Tag Archives: writing

Tomato Wine

My dad grew up in the Depression years, so if anything could be conserved and/or reused, our family did it.  Wasting food wasn’t quite a cardinal sin, but we mourned the occasional demise of a leftover with the regret most people would feel over losing a $5 bill.

I inherited the food-conservation compulsion.

So.  You may recall that Hubby and I grew a gigantic and successful veggie garden this year.  The tomatoes were particularly prolific.  We ate fresh tomatoes with almost every meal, and I canned quarts and quarts of them.  Then I made salsa, ketchup, tomato paste, and green tomato pickle.  I gave away tomatoes to friends, neighbours, and the food bank; and the tomatoes just kept coming.

We still have so many tomatoes that for once in my life, I’ve stopped worrying about wasting them.  (Okay, not really; but at least I’m slightly less obsessive about it.)  So I’m trying something new:  Tomato wine and tomato cider.

It may not be as weird as it sounds; or at least we’re not the first to attempt it.  I have no idea whether it will be tasty, barely drinkable, or vile rocket fuel; but at this point I have nothing to lose but a couple of pounds of sugar and a package of yeast.

Wine-making vocabulary always makes me wonder whether I’m fermenting a beverage or describing some kind of medieval torture: Pitching the yeast, racking off… it all sounds painful and barbaric.  But drinking our tomato hooch might actually turn out to be akin to medieval torture; so maybe the vocabulary is more appropriate than I realize.

Even if it fails, it’s an interesting experiment; and at least I tried to Not Waste Food.  I think my dad would be pleased:  His chokecherry wine was legendary.  (Keeping in mind that ‘legendary’ can be astoundingly good or abysmally bad.  It was definitely memorable.)

Anybody else ever made tomato wine or cider?  Or have more ideas for using another twenty pounds of tomatoes?  Maybe tomato ice cream…?

Book 15 update:  Another good writing week!  I’m in the middle of Chapter 9 with flashing lights and sirens, and Arnie’s found another feline friend.

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Awkward…

I have to confess:  A couple of weeks ago I swore at a shoe saleslady because I thought we were just joking around.  Apparently I was wrong.  Awkwardness ensued.

So…

I went to the running shoe store and explained to the saleslady that I buy runners based only on comfort.  Style is irrelevant, as long as my feet are happy.

“Oh,” she said snarkily.  “It’s my lucky day.  You’re going to make me drag out every pair of shoes in the store, aren’t you?”

I was slightly taken aback, but I decided she must be joking.  After all, dragging out shoes is her job.  So I laughed and said, “Yep, probably.  Sorry about that.”

She brought out a couple of pairs and I tried them on.  She immediately pointed to one pair.  “Those are the ones.  I like the way they look on your feet.”

“They’re nice,” I agreed.  “But they don’t fit.  Do you have any others?”

She made another remark about how I was inconveniencing her, and I dutifully laughed.  She returned with a couple more pairs, and again pointed out the ones she liked; and again I explained that their appearance was irrelevant.

“Wait, I have the perfect shoes for you!”  She scurried off and returned with another box.  “Here!  These are beautiful!”

She triumphantly displayed the ugliest shoes I’ve ever seen.  I mean, we’re talking about some unholy union between a giant marshmallow and neon bedroom slippers; and if you’re having difficulty visualizing that, you’re lucky.  The reality was retina-scarring.

I burst out laughing and exclaimed, “Those are hideous!”

“They’re beautiful,” she insisted.  “Just put them on.  You’ll love them.”

So I put them on, because if they had fit well I would’ve bought them no matter how ugly they were.  To my everlasting relief, they weren’t comfortable.

“Nope, sorry,” I said.

“But they look so lovely on your feet!  Just walk around in them a bit more.  They’re so beautiful!  These are absolutely the right shoes for you!”

And that’s where I screwed up.  I was sure she was joking.  Why else would she hard-sell the shoes when I’d already clearly said I hated them and they weren’t comfortable?

“Oh, stop with the bullshit!” I said with a grin.  “I’m up to my neck in it!”

A chilly silence ensued.

