Friday, February 5, 2016

Snow and the Southerner

We had some snow a while back. Pretty much most of the country got snow, so it's not that surprising that we here in the south got snow, too.  Of course, not the snow like they got up north, (41 inches? Really?) but we did get our share. About 10 inches this last time, but as much as 14 in some spots. Growing up on Colorado, I had more than my fair share of snow, let me tell you! In fact, those snow levels are one of the reasons I stay here in the South. We get snow about a handful of days a year.  Compared to Colorado, it's practically tropical.

Snowfall in the South is much different than in Colorado, and it's important to know the difference.  In Colorado, for the most part, they get this beautiful white powdery snow that is so light and, more importantly, DRY that you quite literally cannot pack it into a snow ball.  Here in the South, the snow is not dry. It's wetter than a catfish smoothie!  (I have no idea what that means, but it jumped out onto the keyboard and I'm not about to change it.) 

What this means in effect is that the snow is heavy, and packs easily.  I went out into the snow, wearing my snow boots to feed the cat that lives in our shed.  In only a few minutes the packed snow in those footprints had turned to ice! (Picture above shows the difference a few minutes makes!)

Which also proved to me that I had to shovel the walk.  If that snow turned to ice, it would take twice as long to melt. So, out I went, shovel in hand, and cleared the front walk.
And the driveway, creating a walk end to end. 
Then, I cleared an odd path through the back patio...
So that I could feed the cat who lives out in the shed.  
Which also means I cleaned off the stepping stones 
and 'porch' in front of the shed, too.  
Then I collapsed.  

The light snow in Colorado is nothing compared to the heavy snow here. All that moisture makes it feel like lead.  But in this way, once cleared these areas will dry once the sun hits them, giving me a surefooted path through the southern snow, after my nap.  




Friday, January 29, 2016

The Birth of FrankenTool

Back in November, I wrote about the loss of my favorite handy tool.  I posted that pic of it above and lamented its loss, the tears I shed and how hope for the future was dark and bleak.  Of course, my lovely wife found a new one for me at Christmas! (She really knows me.  Either that or she got tired of me crying and writing bad poetry to a broken tool.) 

But, even though the new tool joined the tool line-up and did more than its part in working with me during my many projects, I just couldn't bring myself to toss out the old tool.  The memories mainly, but more, the fact that the thing still had the screwdrivers, file and blade on it, which were still usable.  So, it sat there on the workbench for the last couple of months.   

Then comes the snow, and I spent a lot of time indoors with nothing to do.  I got to looking at the broken implement and wondered whether I could take the extra parts out of one handle and install them in the other.  Much thought, planning and searching for Allen Wrenches (where do these things go when I'm not using them??) and finally I attempted the impossible.  

AND? 

SUCCESS! 
It's not going to replace the new tool, but it's ready with all the extra pieces that the tool really works for!  AND I didn't have to use Duck Tape or learn to weld.  I would have, but didn't need it.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Mid-Week Repairman

Morning starts really early here at my Southern Ranchero. I'm usually up before the sun, and get my breakfast together along with my lunch and even get a few tasks done: empty the dishwasher, feed the cats, take out the trash.  I give myself about an hour and even have time to check the weather reports.  Getting up this early also means I'm in bed early, long before my wife.

Thursday morning I get up to find a note on the kitchen counter which says she discovered a puddle in front of the kitchen sink.  Sure enough, there in front of the sink is a towel she had placed to soak up said puddle.  I open the doors under the sink and - sure enough - there is a leak in the filter we use for the fridge.  

It's ok, I have time, I carefully take the filter out and turn off the ice maker, leaving a note for the wife that I would replace said filter that night. Not quite the middle of the week, but homeowners know that this sort of thing happens without regards to the day of the week.  Minor repairs that someone else might have to call a plumber for, I just get out the tools and "get'r done."

The reason I decided to include this repair in my lovely readable reads is, as you can see, duck tape. the silver savior.  Before i had used  three plastic ties like you'd use for wires, but this time, I wanted the filter to stay put.  Wrapped it around a couple of times and that filter is not going anywhere.  . 

Another repair made better through the miracle of science and a liberal use of duck tape. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Southern Pralines

When I was a kid, we went to the big 31 flavors ice cream store on a regular basis.  When the store started offering a flavor called "Pralines 'N Cream" it was no surprise to me that it quickly became their number one seller.  Rich creamy vanilla ice cream with a hint of pecan, and big chucks of sugary coated pecans to satisfy that crunch craving.  

Of course the main ingredient in this heavenly mixture was the pralines.  As I grew up, I never saw a praline (pronounced PRAY-leen) and always assumed they were just pecans in a sugary coating, like a pecan cluster of some sort.  But the  South taught me right.  

