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2014 – a year in review

Yoohoo, everybody!! Since today appears to be ‘International Gotta Review 2014 Day” for bloggers, I guess I have to woman up and work my way through the good, the bad and the did..not…work for 2014. Organization, I realize, is everything here, so we will go by topic sub-group so that for those readers who are only interested in one topic, just scroll down until you hit that.

What worked: Pretty much everything on the seed side. The big winner in the garden though, was our testing a bit of technology with the tomatoes. We ran woven wire fencing -the real strong sort – the holes were 3-4″ and we used old metal electric wire fence posts (I’m sure that 2×4’s would work as well; you’d just have to have a partner to put tension on the fencing while you use a staple gun on the posts to hold the fence) to run the fencing down the middle of one of the beds (going north and south). We planted tomato plants every 12-18″ inches along the fencing on both sides, tying up the plants to the fencing itself as they grew. Fantastic production and very little in the way of disease issues. This convinced even the DH, who was firmly an “I only use tomato cages’ sort of guy. At the end of the season, we pulled out the fence and the posts, put it into the garage and will move it to a bed at the other end of the garden for this year and rotate through all the beds. 2014 is not that great in terms of weather but this bit of technology worked a charm.

What did NOT work: Bloody Butcher corn. Wow, was that a huge disappointment. Took forever to germinate; took forever to tassle, took forever to set corn and did not set corn well. Blech. Huge disappointment.

Plans for 2015:
Well, obviously, if we want to grow corn (which frankly, I think is a waste of garden space, but this is the one thing the DH wants every year, do not ask my why), we will have to find something open-pollinated *so that we can save seed) that is actually a shorter-season variety and one also that is less charry about having ‘warm feet’. Second, we want to take one of the beds– probably the one that we grew tomatoes in last year — and put that into strawberries. We are moving toward a more ‘permaculture’ situation here and want to get things which we won’t have to yank out and replant every year. I know there is this piece of mythology in the strawberry-growing industry that you have to either yank out and plant elsewhere or fumigate (with extremely nasty methyl-bromide), but in a home garden, I’m not so sure about that.So, at the moment, my research is to find a couple of different varieties (perhaps even one which is ever-bearing) which will work here at Chez Siberia. Another thing we will be doing is planting even more fruit and nut trees here at Chez Siberia. We’ve been doing research on permaculture and are planning to put in water-control areas called ‘swales’ up the hill (it’s basically a big long ditch, going in the opposite direction as the hill comes down which leaves you with the ditch and then just below it, a big long raised ridge of soil that you can plant things in); we will plant fruit and nut trees and ground covers on the resulting long ridges. We are hoping that a beneficial throw-off from this will be improved drainage in the flatter parts of the pastures below, where we always have ‘squish’ issues with the accompanying ‘not very good for pastured animals’ plants. If this improves the drainage enough, we will do some beneficial seeding in the pastures so that a couple of years from now, there will be much more long-lasting and nutritious stuff for sheep.

Well, 2014 has been a learning year for your Aunty – mostly from the ‘how to use xxx without losing parts of my hads’ aspect. I built a console table and a set of bunks for the grandchildren (who adore them; lucky me).
What worked: Well, everything worked, once I’d settled out that the cut list for the bunks was missing a bunch of stuff. The console table is one of those things I walk by and am constantly amazed that I actually did it.
What did not work: Well, the aforementioned bunk bed cut list, and frankly, I’m thinking I’m going to get a couple of 1×6″ pieces of lumber and do a cross-brace sort of thing on the head and foot of the bunks because they are sturdy enough for a 2 and 4 year old, but what about a 5 and 7 year old?

Plans for 2015: Well, we are going to have a LOT going on this year, but I’m hearing some noises from the grandkinder that they want bunks for their room at home, so I’m thinking we will volunteer to work with their daddy on this to speed up the process. If we do this, though, we will change the design up – use 2x4s instead of what was called for and put in a cross-brace at the head and the foot. Or, perhaps we’ll use a solid piece of hardwood-faced plywood and attach a drop-down work surface for hobbies and homework. That sounds like a helpful idea.

Sewing: Long-time readers may be thinking that I did not do a lot of sewing in 2014. I actually did a LOT; just not for me. For GS-1 (grandson number 1), I made him pants and shirts and a sweater and a hat. I also made, by request, a quilt for his bed, featuring fabric printed with “Jake and the Neverlands Pirates” moifs. For GD-1 (grand-daughter number 1), I made dresses and pants and leggings and tops, plus a knit sweater and hat as well. I’m also making her a doll and wardrobe for her birthday, which is very soon (better get a move-on). I also made her a quilt featuring fantastic 1940s-style cowgirl motifs. I did not show any of that. To be blunt – quilting is no one of my terrific skills — piecing little tiny bits of fabric makes me want to fly to pieces, so my blocks tend to be 12×12″, done in strips, with narrow bits in between the blocks, to make a checkerboard pattern when I get the strips all sewn together. Sometimes, despite my best efforts to make the blocks and strips exactly the same size, I end up with things where the corners do not exactly meet up and match. So, I don’t see myself as someone who has anything to make a claim for expertise on that order.

What worked: Well, there is ‘worked’ and ‘fantastic/woohoo!” Everything worked; no ‘wadders’ per se. Something that worked really well was the sweater I made GD-1 out of two layers of acrylic/wool knit. The fabric was actually very sheer – warm, but sheer – and I was concerned that it would stretch out of shape or not be snuggly enough. I made a double layer of both, with the plain knit on the inside and the embroidered knit on the outside, sewing each piece around the outer edge. That was a bit tedious (after I had done it, I realized that all that time had been spent on a sweater in a size 2T – I did not want to imagine what it would require in a ‘me size’), but worked like a charm. I also faced the center seam openings with matching corduroy so that I had something sturdy to sew the snaps against – that worked really well.

