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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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.  :-)

 

Great Escape 2012…30 years and going strong

There may be the tiniest discrepancy between what the Great Escape is and what I’ve put it out as to Grumpy.  For instance, for the past decade or so, I might have allowed Grumpy to believe that we are camping in pathetic tents, while Mother Nature howls and rain splashes our gear.  That might have been the case with the first Escape, but I’ve learned since then to choose wisely.  No more tents for me; not on a chilly October night in New England!

This year we were lucky enough to stay in Christa’s house.  It’s lovely- a snug little cabin in the woods.  Christa McAuliffe camped here as a girl.  There is a display which includes photos and her scout uniform.  The building is heated, with a modern kithcen and bath as well as a working fireplace.  A big improvement over the leaky tents!

All of our meals were served in the Dining Hall.  Served, as in someone else did the cooking and cleaning.  Oh yeah!

There is a huge fireplace at one end of the dining hall, kind of a gathering place to sing, socialize or just cozy up for a cat nap.

The activities are varied.  You could choose to enjoy a 7 hour trail hike.  My friend Barb did this.  In the RAIN!  She even suggested that I might want to join them.  Silly Barb.  She should know better.  You could also plan a morning of canoeing on the lake.  Ann was planning to go canoeing.  Sadly, it was sooo rainy all weekend that they canceled canoeing (I don’t think Ann was very sad at all).

I chose to participate in a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, as it was presented by Mel, another old friend.  She led a brief (thank you!) foraging hike in the wet woods followed by a traditional tea party.  We learned the various things to avoid (poison ivy,etc) and what to watch for: we mainly found wood sorrel, wintergreen and indian cucumbers.  I’ve never even heard of indian cucumbers before.  They have star shaped leaves(Mel is holding one in the photo), and a tiny white grub shaped crunchy bit attached to the root.  Sounds appealing, right?  I did try them, they taste like what you’d get if a cucumber and a daikon radish got married and had babies. Not bad, and while I won’t be serving them at my next royal banquet, if I were ever lost in a boggy wet woodland, then I would probably not starve.

The educational classes included (but not limited to) stained glass (been there, done that), jewelry making (put together some nice earrings), and various classes where you make things you didn’t even know you needed out of duct tape/old calendars/ bits of dryer lint, etc.  Once class that I missed out on was quilling.  It looked interesting and my friend Ann really enjoyed this one.  Here is a photo of the things she put together.  Not sure when I need to use quilling in my life, but it looks cool.

On Saturday there was a bit of entertainment.  In addition to the usual (auctions, skits) there was an amazing display of synchronized swimming.  I’m not sure how they managed to pull that off indoors, but where there’s a will…

Finally, I tip my hat to the ladies who cook.  They managed to put out food that was healthy, tasty and at each meal they provided vegetarian/gluten free/ nut free options galore.  I don’t go in for those choices myself, but it was a big undertaking.  In addition to the meals, they put out snacks (I try to skip those) and desserts (I did allow myself one- and only one!).   While these little “campfire cupcakes” were really cute, I was just taken instead by vanilla.  That one, right there(3rd from the right), that’s mine!

One other thing they had there- morning, noon and night- my dear old (at least among non-alcoholic) beverage of choice:Sigh.  What a lovely welcome,  and a lovely weekend as well.  Just between us, that is.  As far as Grumpy knows, it was an all-out torential rainstorm all weekend, and we camped in the thick of it.  ;-)

Paying it Forward (From me to you…you to them…and so on)

So many people are out there writing blogs! Some of these are probably fabulous, and I’ve never seen them.  Some are fabulous and I already follow them.  Shaunna, of Tempting Thyme (www.temptingthyme.com) is one I do follow.  She recently invited all bloggers to play a game of “paying it forward”.  You can read about it here: http://temptingthyme.com/2012/09/09/from-me-to-you-paying-it-forward-giveaway/

It’s not the virtuous type of thing where you send out gifts in secret to people in need, etc with nothing in return.  Not that that’s good or bad; we enjoy doing this type of pay it forward periodically as it is important and right (and makes us feels so good/virtuous/safe from bad karma).  You actually get a gift yourself; but by paying it forward to 3 people you spread the joy.

I was one of the first 3 to reply, so that means that I will be recieving a lovely gift in the mail from Shaunna.  Frankly, I’m a greedy child still when it comes to getting mail.  I love to order things online.  In the days BK (before kids) I sent my tops out to a Chinese laundry in the North End of Boston because they wrapped all my things in tissue, then boxed them and tied with string.  Getting dressed meant opening up a “new” blouse each day.  So any game that means I get a hand made surprise in the mail is pretty high on the WOOOWHOO!!!scale.

HERE IS HOW IT WORKS: (First of all you have to reply to this post to participate.  You also must post about Paying it Forward on your blog, and…)  Give a gift to 3 people, and those 3 people give a gift to 3 more people……and so on and so on…that is 12 people being touched by this single blog post.  WOO HOO!  The first three people to comment on this post will receive a gift from me. It may be something that I am drooling over and wish to share with others, something to wear, something to eat or maybe just something I love! Whatever it is, it will get special thought and care just for you!

The fine print:
■Within a year (it’ll be sooner than later, I love to cross things off my to-do list), I’ll create something unique to share with the first three people to comment on this post.
■But, in order to receive your present you have to play along. Spread the love on your own blog promising to send a little special something to the first three people who comment on your post.
■You get 72 hours to re-post, or I’ll have to move on to the next person.

These are the rules set forth by somebody somewhere back in the links of links of links.  They are what they are, they are straight forward and simple so don’t even bother trying to change them.

Seems like fun, right???   Want to play along?   Did I mention that… you have to reply to this post to participate?!! When commenting, please make sure I have a way of getting ahold of you.  If not, the old saying stands true….you snooze you lose!

Good luck!

*********** UPDATE ***********************

It’s been crazy busy, and I’d put this post on the back burner.  Until this week, that is. I just recieved a really cute pendant in the mail from Shaunna at “TemptingThyme”. It arrived on a day when my Avery was expecting for a package.  She immediatly brought it to me, waited for me to open it and begged me to “share”.  I’m going to have to get those addresses and get my gifts sent!

Thank you very much Shaunna!

 

Three reasons I’m smiling…

Just a quick note to float out there about why I’m smiling at the doorknobs today.

Reason #1) We’re hatching more eggs.  We tried to hatch a dozen guinea eggs for his farm. I don’t know what went wrong, but all 12 failed.  I’m really afraid it was the incubator. They’ve been in the incubator for 8 days now, and it’s been mostly in the 99-100 range, but on a few occasions it went as low as 97, and briefly to 102.  That 102 really scares me. They may have been baked.  I’m watching it like a hawk, and I’ve 3 (yeah- OCD=3) thermometers in there.  I wasn’t even sure they were fertile eggs. Jack thought there were no more eggs available this season.  I actually (gulp) found a seller on Ebay.  She was really sweet, promised me “at least 12″ and sent 18. Today, I picked up a couple and candled them quickly: fertile! I can’t get a photo while I’m holding them, so I’m borrowing one from a volunteer site:“Guineaalert.com”.  

