Peeling the Onion

Peeling the onion.  Someone I admired (as in someone cool- they had their act together) used that phrase a long time ago. It was at EST.  Yes; I was an EST-hole.  I grew up in SoCali back in the 60s-70s. EST was big in the 70s. 

EST stood for Erhard Seminar Training.  You weren’t really “training” as much as you were purging.  You and 249 other trainee’s would meet in a hotel conference room set up with row after row of straight backed chairs.  You’d park your ass in the chair from morning to night for two consecutive weekends.  Breaks for food or bathrooms were only allowed at the discretion of the “Trainor”.  Rumors about people being tortured for hours with no food or potty breaks didn’t scare me.  OK- maybe a little. But when I was offered a new set of luggage, or the EST training for my 18th birthday, I jumped at the training.  How could I resist?

The Trainor started each day by talking about life.  Life brings hard, painful things and we don’t always get time to deal with it; we are expected to suck it up and move on.  Every insult from a kid on the playground, the time your friend turned on you.  The cheating boyfriend.  The disappointments, the losses. We just carry it around like a burden, adding layer upon layer until we are choking on the sorrow.   That’s where the onion comes in.  As you reexamine, experience and move past these ghosts from the past, you leave them behind.  Each experience is peeled off like another layer of the onion.  This leaves you lighter, relieved of the burden.  So, the Trainor talked and healed.  He’d talk of love, sorrow, disappointment, guilt, sadness, fears.  It wasn’t always easy.  Every time he got to a hard part, heads would nod.  You see- we all have this bizarre sleep signal that helps us avoid things we really don’t want to hear.Jaws went slack, snorers would snore, droolers would drool.    Then, the Trainor would casually throw out a comment about either sex or food.  In every case the whole room woulld instantly be awake.  Myself included. 

I was 18 years old, and in a room full of strangers.  We listened to the people- the brave ones who stood and shared their stories.  This went on for 15-18 hours each day.  Each story brought old memories to the surface of my mind.  Old wounds became painful again.  Old memories came back, bittersweet.  Through it all, every time someone stood to share, they spoke for me. I recognized the stories as if I’d lived them.  Who doesn’t know the pain of betrayal and loss?  We left each weekend feeling connected; like blood brothers to these other 249 people.  My soul knew theirs. 

At the end of the training I walked out the doors lighter.  I left behind most of the unresolved issues, hurts and angers.  I felt shiny clean with a new start.  

That was many years ago.  The years have been very, very.  Very good, very hard. The same as other people, I suppose.  Years where I’ve tried to relish the joy, and have been denying and absorbing the joyless moments.  The feelings of sadness, worry, pain and disappointment have been pushed to the back burner.  Now, I see that I’ve done it again.  Worse- I see it happening in children.  Not just my own.  I’ve seen kids be unspeakably mean to each other.  Their vile words just take my breath away.  I’ve seen grownups talking with kids in a way that makes my own stomach hurt.  I want to cry for them- but I see them choke back the tears and force a smile.  I can’t do this anymore.  I’ve grown accustomed to the burdens, but I don’t want my kids to carry them.  

There is no EST for them.  I’m not sure what to offer them, except my love and and guidance.  I can’t keep setting this example- I need to let go of the past and set the right example. I can’t do that here-it isn’t fair to expose the other players in this venue.  I need to vent- and scream and cry.  I need to write another blog that allows me to rant about all the bad things I’ve been pushing to the back corners of my mind.  If I can just do that, with one layer at a time, I can be free. 

I need to peel the onion.  One layer at a time.

Photo Albums: A Wedding and A Divorce

Why is it that photo albums are so deceptive?  Not as in “the camera adds 10 pounds” , although that truth is bad enough.

I mean the images of life.  In our wedding albums we look younger, but not “too young”.  The reception was at the local “yacht club”.  Great place- a big old rustic barn-like building.  Massive room with open wooden rafters, old piano that the kids would bang on until we couldn’t take the noise.  Wrap around porch and steps leading down to the pier.  The pier was unadorned by fencing, safety gaits or concerned adults.  There was a bar at one end that was always filled with people who met there regularly; chatting, smoking and watching the games on TV.

In the wedding album it’s a beautiful day, we’re wearing fancy clothes in a relaxed place.  Wedding gown and Raybans.  Happy couples dancing on the porch.  Lobster clambake and pretty tables set in a ramshackle old barn by the sea.   It looks like the kind of life I’d wish to have.

There are never any photo albums of Divorce.  Many happy photos, over the years of marriage.  It’s deceptive.  So many happy moments are caught on film (well, that was then. Now its digital).  The chronicle of various births, christenings, ballet recitals, school milestones and vacations.The ones I love the most are not those.  They are the photos of the baby being fed spaghetti by his adoring sister (before he had any teeth). Pictures of the girls when they’d decorated each other (head to toe) with colored markers. The sandy bodies.  The toothless grins.

These photos only represent half the real picture. There aren’t any that catalogue the arguments.  The frustration, disappointments.  Hurtful words.  Angry stares.  The tension that goes on for days, weeks, months until it becomes the tone of the household.

Then…it’s over.  Finito.  Ended. People offer condolences.  “I’m so sorry.  Are you okay?”.  Am I okay???  How do I tell them that I’m fine?  That it’s a relief not seeing the car in the drive when I pull in from work.  That it’s easier to shoulder the burden yourself than to risk counting on someone else?   That the tension is gone (almost). Should I be sadder?  Afraid? Ashamed?

Then I find the photo albums.  As I look at the photos of happy times, the sadness suddenly hits.  It’s a bittersweet sadness.  The family in the album looks so happy.  Was that ever really us?  There is sadness for what could have been, more than what was.  I’m sad for Grumpy, aware that my response took him by surprise.  His actions brought it on, but, he’ll have some lonely days.  He’s not the only guilty party.  I could have stopped this thing- we’ve teetered many times before.  Why now? Why not just placate him again?

Somehow, it’s just time to let it happen.  To let him go.  He gave me an ultimatum of sorts, and instead of doing xyz to prove I still could…I declined.  I’m not regretting the decision. I’m sad for what was lost, but the photo album isnt fooling me today.  If the albums were true to life, they’d show all the past.  The good days, and the bad.  Like our old minivan.  I cleaned it out one day, discovering “roadtrip cd’s” from days past, trinkets that were treasure  are now trash under the seat.  The carpet in the 3rd row is a swirl of pale yellow and robins egg blue from the paint that tipped over (thanks Home Depot paint man).  The scrapes and scratches are a testament to teenage drivers.  There’s also a big dent in the fender from the woman who lost her equilibrium and drove into me one day.  She seemed not right-  I urged her to see a doctor.  She later had a non-malignant tumor removed from her brain. I’ve kept the dent as a reminder to me.  LIfe is precious.  Cars are not.

So we’re moving on. The albums will be put away for now.  I’m sure later we’ll need to divide them, make duplicates of photos so 2 homes can commemorate the (partially depicted) good old days.  Instead of living in the  past, it’s time I live in the present.  The future will sort itself out.

I love the family, each and every one, from those pictures.  To Sue, Jen, Paula, Alan, Hylton and all the other in-laws who will be out-laws, I will always identify you as family.  You are kin to my kin, and bonds stronger than laws still apply.

Violets Can Cure the Blues

Time flies.  Every day the earth turns, each of us has only so many hours to feel the warmth of the sun before the dark descends.  It seems like the further I get in life’s journey, the fewer hours are in the sun.

