No. More.Tomatoes. Please.

Nothing is as sweet
As a ripe tomato, plucked,
Eaten, garden side.
——————————————–

Clearly, I am incapable of basic math. There are 4 of us in my family. I planted 15 tomato plants. Each of those plants has thrived (I have the water bill to prove it).  We have harvested what seems like hundreds of flipping tomatoes. I sit here at the computer, with a view to the back yard and my garden and can see even more red dots all over the plants, fruit waiting to be picked. How did I imagine we would eat all that these produce?

I am so sick of tomatoes I don’t know what to do. Today, Frank asked me if I wanted a BLT, my favorite vehicle for tomato consumption this time of year. Is there anything better than a red-fresh tomato and bacon (second only to mac and cheese as a favorite food of mine), with crisp lettuce, a smear of mayo on good old-fashioned white bread? I say there is not. Except when you are freaking sick of tomatoes. So when asked tonight, I said the nearly unthinkable: “No, I don’t. I’m tired of bacon. I’m tired of tomatoes.” Somewhere, a little part of me died.

My friends now scurry away when they see me carrying a brown sack. They know I’m about to foist upon them some tomatoes, and possibly some carrots, for that too was a bumper crop this year. They have tried politely declining, but since that stopped working 3 weeks ago, they just feign deafness and profess a desire for a scenic route through the school parking lot, and manage to dodge me thanks to the slow-moving school bus. (Who knew Jen could do a crouching roll under the school bus before jumping on the Johnston’s SUV to hitch a ride to her own car down the way?)

Why don’t I can them, you ask? Because that to me is worse. I would just repeat tomato consumption over and over across the winter, reminding myself repeatedly that I’m an idiot. If this were 1776 and we were, say, living in Boston during the siege by the British, surrounded by rebels in the countryside, too poor to move or take sides, then yes, I wouldn’t mind eating jar after jar of tomatoes. But this isn’t Boston, this isn’t 1776.

So I’m declaring that I’m officially done being a farmer this season. Any further fruiting will just become compost for the betterment of the dirt.  I’m hopeful that just like I forget what a pain Halloween is about April each year, just in time to start answering my kids when they ask how soon it comes again, next spring I’ll be raring to be a farmer, eager to put stuff in the ground to see what will grow. Just god, please help me do the math.

A New Definition of Normal (Not for the Squeamish)

First the dog threw up…
on the kid…. and then the kid
threw up… on the dog.*

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When work gets a little nutso, I tend to call my husband. His voice just seems to lower my blood pressure and remind me what really matters. Today was like that: I called him as I was heading to a meeting and told him “I just need a little normal”. He laughed, wondering how bad it must be if the happenings at our home seemed normal, but proceeded to tell me about his morning, AB’s morning, etc. And then he told me about our “normal” dog.

Seems Lily the wonder poodle went out to poop this morning, very normal indeed, but then she pooped two or three more times while in the yard. That’s not normal. When she finally came back in, Frank noticed that she still had poop hanging out of her bottom. Again, not at all normal; in fact, a little alarming since this has happened a few times in the last few days.  Then he shared the best part of all: as he was pulling the poop off her bottom, he pulled a paper towel out of her ass.

Half sheet.

Totally intact.

And after he did this, he proceeded to pull a second half sheet paper towel out of her ass. It appears that just like a canister of wet wipes, when you remove one, the next one pops up, waiting to be extracted.

Oh my god. I don’t think normal will ever be the same again.

We then had a great time with the puns. It is no longer “select a sheet” but “select a shit”.  Plus, the new selling line is the “quicker pooper-upper”. This went on for several minutes and I encourage you to add your own thoughts in the comments section.  He then threatened to rinse them out and lie them side by side with other slightly used paper towels to see if I could tell the difference. The call ended soon thereafter.

(For those of you wondering why I feed my dog paper towels… we caught her red-handed on Sunday licking the “breakfast-bacon-draining-paper-towels” which she had fished out of the garbage; had no clue she had already scarfed down two.)