See the darker spot at the top? That’s an 8 day fertile egg.  Our eggs are the same age, and look like that.  Or at least a couple of them did.  I really, really, hope we can give our friend Farmer Jack some guineas this time!  He has no idea that there might be 18…..

Reason #2) I’m waiting on another special delivery!  This month, I joined a group called Foodie Penpals.  This is a group that was started by Lindsay, aka http://www.thelonggreenbean.com.  In her own words:

-On the 5th of the month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email….
-You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!
-The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treatsThe spending limit is $15The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!

We has soooo much fun deciding what to send to my penpal Debra in Birmingham AL.  Unfortunately, I kind of forgot to take photos.  I’ll paste them in when Debra opens her gift at the end of the month.  I’ll also add photos about this when we receive our package from Mei-i.  I’m not sure which part is more exciting! Way more fun than just a letter alone!
I really do recommend that you check out the long green bean’s site, and also think about trying the penpal thing.  Maybe I’ll get you in the draw next month!

Reason #3) My daughter now has a twin sister.  Yup- I have another child under my roof.  My dear friend is moving to NC, and she’s leaving me her eldest child. It’s a gift of love.  Her daughter (and my other older twin) is going to be a senior this year. Can you imagine moving almost 800 miles away from your friends to a new school for your SENIOR YEAR??? So our Miss B has moved in.  Last night I also had my #1 son, Matt for a visit.  We walked around closing up the house last night with my 24 yr old, my blond twins, my 13-year old daughter and my 12-year-old son under one roof.  I’m telling you- I’ve never felt my heart so full.  I wish they’d all never leave.  I can’t wait until the first day of school.  I’m planning to dress them alike; buy them girly matching twin dresses with hair thingys and make them wear them all day and take a picture for B’s mom.   You think these dresses will come in their size?   I can’t wait!

(Thanks to Crowe Photo for use of the pic- they do gorgeous work)

How to survive Blistering Heat, Sad Farewells and Scouting with Ginger Beer

It’s just tooo hot.  This weekend was a great lay-on-the-boat-and-do-nothing weekend.  I only wish I were there.  Instead, I’m running around trying to help my friend move away.  And helping my new daughter (given to me for a year by same friend) move into our home.  And going through the usual musical rooms routine that we seem to do every few months.  In and out of the attic with furniture that is just “wrong”, rotating with furniture that might be alright.  All in a home that was built 110 years ago, before central ac, when insulation was one of those new-fangled things that would never catch on.  In short: It’s just tooo hot.

I shouldn’t whine.  At this very moment, I’m taking a break in front of a window fan with a tall, chilly glass of my new favorite (non-alcoholic) beverage.  Homemade ginger beer.  Sugar free. Oh my.

For about 10 years I was a Girl Scout leader.  I never liked scouting when I was a kid.  Then it meant weekly lectures and coloring.  Blah.  When I got to be the leader, though, I made the rules.  We got to do things.  Real things.  We made things to sell for real money. 

Then we donated some, and with the rest we went apple picking. Every fall.

And skiing.  Every winter.  Most of the girls had never been skiing, and didn’t have a chance to ski other then on our annual trip.

We also went to a Dude Ranch.  The horse I was given to ride was named Big Mac.  I tried to not take it personally.

But mostly we went camping.  A lot.  I loved it.  It was everything Girl Scouts was not in my childhood.    We mostly stayed in tents like this one, just high enough above the lake to enjoy some nice cool breezes at night.  Always sleep with your tent flaps open.  Trust me on this one.  And beware of the prankster- every encampment has one.  This was ours.  I am seeing this photo and it just takes me right back there. She’s a hoot.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun we had together.  If the GS nazi’s new they’d ban us from scouting for life.  Maybe two lifetimes.

It was on one of our many, many camping trips that I discovered Ginger Beer.  One of those hot, steamy days when the last thing I wanted to do was go off camp to a market.  We must have needed something dreadfully, because off I went.  There, in the (maybe 40 sq foot) so-called market, I bought an icy cold one.  I was hooked.

I’ve toyed with the idea of making my own ginger beer many times.  The image of dozens of glass bottles exploding in my pantry has held me back.  Recently, I found a recipe for homemade ginger ale at MyOldSchool.com.  This recipe involved simmering ginger and making a syrup, which was then added to seltzer.  How absolutely brilliant!!!  No fermenting.  No exploding glass.  I decided to adapt this, make it a bit stronger and sugar free, to create a sugar free ginger beer syrup.

Here is all you need:  Ginger (2 lbs)  ; Limes (optional)  ; Stevia 1.5 cups (or whatever substitute sweetner you prefer)  ; Seltzer

Start by peeling 2 pounds of ginger.  It’s really easy; just scrape the outer skin with the side of a spoon and it slips right off.   After peeling, slice all of the ginger and place it in a saucepan, just barely covering it with water.

Simmer for about 45 minutes, do not bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cover with a lid.  After it cooled I refrigerated overnight.  The next morning, I strained it (save ginger and candy it later) and added the Stevia, whisking gently over low heat until it had completely dissolved.  After cooling, It’s ready to use.

Fill a large glass with ice.  Add 1/2 of a lime (squeeze that thing for all it’s worth).  Pour around 1/4 full with syrup.  Top off with seltzer.  You can use more syrup, or less if you prefer.  It’s so gingery and refreshing. Takes me right back to that first icy cold ginger beer, lying on a cot in a tent with a gentle breeze off the lake. 

Hatching up some fun for Farmer Jack

Farmer Jack, who raises fine pigs. chickens and cows on his small farm, loves Guinea Hens.  He has several, and wants more.  Guinea Hens are a curious choice for a farmer.  He doesn’t want to eat the eggs.  He doesn’t plan to eat the meat.  In  Gardening With Guineas, by Jeanette Ferguson, it says that Guinea Fowl are great at eating ticks weed seeds.  Most people have them for just this reason.  They eat lots and lots of ticks.  If you ask Jack why he wants them, though, he gets vague and mentions the sounds that they make, and how he likes watching them play.  In other words, they make him happy.  Not a bad reason to have animals.

My daughter Avery, has agreed to hatch and foster some young Guinea Hens for Farmer Jack.  She had to learn a lot.  First, the eggs have to be shipped.  You have only a few days from the time they are shipped until you get them into an incubator (or under a willing broody hen).  While they are being shipped you have to carefully adjust the incubator, to make sure that the temperature is between 99.5f and 100f.  You also have to add water to keep a humidity level around 60%.  This is the incubator Jack loaned to us for the hatching.  It’s not new, and it’s seen quite a few eggs.  Some happy outcomes, and some that never managed to hatch.  Only about 90% of the eggs usually hatch. The stories are written all over the walls.  We’re hoping that we only have happy tales to report.