Spring is finally here, and summer right around the corner.  It’s been a long, hard winter.  I’m so ready to feel the sun.  I wanted to collect dandelions yesterday. Last year I made dandelion jelly (When Life Gives You Dandelions), and it seemed like a good way to bring that spring feeling back.  I must have collected 500 flowers last year.  Yesterday…I don’t know where they went.  All those flowers I’d seen in the rain last week were gone.  Instead, I have violets. DSCF5348

Lots and lots of violets.  I love them! They spread like weeds, and probably ruin the lawn, but they are spring to me.  Lawns are overrated anyway!  Goodbye dandelions;  I’d be making violet jelly instead.

I thought about trying to convince my dear, loving children to go out and pick the flowers for me.  Wouldn’t they love to go outside and harvest flowers, stooping and bending like itinerant laborers, rather than sitting in front of a laptop? No, I didn’t really think so either.  That wouldn’t stop me from trying.  What did stop me from recruiting more help was this: See these flowers? DSCF5347

These are violets.  See how the leaves are heart-shaped, and the flowers look like someone sat on them?  These are wild flowers that are totally edible.

Now see this one?        DSCF5350    This is periwinkle.  Vinca Minor.  It has longer, narrow leaves and perfect flowers. It’s also toxic.  I don’t trust those kids to avoid the flowers that the dogs might have watered, never mind the poisonous plants!

So,  I stooped and picked, over and over until I had 8 cups of flowers.  Poured boiling water over them and set them aside.  My friend Jan came over to help.  We went out to lunch, did a litle shopping, returned home…and they had just enough time to bleed out their violetness into the water.  After straining them and squeezing out all the flower juices, I had just about the right amount (3 1/2 cups) of liquid. DSCF5355

I used the recipe from Taste of Home.  The only change I made was to mix the pectin with the sugar before mixing it into the liquid.  It seems to mix in better this way.

I added 1/2 cup of lemon juice, then 4 Tablespoons of pectin mixed with 4 cups of sugar.  That sounds like a lot of sugar, but it wasn’t as sweet as I’d expected.  After they are thoroughly mixed, heat in a stainless pot until boiling.  Boil hard for 1 minute, then process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

Here’s the end result:DSCF5391

It’s a very nice jelly.  I actually prefer it to the dandelion jelly.  Avery tasted it first, and decided that she wanted to make “violet cookies”.  We stayed up that night and made thumbprint cookies.  She brought them to school as a peace offering to the kids in her class (This was a good idea, trust me).  It got thumbs up from all the other samplers.  If you have a field of violets mixed in with your lawn, then you really should consider making this jelly.  It looks lovely, and tastes lovely.  And I believe it might have healing properties for the soul.  A cup of tea, and a toasted english muffin with a spoonful of violet jelly… if you close your eyes you can just feel the light touch of the sun again.

To the Boys at the APCC: CHEERS!

In any marriage, there are things that you might “borrow” which rightfully belong to your spouse.  Sometimes it’s a well worn shirt.  Or a jacket.  Or a hat.  Or perhaps, sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes, you might just want to steal their relatives instead.

I grew up with a few cousins, mostly older, a few younger.  We moved, they moved. In the “pre-facebook” days of the 60s and 70s, I never felt like I really knew those cousins.  Some I haven’t seen or spoken to since I was a kid.

Grumpy grew up without any first cousins.  None at all.  His father was an only child, his mother’s only sibling died young.  Really small family.  His grandmother (mother’s mother), however, came from a big family.  She left them behind in Newcastle, England.  She, and then her daughter (my mother in law), were good about keeping in touch.  Mary (my MIL) went over for a visit, and met some of her cousins and their children.  This is how Grumpy and I came to know his (2cd…3rd???) cousins in the UK.  And I stole them.

I didn’t set out to steal them.  It started out with a visit from Hylton and his (new) bride Yve. They were great- the kind of people you have fun with right off.  Then we stayed in touch through FB.  This is where I met Allen.  Allen and Hylton are brothers; and also very competitive, in a friendly way (ahem- right?).

Somehow or other, we started having intercontinental challenges.Kelly's yorky pudd I’m not sure who started it, or even what the first one was.  It might have been the Yorkshire pudding challenge.  This one was the entry from Kelly, Allen’s daughter who lives down in Australia.  My own entry was not so pretty.  There was also the “Toad in the Hole” contest.  This is basically a nice yorky pudd with sausages in the middle. toad in hole

This here is the Toad in the Hole that I made.  The toads (sausages) were burnt nearly to a crisp!  It’s a sad thing compared to Kelly’s- all high here/ flat there, but  it does pull off a neat height of 5 inches on the high corners(that’s more than 10cm there Kell!).

marrsy's mud pieThen, there was the Mud Pie.  We used a recipe from the Hairy Biker’s.  Know of them?  Those guys can really cook! This is Allen’s entry.  

Here is a link to the official recipe for Mississippi Mud Pie from the Hairy Bikers Mississippi Adventure.  It’s not like the ice cream one.  It’s a decadent, rich, chocolaty treat.mud pie 5

My own entry into the contest is pictured here, but I’m clearly not going to win the award for best photo!  Not sure what the problem was that day- must have been the camera, surely!

Somewhere along the way I really started looking forward to these food challenges.  In between those times we found plenty to communicate about, getting to know each other as well as sharing jokes.  I think Allen shares my fondness for jokes.  I love a good laugh- life is just to precious to take seriously! Allen is a regular attendee at “Church on Sunday“.   Click on the link there to read about it in his own words at Wibbleblog.com.  On Sunday’s the guys get together at the Annfield Plain Cricket Club to watch the games.  There’s probably a great deal of cricket (or football) cheering going on, but there is a bit of pint pulling in the club on a Sunday as well.    The boys at the club have been bringing in a variety of foods (at one time Thursday was “cheese night”), following the goings on with the Hairy Bikers and the international foodie competitions among the cousins as well.  I’m not sure they are all on Allen’s side, either! ;-)

Recently I was made an honorary member of the Annfield Plain Cricket Club.  Me.  Not Grumpy.DSCF2070  And I couldn’t be happier.  In fact, just today I received a gift from Allen: a memorial cup from the APCC centennial.    I’m absolutely tickled pink!  I’d like nothing more than to hop a plane out there and join them on a Sunday.  I know less than nothing about cricket, but I’ll cheer for Newcastle United, or Sunderland (If they’re ever the underdogs) and I’ll bring my cup. I know it’s meant for tea- but it’s an official cup lads! It won’t hold a pint all at once, but it seems to have a promise of 2000 refills stated in the handle.  It may take me a while to get through soDSCF2073 DSCF2077 DSCF2081many, but I’ll have a great time coming to know you all in person while I’m getting there!  Thanks so much Allen and you fellas, for making me a part of the club and a fine gift of the cup.  I’m aware it’s a limited edition (and commemorative of the championship) and I’ll treasure it.  Thank you for the cup, and the honor.

Cheers Boys! XXX

But most of all…. I miss my FEET!

I never, ever, ever want to be a teenager again.  This is absolute.  It’s painful enough watching my kids going through it now.  Sometimes, however, I do miss certain things.  We were “free-range” back then.  Our mother wouldn’t have bothered with a GPS tracker, “outside” was the only destination.  She didn’t care to know where we really went, as long as we  went out.

I don’t miss the hard wired phones, or the pre-ATM world where your whole weekend could be ruined if you failed to get to the bank before closing.  I really don’t miss the bell bottoms, or looking good in bikinis, or those heinous Earth shoes.

