Monday, December 29, 2014

Domestic Sunday

Not a lot happening here yesterday, it was yet another cloudy, rainy day. I don't think the temp got much above 40 for the high, so I puttered around in the house.

 Whenever I use any sort of vegetables I put the trimmings and leftover bits in a bag in the freezer. This could be anything from onion skins, sweet potato peels, broccoli and cauliflower stalks, kale stems, carrot tops, celery leaves, bell pepper bits, you name it. This stuff adds up pretty quick around here because we eat so much fresh produce.  Once a month or so I pull out the baggie, dump it into a huge stock pot, add water and a few seasonings then simmer for a couple hours and can it. Yesterday I got 11 1/2 quarts of broth/stock, a nice addition to the pantry from something that often gets thrown away. The remains of the vegetables get buried in a garden bed and left to compost in place.

I also had a ham hock in the freezer that needed to be used, so I made up a batch of split pea soup to can.  I ended up with 8 pints and enough left over for supper.

In between the canning I managed to get 14 more items photographed, boxed and listed on eBay.   One of the items that did NOT get listed on eBay is the old VitaMix blender. One minute I think I'll sell it, the next I think I'll keep it. I finally decided last night what to do with it.

Split pea soup in my house gets put in the blender since I like it creamy not chunky (other than some chopped ham that I add when heating it to eat). Blending hot soup is a major pain. You can only fill the blender container half full, then empty it out and refill the blender multiple times. I started eyeballing that old Vitamix with the dispenser spout on the side and the rusty old cogs in my brain slowly started to turn....

Yes, the canning funnel fits into the top of the blender like it was made for it, although it makes it a bit tall when pouring in simmering liquid. (Especially when trying to take a picture at the same time.)

Yes, it will assimilate each new addition of chunky soup in just a few seconds, and YES you can open the pour spout and dispense it directly into a canning jar while it's whirling away!! YAY!!!

It would be faster with two people, one to keep feeding the blender and one to fill the jars, but even so I got all the soup from the stock pot blended and into jars in just over 2 minutes. It would have taken MUCH longer to do it in multiple batches. So, the old VitaMix gets to stay.

Thursday, December 25, 2014


Ok,  maybe it's not a very Christmas-y sort of thing to do, but today I spent experimenting with kitchen appliances. Perhaps a little background would help here. Two days ago I had to run into town, and stopped by the crappy Goodwill store. Why is it crappy you may ask? Well, besides having the mass quantities of clothing that is typical of many Goodwill stores, they have very little of anything else. And recently they've started selling "new" stuff. Think Walmart or dollar store made in China junk in beat-up, taped together boxes, with big warning signs saying DO NOT OPEN, AS IS, UNTESTED. The prices are very close to what these items sell for new based on the original price tags on many of them, at best 15% off of the new price but often not discounted at all. They also have a lot of new off-brand stuff like dish soap, aerosol air fresheners, soap, toothpaste and deodorant along with cheap made in China seasonal crap and plastic wares etc. I don't know if this is common everywhere or just here. I rarely go into a Goodwill, although I've often thought that I should start my own chain of stores where someone donates all your inventory and you pay your employees peanuts, plus the tax benefits of being a 501(c)(3)charitable organization. Seems like a great business plan to me.

Anyway, I decided to stop in, just to see what if they had anything laying around that I could list on eBay. They happened to be putting out new merchandise and there was an older couple poking through the mostly plastic items on the rolling cart the employee was pushing around. I glanced at the cart, and... be still my beating heart, what it that I see on the bottom shelf tucked behind a dozen coffee mugs?? It's stainless steel, tall and narrow, with a motor at the base... could it really be what I think it is? I practically ran over to the cart and grabbed it off the bottom before the old guy could spot it... YES!!!  It's a Vitamix blender! An early Vitamix 3600 to be exact, with the spigot on the side of the container! I tried not to show my enthusiasm as I asked the employee if it worked. She said she had no  idea, they don't test things. Um, yeah, it's soooo hard to plug in an appliance and flip the switch to see if it works. *eye roll*

I looked at the price tag, it read $3.99! I figured at that price even if it didn't work I could sell the blender container on eBay and make out fine. I hugged that thing all the way to the check-out and tucked it in the front seat for the drive home.

Once home I plugged it in and it ran like a champ through all it's speeds. The chrome base is a bit pitted after 30-40 years of use, and the rubber gasket around the lid needs to be replaced, but no leaks from the spigot. I spent 20 minutes giving it a good cleaning then spent some time looking it up online.

It blends, obviously, but it has surgical steel blades that are blunt edged and not designed to be sharpened, it's more of a hammermill than a straight blender. It has forward AND reverse speeds, which you can switch between instantly, so besides just blending and mixing it can grind grains and seeds, juice fruits and veggies, and knead bread dough. I have a Vitamix Professional 300 that I absolutely love and use at least once a day, and I bought the old one with the intention of reselling it, but I'm rather intrigued by it. I dislike plastic, which the blender containers (and base) of my new Vitamix are made of, and they don't make stainless steel containers for the newer models. Both models will make smoothies and ice cream, and produce hot soup through just the speed of the blades, but the old one dispenses them from the spigot. Both will grind grains and seeds, although the plastic container on my new one is already quite scratched from these activities, along with being a bit discolored from different food items that have been processed in it. There is a dry mix container for the new model that has a different blade that's said to be better for grinding flour and seeds, but so far the wet blade/container has been working fine for me, and the second container sells for $75-100 depending on source. 