The eggs were shipped inside this carton with a lot of little stuff to protect them.  There are two different types of eggs in there: (6) Royal Purple Guinea eggs and (6) Jumbo Pearl Guinea eggs.  Can you tell the difference?  Me either.  Next step in this project was to give them some faces.  Aren’t they sweet??? The reason for the faces is that the eggs need turning.  You have to turn them a few times a day to prevent serious defects (including death).  On the nest, the mama hen turns the eggs all day.  My mama hen Avery isn’t that diligent.  We drew “awake” faces on one side and “asleep” faces on the other.  This way, she remembers to wake them in the morning, put them to sleep for a nap in the afternoon, wake again…you get it.  You only turn them for 25 days.  The 25th day was Saturday.  Then you stop.  And wait.  While waiting, you turn the heat down to 98.5. You add water to increase humidity to 70%.  And you wait. And wait.  I feel like a pathetic first time nana waiting for the stork.  I’ll keep you posted!

New Jam for the New Professor

Summer brings hot lazy days, cold drinks, dragonflies and sunburns.  All good things. I know I’ll get flack for saying that a sunburn is good, but come winter I’ll wish I had that warm, tight feeling when my skin has just a tiny bit of pink overlaying the tan. 

At work, however, summer is the beginning of another year of residents.  The residents descend on the hospital in exactly the same frenzy you see with the new and returning wizards at Hogwarts.  Some are sweet, some awkward, some bossy and some are…Slitherins. It’s not pretty…

This year we also have a new attending doctor.  Sort of like a professor of wizardry.  He came to us after working for a few years in Hawaii.  This won’t be held against him.  How could he know?  The weird and crazy halls of medicine cannot be compared to the great expanse of soft sandy beaches, the magestic view and fiery lava flow from Kilauea, the haupia pie from Ted’s bakery.  How would he cope?  How would he manage to survive outside the hothouse world of the islands?

So I thought.  In casual conversation I asked what day he thought he plans to see patients in the clinic.  He revealed that he was a little concerned about seeing patients at all.  What? Was he shy?  Intimidated? Yes, I thought those things.  I may have…possibly even asked.  Silly me.  What was our new doctor afraid of? Said he “Sometimes I let the work stack up until the end of the day.  Then I wind up working on it in the evening.  I just don’t function well that way.  At 5 o’clock, I don’t want to work anymore.  I just want a drink.  Or several”. 

Welcome George.  You’re going to fit in all right.  You’ll do just fine!

Since I am no longer (and have not been for ages) a bartender, I settle for being the Jelly Lady, and make jam.

This recipe was adapted from www.yummly.com

                                Strawberry Margarita Jam

6 cups strawberries (crushed)
1/3 cup lime juice
2/3 cup tequila
1/3 cup triple sec
6 cups sugar
1 packet low sugar pectin
1 NOTE: Do NOT use a food processor to crush strawberries or you will get puree and jam will not have a good texture. Use a potato masher.
2 In a large pot, mix together strawberries, lime juice, tequila, and orange liqueur.
3 Stir in pectin, bring to a boil over high heat.
4 Stirring constantly.
5 Boil hard for 1 minute.
6 Remove from heat and immediately stir in sugar.
7 Return to a boil and boil one minute.
8 Remove from heat and stir steadily for 5 minutes. This will keep the fruit mixed evenly throughout the jam.  Trust me- I forgot this step and you will notice I have floating fruit.
9 Ladle into sterilized jars to within 1/4 inch from rim. Wipe rims clean. Apply lids and rings. Tighten to fingertip tight.
10 Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

It’s never going to replace a drink, or several, in the evening.  It’s a very nice jelly, however, and like that very mild sunburn, it’s a pleasant reminder of summer drinks and good times.

*** pie photo is from Ted’s Bakery, a local institution in Haleiwa, HI.  My husband became addicted to their pie.  As there is not yet a 12 step programs for pie fools, I’ve become adept at making them myself.  Watch for the recipe whenever Grumpy next tries to romance me with his laundry washing and car maintenance skills.

on being rescued from the gypsies and apple pie

I have an emotional attachment to my Cuisinart.  It’s a food processor, from 1975, when that’s about all they made.  It wasn’t mine originally.  It was a gift from a husband to a wife.  My rescue parents.

Growing up I waited (as did most kids) for my real (cooler, kinder, more together) parents to rescue me from the home that had raised me until puberty hit.  No offense meant to my biological family, after all you were surely there as teens yourself.  My rescue parents were real.  They were friends of my mother.  They were not a perfect couple, or perfect parents.  They were perfect for me.  They did indeed rescue me, brought me to the cold winters and hot summers of New England.  They gave me a little extra time in the nest, to be spoiled and learn things that I appreciated then, as well as some  I’d fail to appreciate until years later..

At some point after I left home my rescue mom gave me the Cuisinart.  At first I used this workhorse to chop, shred and mix everything.  I used it like a rented horse- lots of miles and little concern.  Lately, though, I’ve come to appreciate that this can’t be replaced.  I’m aware of it’s emotional value.  I love my rescue parents.  As I age, so do they.  I’m not ready to cope with the eventual loss of these treasures in my life.  This food processor is tangled up in my heart with the end of my childhood, the tentative branching out to independence and the people who protected me with a safety net of love.  I’m aware of the strain I’ve put on the Cuisinart (and them, but that’s another story!).  I pamper it now, I’m afraid of the funny sounds it makes if I ask it to shred carrots, to chop ice.  I’m starting to find other ways of doing things.  I’m sparing it, bringing it out for ceremonial dishes and easy runs.

I always used the Cuisinart to make pie crust.   I’ve found another way to make crust.  Instead I’m using the large hole setting on my box grater to shred frozen butter.  I now mix it right into the bowl, without chopping and grinding.  It works well.  I made some pies for a pot luck affair on Wednesday  The pie is the same, crust just as flaky.

My rescue parents live almost 2 hours away, and I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like.  It’s something I need to do more often.  I’m planning to make another pie this week.  This one I’ll take to their home.

Apple Pie 

In a large bowl mix 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1/2 cup sugar. Using a grater with large holes, shred 12 ox frozen (salted) butter over dry mix.  Use your fingers to toss this around so each piece of butter is lightly covered with flour.  Now add 1/4 cup shortening or lard(if you really love them, use lard. You won’t be sorry).  Use a pastry blender, fork or (see my) broken spatula to mix it together.

Now add ice cold water, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together as a moist dough. Divide the dough into two equal halves and wrap in plastic wrap, shaping into a disc (this photo shows 4, I’d doubled the recipe for 2 pies). Place these into fridge for at least 30 minutes to chill.

