15 August 2017

Knocking items off our epic to-do list

Off to open a cross-border bank account today, so that we can hire a Realtor to find us a house to move ourselves and our belongings to.

I wish it were within our budget -- time and money -- to send one or both of us to St. John's for a week of reconnaissance and find a house. But we don't have a week, and we don't have the liquidity nor Canadian credit history to just up and buy a house. So we're going to rent for a while and take our sweet time to find our permanent home.

The sooner we get an address in Canada, the sooner we can firm everything up with our movers, and the sooner we'll have a firm departure date. Right now, it's nebulously "sometime mid-October," which I have to keep reminding myself is two months away.

10 August 2017

"[T]he symptoms are basically gone"

A cautionary tale about D.I.Y. tonic water in an age where we can find small-batch "artisanal" tonics and non-alcoholic homebrews at the farmers market:
I'm not saying that you need to be a food scientist or a compounding pharmacist to do things safely, but you have to understand that you're working with potentially harmful substances! Indian Calamus root, Virginia Snakeroot or tobacco - even in small amounts can have horrible and irreversible effects. Just last week, I was told about a bar that was soaking stone fruit pits in neutral grain and had no idea about cyanide toxicity.
Careful out there, folks!

Speaking of potent home-made potables, we did make a batch of Rowhouse Livin' gin this year, only we added blueberries. Brhubarb! The result is a deeper pink rather than the dusty rose that rhubarb-only usually produces. And now I feel compelled to warn people to never, ever use rhubarb leaves for anything but compost or mulch. Don't eat them. Don't feed them to your livestock or pets. They are poisonous.

You probably won't die because you probably can't physically ingest a deadly quantity of rhubarb leaves at one sitting. But even a small portion of leaves, cooked or uncooked, will make you sick enough for hospitalization.

28 July 2017

Philly bucket list: Poe house, Fednuts

The mister has put together a "bucket list" of places he wants to see, things he wants to do, and restaurants he wants to try before we leave. Today:

The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site is on 7th Street, one block north of Spring Garden. Admission is free and you can see a short biographical film before you take yourself on a self-guided tour with a laminated card (PDF). My friend Joseph is a volunteer ranger there -- he can explain to you why they close for an hour every day at noon for lunch rather than stay open the entire day. We got there about 10:00 and spent 90 minutes or so poking around the tour.

Then we got hit by the hungry stick. Right up the street is the "North Philly" (really just Northern Liberties) location of Federal Donuts. The cake-type donuts and fried chicken do live up to the hype -- this is absolutely a destination if you want to try some great Philadelphia food. For a home economics calculation, I'll try to compare it to fast-food staple Kentucky Fried Chicken. There's no straight comparison menu-to-menu, however. The closest I can get, I think, to what we tried would be something like this: We shared a 3-piece basket of Korean-style chicken, with a complimentary honey donut, or 4 items, for $10.00. (We added 2 more donuts and a coffee to our bill, for a total a little under $20.00 with tip.) KFC offers a 2-piece basket of its "Nashville Hot Chicken" with coleslaw and a biscuit, or 4 items, for $5.49. So, no, obviously you're not saving money by trying some of the best fried chicken in the U.S. rather than hitting up the KFC down the street.

As for donuts, an individual Federal Donut will run you $1.75. Dunkin Donuts charges $0.99 per piece. Again, obviously not a money-saver. However, I've written before about how a bargain can be too good to be true. What do we think of the quality of the ingredients in a $5.49 basket of chicken and sides, or a 99-cent donut, when we know what kinds of profits these companies make? (That's a double-digit rise in operating profits for KFC's Yum Brands in Q4 2016, and $50+ million quarterly for Dunkin' Donuts.) Of course, the Fednuts operators seek to profit from their work, too. But they're clearly aiming at quality, which they're not going to get if they start using cheaper chicken or cutting back on their spice blends.

Two little food review notes: Conventional wisdom is that Fednuts' coffee is amazing, but we didn't find it so. It's not bad at all; it's simply not so spectacular that you should go to Fednuts solely for the coffee. And to be honest, don't tell anyone, but I prefer yeast-raised doughnuts, Beiler's style, to cake donuts.

Anyhow, fun way to spend late morning and lunch, especially since Joseph happened to come into Fednuts himself for lunch right after we'd sat down. We got some pro-tips for visiting Grand Canyon (he also volunteers there) and had a real nice chat until he had to head back to the Poe house.

And we walked home to try to burn off at least part of one of our donuts.

26 July 2017

Should you hire an immigration lawyer? (Yes.)