So, how to decide what to do? I decided to do a side-by-side comparison.

I've never made bread dough in the new model, so that's what I tried. I used the multi-grain wheat bread recipe in the old model instruction manual. It calls for a lot of meals - flax seed meal, oatmeal flour, sunflower meal, but I just added the whole seeds to the flour. I don't mind if there's a bit of crunch in my bread, but both blenders ground it into a fine flour with no problem. If I want whole seeds I may have to knead them in by hand at the end. It called for rye flour which I don't have on hand, so I substituted almond meal.

Both blenders did a good job of kneading the dough, although the old straight-sided container was easier to scrape down than the new one with the ridges in it. The dough also seemed to stick to the plastic much more than the stainless, and there was a LOT more dough stuck under the blades when I dumped the dough out into the bread pans and it was hard to get it out from under them. There was a bit of dry flour in the bottom of the old one which came out on top of the dough in the pan. I should have pressed the dough down into the blades better when kneading it. I just pressed the loose flour into the top of the unbaked loaf, and you can see it in the photos.

The directions said to let it rise until double, which seemed a bit low to me. The yeast here has some age on it as I haven't made bread in a long time, and that may be part of the issue as well as the house being pretty cool. At any rate, after it had risen for 20 or 25 minutes and had doubled in height it seemed to be starting to collapse so I put it in the oven.

Both loaves came out about the same height, with the extra bit of flour still visible on the old model  loaf, and both were pretty flat by my standards.

When my kids were young I used to make 20 loaves of bread every week, that's a lot of hand kneading. I need to dig out my old bread recipe and try that along with some fresh yeast before I make a decision I think. Knowing now about pressing the dough into the container more firmly on the old model should eliminate the little bit of dry ingredients left over, but it smelled and tasted just fine! They both did!

The two loaves came out almost identical, which I had expected, the trial was more for user friendliness and ease.The old machine did get a bit of a hot smell, maybe due to my pulsing it too fast or not allowing enough time between pulses, the dough also got a bit warm. The new one has also smelled hot a time or two in the past when I've worked it long and hard. Clean up was easy with both models, just add water and a drop of dish soap and blend. I was concerned that maybe the inlet for the spigot would clog up with dough and be hard to clean, but it seems the contents are only pushed into the opening when the blades are in forward, and the dough is kneaded in reverse. The new machines only have forward speeds, and the wet blade that I have is designed to pull food down into the blades instead of up like the dry blade which would account for all the dough stuck underneath the blades.

I bought the old one with the intent of reselling it. I could sell the new one instead, and make more money but I also paid a LOT more for it brand new and would likely lose a couple hundred dollars selling it. The old one is taller but the height makes no difference to me. The old one is stainless, and I really hate plastic. The new one has a handy way to wrap the cord to the desired length and store the extra underneath it, the old one seriously has a power cord that measures 6' 9" in length with no obvious method of dealing with all the extra. I'm wondering if it was replaced at some point as I can't see a manufacturer putting a cord that long on a kitchen appliance, but it would be easy enough to replace it with a shorter cord. The old one did have a hot smell at the end of the kneading process, so it will need a few more workouts to see if it's an ongoing problem or just user error. I'm not sure how easy parts are to come by (like a new gasket for the lid), and the warranty on this 1970's model is obviously expired. The new one has a 7 year warranty, with about 6 years remaining. From what I've read it seems if you send Vitamix an old model they will discount a new model by $100, instead of repairing the old ones anymore.  I would hate to sell the new one and then have the old one go belly up with no repair options.

So... I still don't know what to do. Perhaps they'll both live on the counter for a while longer as I continue the side-by-side comparisons (and I've got soooo much counter space you know  lol). Out with the old and in with the new? Or keep the old-timer with it's stainless steel build? What would you do?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Leading up to Christmas

The house is quiet tonight, it's just me and Archie the Yorkie along with the four fat cats.  My younger daughter left here Friday with her dog and drove to Omaha where she picked up her significant other at the airport. He had flown in from Salt Lake City and together they drove to Sioux Falls, SD where my older girl lives. His folks are just over the border in Minnesota, and the youngsters will spend a week in the area visiting family and friends before driving back to Salt Lake. Younger daughter plans to spend a couple weeks in Utah with her guy before heading back to Tennessee.