Now for the filling: Peel and thickly slice the apples.  I used about 3 lbs of Macintosh with 3 large granny smiths.  I like to saute them briefly.  First put them into a large bowl with 1/4 cup lemon juice.  I also add lemon zest from at least one of the lemons.  Add 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 pinch ground cloves and a pinch of nutmeg.  The spice mixture can be changed to suit your preference. You can add allspice, more or less of anything, whatever your want.

In a saucepan melt 1/2 stick (salted) butter.  Toss in all the apple mixture, and saute until the liquid starts to leave the apples, but before they are cooked through (apples should still have some crispness). This took about 8 minutes on medium-high for me.  Stoves vary greatly- use your judgement. Now I remove the apples to a bowl, and continue to simmer the liquid in the pan, reducing it until it makes a thick sauce.  While doing this be sure to taste and adjust the sauce until you really love it. I ended up adding more lemon. Now- this is optional- I don’t like a really wet pie.  I added about 3 tablespoons of corn starch at the end. Whisk it into the sauce and it thickens up quickly.

Preheat oven to 425f.  I put a pizza stone in my oven (okay- I really just leave it there almost all the time).  It gets super hot, and will ensure the bottom crust is not soggy.  Therefore, I don’t prebake the crust. Go ahead- call my lazy.

Now get the dough out, sprinkle your surface and place the dough on the flour. Press it into the flour, flip it and press again.  This should be enough to keep it from sticking.  Brush the extra flour away, roll the dough out until it’s at least 2″ larger than the diameter of your pie pan.  Place it in pan (try folding it in half, pulling it over pan and spreading it back out).

Artfully arrange (dump) your apples on top of the crust.  Pour the thick, yummy apple-spice sauce over the apples.  Repeat the rolling out thing with the other crust.  Place the dough on top.  Sometimes, when I’m feeling fancy, I’ll take the extra dough and roll up little balls to decorate the edge of the pie crust. Then too, instead of just cutting little slices into the top to vent, I’ll use tiny cookie cutters to cut out little shapes (apples, leaves, ducks) from the top crust and artfully arrange them over the cut outs.  That’s not happening today.  I’m hobbling around the kitchen on an aircast, trying to rest my foot a bit.  This is the other kind of pie: the one where I grab a handful of crust at the edges and just squeeze it together, leaving a whole lot of thick crust at the sides.  I actually used kitchen scissors to snip some air vents.  I’ll be it tastes the same.So- anyway, brush some cream (or if you don’t have cream, beaten egg white) on top of the crust and sprinkle with a little sugar.

Put into that 425f oven, bake for 15 minutes.  Then reduce heat to 350f and bake for another 35 minutes. Take out to cool.  Doesn’t that look fine?

Now the most important thing about apple pie: it’s a perfect holiday or special occasion dessert because you can make it a day ahead.  It actually tastes better the next day.  Enjoy!

Where am I and What Happened to Monday?

I’m suffering from holiday confusion.  What was a Tuesday felt like a Monday.  Tuesday morning actually felt worse than a Monday.  It felt like one of those Sunday mornings from my 20s.  I’d grade that day a “D”.   From Drunk to Deflated, Drained and Dragging.  It was really deserving of an “F”, but I’d better not start up with that.

I think I had a conversation with someone and they gave me an idea for a post.  It was brilliant, really.  I do wish I could remember.  As Pucket said (with her sweet-as-sugar accent) “that girl… she’s just not right”.

I even forgot the Tuesday trip to the farm.  Those cows make all that nice fresh milk and I forgot all about them.  Fortunately,  Mrs Kathy had her wits about her.  She bottles the stuff and refrigerates it right away.  By the time I got through with all the Wednesday things, my girls were around and they came to say Hey to the cows.   That’s the cows saying “Hey” back.

When the girls come to visit the cows come running.  Literally.  The girls bring bovine junk food: white bread.  They just love that stuff.

I know it’s not great for these cows, who eat only healthy grass and some nutritional supplements (the grass here is a little light in selenium). 

But once it a while…in moderation…I guess it’s pathetic to try to justify this.

I’m a soft touch when it comes to them.  Just look at those eyes.  How do you not bring them treats?

It’s funny, but my “day off” started at 5am.   It’s been nonstop ever since.  I’m forever trying to fit 10 lbs of shxt into a 5 lb bag.  Going to the farm for milk takes another hour out of my day.  It’s so worth it, though.  Not only do the kids have fresh milk, but somehow going out there to visit the cow-girls takes all the stress out of the day.   I may just make it through the rest of the week after all.  Thank you sweet cow face!

Was Chickens, then Border Collies, now MiniMoos

Perhaps it’s the stress that makes me this way.  Life gets crazy, and my mind drifts to thoughts of peaceful farms with chickens roaming under the watchful eye of a rooster or two (they think they’re in charge).  In this little vignette is a pair of Border Collies  (who really are in charge). Then I picture goats. 

I never really thought of goats in my  perfect dream world before.  Lately, though, they seem to belong.  What do you do with goats?  I know you can milk them.  People say that the milk tastes just like cows milk.  No offense, but this kind of reminds me of how people say that frog/snake/rats taste just like chicken (have you also noticed that people say “no offense” just before they say offensive things?).  Goat milk is naturally homogenized.  You don’t get the cream separating, it’s all whole milk all the time.  No cream.  No butter.  No ice cream (could you even eat goat ice cream?).  .

Anyway, this is something to consider before becoming a goat herder.  Then I thought “Maybe we should have a cow”.  I thought this.  Even though, at this time, we are renting a lovely old Victorian home in downtown Mayberry.  I do like to think ahead.  I’d love to have a Jersey cow.  We get Jersey milk now.  The milk is so rich; even after we take off the cream (we make butter with it), the remaining milk tastes like whole milk.  Or maybe 3%.  Which probably is whole. Then I found out that one cow, even by conservative measures, would yield multiple gallons of milk.  Every day.  I’d need multiple acres of pasture for her.  And what if she were lonely? Ugh!  I’d pretty much put the idea of a cow on the back burner. 

Then I got an email.  From my sister in law Theresa.  I think she’s my favorite relative.  You know what she sent?  A link (***).  To a story about miniature cows.  No kidding.  They come in all sizes.  They even have mini Jerseys.  How cute are they???  So now I’m rethinking my dream home/farm.  I think I need one of these.  They give about 1/2 gallon a day.  They need at least 1/2 an acre of good grazing land.  That’s like a backyard here in Mayberry.  Maybe I should get two.  Or a minimoo plus a goat.  I’m soooo excited!  A goat and a minimoo.  We could have milk, and cream, and butter, and ice cream .  And mozzarella. And feta.  OMG- I think I just named them!  Ella and Feta.  I think this calls for coffee!

