May 20, 2008

Wiener Schnitzel Night

Last night, our German exchange student, Kathi, made us a traditional German dinner. We were very happy to sample her recipe for wiener schnitzel which called for stone ground mustard in the rub.

Todd and Raine helped with the cooking, so it was a international family affair. We also feasted on red cabbage cooked with apples, cloves and bay leaves. And finally the classic peas and carrots and riced/mashed potatoes. The dinner was sehr gut!

May 14, 2008

Garden Improvements

So I told you earlier that last weekend, Todd had an epiphany as to how the back yard could be changed. On Saturday, during my planned absence, the master gardener ripped up the lawn and created a bunch new gardening areas. Now I like it, don't get me wrong, but dang I wasn't expecting to do so much yardwork this year.... Above is the new framed-in garden section of the lawn. I think the goal being to reduce mowing to about two strips around the yard.....

On Sunday, Todd and I went to our favorite nursery to get some new arbor vitae for a privacy screen on the left side of the yard. Shown above are the 5 foot arbor vitae and my new Candymint crabapple tree stuffed into the back of the Element. As you can see in this photo, Todd has continued the line of arbor vitae down the side of the yard. In about 20 years, they will provide some nice privacy, I should think. In the mean time, they do add some nice vertical lines in an otherwise horizontal landscape.

It will be fun to plan out the garden. We are going to mix in vegetables, perennials and baby trees that we'll start here and take up north in a few years. I'll keep you posted!

May 12, 2008

One year Blogoversary

Yesterday marked my first year anniversary or blogoversary of "the life of Rylee" And it totally skipped me by - sad.... I spent the day working in the garden and around the house, obliviously to the momentous occasion.

Anyhow, here's the update on the Life of Rylee.

1. The past week has been pretty busy with spending time at my Grama's, cleaning her house in preparation for her return home from hip replacement surgery. Just got great news that she doesn't have to go to a nursing home as previously thought on Friday. The Doc just saw her this morning and said the progress she's made over the weekend changed his mind. She gets to come home tomorrow!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!

2. While I was at Grama's on Saturday cleaning, Todd performed an extreme makeover to the back yard. I couldn't believe all the work that man did over the weekend. Not only did he take out the overgrown juniper bush - he totally transformed the yard by removing grass - thus increasing new gardening space. The yard will look awesome!!!!

3. This was the first Mother's day when I didn't have either of my daughters around. Kinda a strange to go out for breakfast yesterday with Todd and see everyone out with their moms and kids. While mine were all out of town...

4. My Mothers day gift to myself is a new flowering crabapple tree called a CandyMint. It's soo cute. It will find a very nice home in my new gardens out back.

5. Our German Exchange student is arriving tomorrow for a couple of weeks. We are looking forward to having some good fun with her visit!

That's life in a nutshell.

May 5, 2008

The Bat Cave

I'm the Bat Lady in my neighborhood. Pictured above is the side of our house at dusk. You can see the three boards going across the top. Those are the bat houses. We willingly invite the bats to live with us during the summer.

It didn't start out that way. After we moved in during the fall of 2001, we didn't know of the resident bat colony. We quickly found out in the spring, when the bats came back. They were seemingly everywhere - even once or twice in the house. We also learned that a dark brown house on a marsh attracts a lot of bats.

We quickly went on the offensive. Personally, I just wanted them gone, but I went to this website - and as a Mom and animal lover, I was horrified at some of the things people do to rid themselves of animals. So for the first year, we followed the advice and did not disturb the nurseries. However that fall, we prepared ourselves for the future. It included a lot of steel wool, plugging up holes, sealing gaps and making bat houses for our summer guests. Or we could have just painted our house a pale color as our neighbor suggested....

Over the next few years, the bats were happy to roost in their new bat houses and not under our deck or in the attic. It's totally worth having bat neighbors. They eat an incredible amount of bugs each night. For the most part we live in harmony. We get the yard during the day and most of the night. They get the backyard during sunset. And being as polite as they are, they really try to avoid getting too close.....

May 4, 2008

Family Recipes: Potato Dumplings

Pictured above are my paternal great grandparents Joseph Woefel and Mary Fisher on their wedding day in the early 1900s in Sauk County, WI. Joseph and Mary lived on about 200 acres of beautiful land that included hills, springs and farm land north of Reedsburg, WI.

