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.

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???

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.

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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! ;-)

 

 

 

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!

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.

It’s barely Fall, and I can feel Winter sneaking in…

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
Edith Sitwell

This year is going to be one long cold winter.  I can just feel it.  I’m preparing already.  I can appreciate spring cleaning, but it’s even more important in the fall.  Don’t get me wrong- I’m no cleaning Nazi.  I like to let it build a little so you actually notice the difference when I clean.  But, with winter coming, I like to start out with a nice clean house before we hermetically seal ourselves in for the long haul.

I go one room at a time, cleaning out, washing up and always moving furniture.  I take no chances on getting my effort noticed.  The need to clean came on at a bad time.  I had just done a “big” shopping trip and there were a lot of fresh things to cook.  On Monday, I realized that I wasn’t leaving time for “fancy” dishes, and wasn’t cooking all those meats fast enough.  I checked the date, made some plans and was left with a fresh pork shoulder that I wouldn’t have time to deal with before Tuesday (the OMG sell-by date).  I rinsed it and put it into a slow cooker.  That would buy me a little time.  I told asked Grumpy to please add water as needed over the next day.  Tuesday wasn’t looking like a “pork shoulder” night either, so I pulled the meat off the bones and put it in the fridge.  Wednesday I got home from work after midnight (oh yeah- those shifts hurt).  Today, I coffee’d up and racked my brain for inspiration.  Then it came to me: I’d make carnitas burritos.*** I wasn’t expecting anything special, and didn’t measure or take photos.  I’m really, really sorry.  I’ll try to remember as I go along here.

When I got home from work, I shredded that (cold) pork into a mixing bowl. There was a good 3 cups or so.  I added some cumin (maybe 2 tsp) and some thyme (1 tsp dried).  Maybe 1 tsp of garlic salt.  It seemed to need cheese, so I shredded some pepper jack- about 4 ounces (the result was really hot- you might want to use plain jack if you don’t love the spice). Then, I wanted some creaminess so I through in 4 ounces of cream cheese.  Then, 1 can of Rotel (a puree of tomatoes and peppers with spices- great pantry item).  I heated it all up in the microwave just to warm it and make it easier to mix.  After stirring it together it was ready to go.  I scooped about 1/2 cup and spread it into a small flour tortilla.  You can use corn, but we ran out and flour is nice too.  Roll each filled tortilla up and place them in a baking pan.  After I filled the entire pan (and ran out of filling- love when that happens together!), I poured a can of enchilada sauce over the whole thing.  I don’t usually have that hanging around, but there was a can staring me in the face, just begging to be used.  I baked it at 350 for about 30 minutes.  Then I pulled it out of the oven, sprinkled some sharp cheddar over the top, and some mozzarella (still using up the leftovers).  A few more minutes in the oven to melt the cheese, and ready to serve.

Everybody loved it! Grumpy had 2 enchiladas, then asked for 2 more. This is a photo of his “second serving”, that’s why the plate is such a mess.  He thinks it’s worthy of being added to that never-ending list of regular meals.  I smiled, realized that the next time I had a fresh pork shoulder that needed cooking, I could simmer it in a crock pot for 36 hours, retrieve the meat and abandon it to cold storage for another 36 hours, gather all the ingredients and make a great “super fast” supper.  Or not.  ;-)

On the good side, since it was a little cooler out tonight we took a break from eating in the dining room.  Instead we all enjoyed these in our newly cleaned (and rearranged) living room with a big, warm fire in the fireplace.  It was so nice and cozy.  Winter doesn’t scare me; I’m ready!

I LOVE everything about Fall; from Apples to Oatmeal!

I love fall. It’s apple picking, hayrides (okay- not my favorite part), fresh cold cider and hot cider donuts. It’s pumpkins and Mums. It’s clear blue skies.  Leaves turning, fires burning.  I love the smells.  And did I mention apple picking?  We’re going to go apple picking in about 4 weeks, and bring home a huge haul of apples.  I can’t wait. This time I’ll be ready.  Apple pies.  Apple sauce.  Apple butter.  Even…dried apples? 