One thing I do miss, however, were my pre-motherhood feet.  Do you know what happens to your feet when you are pregnant?  Your body makes a hormone called “Relaxin” that makes your muscles, joints and ligaments loosen up.   If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t walk barefoot on the beach while pregnant.  It seemed like such a good idea at the time.  Healthy and serene as I strolled mile after mile.  That was on my days off.  At work I was on my feet and walking most of the day.  Sooo…after 4 kids, and countless miles of walking while that chemical was loosening up my pins, I’ve lost the feet of my youth.  I never had Cinderella pins, mind, but still…at least I had decent arches!  I’ve had to move away from those 8-1/2 narrows (that I thought were massive at the time).  So, I’ll just say it….I have huge, flat feet.  They’ve gained a full size, lost there arch and are now well into the “average” width.   Now I’m shopping at that other end of the shoe aisle…the one which is mostly frequented by majestic giantesses, Fiona (Mrs. Shrek) and transvestites.

I miss pretty shoes.  They still sell them, and I still buy them, but it doesn’t feel the same wearing them on ogre feet.  Now Syd, who still fluctuates between tomboy and princess, has been getting into shoes.  She has nice medium sized feet.  The girls at the mani-pedi salon never whisper in their home language when they see her feet in the tub.   She just bought a pair of basic pumps, and pimped them out in comic books.  I’m so jealous.  These are so cute, and cool, and fun.  And my feet are not.  I really miss having my young feet.  Maybe, just maybe, she’ll pimp me some clogs.  Do you hear me, Syd???DSCF2042DSCF2041DSCF2039DSCF2042Do you, Syd???DSCF2037

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“Severe Weather Alerts”- Who Has Time For THAT???!!!

Every year we hear these dramatic predictions.  Accuweather.com is talking about 18-24 inches of snow, with the “possibility of a blizzard”.  Some people are even talking in terms of the “great blizzard of ’78”.  Grumpy claims it’s going to be a whole lot about nothing again.  Who knows?

In the meantime, we prepare.  These storm predictions are the “black Friday”  of grocery stores.  All over New England, people scamper off to fill their home with food, water, candles and batteries “just in case”.

I know we could survive for  weeks on what we already have here.  Months, even.  But… I am leaving early tomorrow morning for a 12 hour work shift.  I know they’ll be fine, but, I still feel  like I need to make sure that the kids and Grumpy are fine in my absence.  So I went, like a lemming, to prepare. 

We have a huge, shiny new store in the next town over.  market basketIt was packed.  About 4,000 people pushing carriages all over the store.  I had no idea what to buy.  I just wandered up and down the aisles.  Usually behind old people.  I mean “tales from the crypt” old.  I could hear the clock ticking my life away.  I had to get something and get out.  Then, I got this great idea to roast a turkey.  It would stay fresh for them over the weekend, right?  If we lose power, they can always store it in the porch back-up refrigeration room.  Lucky for me- they had 2 fresh turkeys left.  It was 2pm, but if I hurried home I could get it into the oven and done by about 5:30; in time for dinner.  Perfect!

Well, by the time I got home it was 2:30.  Maybe if I cook it unstuffed it will be done in time. Then, there were dirty dishes in the dishwasher.  Can’t rinse a turkey with dishes there- so I had to put them into the dishwasher…which was, of course, filled with clean dishes.  So, putting away the dishes when the phone rang.  Run to my desk- it’s a robo-call from the school superintendent announcing that school is cancelled for tomorrow.  As soon as I answered the phone, though, I forgot what I was doing.  I started checking out Facebook.  And email…OMG! It’s almost 4 o’clock!  Back to the dishwasher.  Finished unloading, then reloading.  Chopping the onions, carrots, celery to put under the turkey in the roaster.  Finally got that bird washed, seasoned (no time to brine it) and into that oven.  At 4:49pm.

So now- I just have to make the stuffing, because what’s a turkey without stuffing? Oh- and I have to figure out what to do for dinner.  Because that bird isn’t going to be done for a long time.  Seriously- who has time for this???

Whoville at our house is all about the Doctor, not the Grinch!

We’ve been closet fans of Dr. Who for years now.  At first there was the old series; they were on late at night.  Some were on a par with the old Star Trek in terms of quality, others were a bit better (or much worse).  Then, it got real.

There was a time (as in about 1998-2002) where I seemed to spend a great deal of time breastfeeding.  I love my kids, but you can only maintain eye contact with an infant for so long.  I’d either be curled up with a book in one hand, or watching TV. Every afternoon I’d watch Ground Force with Alan TitchmarshCharlie Dimmock and Tommy Walsh (I don’t care how hokey it was Allen; I really loved that show!). They’d take over someone’s garden and completely renovate it in 30 minutes.  Well, 30 minutes of TV time.  It actually happened in one weekend (these programs were the bane of Grumpy’s existence.  I was always inspired to take on new projects which we (he) could never seem to complete in the allotted time).   I often stalled and watched the next program (becoming a fan of Susannah and Trinny).  Then they started showing ads for a TV movie about Dr. Who.  It looked like a better version of the old series.  I made a point of watching when it came on the TV, and I was hooked.  I waited for the next TV movie, or hopefully a series…and waited…and waited…

Finally, in ’05 (or was it ’06?), it happened. A completely new series.  Christopher Eccleston was the best doctor ever.  Until David Tenant.  David was crazy, and seemed to be the perfect Doctor.  Then….along comes Matt Smith. I was gradually getting to like the Matt Smith character.  He’s no Eccleston, never mind Tenant, but the 2012 Christmas episode, The Snowmen ,  finally won me over.  And, as much as I liked the other characters (Captain Jack Harkness, Rose, Amy Pond and Rory), the new characters are even better.  Madame Vestra, an alien lizard-woman and her wife Jenny, a potato headed creature named Strax and the Doctor’s new companion: Clara Oswin Osgood.  She’s a crazy, brave human who has died twice already, but comes back again to be his companion.  Clara is the best- I’m really looking forward to this season.  Actually, the whole family is; we’re all huge Whovians.

So, guess who else is a fan?  Our dear cousin Allen.  He’s a big collector of Daleks,  These are the alien robot creatures that look like a salt shaker. dalek snowman So, when his brother, our other dear cousin, Hylton suggested a snowman competition, I knew we had to make one of the Who snowmen.  Allen didn’t make a who-related snowman, ,but did send along this photo of a snow-dalek (even before he saw our entry).

I will say, that we were somewhat challenged for time and materials.  doctorwho_photo_snowmen_01_webAfter a few days of single digit weather, it suddenly warmed enough to have slushy downfall that melted most of our snow.  So….here’s one of the actual snowmen from the Christmas episode:

I know- really creepy! DSCF1961 And here is the (not so scary) version that PJ, Syd and I built
Well, he’s not as close a resemblance as I’d hoped, but he’ll do!

Actually, If I could have I’d have made a Tardis.  tardis-doctor-who-new-hd-wallpaperThat’s the phone booth that’s “bigger on the inside” that the doctor travels in. It’s possibly my favorite thing from the show.

We have a cardboard standup of the Tardis in the kids gameroom, because it’s neutral territory and they all wanted to claim ownership.  There are a lot of very cool tardis and dalek items for sale now.

There is also a few do-it-your-selfer’s who’ve come up with some great ideas.  This one is by Greg Kumparek- and he’s my hero.  Check out “The Augmented Reality TARDIS- It’s Bigger On The Inside!

And Maybe it’s Time to Take Down Those Lights

Yes, we still have those lights up.  And the garlands.  And those nutcrackers.christmas 2012
I’m just not ready to say goodbye. Or, maybe, we’re not ready to head out into the arctic tundra and take it all down.  Yeah, maybe that’s it.

