Thursday, August 30, 2007

Jungle Gym-- going, going, gone!

Any of you who have visited the Menagerie homebase have seen our large wooden jungle gym. It came with the house. According to the previous owners, it came with the house when THEY bought it as well. Which is why they were unwilling to remove it when we bought the place...

So there it has stood, being used as a fort by Moose and Lucy, and generally just taking up space. I tried a couple of avenues to get rid of it-- family members, neighbors-- but no takers.

Finally I decided to put it on Craigslist, as well as on a site I had just read about in the paper, the Twin Cities Free Market-- free, just take it away! I did this one evening before we went out for dinner. When we returned, I had about 20 e-mails wanting to take the thing! So I contacted the first e-mailer and told them that it was theirs if they came very soon. They came the next day, all the way from Wisconsin (at least an hour away, can't remember the exact town).

The man and his friend had power tools and got right to work. But the jungle gym was strong and resisted being taken apart. Industry turned to frustration. A sledge hammer was deployed. Still the gym stubbornly stayed together. Finally, beams were sawed in half and the remaining parts were loaded up.... It was quite the ordeal. But the thing is finally gone, to make way for a tree we hope to plant this fall.

Pictures and a video:

Just getting started, slide and a few beams removed...

Gym tipped on its end to facilitate breakdown..

Out comes the sledgehammer (video):

Having failed at that, the saw is taken to the stubborn beams...

And the pieces are dragged across the yard

Taking a much-needed breather along the way,

Before finally loading it all on the trailer and driving away..

Phew! Now there's just a sandbox left in the yard.... any ideas on what to do with all that sand?

The cute kids edition

Recently my sister Daphne was visiting her dad at his near-to-us farm with her two kids, Tiger (my godson) and Atticus. This meant that we got to see quite a bit of them. Eric and I took them to the Science Museum one evening and Eric went with them and Zack, their dad, to Valley Fair (an amusement park) while Daphne and I hung out in St Paul. We only have photos of the Science Museum, the camera didn't go to Valley Fair. It's probably a good thing 'cos they all went on the log flume ride and got soaked head to toe.

Watching the cryogenics presentation (Atticus on L.)

Playing a game that involved air pressure, pingpong balls, nets high in the air, and shooting pingpong balls up in to nets,

We've also been spening a bit of time with Roberto's son Jack. Who I'm sorry but is sooooo cute. He likes to run up and down things and recently spent a good five minutes at a playground just getting in and out of a choo-choo train. Too funny. He

This is Jack at the Children's Museum (also in St Paul! We have the cool kids museums here),

We love our nephews!
Funny, I hadn't noticed before but we have only nephews on my side and only nieces on Eric's side. We love our nieces too and think they would love Mpls/St Paul too (not a hint that Anna and Millie and family should come visit or anything!)

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The sweetest kitten?

Vasco cuddles with Eric every night in 'his' spot,

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Who says you can't have authentic Mexican in the Midwest?

Part of our eating locally series...

I made (vegetarian) Chilaquiles with 100% local ingredients...
- tortillas, made at the St Paul's East Side tortilleria La Perla, minutes from our house
- tomatillos, from St Paul Farmer's Market (obligated to be local*)
- chiles, from our CSA box
- cilantro, from St Paul's Farmer's Market
- onions, from our CSA box
- white cheddar cheese, local & purchased at our co-op, Mississippi Market
- sour cream, local & purchased at our co-op
- garlic, from our CSA box

Here's a (not-very-glamorous) photo...

We've also made (not Mexican, but I don't feel like doing a separate post!) herb-zucchini fritters and steak as part of our local-eating challenge.

The zucchini fritters:
- our garden zucchini
- basil: combination of our garden and CSA box
- mint: from St Paul Farmer's Market
- green onions, from St Paul Farmer's Market
- Italian parsley, local & from our co-op
- local egges, from our co-op
- bread-crumbs from A Toast to Bread Mediterranean Style white bread, a Dayton's Bluff (our 'hood) bakery
- non-local oil and creme fraiche

The steak was bought at our co-op and comes from A Thousand Hills Cattle Co., near Cannon Falls, MN. It's grass-fed (in fact, we have had nothing but grass-fed beef since we moved here). Just seasoned with salt & pepper and pan-grilled.

shredded zucchini, a green onion and a sprig of mint,

The finished products,

Many days we eat local sweet corn for lunch. Actually we eat it all the time. We get about 12 ears of corn in our CSA box every week! It is DIVINE.

