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Chili Weather

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Another day. Another snow event. Seems to have become the norm around here. After the blizzard a few weeks back, I saw many people posting about the lack of chili ingredients in the local stores. There must have been a run on onions, beans, beef, and peppers.

Never one to be unprepared, I have figured out how to always be ready to make chili. Mostly crockpot chili. Yesterday while we were finishing up on a renovation task around here, I made sure that we had chili fixings, and put the pot on the counter.

Here’s how to be sure you don’t face a chili ingredient “emergency”.

I always have some sort of ground meat in the freezer. Mostly from the CSA or Friends and Farms. Beef, chicken or turkey. Depends on what I have two pounds available at the time. This time, I used CSA ground beef.

My stash from the pantry. I always have three items there. From Costco. Tomato paste. Diced tomatoes. Black beans. I also stock up on Harris Teeter’s beans when I see them on sale. This batch of chili used their organic chili beans in sauce.

In my freezer, from the summer, I have bags of roasted sweet peppers and of caramelized onions. If I can’t find onions at the store, or if I’m out of CSA onions, I can substitute. This time I used shallots, and the hot peppers left in the container from the olive bar. That’s where the heat was introduced in this chili.

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Then, there’s the four C’s.

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My secret to a sweet, hot chili. Those four ingredients pictured above. Add a little salt and pepper. Put everything into the crockpot. No, I don’t measure. Chili is such a forgiving recipe. Use more beans if you like. More peppers. More cilantro. Skip the cilantro. Whatever tastes best to you.

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There will be a couple of dinners out of my latest batch. So far though, we’re just thankful this is supposed to be less than a six inch snow event.

Flash Program

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You may have heard of flash mobs. So what is a flash program? That would be a spur of the moment, not planned in advance, free program open to the public. Using volunteers. This Sunday at 2 PM out at Mt. Pleasant, Howard County Conservancy.Have you ever heard about the Great Backyard Bird Count? It’s a national, annual event, spanning the long weekend in February. Information is here on their website. A couple of the board members out at the Conservancy proposed a great idea. Let’s have an impromptu free program the week before the bird count. To help people get started, and to give tips on counting birds in your own back yard.

They have enlisted a number of volunteers, many from the Howard County Bird Club. The nature center at Mt. Pleasant has windows overlooking a number of feeders and all winter long there’s quite a bit of interest from the resident and migrating birds, who stop by or hang around for the food. The bird club has a master list of all the different species seen across the entire site. You should be able to see a number of them on Sunday, and to learn how to identify some of the more common ones who would frequent your back yard or deck.

They’ll be helping you and your family get started on watching birds, and you might get to see some of the more rare visitors like this one.

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I spotted this pileated woodpecker right outside the doors to the nature center around noon, a couple of winters ago. We know they are still around because we can hear them.

Still, a little planning and a food source, on the ground or in a feeder, will keep the birds hanging out in your yard, too.

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Blue jays love the unsalted Costco peanuts in the shell.

Come on out Sunday and see what other tips you can take home with you.

Spirits

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The alcoholic kind of spirits. Like this.

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On my mind because of our cabin fever escape up to Bistro Blanc last week, after being snowed in. Their cocktail list is amazing. It all started last summer with that ginger peach mule, but Tuesday night we wanted something that reminded us of summer.

The Denise. Not sure of the origin of the name. But, loved the cocktail. Made us forget there was two feet of snow out there.

We decided to check out the origin of the cucumber vodka. Found a site that identified an organic one. Immediately thought of RED as the place to go to find organic spirits.

Up the way from Roots, Bark, Nest and Great Sage. Our little local corner of mindful buying. The people behind RED were smart. Put an organic, biodynamic, sustainable product business next to all those Conscious Corner businesses.

Interestingly, we had never stopped there. We mostly buy wine, from the local sources, or from our tastings over at Iron Bridge. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but RED has growler choices I find intriguing. From Local brewers like Manor Hill, Jailbreak and Flying Dog.

I went there on a mission to find cucumber vodka.

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They had it, and the elderflower liqueur as well. I just needed to add those mixers to it. Now we have some amazing cocktails for those date nights I just blogged about.

If you live around here in Howard County, check out RED. You won’t be disappointed if you are looking for unique spirits, wine and beer.

Date Nights

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With a local and small business influence. Do you do date nights? You know. Dinner and a movie. Or binge watching your favorite TV series. For us, we go out infrequently in the winter. Don’t want to deal with slick roads and deer.

We also find it interesting to put together a special meal. Maybe tapas. Maybe home cooked, but always using some of our favorite local foods.

Besides, we can put together one awesome meal at a fraction of the cost of eating out.

Take this week. Snowed in, for the most part. Many things to do around here. Not particularly the best time to head off across town.

We like to pick a special local wine. Like this one.

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You can build a meal around a very nice local white or red. Your preference. For us, we have four “go-to” wineries. Linden. Big Cork. Black Ankle. Old Westminster. We’ve always found their wines to be excellent. Yes, they are a bit pricey. All of them, but putting it in context, a bargain compared to buying wine in restaurants.

Consider this. A glass of house white may cost $7-$9 for a five ounce pour. Two glasses each over the course of dinner. $30-$40 before tax and tip. I can buy lovely wines like that Linden Hardscrabble for less than $30 after discount. At $30, a restaurant bottle of wine may be in the $10-12 retail range.

I start with a chosen wine. Build a meal around it. Our latest date night used 100% purchased foods. No cooking. No fussing. Just a couple of quick preparations. And I used small local sources for most of the food. I felt like I had created one of those small plate dinners like we enjoy at Pure Wine.