Pralines look like a cookie, but they are a candy to be sure. A rich, sugary creamy delicious candy. Really, they are like nothing else.  I've had pecan sandies and pecan cookies but nothing is a Praline.  And, now you're asking, "So, tell us, Marv, what exactly IS a praline?"

First the history lesson.  Pralines were first made in the 17th Century in France, the French used almonds because of their prevalence at the time. After settling in New Orleans, the French began using the more locally found pecan. Since then the native creole Louisianians have improved the praline by adding milk giving the praline it's unique, distinctive savory taste for all generations to enjoy. Are you craving them yet? Good, because here is a great recipe! 

  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) granulated white sugar
  • 3/4 cup (6 oz) light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) milk - whole is preferred but 2% is fine
  • 6 tablespoons (3 oz) salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup (12 oz) pecans (These can be left whole, rough chopped or fine, even toasted if you prefer.)
  • Before starting to cook, lay out a piece of parchment, aluminum foil, or a silpat for the pralines. Set a second spoon nearby in case you need to scrape the candy off the first spoon.
  • Combine all the ingredients in a medium sauce pan, at least 4 quarts. Do not use a smaller pan as the syrup will bubble up during cooking. It's also harder to stir in a smaller pan.
  • Cook the syrup over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. When it comes to a boil, start stirring constantly. Let it boil for about 3 minutes, until the syrup registers 238°f - 240°F on a candy thermometer.
  • Remove the pan from heat immediately and keep stirring. Stir, stir, stir! It will become creamy, cloudy, and start to thicken. When you feel it starting to get grainy, the pralines are ready. You can also hear it if you listen closely; the crystals will make a scraping noise against the side of the pan.
  • Drop spoonfuls of the praline syrup onto your waiting parchment. Work quickly, as the syrup starts to set as it gets cool. Let the pralines cool and harden for at least ten minutes before eating. They will keep in an airtight container for several days, but they're at their very best within the first 24 hours of making them!
Special notes because I know how you think: 
  1. Stick to the Recipe - Stick to the ingredients listed and just do each step of the recipe as it comes, your pralines really do come out just fine.
  2. Don't Mess with the Butter - This probably falls under the "stick to the recipe" advice, but it's worth mentioning it on its own. More butter than the recipe specifies and they spread out too much.Too little butter and the flavor is compromised.
  3. Have Everything Ready Ahead of Time - Pralines are less fussy than other candies, but once you start making them, you can't stop or pause. Measure out all the ingredients before turning on the stove, and make sure you have a piece of parchment or silpat laid out to receive the molten pralines. Get your spoons, apron and your candy thermometer all within easy reach.
  4. Use a Large Pot - What this means is, "Use a pot that's bigger than you think you need." The syrup bubbles up as it cooks and a big pot also makes the job of stirring easier. For this size recipe, a 4-quart saucepan is just about the right size.
  5. Don't Stop Stirring Until the Pot Talks - This refers to the step of cooling the syrup before dropping the candies to harden. It starts off very loose and liquidy. As you stir, sugar crystals start to form and the syrup will start to feel thick and grainy against your spoon. The "pot is talking" when you can hear the tiny sugar crystals scraping the sides. That's the sign to head to the counter and drop your pralines.
  6. Don't Double the Recipe - The problem with doubling the recipe is that you can't drop the pralines fast enough before the syrup gets too cool and hard in the pot. Since a batch of pralines only takes fifteen minutes or so to make, it's better to just do multiple batches if you're cooking for a crowd.
Final Recipe Note: Don't forget the pan scrapings! Whatever is left in the pan is the cook's treat. Scrape those up and eat them with a spoon.

Finally, Have I ever made some pralines? No.  I'm not that good with the stove, yet. (Still perfecting my biscuits!)  But I do know people who make terrific Pralines and I enjoy them whenever they do.  Yes, they are southerners, thanks for asking.


Friday, January 8, 2016

New Year - New Motor


Ok, so you caught me.  I didn't post on New Year's Day and you thought for sure I'd somehow fallen off the face of the earth.  I wish.  I mean, I really tried.  I started a blog post and looked around for pics - that's downtown Nashville at midnight New Year's Eve, 2015.  150,000 people crowded into the corner of 1st and Broadway cheering the nifty little note as it dropped to deNOTE (HA!) the beginning of a new year.  Me?  Home in my jammies, hot chai-latte and graham blondies at midnight.  Yeah, boring.  Which is why there was no post. Friday I lay around in a graham blondie haze; then suddenly, it's Saturday and there - no post.  3rd day of a 4 day weekend, and I had already spent two of them doing the usual: grocery shopping, avoiding work and eating pastries. (Delicious pastries!)