I did buy a pair of runners (not the hideous ones), but it was awkward.

I feel vaguely guilty.  One might argue that if she wasn’t joking, then she deserved a verbal slapdown; but that’s not how I roll.  If I had known she was serious, I would have politely deflected her like any other annoying salesperson.

This ‘social interaction’ stuff is ’way too complicated.  Maybe I’ll just order everything online from now on.  And if that limits my contact with other human beings to once or twice a year, well, what could possibly go wrong?

At least if I really offend somebody and have to run away, I’ve got a snazzy new pair of runners…

Book 15 update:  A productive writing week!  Chapter 7 ended with a bang, and Aydan and the gang are off and running (literally).

 

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Bruce Can Fly!

In my previous post I introduced Bruce, our newly-minted sourdough culture.  At the time, I mentioned his godlike power of raising the bread; but I didn’t realize that was only a fraction of his abilities.  Last week, I discovered that Bruce can fly.

As you might guess, this was not a happy revelation.

For the last forty-some years I’ve made my bread by hand; but Graubrot is new territory for me, so I was following the recipe.  And the recipe said ‘It’s best to use a stand mixer with dough hooks’.

Right there:  That’s when I should have asked some probing questions.

“It’s best” implies “it’s better than something else”; but the recipe didn’t specify “better than what”.  The whole fiasco was probably better than undergoing a root canal performed by a drunken chimpanzee; but since I’ve never had a simian dentist (inebriated or otherwise), I can’t accurately state that the dough hook experience was “best”.

Blindly optimistic, I scraped my rye starter dough and wheat starter dough into the mixing bowl and added the liquid and seasonings.

(Useful knowledge:  Wheat flour has a lot of gluten, which makes its dough elastic.  Rye has very little gluten, and its dough is like modelling clay.  Bruce occupied the rye starter dough.)

Even at their lowest speed, the dough hooks rapidly churned the wheat starter into a compact springy ball while the rye starter formed a slurry with the liquid.

Then (in a fit of temper or maybe malicious glee), the dough hooks seized the ball of wheat dough, flung it high, and slapped it down into the slurry at approximately thirty miles per hour.

And Bruce flew.

Oh, my, did he fly.  Ev-er-y-where.

That would have been bad enough, but the starter doughs have to ripen for at least eighteen hours before use.  So if I wanted to bake that day (and I did), I had to salvage the slurry.

It took about half an hour, but I managed to scrape most of Bruce off various surfaces and back into the mixing bowl.  I did try to use the dough hooks again, but when the mixer started to smell like burnt wiring (did I mention that Graubrot is VERY heavy?) I turned the dough out on the counter and kneaded it by hand, as I should have done in the first place.

After all that foolishness, the bread turned out fine; but I’m haunted by the knowledge that there are probably still microscopic particles of Bruce throughout my kitchen.  And now that he’s both all-powerful and omnipresent, I’m really hoping he turns out to be a benevolent deity.

But if there’s no blog post next week, you’ll know what happened…

Book 15 update:  In between rounds of company and dicing with death atop a 30-foot ladder (because our brand-new house needs most of its exterior re-caulked, grrr, don’t get me started), I didn’t make much writing progress this week.  But I’m nearly finished Chapter 5, and hoping for more writing time this week.  Fingers crossed!

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Meet Bruce (Almighty)

Our household has a new member!  We’ve christened him Bruce.

This is where I’m supposed to gush about how adorable he is, and fill my post with photos of Bruce napping and Bruce playing and Bruce looking at us with love in his eyes and Bruce, Bruce, Bruce.

So… here he is:

This is Bruce napping, playing, etc.

Awww. Isn’t he adorable?

No, I haven’t lost my mind (any more than usual). I have, however, managed to grow a sourdough culture.  And in the process of researching recipes and techniques I discovered that it’s traditional to name your sourdough starter, since it’s a living organism you have to feed and care for (potentially for years).

That tickled my funnybone, so I decided to name ours after the main character in Bruce Almighty.  It seemed appropriate, since Bruce has godlike powers:  He can raise the bread.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

I learned to bake bread when I was about thirteen, and I’ve been at it ever since.  I enjoy fluffy buns and sweet breads, but my ‘daily bread’ is deliciously packed with whole wheat, flax and chia.