***http://www.motherearthnews.com/Sustainable-Farming/Small-Breed-Milk-Cows.aspx

The Other Good Thing About Chickens….

Last year I stumbled upon Chickensintheroad.com, which is a website and blog written by Suzanne McMinn.  She and I have so much in common.  Like: she moved from the urban life to a run down farm in West Virginia.  And I… like chickens.  Also she has managed to build a life for herself and her children, out there in he-man country.  She’s learned animal husbandry, gardening and to be a jack-of-all trades.  And I… like chickens.  Well, that’s not all.  I’m starting to really like goats.  And I love cows.

This website is filled with amazing photos (I envy her skill, and her camera), ideas, recipes and stories.  Every year in the fall she runs a retreat for people who like chickens.  Just kidding- but she does have a retreat.  And 75 lucky people get to travel to West Virginia (and like that’s not enough) to learn skills from about a million years ago.  Skills like how to bake bread, make cheese and soap, milk goats, play a dulcimer (I didn’t know either), spin and weave and a bunch of other old time stuff.  You stay in a bunk house with other chicken lovers.  They cook your meals.  I think it’s like summer camp for moms.  I’m one of the lucky 75 this year and I can’t wait!  I’m feeling like I should maybe sew my name in my clothes or something to get ready.

West Virginia is farrrr away.  I thought about flying there, but I really like road trips.  Billboards, Route 66, diners.  Then, I met Jan and Judith.  They come from New England and they are also going to the retreat.  We’re going to be road buddies.  My husband says it’s just like Thelma and Louise and Veronica.  I’m not sure, but I think I’m Veronica.  Anyway- My new buddy Jan has chickens.  AND her neighbor has goats! How great is that??? Jan came to my house today for lunch.  And she brought me eggs.  AND feta cheese from her neighbors goats (which was amazing).  This time, though, I’m talking chickens.  Like, after lunch, we made chicken pot pies.  First we made the dough:This here is my trusty Cuisinart from 1975 (okay-it’s a food processor, but back then it meant the same thing).  Into this we put 1 1/2 cups of flour. Then we added 1 stick of salted butter.  The butter gets chopped up into pieces about 1/4 inch in size, then drop them in to the flower and wiggle them around with your fingers to make sure each piece is coated with flour.  Pulse it 2 or 3 times.  Then we added 2 Tblsp of chicken fat, and 2Tblsp of lard.  We sprinkled in about 1Tblsp of thyme.  Then pulsed it again until it was just mixed and the pieces were the size of small peas.  Then we dumped it into this bowl, and stirred in some ice water.  About 3 Tablespoons, but maybe more.  Just add it until it comes together when you stir.  Then divide the dough into 2 halves, shape each into a disc on plastic wrap, wrap it up and refrigerate for about an hour.  While this is happening you can have lunch.  We did. Then we went to Blood Farm.  That’s the name of our butcher shop.  It’s also an abattoir.  And guess what- they also sell chickens.  Just can’t get away from them here, can you?

After the field trip we started to make the pies.  This is where we started: Chop and saute (I like butter) one small leek.  Then  add chopped celery and carrots to the pan.  After they are softened, sprinkle them in your pie dish. Now, since my family loves their carbs, I add some corn, diced (precanned) potatoes and about 1/2 cup frozen peas too.  This is all optional.  We also added a good portion of leftover diced chicken at this point.  So it’s only missing- the gravy!  One of my favorite parts.   Put butter in saute pan (about 4T), and melt for a roux.  Stir in 1/4 cup flour and whisk while flour starts to cook down (color starts to brown just slightly).  Then slowly add about 1/2 cup milk.  As that incorporates, add 1 Tblsp dry sherry and about 2 cups of chicken broth.  Season with pepper and salt (go light on the salt- just to taste).  By the way- that’s Jan showing her whisking skills off for that photo.

Now, pour the gravy over the veggies and chicken.  Time for the crust: It’s nice and cool. Just roll it out to a bit wider and longer than the pie pan.  A little flour as needed so it won’t stick.  See all the specks? That’s the thyme.  After it’s all rolled out, just lay it over the pan, and instead of hanging over, tuck the ends inside.  That gives you more crust, as it runs down the sides a little.  That side crust is wetter, like a bottom crust would be.  That’s my PJ’s favorite part. Then, brush some cream over the top and make some cuts to vent the steam.  Now it’s ready to bake.  Bake at 375f for about 35 minutes, then increase heat to 425 for about 15 minutes to brown the crust.  See how brown it gets?  The pan turned clear too! Just kidding- we made two pans.  Jan has a hungry man to feed at her home too.  This one was for my tribe. And this dish right here- it’s mine.  And this is the other good thing about chickens.  In addition to all the other things they do, when chickens are not your dear pets, especially when they are fresh roosters who go away to freezer camp, they make really yummy chicken pot pie!

Chickens

Chickens are the perfect pet.  The first couple of hours they aren’t really all that cute.  Their feathers are wet, they look sort of sparse and homely, scrawny in the same way as a human newborn (except the feathers part). Then they fluff out and manage to look adorable, following you around and eating bugs.  Especially ticks; they eat ticks like nobody’s business!

Then, just when they get to that not-so-cute adolescence, it gets better.  Instead of being cranky, sleepy, emotional teenagers, when puberty hits they start laying eggs!  Okay, that was some really good planning!  They also step up the bug eating thing.

My first experience with chickens was at Jessie’s.  Jessie lived across the street from my Nana.  They had about an acre of land in the Valley.  As in Southern California.  On this acre she had pet chickens.  They roamed freely and laid their eggs all over the yard.  Jessie wasn’t as good at finding eggs as I.  Every few months I’d go to Nana’s for a visit.  Within hours I’d be over at Jessie’s hunting for eggs.  Some of those eggs were really, really  old.  It was a smelly lesson in the benefits of providing a nesting box.

When I was about 14, my best friend and I came up with a terrific idea (given our teenage perspective).  We bought each other a baby chick for Christmas.  Darlene’s father was no dummy.  Soon I had 2 baby chicks.  My father was pretty good about it at first.  He’d go along with most of my antics when it came to pets.   I had chickens, so    he built me a chicken coop.  It wasn’t the worlds fanciest coop.  This might have been part of the problem.  You see, we lived in Orange County.  Not exactly chicken country.  We had to drive out to the boonies to get to an Agway and buy Purina Chicken Chow.  We didn’t know they’d eat bugs. Or grains.  Or kitchen  scraps.   And the chicken chow seemed to agree with them.  Those girls got bigger, and bigger…and before they even laid one egg they were gone.  Dad said that the animal officer had complaints from people who didn’t think chickens belonged in a planned community.  He claims that he drove them out to a farm where they would be happy roaming with cows.  He said the same thing about our pet snakes, mice, lizards…pretty much anything we managed to catch wound up living a better life on this mythical farm.