So, Saturday I just had to get up and get some work done on the living room. At this point, I must ruminate aloud, that there is a part of me that wonders if there is some curse on this project. I did get in an  hour or two worth of actual work and then - I reached for my drill motor.  (Elsewhere,  you may call it a drill, but here in the South, we call it a drill motor.)

A week or two ago, I had lost the drill chuck key to my trusty old drill. I got out on Friday and picked one up at the big hardware store so I was ready to go Saturday morning.  This is where the curse comes in, cuz it turns out that the drill chuck was frozen in place.  Ugh. No amount of work with the new chuck key or even big pipe wrenches and my workbench vise made any difference.

Back to the big hardware store where I talked to a guy about replacing the frozen chuck. How do I remove the old chuck if it's stuck and won't turn?  Got to cut it off with an angle grinder, says someone.  Ok, home again home again and out comes the angle grinder.  After working carefully with the angle grinder (for too frakking long!) to remove the froze drill chuck, I find that this particular drill is not made to replace the drill chuck!  (Cue cursing and throwing of tantrums.) So basically I just ruined my only drill.  (Or drill motor.) I hear ya, it was ruined anyway with the chuck frozen, but now I have to budget how I'm going to afford a new one. 

Luckily, my birthday is in a month and my lovely wife offered to buy me a new drill as a gift.  Back over to the big hardware store where I drooled over the $500 battery operated all-in-one drill/saw/angle grinder kit but, knowing my budget, reached for the least expensive one with a key-less drill chuck. My wife approved.

Back home, I finished my latest project using new new drill motor.  I put legs on my Franken-Saw and even got some work done ripping some wood in half. The new drill motor even came with a case, so I can also put the old drill motor case (read: Lego Carry Case) to better use.

Maybe I can also break the curse and get some work done next week. We shall see....

  

Friday, December 25, 2015

Southern Ingenuity - The Table Saw

As any regular reader know, I've been repairing a major problem on my house.  It has taken a long time because I only get about a day and a half to work on it every weekend, and some times even less than that.  I'm getting down to the end (or at least I hope I am) and wouldn't you know it - I came up short on tools.

Now, follow along here.  I am trimming the room and needed a particular sized piece of wood in a 12 foot length.  I go to the big hardware store to get some and it turns out that they don't carry what I need in 12 foot length.  It's a special order.  (Read: $$$!!)  So I went on home and started to think.  What I realized rather quickly is that with a table saw, I could buy a wider piece and cut it in half myself. But as I've already pointed out, I have no table saw.  More thought. 

Aha, says I!  (Yes, I really said "Aha!" out loud.) I had seen an article on some woodworking or DIY website where some clever tool man had turned a rotary saw into a table saw.  Since I just happened to have an extra rotary saw, this seemed doable.  I removed the switch and wired it to be 'always on' and then cut some plywood I had laying about.  Add some scrap 2x4s and I had myself a genuine hand made do-it-yerself-and-get-r-done Table Saw.  (Yes, capital letters, Bubba, because I said so.) 

It probably will take the addition of a set of legs to do it up right, but it's done and if it hadn't rained that afternoon, I'd have been out there cutting lumber and taking names!  

The first good weekend in January, Look Out!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Holiday Must-See in the South

Southern Christmas Vacations: Atlanta Pink Pig Rides

It's the holidays and although I'm pretty sure you already have plans for the time off, I'd like to take a minute to tell you about some great things to do in the South at this time of year.

The first is Atlanta, Georgia, where Macy's Department store has this great tradition of a pink train with the engine a Pink Pig.   Located in Lenox Square in Buckhead, children have been riding Priscilla, the bubblegum-colored train in the shape of a pig, continuously for 56 years. The 2009 version moved through a life-size storybook showing the ride’s history. This rite of passage costs $3 a trip; hours and printable two-for-one discount coupons at macys.com/campaign/pinkpig/home.jsp

 
Next stop, Louisville, Kentucky where the Actor's Theater, 316 West Main Street has been producing Charle's Dicken's 'A Christman Carol' for 34 years.  The script is updated and the production also boasts 16 added songs, dancing and actors who play instruments.  December 8-27; from $27, kids ages 5-14 pay half-price December 8-16.
 
Next we jump down to Orlando, and yeah, Walt Disney World, where every year is the annual Candlelight Processional at EpcotAlong with a breathtaking mass choir and 50-piece orchestra there are celebrith narrators, a different one each night.  Locals come year after year along with out-of-towners. Requires park admission; shows at 5:00, 6:45, and 8:15 p.m. disneyworld.com.

So start making those plans for next year and make it a Holiday to remember, here in the South.