Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ideas and Suggestions

1. I read Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan, for the first time in my life this past weekend. I picked it up off the shelf in the library and had to ask the librarian if it was an abridged version since it was so thin. She said that no, it was the real thing. I read it to the kids in three days (we could’ve easily done it in one sitting) and finished it up on Sunday night. I don’t normally cry when I read to the kids (I do get a little choked up sometimes), but somewhere in the last chapter I started crying and I didn’t stop till I finished the book. I don’t mean a little sniffle cry; I mean, a tears-streaming-down-my-cheeks-and-Miss-Becca-Boo-flying-into-my-lap-to-hug-me type of cry. It is an exquisite book.

2. My Aunt Valerie gave me a new tip when she last visited me. She told me to save all the fruit juices that you have left in the bottom of your jars and use them to replace some or all of the water in your granola recipes. So in my last batch of granola I included sweet cherry juice, the dregs of the jar of apple cider, and some peach juice. I don’t detect a change in the flavor, but it makes me feel kind of smug to do it.

3. I have always cut up my squashes and pumpkins and boiled them till tender and then scraped out the flesh to use in pies and other dishes, but this year I decided to learn how to roast them. All you do is wash the pumpkin, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, cut it into smaller chunks, and set the chunks skin-side-down on cookie sheets.


Cover the pumpkin with big sheets of tinfoil (I save them for the next time I do a pumpkin bake) and bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for a couple hours till the pumpkin is fork-tender.


After the pumpkin cools for a bit,


scoop out the meaty flesh.


Allow the scooped-out pumpkin to sit in the bowl for a little because some more liquid will ooze out which can then be poured off.


Pack the pumpkin into pint-sized boxes and pop them in the freezer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Go Obama!

(So I'm not very good at keeping mum. Ya wanna make something of it?)

I saw The Man yesterday, with my very own eyes, and you know what? He looks just like he does on TV. In fact, it was almost exactly like watching him on our fuzzy, static-y TV ‘cause with all the jostling and screaming it was kind of hard to get a good, focused look at him.

Here he is.


Oops, let’s try the zoom now.


See what I mean? He looks calm, collected, confident, and, believe it or not, energetic. How does he do it?!

The day’s events in a nutshell: Me and two friends took nine kids and some food to a field and sat there all afternoon in the freezing windy cold and then we didn't get in because about five thousand people jumped in line in front of us (CURSES!) but then Obama came on to the back of the field (bless his heart) and we saw him for five minutes, after which Miss Becca Boo threw up, and then, after slinking (as if you can “slink” with nine children) through the woods on the other side of the building and seeing him exit the building and drive off, we went home. And thus ends the year’s history/social studies/political science lesson.


The extremes we mothers will go to in the spirit of home education! I think we should be sainted, or something.

Ps. Except that now he’s doing that special announcement thing tonight, so I guess we’ll be pulling out the TV (that we don’t have) and making some popcorn. At least we’ll be warm this time around.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Leftover Creation

The other day when I was still on a zippy high after my foray into apples and rosemary, I created a new pizza. Now, I don’t know if much can be invented in the way of pizza what with the already too-many-to-count crust recipes and topping combinations, but I daresay that I have quite possibly chipped a little hole in the glass ceiling of pizza possibilities. Among the tools used to make that little hole were curried pumpkin, sausage, and apples.

This may look like a complicated recipe, but please do not be dismayed. There is lots of room for working ahead. And actually, I just created this dish at the last minute, off the top of my head, as I pulled the leftovers out of the refrigerator and freezer. I had the soup in the fridge and the browned sausage in the freezer and only had to caramelize the onion, grate the cheese, and saute the apples. So, make the soup for supper tonight, and then a couple days later (or months, if you freeze the leftovers), you can whip up this spanking new pizza.


I ate the leftover pizza for breakfast and lunch the following day, and, the day after that, for breakfast. I just kept the leftovers on a plate on the counter, no refrigeration necessary, and heated up each piece in the microwave for about 15 seconds. The leftovers were excellent on day two, but by day three the crust was getting a little soggy.