Hubby, on the other hand, dreams of a heavy Black Forest rye like the bread he ate as a kid in Germany.  (He’s a Canadian Air Force brat who grew up mostly overseas.)  Thanks to the magic of the internet we found some recipes, and the inaugural loaf came out of the oven on Monday.

I can only describe it as, um… solid. Dark and aromatic and heavy as lead.  If I hadn’t created a loaf like that on purpose, I’d have hurriedly chucked it before anybody could assume that it was a fair representation of my bread-making skills.

Spawn of Bruce

But Hubby says it’s close.  Apparently the weight is correct and the Brotgewürz (bread spice) is good, but this loaf is 100% dark rye and on reflection he thinks the magic bread was probably Mischbrot (mixed bread) or Graubrot (grey bread) or Bauernbrot (farmer’s bread) — different names for similar breads made with a blend of rye flour and white/all-purpose wheat flour.

So Bruce will be kept busy while I try out more recipes.  And as long as I never find him cuddled up on my pillow in the morning, everything will be fine.

Anybody else harbouring family members in their fridge?  (If the answer is ‘yes’, I’m not sure I want to know…)

*

P.S. Our next round of houseguests arrives on Monday, so my next post will be October 2.  Yikes!  I can’t believe October is that close!

Book 15 update:  Despite the busy-ness of guests and garden, I’m well into Chapter 5.  Looking forward to some good writing time in the next few days!

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More Juggling (But Not With Fish)

September is shaping up to be a crazy month!  (Lucky I’m crazy enough to deal with it.)  I’m still picking piles of fruit and veggies from the garden, and we’re busily socking it away to enjoy throughout the winter.  The considerable overflow goes to our friends and neighbours as well as the Food Bank.

We might have been just a teeny bit over-enthusiastic when we were planting the garden, but… look at all this glorious food!

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

A single picking of tomatoes. (I pick a couple of times a week.)

 

Ten gallons of chopped carrots all ready for the freezer.

 

50 pints of pickles, 22 pints of jam, 7 pints of salsa, 28 pints of beans (another 20 pounds frozen), 24 pints of tomatoes and lots to go, and still a bit of space left for the rest of the beets and tomatoes and pickled hot peppers. YUM!

 

But our autumn isn’t only about food.  The flowers are still gorgeous, too, and the bees and other wildlife are hard at work stocking their own pantries:

This little black bear has been feasting on the wild cherries only a few hundred feet from our house. Don’t be fooled by his casual pose — he’s actually about 30 feet up a tree. (He’s a little blurry because Hubby took this shot using a LONG zoom — we have a healthy respect even for small bears!)

 

This little guy has been hard at work snipping off pine cones and stashing them away.

 

I’m not sure whether it was my camera or the tiny white spider (near the centre of the flower) that chased this bee off the zinnia. Either way, he’s buzzing off.

 

The snapdragons are still putting on a show.

 

One of our newest rhododendrons, Medusa, is a bit confused as to whether it’s spring or fall, but she’s beautiful anyway!

 

We’ll have a couple more rounds of houseguests this month, so maintaining my writing schedule for Book 15 will be a juggling act.  (Fortunately not with fish.)  To salvage some time I’ll dial back my blogging schedule to every second week for the month of September, so my next post will be September 18.

How’s your September shaping up?  Are you harvesting any goodies from your garden?

Book 15 update:  I’m bombing along on Chapter 4!  Hellhound would normally be voted “Most Likely To Get Arrested While On Vacation”, but Aydan’s the one who’s ended up in handcuffs…

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A Fishy Tale

I seem to end up looking like a doofus in public more often than most people. I prefer to think it’s sheer coincidence, and nothing to do with me personally.  (Denial:  Not just a river in Egypt.)  Last month it was my disintegrating shoes.  This week I entertained the crowd by juggling a dead fish at the pumps of a PetroCanada gas station.