Back in the hot days of July my Aunt Jo came to visit.  I brought home a half bushel of peaches and she helped me “find a happy place” for all those peaches.  We talked about preserving, and how my other Aunt (that would be you, Kay Diane Johnson!)  was so inspiring in the way she was able to hunt/forage/grow and preserve her family table all these years.  I’d also mentioned that I was  curious about dehydrating, as my dear SIL Theresa pretty much dehydrates anything that won’t run away (AND she had already sent me an amazing 4 Qt supply of freshly dehydrated corn on the cob!).  I wasn’t planning to buy one yet as  didn’t know if I’d use it enough to justify the expense. About a month later, I received a box in the mail.  Aunt Jo had a dehydrator at home, and she decided that as she hadn’t used it in years, she’d forward it to me!  WooHOO!  Thank you Aunt Jo!!!

The dehydrator is many years old, but looks like new. 

I tried it out, to make sure it works and gauge how long a batch of apples will take.  The first load was with locally grown apples from the market.  They are on sale for $.79 a pound, which is not bad for our area. These are fairly big Cortland’s.  I peeled, cored and sliced them, then dipped them in a solution of citric acid and water (1 tsp per gallon).  This is to keep them from turning too brown.  You can also use lemon juice or vinegar, or just let them brown.  There are about 5 pounds of apples in here.  It said they would take about 6-10 hours.  I think I sliced them a bit too thick.  And maybe I might have lifted the lid a few times to taste feel the apples.  About 12 hours later they were almost done.  I decided to shut it off and check in the morning.  Next morning, I ran it again for about 3 more hours.  NOW they are dry.  No doubt about it! Lots of apples. 

You know what else I like to make with apples in the fall?  Oatmeal.  My kids used to hate oatmeal.  Now they love it.  I make special oatmeal,  Instead of cooking it in water, I cook it in apple juice.  With a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon and diced apples.  I usually do it overnight in a low crockpot with slow cooking oats.  With these apples…I decided to try making my own oatmeal mix.

I used 1/2 cup quick cooking oats, with 1 big teaspoon of brown sugar (kind of heaping…I love to indulge them sometimes), 1/4 tsp cinnamon, tiny bit of salt (optional) and 3 dried apple slices.  Each packet contains this, and each makes one bowl.  You sprinkle it into the bowl, add 1 cup apple juice and microwave on high for one minute.  My PJ gave it 2 thumbs up- ate the whole bowl and will happily have it again for breakfast. 

Homeland Security has Crabapples, and they WON’T Share!

The walk from North Station to my job is just over a mile.  At about the halfway point I pass the offices of Homeland Security.  They are impressive; tall, clean building and immaculately manicured walkways.  The walkway at the street level has grass of crayola green, and is lined with perfectly shaped crabapple trees.  Not only are they perfectly shaped, they grow purple fruit!  I’ve seen plenty of the red variety, and know of some trees that produce lots of golden yellow crabapples, but I’ve never seen purple before.

I decided last year that I would approach the guards to request picking privileges, rather than apply for official permission from this gi-normous agency.   It never seemed like the right time, however.  As the summer went into fall I saw the bounty from those trees drop onto the green carpet and get vacuumed away with the grass clippings.  What a waste!  I was determined that this year would be different.  I watched carefully until I felt they were just about ripe enough, then approached the guard.

It went like this:  “Hi there! So listen, every year I see these crabapples just fall to the ground and get sent out with the grass clippings. That’s sinful.  I’ve decided to take charge of the situation.  Here’s what we’ll do… I’m going to stop by after work, around 2:15, and pick all the fruit I can reach.  Do you have a step-stool? No? Well maybe I’ll just spread a sheet and shake those limbs a bit….Uh- yes, I do mean on the other side of the fence.  Don’t worry, that tiny fence won’t even slow me down.  I’ll just…What?…Well that doesn’t seem right.  This is ridiculous.  Listen friend…here’s what we’ll do…you help me pick these crabapples, I’ll take them home and bring you back some jelly.  Yes I will- I’ll give you my contact info.  We could be crabapple friends on facebook…that was a joke homie.  No, I know you’re not my homeboy…I said “homie”, that is short for homeland security-security guard. Kind of a long handle, you know?”

