Friday, September 28, 2012

Easy on the Sauce - Apple, that is.

I returned from my trip to Vermont last weekend with less than half our usual haul of fresh apples from Boyer's Orchard & Cider Mill in Monkton, VT. Here's why... We always go in October. There is always the "we" of A and me. We always go with our good friends. We seem to always to go to Boyer's on a rainy weekend when n-o-b-o-d-y is out picking apples. So this year it was completely off - I went a few weeks early because of our friend's housewarming party. A couldn't go so I was flying solo. My friend's baby was asleep when it was orchard time so I went alone. And it was a LOVELY fall day so absolutely E-V-E-R-Y-B-O-D-Y was there picking apples.

Cider donuts. Heaven on earth.
We usually make nearly a half day affair out of it by leisurely picking or selecting bags of apples, sitting on the deck of Boyer's eating said apples, drinking cider, nibbling on gobbling cider donuts (which, by the way, are a little slice of heaven!) and playing "What's this gourd remind you of?". But this time there were soooo many people there (I've never had elbows thrown in the little store. I've never had to wonder if I'd find parking. I've never had to jockey for position to check out. As a matter of fact, for the past few years I've spent quality time discussing recipes with the really friendly ladies that work there - no time for that this year!) that I parked, ran in, received a few flying elbows of one particularly rude woman, grabbed a peck of MacIntosh apples for cooking and a half peck of Empires for snacking (I'm not proud but I think that I ate six Empire apples on my way back to Cape Cod...), slapped down my cash, and hit the road.

My actual sauce and apples!
Now that I'm home and it's been rainy and I've been able to use up a-l-l of the apples that I bought, I'm really disappointed that I didn't get the usual half-bushel of apples. In past years we've had to bake huge desserts for people and otherwise figure out ways to use up the wilting remainder of the apples but not this year. This year I embarked on making the easiest apple sauce I've ever made... and we've proceeded to eat apple sauce with nearly every meal since then. And because it's been rolling out of the fridge faster than I can put it up for later, I've got to figure out how to get some more apples PRONTO or the dead of winter will surely bring on the scurvy! It's a good thing that I'm headed to Connecticut next weekend so I can stock up at the orchard near my family.

So... the easiest apple sauce in the world - ready? Get a pen. Get a piece of paper. Here it is!

Honey (optional)

Easy, eh?

Okay... here, in a tad more detail, is the actual way to make the world's easiest (and tastiest) apple sauce!

Do you remember earlier posts when I've talked about being lazy? Yep, this falls perfectly in line with my grand goal in life of working smarter, not harder. Therefore, get out my favorite kitchen appliance - the crock pot!

We use one of these to core
and cut up the apples then we cut
each wedge into four chunks.
Put just enough water in the bottom of the crock pot to cover the bottom surface, core and chunk (leave peels on) about 12-14 (depending on size of apples and your crock pot) Macs or even sweeter apples of your choice, toss them in the crock pot set on low for 5-6 hours and let cool a bit. Test it once it has cooled a bit but is still warm to see if it is sweet enough (some tart apples need a little help) and add a tablespoon or two of honey - it doesn't take much!

Put the apple mash through the food mill using the largest disk for lumpier sauce or smallest for smoothest to remove most of the peels. I think it's fine without doing this step but this does actually infuse some air and bulk it up a bit so it's not heavy. In terms of yield, I find that the average medium to large apple makes about 3/4 cup of sauce when made this way.

Preserve in the means you choose - you can either can it in mason jars or freeze it in zip-lock bags with all of the air squeezed out. If you are like me, most of it won't make it to that stage but heck, there is always batch number three for me to try to get some stored for the gray months.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seven Years and Five Months to Freedom

No, I'm not in jail. Well, not real jail but we are imprisoned in some ways. Everyone that has a car loan, mortgage, credit card debt, medical bills or any other kind of debt is in a jail of sorts. But we can see the end of the sentence and we are so excited about it!

No, we aren't going to rob a bank. No, we aren't counting on winning the lottery - but we wouldn't turn it down if we did! No, we aren't counting the days until an unknown wealthy relative kicks the bucket. We are investing in our debt. That sounds silly I suppose. Let me explain...

Last week we took a class at the local adult community school called "Becoming Debt-Free" (or something like that). We weren't exactly sure what to make of it but after two hours of listening to the instructor and crunching our numbers, we were high-fiving each other with the idea that we could be debt-free, including our mortgage, in less than 10 years! When we got home, we re-calculated using actual figures and realized that we could be debt-free in just over SEVEN years if we stick to the program!

For people like us who work hard, don't spend wildly, and have big dreams for an early retirement, that is music to our ears!

It's not a difficult concept - it's just a matter of bucking some conventional wisdom, committing to the system, and sticking with it no matter what. We can do that!

The fellow that we took the class with, Blanchard Warren, had retired in his late 50's (like we want to do) and realized that he had a lot of debt holding him back so he set out to clean it up... and he succeeded! Now he goes around Massachusetts and teaches regular people like us how to do it too! It doesn't take a miracle or any additional income, it's just a reallocation of the money that you are already paying out - brilliant! I had already been doing something similar and we had seen huge advancements in polishing off our debt but this system put us on the fast-track to freedom.