It could only happen to me:

We had driven down to Victoria, and on the way back we stopped for gas. As I was fuelling up, Hubby’s uncle drove in beside me. That was an unlikely coincidence, since neither of us lives close to that PetroCanada station.  Also coincidentally, he was returning from a fishing trip.

“Hey, I’ve got a fish for you,” said he. “Do you want it now?”

Ordinarily I would have declined, since I have no way of carrying a gutted and beheaded fish home in my car without causing grievous harm to upholstery and equanimity.  But (another coincidence) I had taken a load of vegetables down to inflict on share with our friends, so I had a large empty cooler with ice packs.  I also happened to have a plastic bag, so I could put the fish in the bag and tuck it tidily into the cooler. Easy-peasy, right?

Not even close.

Hubby’s uncle was on his way to the ferry and I didn’t want to delay him, so I hustled his catch-bag over to where Hubby had helpfully opened our cooler.  I grabbed my plastic bag with one hand.  I grabbed the salmon with the other.

You’d think that very little could go wrong in the few inches between fish and bag; but you’d be oh-so-sadly mistaken. Freshly dead salmon are slippery. I had grabbed it just above the tail, and (being fish-shaped and all) it tapered considerably at that point.

That fish shot out of my grip like it was jet-propelled.

I made a panicked grab for it, which accomplished nothing except to add a tumble to its trajectory. Fish-slime flew in all directions, splattering my shirt, face, and sunglasses.  The fish did a belly-flop into our cooler, where it spitefully rubbed its dead self all over the ice packs and the inside of the cooler.

And there I stood in the middle of the PetroCanada station:  be-slimed and befuddled, with the empty plastic bag dangling impotently from my hand.

Then came a short ridiculous scene in which I juggled the frictionless fish a couple more times before finally cramming it into the bag.  (Don’t ask me why putting the fish in the bag still seemed important, since the cooler and ice packs were already thoroughly slimed.  By then I wasn’t thinking straight due to a severe case of the giggles.)

I scuttled into the station to wash my hands and clean my sunglasses, then hurried back to the car and drove away without looking around to see how many people had witnessed the debacle.  I didn’t hear anybody laughing; but I wasn’t listening too closely, either.

I did manage to get the salmon filleted and into our freezer without further mishap, and soon we’ll eat the evidence.

But I might not go back to that gas station for a while…

Book 15 update:  I’m back in action after last week’s hiatus, and looking forward to a good writing week!

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Hmmm…

As I’ve noted before, the universe seems to store up its oddities so it can dump them on me all at once.  Apparently this week its goal was to leave me just slightly disturbed.  (Some might argue that I’m already permanently disturbed, but pshaw.)

The first thing that left me feeling a little off-balance was the fact that I’ve been calling friends and family to see if ANYBODY wants some zucchini.  There’s only so much I can eat, freeze, and dehydrate, and I passed that limit after the first thirty zukes.  (And that was only two pickings.  I’ve been picking every second day since the beginning of July.  Math majors, don’t bother adding that up – it comes out to “far too many”!)

So I phone.  I always get voicemail.  (Is that a hint?)  I leave my message offering free zucchini.  And then…

*sound of crickets*

They never call back.

This leaves me feeling just a bit… odd. Ordinarily I’d consider it rude if somebody completely ignored an offer of free food; but after all, we are talking about zucchini here. Zucchini is like that overly friendly coworker who keeps proposing weird-bordering-on-creepy social activities every weekend. Maybe it’s the thought that counts; but you’re not sure you want to encourage those thoughts.

(And that leaves me wondering whether I’m that coworker and I’m just too oblivious to realize it. These are the things that keep me awake at night.)

My next “Um… what?!?” moment came when I was doing some research for Book 15.  I began typing ‘Is it legal…’ into Google, and this is what popped up:

Seriously? Marrying yourself is the top Google search? How would that even work? And why?  (And don’t get me started about all the animal questions.)

My next ‘Uh-oh’ arrived while I was picking another big basket of cucumbers, as I do every… second… day.  (I may have to start breaking into people’s homes and leaving fresh produce behind.)