Pizza with Curried Pumpkin Sauce, Sausage, Apples, Caramelized Onions, and Sharp Cheddar

1/2-1 cup leftover curried pumpkin soup (see below)
2 cups sharp cheddar, grated
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
1-2 cups bulk sausage, browned
4 apples, cored, peeled, sliced
1 large onion, cut into thin rings
1 recipe pizza dough

For the curried pumpkin soup:
Saute a chopped onion and some diced celery in some olive oil. Add 1-2 tablespoons curry powder. In a separate kettle, boil (in water) a large handful of unpeeled fingerling potatoes and 1 or 2 diced carrots. Add the drained, cooked veggies to the curry mixture. Add a couple cups of cooked pumpkin, and two or three cups of chicken broth (I used turkey gravy). Puree the whole mixture with your handy-dandy immersion blender. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a cup of cream or milk. Heat on medium-low heat. The soup should be fairly thick.


To serve, garnish with any of the following: yogurt, sour cream, grated cheese, chives, parsley. Make sure you reserve one cup of the soup, or divide the soup into one-cup containers and freeze, for the pizza recipe.

To assemble the pizza:
Saute the apples in a little butter till tender but still firm, about ten minutes. Set aside.

Saute the onion in some olive oil until dark, golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. (See here for more detailed instructions.) Set aside.

Roll/press out one large pizza crust (I divided the recipe of pizza dough into two balls and rolled the crusts out thin—one was for the kids’ cheese pizza and the other was for this recipe). Spread the curried pumpkin soup over the crust. Sprinkle on some of the grated cheese. Distribute the browned sausage, then the sauteed apples, and finally the caramelized onion. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese over all, and bake at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Signs, News, and Daydreams

Writer’s block.

I feel better now that I wrote that. Because I wrote it.

I sometimes get this way. I don’t write for a day or two and then I have a build-up of ideas and I can’t sort through them and choose what to write about so I don’t write anything at all. And then I feel worse.

I’m tempted to write another Splat post. Maybe I’ll start a series of splats. Just every once in a while I will write down everything and anything that comes to mind—a brain-purging exercise. Then I would, hopefully, be able to breathe easier and, for a period of time, at least, write posts in a more calm and rational manner.

But I’d feel bad for you, my poor readers, who’d be left to sift through the riff-raff of my brain. Making you struggle through the murky mire of my mental state just wouldn’t be right. Or fair.

So, as a compromise, and in a superhuman act of self-restraint, I will exorcize myself of only two or three thoughts. The rest I will write down on paper and then burn, if I feel the need.

1. After three different tries over the past several weeks, I finally, just yesterday, tracked down the person who was “selling” political yard signs. After a semi-complicated game of phone tag, we finally got to talk to each other directly and he gave me directions (yes, I was talking on the cell phone while driving) to where I could meet him. He was waiting in his sticker-covered pick-up truck when I pulled up. I bought two signs; one for now, and the other for when the first sign gets stolen.

2. I don’t normally like to talk about things I’ll be doing in the future because there is always the chance that I won’t do it and I don’t like to disappoint, but I’m breaking my rule to tell you this bit of very exciting news: One of the political candidates, who’s sign is in my yard, is coming to town this week! Yo-Yo, Miss Becca Boo, and I are going to go midday and camp out all afternoon in order to get good seats. I figure this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, as well as our history/current events lesson for the year.

3. The other day when I was putting The Baby Nickel down for a nap, I had this following daydream: The aforementioned political candidate’s entourage was driving to town and one of the staff members called me to say that they needed a place to stop for dinner and could I please feed them? They would be there in fifteen minutes.

Oh dear! What could I possibly feed them?

I quickly ruled out fancy stuff—lack of time. And no meat—it would take too long to thaw and cook.

And then I realized what I would do: I would pull out a bag of last year’s Roma green beans, a bag of my parents’ white sweet corn, some fingerling potatoes, a quart of the canned Lodi applesauce, some homemade jam and a loaf of bread. There is still chard in the garden, so I could cook up a big skillet of greens. For dessert I would turn to the freezer again for red raspberries and strawberries, and I could open jars of peaches and sweet cherries.

What could be better, and fancier, than just the simple stuff from the garden, cooked up and served in its most basic form? Now that would be worthy of a king, er, president-to-be (hopefully).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Interrupting Myself

I was going to wax eloquent about homeschooling today, but I am instead interrupting my program to bring you a recipe for an apple tart. It can not wait until tomorrow. I must get this recipe off my chest and into your hands immediately. It’s an emergency.