*You may think that it is self-evident that if we buy something at a farmer's market it is local. And this is very true at the St Paul's Farmer's Market, all produce and other products (cheese, meats, eggs, some prepared foods like bagels, egg & spring rolls, handcrafts, flowers) must be grown/made locally and no re-selling of produce bought from someone else is allowed. The Minneapolis Farmer's Market is apparently (haven't actually been so this is hearsay) not so much on that bandwagon - you can buy Dole produce (?!). However, the Mill City Farmer's Market, also in Minneapolis, has only locally-grown, organic produce. We haven't been to that one 'cos 1) we love the St Paul Farmer's Market and 2) holy moly, it's hard enough to get us out of bed for one farmer's market, let alone two! :) 3) less fossil fuel expended getting us to the St Paul one since it is 1.9mi from our house (this has never been a conscious reason, but it sounds good, no?! Self-righteous? Us? Nooooo...). Many of the farmers at the market belong to the Hmong ethnic group - according to the Hmong American Institute for Learning St. Paul is the largest urban population of Hmong in the world! So it's cool to see all the different kinds of produce they grow, in addition to tomatoes, zucchini, squash, basil, cucumbers, cilantro, potatoes, green beans, etc. One of these days I will have to take close up photos of things like bitter melon- very cool looking and the different varieties of eggplant which just look like art.
Here's a photo I took a couple of weeks ago at the St Paul Farmer's Market...

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Drinking locally

Daniela has written about the "Eating Locally Challenge" in which we're participating this month. She mentioned in one post that we're trying to drink locally, too, so I thought I'd expound on that aspect a bit.

Drinking locally is quite easy here in the Twin Cities. We have Summit, one of the larger "craft breweries" (they say they're too large to be considered a microbrewery these days) around, whose beers are available just about everywhere-- even at the Metrodome (home of the Twins and Vikings).

Then there's Surly, which Beer Advocate recently named the best brewery in America. I'm not sure I'd go quite that far, but Surly is undeniably very very yummy stuff.

Just this year we've also added Flat Earth, a brand new brewery operating here in St. Paul. I just had their Angry Planet Organic Pale Ale and found it to be very tasty.

Minnesota also has a number of old breweries which somehow survived the massive consolidation of the 20th century-- Schell, Grain Belt (actually now brewed by Schell, but still), Stite, Gluek, to name a few. These breweries generally make beers in the American light lager category (ala Budweiser), but at least they're local! Then there are the micros located outside the Twin Cities metro area, like Lake Superior (Duluth).

And last but not least, included in the "local" category are beers from nearby Wisconsin. That means that even the crappy bar with nothing but lousy beer might have something local (Miller, anyone? or Pabst, or even Leinenkugel, though they're better than the other 2). Milwaukee was recently named America's drunkest city, (Twin Cities were #2!) and there's no shortage of beer made in Wisconsin. Putting aside the bad stuff, there are some great micros from the Cheesehead state too-- New Glarus, Furthermore (whose interesting smoked stout I'm drinking as I type), Sprecher, and Viking, to name a few locally available ones.

All in all, I'd guess that outside of the Pacific Northwest or northern California, we're probably in the best area for beer in the country. Or right up there... (if only we could get Three Floyds beer here, I'd have no problem with the previous statement)

Monday, August 20, 2007

The much-heralded Raspberry Pie

With fresh raspberries from the wonderful St. Paul Farmer's Market!

4 cups fresh raspberries
about 3/4 cup organic sugar
1/4 cup organic flour

1 homemade pie crust

baked at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes (was supposed to be 10, but I forgot to turn down the oven!), then 350 for 25 minutes.

Turned out great! A little browner than usual, thanks to my oven mistake, but I actually think it was about perfect. This mistake may turn into a new way of doing things....

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Plum Pie

I found some locally produced plums at our co-op and couldn't resist their siren call. They were red plums, unlike the black Italian-type plums I've made pie with before. So....

2 containers of red plums, pitted and halved
just under 1/2 cup organic sugar (ended up being quite tart; a bit more would've been fine, though we liked it just as it was)
4 tbsp corn starch, mixed with a little water (ended up being quite firm and thick, so could've used a bit less corn starch... I was worried because when I was pitting the plums they were incredibly juicy)

homemade pie crust

Turned out great! Tart, but not too much. Last piece of the pie was destroyed by Vasco the Kitten in an attempt to reach the butter, which, along with the last bit of pie, I had placed on top of the refrigerator, hoping it would be out of is reach..... alas.... also, two of our nice recycled glass plates died in the cat-astrophe as well....

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Eating locally challenge, night 1

Last night was our first real night of the challenge (the night before we went to Red's Savoy Inn, our most excellent local pizza joint, with our nephews Tiger and Atticus, more on them later).