There are 3 things that I learned that day:  #1- Not to bother wasting time with the security.  Next year I’m going straight to the top.  As soon as the elections are over I’ll send a request.  #2- Security guards at Homeland certainly do not profile.  I am not on anyone’s shortlist of suspects for any crime, ever (unless it’s a crime to shave a few pounds off on your license).  #3- Security guards at Homeland Security carry both a walkie talkie and a weapon.  It’s a good idea to move on if they reach for either one.

So I explained my dilemma to Grumpy, and asked if (A) he knew anyone at Homeland Security or (B) he would be willing to help me pick those golden crabapples,  He wouldn’t comment on who he might or might not know (he knows a lot of people), but he agreed to help me with my foraging. What a guy!

MAKING CRABAPPLE JELLY AND BUTTER:  These are the crabapples we started with.  I wanted more…but someone (ahem) got tired of picking!  Notice that I’ve included lots of “not-quite-ripe” ones.  They have more pectin in them, so I’ll probably get good gel without adding any.  They’re not very large and perfect, but there were no threatening guards!  Some of them are fairly unattractive, although I found this one to be kind of cute–>

You need to take away the stems and deflower any that still have a lot of brown blossom stuff at the other end.  I find it easier to slice them all in half, then pulling away the stem is easy.  You also get a good look inside to make sure they aren’t occupied.  Now you need to add some liquid and start simmering.  I prefer to add apple juice, as I can use less sugar later to make the jelly. This pot is a huge dutch oven (the size is worn off the bottom), I’d say about 20 cups.  I added just enough apple juice so that it was about 1/2 filled.  Cover, let simmer for about an hour.  Then strain, save the apples aside for later.  This is the juice that was strained off.  Bring it to a boil, and boil for about 5 minutes.  Slowly add the sugar (I had about 8 cups of juice and added about 6 cups of sugar).  Crabapples are VERY tart, but there is about 1 Qt of apple juice in here too.  Return to a boil, boil one minute and process in BWB ***.  You can add more sugar if you want it to be sweeter, and try clicking here for instructions on how to test to see if the pectin is gelling enough before you can it.  If you don’t test, and it fails to gel, you can always reprocess with added pectin.

Now for the “Butter”.  In the past I’ve made crabapple “butter” and my kids don’t want to eat it.  This year I called it “crabapple sauce” and they loved it- kids!  You can make this with the cooked remains of the jelly making.  I have tried food mills and other ways of getting the crabapple flesh out, the only one that works well for me is the ricer.  It’s tedious, but worthwhile. You just keep filling the ricer with more of the little apples, and squeeze it out over another big bowl.  When I’m done, I squeeze it again through a fine strainer.  Those little seeds and cores can make it unpleasant.  When you are done, you’ll have a smooth-as-silk basis for the butter.  I add sugar and cinnamon.  I didn’t measure, so add it a little at a time until it seems “there”.   Add enough liquid to make it a runny consistency (I added about 2 cups of apple juice). Bring it back to a boil, boil for about 5 minutes and process in a BWB.  Here is the finished product: on the right, with the rosy tint, are 4 pints and 3 1/2 pints of jelly.  On the left are 7 pints of crabapple “sauce”.

Complete instructions for canning available *** here from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

I’m actually still recovering.  I started writing this post before I got sick, and today had just enough energy left to get it done.  I’m still coughing up a storm, but breathing is a lot easier than on previous days. Thanks for reading folks!

