last summer and we believe it's important to give their bodies a rest.  Come the New Year, we're going to put lights in their coop to encourage production.  Twelve to fourteen hours of light are needed to get them to lay.  The sun sets around 4:30 p.m. here in January, so we'll turn on the light in the coop from 3:30 until 7:00 a.m., then allow the natural daylight to take over for the rest of the day.  It's best to have the light in the morning to avoid the coop going dark before the girls have had a chance to get onto the roost.

Have you used supplemental lighting to encourage egg production in your backyard flock?  How were your results?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Last April, not long after discovering I was pregnant, Gene and I had a choice to make: when and how would we tell my parents?  My mom was getting ready to leave for a trip to visit family in the mid-west, and was planning to be gone for about 3+ months. 

Our options:
  1. Wait until she returned in August to tell my family... and everyone else.
  2. Tell my dad and brother but forbid them from telling Mom until her return.
  3. Allow my 1st trimester to pass without incident and tell Mom over the phone.
  4. Assemble the three of them and tell them prior to Mom's departure, even though I was just a month along.
We chose door #4.  Having never been pregnant, and being nearly 37 years old, this was a tough decision.  What if something, anything, went wrong?  Not only would we deal with the heartbreak of losing a pregnancy, but we'd have to break others' hearts after getting hopes up.  It was a gamble but one that paid off.

Gene and I had fun figuring out how to tell my family about Bean's existence.  My mom had been grousing about a broken travel mug, so we bought one at Starbucks for which you can customize the insert.  Gene typed my due date - which is my mom's birthday - in a small font on the insert.  Inside the mug we put a bib that said something about going to Grandma's house.  It was tricky to assemble the 5 of us before Mom left without raising suspicion.  But we managed somehow.

In mid-April we all sat down and watched Mom open her going-away gift.  She didn't notice the date on the mug & simply thanked us for it.  I knew that she'd open the mug in a few minutes and watched her like a hawk while the family chatted.  Sure enough, about 5 minutes later she popped the lid off and saw the Carter's tag on the bib.  That possibility hadn't occurred to clueless-about-babies me but she got the message loud and clear: we were there not to say good-bye but with Big Important News.

She looked over at me, mouth agape.  Gene, knowing what was happening, watched quietly.  Mom couldn't speak.  She blinked at me and I nodded, then she and I both started to cry. 

My dad and brother were utterly perplexed by the weird female telepathic scene unfolding before them.

I don't remember quite what went down next but I do recall my brother, upon figuring out our message of an expected baby, pushing his chair back and saying, "Whoa.  What just happened here?!?"

Dad broke out the champagne and everyone (except me) had some.  I think that my parents each had 2 or more glasses, to be honest!  They were thrilled, having pretty much given up on ever becoming grandparents because of my advanced years and my brother's lack of interest in committed relationships.

After the initial shock started to wear off, my dad asked me the due date.  I responded "12/15".  He thought for a minute, then issued this proclamation:
"This year, we're going out to dinner for Thanksgiving."

You have to understand that my dad is known for non-sequitors.  Half of the time I wonder if he can't hear, the rest of the time I suspect he's simply not paying attention to the conversation or is so uninterested in it that he randomly changes the subject to whatever appeals to him more.  For him to have declared 7 months ago that we would eat out for Thanksgiving is surprising but not entirely out of character.  I halfway think he'd been looking for a reason to do this anyway.

Dad called Shenanigan's the next day, only to be told that they weren't taking reservations until September.  I bet that those were some of the longest months of my dad's life!

So this year, instead of doing all the typical Thanksgiving meal preparations, my parents, brother, husband and I will be headed to a buffet at a nice restaurant on Tacoma's waterfront.  I plan to eat as much crab and shrimp as possible, especially since many of the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes and desserts are off-limits with my gestational diabetes.

Don't tell anyone, but I've ordered a fresh turkey and it's being delivered today.  I'm going to roast it on Friday, when Gene and I will have a mini-Thanksgiving dinner at home.  Whatever's left on Sunday will get made up into heat-n-eat meals for after Bean gets here.  I'm considering trying my hand at pasties (like Hot Pockets, only homemade).

Have yourselves a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.  From our family to yours, may you spend the day in the company of loved ones and with a spirit of gratitude for the many blessings we all enjoy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Five weeks and grateful

Bean's movements have definitely changed in the past week. I can tell that he's bigger, stronger.  So much so, that I've started doing the pregnant lady grimace.  You know the one: a woman in her last trimester will suddenly contort her face like a gargoyle's when an elbow pushes too far into some organ or tests the limits of his confinement with an outstretched limb.  Sometimes it's so unexpected to get a massive kick or a long, slow push outward that I gasp and stop mid-sentence to get through it.
My shower on 11/5 with my mom & girlfriends.  Wow... belly!

