I dare you to not enjoy this.

Aug. 8th, 2012

Side Belle
"Hearts are breakable," Isabelle said."And I think even when you heal, you're never what you were before."



On love.

good morning
Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof - Kahlil Gibran

Having a lonely feeling night.

Well, I finally got the photos loaded and on the computer.  Recipes are provided with notes, and since some were first time recipes, they'll count toward my 50 for the year. :)

I've put everything behind a cut, since there are large images and a lot of text.
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Judgment Day

This time of year, scattered across the midwest, there will be hundreds of county fairs popping up on what is desolate land every other week of the year.  There will be midways littered with toothless, tattooed carnies.  There will be amusement rides of questionable stability.  There will be rabbits in hutches, cows in stalls, and horses in barns.  There will be children running amuck with cotton candy and elephant ears. There will be middle-aged women in denim jumpers and plaited hair. And in one of those county fairs, there will be me.

The county fair is to rural northwestern Wisconsin what Fashion Week is to Manhattanites.  Parents herd their broods to cheer grandpa on in the tractor pull.  Locals laugh behind the backs of the women who wear white to the demolition derby. 4-Hers, who make up nearly half of any given class at school, spend the entire week either volunteering at the 4-H food stand or competing in showmanship of livestock. It is about the only tradition with which I was raised.  It is all about connecting.

As a child, the county fair wowed me.  I'd stroll down the midway, hypnotized by the crazy neon lights.  They were just colored lights, but they drew me in.  They'd convince me that I truly wanted to win some tacky paper-framed Aerosmith mirror.  That I just had to have the feathers attached to the roach clip.  That if I picked that one special duck, I wouldn't be stuck with another Chinese finger trap. That somehow, this was what life was about.  It was, for me, one of the major events in my childhood. 

Starting at age seven, I spent every week leading up to the fair with my maternal grandmother.  It was the kind of camp you'll never see in today's times.  No video games, no internet, no extreme sports or cable television.  It was just a week with my grandmother and the McNeill-Lehrer News Hour.  On the way home from picking me up (we lived an entire 15 miles from one another) for the week, we'd stop by the county agricultural fair office to pick up our premium book.  The newsprint pages categorically listed, as they do today, every class and division for entering items to be judged.  When we arrived at her home, my grandmother and I would sit at her Duncan-Phyfe table, she with her Sanka, and I with my Tang.  She'd pull out a red pen and a stenographer's tablet and page by page, we'd start deciding what our projects for the week would be.

The next day, with a list in hand, we would drive to the Red Owl grocery store to buy any ingredients we were missing.  She almost always bought me a few treats, that my parents could never afford at home, like Capri Sun and Fruit Roll-Ups.  Then, we'd drive up the block to the Ben Franklin ("the dime store," she had called it), and pick out our "yard goods" for anything we were sewing.  The first few days were spent making clothes.  I would attempt to sew something basic, like a skirt, and she would help me correct my mistakes.  We'd take our time and make sure that our entries were hung with care on the hangers and properly stored in garment bags.  I'd fill out the entry tag and carefully seal our names under the flap for anonymity.

Two days before open class judging, we'd begin our baking spree.  We usually started with the fruit and vegetable breads, since they stayed fresh a little more easily.  Then we made cookies and hot crossed buns and garlic knots and bars.  The morning of judging, we'd rise at 3:00 AM to get started on the last of the yeast breads.   We'd make two loaves of each bread and decide which of the two was the best representative of our work.  We did not have food processors or bread machines, so we would knead everything by hand on a canvas-topped piece of oak.  She taught me an easy way of kneading breads in bulk, and my hands to this day, automatically move in that same pattern the minute they touch a malleable dough.  She taught me how to roll a ball of dough gently on the curve of skin between my thumb and forefinger, creating a seamless sphere of yeasty perfection.  She would cast watchful glances and remind me not to use too much flour, or the bread would get too dry and crumbly.

Then we'd shower, and off we would go, smelling like pink Dove soap and Flex conditioner, to the Burnett County Fair.  With the backseat of her beige Ford Taurus piled high with entries, we'd take our time around the curves of Highway 48, so as not to disturb any of the delicate baked goods.  Conversation would be kept to a minimum, only verbally checking off everything on our list.

Once judging commenced, we'd walk around the fairgrounds together and look at the animals.  We'd eat at the 4-H Food Stand, and then share a baker's dozen of mini donuts before heading back to see the results of our hard work. 

