Monday, June 27, 2011

New England recap

Gene and I had a marvelous time in New England.  He loved the family, and they loved him.  I knew before we ever got tickets that that would be the case.  My New England family is so funny, so gregarious, and so different from my (mostly) reserved Washington relatives.  It was a complete novelty to Gene and me that they get together because - get this - they like each other, not because some date on the calendar says "gather the family to the communal table because it's a holiday and that's what you're supposed to do".

We jam-packed so much into our 10 days in New England that I'll just give you a few highlights of the trip. 

The first and foremost, of course, was telling my family that I'm expecting.  They were suprised and delighted, I think because they'd given up on me ever having kids.  Gene and I are no spring chickens.  My gram and I looked through her genealogical records trying to get ideas for a boy name (no news on the gender until July).  The names were pretty awful but at least the history was interesting.  Gram surprised us with a baby sweater she'd made and saved for just such an occasion.  I'll post pics when the box we shipped home arrives.  Gramp told stories about my father when he was little.  These are the things you miss with a bi-coastal family.

We took a day trip to Brattleboro, Vermont to meet Allyson.  She's a friend of a friend here in Tacoma.  Allyson introduced us to her husband and their young son, an adorable toe-headed toddler.  Along with their multitude of responsibilities, she and her husband run a shop that sells items to make cheese and beer.  I was really pleased by how conservation-minded Brattleboro is - that wasn't the case across much of the region.  After we said our good-byes in Brattleboro, Gene and I headed north.  We visited the Green Mountain Spinnery where I bought 2 skeins of a luscious grey yarn, which I intend to craft into a stuffed animal of some kind for the baby.  The staff graciously gave us a tour of the factory, which was busily spinning wool into a custom job of some kind.  It was cool... and numbingly loud.  From there we headed north and stumbled upon a covered bridge, the first of four we would see.  We eventually wound up in Grafton, where we visited the store for Grafton Village Cheese.  I bought a hunk of a yummy year-old cheddar and have since given to our friends who watched Rosemary during our vacation.  We ended our trip by crossing back into New Hampshire and driving east through the southern part of that state.  It was a long day but one that we enjoyed immensely. 

Thank you, Allyson, for suggesting we visit you.  Our day in Vermont was definitely my favorite!

Another day, Gene and I drove north along the coast into Maine.  We stopped at the outlet malls in Kittery because, hey, that's what tourists do.  I wanted to hit the Carter outlet: we took two steps into the store before I was so overwhelmed that we left.  So much for that.  Other destinations included the Nubble Lighthouse, the most-photographed lighthouse in the world, and Kennebunkport.  We oogled all the rich people's houses, including the first President Bush's home (we think he was there, as security was out in force that day).  We ate size "small" ice cream cones that were as big as two adult fists put together.  We got taffy in a seaside town and laughed about the ubiquitous  "lobstah".

We drove to Providence, Rhode Island another day.  What a waste of time/gas.  At least Gene can now say he's been to RI.  We decided to go to Plymouth to see its famous rock (meh) and boat.  I wish we'd had time to go to Plimouth Plantation but at $28 per person, that's pretty steep.  Instead we sat on a patch of grass, watched the tourists, and basked in the sea breeze.  It was lovely.  That evening we were invited to a BBQ hosted by a man named Ted, and his wife, Teresa.  Gene has known Ted for about a year through the electric vehicle online community but they'd never met.  This gracious couple hosted an amazing BBQ for us.  Teresa is a fantastic cook who wowed us with her culinary creativity and skill.  Everything she made was pretty damn great: smoked chicken, ribs, grilled flatbread, salad, blueberry pie.  My mouth just watered at the memory of the garlicy tomato topping for the flatbread.  Holy food coma, Batman!  We reluctantly said goodbye to this fun couple and hope our paths will cross again.

We did and saw so much.  We're already talking about when we can take the baby out to introduce him/her to our family.

Friday, June 10, 2011

New England, here we come

Tomorrow morning at 12:59 a.m. we're leeeeeeaving on a jet plane!

I'm not sure if I'll get to post while we're gone.  We'll be staying with relatives in Georgetown, MA and going on day trips from there.  We're planning on trips to Vermont, Maine, and Boston.  In fact, we're going to connect with a reader of this blog in Vermont.  She's a college friend of a friend of mine here in Tacoma.  She and her husband run a cheesemaking and homebrewing supply store in Brattleboro, VT.

The world is so small!

We'll be there over Fathers Day, when there's a big New England clam bake and family gathering planned.

Repeat after me: "lobstah".  Laaawb-stah.  You got it!  Can't wait for Gene to hear my family's accents.  Of course, I grew up with them saying that I'm the one with the accent.

In Boston I'd really like to walk the Freedom Trail if the weather cooperates.