Boo Boo Bandaids for Their Injured Dignity

Yesterday I was a “sneaky itch” for fooling Grumpy with a zucchini filled “apple” pie.  Worse, he really liked that pie.  The recipe required a single pie crust.  Sometimes (always) I daydream, and doing things on autopilot, sometimes (a lot) I make mistakes.  I made my regular pie crust and forgot to halve it for a single crust.  I have some raspberries in the freezer, and an extra pie crust….that was all the excuse I needed to make another “Raspberry Pie” from The Minnesota Farm Woman(click here for the recipe).  The raspberries seem to give off a lot of juice as they thaw.  I thought to combine the lemon-water that I’d simmered all that squash in with the juice that dripped off the berries and make a batch of raspberry lemonade.  I just added some sugar to the pot of lemon-water, simmered it until completely dissolved.  You can go by your own preference on the sweetness.  I overdid a little, and decided to add the juice of one more lemon.  After adding a lot more water, I had almost 1/2 gallon of lemonade.  It was well received by the 2 fellas whose dignity was damaged by the apple pie fake-out.

A little lemonade goes a long was to soothing ruffled dignity.  A nice slice of pie doesn’t hurt either!

It’s Lucy in the sky and all kinds of apple pie*.

Today I rose at the crack of dawn to work yet another 12 hour shift.  I was resigned to the day, but then got lucky twice.  First, I had a really nice patient.  Second, I was not needed.  They sent me home a little after 11am.  This is really the luckiest part, because I’ll be leaving on Tuesday, right after work, on a road trip and I need a pedicure.  I still need to pack.  That means doing laundry. The house is really in need of a good cleaning and I really need a pedicure..  The dogs need a pedicure grooming.  And I really, really need that pedicure.

First, though, I went home.  I walked right into my kitchen and saw….a huge green zucchini.  My friend Jan brought me some beautiful cucumbers and zucchinis from her garden…2 weeks ago.  We have one big squash left.  Some of the kids (and Grumpy) believe that they don’t like squash.  I hide the squash.  Sometimes in the spaghetti sauce.  A little more obvious is in Ratatouille.  I also made some zucchini boats: hollow out the zucchini and treat it like a long pizza crust- anything goes.  As I stood there, on the brink of achieving domestic greatness by completing my laundry-packing-cleaning list, I remembered that somewhere, on one of the oh-so-many blogs that I really enjoy, there was a mention of zucchini-apple pie.  It’s a fake out- a zucchini pie the sells itself as apple.  I had to try this.

I was unable to track down the original blog.  This happens far too often; but whoever you are-you angel of zucchini cleverness, I would like to credit you properly and will update with the link if provided.  I searched online, and found one that sounded great at Food.com. Click here to see the recipe.

Start with a basic single pie crust.  I wasn’t thinking straight, and I made a double crust.  I seem to do this a lot.  While the dough is chilling, you peel, seed and slice the squash (I’m getting too tired to type zucchini, so from here on it will be officially be known as “squash”).  Simmer it in a saucepan with 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/2 cup water.  I also threw in some zest, to give it a little more lemonyness (yes it is too a word).  Then I just tossed in the rest of the lemon too because I really love lemons.  I simmered until they were translucent.  Then, strain.  I didn’t want to waste the lemon water, so I set it aside for later (I’ll get to that part later…or tomorrow).

Roll out your pie crust, or grab a premade one from the store if you absolutely must.  Then, toss together some sugar, flour and cinnamon (I left out the nutmeg, I just wasn’t feeling it).   Now mix in the squash, and pour the whole thing into the pie shell.  At this point Grumpy walked into the kitchen and didn’t even notice that it wasn’t his usual apple pie.  Snicker…..  Now you mix up the crumb topping.  This is my new toy.  I stopped by the crack house in Acton, MA.  It’s official called “kitchen outlet” or some such thing, but for me it’s a crack house.  I saw this baby and broke out in a sweat.  It’s amazing… anyway, I used it to shred the butter for the pie crust and for the topping.  Love, love, love it~  So here is the pie  after baking… And this is where I really wish I had a better camera!  It’s also time for someone to invent a camera with smell technology… But below here is my dear squash-hating PJ.  He stepped up to the plate for the very first slice of “apple pie”… and he loves it!  Grumpy joined him for a big slice, and declared it “a really good apple pie”.  I told him it wasn’t apple…and when I said there was (dreaded) squash inside he mumbled “sneaky itch” or some such term of endearment.  Meanwhile, I haven’t cleaned, laundered or packed.  I will be up for hours at this rate.  Oh my poor tired feet.  They really need a pedicure!!!*from “Julie’s in the Drug Squad” by The Clash

FOWL PLAY!