Well, it’s time to put Christmas to bed.  It’s my favorite time of the year, but it’s really over.  I never did write about our big day.  We have the outlaws (aka Grumpy’s side of the family- mine is spread out so far we don’t get to see each other) over on Christmas Eve. Usually I take a day off before the Eve to start preparing.  Then they all come over and we have a big sit-down dinner.  Always a bit late.  If I say we are eating at 4, we eat at 5. Or 6.  Always works out that way.  Partly the cook- she (that’s me) tends to get distracted with cooking, the comings and goings of the Mass attenders, the wine, and conversation (last year even a skype with our cheeky cousins in Durham, UK).

This year  I had to work on the eve until 3:30.  That meant getting home at 4:30.  Dinner at 6.  Serious prep over the weekend.  All the desserts ready to go by Sunday evening.  Grumpy had to start the roast( which he did well).  Veggies prepped and/or quick and easy. It was a busy weekend- but it was the best Christmas! The desserts you see below are: (individual) strawberry cheesecakes, profiteroles (Bailey made these!), turtle cheesecakes, a Bain Marie filled with ice creams,banana caramel cream pies, chocolate-coconut custard pies ( just like at Ted’s Bakery in Hawaii) salted-caramel filled brownies, a vanilla cake (make by Bailey) and some gingerbread men. In the background is also the gingerbread house village.

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Below is a better view of the gingerbread house village. I have 5 nephews, four children of my own and we had Bailey’s family (4 more kids) joining us for dessert. There are a couple more houses on standby outside the pic.

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Those houses aren’t just for the kids- they are for all of us.  The adults may not be decorating them (or then again, some do) but they all benefit from the time those kids spend occupied at the table! 
DSCF1816Grumpy ends the evening by putting on a Santa suit and warning the kids that they’d better be asleep in their beds when he gets there “or else!”.  Grumpy’s sister Sue looks suitably worried- not!
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At the end of the night I found this lovely creation by Avery.  I can just picture her, sitting there surrounded by her cousins, expressing herself on confectionery canvas.  I just love her.

 

DSCF1877So that’s it- Christmas is officially wrapped up.  Time for me to move on.  Maybe we’ll take down those nutcrackers.  Or, maybe we’ll do as my friend Rosie suggested: cover them in  red garlands and hearts for now.   Then green shirts and shamrocks.  Then….. ;-) or not!

 

Procrastination is my Super Power

diarySo it’s been quite a while since I wrote anything.  This blog, well the whole idea came about because of my failure to write in the first place. 

 

When I was waiting for #4 to arrive, I realized that I hadn’t written anything down in #3’s “baby book”.  In fact, it had been about 4 years since I’d put anything into #2’s either.  We knew that #4 would be our last; unless we came  upon a dumpster baby or found one on our doorstep- in that case we’d be “finders-keepers”.  We actually talked about it in the same way that other people talk about winning the lottery.  But I digress….

So anyway, I bought this really lovely book.  I thought that I’d use it to keep track of all the amazing and (HA!) “unforgetable” stories about the kids.  What you said/ate/did first.  You know- the stuff we really make up years later when you can’t remember any of it? Yeah, that. 

So I wrote in it at first.  A few pages, actually.  Then I put it away someplace safe.  A few months later, I stumbled upon again and added a few more pages.  It went on that way, but even when I knew where it was I procrastinated.  I’d do that after I did “this”.  Finally, when #4 was 11 years old I picked it up to realize that in almost 12 years I’d only written 15 pages.  Really sad!  I read those pages are was remided of things I had totally forgotten. 

It makes me realize that I have no memory of many other things that I probably forgot to write.  This stuff won’t matter to anyone but them, but when my parents both died I felt sad about the loss of those stories.  It’s so important to have people who know the story of your life.  I wanted my kids to have those stories.  Doing it online seemed like the perfect answer.  I’m always online anyway- it allows me to procrastinate when I should be doing housework.  Or finishing all those projects.

Then there is “the cookbook”.  Syd (#2), doesn’t cook at all.  She has laid claim to my old, tattered and stained copy of Jim Fober’s baking book, as well as all those recipes I’ve written on the inside cover, blank pages and finally jammed on sticky notes all over the place.  I thought that if I put some of their favorite recipes  they would all have them forever and ever.

And surely, since I was doing it online, I would never put it off.  Why procrastinate when it’s what you do to avoid doing what you should be doing? 

Well, why indeed?  Why put off doing something you actually like?  Because procrastination is just my thing.  I put off getting up in the morning.  I put off chores and hobbies.  I put off going to the bathroom until the commercial~ even though I could just pause the program because it’s taped!  And you know I put off going to sleep.  Somehow the days just go by, and before you know it a whole month has gone by. 

Well, I’m back.  And I’ll surely procrastinate again.  But first I’ll stop by tomorrow and write about Christmas.  And perhaps a bit about snowmen.  Unless I put it off.  :-)

 

It’s a Wonderful Life, Dammit!

Well, Christmas has come and gone…and I didn’t watch the movie.  I really love Christmas.  I have always adored Jimmy Stewart.  That movie…it just pisses me off. 

I’ve watched all the movies over the years.  I love Miracle on 34th Street.  It just gets me every time I see little Natalie Woods running into the house where Santa left his walking stick.  Seeing Santa pick the bubble gum scraps out of his beard too.  I love the old Bing Crosby movies, and White Christmas is a favorite.  Why is it that I can’t stand “It’s a Wonderful Life”?

I think that it’s because of Jimmy.  He’s been in so many wonderful movies, and played such a variety of characters.  The “dream Dad” of my childhood. Jimmy in the early days, when he played characters who were nice.  I liked that Jimmy played men who were kind, appreciative and gentle.  It’s the high water mark that he created.  I never wanted him to be anything else.

The first time I watched this movie it was so disappointing.  It took a couple of viewings before I realized what was wrong.  By then, I was angry.  Bedford Falls is a nice place. Who was this kid who couldn’t see that; who couldn’t wait to shake the dust off his feet and leave everyone behind?  When it didn’t work out, he was frustrated at not getting that to which he was entitled.  He has to stay behind and run the bank.  Let me tell you, most people wouldn’t whine about being left a business of any kind.  Better a “building and loan” company that driving a honey wagon!  Then he finally gets the girl- the one he’s been Jonesing for all these years while his “buddy” has been dating her.  They renovate a big old house and fill it with these great kids.  He’s the big man around town.  The bank president with a heart.  Helping others… but when the stuff hits the fan he crumbles like a day old donut.  Yells at that poor old drunk uncle.  Yells at his kids (yeah- that hurt to watch every time).  Goes out and spends money he can’t afford getting shit faced drunk because he’s feeling sorry for himself.  It takes a brush with death and a devine visitation to make him realize that his family is really worth having.  You know what?  Not cool.  If I was Mary I’d be royally pissed.  Not just “spit in his coffee pissed”.  More like “wait for him to brush his teeth and ask if that toothbrush tastes funny-cause I cleaned the toilet with it” pissed.  I really don’t like you, George Bailey.  And each year I resist watching the movie.  This year, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t seen a single Christmas movie.  And that makes me sad.  I need to spend some time curled up on the couch with my family.  I need to watch all those old movies.  Christmas is gone, but not quite.  We won’t take the tree down until Epiphany.  I’m working a lot this week, but I think we can find some time for Bing, and Natalie; for Rudolph and Frosty, A Christmas Story, A Christmas Carol, A Charlie Brown Christmas…and maybe even Jimmy.  I know he’s not really George Bailey.  He’s not just me dad-hero, or an actor.  He was a real life dad who probably had his good days and bad.  I guess it’s time for me to forgive you, Jimmy. 

from didyouseethatone.com

from didyouseethatone.com

Sometimes It’s Better To Be Lucky Than Good…

I had a buddy at work who said this all the time.  He was (and is) an anesthesiologist.  Sometimes he’d look at a patient and think “there is no way this epidural is going to happen” and in spite of everything it would just slide right in.  Lucky!