Anyway, before I ended the call, I proclaimed my continuing appreciation for my husband and his willingness to deal with these types of situations. (I would have collapsed immediately upon noticing the fluffy end sticking out; he doesn’t rattle near as easily.) I returned to spread sheets and conference calls, but kept reflecting on the visual image of him, with the kids mesmerized by his side,  pulling out the paper towels like a magician fishing scarves from inside his clenched fist. I’m sure people wondered why I kept smiling.

(Note: Thanks to Frank for the wet wipes and magician metaphors! Stolen with his full knowledge.)

(*by the way, only the first 8 syllables are truth; the rest is just funny to visualize)

My Aga – Not just an oven…

My Aga greets me.
Its warmth melts the weariness
Of a long journey.
………………………………………..
My friends closest to me probably do not want to read this post. They know all about my Aga and likely aren’t interested in hearing more. But for those of you who don’t know what an Aga is, or why I’m so nuts about it, this post is for you.

So, what exactly is an Aga? First, it is pronounced like gaga (as in lady gaga), with the first G missing and the emphasis on the first ‘a’.  Here is a picture of my Aga.

My Aga... (notice the beautiful tile work, all done by Frank-the-wonderful)

A beauty, isn’t she? We first encountered one when we lived in England and our rental home had one. We didn’t know that some people find them intimidating – we just thought it was really cool and it’s why we picked that particular home to live in. And boy am I glad we did. My cooking will never be the same. They are very popular in England and other parts of Europe, and can also be found in the northern parts of the US (that is more my guess based on where we go for parts…).

An Aga is defined as a large iron cooker [it’s make of cast iron] which keeps its heat (from the Cambridge Dictionaries online). It has 4 ovens, each at a different temperature range: Roasting (~400 plus), Baking (~325-375), Simmering (~250) and Warming (~125).  On top there are two covered “plates” – the boiling plate and the simmering plate. There is also the “top plate” on the top left – not a cooking surface, just a warm area.

       

Open wide - the 4 ovens, clockwise from bottom left: warming, simmering, roasting, baking; center bottom door opens to the controls

boiling plate on left, simmering plate on right. Not sure why the right lid is always a mess - grilled cheese dross I think.

An Aga stores heat (although it is always warm, it only “runs” to make up for any lost heat). The goal in cooking on an Aga is to retain its heat and cook as much as you can in the ovens. That means often you start a dish on one of the plates, but you finish it in an oven. For example, you could boil the potatoes on the stove until your windows are running with condensation. Or, in the Aga, you bring the potatoes to boil on the boiling plate, pour off the water, cover it, put it into the Simmering Oven and then 30 minutes later your potatoes are steam-cooked and ready for mashing.  The house isn’t a humid mess and the potatoes are perfect.  The ovens too are designed for you to get a dish started in one place (the roasting oven for instance) and finished in another (the simmering oven). You need to fiddle with the time, but it is fairly straight forward.

You can use all areas inside of each oven – near the top it is warmer, or you can put it directly on the floor of an oven. You can put your whole pan in there, handle an all (assuming no plastic handles…).

I know this sounds really complicated, and you might wonder why bother. I’ll tell you why: it makes the world’s best bacon. This is not an exaggeration. You will not find better bacon anywhere. And the best part? The bacon fries in a pan on the floor of the roasting oven so you don’t have to clean up spattered grease. (Take note on the door of the top right oven (the roasting oven) in the picture above – see all that? That is from all the cooking and would be on my counters and in my hair if not in the oven. Don’t get disgusted, the door gets cleaned regularly and inside the oven is so hot that it carbonizes any spills.) When we finally got the Aga installed (my wonderful handy amazing husband Frank did all the work), Christmas Day 2010, guess what the first thing I cooked in the Aga was… yes, bacon.