This is one of Orangette’s recipes. I love Orangette. Yes, I know I had that little falling out with her over chocolate chip cookies, but now, after this tart, all is forgiven. Totally forgiven. Peace and goodwill reigneth. We are bosom buddies forevermore. If she were to walk into my house right now I would kiss her feet. And then offer her a piece of tart. Then she would kiss my feet, of course. Because we are bosom buddies.

Orangette said this tart was simple, but then her instructions were about a mile long causing me to get a case of the silent inner tummy chuckle twitches. However, I will admit that her clear, precise instructions are what make her recipes so easy to follow, and so trustworthy. I’m cutting down on the verbage in this post (this is an emergency after all), so if you need more explanation, please do click on over to her site.

Basically, all you do is make a butter crust which you roll out into a rectangle and then you lay the apple slices on the crust, sprinkle the apples with sugar, and bake the tart. Afterwards you brush the cooled tart with a strained sugar, water, and apple-core glaze. So, you see, it really is a simple recipe.


I followed her instructions almost to a T, but not quite. I was feeling a little frisky, so I replaced some of the water with apple cider, and then, get this, I added a sprig of rosemary! I don’t normally do things like that—dashing uncalled for herbs into glazes is just not my style, and I almost never presume to improve an Orangette-endorsed recipe. But my oh my—that fragrant green sprig made me feel so high-end and classy that I’ll probably start sticking it in everything! My nose, my ears... just kidding.

Another thing: I’m pretty much sold on this butter crust.

Just one more thing: One of Orangette’s commenters suggested adding grated cheese to the butter crust.

Eh-hem. Stay with me here, please: If you don’t add the rosemary, you could add some freshly grated nutmeg to the butter crust and then simmer the apple cores with a stick of cinnamon...

Apple Tart with Cider-Rosemary Glaze
Adapted from Orangette

For the crust:
1/4 cup cold water
3/4 teaspoon cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ cups flour
9 tablespoons cold butter, cut into chunks

Put the dry ingredients and the butter into a food processor and process until you have a dry, crumbly mixture. While the processor is running, slowly add the liquid through the feed tube—the crumbly mixture should almost immediately come together to make a ball of dough. On a piece of plastic wrap, press the dough into a disk, wrap well with more plastic, and refrigerate for at least thirty minutes.

When you are ready to assemble the tart, roll the dough out onto an ungreased baking pan, roughly forming a 11 x 16 inch rectangle.

Peel, core, and slice six or seven tart apples, reserving the cores for the glaze (just set them aside in a little saucepan). Lay the apples slices in tidy rows on the dough. Fold the edges of the dough over to make a crust, or else pinch them up to make a little wall. Sprinkle the apples with a couple teaspoons of sugar (I used Demerara).

Bake the tart at 375 degrees for 25 -35 minutes.

For the glaze:
3/4 cup sugar
½ cup water
½ cup apple cider, optional (if not using the cider, increase both the water and the sugar to one full cup each)
small sprig of rosemary
the reserved apple cores, optional (if not using the cores, use one whole cup of apple cider and omit the water entirely)

Combine all the ingredients, except for the rosemary, in a little sauce pan and simmer over medium heat until the liquid has reduced by about half—it should take about 30 minutes or so. Add the sprig of rosemary for the last minute. Pour the glaze through a sieve and brush over the cooled tart.


Note: Orangette did not comment upon whether or not it was imperative to consume the tart immediately after glazing, but I can report that while the glaze (and I only used about half of the mixture—I see another tart in my near future) did soften the crust a little, it did not take away from the crispy-buttery texture. In other words, wait to glaze the tart till you will serve it, but leftovers will be absolutely fine.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Love, The Tooth Fairy

Yo-Yo Boy lost his first tooth yesterday.

That’s right, I said his first. Yes, that’s right ... he will be turning nine years old on Thursday. Yes, that’s right—he’s a late bloomer. It's not my doing, okay? It's not like I'm scotch-taping his teeth to his gums, refusing to let them fall out.

Actually, I'm with you---it was about time, if you ask me. His mouth was beginning to resemble a falling-down split-rail fence! His two bottom teeth were both loose (I think his top two are also loose), and his second teeth had grown up behind them. We even made a special trip to the dentist to see if everything was okay, and the doc assured us he was just fine. He explained that because Yo-Yo’s new teeth were preventing his tongue from naturally bumping up against the loose ones, it might take extra long for the first teeth too fall out. He sure was right about that.