Cody, one of the hatchling keets died on Wednesday.  It came as a big shock for all.  He was one of our favorites.  He was our “Ugly Duckling”.  Out of seven keets, there were 6 “pearl grey” type.  This is one of the more common breeds, and they are actually a spotty/stripey brownish bird.  Cody was a Coral Blue.  He looked like another bird entirely.  About 1/2 the size of Cheeko(the biggest), he was downy soft with a pale blue-silver color.  He was a bit more timid and cautious.  Even though 2 of the birds were much weaker when they were born, they quickly grew strong and outsized little Cody.   They would race around like crazy keystone cops, crashing into each other and pig-piling when they were worn out.  He was running around like the little brother, not quite in the same league but trying to keep up.  I don’t even have any good photos of him.  This is the best, and you can barely make him out in the pile.  He’s the soft fluffy fellow, second from the top in the bed (the “bed” is a sock filled with rice.  I warm it for them and they like to snuggle it when they’re sleepy).  We’re not sure what happened.  My Grumpy suspects “fowl play”.  In the rough housing kind of way.  I’m afraid he may be correct.  I don’t think they meant any harm, but those little guys are oblivious when they play.  They routinely run over each other.  It may just have been too much for Cody.  The kids said, in hindsight, that we should have separated him from the others.  I disagree.  These birds are amazingly family oriented.  One bird won’t survive on his own, and certainly not a smaller, frailer bird.  They need to become a family.  I only wish he could have been part of this one.

So now we have 6 little crazy creatures.  They are a little high strung.  We’re trying to get them used to us.  Which is kind of funny since we are the first contact they had with the outside-the-shell world.  You’d think they were teenagers in their hurry to forget who hatched them!  They are already trying to flap their wings and fly.  They are built like weebles, with big pudgy butts and tiny little wings.  In spite of that, they do manage to get a little lift off, even if it’s only for a nanosecond.                                                 We had them out of their box today so we could give it a clean out.  The box needed it, and I think the kids needed to play with the “big bullies” a bit.  It’s time to remember that they are really still babies, not Cody killers.  Those babies were running all over the bathroom.  They were searching the corners and cracks, already instinctively looking for bugs.  One of them lucked out and found a tiny spider.  Either I need to spend more time cleaning or let them spend more time out of their box :-)

It’s been an amazing experience already, and one that I’d gladly do again.  The kids are really into this now.  They are looking forward to a time when they can hatch themselves some Guineas, and chickens as well.  Possibly ducks.  In the meantime,  they’ve learned.  Not just the facts that Avery seems to have at her fingertips about all things guinea related.  They’ve learned about responsibility, the precarious nature of life and that sometimes things occur that “can’t possibly happen”.

Don’t Count Your Baked Keets Before They’ve Hatched

Previously I wrote about an attempt on our part to hatch eggs ( in “A lesson on facing loss and acknowledging failure…”).  We decided to try again.  It didn’t go well.  This is an understatement.   We were watching the incubator carefully, and every so often it would fluctuate from 97-101.  This is a real problem, as it needs to stay right around 99.  One day PJ called me (on my way home from work) and told me it was “102″.  I asked his sister to try to turn it down “just the tiniest bit”.  She didn’t want to.  She felt responsible for the previous failure (more than was warranted) and didn’t want to be responsible for the life of these eggs.  I explained that failing to act when they needed her would be the same as choosing to let them die.  She made a slight adjustment.  I called back later, still on my way home, and asked them what the temperature was (they hadn’t been back to recheck)…. it was 120f.  I’m not kidding.  I was sick at heart.  “Remove the covers and shut if off!”.  I arrived home about 30 minutes later to find it still at 112f.  They were cooked.  I left it just like that and walked outside.  I was really upset.  I did let the daughter know that I was disappointed in her.  Not because she turned it the wrong way, or because she turned it more than a tiny bit (well, maybe a little upset with that) but because she failed to keep an eye on them when they were in danger.  I know she was upset too.  It wasn’t her fault that the incubator was fluctuating, but I want my children to understand that (like or not) we have a responsibility to these helpless creatures.