Parenting involves a lot of luck.  People who don’t have kids know all the right moves.  Let me tell you- “all the right moves” work just fine…when you’re lucky.  When you try the right moves on a kid who doesn’t like most foods…you learn quickly that you don’t know jack.  When you are lucky enough to get an eater…that is the best!  And I really believe that luck is what makes the difference.

My girls were eaters.  I was lucky there.  Syd took food seriously.  Her first real (solid) food was an avocado-swiss melt on sourdough bread.  I hadn’t planned this.  We were having lunch at The Black Dog on Martha’s Vineyard and she was just sitting there, Jonesing for my lunch.  She learned to love food.  She enjoyed the rituals of eating and taught me those rituals as well.  She’d put her face up to mine, grab my cheeks and order  “Mumma say ‘Would you like a snack now, dear?’! “.  Never “can I have; may I have or I’d like”.  Always taking me by the face and instructing me; feeding me my lines.

Avery was not an eater at first.  She didn’t want solid food at all and would vomit even the tiniest bite.  When she was 9 months old we were in a fancy hotel dining room (another story), trying not to horrify the people while we dined with 3 kids.  The hostess (aka: some crazy baby-switching gypsy lady) scooped up our Avery and wandered off to the kitchen with her.  My ‘mom alarm’ went off, but I tried to remain calm.  Then the woman brought back another baby.  This one looked just like ours, dark brown curls and a Betty Boop face.  This one, however, was eating.  She was sucking down a piece of melba toast slathered with goose liver pate’.  Like a champ.  This changeling went on to try anything and everything she was offered.  Loved mushrooms, leeks, garlic.  Loved food. I got really lucky with that girl, changeling or not!

My boys, however, were not adventurous eaters.  Matt went off to college with a repertoire of about 6 foods.  He wouldn’t eat sauces.  He ate pizza plain; just dough and cheese.  Pasta was plain with butter.  No BBQ.  No chinese food.  No kidding.  I think he ran into that crazy baby-switching gypsy lady while in college.  Another alien child returned from Maryland claiming to be my first-born.  He not only ate things like lentil stew, he knew how to cook them!  I was on to him right away.  This vegetable eating, sauteing, cheerful person is not the same boy we sent off to college.  I know enough not to complain when I am, in fact, lucky.

PJ, my baby, is a fairly good eater all things considered.  His first food was spaghetti, fed to him with love (by Avery) at the age of 2 months.  She couldn’t wait to feed him and would do so anytime you turned your back.  He preferred bland foods but gradually started to try new things.  Once he tried a new food, he usually liked it.  One food he would never eat, no matter how many times he tried it, was yogurt.  We tried the organic frufru baby yogurts.  We tried the crappy candy flavored stick yogurts.  Nothing doing- he wouldn’t eat it.   Until last week…when I got luckyDSCF1738 I made some blueberry yogurt and it was sitting  in the fridge.  PJ was doing his usual fridge inventory, and asked what the “purple stuff” was.  I said “yogurt”.  Then I added “it’s blueberry pie flavored”.  I don’t know what came over me.  I knew that boy loved blueberry pie.  He grabbed a jar, stirred it up, put a spoonful in his mouth and…smiled!  He loved it.  Since then he and Grumpy are eating it up faster than I can make it.  And I still feel lucky!

Blueberry Pie Yogurt…first the yogurt…

I’ve been making yogurt for Grumpy for a few weeks now.  It was easier than I’d expected.  Since our milk needs fluctuate without warning, it was a good way to use up some milk.  Now I “use” about a gallon a week making yogurt.  First – the skim or fat-free milk makes better yogurt.  I have no idea why, but I’ve tried them all and it’s true.

Pour all the milk into a large pot and heat to 115f (***if you use raw milk just heat until warm -not hot- bath temperature).   Now add some plain yogurt with live cultures.  Any good yogurt with at least 3 types of bacterial cultures.  Stir in 2 Tablespoons for every 1/2 gallon of milk.  After the first batch you can save some of your own yogurt to add to the next batch.  Stir it in thoroughly.  Now it needs to rest in a warm place to become yogurt.DSCF1757 If you have a gas oven with a constant pilot light it may be warm enough.  I use my dehydrater.  The dehydrater is usually about 130 degrees, which is a little too warm.  Through trial and error, I’ve learned that a canning lid under the top of the dehydrater raises it enough that it’s the perfect temperature.  The yogurt will be solid within 4-6 hours.  You can keep “growing” it for longer.  I like to leave it for about 8 hours to give it a tangy flavor.

Now you can use it like this, or thicken it to a greek yogurt consistency. I line a colander with a tea towel (you can also use an old clean Tshirt) and scoop all the yogurt into the towel. Place the colander over a tall bowl and store in a cold porch (here) or your fridge to drain. DSCF1762 After a few hours I pour off the liquid, put the yogurt into the bowl and whip with a hand mixer to a smooth, creamy yogurt.  Now I put it into jars with whatever fruit topping we have.  In this case…

Blueberry PieTopping 

In a medium saucepan I heated 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water, stirring until sugar was dissolved.  I added in 2 cups of frozen wild blueberries and 1/2 tsp cinnamon.
Continue stirring for just a few minutes, mashing some of the blueberries into the pan to release the juice.  That’s it! Tastes like fresh pie filling.

DSCF1742

Barm Brack: American Style

Barm Brack is an Irish bread with dried fruits, soaked in tea, inside the batter.  I was challenged to bake this  (see here) in Barm Brack…Challenge Accepted, by my cousin (via Grumpy) Allen of Durham, England.

The recipe he used was this one Here, from Allrecipes.co.UK .  Here is his offering:

Look! Allen has a dalek cookie jar in the background!

Look! Allen has a dalek cookie jar in the background!

It looks terrific, but I like to use what I have on hand, and chopped candied citron was not in the pantry! DSCF1746 I made a nice big mug of really great tea (Yes, Allen, we do have really great tea here! This is Constant Comment by Bigelow.  It’s the perfect tea for this operation-or so  I think ;-) ).  The dried fruit options included raisins (sultanas), applis, strawberries, bananas and cherries.  I just couldn’t picture strawberries and bananas in this recipe, so raisins, apples and cherries it was.   They soaked for 2 hours (a lot less than the “overnight” called for) in the recipe.  I hope it will be okay…..

So the original recipe calls for 8oz light brown sugar.  From what I could find that would be just a bit over a cup (7oz= 1 cup).  I used about 2 tablespoons of low sugar marmalade, and decided to try with about 3/4 cup brown sugar (this was just perfect).  After draining off most of the tea, I added the brown sugar and marmalade, then stirred it all together.

The recipe also called for 5oz of self rising flour.  The 5oz is about a cup in US measure.DSCF1750  I didn’t have self rising flour, so substituted one cup flour and 1 tsp baking soda. After stirring all that together, I had a nice thick batter.  It was rich, sweet and tasted of tea. Not bad!  I baked it at 325f for an hour and came up with… (tadaaa!)…

This is delicious! DSCF1755 Very moist, thick with plumped up fruits and a hint of tea.  Grumpy says it’s more than “a hint”, but he really loves tea so this was a good flavor for him.

I’m not sure how this version shapes up against our UK cousins, but we’re happy with the Bram Brack and will definitely be making it again.   What do you say Allen dear??? (XX ).DSCF1756

Barm Brack…Challenge Accepted!