As my brother likes to say: "whoa, sh*t just got real!"  The change in movements has really made me realize that yes, there is a little person in there and he's growing impatient with his cramped quarters.

That said, I've acquired the new hobby of watching my tummy bounce and roll in the evenings.  Hey, it's cheap entertainment and we don't have cable!

My due date is now less than 5 weeks away.  Tomorrow is Veterans Day and I'm going to spend it organizing the nursery.  My hope is that by the time Gene comes home from work, the transformation from what used to be our office (and, frankly, junk room) to our son's room will be complete.  Heck, maybe I'll even get some pics to show you.

My pregnancy has made me realize that I've much for which to be thankful.

As much as gestational diabetes sucks, and as much as I desperately miss grains and fruits, it has kept me honest.  No more chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, or sweets for me.  I eat an apple every few days, and guiltily at that: testing my blood sugar 5x/day and faxing the results to the doctor weekly has a way of keeping one on track.  The silver lining is that I have gained just 15 pounds overall, and not an ounce in the past 3 months.  I fully expect that my baby weight will come home in the car seat, not on my butt. 

The new low carb lifestyle has, however, forced me to explore the wonderful world of fiber supplements.  Nothing makes you feel like an old fart quite like waddling through the grocery store in search of Metamucil.

Friends and relatives at my shower.  Oh, and my poor, swollen cankles.
My nearly 94-year-old grandmother, mom, and me.

How often do you assemble all your friends and loved ones in a single room and spend a day with them?  The answer is probably "rarely".  Good friends threw my shower last weekend.  I was surrounded by people I love and admire from all periods and areas of my life, who support and care for Gene and me in turn.  I was - and continue to be - so grateful for their generosity and the wonderful, thoughtful gifts they bestowed upon Bean.  Our son has more clothes, better books, cozier blankets, and more promises of cuddly date nights than Gene and me put together!

A blanket knitted by my dad's mom for Bean.  Bean is the 1st great-grandbaby on that side, and eagerly awaited.

One of the baby shower hosts, Margaret, had a spectacular dahlia garden last summer.  She was able to save the last of her dahlias for the shower decorations before the frost got them.  The blooms were gorgeous.  Another girlfriend made this incredible cake.  I felt so loved, and grateful for all the people in my life who made the shower a special day I'll remember forever.  And yes, I threw caution to the wind for a single day and said "diabetes be damned, let me eat cake".
Gorgeous cake, beautiful flowers, beloved friends!

I'm thankful for a relatively healthy and easy pregnancy.  Despite being 36 when deciding to try to  get pregnant, I had no challenges getting and staying pregnant (fertility in my family is, shall we say, not an issue).  I experienced virtually no morning sickness, have had swelling only in my cankles and feet, and I feel good overall.  I did have a couple of weeks of significant pain when my pelvis started to separate but that's mostly gone now.

Another thing I'm grateful for, which has surprised me, is a new appreciation for and acceptance of my body.  After a lifetime of struggling with a waistline I'd always hated, I never imagined sitting in my living room with my belly exposed so that I could watch it.  I couldn't have fathomed welcoming people to feel my stomach move (and I hope I haven't dismayed some of my students!).  In the past I envisioned myself in loose, tent-like maternity clothes rather than the form-fitting ones that I've been preferring of late.  It wouldn't have occurred to me to draw attention to my bulging belly rather than try to hide it.  It's been a freeing time to trade  my negative body hangups for a deep awe of what my body is doing: creating and sustaining a new life. 

And finally, I'm grateful that I can count the weeks left in my pregnancy on one hand.  In a few weeks I'll be grateful to lie on my stomach again.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Six weeks and counting

As you can imagine, Gene and I have been busy getting ready for Bean. Last weekend we went to Bellingham, WA, for a "babymoon". We bought a Groupon for a "romance package" at the Chrysalis Inn back in March... as it turns out, I was 1 week pregnant at the time. The special was for a gorgeous corner suite with a massive jetted tub. Each of us took 2 baths in rose-scented water overlooking the lovely harbor. We watched cable, which we don't have at home, lounged around, and took naps. It was glorious.

While in Bellingham we had dinner at the home of friends, Jenn and Matt. They have 2 charming boys and Jenn writes another locavore blog. Jenn, a fantastic cook, prepared butternut squash soup, roasted lamb shanks, and polenta. We contributed a bottle of red from our wine collection and enjoyed a wonderful evening with their family.

