Peeling the Onion

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.

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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.…

And Maybe it’s Time to Take Down Those Lights

And Maybe it’s Time to Take Down Those Lights

Yes, we still have those lights up.  And the garlands.  And those nutcrackers.

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! 
dscf18161Grumpy 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!
dscf1871At 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.

dscf18771So 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

Procrastination is my Super Power

So 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.

Sometimes It’s Better To Be Lucky Than Good…

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!

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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 lucky!
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.
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.
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.…

Go Big or Go Home? I’ll Go Home!

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.

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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 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 peoplewho 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!…