When you marry, for better or for worse, you get a whole new family.  I knew that my Grumpy had 3 sisters.  All three went on to marry and through them I inherited additional brothers/sister-in-law.  The surprise gift was the family overseas.  He has “distant” cousins living in Durham, England and thereabouts.  Mainly I’ve come to know two brothers: Hylton and Allen.  They are roughly my own age (give or take).  Hylton is a great guy.  Loves his Yve, dogs, travel, and a good Stella.  Great fella to travel with; he’s been everywhere.  I don’t suspect he’s the primary cook in the house, but he and Allen have a brotherly love of competition.  That’s where Allen comes in. Allen is forever coming up with cooking “challenges” in which we can all compete.  Hylton, usually unable to refuse a challenge, works his tail off in these trials.  Allen is a rascal.  He’s tamed a bit over the years, I suspect.  He and his bride Susan have raised 3 girls who dote on them and share their love for good, old fashioned rock music (the stuff we grew up with). Allen isn’t a professional cook.  He’s actually an officer for Her Majesty’s Prison Service.   He’s also all about cricket.   And Dr Who (we have this in common).  He probably has dozens of other hobbies, but these are big.  He writes once in a while about life at his blog (www.wibbleblog.com).  One of my favorite posts is Church on Sunday , where he writes about Sundays with his “boys” at the local Cricket Club.  These men, all cricketers, drink and talk about all manner of things, including food.  Sometimes the boys of the Cricket Club get involved in these challenges.  We’ve had some memorable ones over the past couple of years.  One was a yorkshire pudding challenge.

Not a bad offering!

Not a bad offering!

Then, there was the “Toad in the Hole”

The sausages were overdone, but good marks for height!

The sausages were overdone, but good marks for height!

Here is the

Here is the “Hairy Bikers” rendition of Mud Pie

It’s been a lot of fun.  He’s challenged me to learn knew things, and we have other cousins, family and friends participating in 3 continents no less!

So now Allen has challenged me to bake a Barm Brack.  Stand aside Clyde, this girl is stepping up to the challenge!

I’ll let you know how it goes….after I find out what Barm Brack is! ;-)

 

 

 

“What’s in a Name…

That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Have you ever been in a name-horror situation?  So… a friend/family member is expecting a baby.  Whether or not they know the gender, they usually have spent some time pondering a name.

Image by Thorina Rose

Or several.  Where they reveal to you that name, which after weeks or months of serious debate (sans cocktails), has finally been chosen?  And all you can say is “WHAT the…”.

I don’t mean the tired, name of the year or decade thing.  These people who choose the name “most often” used are understandable.  Lemmings, maybe, but I get it.  I don’t mean those who don’t know any better, and christen their daughter with a stripper name (what? You think Bambi Rose is going to Med School?).  I don’t even mean the “made up name that we’ll claim is from our ancestral homeland” BS.  I’m talking about the people who actually come up with something so bad that you can’t wait to tell someone else about the whopper.

I hear them all the time.   I work in Labor and Delivery, where people have usually defined that absolute “best” name after months of deliberation.

This weeks best bloopers?

I had a couple who decided on Lenora.  Or Leonora.   Until I asked, however, they didn’t know that they weren’t on the same page with the spelling.  Last I heard, they were still duking it out.

One patient told me they had narrowed it down to “either Sarah”…a good, old fashioned (if lemming) name…or “Eunice”.  Yep.  I looked her right in the eye and said… “I just Love Eunice”.

The best one, though, was from a patient that I barely met.  The other nurse told me what their choice was….I had to go in and verify it for myself.  It’s okay- I was discrete.  I brought in a meal tray and made a bit of small talk.  Then they told me that, yes indeed, they knew what they were having (a boy).  And, yes, they had a name all picked out.  First choice for the name of the week goes to:…..

Megatron!

That’s right folks!   I couldn’t wait to share it with you. And thank you to that couple.  In the middle of a busy, stressful day, you gave us nurses quite a chuckle.  Maybe these crazy names aren’t such a bad idea!

Go Big or Go Home? I’ll Go Home!

Some people obsess about having the biggest, thinking it’s the best.  I went in a different direction for Thanksgiving this year.  We did have one big long table; with 17 people you kind of need that.  We also had one big turkey, about 19 pounds or so.  But for desserts…we went small and smaller, all the way.

I got an idea in my head about making individual pies.  My Grumpy, and our son PJ, love those nasty little pies that come in a box.  The ones that taste like they were shipped in from another continent.  Seeing them eat those things is just insulting.  I decided to make some of those things, but make them right.  I would make a big dessert table, where all the desserts were single serving sized.  It would be a “serve yourself” dessert buffet.

First I made a trip to the local “Savers” store, kind of like a giant thrift store.  I picked up dozens of little second-hand dishes for baking pies.  I had already canned a few pie fillings (apple, peach and green-tomato-mincemeat) as well as some canned pumpkin chunks.  I found a recipe for Banana-Caramel-Vanilla-Cream pie.  It looked amazing- and it was worth the effort.  It was about a week before Thanksgiving, and  I had some extra cream in the fridge. I made a batch of  sea-salt caramel and cooked it just a bit less than usual (recipe here).  I cooked it to the soft ball stage, then put it into jars to save for the desserts.  If you do this, trust me, don’t put “caramel” on the jars.  Label them as “prune sauce” and no one will touch them.  Anyway…the big easy on this thing is that the fillings were little or no effort, and you can do it all in advance of the big day.

The day before turkey day I made 3 separate batches of pie dough.  I used my favorite recipe (here) for dough.  After chilling, I rolled it out and cut it with an empty oatmeal box.  Apple and mincemeat were scooped straight from the jar, covered and baked.

These are the apple pies here….see those little things scattered around? Extra pie dough.  I cut it into “leaves” for fun.

 
And here are some of the

“green-tomato-mincemeat” pies.

This mincemeat is really different: green tomatoes, apples, oranges, lemons, dried cranberries, brown sugar and spices.  Yum!

 

Then, I whipped up some pumpkin chunks in the food processor.  I have to admit, I don’t know exactly what I added.  I think there was brown sugar, cinnamon, ground allspice and a pinch of nutmeg.  I added eggs, poured it all into a saucepan and I cooked it for about 5 minutes until it was shiny.  I added cream and butter, brought it almost to a boil. Then I added vanilla, poured it into the shells and baked it at 375f until it looked done.   This was the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had.

The “banana” pie was simple. I prebaked the crust, placed sliced bananas on that.  Then, I poured a layer of the sea-salt caramel over the bananas.  I made a nice vanilla pudding that I found on here on “Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures”.  That was layered over the caramel, then the whole thing was topped by whipped cream. You can see a couple of them in the upper right corner of this photo- that was before the whipped cream.  This was a real surprise dessert- much better than I expected.

For the cheesecake loving crowd I made individual NY cheesecakes in muffin papers, and covered each one with a layer of pureed strawberries.  These were a huge hit with the Schmidt’s.

 

 

Finally, with all that extra caramel left over, I decided to make some caramel apples for all the kids.

 

Then, I decided I’d better make enough so the “big kids” would have one too.  Kids like Grumpy, as well as the little-uns.

There were some for those people who actually prefer not to eat nuts (I just don’t get it…)

 

 

So…that was the best Thanksgiving ever, and the dessert table was what made it fun for me.  I’ll definitely be making individual desserts again at Christmas.  I’m not sure what I’ll make yet, but I’m already looking forward to the planning!