Then yesterday while the kids were resting and I was sitting at the computer, deep in a thought-filled stupor (that’s what happens to me when the blissful, post-lunch quiet descends upon the house and I have just slurped down a large cup of cafĂ© con leche), I heard Yo-Yo throw open his door (it creaks) and pound down the stairs in his annoyingly flatfooted way. He sprinted towards me, his hand outstretched before him, at breakneck speed. “My tooth fell out!” he half-stage whispered, half-squawked. He widely grinned at me, revealing a mouthful of blood. I sent him to the bathroom to wash up and when he came back I oohed and aahed over the little piece of enamel. We put the tooth in a glass, to save for the Tooth Fairy I reminded him.

“Aw, mama! That’s you. I know that!” he said.

“Really? Hmm.” I said.

He had to call Grandmommy and Grandaddy to tell them the story, and he couldn’t wait for Mr. Handsome to come home so he could fake him out by putting the tooth back in and then pretending it fell out again. There was much speculation over what the Tooth Fairy might bring. “It can’t be big,” I warned. “The fairy is really small, you know.”

As I shooed the kids up to bed after the bedtime stories, I told Yo-Yo to make sure he left his window open a crack so the fairy could get in. “Mama!” he said, exasperated. “There is no Tooth Fairy. I’m talking to the Tooth Fairy right now!”

“Huh,” I said. “I don’t know about that ... I don’t think I look like much of a fairy.”

Mr. Handsome ended up spending part of the night in the boys’ room because The Baby Nickel woke up. He said that Yo-Yo kept waking up, too excited for the fairy. He even asked Mr. Handsome if he could look under his pillow and Mr. Handsome said no and Yo-Yo boy didn’t look.

Yo-Yo came running down the stairs at 6:30 this morning. “Look, Mama! Look what the Tooth Fairy gave me! And she wrote me this note and the writing is tiny because she’s so small. Come read it!”

Several minutes later he said, “I know it was you that gave it to me.” I think he was trying to convince himself.

When it comes down to it he does know that I am the Tooth Fairy, yet for those few minutes the line between reality and imagination wavered. If I had my way, I’d keep that line blurry for just another few years. Or at least long enough to let the Tooth Fairy collect her precious baby’s pearly gems.

And I won't use any scotch tape. I promise.

Dear Yo-Yo Boy,

I have been waiting and waiting for that tooth of your’s to fall out. Once in a while I would even fly into your room and peek into your mouth while you were sleeping, just to make sure it was still there. I almost never see a tooth hang on that long, especially with another tooth behind it pushing it out, and especially in an almost nine year old. (By the way, happy birthday ahead of time!)

Now, you get busy wiggling that other tooth. It will soon fall out, mark my words.

Love,
The Tooth Fairy

Ps. I hope you like the little car. Maybe if you crash it into your mouth (on accident, on purpose) it will knock the other tooth out.

Pps. I hope it is not too difficult for you to read this. It’s just that my typewriter can only make small letters since it is so tiny, but you know, that’s just how it is for a little Tooth Fairy like me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jigging For Cake

By any chance, did you put up some rhubarb this year? Did you happen to freeze any of the green-red chunks in plastic bags? In two-cup portions, perhaps? If so, you are a lucky winner and I now give you permission to dance a little jig. I’m serious. Go ahead. Dance!

Now you need to fetch that bag of rhubarb from the freezer, turn on the oven, and pull out your medium-sized glass mixing bowl. You are going to make a cake, and the cake will be so tasty that you will probably (absolutely, certainly, and definitely) eat entirely too much.


In this cake the rhubarb is mixed into the batter and then sprinkled with the brown sugar mixture, but then as the cake bakes, the rhubarb and brown sugar-cinnamon topping sink to the bottom, creating a fruity, gooey, sometimes crispy-caramel-y bottom layer.


It’s the kind of cake bottom that makes you insist that it’s your job to serve everyone their piece, and then you intentionally use a fork instead of a cake server to scoop the pieces onto the dessert plates because you are well aware that the fork will not pick up all that brown crunchy goo, which means that after you’ve swept the cake pan off the table and set it back on the counter, you can hunch over the pan and quickly, using your spoon or even your fingers, polish clean the pan’s sweet bottom.


And then you’ll need to dance another jig to burn off all that snuckered cake.