Dropped the mister's first round of immigration paperwork at the post office earlier this week. To keep in touch with this blog's focus on penny-pinching, let's talk about any steps I've been taking to try to save money in this process.



I'm not sure I can recommend any.

The biggest question is probably whether one should hire a lawyer. We actually did. We had an in-person consultation and then an extended phone call with a Canadian immigration lawyer. She helped clarify my status under Bill C-37, and she gave us a road map for the process.

Since our consultations, though, it's been D.I.Y. for us. While I don't think that's the best move for everyone, I chose it for us for a few reasons:
  1. I'm a native speaker of one of the official languages of our destination country. Seems obvious, but no joke. I spent a lot of (my parents') money learning a foreign language in college, but there is no way I'd be doing this on my own if I couldn't do it in English.
  2. I'm not actually immigrating, myself. Since it's just the mister I'm seeking to bring in legally, our case is a little streamlined.
  3. I'm already a lawyer, and in a legal system very similar to Canada's. I'm in no way qualified to advise anybody else on their Canadian immigration matters (or any other Canadian legal matters). But the Canadian and U.S. systems, outside of Québec and Louisiana, evolved from the same starting point. So where I don't know the specifics, I can make a very good guess as to where I need to look to find them.
  4. To that point, Canada's immigration paradigm kind of closely follows that of the U.S. That is, there are a lot of statuses, visas, and categories on one side of the border that correspond to statuses, visas, and categories on the other side, though with different names (student visa versus study permit, for example). What don't match are the i's that must be dotted and t's that must be crossed.
  5. And so the devil is in the details -- while at the same time, I have to keep in mind the scope of the project and our overall goals. Luckily, this is pretty much the definition of the transactional lawyering I do for a living. Honestly, this project doesn't seem hugely different from my bread-and-butter work.
  6. We all know the line, though, about how a lawyer who represents herself has a fool for a client. One reason why we talked to a lawyer about my status under Bill C-37 was that I'd blown my deadline (under the old law) to file my paperwork. This week, I was about to mail off the mister's application packet when I thought, you know, maybe I should check the online instructions again, first. And I found that we were using 2 outdated forms, and we'd blown the deadline for using these older forms. By 9 days. Oops. An actual Canadian immigration lawyer would have known about the issue of the new forms and either informed us of the change or handled it as part of their work for us.
  7. The amount we're not paying the Canadian lawyer we've previously spoken to is only a little bit under the amount we'll be paying our moving company. While neither price is as high as I'd expected or feared, it's nice to sort of pay the movers with money we would otherwise have budgeted for legal services.

Good thing, since I signed the paperwork for the movers yesterday.

But that's just us. Not hiring a lawyer has worked for us, so far. A good lawyer will tell you that you should hire one yourself for something as big as immigrating to a new country. I will, too. We've balanced a bunch of factors here and made our decision. I really hope we're not being "penny wise, pound foolish," though, and I wouldn't tell anybody else to go this way.

18 July 2017

Some FAQ's I'm getting about the move

Why Canada?

Because I can. Both of my parents are immigrants to the U.S., and one is from Ontario. Thanks to that parent's foresight with paperwork when I was born, and Bill C-37 in Ottawa, I hold Canadian citizenship.

For the past few years, as the household teen approached finishing high school and starting university, I'd been thinking about my post-childraising options. Should I stay in this neighborhood, which I love? Or find some place where I can grow a garden? Stay in town? Or move to the inner suburbs? Head back to the Pacific Northwest? Since my old neighborhood in Seattle has been obliterated with mid-rise condos and upscale retail, should I look elsewhere in town? Further afield, like out in the Peninsula? Differently afield, like Chicago, where I know a few people?

Or even further afield?

I've looked at my finances, and the numbers allow it. As a Canadian citizen, I'm authorized to work as soon as I land there. With our savings and my earning potential, we shouldn't hit too many hurdles with the mister's immigration paperwork. This is a huge open door for me and the mister to walk through.

TL;DR: carpe diem.

Why St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador?

The mister and I developed a list of criteria for figuring out exactly where in Canada we wanted to spend the next (last?) large chunk of our lives. St. John's ticked more ticky-boxes than anywhere else.

The actual, specific criteria are largely personal, or political, or in any event beyond the scope of this blog.

Why blog about the move?

A friend is writing about packing up her own household and moving to Laos. She's moving herself, her spouse, and her two kids with seven suitcases. Period, end of.

She posted that entry about the suitcases almost literally while I was on the phone with a professional international moving company, making an appointment for an estimate to ship some 2 tons of my precious, precious belongings to a rock in the middle of the ocean. Though I'll never get myself down to seven suitcases -- my friend and I have pretty wildly different circumstances surrounding our moves -- I'm blogging to keep myself honest, keep my eyes on the prize, and do some mindful, intentional, and serious downsizing with this transition.

