Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Refinisher's Two New Best Friends

I've been meaning for a while to blog about two newer products I've discovered that have made home improvement projects so much easier. If you refinish furniture or do woodworking, you want to check these two concoctions out.

It used to be that stripping paint meant donning heavy-duty gloves, a breathing mask, and seting up shop far away from any inquisitive children. With Safest Stripper from 3M, those days are over. This paint remover looks deceptively like Elmer's glue, and feels just as safe: it causes little or no skin irritation (gloves still recommended, but I speak from experience!). Spread on a thick coat, let it sit according to the directions, and the paint begins to gel and crack, and can be easily scraped up with a plastic or metal putty knife. I've had to search hard to find it: our local Lowes doesn't carry it, but our small-town hardware store was willing to order it for me. It works easiest on latex paint and varnish, but with hard work and plastic wrap (to keep it wet), it even removed six layers of old lead-based paint from our 1890 kitchen. Safest Stripper makes an arduous chore far less so, and I am grateful.
For me, applying polyeurethane always meant sacrificing a paint brush, since I never seemed to be able to get the bristles completely clean, and I seldom remembered to stock up on paint thinner. No more! The water-based revolution continues in paints, and Miniwax's latest offering is water-based wipe-on polyeurethane, which makes adding a final protective coat as easy as wiping a hard surface with a rag--literally! And coats dry extremely rapidly, which is another plus, making the application multiple coats so much easier.
So if you're thinking of beginning a project, keep a look out for these products I've stumbled upon, which do an excellent job. As a mother of small children, I've been particularly happy to discover them. Pass it on!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pig Butchering and the Art of Sausage Making

The depths of winter are the poor man's butchering season. For those of us without walk-in freezers in our homes, it is a far easier chore to butcher your own hogs when your garage has acquired the temperature of a cold refridgerator. So these January weekends we are butchering, with lots of help from family and friends. Some aspects of pork butchering are easy to learn: after the men have done the messy work of gutting and hanging, what remains of the pig roughly resembles what one finds in the store. Cutting a ham is simply, if not gracefully, done, and with a pair of sturdy sterilized tree pruners in hand, chops and spare ribs are easily cut.
But sausage making is not such a simple proposition, as we have discovered over the course of two years of pig butchering. Combining cubes of fat and odd bits of meat with an array of spices is truly an art, and not one that can be swiftly mastered. Since sausage remains our family's favorite dish, we are striving hard to be careful and to test our mixes before committing. It means, of course, more time, since raw pork precludes taste testing. Many small patties are fried as samples and everyone gives their opinion.

This year's sausage making was made vastly less arduous by our Christmas-present-to-ourselves of a black KitchenAid mixer with a food grinder and sausage stuffing attachment. And our neighbors offered to double our output by loaning us their red model. So even now we labor far into the evening on what we hope will afford us six months of breakfast sausage, all hands pitching in, as you can see from the above.
Appearances aside, we haven't achieved nearly the level of the Ingalls family of Little House fame: we don't use all of the pig (no roasting of the tail!) and we are scarcely as resourceful as Ma. Yet I will say that butchering our own animals has brought us a degree of community with our friends (for we need their help!) like nothing else.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

No Room in the Stable

During the Christmas season, our cats discovered that the apple-crate stable we were using for our Willow Tree nativity figurines was the perfect napping place. Hotaru, our calico, had no qualms about knocking over St. Joseph and displacing Mary, baby Jesus, and the various stable animals from their shelter in order to take a relaxing sleep. Or perhaps he just wanted to be a part of the scene?