Yesterday we were in a childbirth preparation class for 9 hours.  Whew.  I'm glad that item on our to-do list is done.  Next weekend we're going on a tour of the hospital in the morning, and my baby shower is later that afternoon.  On Sunday, I'm doing nothing.  NOTHING!!  We've been so scheduled lately that we both need a break.  Besides, I have a feeling that I'll spend part of Sunday organizing Bean's nursery.

My dad's birthday was just last week.  It was a big one: 64.  Why is that big?  Just listen to this Beatle's song.

In his 65th year my dad will finally become a grandfather.  In fact, he'll be a grandfather in, at most, 6 weeks.  Just look at my tummy!!  Bean is clearly growing well, despite my own weight loss and super low carb diet.
My bump, my bump, my lovely baby bump

My dad loves trains.  I mean, he loves trains.  People who work on real trains call people like my dad "foamers" because of rainfans' tendency to foam at the mouth about train operations. 

My brother and I grew up counting train cars and knowing the correct names of each type of car.  We knew that any time we were in a car ans saw a train, Dad would pull over and we were to watch it.  There was always a model train going around the Christmas tree.  My dad built a 20' diorama in the basement, complete with handmade trees and tufts of grass.  He's in the process of building another one in his bedroom.  His collection of train books and DVDs (imagine a mind-numbingly boring narrated 50-minute video of a train going up a maintain pass) is massive.  Heck, during the summer months Dad sits on his back deck, his scanner tuned to the frequency used by the engineers on the nearby rail lines so that he can listen to their conversations.

Despite Dad's love of trains, he's really really hard to shop for.  Model trains are expensive - all of his locomotives are made of brass and each costs a small fortune - and it's impossible to know if he has a particular book or not.  I don't like knick-knacks, so I prefer not to give them to others.

What to do for his birthday?!?

As it turns out, the father of Gene's coworker is a train fanatic like my dad.  This man has even written a number of books about trains in Southern California.  The best part, though, is that he owns his own locomotive.  Yes, folks, a real, honest-to-god locomotive sits in this man's backyard, and he invited us over to let my dad foam over see it. 

We didn't tell Dad where we were going.  And when we got there, you couldn't see the locomotive from the house or the road.  Ken took us around a corner a BAM!  Dad's jaw dropped.  He'd had no idea why we were at this house tucked way back in a valley.  But there it was: a locomotive he could climb on, touch, and talk shop about with a fellow foamer.  Dad was in heaven!
Dad, Rosemary, Ken Johnson, me with baby bump

This locomotive was built in Davenport, IA, and was used at the Tacoma ASARCO Smelter from 1936-1957.  I grew up practically in the shadow of the smokestack, and can remember the steam whistle signalling the shift changes.  The smokestack was pulled down sometime in the mid-1990s and the smelter's Super Fund site has undergone a complete transformation.  It's no longer an ecological disaster and is in the process of becoming the euphemistically named Point Ruston

After Dad had had his fill of the locomotive, Gene and I took him to lunch at the Black Diamond Cafe, which bakes all of its goods in a wood-fired oven.  They're known for spectacular breads, pies, and cakes.  The cookies didn't look too bad, either.  On the drive to lunch, we passed some rail lines and Dad excitedly gave us a history of the Stevens Pass railroad tunnels, the role of railroads in the region, and more.

It was fun to give this gift of time and local history to my dad.  Thanks so much to Ken Johnson for allowing us to visit his locomotive!

As for his Christmas present, we're still working on it and promise that he'll be delivered just in time for the holiday.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Let me start this post with 3 confessions:
  1. I don't know jack - Jitendara? - about Indian food, other than that it's delicious.
  2. I don't know diddly about babies.
  3. I can't stand low-carb diets.
Ironically, I've made Indian food twice this week, am 7 months pregnant, and am on a low-carb diet due to gestational diabetes.

Life is weird that way.

Friends of mine had a baby boy last month.  They've been incredibly kind and supportive as I've progressed through my own pregnancy, so I offered to take them dinner and a gift for the baby.  They gladly accepted.  Then the wife drops this bomb: she's allergic to tomatoes.

I started going through my mental recipe repertoire & excluding the things that have tomatoes in them.  Crap, that's like everything that I make this time of year.  Chili, pot roast, many soups... all out.  And because I can only have very limited amounts of carbs, no pastas either.

I remembered having seen a Veena's Market saag spice packet in my cupboard.  I bought a few of them last year around Christmas and this was the last package.  I called my friends and asked if they like Indian food and, if so, could she eat spicy food while breastfeeding.  The answer to both questions was a resounding "yes".  Saag it was!

