Snow – Baking – and the Last of the Chard

Schwendi Manor doorIt started snowing yesterday just before sunrise. While this is being touted as a major storm, all we got was a dusting that first melted, then blew away and left the pavement pretty much dry. I headed out at first light to Winco to pick up final groceries in case an ice storm materialized. I got a new mini-muffin tin and baking sheet from Pampered Chef, so I stocked up on muffin and cookie ingredients.

Back home, I went into the the backyard and picked the final leaves from my Swiss chard plants, which are likely to freeze solid this week as the temperatures will remain below 30F.

Photo: My front door with the fresh wreath I decorated with my existing ornaments. The doormat celebrates the Swiss town of Schwendi (where we’ll buy a condo should we win the lottery – I’d be Wendy from Schwendi.)

The wind whipped all day long, and it was hard to tell whether snow was falling or it was just the same snow blowing around. The backyards between the houses here seem to be wind zone.

For dinner, I baked chicken thighs in Mr. Yoshida’s Original Gourmet Sauce (a local brand). I cooked up some udon noodles, added carrots from the farmers market, the backyard swiss chard, and organic bean sprouts from Winco. It was delicious. The CSA experience has taught me you can toss swiss chard, spinach, and many greens into almost any dish and they taste fine and add nutrition. I had never done that before.

Next, I set to work baking Lil’ Citrus Muffins from scratch from the recipe on the Pampered Chef pan. The muffin tin worked like a charm. They were glazed by dipping first in melted butter, then granulated sugar. But they just didn’t pack enough orange flavor for me. I had zested two oranges and added a teaspoon of commercial dried orange peel. I think they needed much more fresh zest. It’s a big step for me to make things from scratch rather than a mix! I tried to make baking powder biscuits from scratch a few months ago, only to discover my baking powder had expired sometime in the last century. But flour, sugar and baking powder are a lot cheaper than packaged mixes – with less packaging to toss or recycle. I used an organic brown egg and local Tillamook non-fat sour cream in the muffins as well.

We settled in for a long winter’s night of watching the Survivor finale. All is well at Schwendi Manor. Here you can see my minimalist but tasteful and non-electric decorating scheme, with a dusting of snow courtesy of Mother Nature.

House in snow
Photos © Wendy Bumgardner

Decorating Decisions

I am looking at Christmas decorations from the viewpoints of going local, going green, and going frugal. My husband and I also feel the pressure of wanting to fit into the neighborhood, which seems to be of the electric decoration persuasion. Giant light displays are in my genes. Dad always outlined the entire house and yard, except during the energy crisis in the 1970’s when that was forbidden. Even now, he hires one of the grandkids to come do the ladder climbing. That’s dad’s side of the family. Mom’s side of the family, all of the cousins in Roy, Oregon, suddenly when Christmas extravaganza nuts for several years in the 80’s and 90’s. They strung lights all along their farm properties and composed moving light sculptures using farm equipment. It became a real holiday attraction.

But our new house is of a design where you would need a crane (or a very tall ladder) to put lights up on the front. Our neighbors with the same design have been content to outline their garage doors and front window and to put lights around their front yards. But we are averse to using cup hooks or staples to attach the lights, which would be necessary as there isn’t any lip to attach light clamps to around those areas. I decided it was best to go as “green” (as in non-electrified) as possible.

Taking a cue from another neighbor, I bought large red felt bows at Michaels to place beneath the carriage lights on each side of the garage. Then I went to Shorty’s Garden Center for a fresh wreath for the door. I was taken aback at the $59 price tag for the wreaths I liked best and settled for a $19.95 wreath, deciding to add my own bow and other decorations to it.

I bought a wreath hanger for the door that says NOEL in red letters. My plan is to shop the after-Christmas sales and buy any further decorations at half price or less. I would like to get a silk wreath so that I wouldn’t need to buy a new one and recycle it each year. That would save both money and space in the recycling. I had such a wreath 10 years ago that I bought at a craft fair. But my husband tossed it in the trash without considering that it was supposed to be used year after year. I’ll have to coach him better.