16 July 2017

Movin' out, and another transition

We've got some changes happening here at the homestead.

The household teen has finished high school, and in another month or so he'll be starting university on the other side of the continent. To get his life in order, he's downsized himself out of my place and moved out to live with his dad in South Philadelphia. Big change!

And the other big change: I'm closing up, selling out, pulling up roots, and moving to Canada. St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, to be precise.

Oh, and third? At some point between today and the last post here on the blog way back in 2015, I got hitched. So I'll be taking the mister with me to St. John's when I fly the coop.

And so I guess I'll spend some time blogging about the move between now and the big day this autumn.

I've moved about a dozen times since I turned 18, including dorm and apartment moves during my undergrad days. During these moves I've accumulated what I fondly call my "boxes of doom." These are boxes of trinkets, memorabilia, small items that nobody else wanted to keep from my grandmother's house (if you're keeping score at home, that clean-out was 2 moves and 13 years ago). Figurines from Red Rose tea boxes, a 100-year-old autograph book, unfinished books of ration stamps from the Second World War, half-filled quad-rule comp books. I have 3 bankers box-size boxes of doom now, or let's say 5 if you include the loose contents of the credenza by the kitchen, the boxes neatly stashed in my own special "out of sight, out of mind" way in my bedroom closet.

I don't like going through these boxes because honestly the only thing to do with all these items is to landfill them. That kind of really hurts my hippie heart, you know? But the items aren't any good for a museum. They don't hold any meaning to anybody else. They have no resale value, so I'd be doing my favorite charity thrift store no favors if I "donated" them.

I remember my grandmother saying she didn't like to throw things out because she feared forgetting the circumstances surrounding the things. I think I'll put myself as having maybe 20% of that when it comes to sorting through my stuff. Whatever the percentage, it ain't helping.

We got an estimate on Thursday for professional movers, and the cost would be about half of what I was anticipating I'd have to budget. The deal is calculated for a minimum weight, along the same deal as a 2-drink minimum: we pay for this minimum weight, even if what we take ends up weighing less. Which we will, because we're leaving (selling/donating/freecycling) just about all of our furniture here.

The estimate is not helping me feel motivated to open up my boxes of doom and take care of these items once and for all.

06 January 2015

Oh, those brandied blueberries

Two of my three jars of brandied blueberries are gone, served up at holiday gatherings in the past couple of weeks. Turns out the berries and the sweet canning syrup match up really nicely with a slice of banana bread or lemon cake.

Just one jar left! Debating whether I should use it soon or keep it for ice cream in the summer.

Which feels really far off at this point now that we're hitting a cold snap. Brrrrr.

05 January 2015

Flu season hitting big; what's my plan?

The flu is bad this year. It's "widespread" (as opposed to merely "regional") in Pennsylvania, and the vaccination I got a few months ago isn't precisely matched to the variant that's actually going around.

I got the flu last year, even though I'd gotten the shot; so I'm pretty well convinced that I'm doomed this year as well. And I understand that getting a mis-matched shot is supposed to reduce your risk of catching it or alleviate your symptoms if you do end up coming down with the flu. So I always, always get the shot. But, man, was I miserable about this time last year.

In anticipation of being laid low for a week again -- sometime soon -- I've stocked up on canned foods a little more than usual. Some indulgences, too, like SpaghettiOs. Back in September, I put up 7 quarts of cubed butternut squash, which are essentially a ready-to-eat food. I've also committed to keeping on top of laundry, bathroom cleaning, and other bothersome little chores, so that I won't be living in clutter-catastrophe if I have to drop them for a week.

Well, here's to hoping that the flu doesn't come to visit again this year. I've had it twice in my adult life and seriously never need to experience it again. Fingers crossed!

02 January 2015

The 2014 hoard

Every time I found a coin or a dollar bill (or even a sawbuck) on the sidewalk while I was walking around town in 2014, I brought the money home and tossed it into an old zinc-cap canning jar. Here's the hoard:

Holy cow! It's $17.48!

Here's to further good fortune in 2015!

02 September 2014

More on canning butternut squash: choosing from two different recommendations

Yesterday I made myself super happy by putting up 7 quarts of butternut squash. I followed the USDA's method, while cross-referencing with the instructions given in the Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving. And I noticed a minor difference between the two, a difference that is hopefully not as wildly shocking and controversial as the sudden, inexplicable, unbelievable announcement from Ball that you don't actually need to heat up your canning lids before applying them to your jars.

