Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cast Iron forever

In the week before our daughter and her family arrived from Tennessee, I wanted to recondition some of my cast iron skillets because she and one of our grandsons has celiac disease. If cast iron has been used for cooking food that has wheat, like pancakes, French toast, or grilled sandwiches, just minute traces of gluten can make them sick.

I've found a way to recondition pans that works very well and is so easy. I place the pans in the oven and send it through a cleaning cycle. The temperature is high enough to burn the impurities off the iron and leave behind a kind of rusty residue. In the end I have a clean oven and cast iron that is ready to be wiped out and seasoned. 

I chose three of my favorites to re-condition before Sember arrived. (Really, I love them all! They are wonderful to cook with when they are properly conditioned and seasoned.) A very small 6 inch skillet, a medium 9 inch pan and a large 12 inch skillet that is great when you are cooking for a crowd and doing a lot of sauteing or stir fry. It is also makes a great oven-baking dish.

This is what the skillets looked like after the oven was done cleaning. Very nasty, but that's exactly how they should look at this stage.

End of oven cleaning cycle.

I laid out newspapers on the counter and got to work on the next step.

The small 6 inch on right needed reconditioning the most.

Notice all the gunk has turned to a rusty ash. That's good.

I take paper towels and either vegetable oil or shortening and begin to wipe them out. You can see how much comes off with the oil. This continues to clean and condition the surface. You will already feel how much smoother the surface has become now that all the gunk has been burned off.

It doesn't take a lot of effort to see it begin to shine up.

Almost done wiping. 

A little discoloration on the paper towel after the majority of the residue is wiped off is okay. The next step is going to begin the re-seasoning process. This will continue to seal and smooth out the surface as the oil is baked on. Apply oil or shortening to the sides and bottom as you see below. Make sure it is completely coated and rubbed in. Then return the pan to the oven for two hours at 350 degrees. 

I used canola oil.
When you take the skillet out of the oven. Let it cool down and wipe it out again. It should look beautiful and ready to be used.

I have learned that the more you use your cast iron the better it gets, until it finally has a silky non-stick surface that rivals any teflon. You can see that the large one above needs to be used more in order to get it in even better shape. The other two are perfect. In fact, they are so well seasoned now, I can even risk the big No-No and scrub it with a little water and soap if I've made a messy batch of scrambled eggs with cheese, for example. After I've washed it, I simply dry it out and rub in a little olive oil and it will be fine for the next time I use it. 

The most common way I clean them is by merely wiping them out with a paper towel. If it needs more than that, I often dump in a tablespoon of coarse salt, rub it around with a paper towel and that will clean and smooth the surface. You may wonder if this is sanitary enough because you aren't scrubbing it with hot soapy water, but remember this: every time you use a skillet or Dutch oven you will be heating the pan up to a temperature that is way beyond the life of any bacteria, so you'll be just fine. I know that some people are also concerned that no matter how much you wipe the surface with oil when cleaning up - it may still comes away discolored. That is normal with cast iron. It's just the nature of it. Insignificant amounts of iron may be picked up by food, but it becomes a source of an important mineral in our diet and that is good, too.

Another wonderful thing about cast iron is its durability. Whatever you own now has every chance of being around a hundred years from now and can be passed from generation to generation and that is pretty cool sustainability, don't you think?

Friday, June 20, 2014

We are Home

My new office
Overseeing the sink
God made it to the new house. As if I didn’t think he would come. Bobble-head Jesus has a new sink to oversee. I am reminded that God blesses this place and these people (us) who dwell here. It is June 20th almost a month since my last post. 

Today I am sitting in my new office looking out this window. I’m watching a little fly-catcher hop down a limb looking for insects. The sun is sending rays down through the canopy to the ravine below us. It lights leafy corridors with many hues of green. 
Looking at the canopy
We are 85 % moved in. Denis says it is 85%. I don’t know why 85. But I do know there are many fewer boxes. The ones that remain will be okay taking their time finding new spaces to hide or to show.
Unpacking the kitchen
This house will be called “The House Between.” Our new home. I’ll explain why the name some day soon.

One of the first projects we did was paint the basement “Bonfire.” Although it's a walkout, it is a little dim and that color warms it up. Then we spent the next two days prepping and painting the floor. It is now a lovely clean slate to work with. It is going to be Honeysuckle’s new home (too many local predators to be outside) and Anita’s Studio. Very exciting.
Last night I had a new experience. One I’ve never had or owned in life. I walked into our roomy, walk-in closet, (which is still unpacked because the shelves need to be painted and lined) turned on the light and changed into my pajamas. Totally pleasant experience. Do you think it is weird to thank God for a walk-in closet? I suppose.