Other wonderful things about my Aga:

  • Boiling plate boils a kettle faster than an electric kettle. In seconds it will start to make that happy boiling “tinkle” sound.
  • It is always warm, so when you are cold, you just need to stand near it or lay over the top and you’ll warm right up.
  • Great place to lay coats on cold winter mornings before going out. (Note – some parts are too hot to handle clothing, so you do need to be careful.)
  • You can warm plates on the top while the cooking finishes. You can see white plates on the top left side in the first picture, waiting for something to come out of an oven, get filled and then taken to the table. Makes me seem like a much more accomplished cook than I am.
  • All parts are handy… melt butter in a small pan on the top somewhere; soften cream cheese next to it or on top of it… toss all your leftovers in the simmering oven about an hour before dinner and they’ll all be warm at the same time – no more microwave shuffling of multiple dishes. You cook pancakes directly on the simmering plate – no pan needed, so less mess to clean up.
  • We compost fruit and veg scrap… and we keep the container right on top of the Aga (see the canister in the first picture again). The heat dries out the scraps and extends the time before we have to put them in the compost bin.
  • I find it easier to cook healthy dishes. Cut up some veg, toss in some herbs and olive oil, throw in the top of the roasting oven – 30 minutes later, perfectly roasted veggies. Almost as easy as opening a can of veggies and putting them in the microwave.
  • It has elimimated nearly all my other appliances. No toaster, no crock pot, no bread maker, no microwave bacon cooker, no electric skillet, no rice cooker. Truth be told, I still sometimes use the  rice cooker (my Aga rice is meh), but not very often. I also limit my microwave usage.
  • You can cook a ton of food at once because each oven can handle a lot of pans.  When living in England, I hosted Thanksgiving for nearly 20 people. I did all the food: turkey, side dishes and desserts. Everything was warm when it was served because the Aga is so versatile — cook in one oven, keep warm in another or on top. The turkey itself was finished at around 5pm, but I just put it on top of the oven (on the left side), covered it with a ski jacket, and 2 hours later when it was carved it was piping hot and delicious.

Issues or questions you might wonder about…

  • Is it safe for kids? Yes. My kids have never once burned themselves. They know where it is warm and where it is too hot to touch, and therefore to respect it, but that should be true of all appliances, right?
  • You put food in there and forget it is there, for several days. This is true. The smells vent outside so if you have left something, you often don’t realize it. This has had good results before (when we left soup in there for a day and a half… just had to add some water to the uber-concentrated veggie sludge and it was the best soup ever!) and bad (the broccoli looked like dried out flowers, ick).  Just makes it a little more fun and exciting each time you open an oven door.
  • I’ve failed miserably making caramels. Had to use the top plates to make it, which drains the heat over the 45 minutes required for cooking caramels. I kept moving the pan to the hotter plate because it was taking too long, but eventually scorched the candy. Dagnabbit. I haven’t tried again, but I will, and this time I’ll have more patience and perhaps not double the recipe…
  • They are expensive to buy and run. We purchased ours while still in the UK over eBay… got a great deal. I wouldn’t buy a new one – couldn’t afford it – but used worked for us. They do show up on eBay in the US at times.  Monthly, we think it costs us maybe $30-40 to run it (gas), so that’s clearly a choice. But the other benefits (warm kitchen, warm coats, great bacon) more than make up for it. For the “greenies” out there, you could heat a significant portion of your house with this. We didn’t go that far, but when we rehabbed our current house and kitchen, we designed the new HVAC systems (up and down) so that we could balance out the extra Aga heat as efficiently as possible. Not perfect, but better.
  • Isn’t the house always hot/warm? Can you run it in the summer? It does make the kitchen warmer than the rest of the house. But the heat isn’t too bad in the summer. Interestingly, we had it off for a week last summer to clean and service it and I will tell you, the kitchen just felt weird. It wasn’t right that it was cool/normal. This oven is the heart of our home and when it was “cold”, the house felt sad and the family was a little “off”. So, the little extra heat is worth it. (I’m not saying I’d run it in summers in my hometown in middle Georgia, but Cincinnati isn’t too bad…)

That’s it, my Aga. I love it – it makes me very happy. I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for not just an oven, but something that enriches your life. And I’d be happy to make you bacon anytime.

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