Many years later I found myself living at yet another beach town, this time on the east coast.  And you know what?  They don’t allow chickens there either.  What is it with these people?  It’s not like I wanted roosters.  There are a few people living in Hull who have managed to have chickens.  One, a lovely person named Catherine Goldhammer, wrote a book about it.  Her book “Still Life with Chickens: Starting Over in a House By the sea” tells of her struggles to keep her chickens and her sanity while she battled town bylaws and cranky neighbors.  There are still a few people in Hull who are raising outlawed chickens secretly.   They are renegades- I won’t reveal their names (who would?), but I silently applaud.

Now we live in a town that allows all manner of pets. My dad would have been challenged to find a reason to deport pets here.  I am still without my feathered pets.  Maybe someday.  In the meantime, Dad is no longer with us.  He is probably living a better life, in the country on a wonderful farm, roaming with the cows and chickens.  Yes, I probably should have a filter.

Tomboys, Girl Scouts and Soap Creatures

Back in the days before cell phones, dvd’s, ipads and video games I was a normal kid growing up with 3 brothers.   We climbed over the water pipes and hunted for blue belly lizards and horned toads in the open area of Southern California.   This was what I did pretty much every day.  We carried them around in our pockets.  Sometimes we’d forget and they’d turn up later.  Like in the laundry.  Maybe that’s why Mom signed me up for Girl Scouts.

Technically, I was a Brownie.  Being a Brownie was a big deal then.  You wore your whole uniform to school once a week.  It was a brown dress, orange beanie and tie with those really stylish knee-high socks.  After school we walked to the leader’s home for the “meeting”.  The “meeting” was a lecture, followed by coloring with crayons, eating some windmill cookies(did anyone actually like them?) and Kool-aid.  I never earned any badges, never learned any cool secret handshake.  They must have done that in year two, something I also never did.  Girl Scouts was the ultimate snooze.

Naturally when my own daughter was old enough, she would take my advise and avoid the whole thing.  Wrong.  Nothing could deter my tomboy from joining the other girls in this right of passage.  Eventually I not only agreed to this, I volunteered to be their “leader”.  Don’t get me wrong- I’m not a Kool-aid drinking convert.  I just wanted it to be more than crayons and cookies.  I used the Scout platform as a way of giving them broader experiences.  I encouraged them to face adversity, fears and challenges.  They learned to ski, ride, canoe, and we camped too many times to count.  They learned to be resourceful.  On one of our trips they learned to roast a whole chicken on a stick in the ground.  On another they learned that a wine bottle makes a good rolling pin.  But I digress… the hard part was giving them a sense of accomplishment before they were old enough to do all the challenging stuff.  One of the things Avery really liked was the time they “made soap” for Mother’s Day gifts.

This was one of the cheats; a way of re-crafting already made soaps into something special for Mother’s Day. It was done over 3 different meetings.  First, we made blender paper (like this:  http://www.pioneerthinking.com/crafts/crafts-basics/makingpaper.html) and tore it into rustic looking strips.   The next meeting we went out foraging for flowers, which we dried.  Then, we “made” the soap.  We gathered hotel soaps as well as some basic oatmeal type soaps.  We gave them a few good pulses in the food processor, adding rosemary and the dried flowers for the last pulse or two.

Then we dumped the soap mixture into a large bowl.  Adding just a small amount of water, a tablespoon at a time, created a lumpy clay like mix.  This was pressed firmly into muffin trays lined with plastic wrap. 

After a few hours it was dry enough to pop out.  We dried it overnight, then slipped a strip of homemade paper around it, tied it with jute and a sprig of rosemary.  

It’s been about ten years since the first time we made these. This time Avery wanted to play with hers like clay.  She got right in there and squeezed and molded that stuff for ages.  I kind of like that about her.  Then she made this  soap creature.  I’m not sure what kind of creature this is, but I have a feeling I’m going to find out on Sunday!

Canning our way to safety (or what to eat when the Zombies come).

Finally, a day I don’t actually “work”.  I am still getting oriented to the new job, so I’m working 24 hours this week in addition to my usual hours at work in Boston.  Yesterday was Friday, AKA “Haymarket Day”, so I stopped by after work.  There were slim pickins to be had at the fair.

I wanted to pick up some amazing-yet- inexpensive veggies to have on hand.  I’d hoped to buy in bulk for canning.  The best deals yesterday were: sweet corn (3 for $1), tomatoes (3lbs for $1), and limes (10 for $1).

Last night I decided to can the corn, as my kids weren’t in the mood for it on-the-cob (If I weren’t a nurse I’d check their temperatures.  Being a nurse, of course, I don’t actually own a thermometer).   Then I figured, as long as I was in the kitchen, I’d make some salsa.  I always used to buy it in bulk, but after the first use it sat in the back of the fridge and got fuzzy.   This time I would can it in 8oz jars (one use with our family).

I also sliced up 3lbs of onions that were at that “eat me or send me to college” age.  I put them into a crock pot with 1/2 a stick of butter.  After 24 hours (yup- just keep cooking them on low) they are just the sweetest, brownest, tenderest things you ever ate.  The finished product came to almost 3 pints.  They last well in the fridge (well they would, if people didn’t eat them up).  They are amazing on pizza.

Today, on my day of rest (while I did some laundry), vegetarian daughter (Avery) asked why I hadn’t canned something more useful.  She said ” I like vegetables, but it would be more useful if you’d can some stew or chili so we have whole meals ready”.  Hmmm…”you mean the vegetarian kind?”.  She looked at me as if I were slow (13 year olds are wizard at that look).  Then she patiently explained “Mom, you can things so we will be prepared.  For emergencies, like a zombie apocalypse, you know?  Obviously in an apocalypse it’s every mammal for himself!“.   How could I be so silly?   Why hadn’t I canned beef products for just such an event?  Well, dd and I went back to the Haymarket.   We still weren’t able to get anything terribly great, but did buy a case of (14!) mangoes for $5, and 3 lbs of strawberries for $2.   She ate 3 (yes-3!) mangoes on the way home.  Then I quickly started what I hope will be life-changing beef stew.  Last fall we bought 1/2 a steer from farmer Kevin (another nice neighbor).   My kids call him Merlin.  The steer, I mean.  They name everything.   The pig was Henry (and, yes, I did check to be sure their future therapy was covered by our insurance).  Anyway, back to Merlin.  He’s at freezer camp in the basement.   I fetched out some Merlin (?) shin slices for the stew.  After slow cooking them in a roaster for a few hours at 300f, I put them into the crockpot with the pan drippings and some of the carmelized onions.  I filled it with water to stew overnight.  Tomorrow I’ll skim the broth, chop the meat, roast some carrots, add potato and some herbs to the whole thing and can up some hearty zombie-thwarting beef stew.   But first, I’ll be going to work.  Because my day of rest is over.  Where did it go?