What, exactly, is "saag"?  According to this website:

Saag, or palak, dishes are spiced purees of spinach or other greens common in northern India. They often contain additional ingredients such as potatos, fresh cheese, chicken or chickpeas to make a more substantial dish.
Gene, who doesn't like cooked spinach, loves this dish.  If you're not a cooked spinach fan, try this recipe once before dismissing it.

I wanted to make my saag with chicken.  I started out with cutting up 2 chicken breasts and cooking them in oil.  Then I just put them aside while I made the spinach puree.

Veena's instructions are to saute the spices in oil, then add chopped onions.  You have to be very careful about this because it's shockingly easy to burn the spices and ruin your dish.  Her packets are numbered for you.  (BTW, Veena is a friend of mine but I bought these packets.)

Next, you add the spinach and let it wilt - this takes about a minute.  Don't be shy about how much spinach you're using; it will reduce significantly.

From there, you put the spinach into a blender with some water and puree it.  Return it to the saucepan with the chicken to reheat, salt to your taste, and stir in a dollop of plain yogurt.  Serve the saag over rice or...

... can you guess what this is?  It's not rice.  Nor is it couscous.

This, my friends, is cauliflower!  Run raw cauliflower through a food processor until it looks like couscous.  Out it into a microwave-safe bowl and cook without water until it's done, perhaps 3-4 minutes.  Voila: low-carb rice alternative.

Because I was travelling with this dish, I simply layered the ingredients in a covered Pyrex dish and reheated it once I arrived at my friends' house.

They asked to keep the leftovers. 

As for the gift for their son, a little pair of light green merino wool booties, I completely forgot to take pictures!  The booties fit him perfectly and both parents were appreciative.  They've promised pictures, which I'll post upon receipt.

I still have so much to learn about babies.  The first time I held my friends' new son I experienced a panicked feeling of "ok, now what do I do with this little guy?".  I haven't changed a diaper since the early 1990s, if then.  I just bought some nursing bras and laughed at the sight of my boobs in holsters.  Gene, who has children from his first marriage, looks at my boobs & apologizes "for what's going to happen to them in the next few months".  Yikes.

I'll figure it out.

Monday, October 17, 2011

When to censor a blog

Nearly a year ago I wrote a carefully worded open letter to The Pioneer Woman after outgrowing her blog & finding others that were more interesting and/or relevant to our lifestyle.  A blog that is single-mindedly devoted to disliking her picked it up & linked to it.  To be honest, I don't even read that blog because I found that it could be really mean-spirited at times.

As a result of being linked from that other blog, my one post about the Pioneer Woman gets more hits & comments than all my others combined.  Some comments are supportive of my post, whose point was that I no longer found her relevant to my life and was moving on to blogs written by people I could identify with, while some comments are downright nasty.

The irony is that people have to go looking for the post to find it.  My blog isn't exactly set up with SEO terms, nor is it in the top 100 search results.

Lately some of the negative comments have gotten ugly and personal.  Commenters, many of them anonymous, have called me catty, jealous, insecure, a bully, a "hater", and more.  Most of the time I just roll my eyes and wonder if they actually even read the damn post.

Today I went back and read it. I hadn't revisited it for quite a while. A year later, I still agree with what I wrote. I also believe that my opinion was carefully written without making any low blows at a fellow blogger.

Just this past weekend someone called me mean & accused my children of being bullies... how ironic given that the opening paragraph clearly stated I was childless.  That commenter had on her personal profile that she works in education.  I'm guessing that she didn't read my post, her reading comprehension must not be very high, or that she was so angry by the time she started reading that she could do little more than skim it.

Truth be told, the snarky, bitchy comments get to me sometimes.  All comments are sent to my in-box, which helps me monitor them, and this morning I got a handful of Monday morning notifications about what a meanie head I am.  It was (sarcasm) an awesome way to start my work week.

I'm debating taking the post down.  I try hard to never "feed the trolls".  I've allowed all the negative comments to remain on the thread and have never responded.  Blogs are free speech both for me as the blogger, and for you as the reader, n'est-ce pas? 

Maybe I should ask that other blog to remove the link from their site. 

Maybe I should expound upon the caveat at the opening of the post (which starts "fans of the Pioneer Woman should stop reading now").

What advice do you have?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Beans, the magical fruit

I got some crummy news last month: I have gestational diabetes.  Before I got pregnant I'd been working on losing weight to reduce my risk: both of my parents and one of my grandparents are diabetics.  Being over 35 while pregnant is another risk factor, though not one I could change.

