Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cactus Down

I killed a cactus. It wasn't just any cactus; it was one my sister-in-law Kathy gave me two Christmases ago. I hate it when I do stuff like that, but truth is - I'm not very good at being domestic no matter how badly I want to be.

But, thanks to a new reader who posted a review of FARM FRESH MURDER on her blog, I realize that it's okay to mess up in the kitchen, in the garden, with the yarn, etc. And it's almost okay to kill a cactus - that's a pretty tough thing to do, I can't quite cut myself slack on that one yet.

There is no place on the planet I'd rather live than Salt Lake City, Utah, but I gotta tell ya, there are lots of Domestic Goddesses around. Cooking and baking are big things and those kinds of things are insidious - yes, that's the word I mean. Just when you think you're fine stopping by a bakery or not giving in to canning, or turning your eyes away from that adorable baby blanket that's being crocheted, you find your curiosity growing until you just can't deny it any longer. You actually WANT to can something.

It wasn't until a few years after I moved to Utah that the domesticity bugs bit me. And once I gave in, I wasn't to be stopped. Though I don't have a lot of time, I do crochet some, and of course the canning has become an even bigger part of my life because of the farmers' market books. The cooking school books have "forced" me into the kitchen more. And I love every minute I spend doing those things, but sometimes the mistakes I make are colossal. I forget ingredients, I drop things, I break things, I burn myself. I'm truly Domestic Goddess challenged.

Anyway, after the FFM review, I wrote a thank-you to Our Lady of Perpetual Chaos. Here's her funny and entertaining site: Lady of Perpetual Chaos. She's a fellow Utahn which was a fun discovery. She told me how much she loves her gardening and canning activities, and I thought I should let her know that I loved those things too but I'm not all that good at them. She wrote back and said that she, herself, experiences a canning disaster every now and then, too. She's really funny though, so not only was I relieved, I was laughing with relief.

It goes back to that old saying, I guess: Nobody's Perfect - [for some reason the memory of a yellow t-shirt illustrated with those words and a brown owl just popped into my mind. Anyone else remember that t-shirt?]

And it doesn't matter - if you're doing something you enjoy, mistakes are just part of the process, part of the fun if you've got the right attitude.

Thank you again, Lady of Perpetual Chaos, for fixing my perspective - and for the kind review, of course.

I'm going to need a little extra time to get over the cactus killing, though.

Happy Reading!


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Road Trip

I'm so excited to be going on a mini book tour. I'll be at the Tucson Festival of Books this weekend with fellow authors Rebecca Hale, Jenn McKinlay, Avery Aames and Kate Carlisle, and lots, lots more. Next Wednesday, Rebecca and I will be signing books at Murder by the Book in Houston. If you're in either area and have the time, please stop by and say hello.

Here's the Tucson info:

And, here's the Houston info:

Happy Reading!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I Just Wanted to Milk a Cow

I don't forewarn my husband and son anymore when I'm thinking through a plan for a new project. It's better that way. I don't have to listen to any protestations regarding the project, and they don't have to worry about how much they might or might not enjoy what I have in mind.

My latest plan was the butter plan. Well, actually it was the milk-a-cow plan but for some reason that plan was doomed from the beginning - a beginning that began almost two years ago.

When I was working on FRUIT OF ALL EVIL (2nd farmers' market book, which includes a dairy farm) I realized that my teenage son had never milked a cow. This bothered me more than it probably should have. I milked a cow when I was young - doesn't everyone get to have that field trip? (If you know me you might be saying: but, Paige, you grew up in Iowa. EVERYone milks cows in Iowa. But they don't, and my milking experience was when I was really young and lived in Ohio and visited an Amish farm, which was a great experience even if I was a cynical child and thought all the "actors" would lose the costumes as soon as we left.)

So, I set out to find a way that my son could milk a cow. And not only that, but take the cream from the milk and turn it into butter. A couple Christmases ago we were in southern Utah and I thought we'd stop by a dairy farm in Delta on the way home. But it started snowing so badly that I decided we should skip the farm. And then time just kept passing and there were no opportune dairy farm visits to be had. And I forgot about it. Until I read a book a couple weeks ago.

THE DIRTY LIFE by Kristin Kimball is the true story of a NYC woman who falls in love with a farmer. A friend (thanks, Marianne!) recommended it, and once I picked it up I couldn't put it down. I could never, ever, ever go to the extremes this couple has gone to, but there's no denying that I love growing food for my family. I love not using pesticides, and I love the idea of knowing where our food came from, what was happening to it while it was growing (well, reasonably, I suppose. I don't hang out in the garden 24/7) - everything, from seed to plate. Without a doubt, organic is becoming more and more important to me, and I only trust labels and signs so far.

I don't know if it was these feelings that drew me to the idea of writing a farmers' market series or if writing the series has infused me with more and deeper such feelings.

Either way, after reading THE DIRTY LIFE I not only began to plan this year's garden, but more than ever I wanted my son to get to milk a cow. I found a dairy farm about forty-five minutes from Salt Lake City and decided we'd go last Saturday.

Alas, it wasn't meant to be. We were sick. Son has been really sick (two ER visits, though he's doing okay now), so we didn't go. But since we were sitting around on Sunday and we all had enough energy not to be asleep, I ran up to the grocery store and bought a pint of heavy whipping cream. I brought it home, pulled out the Ragu jar I use for the hummingbird food, poured the cream in the jar and told husband and son we'd take turns shaking it until it turned to butter.

Understand, I frequently get these "project" ideas. Most of the time I'm met with cautious acquiescence, but sometimes I get eye-rolls and groans. I was pleasantly surprised when all four of their eyes opened wide and they both said, "Okay, cool." These non-mid-western folk are fascinated by farm stuff, I tell you.

At about the seven minute mark, we had whipped cream. I was having a blast. We were watching Elvis' BLUE HAWAII on some Retro channel and just as he and a bunch of two-piece-bathing-suit-clad woman started dancing on the beach (at about the eleven minute mark), I opened the jar again. Inside was a chunk of butter and some buttermilk.

They loved it! I loved them loving it.

I poured out the buttermilk and then rinsed the butter with cold water, running a fork through it and squeezing the rest of the buttermilk out of it. I added a little sea salt (optional) and we ended up with a good-sized and creamy meteorite-shaped chunk of butter. I stirred some honey into half of it and then made some biscuits - using the leftover buttermilk, of course. Even though we haven't had much of an appetite, we all enjoyed our snack. It was even better on days two and three, but that could have been because of our improving appetites.

When you milk a cow, there are more steps to the butter-making process than just throwing the milk into an old Ragu jar and shaking. You have to strain the milk and then let the cream rise to the top. It's that cream that you skim off and then throw into the Ragu jar for a good shake.

So, we still haven't gotten our hands on any teats, but son is now a little more aware of how the world around him works, and the best news is that even at seventeen he was kind of interested in the lesson. It was fun for us all.

Next time, I'll tell you why I'm putting lard back into our diets.

Happy Reading!