It's something I've always wanted to do.  As I read about the trail last week I realized that I've seen most of its sights at various points in my life.  Because this is Gene's first trip to Boston, it'll be the perfect introduction to all those places: Fanueil Hall, Old North Church (you know... where Paul Revere rang the bell to warn the British that they can't take away our arms), Quincy Market, Little Italy, the U.S.S. Constitution.

I'll have to find the picture of myself on the U.S.S. Constitution when I was 9 and share it with you.  If I do, be kind: it was the 1980s.

There might be a BoSox game in the works, also depending upon weather.

We're going to hang out, enjoy time with loved ones, and eat good, local food.  Can't wait to show you some of our finds!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Strawberry streusel muffins

After enduring a long, dreary, grey, and exceedingly wet winter, today's high is expected to be in the mid- to high 70s.  It will be the warmest day since last October. 

It's one of those glorious days in the Pacific Northwest that will showcase the quirkiness of the people here.  Out will come the shorts, tank tops, and glaringly white skin, a shade of which can only be cultivated in this climate.  Gene and I will go for a drive in our convertible in typical Washington style: top down, heat on.  Fair weather gardeners will wither by mid-day in the heat, then succumb to dreadful sunburns.  Our facebook feeds will be clogged with posts from jubilant friends about how gorgeous the weather is.

As for me, I started the morning coughing and hacking.  I'm slowly recovering from a cold that's had me in its grips for about a week.  It got so bad yesterday that I actually went to the doctor, where I paid a $30 co-pay to be told that I have a cold but can't take anything for it since I'm pregnant.  Clearly that was money well spent. 

A good friend gave me excellent advice for next time: go to a pharmacy and ask the pharmacist for what I can safely take to soothe what ails me.  In the meantime, it's the neti pot and cough drops for me.  The consulting nurse told me to make a saline solution, snort it up my nose, and spit it out my mouth to help alleviate post-nasal drip.  I tried it and believe me - it's DIY water boarding.

When I let the girls out of the coop this morning I realized that the temp is perfect for a breakfast al fresco, something I haven't enjoyed since last summer.  With a fridge we're trying to empty prior to going to New England next week, I realized that the languishing strawberries needed to be used.  I vaguely remembered a strawberry muffin recipe from a blog - but arg, which one??  I spent the next half-hour tracking it down.

I finally remembered that I'd seen it on (a very good cooking blog, by the way).  Her strawberry muffins are made with ricotta, of which I had none, so I replaced it with Greek yogurt and omitted the lemon juice.  I wanted the muffins to be streusel-like - hey, I'm pregnant so bear with me - and decided to adapt the topping from Smitten Kitchen's Big Crumb Coffee Cake, which I made last weekend.

Frankly, I'm disappointed with these muffins.  In fact, I've yet to find a strawberry muffin that really blew my skirt up.  The strawberries sank to the bottom, meaning that the batter was too thin to suspend the berries.  If I ever make them again (not likely), I'd replace some of the flour with whole wheat flour to give them more body. 

The batter also made 16 muffins instead of 12.  I really should have made 18 because they rose and spread across the top of the muffin tin, making them very hard to get out of the tins cleanly.

Criticisms aside, they were tasty.  They're not going to last long with the now gooey berries inside of them, and will have to go into the fridge for storage.  They'll be very good with some of the lime curd I made tucked inside.  I enjoyed mine with some yogurt and a pot of tea in the backyard.  The chickens were out, the dog dozed at my feet in the sun, and even the geriatric cats made an appearance for a while.  It was very peaceful.

Do you have a good strawberry muffin recipe?  This morning's attempt reminded me of why I rarely bake with strawberries.  I think they're far better raw anyway.  We're leaving for New England in a week and I'm hoping that we don't miss the local berry season while we're gone.

Friday, June 3, 2011

My next project

There's a reason I haven't done much lately.  I've hardly cooked, barely done housework, and knitted only reluctantly.  I've felt so listless.

It's been hard to think about much other than this:
It's easier to envision the baby if you imagine an upside down gummy bear.
 Gene and I are thrilled to announce that I'm expecting a baby in mid-December.  This week marks the start of my 2nd trimester.  Because we're not going to share the baby's name until s/he arrives, we'll call it "Bean" while it's in utero.

We've known since early April and it's been excruciating not to say anything.  I suspected that I was pregnant right after conception because I felt weird... different... but it wasn't confirmed for a couple weeks.  We've been waiting for the first ultrasound before we said anything.  We're also trying to keep the news under wraps so that we can break the news in person to my grandparents in New England next week.  I even went so far as to temporarily block my cousins on facebook and am praying that they don't read this blog (I don't think they do).  I was the first grandchild on my dad's side and this baby will be the first great-grandchild.  It's such exciting news to share!

