Friday, November 30, 2012

We're done!!!

NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month -- is officially over, and both Younger Daughter and I have achieved our goals! Whoo-hoo!

Thirty days ago, if you remember, we both signed up for this crazy endeavor of writing a 50,000 word book in a month.

We've been working diligently toward our goals. Yesterday I was close, oh so tantalizingly close, to getting my 50,000 words done.

But a few minutes ago, I finally crossed the finish line!

(My Word document count differred slightly from the official NaNoWriMo validation count.)

But meanwhile, of course, my modest 50,000 pales in comparison to Younger Daughter's accomplishment. This kid crossed the 50,000 word mark in two weeks. She had set herself a goal of achieving 85,000 words -- and she ended up with 83,804 -- and her book is done!

We're both giddy with relief that the pressure is over, but we're also both desirous of continuing to polish and get our books in publishable format.

Younger Daughter is ahead of me in this regard. Her story is finished, so now comes the editing. My story is a continuation of last year's, which means it's now at 100,000 words. I estimate I'll need another 25,000 or so words to finish it. (Hmmmm. Think it'll have to wait until next year?)

At any rate, the pressure is off and we're happy and relieved it's over!

Canning turkey stock

I hope that everyone who had a turkey at Thanksgiving did something useful with the carcass? I knew you did! Good for you.

I made turkey stock. Very very simple to do and useful to have in the pantry.

I am forever using chicken stock while cooking. In the past I've used the granular version...

...but it's very expensive and I don't care for the ingredients.

So now, whenever I have a chicken or turkey carcass, I simply make my own stock. Much better ingredients list!

After our Thanksgiving feast was over, Don deboned the carcass, and then we slipped everything into our largest stock pot: carcass, skin, bones, scraps, you named it. Everything went into the pot. Then we filled it with water.

We set it to simmer on the very lowest heat all night long. By morning the house smelled rich and the stock looked disgusting. Well sorry, but you must admit this doesn't appear very enticing.

But that's okay. I knew the goodness hidden inside the revolting mess. Next step: strain out the bones and other stuff. I heaved up the heavy stock pot and poured it through a colander into our second-largest stock pot.

Here's the result. Now this looks more promising!

This stockpot holds twelve quarts. The stock came to below the line... I washed eleven quart jars.

Filling the jars. Isn't it cool how something so beautiful can emerge from something so revolting?

Eleven quarts, ready to process.

My canner only holds seven quarts at a time, so I had two batches to process. Since this stock is meat-based, I pressure-canned it for 90 minutes.

Eleven jars of beautiful healthy turkey stock for my pantry. Ten, actually, since I used one right away to make some additional gravy for our leftover turkey meat. It would also make a superb base for soup of many kinds.

Waste not want not! Who else made stock or something similarly useful from their turkey carcass?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Music to their ears

As part of a Venture Scouts project, Older Daughter helped put on a music recital at a nursing care facility in a nearby town.

The recital consisted of the students of an elderly and much beloved lady named Genevieve, who teaches piano and harp. While this particular recital only had four harps present, I've seen as many as fifteen at other recitals.

This past weekend, the short recital was held in the dining room of the nursing facility to bring a little cheer into the lives of the residents. Here the students are setting up...

...and tuning up.

A flyer was distributed throughout the rather extensive facility, inviting all who appreciated music to attend. Eventually there was about a hundred residents who came to hear the joy... all stages of health.

Older Daughter opened the recital by welcoming everyone...

...and introduced Genevieve (on the left, in red), who stood up to take a bow.

One of the things I like about Genevieve's recitals is students are required to dress like ladies and gentlemen. I think the little extra air of formality encourages people to play or sing their very best. This young man was the announcer for each selection.

Here Older Daughter is playing her piece.

This young lady sang a Christmas song, accompanied on the piano by her older sister.

Then her even younger brother also belted out a song. As you can imagine, the performances of these very young people warmed the hearts of the very old people who came to listen.

A harp solo.

I was sitting behind this couple. The wife, on the right, had a very sweet smile. She was clearly in poor health and living in the nursing facility. The husband, on the left, was clearly in superb health and living off-site. They held hands the whole time. When the recital was over, I watched him push his wife's wheelchair out of the dining room. There was a great deal of tenderness between them, palpable even to a stranger like me.

Altogether I think Older Daughter's project was a great success.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Canning chicken breasts

I try to keep a number of staples canned up in my pantry because staples are so useful as base ingredients for many different meals. One of these items is boneless skinless chicken breasts.

I started canning chicken breasts about four years ago when I came across a good bargain on them. They proved to be so handy in so many recipes (curry chicken, chicken pot pie, chicken turnovers, etc.) that I decided to always keep a supply on hand.

Whenever I had a few dollars to spare, I purchased three-pound bags of frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts at Winco for $6. Don suggested I might be able to find a cheaper cut of chicken meat -- thighs, perhaps? -- for less money, but to my surprise boneless skinless thigh meat was costlier. I wanted to keep the meat both boneless and skinless since that way I can pack the most bang for my buck in each jar.

A couple weeks ago, while in our local wholesale grocery (Cash & Carry), I saw they had a sale on chicken breasts: 40 lbs. for $60, or $1.50/lb.

$60 is most of our weekly food budget, so I made a note on when the sale ended (November 18) and skimped on other groceries for that week.

I got the box just before the sale ended. I knew I could fit about two pounds of meat per quart jar, so I estimated I would get 20 quarts of canned meat from this box.

I optimistically thought I could get it canned up right away, but it was so frozen that I had to let it defrost slowly over a few days. I did that by putting the box in our "outdoor refrigerator" -- the top of our chest freezer. In this kind of weather, our outdoor fridge is quite handy.

The day came when I could finally start canning. It was a day of pouring and unrelenting rain...

...a day when the chickens darted from their coop into the shelter of Matilda's pen because they didn't want to face the weather. In other words, a perfect day for canning.

I washed seven quart jars -- all I can fit in my canner at one time.

Some people like to raw-pack chicken, but I prefer to cook mine first.

While I've used narrow-mouth jars for canning chicken, obviously the wide-mouth jars are easier to pack.

The chicken pieces need to be cut up in order to fit as many in a jar as possible. Feel free to cut the pieces as small as necessary. I suppose you could even dice the chicken if you wanted to, though I don't go to that extent.

Seven jars, filled with about two pounds of meat per jar.

I add a teaspoon of salt to each jar...

...then top everything with clean boiling water.

I leave about half an inch of headspace. My guide is the bottom of the bands on the mouth of the jar.

Wiping the rims. (This also allows me to check for any nicks on the rim I may have missed. A jar with a nicked rim won't seal.)

Scalding the Tattler lids.

Lids on...

...then rings.

Into the canner.

I use two kitchen timers while canning -- THE secret ingredient for stress-free pressure canning. The top timer gives me the overall canning time (ALL meats must be pressure-canned for 90 minutes for quarts). I set the bottom timer to go off about every five minutes, to remind me to check the pressure. At this point I'm waiting for the pressure to rise to the correct level, so I haven't started the top timer yet. (Timing doesn't start until the canner is at the correct pressure.)

Between twelve and thirteen pounds is the correct pressure for our elevation. Now I start the top timer and maintain the pressure for 90 minutes.

While the first batch of chicken was in the canner, I washed a second set of jars and got a second batch of chicken cooking in the stock pot.

By evening I had twenty quarts of chicken breasts canned up, just as estimated.

Canned chicken shreds beautifully, making it excellent for soups or stews or anything else.

Having a solid inventory of chicken is a versatile addition to anyone's pantry. If you can find boneless meat at a decent price, take advantage of it!