While I initially took the diagnosis in stride, the past few weeks have been tough as I learn which foods spike my blood sugar and which don't.  Frustratingly, even whole wheat breads, fruit, and sugar in any form are out.  Forget the sterotype of the pregnant woman chowing down on ice cream: I'm lucky if I get a sugar-free fudgesicle.  On the bright side, I haven't gained a pound in 2 months!

Meat, nuts, cheese, and vegetables are all in.  I feel like I'm on South Beach or Atkins.  I met with a dietician to explore meal options and determine how I can best control my blood sugar levels in order to keep both baby and me in good health for the next 3 months.  I suspect that she learned more from me about sustainable foods than I learned from her about meal plans.  What a waste of a $30 co-pay.

By the way, have I told you it's a boy?  We're not telling his first name until he's here but I can say it is unusual and starts with "K".  He'll have my last name as his middle name, and share Gene's last name.  The baby - we've been calling him "Bean" - is due 2 months from today!  I feel like I've been pregnant forever.

Anyway, as I've been researching various diabetic-friendly foods and recipes I found that many of them contain beans.  Beans are a very healthy choice for people living with diabetes. 

Dried beans are a staple in my pantry but canned beans are a rarity.  The problem this creates is that I either have to make a special trip to the store or remember to soak my beans the night before I plan to use them.  This doesn't work in a spontaneous kitchen!

My solution was to can some dried beans.  I'd been meaning to do this for a while anyway and just had never gotten around to it.  I looked up instructions and found them on one of my favorite canning how-to websites,  I did some kidney beans and some black beans.

A shelf from my canning pantry: pickles, black beans, kidney beans, stocks, & corn
Why can your own beans?
  1. It's shockingly economical.  A one-pound bag of dried beans cost me $1.19 and generated about 4.5 pints of canned beans.  The equivalent amount of generic canned beans costs at least $0.69 per pint, and $1/pint or more for name brands.  In all I canned 18 pints of beans for about $4.
  2. It's stunningly easy.  If you have a pressure canner, this is about the easiest thing you can stuff into a jar and preserve: no peeling, no coring, no dicing, no measuring, and minimal preparation.
  3. It's a time-saver.  I don't have to soak or pre-cook any more beans.  I just pop open a jar and VOILA: ready-to-eat beans. 
  4. The cats don't come running when I open a home-canned jar.  They twirl around my feet incessantly any time they hear the can-opener.
  5. Reduced exposure to bisphenol A.  While there is BPA in the lining of standard Ball canning lids, the food in the jars is not in direct contact with the lids that way it is in a steel can from the manufacturer.  Tattler lids are BPA-free but I've yet to make the transition to them.

In addition to canning the beans today, I made a batch of hummus.  Making my own hummus allows me to control the ingredients, especially the salt.  Here's the recipe I used.  It's simple and you can customize the flavors easily.  Add basil and pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, or roasted bell peppers for variation.

Total cost was about $2.50.  I did use canned beans to make the hummus.  Did you know they are cheaper in the Hispanic foods aisle than in the canned beans aisle?  Go figure.  Dried garbanzo beans are pricey around here: the only ones I can find are either Bob's Red Mill or from the farmers market.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Things I've learned from canning tomatoes

1. If Gene takes the camera to work, I won't see it again for at least a week.

2. Rosemary loves to clean up the tomato squirts.

3. It takes 2 minutes in boiling water to get the skin on 4 tomatoes perfect for peeling.

4. It takes me 2 minutes to peel and core 4 tomatoes.

5. Pull the tomatoes from the boiling water with a ladle in your right hand.  Grab the hot tomato with your left hand using a dishwashing glove to protect from the heat.  Take 2 steps backwards across the kitchen to drop the hot tomato into the cold water in the sink.  It's an inelegant but efficient dance.

6. Canning whole tomatoes in their own juice works great for me.  I literally stuff them into a jar and squish the bejeebies out of them to get as many as possible in a single jar.

7. My hand will fit into a widemouth jar but not a regular one.

8. My hand won't fit into my mouth.  Ergo, my mouth is smaller than a widemouth jar opening.

9. It's possible to learn how to can tomatoes from the internet.  That's how I got started.  The resources for recipes and problem-solving are ever-expanding.

10. Unexpectedly, tomato jam is one of my favorite things.  It makes a fabulous and unusual gift.  I gifted so many that I have just a single jar remaining.
Photo from

11. Because pressure canning tomatoes takes just 20 minutes whereas the boiling water bath method requires 90, I always pull out my pressure canner for tomatoes.  Bonus: no need to monitor the water level.