Not that I would know anything about scraping up brown-sugar goo with my fingers and then dancing a jig as penance. Nope. I do stomach crunches.

Rhubarb Cake
It is possible that this recipe came from Epicurious, though I can’t be certain about that, because when I jotted down the ingredients in my little recipe book I forgot (oops) to make any mention of this recipe’s origins.

This time around I added some red raspberries, as well as the called-for amount of rhubarb---the berries were a pleasant enhancement in regards to both color and flavor.


For the batter:
½ cup butter
1 ½ cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk (to make sour milk: pour a couple glugs of lemon juice or vinegar into the bottom of the one-cup measuring cup before filling the cup up to the brim with the milk)
2 cups rhubarb, chopped, tossed with 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and beat some more. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt (that you have already mixed together in another bowl) alternately with the buttermilk. Do not over-beat. Gently stir the rhubarb into the batter and pour the mixture into a greased, 9 x 13 pan.

For the topping:
1/4 cup butter
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar

Mix together with your fingers and sprinkle over the top of the rhubarb batter.

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Autumn Comfort

As you all know, ‘tis the season for pumpkins and sausage, and I just found a splendidly homey, yet gourmet-ish, recipe that combines the two: sauteed onions and garlic, browned sausage, white wine, fresh sage, pumpkin, cream, nutmeg, and cinnamon, with Parmesan cheese grated on top. If I had to categorize my food, this sauce would fit under the title of October Comfort Food; it goes hand-in-hand with wood stoves and crunchy leaves.


Pumpkin-Sausage Cream Sauce
Adapted from Simply In Season

1 pound, or less, bulk sausage
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1-2 tablespoons fresh sage
1 cup white wine
1 cup water
1 cup pumpkin, cooked and mashed
½ cup cream
one or two pinches cinnamon
1/4 - ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
salt and black pepper as needed
Parmesan cheese, optional

Brown the sausage in a kettle or skillet. Scoop the sausage into a bowl and set aside. Add a little white wine to the pan to deglaze it, and add the onion and garlic and, if necessary, a little olive oil, and saute until golden and soft. Add the bay leaf, sage, and wine and simmer for a couple minutes to reduce the liquid by about half. Add the water and pumpkin and heat through. Add the sausage. Turn the heat down to low and pour the cream into the sauce, making sure that it does not bubble (you don’t want it to curdle). Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Serve the cream sauce over pasta (or rice), sprinkling it with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Deprivation

It is always good to deprive your children because then they get really excited when you buy them the simplest things. For example:

“Look what I got you when I went shopping last night.” I dangled a pack of new socks in the air.

Yo-Yo, who was washing dishes, turned around to look. When he saw what I was holding his eyes got big and his whole face lit up. “Four pairs of socks! That’s just brilliant, Mama!” He sighed happily and turned back to his dishes. “I’ve been wanting them for months!”

These were not fancy socks, mind you, just your basic white ankle sock, with a little black emblem (a star!) on the elastic band.

I overheard him chattering about them later on, saying something like “I’ll have one pair to wear outside, one pair for in the morning, one for in the afternoon, one for bedtime...”

Just think how excited he would be if he knew that I also bought him a pair of Spiderman swimming trunks. And two shirts. I haven’t given them to him yet because after I saw his reaction to the socks I decided I ought to dole out the pleasure in small, manageable chunks. I wouldn't want to put him over the edge.

Besides, I don’t want him to start expecting things. Because then he would become a jaded kid, rather than a deprived one. And deprived kids are definitely more fun to buy for, and much, much easier to please.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Stash

It’s the middle of October, the stock market is lurching around like it’s drunk (anyone who knows me will find it humorous that I mention the stock market since I do not enjoy/understand/follow financial matters), my garden is just about done, and my larder is full. Three of those statements really are not at all connected to the second one because my freezers and basement shelves would look like they do, regardless of the stock market’s sobriety. I just want to be clear about that, so people don't think I'm freaking out or something.

The following pictures and list provide evidence that I did something this summer besides sit around all day and blog---we all know that there’s certainly plenty of evidence of that. (Actually, I’ve probably logged more hours blogging this summer than I did gardening and putting up produce. Just think what all I could do if I didn’t spend so much time talking about what I'm doing! But then, that wouldn't be any fun, would it?) It makes me feel productive to see lists and photos, especially on my blog. Because then that turns my blog into A Productive Work Of Art, right?