In this quiet neighborhood we have already seen wild turkeys, fox, coyote and raccoons though technically we haven’t seen the latter, just experienced the damage they wrecked on our bird feeders. In the morning the cacophony of bird song wakens me. I do not object.

One final note. Our area has received so much rain the rivers and lakes are flooding in many places. A friend once told us, if you live in Minnesota and have a basement, it will flood at some point. Count on it. You would think we would have reached that point. It is a shocking wonder that ours remains dry as a bone. We are sure the previous owner who built the house had some engineer/architect smart person design the location of the foundation, the tiles and the drains because I have heard that even if you build on a slope you can do it in such a way that water flows through it rather than under or around. I lay in bed and think, God, how wonderful you are. I am allergic to molds. How good to give us a dry basement.

We are home.

Monday, May 26, 2014

God in the sink

"What is God doing in the sink?"

Bobble Head Jesus
 My granddaughter, Ava Lou, was standing on a stool washing dishes with a sink full of cold water and soap suds as only a four-year-old can "wash" dishes. She was looking at the bobble head Jesus who was over-seeing the process.
Ava Lou
 I wondered how to explain irony to her. How to say it had some obscure, but special meaning to me. I've often thought, I should put it away because people must look at it all the time and wonder if I am a heretic of some kind, worshiping saints or idols or something equally suspicious. So here is my explanation. He was a gift from a friend, Jeremy Huggins. Together we appreciate humor and irony in Christian paraphernalia that is marketed in certain stores that purport to be "Christian." Things like Frisbees that say "Flying for Jesus." Or night lights with the inscription: "Jesus is the light of the world." So there Jesus sits on the edge of my sink as a reminder to laugh at ourselves for the stupid ways in which Christianity is marketed and to try not to participate in the trivialization of such great things as the gospel. I mean no disrespect to a God I love. I think he knows that.

When it took too long to think of a simple answer to this dear child, she moved on to the next question.

"Can I give God a bath? He wants a bath."

I gently said no. He will get all rusty inside and not bob anymore, and I moved to pack him up in a box, ready for my next kitchen.

She and her mother had visited us for a few days to help me clean out the attic. Micah's presence and and help was so stabilizing. Much was accomplished in a short time. Everything down from the attic and out. Throw away, give to family, give to charity, sell some if possible. Label what to keep and where it should go in the next place. All done.

It really does feel like God in the sink with us. God with us in the midst of real life helping us to a new stage.

Thank you for stopping by. This time I will truly have a good excuse for not posting for awhile because this Friday we move and we will be living in the wreckage of boxes and plastic bubble wrap for quite awhile. But it will be a happy wreck.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Witness to life

     The cowbirds in our neighborhood have been busy. They are like cuckoos and practice a kind of bird abuse that ought to be punished, in my opinion. I would like to punish them and can’t think why this is part of creation, unless to remind us that life is not always the lovely, sweet place we wish it to be.
Bronze-headed Cowbird

     Last spring I found two cowbird eggs in the nest the purple finches built on our front porch. This year when I checked on the progress of mother finch’s nursery I found three finch eggs and one rouge. You can’t miss the difference. Notice the larger egg is a spotted buff color =  cowbird. The finch eggs are turquoise. The cowbird lays her eggs in another bird’s nest, leaving the responsibility of parenthood to someone else. The problem is, birds being what they are, the parents don’t recognize this egg is not their own and the female hatches and feeds the little criminal as if it were native. This hatchling is always larger than the real offspring and aggressively, starves the other babies and is soon able to push them out of the nest where they die on the ground. That’s why I removed the egg.