To can winter squash, you peel the vegetable, scoop out the seeds, and chop the flesh into 1-inch chunks. You drop the chunks into a stockpot, cover them with water, bring the pot to a boil, and gently cook the chunks for a couple of minutes. Then you use a slotted spoon to fill your jars and finally top off the jars with liquid, leaving 1 inch headspace.

But what liquid?! There's where USDA and Bernardin differ. USDA (2009) says to simply use the liquid that the squash cooked in. But Bernardin (2012) says to use fresh boiling water! What to do?

If you use the cooking liquid, then you'll be retaining more nutrients, particularly beta-carotene, in your jar. Now, it's not that the pre-pack cooking leaches all the beta-carotene out of the squash, since it does keep its bright orange color and the liquid is only very pale orange. But why not seek to maximize your nutrition here?

Is it a matter of hard water? If the cooking liquid started as hard water, will that give an off-taste after canning and long-term storage, which you would avoid by using fresh hard water instead? That doesn't seem to make sense. Am I missing something else instead? I don't think I am, and I don't think the issue is hard water.

So maybe it's a matter of lowering the density of the liquid in the jar, thereby reducing the risk that heat may not penetrate to the center of the product. The question could be whether the particles of squash suspended in the cooking liquid dangerously increase the packing liquid's density. But if that is the rationale, I don't agree that there's truly a risk here. The squash cubes themselves will be more dense than any liquid surrounding them. Although the jars do end up with with some shredded bits of squash in them, it's nowhere near the amount and density of particles that you'd have in jars packed with purée, which you cannot home-can because of the heat penetration problem.

In the end, I'll have to respectfully disagree with the Bernardin instructions there. I suspect that their concern is the density of the packing liquid. But I can reduce that risk by being careful not to overcook the chunks of squash before I pack them (so that they don't deteriorate into purée in the jar). And I like to try to keep as much nutrition in the jars as possible. Throwing out the cooking liquid -- that is, unless I use it as a soup base outside of the canning project -- would really be a waste.

Are the shredded squash particles in the jar on the left what Bernardin is concerned about? I think that it makes for an unattractive jar, but that there isn't enough of it to dangerously increase the density of the packing liquid here.

And P.S.: Thanks, Mom, for the birthday present of the Bernardin book!

01 September 2014

Happy butternut squash labor day!

I spent Labor Day working for the winter, putting up some butternut squash. I loved, loved, loved having jars of squash on the shelf in 2012-13, so I'm very pleased to have pulled 7 quarts out of the pressure canner early this afternoon. They're cooling on the counter now, and I think I've already heard a few of the lids pop down with their seals.

Speaking of lids, Ball appears to have changed their instructions regarding preparing lids for use. I've followed some bouncing links around the home canning blogs, and some bloggers are freaking out that the website says one thing, while the packaging on this year's deliveries of lids says another. The "new" instructions are to "[l]eave lids and bands at room temperature for easy handling," but the instructions we've been using for decades taught us to heat the lids in water, but don't boil 'em, to soften the sealing gasket compound. Ball's put a little explanation for the change at the bottom of their general instructions for water bath canning, along with a note that, yeah, dudes, chill: it'll take a while for all the old packaging to circulate off store shelves and the new packaging to appear.

Not having yet heard of this wild controversy before I geared up this morning, I heated the lids as usual for today's batch. I've seen some anecdotal reports of increased rates of seal failures when the compound isn't pre-heated. I'm not convinced that I should use the lids I have on hand, which I bought in 2013, without pre-heating them. My jury will be out until I get a pack of lids with the new instructions, I think.

More important, though, than the ridiculous brouhaha over the lid instructions is that my vegetable peeler gave up the ghost early in today's project. Since I didn't want to go shopping on Labor Day, I ended up peeling the squash with my chef's knife. A little clunky, and my knife-wielding hand will be protesting tomorrow, I'm afraid, but the results look pretty darn good.

And cheap, too! Though we splurged on organic, local squash so it was a little more spendy than I usually like, each quart jar will work out to about $3.75 (including lid and energy). Tossing the contents into the crockpot or a saucepan and then adding stuff to make it a soup -- bouillon, pasta, rice, sautéed onion, etc. -- means a $5.00 dinner for myself and the resident teenager. My favorite kind!

07 July 2014

Brandied blueberries must be water-bath canned

This weekend, I mentioned on Twitter that I was canning some brandied blueberries:

The comment prompted a pal to ask:

I responded:

And then I realized that I really, really wanted to go on and give @hellerbee a better, more complete explanation by unpacking the questions he may or may not have known he was actually asking with his tweet. So here goes . . .