I need to make a confession, a clarification, an irritating statement of humility: This year we didn’t put up many of our basic food staples, such as peas, broccoli, green beans, corn, salsa, and tomato juice, so I’m feeling a little insecure about the holes in our stash. Only a little insecure, mind you. Also a tad bit guilty because I know we could've done better. Not that I really wanted to do better. Though I am sad about not having green beans (thankfully, my mother, bless her heart, did some up for us).

I hesitate to tell you how I feel because I realize it could sound downright scandalous. Like I'm a martyr, or something. How dare I say that I haven’t done much when this list and these photos point to the contrary? But listen. You gotta understand where I come from: a rich (Mennonite) heritage of gardening and preserving food and simple living and productivity. Compared to the standards of my ancestors and some present day family members, I’m not really doing all that much.

And when I pause to ponder the Little House series I realize that I’m just taking baby steps. And I’m still wearing diapers.

Everything is relative, you know.

Enough preambling. Let’s take the tour.

Here are the shelves in the basement. I did not preserve the cans of paint at the end there. Just in case you’re wondering.


A peek into the chest freezer.


And into the upright freezer.


Here is what I am most proud of: my collection of dried foods. It’s my candy collection.


I keep some of my canning on display upstairs in the jelly cupboard that Mr. Handsome built for me. (Do you see the pregnancy mug in the upper right-hand corner? My father got that for me as a gift when I was pregnant with The Baby Nickel.)


Oh, I almost forgot the potatoes. Back down in the basement, shoved back into the crawl space, and covered with a blanket. I’m not sure how many there are (and there are still a few more in the garden and some curing in the barn)—maybe three bushels? Four?


And down under the counter are the jars of fruit juice. I forgot about those the first time I made the run down to the basement.


I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to use up all our food. Not that we don’t have the appetites for it, but because I’ll forget about what I have. I tend to do that.

Here’s the written list, for those who crave details.

Food Preserved 2008
*Rhubarb: about 16 cups, chopped, frozen
*Strawberries: 20 quarts, frozen, sliced, with sugar; 7 gallons, whole, frozen; 4-6 pints, dried; 7-9 quarts, canned
*Sour Cherries (from my girlfriend’s tree): 2 quarts, frozen; 2 ½ quarts, dried
*Blueberries (local farm): 12 pints, frozen; 5 pints, dried; 2 pints, sauce with sugar, frozen; 3 pints, freezer jam (tasteless)
*Sweet Cherries (local farm): 17 quarts, unseeded, canned, with sugar; 4 quarts, unseeded, frozen, with sugar; 3 pints, dried; 4 pints, cook jam (and about 1 pint of flavorless wax cherries, dried)
*Apricots (local farm): 20-plus pints, cook jam; 1 quart (I think more), dried; 2 ½ pints, sauce with sugar, frozen
*Rainbow Swiss Chard: 9 quarts and 4 pints, chopped and frozen
*Apples: 25 quarts applesauce, canned, Lodi; 37 quarts applesauce, canned, Ginger Golds; 39 quarts applesauce, canned, Rambo; 16 quarts juice
*Blackberries (from our friends’ woods): 7 pints, canned
*Cucumbers: 17 pints bread and butters, canned; 11 pints salad, canned
*Basil (from my garden, plus my girlfriend’s): a countless amount (15 containers, plus maybe 12 muffin tins-worth) of pesto; 2 recipes of pesto torte
*Peaches (local farm), Century and Red Haven: 8 pints, frozen chunks for smoothies; 16 one-half pints, cook jam; 12 pints, pureed peaches with sugar, canned; 2 quarts, cubed for smoothies; 29 quarts, sliced, canned; 4 quarts and 8 pints, dried; 24 quarts, frozen with sugar; 8 quarts, halved, canned
*Tomatoes (local farm and our garden): 18 quarts, stewed; 2 quarts, dried, cherry; 7 quarts, oven-roasted; 21 pints pizza sauce, canned
*Green Beans (from mom): 4 ½ quarts, and she gave us about 40 more bags that she did for us
*Corn: some from my mom, maybe 10-15 quarts
*Nectarines (local farm): 5 quarts, canned; 2 quarts, frozen; 5 quarts, dried; 4 ½ pints cook jam
*Red Raspberries: 20 quarts, frozen
*Grapes: 6 pints, pie filling, frozen; 13 ½ pints, jelly, canned; 34 quarts, juice, canned
*Red Beans: about 34 pounds
*Black Beans: about 2-3 quarts
*White Beans: about 3 ½ quarts
*Potatoes (La Ratte, French Fingerling, Yukon Gold): 3-4 bushels
*Watermelon: fresh eating
*Pumpkins: Enough

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cake For Babes

Mr. Handsome transferred the bodacious babes from the wheelbarrow to the picnic table so every time I walk out the door I am faced with a lot of potential, or a lot of work, depending on my mood.