12. There's always one jar that doesn't seal.  I have to figure out what to do with that jar this weekend.

13. It's possible to can 20 pounds of tomatoes in a mid-week evening.  (see #11 above)

14. Twenty pounds of tomatoes costs around $20 in my area, unless you hit the fruit stand late in the day and the owner unexpectedly gives you a $5 discount.  Growing tomatoes for home canning in Western Washington is always a risky business due to unreliable summers.

15. It's surprising how many things you can throw a jar of canned tomatoes into: braised meats; sausage and chickpea soup; shakshuka; chili; and more.

16. No matter how carefully I mete out my supply or how many jars I can, I always run out of tomatoes.

17. Twenty pounds of tomatoes equals about twelve eleven quarts.  (see #12 above)

18. After you've been canning your own tomatoes for a few years, store-bought canned tomatoes look weird.

19. The cats come running when they hear the can-opener but completely ignore the sound of a home-canned jar being opened.  These same cats haven't had canned cat food in nearly a decade.

20. The "ping!" sound that cooling jars makes as they seal is intensely gratifying.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Signals of fall

I've started to notice something over the past few days.

First, I saw it in the coop.

I had my suspicions of what was happening but I was in denial.

Today I came home to this, and I must now face the facts.

Can you see what's weird?  Not quite?  Here's another angle.

How about now?

This morning there were no feathers on the ground. 

Every single feather has a yellowish tinge on the tip, meaning they all came from the same hen.  This hen.

Our Buff Orpington, Curry, is molting.  I think that Croquette may be molting as well.   She went through a really hard, ugly molt last winter.  That's her on the far right:

This means 3 things.

First, Curry and Croquette probably won't lay another egg until spring.  Hens need about 2 months to recover from a molt.  As a full, hard molt - as it appears Curry is experiencing - takes a month or more.  Three months from now it'll be December.  Our girls took the winter off last year (arg).  Therefore Curry & Croquette are out of operation until April or so.  Bummer.

Second, I'm going to stop selling eggs.  Our hens went through really hard molts last autumn and we had a long, cold winter.  We got exactly zero eggs from December until perhaps April. 

Third, and most importantly, falling feathers signal autumn's arrival. 

Fall is here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My last birthday as Jenn

I turned 37 yesterday. 

Up until then I could tell people that I was going to be 37 when Bean is born.  No longer.  Eeek.  My late 30s are here. When you're 36 you're in the mid-30s... but 37.  Wow.  On top of that, I'm nearly done with my second trimester.  Bean is due to be here in just over 3 months.

It was my final birthday as "Jenn".  This time next year I'll be some variation of "Mom".  I'm trying to savor my independence, spontaneity, and leisure to focus on a single task as long as I want - knitting, cooking, talking on the phone, chilling with Rosemary, etc. - while I still can.  Once Bean is here, I expect that my idea of "free time" will drastically change. 

I also know that in a year I'll have a hard time imagining our life without Bean.

It being my birthday, I started inviting people over.  The next thing I knew, the dinner guest list was up to 10 people for dinner and another 4-6 for cake & ice cream.

I had most of the ingredients for a Spanish paella (pie-AY-ya).  I couldn't find the recipe a friend once gave me so I looked up a few variations online and winged it.  This same friend, a former co-worker, used to loan me her paella pan.  As I rarely see her since leaving that job - and my commute to Seattle - I had to make due with my Le Creuset wannabe (seriously - the Martha Stewart stuff is OK, but it's no Le Creuset).

The great thing about paella is that if you need to stretch it, add more rice.  Paella suits my cooking sensibilities really well: you use what's on hand and call it good.  I do it in a slightly different order than many recipes but the end result is about the same.

This is more of a method for making paella and not so much a recipe.  Putting together a paella is not excessively time-consuming or difficult but it does take some prep and fore-thought.

Chop the ingredients for a sofrito.  Everything should be about the same size.
1 onion
1-2 red or green bell peppers
1-2 tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic

Put the chopped stuff aside.

Brown the meat. 
Heat about 2T olive oil in the largest pot or pan you have.  Brown the meat in batches and put it into a bowl to set aside for later.

My freezer contained 8 chicken thighs, 2 thigh quarters, 2 pork chops, and chorizo.  So that's what went into my paella.  There are no hard and fast rules about which meats can go into a paella.  One recipe I found called for a rabbit and a chicken.  Do what you want.

This was the first time I'd put pork into my paella.  I cut it into slices the seasoned it with paprika, salt, pepper, and oregano.  I wanted it to taste distinct from the chicken, which is why I treated it this way.

If you have or can borrow a traditional paella pan, go for it.  I used an enameled cast iron pot with the most surface area I could muster.  Paella is traditionally cooked outside in the grill but we were out of propane.  It was inside on the gas flame for me.