I bought a large poinsettia for the Great Room and a small one for the dining table. Those are my other two recyclable items. I wish they grew here like they do in Los Angeles. Houses in my mother-in-laws neighborhood have giant, gorgeous poinsettias growing in the yard.

I put up my artificial tree, enjoying the ease of it all. But I am thinking that I should look into replacing it with one with LED lights, if I can find one at the after-Christmas sale. The little tree lights do give off plenty of heat, a sign of wasted energy. It’s fun to decorate the new house as we have more surfaces that can be used to hold my nativity set, etc. But my plan is to take it slow and steady, looking for items after Christmas such as and advent candle holder and a nice artificial garland for the mantle.

I would like to buy locally crafted items, but for some reason I have missed announcements for holiday craft fairs. I’ve done some web searches but haven’t come up with any conveniently located. I shall continue to keep my eye out for those.

CSA Done for the Winter

I picked up my last late-season share from my CSA farm on Tuesday. I shall miss the produce and the challenge of what to do with it each week. Will I buy the same range of produce from the supermarket? I doubt it. But I think I will be adding a fuller range of vegetables and fruit in my usual diet through the winter. Tonight’s pot of beef stew includes rutabagas and rutabaga greens, organic red potatoes and carrots from the farmers market, and bay leaves from my bay plants on the patio.

I’ve already re-subscribed to the CSA for 2009, but I have a flyer from another CSA which will be delivering to my workplace. They have an egg subscription separate from the produce subscription. I think I will get the eggs, as my husband has been enjoying eggs for breakfast on the weekend and fried rice with eggs during the week. I picked up organic brown eggs at Winco today. They aren’t from pastured chickens, but it’s the next best thing. I enjoy a Sunday morning walk to Winco to pick up a couple of items while avoiding the annoying crowds.

The Turkey Keeps on Giving

Tom Turkey at Maysara WineryI roasted a 24-pound monster bird for just the two of us. That might seem excessive, but for $5.22 I am getting a lot of value:

Turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy with cranberry sauce for two days

Turkey sandwiches for lunch for three days.

I froze half of the turkey breast for later use.

I cooked the neck, gizzard, organs and then added them to the crockpot with the lower half of the turkey carcass, wine and water to make turkey broth. I froze the first batch of 6 cups of broth.

I added more water and wine after draining the first batch of broth and cooked again through the day. I used this broth to make gravy for turkey and noodles – it was delicious. I also braised some beet greens to go with them.

Today, I’ll make more broth from the top half of the carcass and plan to make more stuffing using the broth, plus turkey and dumplings for dinner.
Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

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Coleman Vineyard – Charmed by Savannah

Our Thanksgiving Weekend excursion into the wine country of Oregon took us to two McMinnville-area vineyards we had not visited before. Coleman Vineyard is a family-owned sustainably farmed vineyard in the McMinnville appellation. We spotted it on the drive to Maysara Vineyards. Just how “family” is this estate winery? How about an 11-year old winemaker, Ryan Coleman, whose Racy Red is a delight? Wine Press Northwest covers the story on how, yes, he really does make the wine, right down to negotiating with Mo Momtazi for some of the wonderful fruit that would otherwise have gone into Maysara wines. Ryan was there, not allowed yet to touch the wine, but selling cask stave candle holders at the great price of $16.

Charmed by SavannahI enjoyed all of the wines, but we had just bought a case of Maysara and decided to wait on Coleman wines. But I had also spotted entrepreneur Savannah’s beaded wine charms. I have been wanting wine glass charms for when we have parties, to allow my guests to tell their glasses apart. But I always hesitated in buying them at a store, I wanted something unique. Savannah, like Ryan, is about 11 years old and she runs her business professionally with a web site, Charmed by Savannah and good salesmanship. I was happy to buy eight charms from her. She even provides a guarantee if the string breaks, etc. For both Ryan and Savannah, the money will go towards their education and retirement. They are both serious in their business and produce excellent products. Coleman Vineyard is only open by appointment or for events. We will probably visit again when we make our twice-yearly trip to Maysara. We especially enjoyed the comfy chairs in their tasting room. We asked if there was a story behind the pirate on the vineyard sign. No, not really, Randy Coleman just likes pirates.