I've added a crude oil price widget on the side of my blog. I guess I can say that at least gas prices are low for DD's road trip, but that's about the only thing good about the prices, at least for me. I retired very early, primarily because my grandfather had owned some land in North Dakota and in 1996 we started getting oil checks every month. My siblings and cousins have all continued working, as the checks aren't exactly skyrocketing us into the upper income brackets. Now, if my Dad had been an only child and I had been an only child... well, I'd probably be sipping a fancy cocktail with an umbrella in it and smiling from the deck of my luxury yacht anchored in some tropical bay somewhere. LOL

 I've always been pretty frugal and have often lived with very little income so I stopped working for someone else when I first started getting a check from the oil company.  The checks have always fluctuated month to month, but never anything as drastic as they have been dropping the past several months. My income is almost half of what it was six months ago, and with a rise in the oil price in the foreseeable future looking rather unlikely, a period of austerity is ensuing around here.

I've been working at eliminating debt for several years, and that will continue. In recent years I've paid off my truck but then I bought a new car. I crashed my motorcycle and shattered my ankle. (Who knew breaking your ankle without insurance would cost 84,000?!) Younger daughter's orthodontist will be paid off in April, but that payment will go towards the steep increase in health insurance costs, thank you very little, Obama. There is about a year left of car payments, I pay a bit extra each month on the car even though it's financed at 0% interest, and I still have a small mortgage on the one acreage in Minnesota which I also pay extra on each month. The massive cash flow required to completely gut and redo the house here in TN has dwindled to a tiny trickle, and there are very few little projects needing attention at this point, it's mostly just routine maintenance now. After taking 7 years off I've started selling a bit on eBay again, mainly to try and get rid of some "stuff" but a little extra cash coming in never hurts. Losing the two large dogs this fall has dropped the dog food bill considerably. Next years estimated taxes should be quite a bit lower than this years, and because I've been paying in based on last years much larger income I may even get a little bit back in April instead of having to come up with an additional large chunk of cash. I'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.

My Christmas gifts are all bought, and according to Amazon they will all be delivered before the big day.  As for me and the critters, we're planning a very quiet, low-key week to celebrate. Just the way I like it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Frustrating day

Today seems to be one of those days where nothing goes as planned. It's actually not raining today, at least not yet, and I thought I would get a few things done outside. There are rows of Bradford pear trees along the road in front of the house and all along the east side, and I've been waiting for them to drop their leaves so the garden area would get some light. The previous owner had let them grow as bushes, so very year I trim them up into something more resembling a tree, and cut down a few of them completely. When I bought the property there was no grass in the front yard due to the very dense shade, along with the foot deep leaves laying on the ground all winter that smothered anything struggling to survive there. This was taken standing by the raised beds looking toward the driveway.  In this view there were 5 more Bradfords, 2 ornamental peaches, a weeping willow, 3 maples and 6 assorted shrubs.  Yep, no grass could survive that amount of shade.

The past couple years I've bagged the leaves with the riding mower and used them for compost in the garden beds and around trees, but I left the riding mower up north this year. The push mower that's here also has a bagger, but I can only go 8 or ten feet before having to stop and empty the bag because the leaves are so deep. Ok, that's doable for getting some deep mulch on the garden beds, except the mower is very cold-blooded and reluctant to run when the temps are in the low 40's. LOTS of pulling on the starter rope before it finally decides to run, then 10 feet later it gets shut off so I can empty the bag. Actually, it shuts itself off when you let go of the handle. Next time I may zip tie the safety bar to the handle so it will keep running. Anyway, after a dozen or so of these start-stop cycles it decided it wasn't going to start again, no way, no how. The gas is from June, and I suspect that may be part of the problem, plus it's due for a tune-up.

Ok, I'll switch gears and do something else, like weed one of the beds so I can plant the chard. I had real good luck growing the chard in a stainless steel restaurant pan this summer up north, but it hasn't been faring so well since I got back to TN. With many nights around freezing I was concerned that the roots would freeze so it has been hauled inside at night, and back outside during the day once it warms up. Between the deep shade from the Bradfords and the seemingly never ending string of gloomy overcast days it just hasn't been happy. I have never minded weeding, until I moved here and have to contend with the wire grass? that takes over everything.  I did get one bed cleared, worked eight bags of chopped leaves into the soil, transplanted the chard and got the floating row cover on.

I didn't take any before pics, but this is what the next bed looks like after getting half of it weeded.
Nasty, nasty grass. Pulling it can cut your hands and will definitely give you blisters, and the rhizomes can go down a foot or more, and run for what seems like miles. I've pulled some that were 6 and 8 feet long, and they had broken off so who knows how long this stuff can actually run. The two beds in the back in this picture don't have much grass, maybe due to the deep shade, so those are easy to weed. I even got a few bags of leaves/mulch on them before the mower decided it was done for the day. So, no more mowing, and my back is telling me I'm done weeding.

Ok, maybe the weed trimmer will run and I can clean along the edge of the wheelchair ramp and front of the house. After getting the trimmer out, winding some new line on it, gassing it up, and pulling the starter about a million times it did run for a bit. Maybe 5 minutes. Then it also decided it's too cold to do anything and stopped.

I'm not even going to think about getting the chain saw out! LOL My arm is going to complain enough as it is.