Down in the basement of my house, now more than ten years since my last week of camp at Grandma's, there is a box of red, white, blue and purple ribbons.  Each one of them a physical reminder of those beautiful summers with a woman who represents all I hope to grow to be.  There must be nearly two hundred ribbons.  On the back, marked in pen, is a detailed caption of what entry earned the ribbon.  The blue for first place, the red for second, and the white for third.  The purple ribbons were reserved for the overall champion of each category.  Topped with a large rosette, this is the most coveted ribbon of any county fair.  It's the one the crowd looks at first when passing through the exhibits. It's the one that boasts who outperformed everyone else in the county. My grandmother and I brought home about 50 of those purple ribbons for our work over the years.  Each time filled with the same excitement one would feel if Publisher's Clearing House knocked at the door with a giant cardboard check. 

One week from today, I'll rise at 3:00 AM, put in six hours of hard work and then sit in the Home Arts Building at the LaPorte County Fair.  I'll be surrounded by homemakers and random onlookers and I'll be watching with a sharp eye for any inkling of opinion from the judge.  I'll have put in long hours and made countless loaves.  They won't be back my grandmother, but it will sure feel good to try.

Garden Porn

So I've written a lot about my garden, but now I have photos!

Adam and I spent a couple of hours getting the last of the plastic in place.  Our weeds, like last year, were out of control.  Essentially, the grass seed hasn't died. It's weird to me that the grass that had been growing in the garden was almost like Bermuda grass. It is thick, coarse, hearty, and far more dense than what our actual lawn is.  But, it was also impossible to keep up with.  Many garden books and a few gardening friends suggested that we kill off the weeds and grass seed by laying down an inch or two of newspaper, and then covering it with black plastic.  The lack of sunlight, moisture and the high heat created by the sun and the plastic is supposed to kill everything off.

We did the large bed earlier this summer, and from what I have seen of the results under the plastic, it works.  We did the other two beds yesterday. It was a challenge, having so many tall plants now, but I think we managed all right.  Overall, our garden is much improved over last year.  Leaps and bounds.  It's under control, which I like.

Also, our brussel sprouts are finally rebounding from the cabbage worms.  My insect soap worked wonders after I doused them with it. No eggs or worms remained and the new leaves seem to be fine.  The eaten ones are clinging on, so we'll see.

So, here are pictures!!!

Canine Cuteness


Here are some photos from two weekends ago!

I like sleeping with my mom. 

Recipe 15: Pita Bread

I made pita brad the other day.  This recipe is from King Arthur's Flour, my usual haunt for no-fail breads.  I have to say that after making about 6 or 7 of their bread recipes, I have yet to meet one that I don't like.  I just love their product and I love their recipes. Before the fair baking, I plan on ordering a few of their specialty pans and some of their specialty ingredients, like their Easy Roll Dough Improver and Granular Lecithin. 

Whenever I need something to make me feel better, I make bread.  I just love, love, love making bread.  And, of course, as I type this, I have my starter for what will become tomorrow's ciabatta bread doing its thing and a loaf of sandwich bread rising. :)

This pita bread was insanely easy to make.  I wish it made more than 8 pitas, but that's really all you'll get from this recipe.  Of course, they make halves, and good sized halves at that, but we go through it so fast that it would be easier to make a double batch next time, I think.


New Rules

Okay, I know that New Rules really belong to BIll Maher (on whom I have a serious brain crush), but I am going to install some of my own.

New Rule: If you regularly buy and consume bottled water, you do not have the right to bitch about gas prices.

This country spends millions of dollars each year to ensure that the water we get is potable.  Yes, it may taste shitty in some places, but that's no excuse. Buy a $30 filter system and deal with it.  Many countries don't even have access to water clean enough to drink or bath in, so just be glad that even if your water tastes shitty, you still have access to water all of the time.

And that little plastic bottle it comes in?  Well, that's made of plastic, which requires petroleum, which has an effect on our gas prices.  Bottled water waste creates more than 1.5 billion tons of plastic, and sadly, Food and Water Watch reports that nearly 80% of all of those bottles end up in the trash, not the recycling bin.  That's about 30 BILLION plastic water bottles, according to the Sierra Club's brochure on water facts.

So that impact is just part of the cost. What about the consumer up front cost?  Well, let's see.

In my area, gasoline is currently $4.05 per gallon.  Divide that by 128 ounces in one gallon, and I pay about .3 cents per ounce of gasoline. Bottled water goes for about $1.25 per 20-ounce bottle.  That means I am paying .06 cents per ounce, which is double what I am paying for gasoline.  Therefore, the cost of bottled water is almost double the cost of gasoline.

So people who drink bottled water cannot bitch about the price of gas.  Because bottled water is not only more expensive to the consumer pocket, it's bad for the environment and usually just comes from a giant tap someplace else.


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