50 Ways to Lose Your Pumpkin (part 2)….Can it Baby!

Canning pumpkins is a new venture for me.  We had plenty to work with, as I mentioned in “50 Ways…part 1“.  We kind of go overboard with some of the holidays.  That’s one of the things I love about Grumpy; he doesn’t hesitate to go overboard when it comes to holidays for the kids.  This is a photo of the early preparations.  Grumpy made those tombstones for me out of plywood and scrap lumber.  They’ve been holding up about 5 years now.  There is a lot of bloody looking stuff that gets added as the day goes on, and light up creatures in the trees and upper windows, “bats” flying in the sky (a light effect), fog machine, scary noises and (my favorite) we actually have a real creepy old burial ground across the street!  Halloween central- woohoo!  I’m not sure if it’s the burial ground or not, but we get slaughtered with crowds of kids here!

But back to pumpkins…..  So I managed to save one perfect sugar pumpkin to can this year.  These are the kind you want for pies and other baked goods.  Nice strong flavor, almost sweet and not grainy.  Pumpkin can only be safely canned in a pressure canner, and it must be in chunks.  Once you puree it the density is too great for canning, and you run the risk of not killing all the anaerobic bacteria (and you can get botulism!!! ).  Start by putting a kettle of water on to boil (or two); then start sectioning your pumpkin with a very sturdy knife.  Clean it out thoroughly, and scrape the stringy part out of the inside.  It’s easier to peel if it’s in strips like this photo.  (Okay- you caught me; that is a photo of a Jack O’Lantern type pumpkin.  The same principal applies.  I just didn’t get a photo of my sugar pumpkin in this state).  After it’s peeled, chop it into roughly 1 1/2- 2 inch pieces.

Next, put your pumpkin into a large stainless steel pot.  I usually use an 8 qt dutch oven.  This is not that one, and it’s not even stainless steel.  That pan was busy and I was lazy.  Carry on.  Now cover the chunks with the boiling water, heat on high, bring to a boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes.  While this is happening, check to make sure your jars are clean.  That’s all- you do not need to sterilize them!  They get totally sterile in the pressure canner.

Strain out the pumpkin and place in to jars (like the photo).  Fill loosely to about 1 inch from top.  When you’ve filled all the jars, pour more boiling water into them to about 1 inch from the top.  The pumpkin will settle some.  Use a chopstick or plastic tool to swirl out any air bubbles.   Put the metal lids (not rings) into HOT water to soak for a few minutes.

Prepare the canner by pouring more hot/boiling water inside (I like to put about 4 inches in because I’m paranoid about it running dry).  Add a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar to keep your jars sparkly (they get permanently cloudy if you forget).

Now back to the lids:  Wipe the rims of the jars first with a damp towel (cloth or paper).  At this point I like to wipe the rims with either a paper towel dampened with white vinegar or rubbing alcohol.  It doesn’t get into the jar (I said “damp”) and helps to ensure a good seal.  Put those lids on, tighten the rings to almost tight (called “finger tight”, not “professional wrestler tight”).  Place in canner and turn the heat waaaay up.  When the hissing starts to get noticable, put the weight on and when it starts jiggling, set the timer for 90 minutes (quarts) or 75 minutes for pints.  I chose quarts as I believe I’ll get no more than a can of pumpkin would have after draining off the water.  When the time is up, turn off the heat and leave it alone to cool.  You can cool it in the canner overnight if you have to.  Do not remove weight or lid if there is any pressure remaining and until they have cooled down enough to minimize burns.  If they are warm (or not too hot) after you remove the weight and lid, place them on a towel to finish cooling.  Wipe them down, carefully remove the rings and check the seal.  If you ever have a failed seal, even if it’s been cooling overnight, it’s still safe.  Just put it into the refrigerator and either use it or reprocess it within a week or so.   I got 4 quarts of cubes from one good-sized pumpkin.  If you look closely in the photo, you can just see a bit of a jar full of beans behind the pumpkin.  Since I still had some room in the canner, I popped some dried beans into pint jars to can.  I hate running a half empty canner- it just seems like a wasted opportunity.  Put the dry beans in until jar is 1/3 full, then top with boiling water to 1 inch from top.  Finish the sealing in the usual manner. 90 minutes later you have perfect canned beans!

There must be 50 ways to lose your pumpkins… Part 1 of 2 (with apologies to Paul Simon)

If you asked me where most of the world’s pumpkin supply was grown I’d say it was within 10 square miles of my front door.  Evidently, I would be wrong.  The town of Morton, (near Peoria) Illinois, is the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World.  They claim to grow almost 90% of all pumpkins grown in the US of A.  I’m sure they must be correct.  I mean, after all, they wouldn’t have the gourds to make stuff up, right? ;-)

I still have my doubts.  We seem to be in pumpkin central.  You can’t drive in any direction from my house without passing a pumpkin patch or roadside stand.  I might have gone a little overboard myself.  It started with Halloween decorating.  First it was the Jack O’Lantern pumpkins.  Just a few (few being 6).  Then a nice sized sugar pumpkin (for “putting aside”).  Then somehow our Jack collection grew to a dozen, although some were just mixed into the mums around the house and driveway (and many were not even carved).  Then I just had to have at least a dozen smaller sugar pumpkins to place on the front porch railings (in exactly even spaces- I may have gotten carried away).  It was 2 straight weeks of pumpkin heaven.

And then comes November 1st.  I tried to convince Grumpy that pumpkin means fall; it’s not just a Halloween deco.  First, he got rid of the Jack O’Lanterns.  Then he started giving the hairy eyeball to the big, uncarved pumpkins mingling (hiding in terror) among the mums.  Finally he wanted to take down my sweet pumpkin menagerie from the porch!  Time for a compromise.  I convinced him that the porch pumpkins should stay until after Thanksgiving, and agreed to process (put aside) or dispose of the rest.

So…it started with selections.  Anything that didn’t make the “cut” was taken out to the woods for the enjoyment of the wood fairies.  Then the real cutting happened.  Two good sized pumkins were selected: a sugar pumpkin for canning and a Jack was set aside for more savory dishes.  That Jack was a Beast! I scooped, cleaned, sectioned, peeled and cubed like crazy.  Roasted just a small batch of seeds this year as we really just pick at them.  The rest always go out to the birds, who might not appreciate the sodium.  Half of Jack went into the freezer for future use (maybe some ravioli, rissoto, etc).  I chose freezer for the savory pumpkin as it should have a bit more texture.  The rest of Jack was destined for pumpkin soup.

I wasn’t in a “find a recipe” mood, more like a “just wing it” mode, but here’s the scoop: I sauteed a small chopped onion in a bit of butter (a bit= a hunk).  Then I added the pumpkin, chicken stock to cover (it’s actually floating in the photo), 3 Bay leaves, 1 tsp dried thyme and 1/2 tsp rosemary.  This was cooked until the pumpkin was soft.  I removed the Bay leaves, used a stick mixer (wand?) to whip it silky smooth.  Then I added some heavy cream; about a cup.  Then a good grind of pepper.

Then, just for fun, I swirled a tiny bit of cream in the center of the bowl when I served it to my unsuspecting tasters.  The survey says:  PJ says it’s “not bad”, Avery declined to participate (she’s 14, sigh),  Grumpy and Syd gave it 2 thumbs up (Bailey was not home).  My opinion: it can’t hold a candle to pumpkin rissoto, but it’s still a very tasty fall soup.  So this one will be a keeper.

 

 

On the Nightshift

“At the end of a long day
It’s gonna be okay
On the nightshift
You found
another home
I know you’re not alone
On the nightshift”

I’m sorry, guys…but the nightshift is not my “another home”.  I’ve been meaning to write.  Really, I have.But, you see, I’ve been working the overnight shift at the hospital.  It’s just exhausting.  The nights are long, and sometimes we are busy nonstop with babies who just can’t wait another day to join this world.