Addendum: After work today (Sunday), I called on the way home to see what they’d had for dinner.  Hubby said that after smelling the beef all day he thought he’d wait for me to make the stew.  Really.   It was already 745pm.  I wish I were kidding.  He was able to cope and cook up some sausages instead.  I’ve roasted the carrots, filled 9 pints with these and some raw diced potatoes, beef and broth.  I still haven’t decided if I should thicken it for stew, or leave it as is for soup.  It can chill until tomorrow when I’ll skim to remove fat and process in the canner.

Pancake days

Some days I do try to be a good wife and mother. Mostly mother.  I figure that I’ve pretty much covered the wife thing.  Certainly if you could ask my mother (GRHS).  Her motto was “tell him you can only promise to be good in one room of the house.  Pick that room and OWN it.  If you do well with that one room, that’s all he can expect”.   I chose the kitchen.  Mom did not.  It’s well established that the kitchen was not her place.  Enough said.

My husband went along with this grudgingly.  He didn’t really expect me to pick the kitchen.  But after all, I mean, 4 kids?  Not like I was ALWAYS in the kitchen. Still, he sometimes seems disappointed.  Oh well.

I’m also going to add here that it’s a lot harder to be a stellar wife and mother when you work outside the home.  I know, there are a lot of mom’s who are “stay at homes” who work 8 days a week, etc.  Don’t even go there-  I’ll just start whining again.  This week it’s 2 jobs, 52 hours work scheduled, 18 hours commuting time and 3 kids who miss their mom.  Okay, that’s me assuming.  Fact is mom misses them.  A lot.  So on Friday I’ll stop back at the Haymarket, stock up on fruits and veggies, maybe some fish.  But midweek I’m feeding them love and pancakes.  I know- white flour, sugar, butter.  Bite me.  Right on my tender fluffy pancakes.  Because sometimes we all just need a little comfort.

Here’s my recipe for comfort dinner, Love-pancake style:

First, I stock up on bacon ends at the butcher.  Those are the ends left over when they make those perfect slices.  Fry those up in big diced pieces.  The kids like them; you pick them up with a fork.  That yellow part- it’s fat.  No apology here.  Don’t do a face plant or anything- just enjoy it.

Next, my super-deluxe- homemade- from- scratch-easy- peasey pancakes.  Kind of a long name.  It almost takes longer to write it than to make them.  It’s a 3 step process:

First step: Melt 6Tbls (salted) butter in (2-4 cup) a glass measuring cup.

While this is happening, put your griddle or pan on to heat up.  If you usually add butter to the pan, do so.  If you usually use a cooking spray or vegetable oil- use butter instead.  Those things have no business being out of the pantry on pancake-love dinner night.  Now put these (3) things in a mixing bowl: 2 cups flour, a heaping 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp baking powder.  Give it a quick whisk.

Now take that butter out of the microwave and add 2 cups of milk and 2 eggs.  If you don’t have room, just add 1 cup of milk, mix and dump into flour mixture.  Now put another cup of milk into measuring cup, add 2 eggs, whisk briefly and add to the mixing bowl.  Stir just until mixed.  If it’s a little too thin, add flour.  If too thick, a little milk. Get the idea? Did I mention that PJ has been making LOVE-pancakes since he was 9 years old? You can do this.

Now cook on griddle or pan in the usual fashion.  Flip when bubbles form, before you’ve burned the bottom etc.  Now those are the best pancakes ever.  Even the dogs love them.  Yup- it’s true.  When momma’s making love-pancakes they stand by the stove and watch the whole thing, begging with their big brown doggie eyes until they get theirs.  With bacon.  You know what they don’t get?

What they don’t get is the homemade from scratch hot chocolate.  It’s the one on the Hershey’s cocoa can.  And I make it with milk from the dairy, but that’s another story.  And that’s not why.  Why?  Because, my dogs only love pancakes and bacon.  Not because I’m responsible.  I think we’ve established that.  If I could be a stay at home mom I might be responsible everyday.  But I’m not, and it’s Wednesday.  And I think it’s raining.  And I really wish we had marshmallows.

Liv, procrastinating, and foraging

Today was one of those days when I really didn’t want to get up.  Last night I was at a Livingston Taylor concert.  He was in town to perform at a fundraiser for the high school.  I’ve never understood the extreme appeal of James Taylor.  Liv, however, is class.  He’s always been my favorite.  Not just within his family; there’s really no one to whom I’d rather listen.  Gifted musician, funny as hell and has that extra something that time doesn’t change.  We splurged for the VIP seats that included a “champagne artists reception…”.  He graciously made his way over to us.  Having advance notice you’d think I might have considered a few deep, meaningful or witty things to fall back on for conversation.  Unless you knew me, of course.  Then you’d just groan and shake your head.  You’d know that we had a private conversation about…the weather.  Yup!  Then I sat in the front and grinned at him for the rest of the night.  The High School Chamber Chorus also performed quite well. They have been asked to perform at the opening for summer Olympics in London, which is why they were fundraising.  Liv introduced one of his students, Matt Cusson, who was also a very gifted artist with a great future.  Sorry kids, I was really just there to see Liv. 

Champagne receptions don’t bring out the more responsible side of me either.  Today found me escaping work earlier than expected.  I drove home mentally cataloging the tasks awaiting me.  So many jobs and so hard to prioritize…so when I got home I grabbed a bucket and went straight to the laundry room…that’s a lie.  I took that bucket straight outside to forage.  I’m so irresponsible.  But a great forager! I found out that those pretty leaves that were popping up last week have become a lush garden of garlic mustard.   I also found more dandelions.  Lots and lots of them.  Oh my. After looking online, I found a great idea for herbal pesto by Susan Weed (great name!) of http://www.susanweed.com. The recipe can be done with a variety of greens.  First I gave them a good cleaning.  Lots of things out in the woods don’t belong in pesto.  Then, I put some olive oil, sea salt and garlic (not too much, the garlic mustard is there too) in my trusty old (very old) food processor.  After whizzing that around a bit I added the greens.  They chopped up very quickly.

I wasn’t sure if it smelled like pesto should at this point, but I’m not planning to cook it tonight so I held off on adding the cheese or nuts yet.  My anonymous child (they’re not sure they like being mentioned by their stalker mom) passed through the kitchen and thought it smelled good.  That’s promising! It says in the recipe that if you top it with a bit of olive oil this stuff stores for ages in the fridge.  I’ll give it a try over the weekend.  Maybe I’ll try that pasta recipe too.  I wish I could forage for eggs.  If only we had chickens…. 

This is why I love my boys…

Here is a conversation with my PJ…

If you could have anything for your birthday what would it be?

I would like another dog.

Do you remember when you got your first dog?

No, I don’t remember ever not having a dog.

You have a schnoodle dog now. What do you like about him?

Well, he’s kind of smart.  And he’s fluffy.  Or he was.  Then you shaved him.  