About an hour later, Grumpy told a friend of his (who lives in Nebraska, where he has a farm) about our unfortunate egg bake.  His friend told him that we shouldn’t give up.  Grumpy encouraged me to keep on incubating.  I didn’t want to be the one to burst his bubble.  I went back to the eggs; they had now cooled to 80f.  Equally lethal.  Still, if it made him happy…so I plugged it back in.

I continued to watch these baked eggs, carefully monitoring the temperature but not turning them as often as I should.  I worked long hours and the kids were no longer willing to face turning them.  I understood, it seemed wrong somehow to keep turning those poor dead birds.  Finally, on day 27, I wanted to put this to an end.  I picked up the eggs, candling them to be absolutely certain there was no sign of life before removing them.
When I saw movement in that first egg I almost dropped it!  We have here, in these photos, a testament to the mysteries of survival in the animal kingdom.  These birds survived when they “couldn’t possibly”.  Over the course of the day 3 eggs hatched on their own.  There were another 2 birds that started the process, then seemed to grow progressively weaker.  After about 8-10 hours of watching them I noticed that the membranes were hardening around the birds in their shells. I finally removed the eggs and pulled away their restrictive membranes.  These birds seem extremely weak.  I’m not sure they will survive.  The 3 birds who hatched on their own were another story.

This is that first bird ( whom Avery named “Cheeko”).  He was so feisty that we had to remove him as soon as his feathers dried.  He was bombing around the incubator, walking all over the other birds, drinking and eating with enthusiasm.  Now he’s in the nesting box, happy with his 2 strong siblings.  We’re keeping the other sickly ones in the incubator still, but hoping they’ll soon grow strong.  In the meantime we’re enjoying watching the antics of these feisty “half-baked” birds!

UPDATE on Half Baked Hatchlings…

Was I surprised when I got home from work?!!

 

Those two weak babies, the ones who were totally unable to use their legs for the first few hours of life outside the shell?  While I was at work they grew strong.  They are both able to walk, hop, eat and drink when they desire. The two on the bottom were the weaklings.  There’s a little grey “pearl” guinea in the middle.  They are in a warm box, but are loving the (warmer) rice sock we keep in the nest.   I’ve had to remove those weaklings from the incubator and place them into the brood box with the 3 stronger babies because……….

There’s a new baby in town!  That’s right…when I got home there was another tyke trying to get out.  It’s almost dry now, and she’s already learned to drink from the dish.  That’s not all…there is one more egg that seems to have a little tiny bit of activity inside.  We are so happy to have 6 birds all alive and well. I’ll keep watching that last egg…

 

 

 