Cook the sofrito.
Next you prepare the sofrito.  Simply throw all the chopped sofrito ingredients into the pan (drained of extra fat if necessary) and cook them down until you gat a thick paste.  This should take about 15-20 minutes and does not need constant monitoring.

After the sofrito is done you can either continue to the last stage or put it aside and wait to start up again about 30 minutes before you want to eat.

Season the sofrito and cook the rice.
All paellas, no matter their other ingredients, seem to agree on the sofrito as one of the mandatory components.  The others are saffron, which gives the paella the traditional yellow color, and rice.  Use a short-grain rice such as arborio.

At this point I added the seasonings:
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (not traditional but it gave the meal a little kick)
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
2 T oregano
generous pinch of saffron (Trader Joe's has one for around $6 per bottle)

Here's something I haven't done in a while:

Add your rice - I used 2 cups - and 4 cups of chicken broth.  I added about 2 cups of a dry white wine at this stage as well.  The end result was soupier than I'd meant it to be but the rice did eventually absorb the extra liquid.  If you want less rice, adjust this quantity accordingly.  Keep in mind that I was planning to feed 10 people with leftovers for lunch on Monday.

Stir this sofrito-rice mix well and bring it to a simmer.  Tuck your browned meats into the rice, cover tightly, and cook on low for 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.

Add seafood if wanted.
It seems that every photo you see of paella includes mussels.  You can also add squid, scallops, shrimp, or cod at the last minute for other seafood flavors.

We bought a pound of mussels for something like $3.50.  About 10 minutes before the rice was finished cooking I tossed them on top of the paella and replaced the lid. 

Not my pic... I got busy & forgot to take a photo of the finished dish.
Serve and enjoy. Offer wedges of lemon to squeeze over the plates. 

We served the paella with a beautiful spinach salad a friend had made.  We ate outside, crammed around a little table but enjoying the company.  Gene told me that nearly everyone went back for seconds.  There was a handful of little kids, all of whom quite enjoyed feeding their leftovers to the girls, one forkful at a time.  The chickens, as you may imagine, did not object.

Paella goes well with beer or dry white wine.  We all had lemonade and blueberry shrub (which was shockingly popular!).

Here are some paella recipes that are less fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants and have specific quantities

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquake memories

Yesterday's earthquake on the east coast brought back memories of the shakers I've experienced in my lifetime.

Washington (State) has had its fair share of rattles over the years.  I was 5 when Mt. St. Helens blew her lid, and I remember the ash dustings we got in Tacoma: they looked like frost and the gardens had a particularly good year as a result of the extra nutrients.  There were plenty of rumbling earthquakes in the months before and after the blast, most small. 

Having grown up in Western WA, I've gone through countless earthquake drills from the time I was in grade school.  My most recent one was just a few months ago at work. 

The biggest earthquake I ever experienced was the Nisqually Earthquake in February 2001.  Nisqually is an area between Tacoma and Olympia, our state capitol, and was the epicenter.  I was living and working in Tacoma, as I still do, though at a different university.

It was a beautiful February morning, and unseasonably warm and sunny.  I had gone to a monthly all-unit meeting in another building across campus, leaving my coat and purse in my office.

The building where we had the meeting was constructed in the 1940s.  It had some funny characteristics to it, one of which was that the terrazzo floors would bounce in certain spots if even the smallest college girl walked past you.  It's a handsome brick building with lots of masonry.

The meeting was over and my co-worker - we'll call him Ted - and I had just left the meeting room.  Ted was, and still is, a tall, athletic man's man.  He's funny and smart, and harbors a deep love for white-water kayaking and mountain biking.

As Ted and I rounded the corner I noticed that the floor was bouncing.  I slowed down and looked around for the wee sorority girl who was making the floor seem so unstable.

No sooner had I stopped in my tracks did Ted squeal "earthquake!".  Being from the northeast and probably never having been an earthquake, real or drilled, Ted freaked the eff out.  He shoved me aside and ran from the building, just like you saw people doing on the news yesterday.  He later told me that once outside, he saw the ground swell and heave like the ocean.  He nearly heaved himself!

I'd been through several earthquakes, though none this strong.  Later on we would find out that it was a 6.8.  As Ted ran away, I walked to the archway that was just 5 feet away and waited out the earthquake.  There was a table nearby but it was right next to a large glass window.  I was safer next to an interior wall anyway. 

The building's restrooms were right next to me.  I chuckled to myself as college students ran out of the bathroom, tugging up their jeans and begging to be told what to do.  "Stay where you are and hold on," I told them.