The recipe that was handed down from this branch of my family is called potato dumplings. What makes this dumpling different than most German dumplings is a couple of things. One, is the use of bread as the main ingredient with potatoes as the moisture. The second difference, is that these dumplings are eaten with "sour" gravy. The best gravy comes from cooking both beef and pork roasts together. From this, some of the gravy is set aside to sour. The souring agent is simply vinegar. There is no wrong amount, it's how sour you like your gravy. I first learned how to make them in my Grandma Helen's kitchen. Pictured above are the ingredients: raw potatoes, an egg, salt and pepper, a little flour and day old bread torn into small pieces. Shred the potatoes on the fine grate, set aside. Into the bread, add the egg, salt, pepper and a little bit of flour. Mix that up and then add the shredded potatoes. Next, form balls from the mixture. The size of the dumplings is purely preference. The dumpling mixture should have a moist feeling and be able to stick together well. Ultimately, the dumplings are purely by feel. You just know when they are the right consistency. Below are the six dumplings I made. To prepare them for dinner, bring a pan of water to a boil. Add the dumplings and let cook in the water for about 10 minutes. A fork should go in and out quite easily. These began to float when they had completed cooking. I simply turned the fire off and let them sit while the rest of the meal was prepared. The last and most important step is the sour gravy. Tonight I used one cup of the finished gravy and add to it a 1/8 c. of vinegar, As I've eaten these for years, I like a lot of vinegar. If you want to try this - go easy on the vinegar. Remember it's easier to add more vinegar than it is to take a way. The finished dumpling. You can see that it is mostly bread with just bits of potato within. These dumplings turned out great. I've learned not to mess with a family classic, One year, I tried putting fresh herbs and minced onion, they were not what I expected....and I have yet to hear the last of that major fiasco in the family As a little kid, I didn't like dumplings and wouldn't eat them. One Thanksgiving, my Grandpa told me "You're not a Wedekind unless you like potato dumplings!" Well, that got me going and I soon began eating dumplings with the best of them....

Cranes are really dinosaurs

These prehistoric-looking birds are Sandhill Cranes. This year, there are around eight of them in the neighborhood. They arrived in mid-April and stay until Fall. Our house sits close to a protected marshland - so its the perfect habitat for these birds. These cranes were outside my backyard fence about 10 minutes ago. They don't appear to be too afraid of Teiko or me while I was taking pictures.
The way they look, sound and fly - Todd is convinced they are modern day pterodactyls.

They really are beautiful and amazing to be around but dang, they're big and loud. Their call sounds like a strangled turkey at about 150 decibels.

Spring has Sprung

Spring has definitely arrived as the tulips in the front yard have announced. Another sure sign of the season is the first northside farmer's market of the year. I'm off to see what goodies there are.

May 2, 2008

Beef Tips and Handmade Egg Noodles

The good first. The egg noodles that I made the other night were absolutely delish. They take about an hour to make from start to finish and were fun to roll out and cut with a pizza cutter. The recipe is simple (2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp of baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt and 3 eggs ) - cut the dry ingredients together add the eggs and any water needed. Using the hook in the mixer, knead for a few moments until it forms a solid ball of dough) On a floured surface, roll out until as thin a noodle as desired. Using a pizza cutter, cut the noodles to 2 inch lengths. Let dry for an hour or so. Boil water, drop the noodles in, cook for 5-7 minutes. Done. Awesome noodles. These taste so much better than store bought.
Now the sad part. I pulled down a beef tips and noodle recipe from Ususally a good source for quick dinner recipes. Following the recipe, I browned tenderloin in the pan. To it, I added the following: 3/4 cup water, 3/4 cup red wine, 2 tbs of beef base, 1/4 tsp thyme and garlic, salt and pepper. The color was rich, dark and the smell was wonderful. I let it simmer for about 40 minutes. To it I then added lightly sauteed mushrooms and 1 tbs of cornstarch to thicken the sauce.

So far so good, except Raine tastes the sauce and calls out, "Mom, this is really salty!". Not sure what exactly happened, we all sat down for dinner and ate this beautiful looking dinner while our blood pressures all spiked from the salt. Todd asked me how much salt I used (a pinch) and then asked how much beef base (2 tbs) . And that was how I found out that 2 tablespoons of beef base is about 1.5 tablespoons too much.

I now know that beef base goes a long way and I'll never use tablespoons for that measurement ever again......
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