Then, there are those other nights.  When we aren’t busy the night just drags.  We all sit together, trying to keep those eyes open.  Sometimes we eat stuff you’d never, ever eat during the daylight hours.  It’s “anything goes” time with food.  Other times we talk in an effort to stay awake.  There are usually 6 or so of us women, hanging around a table in the middle of the nurses station.  The things we talk about…well it seems that the only stories that keep us awake are not printable.  Some because they are too personal, and I can’t share other peoples lives in that way.  Other stories are just too…graphic.  Nurses on labor & delivery are a rare breed of women.  These girls, my coworkers, have strong stomachs and my own sick sense of humor.  I’m not able to think of a single story that was fit to repeat…so I’m just checking in, and letting you know that I’m here, and surviving, and that I’ll be back at it later in the week when I catch up on sleep!

Gnite all!

Cereal Porn…American style

Recently in Sweden, Ida Riedel Palmer, bought a box of cereal because it was promising a free fitness cd inside.  It did come with a free cd, but when the woman played it she was shocked to find ” not soft porn…what I would categorize as unpleasant porn, not that I would know much about it”.  She contacted Nestlé who promised to investigate and find out how her “corn flakes became porn flakes”.  There were two things that struck me as funny in this story (which you can read here).  The first was that, after thinking she might have a computer virus (which I can understand) her next thought was to call her boyfriend and ask if he might have been using her computer.  This just brings up sooo many questions- none of which I need answers to, of course.  The second thing is the the last line of the article states that “No I haven’t changed cereal. But I have bought another packet”.  Go Ida!

Here in our little corner of America, when you say “cereal porn”, Grumpy pictures granola.  He likes it that much.  His favorite granola was really pretty good.   He was getting frustrated, though, with the huge increase in price (from $2.99 to $4.99) and the apparent shrinking of the box.  I decided a few months ago that I’d try my hand at making it at home.  After reviewing the 237 million recipes out there, I realized that it was really just a matter of personal preferrence.  Grumpy prefers the nuts and oats type of granola, but I’ve pushed his limits to get a balance of foods and flavors that the majority of our family will like.  In truth, the recipe changes depending on what is available on any given week.  We were talking recipes at work, and I promised Maureen that I’d actually measure and record the ingredients this time.  So here it is for Mo, Grumpy, and now you too.

These are the ingredients we had on hand today.  I make HUGE batches, as we go through a lot.  Feel free to adjust and decrease as needed.  The playlist here is: rolled oats (not quick oats or steel cut), crisp rice cereal, chopped nuts (walnuts today), raw sunflower seeds, flax seeds, shredded coconut, raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon, maple syrup, honey, kosher salt (*) and oil.  I prefer to use unsweetened coconut, but this is “use it up” time and we only had sweetened.

Into a huge bowl I measured: 6 cups rolled oats, 2 cups crisp rice cereal, 4 Tablespoons flaxseeds, 2 cups chopped walnuts, 2 cups raw sunflower seeds, 2 cups coconut, 2 cups raisins.  In a small bowl I mixed 1/4 cup brown sugar with 2 Tablespoons cinnamon.  I do this to make sure the cinnamon is more evenly distributed.  (*) I also add 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt.  It is just to add a bit of complexity to the sweetness, but can easily be omited.  Mix the whole thing until all the ingredients are well blended.

Now for the wet ingredients…Oil is something I struggled with.  The truth is, you won’t get the best granola without adding a bit of oil.  I use whatever healthy oil adds the least flavor.  In a measuring cup I add 1/3 cup oil, 1/3 cup maple syrup and 1/3 cup of good raw honey.  Stir it together, dump it over dry ingredients and gently fold it into the cereal until well mixed. 

As this is a huge batch, I need to either bake it on a huge pan or split it into two pans.  I spray the baking sheet with oil to make clean up easier.  I recently was indulged with a great big, shiny new baking sheet.  The puny looking, well used and beloved one beside it is a standard sized jelly roll pan.  The new one is 15″x21″.  I was able to get it all into the one big pan.

 

Spread all the cereal mix into the pan evenly.  Here is what it looks like before baking.  It already has a tiny bit of a brownish color.  This is much paler than the finsihed product.  Bake at 375 degrees, stirring as the top layer browns, until most of the cereal has a golden brown appearance.  If the layer is thick, as mine was, it can require many stirs and (in this case) as much as 35 minutes.  Thinner layers will cook much more quickly.

 

And here is what it looks like when it is done baking.  See the difference?

Now it has the rich, golden brown color that makes it “cereal porn” in Grumpy’s eyes.

Cool for no more than 5 minutes in the pan, then dump into a large bowl to finish cooling.  This helps prevent it from sticking to the pan- which can become quite a pain to remove.  Cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container for storage.  This filled a gallon sized container, with a little set aside for snacking.

I asked Grumpy how long he things it lasts before it gets stale.  His reply: “Who knows? It never lasts long enough!”

 

Sexy Beasts Like Real Food!

I try to balance my desire to feed my family healthy food (aka: paranoia) with my desire to give them the easiest thing I can throw together.  Being online makes the paranoia outweigh my inbred laziness.

Today, salad dressing tipped the scale for me.  Not the “OMG- I need a diet” scale.  That already happened last week.  Now I’m “low-carb” all the way.  So instead of pigging out on the grapes/pineapple/muffins and bagels that are calling out to me, I decided to have leftover chicken breasts and a salad with Bleu Cheese dressing.  The dressing that others have raived about tasted awful.  Not at all like my own; the one I haven’t made in years because it’s “fattening” (and yes, I am aware of the irony that it’s just fine and dandy on this low carb fiesta).

Sorry, I digress.  The scale it tipped is the “why make it when you can buy it” scale.  Look at this list of ingredients on the store-bought dressing.  I don’t know about you, but if “you are what you eat”, then I don’t want to eat that.  What would that make me?  Probably the product of a marriage between a Lithuanian porn star and a chemist!  Why would anyone want to eat something so foul tasting, especially when half the ingredients don’t appear to be real food?

So, for anyone who truly likes bleu cheese dressing, stay away from the prepared dressings section of the store and try this easy recipe made from only real foods.

If you have time to make your own (healthier, delicious) mayonaise, you’ll be even happier with the results.  I’m going to have to make do with a decent market brand.  Same for sour cream, bleu cheese…does anyone actually make their own vinegar?

Anyway…In a medium bowl combine about 2 cups of mayonaise, 1 cup sour cream, 3 Tablespoons cider vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (I like more pepper, but will add it to the salad as the kids aren’t big pepper fans). Now I’ll admit that it doesn’t look very pretty at this point.

But look how nice it gets with just a few seconds and a whisk?

Sooooo much better than that nasty bottled stuff already!  Now for the best part………

Time to crumble in about 6-8 ounces of bleu cheese (depends on how much you LOVE bleu cheese.  I love it about 94,279 ounces worth but I only had eight).

Now give it another quick stir; this time I’d use a big spoon so the chunks don’t get tangled up in your whisk.

That’s all there is to it!  It keeps for as long as the nearest expiration date for the fresh ingredients.  In this case, that would probably be the sour cream.

By the way- this stuff is as thick as molasses.  You could thin it out with milk, but when I do that I try to scoop out enough for that day and add milk.  This way it’s thick for those who prefer it that way.  Also milk usually has a shorter shelf life than the other ingredients.

This made almost 1 quart.  It also made a change in our dinner plans.  Now that we have fresh bleu cheese dressing, the kids want buffalo chicken wings and celery.  I think we can add a couple more raw vegetables and call that dinner!

***PS people: See how it says “bleu cheese” on that snazzy plastic lid? It’s in dry erase marker. Wipes right off.  It’s the easiest way I’ve found to make a temporary label. Washes right off.  I use crayons if I need it to last a bit longer.