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This was it. Mushroom pate and spring rolls from Roots. I have tried to make my own pate and it’s OK, but not as good as Roots makes. The salmon. From Friends and Farms. Offered on a fresh catch special recently. That lovely watermelon radish. From our Lancaster Farm Fresh winter CSA. The bread, from Harris Teeter (only because we were told our CSA bread shares were victims of the blizzard). The bread was a Limited Edition Russian Black bread, made by their bakery.

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Sipping that big buttery Chardonnay while enjoying small tastes of fresh foods. Not a bad start to date night.

Total cost. Less than $60. Much less than going out.

Challenge yourself some Friday night. Pick a favorite local wine. Head over to Roots or Davids and see what looks good. Or, just pick up a rotisserie chicken. A few local cheeses. Maybe some chocolate for dessert. We love to have a red wine with dinner and finish off with a locally made chocolate like the ones from Salazon, made just north of us in Carroll County.

And rent a really good movie.

Choosing Community One More Time

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I must admit. I feel at times that extreme weather events bring out the best and worst in us. Most of the time it is the best, but when it’s the worst, it’s epic.

I have blogged before about the “civility” thing, here where we live. For me, being civil to one another doesn’t foster a sense of community, caring, compassion and commiseration. We have much better choices for those C words than civility.

My post about cabin fever prompted feedback, positive and negative. For me, I was happy to report that once again, after losing it in my old Columbia neighborhood, I found that sense of friendship, caring, support and teamwork here where we call home. It wasn’t meant to be a slap against my old place. I just missed that sense of pitching in and getting out of bad situations.

In 1983, 23 relatively young (well, 30ish to 60ish) new neighbors dug ourselves out after a blizzard. Not waiting for the county. Not waiting for the private contractor for our private cul de sac. With beer and chili when we finished, and all sorts of help from the big diggers to the more frail helpers, who did their part in clearing off the cars, we got it done.

It was the beginning of a very fun series of neighborhood events. For years we got together on a Saturday night every other month, except for the massive New Year’s Eve event. Crab feasts. Picnics. Progressive dinners. Themed dinners. Rotating the hosting duties.

Then, somehow, in some way, it ended. The majority of the core moved away. New neighbors declined to attend. We lost that sense of community, and regressed into the dreaded bedroom community.

When we left in 2005 we barely knew our neighbors. Not that we didn’t try. They just didn’t respond to invites.

That is why I love it out here. That community spirit is alive and kicking.

I was happy to see so many great stories about neighborhoods digging out in other parts of our state, and in other neighborhoods in Columbia.

As for whether I believe the county did OK in snow removal, it’s not a priority for me to judge. We are lucky. It has nothing to do with politics or favoritism. It has more to do with the people who live here.

We live in an area full of hard working people who may have moved here because it was more affordable to live here, decades ago. People who ran businesses from their homes. People who drove school buses. Or who had small service companies. They have trucks. They have all those things necessary to survive out where power outages can be long. Out where land is plentiful but you have to take care of it yourself.

Yeah, we have trucks with plows. We have tractors. We have snow throwers. We have generators. We have ATVs. Many of our neighbors provide services to other communities in Howard County. With their equipment, they also take care of the elderly, or the families with many little ones, or the newbies who haven’t quite adjusted to living here.

For me, it’s a great place to live. Reminds me of what I found in Columbia in 1975, but that we lost somewhere along the way. I am glad to see so many tell me it is alive and kicking in many places. That spirit needs to spread.

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Besides, I am really, really happy. My mailbox survived.

Cabin Fever

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Still digging out, and not done yet.

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It’s pretty bad when the pickup is almost completely covered. We got about 29″ out here. Thankfully, we live out where there are loads of people who clear snow for a living. In all sorts of vehicles.

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Out on the main road. Early Sunday morning. Right after a few large trucks with plows. The good thing about living here. Many, many people have plows on their trucks. They have ATVs with plows. They have tractors with front loaders. Once you know all your neighbors, it’s fairly simple to get out.

We spent Sunday digging out all around the house and then using the snow thrower to clear out our personal part of the driveway. The common drive had been done by two of our neighbors, while we were trying to troubleshoot the heat pump that died.

Tomorrow we find out if we have to get a replacement, or if it is something simple. Crossing our fingers.

We did get the front walk, plus the path around the side to the heat pump done.

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And just to show that life is still interesting out here, look who showed up at the bird bath.

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My friend flicker. The northern flicker. We haven’t seen him this year before this visit. As usual, the fresh melted water in the bird bath attracts some special birds.

As for all our friends struggling through the historic snowfall here in our little corner of the world. We know how it feels to be snowbound. Our absolute worst was 30+ years ago, before our community figured out how to become independent of others.

We are constantly amazed and thankful to be surrounded by our neighbors here. It does take a village, and we live in a very special one.

Ice Station Zebra

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That’s how our next door neighbor answered his phone when we called earlier this evening.

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It certainly felt that way when we opened our front door this afternoon. Trust me. Four hours later. It’s higher than that. As for the back of the house, facing east (where we usually never get slammed), here is the back wall.

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This is also worse. It is touching the six foot high light fixtures outside our kitchen and family rooms. I suppose I should be happy. The insulation properties are impressive.

It will be days before we get this snow knocked down. Add to that. A heat pump failure. The upstairs one. Thankfully, the main floor is still working. The county estimates that we will be all plowed out by Wednesday. Living on a snow emergency route means they keep trying to plow our road. It just keeps getting covered in drifts.

I may pop down and take more pictures tomorrow morning, while three of the four “heads of households” around here do the snow thrower thing and get us down to the rural route where we live. Me, I will be attempting to slowly shovel out to replenish my feeders. Where those alpha male birds are fighting for supremacy.

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It has been contentious all day. Jays vs Cardinals for domination of the feeders.

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