We were so excited by the prospects that we made even further adjustments so that we can ideally be done even more quickly. To think that in just seven years (or so) we can have the freedom to travel more extensively, buy/build a farm in Vermont like we've been dreaming about, indulge in the toys we want (Mustang and firearms for him, Jeep and cameras for her), and, of course, squirrel away even more money for retirement... is SO exciting!

I talked to the "big cheese" at the company that Blanchard teaches for (he called me personally after I had signed up for more information during the class) and told him that I was spreading the information about the class and system far and wide. He didn't have the usual "Hey, that's proprietary information that we charge money for" attitude that most business owners have. He said, "That's great! There are lots of free and inexpensive tools on our website that people can use! Call me any time if you have any further questions!" That's pretty cool in my book so I'll give him some free publicity too!

Thirty Days of Glacier

She floats! Kind of...
Our new rescue dog Glacier has been with us for a month now and she's finding her place in our home nicely. We've discovered some things about her that have made life more interesting than we expected but so far, so good.

The first thing we realized is that even though she's had a litter of pups and the rescue estimated her to be about two years old, she's more likely just over a year old. And since her first year of life included, at the very least, being neglected and raising a litter of pups, she never had the chance to be a puppy. Now that she is finally in a place where she can relax, she seems to be revisiting her puppyhood and letting some of those inner puppy behaviors out.

Finding her "inner puppy" has been entertaining in most ways... and challenging in others. Just when I think we're starting to figure her out, she throws us a new curve ball that we really didn't expect. For instance, in the early days here she flipped out and peed when left in the crate (despite being "fully crate trained") so we tried leaving her out in the kitchen/dining room with Brody while we were away during the day and she was good! Now... she's started chewing things and so it's back to the crate she goes while we are out - No more peeing in it as long as she's got a peanut butter filled chew toy to occupy her. And she has begun enjoying rearranging things - sometimes it's carrying my shoes around (which she just looks at me innocently as if to say she was just bringing it to the living room and had no intentions of chewing on it), sometimes it's hauling the mat that the water bowl sits on across the dining room (sloshing it as she goes) so that Brody can reach it from his side of the baby gate during meal times. Some times it's stuffing her head deep into the metal toy bucket for just the right toy and prancing around proudly with it... then dumping it in the middle of the living room rug and going back for a second bobbing-for-toys venture only to repeat the process until the bucket is empty. Our house looks like it's populated by two year olds with toys scattered everywhere!

Her personality is funny too. There are times when she's got the ambition of a garden slug - like right now when she's passed out in "her" chair. And sometimes she is bouncing like a Tigger while trying to get Brody to play with her... which usually includes leaping or clambering over him, and/or mouthing his back legs or ears until he gives in to a full on wrestling match... which, when it involves 100 lbs of dog, has resulted in furniture displacement. She also likes to let you know what she's thinking by tossing her head back (like she's flipping her ears out of the way first) and performing a modified howl. I like to ignore her first request because the howl is just so darned cute! Apparently she doesn't appreciate my delay tactics though because the other day she started nibbling and pulling on my toes to get me to pay attention to her. Silly girl!

And she's developing new skills daily as well... The other day while I was away (before she was relegated to the crate again) my husband came home to find her sleeping soundly in "her" chair in the living room. The problem was that Glacier and Brody had BOTH been on the dining room side of the baby gate when we left in the morning. He wasn't sure exactly how she had managed it but later that evening, she was proud to show off her ingenuity. After A had fed her in the dining room and closed the gate so she and Brody could eat (they are separated not for aggression but for volume - Brody needs less food and Glacier needs more food) in peace... She apparently had finished her food and decided it was time to join the family in the living room... and proceeded to c-l-i-m-b rather ungracefully over the baby gate.

Also while I was away she educated A about her ability to squeeze under the fence in places we never expected! He went out to get her and there she was looking at him from the outside of the gate.

The next day she chewed the arm on the slip covered chair in the dining room AND the new boxers that I just bought for A while I was away last weekend... and now faces being in the crate when we aren't home until we are sure she won't chew anymore.

Snuggle buds.
Despite her puppyness, we are really enjoying her and so is Brody. He can't seem to stop licking the inside of her mouth (it's gross but better than licking the other end!) and despite having six dog beds in this house (two on each floor), they enjoy cuddling up together on one bed - especially "their" king size bed that we occasionally manage to steal back from them.

We ARE looking forward to when we can trust her and she can have the run of the house like Brody does when we are out but she's got a little maturing to do before then. It will come though because she's very very smart! She has already learned several commands which she performs quite well as long as the wind doesn't blow and distract her - it doesn't take much.

We ALL start puppy school next week so hopefully that will move things along quickly with her development! We don't want her to lose her funny personality, just not to come home to boxer bits and torn up grocery bags. That seems reasonable.