Anyway, there I was on my knees in the patch with all the bees working away at the blossoms… which were very near a certain place that’s quite dear to me. As I eyed the large bumblebee buzzing millimetres away from my crotch, I was reminded of the old joke about the guy in the dentist’s chair who reaches over to gently grip the dentist’s testicles and say, “We wouldn’t want to hurt each other, would we?”  I lack the testicles, but now I understand the trepidation.

And last but not least: I usually drink my morning cup of tea outside on our front porch. We still haven’t got our concrete poured, so my chair sits on a piece of plywood. And the other day when I glanced absently at it, I realized that it contained the face from Edvard Munch’s The Scream:

Am I right?

I’m here to tell you that it’s seriously disturbing to glance down and see that between your knees.  But I guess it’s better than an irate bumblebee.

So I’m slightly unbalanced as usual, but I’m still staggering forward.  How was your week?

Book 15 update:  I’ve almost finished Chapter 1!  And I’ve made another attempt at book cover redesign — what do you think? (See below.)

                       

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Down The Rabbit Hole

Last week I mentioned that in addition to my shoe breakdown, my deodorant had also failed. That got me thinking about sweat and its associated etiquette. (Sweatiquette?)

I lived most of my adult life in Calgary, where it’s so dry that your sweat glands have to work overtime just to keep you from shriveling into a desiccated mummy. Perspiration was never a problem there.

But it’s humid here on the West Coast, and now I get clammy clothes and a sticky sheen on my skin just from strolling down the sidewalk.  So here’s my dilemma:

When you a meet a friend you’d normally hug, is it more awkward to say, “Don’t hug me, I’m gross and sweaty”; or to go for the hug and subject them to full sweatitude with a bonus whiff of gamey armpits? (And why don’t I have friends anymore?)

When I consulted the internet (about sweatiquette, not my social problems), I was confronted by an ad demanding, “Are you a heavy sweater?”

I blinked away the mental image of a bulky cable-knit pullover.  Nope, last time checked I was still a regular-weight human.

And down the rabbit hole I went.

‘Sweater’. It’s kind of an icky word when you think about it. I mean, I guess it’s descriptive enough:  When you’re cold, you want something that might induce sweat; so you put on a ‘sweater’.  But, ew.

Our friends in the U.K. more politely call them ‘jumpers’; but even though there’s a lower ick-factor, the word makes no sense at all. What does jumping have to do with a garment you pull over your head?

Although I guess it makes as much sense as our North American ‘jumper’: A sleeveless, collarless dress worn over a T-shirt.  (As opposed to a ‘jumpsuit’, the one-piece coverall worn by skydivers who jump out of perfectly serviceable airplanes at high altitude. At least the terminology is logical even if the sanity is questionable.)

And that reminds me of a joke:  “Parachute for sale.  Used once.  Small stain.”

Which brings me full-circle to sweat and other bodily emissions:  If anybody ever forced me to skydive, I guarantee the stain would be a large one and the parachute wouldn’t be salable afterward.  The person who coerced me probably wouldn’t be in great shape, either.

And that’s the bottom of this week’s rabbit hole.  (Should I mention that a rabbit is also a ‘jumper’?)

Happy landings to all!

Book 15 update:  The first words are on the page, woohoo!  I’m thrilled to be writing again — I’ve missed Aydan and the gang. 🙂

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A(nother) Sticky Situation

Unlike my sticky situation a few years ago, my latest debacle involved fashion, not glue.  And I’m here to tell you that when the words ‘sticky’ and ‘fashion’ get used in the same sentence the result is, um… undesirable.

As you may recall, I hate dressing up.  I haven’t bought new clothes in nearly ten years and I don’t have a clue what’s stylish now; but I’m pretty sure the wide-legged pants and bell-bottoms in my closet are passé.  (Or maybe not; what do I know?)

Anyway, I had a few panicky moments when I consulted my closet an hour before I was due to present my talk last week; but I did manage to get dressed.  From deep in the archives of my plastic shoe boxes I dug out my two pairs of comfortable dress shoes, and I was halfway out the door when I realized there was something sticky on one of the soles.