I decided to take the bull by the horns, or the pumpkin by the stem, and tackle the problem, so a couple nights ago I chopped up one of the babes, baked her, and scooped out all her flesh. I made pumpkin smoothies for a bedtime snack. They had potential (that’s a nice way of putting it), but in a good way (the majority of the family did enjoy them), so I’m not going to say any more about that endeavor until I tweak the recipe into perfected and bloggable submission.

Not that my other recipes are perfect or anything.


And then I made a pumpkin cake/bars which I will share that with you. Today. Because it’s good. Like a pumpkin version of banana bread or carrot cake. The cake did get a little dense on the bottom, which is probably a sign of a baking failure, but I actually liked the texture—moist, light, and dense all at the same time. And if you don’t believe that is possible, you’ll have to make the cake for yourself just so you can discover what an oxymoron tastes like.

I cut into the cake while it was still warm. Patience is not one of my virtues, and this time around I was rewarded for my lack of virtuosity.


Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
(Slightly adapted) from Simply In Season


2 cups pumpkin, cooked and mashed
1 ½ cups sugar
3/4 cup oil
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Using an electric hand mixer, beat together the wet ingredients (the first five ingredients on the list—I’m counting sugar as a wet ingredient here). Add the dry ingredients and stir well, but not too much. Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Cool completely before icing.

Cream Cheese Frosting
I did not use measurements for this, so the amounts are just my guesstimates.

2 tablespoons butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ teaspoon vanilla
2-3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
a little milk

Beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat well. Add some milk, a tablespoon at a time, until the frosting is a nice, spreadable consistency. Spread on the cooled cake.


One word of caution: Don't eat too much, or you may turn into a Bodacious Babe yourself. You know, round, curvy, sexy ... and orange.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Going Up

Remember back when I posted about the kids getting tired of waiting for Mr. Handsome to work on their fort and so they took matters into their own hands? Well, over the past several weeks, Mr. Handsome has taken matters into his own hands and now things are really moving forward.

Here they all are, the happy family hard at work. But you know who is happiest? The mama, of course, 'cause she's all by herself in the house where it's nice and quiet.


The Baby Nickel likes to practice hammering a nail when he can. He has a whole big box of nails in case he messes up. We believe in keeping our children well-supplied. Not that we're expecting them to mess up or anything.


Hammering takes a good deal of concentration. The hammer is so heavy it looks like it could tip him right over. Please don't smash your toes, honey. (Now that I typed that I just realized that he has a black toenail ... could he have gotten it here?)


But he does a fine job.


Sweetsie swings a hammer like a pro. Or else a child possessed.


I'm not sure what Miss Becca Boo is doing with that crowbar, but I'm sure whatever it is, it's an important component of fort-raising.


Now Yo-Yo Boy, on the other hand, I'm not so sure about. Just sitting around and watching isn't going to get the job done, you know.


He's pretty skilled at hanging out.


Here's Mr. Handsome, or rather, his (cute) backside. Sorry about that.


Okay, here's his front now, or at least his hat.


I don't think I ever posted about Mr. Handsome's new little tractor (that he's in love with). His parents gave him their old (but in very fine condition) zero-turn mower, and Mr. Handsome rigged it so that it could pull his trailer. The kids love going for rides on it, as you can see. It's one of the highlights of building the fort. (The extra child is a friends of Yo-Yo's.)


The picture is blurry because they are moving really fast. I tried to drive that thing once and about crashed into a tree and nearly fell out of my seat. Now I keep a healthy distance between myself and that machine.

And up goes the first wall.


To be continued.

A Milestone

“Get the quiet bag,” I instructed Mr. Handsome as we ran past each other in the hall, racing the clock to get to church on time. “And the diaper bag.”

Mr. Handsome was heading into the bathroom, but he stopped and stuck his head back out the door. “We don’t need the diaper bag.”