Purple Finch nest

Cowbird Egg

   I noticed the fine architecture of the nest - it is so pleasingly and carefully woven with grass, wool, and even flowers are incorporated if they are in bloom. And see how they surrounded the nest with little snippets of cedar? I heard that long ago the remedy for bedbugs was placing cedar boughs under the bed. Bugs and pests don’t like cedar - hence cedar chests that safely store wool blankets and clothing. So I wonder if this helps repel the mites that birds are prone to host. A natural wonder. So interesting to find both wisdom and villainy right on our front porch.
This may be one of the last acts of charity I perform while living at Toad Hall. Our days here are numbered as we pack the house and get ready to move in a week. Saying good-bye to many friends and leaving our home of thirty-three (!) years will be hard. But we look forward to our new place where there may be many more birds who will benefit from my moral compass.  We found a house in a quiet neighborhood in Savage, Minnesota, and the back yard abuts a wooded ravine that drops down to a little stream and a forty-six acre park called “Hidden Valley.”
All I can say right now is everyone was right - that we would find something. This is a gift. A mercy. Grace upon grace. Something my wizened heart does not always expect in this life. I’m more accustomed to expecting difficulties and impostors. I am so thankful.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ice Jam

It’s been more than a month since I’ve posted and I’m sorry about that. I'm going to try to ease back in here. I’ve been dammed up like the Zumbro river I mentioned in the last issue of Notes From Toad Hall. We captured a little video of the muddy waters and chunks of ice moving under the bridge. The gradual building of pressure finally broke an ice jam and we happened to be there at the moment it happened. Something I’d never seen before. It was both frightening and fascinating at the same time.

Ice jam on the Zumbro River
Everything has had to come together from prepping, selling, looking for and purchasing another house and it has, in amazing ways. But I am excruciatingly aware that people do this all the time, and some do it over and over again, and I am that anemic American that thinks moving is tough. During the first six years of our marriage we moved thirteen times; somehow I’ve either forgotten what it took or just don’t have the stamina anymore. Plus, it has been thirty-three years since we last moved; that's a lot of time to forget how to pack boxes. You’d think I’d be more mature about the unknowns and the stress, but no, it seems not.
It’s not just the upheaval of moving or entering a new stage of life, it’s a combination of other things that add to being somewhat depressed and emotionally jerked around. Like earlier this week I learned that my recent up-tic in hearing loss qualifies me for hearing aids and that this isn’t going to go away, like I hoped it would. And I may need to wait awhile before we can afford them. (So I might be saying WHAaaa? a lot.)  One moment I’m so thankful we sold Toad Hall in three days and the next I’m quite certain we will never find another house that works for us and we’ll end up living in a yurt in my mother’s back yard. This has made it hard to think or write in a fundamentally coherent way. On lots of days going to bed with Almond Joy bars and People magazine seems like a good option, but honestly, I only succumbed yesterday when I couldn’t resist George Clooney on the cover. But even more shameful, is being tempted to buy the nasty National Enquirer. Fortunately I said, Satan, get behind me, and really? I mean, really? People, I don’t think dressing in a kilt qualifies as cross-dressing.
Camilla's World Falls Apart
 I have a friend whose family has been with the State Department and they have relocated across the world many times. She says that each time they moved she wished she were a nun and only needed to pack an extra habit, prayer beads and a cot, but the feeling passed once they got to their new home. I count on that feeling to return. The good news is that we haven’t needed to down-size as much as we initially thought, and in the new house we get to look out the back to a wooded ravine and park full of birds, predators, wild ginger and ramps. A bedroom and laundry on the main floor, and a wonderful and convoluted journey through the wilderness of real estate negotiations brought us to this house. I didn’t think we would make it, but my husband did. In all, we have much to thank God for.
Thank you for stopping by and, again, I apologize for being so spotty with postings, but don’t know how much better I will do in the next few weeks as we continue to pack and plan to move at the end of the month.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Another reason not to write

Ready to show

We continue to clear surfaces, sort drawers, pitch expired canned goods like crazy people. We are almost ready for the 360 Video Tour. By Saturday Toad Hall will be listed. I’ve heard that when people look at a house for sale, they open drawers and cabinet doors. Would that be the case? I mean do you have to be interested  in buying before you open the dressers drawers? Or are we just a snoopy species and look anyway? I shuddered when I looked under the bathroom sink with snoopy eyes wondering what whoever might think when they saw ... well, when they saw what they saw? Like a gallon of periodontal mouth rinse, a dried up box of soft wet wipes, and much else. This stuff is going straight to the trash, no thinking about who might be able to use this.
The big triumph today is that my office is ready to show and it looks magnificent. Never better. Better than Denis’. His desk tops are always organized and clear. I admire this, but one just shouldn’t do that much clean living. It makes me slightly bitter. But right now? Clean. Clean. Clean. I WIN! You’d think anyone would be able to write a book and more here, it’s that inviting. For the time being But not one word will get out because as soon as I start, books and papers gather from nowhere and start breeding like rabbits and this in the digital age! When everything could be done online? But now, at least I’ll have the memory of this tidy place where I’ve brooded and wasted so many years staring out the window. Eventually when I look back at these pics, I may try to rewrite history to say it looked like this all the time. But now that you know, you can hold me accountable. I’m asking you.