I rushed back, stuffed my feet into the other pair, and hurried off to the Civic Centre… only to discover that we were locked out.

When we finally got inside with only fifteen minutes to spare before the presentation, I rushed around setting up my projector and laptop.  Then I retired to the bathroom, hoping to dry the sweat that was rolling off me in the stuffy atmosphere.

That’s when I realized that, in my trauma over dress clothes, I’d forgotten to re-apply my deodorant. And I’d worn a sleeveless top. Every time I raised my arms, the pit-stink nearly knocked me over.

Okay; fine. The front rows were at least six feet away. The air conditioning was kicking in. I could carry this off.

So I dove into my presentation, getting totally immersed as I always do… until I realized that my damn shoe was sticking to the floor and un-sticking itself with an audible snap each time I moved.

For shit’s sake, what had I stepped in this time?!?

I ignored it as best I could and finished the talk; and everybody eventually trickled out.

That’s when I discovered that I hadn’t stepped in anything.  During their long contact with the plastic shoeboxes, the synthetic parts of the shoes had undergone some kind of chemical reaction.  The leather upper was fine, but the sole had turned into a gooey mess.

There were sticky black marks on the floor where I had stood; and a big piece of one sole had torn loose to flop around like a clown shoe with every step.

As I skulked out of the Civic Centre, Hubby helpfully remarked, “You left a piece of your shoe back there.”

I’m proud to report that there was only a smidgen of vulgarity in my response as I squelched my sticky way across the parking lot.

So the vindictive fashion gods have won another round. I’m afraid to even speculate what they’ll do for an encore; but if I’m lucky it’ll be another ten years down the road.

Maybe I’ll wait until then to buy new dress clothes…

Book 15 is under way!  I had a great plotting week — the subplot is mostly done and I’m working on the details of the main story.  Hope to start putting words on the page this week!

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Bird-Brains, My Butt

I love living out in the country where the air is a tapestry of birdsong and our little feathered friends forage busily in our gardens.  We have everything from the drab but melodic Hermit Thrush to the brilliant Western Tanager; the giant and crazily prehistoric-looking Pileated Woodpecker to the tiny Anna’s Hummingbird.  But unlike my blogging buddy Elephant’s Child, I don’t have any beautiful bird photos to show you.

And that’s my beef, right there:  No photo ops.  In fact, half the time I can’t even get to the binoculars.

I’d comfort myself with the knowledge that they’re wild birds so they never stay in one place for long; but that’s not actually true.  They’re not flitting around, alert to the slightest threat.  No; they’re flaunting themselves within full view of my windows, sitting there only a few yards away and preening.  Even the hummingbirds perch for minutes at a time.

But no matter whether they’ve just landed or they’ve been snoozing there for five minutes, the instant I head for the binoculars, the birds fly away.

One might argue that they’re getting spooked when they see my movement through the window.  I’d like to believe that… but I don’t. I can walk over and stand inches away from glass watching them, and they never ruffle a feather.

But just let me reach for the binoculars that live permanently in the corner of the living room, and the birds zip away, never to reappear until I’m at least ten paces away from the optics.

Reaching for the camera is even more futile.  That doesn’t even require any movement on my part — all I have to do is think about the camera and the birds take off.

So not only can they tell the difference between me casually crossing the room on my own errand, and me crossing the room to pick up the binoculars; but they can also read my mind.

Bird-brains, my butt.  Those little suckers are smart, and probably telepathic.  I just hope they don’t decide to organize and attack like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

But if there’s no blog post next week, you’ll know what happened.

*

P.S. Speaking of bird-brains:  Last night I had a great time presenting Write Your Book At Last at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre.  But… at the end of my talk, I forgot to ask if anyone was interested in more in-depth workshops.  I’ve posted topic outlines on my Workshops page, but I won’t set dates unless there’s some interest.  Please drop me an email if there’s a workshop you’d like to attend.  Thanks!

Exciting news:  The audiobook for Book 2, The Spy Is Cast is now in production!  Its tentative release date is in October, and the rest of the series is scheduled to follow it into audio format ASAP.

And… I’m starting Book 15 this week!  Hooray!  🙂

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