As restless as I've been feeling, I also feel 100% normal.  Not a touch of morning sickness, no queasiness, no weird cravings, no freaky mood swings.  I was grossed out by raw meat for a week or so, but that's about it.  I'm one of those lucky women whose - knock on wood - early pregnancy is easy.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.  It wasn't until the first ultrasound when we saw the blurry image on the screen bouncing around like an Olympic swimmer that it really hit home: I am having a baby. 


My mom is the last of her siblings to become a grandparent, and my dad is among the last of his generation to become a grandparent.  Dad is already issuing mandates with the reason of "because I'm the grandpa" behind them.  Such as, "we're eating out in a restaurant for Thanksgiving, and we're going to have a private room".  At that point I'll be 3 weeks from my due date and I doubt that I'd fit into a booth, so I'm rather relieved about the private room thing.  When my mom asked why we're getting a private room for 5 people rather than just eat in the main dining room, he declared: "because I'm the grandpa". 

Alrighty then!

I find myself feeling an enormous sense of anticipation, mingled with terror, hope, and excitement.  I suppose many expectant parents feel that way.  This summer we'll be converting our 2nd bedroom - now an office and storage room - into a nursery.  As soon as we find out the baby's gender, we'll start picking colors.  We're not going to do a theme room: no arks, dinosaurs, race cars, Disney characters, cartoons, or wallpaper borders.  It'll be a simple room that the baby can grow into and develop as s/he develops their own taste in a few years.

The cool thing is that my parents have saved my crib, high chair, and bassinet.  We'll pull them out of my folks' attic sometime soon to check their condition and clean them up.  That'll save us a few dollars.

What piece of wisdom do you wish someone had shared with you when you were a new parent?  If you don't have children, have you heard sage advice that sounded good shared to others?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Has My Pet Chicken gone mad?

The most recent newsletter from My Pet Chicken mentioned something about a neighbor of Oprah's getting eggs from her.  Strangely, I can't relocate the article on the MPC website, nor is there anything on the interwebz about it.

So Oprah has chickens.  That's nice.  Lots of people have chickens named Oprah.  That's nice, too, and ranks just as highly in my top 100 (that is, not at all) daily news bits.

What caught my attention, more than the Oprah mention, was the newest slate of MPC offerings.  Has the Oprah association gone to their heads??

Let me tell you how much I love MPC.  I ordered some chicks from them two years ago.  With just one exception the chicks arrived healthy, the customer service was top-notch, and the adult hens are healthy and beautiful.  All in all, I've had great experiences with them.  Even their goof of accidentally sending a box of 14 chicks to my office in Seattle was handled well on their side.  I did have to ride the bus home - an hour-long trip - with a box of peeping chicks on my lap that day, though.

OK, so back to Oprah and My Pet Chicken.  Are they crazy??  Their new product line has two things that seem completely beyond the reach of your normal, middle-income chicken owner.  Sure, a bajillionaire like Oprah can drop money on a hobby like it's nothing but what about the rest of us?  Will there actually be a market for these items?

First, they're offering an automatic chicken coop door.  Anyone who has trudged twice daily to a coop to open it in the morning and lock it at night knows how tedious this chore is.  And anyone who has lost birds to predation knows how critical it is.  I get all that.  But seriously... this product costs $215, or $350 if you want the solar-powered one.
As much as I get sick and tired of this twice-daily chicken chore, I'll keep my $350 thankyouveddymuch.

Their second new product is a solar-powered self-propelled chicken tractor.  For the uninitiated, a "chicken tractor" is essentially a portable chicken coop, which allows you to change the chickens' location on your property regularly while keeping them confined.

Just how much does it cost?  $2,000.  Seriously, two GRAND for a chicken coop that holds just 6 birds.  So much for chickens being an inexpensive hobby.  I couldn't find shipping costs but I imagine those are extra.  Your chickens are going to need to lay a ton of eggs to repay you for this extravagance.

Finally, there's this stuff.

$20 for "chicken caviar".  Maybe I'm going through a stingy, cheap-ass stage in my life (probably the case) but chickens don't need this stuff.  They might "go berserk" for the chicken caviar, but they'll also go berserk for moldy cheese, a beetle, or a snail.  If you want to spend $20 + S&H, go for it.  But not me. 

The way to a chicken's heart is through its stomach.  If you want a "friendlier flock" go to the pet store and buy a few dozen crickets.  Or chop up some cheese to dole out.  Give them lunchmeat, cheap cat food (it has more grains in it and is pretty good for them), cut up cooked beef kidney or crushed hard-boiled eggs, shells & all.  They'll go crazy for anything that's high fat and high protein.  They also love breads in any form, leftover pizza, cold onion rings, cereal, chips, berries, melons, and grapes.  Don't bother buying treats for chickens unless you have an extra $25 hanging around that you just have to spend.