ALL Girls are Princesses

Yesterday was one of those days.  Work started out okay, but as the day went on it just plain sucked.  I was scheduled to work in the clinic and supposed to be done at 2.  I had a call the night before asking if there was any I could fill in at labor and delivery from 3-7 as they were “really desperate”.  How could I say no? I had Syd and her friend at the hospital with me, because they were volunteering from 9-3.  We had planned to go to the haymarket together afterwards…and you know how I love that haymarket…but “desperate”.    Okay.  And they were desperate.  The girls went to the haymarket without me and I stayed.  Everyone was stressed, I tried to help and probably only made things worse half the time.  Then, when someone needed a C section (like “now”) I offered to be the scrub nurse, which at least got me out of the frenzy of the nurses station.  The shift changed at 7.  They were increasing by one nurse, so they should be in better shape than the day shift.  Still, by 7:30pm no one came in to check on us.  We finished the case and wheeled the patient into a room to recover around 7:40pm.  The charge nurse asked if I would be willing to stay until 11pm.  After thinking about it for a second, I realized that those young girls had been in the waiting room for over 2 hours already.  How could I do that?  So I said no, that I couldn’t do it tonight.  I then heard someone who had been a friend say “Well that’s too bad.  She has to stay.  She doesn’t get to choose.  Just tell her that she can’t leave”.  I took a deep breath, and asked if she was referring to me.  She was.  And, she didn’t hesitate to tell me so.  Also threatened that she would complain, I could lose my license, etc.  Now technically, if there were fewer nurses coming than leaving, she might have a point.  We aren’t allowed to abandon patients if there aren’t “enough” to manage.  They had one more nurse than we’d managed with for the last 4 hours, and she was serious.  After pointing out that I had no such obligation to stay, I told her that as she was about to see my shapely ass walking out the door she might just want to pucker up and kiss it.

On the way home I was still feeling somewhat unappreciated.  I had a flashback to a scene in a movie.  It’s what I do…fair warning to those who drive in Boston, but when I’m upset I drive around daydreaming.

Growing up, I loved the film “A Little Princess” with Shirley Temple.  It was a very old movie but I loved it.  When my girls were growing up they were more enamored of the 1995 version of the film.  I’m going to admit here, that for once the remake was better than the original.

This is the story of Sara Crewe.  After living in exotic India with her doting father, Sara was sent to a strict boarding school in New York while he went to war.  Her father was believed to have died in the war, and their fortune confiscated.  She was then kept on by the abusive, stern headmistress as a maid.  Sara infuriated the woman with her ability to cope, and even thrive no matter what hardships the woman through her way. Sara was living in an unheated attic at the school, with only rags to wear, when a man next door and his servant intervened with a bit of magic.  This is what Sara and her friend woke to in the attic one morning (all cleverly arranged by those magical fellows).

A favorite scene was one in which the headmistress confronts Sara with the reality of her life. “Don’t tell me you still fancy yourself a princess! Good God child, look around you…look in the mirror!”   Sara replies with these words:  ” I am a princess…All girls are…even if they live in a tiny old attic…even if they dress in rags…even if they aren’t pretty or smart or young…They are still princesses, all of us”.

 I am a princess…all girls are!

This movie was one of many that we watched again and again.  My kids were just that way, when they liked a movie they just wore it out.

The memory that really cheered me up, though only partly involved the movie.  Did you ever take your kids to Disneyworld?   We really couldn’t afford it, but I’m so very glad we did.  The best of times.  We were staying at The Beachclub.  The whole trip was magical.  Matt and his friend were old enough for us to give them some freedom.  They still wound up chasing our tails the whole trip, but having a choice made them happy.  We scheduled a couple of those character meals.  One of them was a breakfast in  Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (aka Norway) at Epcot.  Epcot is filled with vibrant young people who are lured over here from their own countries with dreams of working at Disneyworld.  I’m not sure what they are really dreaming of, but slinging breakfast to whiny kids and demanding parents was certainly not part of  those dreams.  There were some “characters” in princess costumes, walking around signing autographs and posing for pictures.  The chaos they created was amazing.  Our waitress was a very sweet, lovely young girl who was working her butt off, running in circles and all in a long, hot costume.  When she finally had a moment to stop at our table, smile and ask if there was anything else she could get for us, my girls saw their chance.  They whipped out their autograph books and asked “could we please have your autograph?”.  The waitress was flustered.  She apologized, said “I’m sorry, but I’m not anyone important.  I’m not a princess or anything”.   Sydney indignantly told her “Of course you are! All girls are princesses!”   Our waitress stood tall for a moment, then bent forward to sign their autographs.  She hugged them, smiled and told me that she really needed to hear that.

That memory is what cheered me up.  Maybe it’s remembering the movie, too.  I just know that I’m feeling a little bit better, when I remember that I, too, am a princess.  And that biatch… well she can still just pucker up and kiss my royal ass.