What did not work: Well, nothing really from an actually sewing perspective. I do need to reorganized my stash so that I am no longer asking myself, “do I or do I not have xx-colored knit?” I find that really annoying. Anyone have a system that works? Spreadsheet? Samples on cards?

Plans for 2015: To be blunt, although I am not working from home, I am still wearing the same slacks, tops and sweaters I was wearing 5 years ago. I love wearing skirts, but when you work from home, it is so easy to fall into the ‘pull on the pants and top and off you go’ sort of dressing. I am figuring out a way for me to wear nicer things (if for no other reason to get them into the rotation and get them worn) AND, despite our rather chilling home temperatures, still stay warm. Another thing I have noticed is that I tend to sew things that are easy and quick OR something big and important for an event rather than things I really need. After ending up pretty chilly and damp after a walk in the rain in a jacket I THOUGHT was waterproof (and, to be fair, it might have been…at one time…ten years ago), the number one thing on my ‘to do’ list is a water-proof jacket with a hood. The second item is to deal with the whole ‘making big important things that I end up only wearing once’ issue. As much as I love to do it, that is not a good use of closet space or time, so I am going to drag everything of that sort out, sending anything that does not work any longer to a new home and then asking the musical question, “what is the one thing that if I made it, could be worn with most of what is left, dress it up a bit, and make the outfit look different?” I’m thinking a lined black lace jacket with super fancy buttons might be the ticket there.

Other things:
I’m bored to death with the curtains in the livingroom, which are burgundy. Still good and buying new lined drapes gives me sticker shock, so I got a big (as in Otomi ) stencil with a design of 36″x25″ to redo the curtains (and other things – with something that large, I can do regular fabric too for pillows, upholstery and so on). My plan is to stencil in white or cream against that dark background, though I might be convinced that a color such as gold or golden-yellow might be the ticket also.

The door to the ‘barn’ (which is really an entry to what used to be the chick brooder house here at Chez Siberia) has been on its last legs for decades; there are panes of glass missing, it hangs in a crazy way on its hinges and so on. I’m going to fix that. If it means I have to build a whole new door, then so be it.

New Years Eve (hey, I had to get to that, too): We don’t do a big deal here at Chez Siberia for NYE, but things usually consist of dinner, a few snacky sorts of things for afterward and a movie marathon. The movies this year consisted of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (yay for Cook’s Tours of older British actors and actresses), “Emperor” (interesting for WWII geeks), and “The Living Daylights” (with Timothy Dalton as James Bond).

Dinner Menu: Flank Steak Sandwiches with sauteed onions, peppers and mushrooms, and a big green salad.
Simple enough, right? Well, flank steak (like brisket) can be a just a little bit of a fiddle and here’s how to do it so that you get the slices nice and thin, at an angle, and not too chewy:

flanksteak1 First, make sure the piece of meat is still a bit frozen. That makes everything a lot easier. Flank steak has long muscle fibers in it so in order to make it as tender as possible, you need to find the grain (which in the photo is running up toward the top of the photo) in the meat and cut 90-degrees to that.

The other issue is cutting on an angle (London Broil is done in this way also). This way, the muscle fibers are not all chopped off in the same place and while they cook, they will shrink, but not all together in the same plane; that helps make it not as chewy too. flanksteak3

The last thing is that many times, flank (and brisket) comes with membranes on the meat. Besides the ‘ooky’ factor, membranes will tend to hold the muscle fibers together (which also causes chewiness), so you want to remove any membrane you find. Holding the knife at a sharp angle to the meat, use the knife in your dominant hand and then using the fingers in your other hand, pull off the membranes. Sometimes this is easy and sometimes, unfortunately, they are pretty sticky. flankstead2 But, you’ll want to do this and literally before you start slicing the meat at an angle. The slices should be 1/8″ or less.

To cook, just put a good slug of olive oil into a frying pan with sliced up garlic (at least 2 big cloves), and put on medium heat. Put the slices in to make a single layer and cook slowly (turn down the heat a little to do it) until you don’t see any more blood, then put them into a hot dish in the over and cover. Do all the slices – while you are doing that, cook the peppers, onions and mushrooms. At the end, put in beef broth, dry red wine or even water into the frying pans, deglaze and pour the juices over the meat. Serve with warmed sandwich rolls. Last night, all I heard was ‘mmmmmmm’ coming from the other side of the table. I guess that counts as a win.

dessertcheeseballSnacky thing that really worked (the other was a ‘nice’ but this was a ‘hey, this is GREAT’): dessert cheese ball. I’d never done this before and now that I see how easy this is…

1 big package of cream cheese (I used Neuchatel, but regular and non-fat would work too)
1 stick of butter
1 tsp of vanilla (or any other extract or liquor you like)
1 cup of mini chips of any sort you like (I used chopped up dipping chocolate because that’s what I had)
1/4 cup of chopped up dried fruit (I had ginger and cut it finely)

Mix all together in a mixer and put into the fridge to chill or a couple of hours. If you want to turn this into a cheese ball (or some other shape; I saw this done in the shape of a pinecone, with almonds studded all over; very clever), cover your hands with plastic bags, plastic wrap or some other protection, gather up all the mixture from the bowl and form. Roll in chopped nuts, candies or whatever you like.

What you can see (and this was strictly laziness on my part) was I sprinkled chopped, dried cranberries all over the top and then studded it with almonds. I served it with Graham Crackers and spreaders. We basically had to do the ‘you put this away; no, YOU put in the fridge…I should not be eating any more of this.”

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