(Yeah.  And speaking of the Happy Bunny "let's focus on me" could the video I took be any more out of  focus?)

Anita just came up to show a spring-time wreath she made for the front porch. It is so so so whimsical and sweet with that little crocheted hen sitting one her nest surrounded by pussy willows and baby’s breathe I could eat it! If I came to our front door, I’d want to buy this house just because of that. Wouldn’t you?
Spring is here. Maybe.

Saturday is it, then. The house goes up for sale. We are in the chute and I don’t know where or when we will come out.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Against Anxiety - "put it into practice"

Snow just a few days ago and now inches of rain on top
“The Lord is near.” I’ve known that phrase since I was a child. I think adults said it to make kids afraid to scratch and pick the dead skin off their heels or other socially unacceptable behavior because this very important and glorious person who has power to see you through walls is watching so you better behave. No, I think Jesus means to calm us, to love us by being near.
Do you ever waken from dreams that are not specific. They aren’t frightening, but they leave you with impressionistic confusion and foggy memories of busyness that makes you anxious?  I want to know, really know, the meaning of “Rejoice … the Lord is near.
I came away from home a few days to visit long-time friends who make people feel loved and at-home. I am experiencing the grace they offer. You can get up get a cup of coffee that is already perfectly made and go back to bed, even. This seems to be a good place to be before we dive into the unknowns of the coming days. But thoughts keep knocking at my door: will Toad Hall sell right away or will we endure weeks, perhaps months, of see-sawing on the market? Will we forever be grabbing wet towels and stuffing them in baskets? Wiping the crumbs? Recycling newspapers, tidying pillows, etc, etc? Right now it is a little exciting. I hope the next stranger who enters our door will become the owner and will love this place as we have. However, it’s possible this will all become so tiresome I’ll want to kill any agent who dares show the house and I will despair of EVER selling. I don’t know. And what if it sells immediately and we do not have a place to go?! What then?
Here, in such a beautiful place where the desert blooms and the light reaches the mountain peaks with friends I love, I should not be thinking about anything except where is my wine glass, but even my subconscious conspires to dream empty, busy, confusing dreams.

Thankful for outrageous Bougainvillea
“Do NOT be anxious about anything.” The Pauline prescription for anxiety follows this up with “but in everything let your prayers (more formal words …Our Father) and requests (a little like begging) AND thanksgiving be known to God.” These three things are part of the formula. Pray. Ask. Be grateful, you who could be living in a refugee tent somewhere.
The news that it is raining back home doesn’t help. All day rain has poured down on top of four feet of snow. A foot of ice.

Desert peaks lit by setting sun
Trying to shovel it away or dig a trench is quixotic. Some of it is sure to leak into our basement because it has nowhere else to go other than down through the walls and out onto the carpet. The past month I have already spent time worrying about this possibility and in case it should happen I may have mentioned it to Denis and Anita possibly ten or twenty times. Please help me watch for it, I say. (And they flinch.) And now? Rochester is a hellish mess. Water pooling every where on top of mountains of snow. So I have to ask. Is our basement leaking? I could tell Denis didn’t want answer that question. He wants me to not worry and to have a good time - to rest before we plunge farther into no-return. But I must ask. Is water leaking into the basement?
A long pause. (Not good.) Yes. It is. But we have the carpet rolled back, the heat is on and the fans are going. It’ll be okay.
I am silent. There is nothing you can do about such things after all, is there? So many things in life like that.
Stop your infernal worry. Before that statement about not being anxious comes that well-placed reminder “…the Lord is near.”  Yes, he is. It’s like the SWAT team, your Grandma, your bridegroom and the sheriff who is your brother - all rolled into one is watching out for you. Petition. Prayer. Thanksgiving.  Do it, Margie. Pester God. Say your formal prayers. Add a list of things your are thankful for.

There is more to this piece of advice that is worth thinking about. But I’ll skip to the end where Paul cryptically says: “…put it into practice. And the peace of God will be with you."
I hope you don’t find this territory completely foreign. We like to think we are not alone in our neurosis. I pray you find comfort for whatever you are facing this week. Peace.

Let it rain and snow. Thankful to be here awhile.