The shaking went on for some 25-30 seconds, which seems an eternity when you're wondering if the building will fall down around your ears.  It didn't.  Tacoma is on a foundation of granite.  Even though we were 30 miles closer to the epicenter than Seattle, Seattle experienced a great deal of shaking and damage due to its foundation of glacial deposits.

After the shaking subsided I found a phone and tried to call my grandma, who lived about 1.5 miles from my office.  I couldn't get a local line and was quickly shooed outside by security staff anyway.

Do you know how weird it is to see a university's population outside all at once?  You rarely think about how many people are there - students, faculty, and staff - and it's shocking to see everyone together at once.

I had left my coat and purse in my office when going to my meeting.  Facilities would not permit people into the buildings until inspections had occurred: without my purse I was stuck on campus without any way to contact loved ones.  Cell phones weren't as ubiquitous a decade ago as they are now.  Thank goodness the weather was warm.

I'm still terrible about leaving my purse, and even my cell phone, in my office when I leave the building.  It's been a difficult habit to change, though I suppose I should try harder.

When I finally got home later that afternoon, I found my 2 cats unharmed but skittish.  Quite a few items had "walked" to the edges of shelves in my apartment but nothing was broken.  I was very lucky.

It's been on my to-do list ever since to create an earthquake kit.  I think of it each time I hear of one occurring.  I put it off for another time and rationalize that we've got so many jars of food at home that we'd be fine.  But what about the animals?  What about water?  What about our son?

Are you ready for a disaster?  I certainly don't feel prepared.

Here's a website to help us all get started:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I drink vinegar

 I've been drinking vinegar lately. 

And no, this isn't a weird pregnancy thing. 

Granted, my expanding belly & swollen ankles have made it pretty clear that my condition is nothing short of "delicate".  I've not been inclined towatrd any bizarre cravings.  In fact I haven't even been that hungry for about the past month since Bean's last growth spurt left him pressed beneath my stomach, significantly reducing the "eat, and eat NOW" signals to my brain.

No, "drinking vinegar" (as a noun) is an old-fashioned beverage called a "shrub".

OK, get it out of your system...


NPR recently did a story about shrubs, or drinking vinegars.  Then a friend of mine who'd heard the same story posted pictures of her concoctions on her facebook page.  Being pregnant, unable to partake of my nightly glass of wine, and highly susceptible to edible suggestions, I was game to try it for myself.

A little internet research on the topic revealed that I'm perhaps a little behind the trend:

Granted, perhaps it's not a "trend", per se, if drinking vinegars have been around since Roman times.   This is the best resource I found on shrubs, both on their history but also on their preparation.

There are two methods to make a shrub: hot and cold.  Both are simple.  Hot is fast, cold is slow.  I happened to have blackberries that were rapidly deteriorating, and blueberries that I bought (unknowingly) past their prime.  Both are ideal for shrubs - save the perfect fruit for preserves.  I used raspberry vinegar that I'd made 2 years ago and had no idea what to do with... until now!

Blackberry Shrub (hot/fast method)
1 cup blackberries
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup sugar

Heat berries & vinegar in a saucepan until boiling, boil for 10 minutes.  Strain out the berries and add the sugar.  Allow to cool.  Store in fridge.  Mix 1 part shrub syrup to 4 parts water or club soda (or make ratio to your taste).

Blueberry Shrub (cold/slow method), recipe from Epicurious
I recommend mashing the berries before macerating them in the vinegar for a few days.  Otherwise you don't get as much flavor from the berries in the syrup.  You will have to strain the mixture but the extra effort is worthwhile.

Still feeling adventurous?  Here are a few more recipes, these taken from cookbooks dating to the 1800s.

By now you're surely thinking: "Jenn, get to the point: what does it taste like".  I think that the flavor profile is a lot like a lemonade: sour and sweet at the same time.  It smells faintly like vinegar but not overpoweringly so.  It is, as reported elsewhere, very refreshing and addictive.  One person wrote that it they felt they'd found their first "true non-alcoholic beverage for adults".  I like it because it's not cloyingly sweet.

You can use it as a mixer for cocktails but be mindful of the acid.  Imagine a blended blackberry shrub margarita.  Oh yum.  Blueberry shrub muddled with rum and mint?  Yes, please.  Raspberry shrub and vodka over ice?  Yes yes yes!

The second time I had a glass - and I find myself drinking 2 glasses at a time - I poured more of the syrup than I thought I'd want.  It was better with more syrup!  It was sweeter and less tart.  Strange but good.

If you're looking for something new (but old), want to offer unique non-alcoholic beverages to your guests, or even are searching for a new cocktail mixer, try making a shrub.

Besides, it's kinda fun to see the look on people's faces when you tell them you drink vinegar.