Here's what I made:
1. Salad (with backyard heirloom tomatoes, CSA heirloom cucumbers, CSA carrots, CSA lettuce and a little non-local lettuce to add to the tiny head of CSA lettuce)-

Here's a (blurryish) shot of the cute heirloom cukes, they are yellow!

2. 'Melting' zucchini (this is just zucchini- from our backyard, local garlic, and local butter, some salt and pepper)

3. Roasted green beans (CSA green beans, CSA and other local garlic cloves [over 15 of them, some were quite small!], CSA red onions, non-local balsamic vinegar)

4. Eric drank Surly CynicAle. Surly is brewed in Brooklyn Center, which is a suburb of Minneapolis. Their beer is very, very good, available on tap at local bars, in growlers direct from the microbrewery, and in 16-oz. cans. CynicAle is a saison-style beer which is available in the summer. Jenny and Daniela drank water. We also had, with dessert, some decidedly non-local port, Quinta do Noval 10 year tawny. However, Daniela bought this bottle in Portugal, so it was kind of like buying it local, just last year when she was local to Portugal...and at least it consumed no extra fossil-fuels getting here, since Daniela was already flying home and what not. I'm not entirely sure this isn't cheating....oh well, it was damn tasty! :)

5. For dessert Jenny and Eric had some of the fabulous Chocolate Brownie with Door County Cherries, from local (South Minneapolis) ice cream maker, Pumphouse Creamery. This is a very fine ice cream place, the owner, Barb Zapzalka, makes the ice cream herself and is very committed to using local and/or organic ingredients- so local, organic milk and cream, local honey, maple sugar, apples, and beer, and berries. She also can be found scooping the ice cream herself. As she was when we stopped by recently to sample some of her Surly Furious (which is IPA in style) ice cream and she told us she will be making a Surly Bender (porter-style) ice cream soon, which made Daniela quite happy as this is her favorite of the Surly beers. There are A LOT of local ice cream places... Grand Ole Creamery, Izzy's (both in St Paul), Sonny's, Pumphouse, and Sebastian Joe's (all Minneapolis) that it's hard to pick our favorite. We've not been to Sonny's yet (it's in NE Mpls; but we have had their sorbets that are packaged and sold at our co-op) or Sebastian Joe's (not sure why we haven't been to this one as it's in my mom's neighborhood!) but we loooovve Izzy's and the Pumphouse. But they are ALL very very good, and it's a sure fire way to get in an argument with other locals, to say which one is best!

Anyway-- that was our first blog post about eating locally! (got a little side-tracked about ice cream there, sorry)...

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Our friends, Stephanie and Daniel, (pictured below with Eric on a recent visit to Town Hall Brewery in Mpls) are engaged! Yay, Stephanie & Daniel!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

New flag

Here's a picture of the latest flag to fly in front of the Bell Foster household... It might be in honor of the Simpsons Movie, or it might just be because I love the beer.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Eating locally

Our co-op, Mississippi Market, is having a 'eat local' challenge Aug. 15-Sept. 15 and we have signed up! The deal is you have to try to eat 80% locally-- 4 out of 5 items or ingredients should be from a five state area (MN, WI, IA, SD, ND). I have decided that spices can't count...we eat too much Indian food and we'd have to stop! Anyway, we've said that we'll blog about it too-- so check here for updates! With an excellent St Paul farmer's market and our Community Supported Agriculture box, and the co-op which highlights local products hopefully this shouldn't be too too hard!

PS- tonight for dinner we met the challenge easily- Portuguese tomato rice (local tomatoes, onion, garlic, non-local rice) and corn from our CSA box.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Good times...

at Madeline Island! Mamita rented us a house on Madeline Island, Wisconsin. Which is in Lake Superior. We had a lovely time and Jenny even came up to celebrate her birthday. Yay! We walked, canoed, kayaked, played games, cooked, mopeded (see below), all good fun. Here are some photos...

Our canoe on the shore of the beach we canoed to,

Mamita and her kayak,

One day it was really windy and there were big waves on the lake. This is the beach in front of our house,

Roberto, Daniela, Jenny and Eric at the lagoon (on a calm wind day),

On one of our walks we found people jumping off rocks into the water below.

Of course, Roberto, after many years of jumping off The Clam in La Jolla, had to jump too! (video is sideways, sorry you'll have to watch with your head sideways. you can also hear that Jenny, Mamita, and I were a bit nervous!)

A pretty overhang over the water,

The beautiful coastline (that's Roberto and Jenny),

Mad Isle Moodys!

While on Madeline Island we- Jenny, Roberto, Eric, and Daniela- rented mopeds to tool around the island. We thought it important that we form a moped gang and that the gang have a name. We decided upon the Mad. Isle Moodys, a reference to both Madeline Island and Mad-Eye Moody, since we all love Harry Potter.