What don’t you like about him?

Well, you know.  He’s a wuss. 

What would you look for in a dog now?

He’d have to be big.  Really big. I like big dogs.

What would you call him?

Waldo.  That’s a good name for a dog.  Or Fredwardo.

What kind of dog would Fredwardo-Waldo be?

Well, he should be smart.  I like smart dogs. Maybe a border collie.  One that could herd chickens.

What chickens would Waldo herd?

The chickens we want to get. 

To go with the dog.

Oh! Of course, those chickens.  

And that is why I love my boy.

Wine, Wine, Whine…

I have this bottle of wine that makes me crazy.  It was a gift from a lovely friend.  She meant well; but it’s really not good.  And she’s really, really nice.  She just sucks at buying wine.  I mean, there’s a meter on the label that places it somewhere just this side of cotton candy.  It’s really not my kind of wine.  I’d feel guilty throwing it away.  I’d have thought that somewhere in the last couple of years I’d have found someone to drink it.  Instead, it sits on the rack.  The bottle of red that I forget about.  There must have been a dozen times in the past year when I’ve gone to the rack, pulled it out thinking it was some wonderful, overlooked treat only to see that Banty rooster on the label.  I like chickens, and roosters even.  You wouldn’t think so if you heard me the other night when I pulled out the LAST bottle of Merlot only to find- Banty Red.  Then it occurred to me:  why not cook it up into jelly?

The only real problem was the sugar.  There was already sooo much in there.  I thought it would be okay if I tamed it with some spices.  Maybe a spicy-wine-jelly to serve with cheese?  I knew that peppercorns were needed.  Then, after searching the pantry for possibilities, I settled on allspice and star anise.  Do you see how these are packaged?  They came from the “international” section of the market.  These spices are normally way too expensive to buy on a whim.  Like $5 for a tiny little jar.  In the foreign food section, though, they run about $1 a bag.  It’s like we’re the dumb American tourists paying too much for everything, only it’s in our own town!  Anyway, do you know why I picked allspice? Me either, but it sounded good.  And star anise: I picked it because it’s pretty.  I’ve been wanting to open the bag just to play with those perfect little flowers.  And the cool little seeds inside.  How cute is that thing? So, first I followed the advise of America’s Test Kitchen and reduced some of the wine (about 2 cups).   While it was reducing I simmered the rest of the wine with the spices.  After about 20 minutes I increased the heat, added 3 Tblsp of (low sugar) pectin, 2 Tblsp lemon juice and brought it to a full rolling boil.  Then I stirred in another cup of sugar, returned it to a boil for one minute.  I added the reduced wine, strained out the spices and somehow an entire 750ml of wine plus sugar only added up to 2 cups of spiced wine jelly (plus about 2 ounces that we used for tasting).   Do you see all those jars lined up?  What was I thinking???  That bottle had seemed like such a big, annoying thing and now it’s just two little jars of jelly.  It’s still a bit sweet for my taste- it needs a sharp cheese to tame that sugar.  My son PJ, who’s 11, thinks it’s just delicious.  Don’t worry, the alcohol cooked out.

TGIF in Boston: aka Haymarket Day!

I do not work after 3pm on Fridays.  It’s my favorite time of the week.  Haymarket time.  Shopping.  Sigh.  When asked if I like shopping, the answer is always “of course”.  I love competitive shopping.  It should be an Olympic sport.  Thanks to the coupon wizards, this may someday happen.  But that’s not the kind of shopping I like.  In fact, I’m fairly certain that I don’t like most shopping.  Shopping at any mall on December 24th?  They’d better be offering free cocktails at every store.  A day of clothes shopping with my teens?  I’d rather stick a fork in my eye.  But an afternoon at the Haymarket?  Now that’s my kind of shopping! 

The Haymarket is on Blackstone Street and runs from North Street (at the south end, naturally) to Hanover Street at the north.  These streets were among the first laid in the original settlement of Boston.  There are a few shops that are open during the week.  There is a halal butcher, a shop that sells remarkably bad pizza, and Durty Nelly’s (a great little pub with some good food and amazing views from the upstairs room). Most of the week, it’s fairly peaceful.   Starting on Thursday evening, though the place really comes alive.  The vendors arrive late in the evening, setting up tented stalls and stacking up the first crates of produce (there are a couple of fish vendors, but mostly it’s about the produce).  The produce is from the warehouses in Chelsea that all the markets buy from.  They clear out the places at the end of the week, selling cheaply to the vendors who can then sell at below market prices.  Their are some unusual items; the selection is usually better than the average market.   The produce might be ripe, almost ripe or over-ripe.  I’ve been lucky; the quality and flavor is usually better than what I get from the big store.  I’ve heard some tales of woe; fruit that looks great on the outside, but inside is totally rotten (I call this “Ursula fruit”; ;like from Ursula in The Little Mermaid).  You have to proceed with caution and know your produce!

Being prepared is also important. Fortunately,  the  local markets advertise their sale items before Friday.  I’m aware, for example, that I can buy (fragile) grapes for $.99 and strawberries for $1.50 this week.  Since I’m carrying my purchases (I commute by train) they need to be not TOO heavy or fragile.  The menu at home will not dictate my purchases, it’s the other way around.  I usually spend about $15-20, and buy just a bit more than I can comfortably carry.  Within about 2 blocks it has become way more than I can carry.  By the time I lug it onto the train my wrists are numb, my arms are shaking and I’m glowing (as in “horses sweat, men perspire and ladies…”). You will never convince me that it’s not a physical sport!  Our menu on the weekend is always more interesting and vegetable based for my efforts.  This week was a version of middle child (Avery)’s favorite: Roasted Ratatouille.

Ratatouille always includes eggplant, zucchini, onions, garlic and tomato.  Depending on what’s in the pantry, it may also include mushrooms, olives or other vegetables. I start by chopping everything (except tomatoes) into about a 1 inch cube.  Some people go through a big salt/press thing with their eggplant to remove “bitterness”.  I’ve tried and it makes no difference; so it gets only a rough chop  like all the veggies.  Then, I toss the chopped veg into a large roasting pan with olive oil, sea salt and a generous helping of ground pepper. This all gets roasted in a 400f (204c) oven for about an hour. At this point it’s a bit caramelized and the veggies are soft.  Now I stir in a 15oz can of diced tomatoes, or if I have them about 2 cups of diced fresh. Then I cover lightly with grated cheese.  This week the fridge gods offered up some nice Gruyere and mozzarella.  It goes back into the oven, at 450f (232c) for about 30 minutes.  The end result is an amazing casserole filled with lush veggies and melted cheese.  My middle (vegetarian) child is happy,  my young boy (devout carnivore) even likes it.  I’ve also served it as a side for holidays.  On Easter it was actually the only dish that we ran out of.  Enjoy!