Now it was my turn to put on the brakes. I turned around and stared at him, pondering his words, trying to let them soak in. No diaper bag? Could it be true? Well yes, The Baby Nickel was potty-trained, and ninety-five percent of the time he even woke up dry. For the past couple months his diaper had always been dry after we got home from church. And then a huge smile spread across my face and I let out a yee-haw.

“You are right!” I chortled. “We are done! We are done!” For the first time in nearly nine years we would be diaper-bag free. I couldn’t stop grinning.

We high-fived each other, and then turned on our tails and resumed our race to get to church on time.

Minus a diaper bag.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Potential

Here are some of the bodacious babes that I lugged out of my garden.


I'm both excited and stymied by them---I love pumpkin, but how in the world are we going to eat them all (and remember, there are more in the garden)? I'll make pumpkin soup, bread, and pie, but you can only eat so much pumpkin, right?

Should I bake them up now and freeze the pulp? Can it? Pressure can it? Line them up down in the basement and forget about them?


Ideas, anyone? What's the best way to maximize their potential? That is, without overdoing it and turning into a big orange ball, myself, in the process.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Juvenile Politics

Now that I started talking, kind of, about the political scene, I can't seem to stop. Furthermore, I've been craving my debate fix (can't wait till Wednesday when my honeyman and I get to munch on popcorn in bed while glazedly staring at the evil boob tube!), and then I discovered this article and voila!, my need was met. Craving satisfied. Inner peace restored.

This debate is for anyone, both the righties and the lefties and the confused and disturbed and worried and troubled people riding the fence (that's not to say that the righties and lefties don't also have those traits in their possession). Whatever your position (and whatever traits you are possessing), you've just gotta read it. You must read it. So go ahead and click here, and laugh your fool head off.

Friday, October 10, 2008

To Make A Point

Once upon a time, back in the day when I was just a young 'un, my mom and dad had a money-based spat. My dad donned his better-than-thou hat and declared up and down and backwards and forwards that he could live on a simple diet of, say, beans and cornbread. This got my mother's feathers all in a ruffle, so she hatched a plan: she would serve him just beans and cornbread until he fell to his knees, begging for mercy.


This is where I came in. My mom told me I could get out of my daily dish-washing chore if I, instead, mixed up the evening batch of cornbread. This sounded like a very fine plan to me. I loved cornbread and I loved baking. So every day after school (and in my memory’s mind, it was for weeks on end) I waltzed into the kitchen ready to do my duty.

Into the white plastic bowl I measured the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and sugar. In a smaller bowl I stirred together the milk, egg, and oil. I dumped the contents of the small bowl into the larger bowl and whisked it all together, poured the batter into a greased pan, and that was it. Much easier than doing the dishes, and definitely more fun.


What follows here is the story, in my mother's words, from Our Book. It’s taken from the chapter on marital conflict, of which both my mother and I had (um, have) a lot to say. (I’ll call my father “The Happy Pappy”, since that’s his nickname, sort of.) My mother writes:

********************************

...Here’s a little trick I pulled once, fed up over The Happy Pappy’s superior Sir Simple Lifestyle attitude. Our money system at the time involved keeping cash in envelopes, specified for gas, groceries, entertainment, clothing, and so forth, the agreed-upon allotment per month (at first we’d used jelly jars, till one got dashed to the floor in a dressing room at McCrory’s and broke into smithereens). This arrangement, allowing us to determine at a glance the state of our finances, was supposed to help us keep our spending reigned in, but toward payday, our funds gravely depleted, I’d find myself pilfering from whichever envelopes still held a few bills or coins and leaving in little notes like “groc owes gas $2.”

I’d tell The Happy Pappy we needed to budget more for food. He’d say, “Why can’t we take a lesson from the Indians in Peru? Their sole diet is potatoes! Just potatoes! People like that eat only when they’re hungry, not tempted by all the choices. Betcha’ their teeth aren’t full of holes, either. Why can’t we live that way? Why don’t we have cornbread every day? Cornbread, yeah. Cornbread and baked beans. Why don’t we try subsisting on cornbread and beans for a whole month, for an experiment?”

He wouldn’t come down off his soapbox. I was plenty irritated. He was the one who liked to order a big slab of meat if we were at a restaurant—but now this. I decided to make him eat his words. I stockpiled cans of baked beans and one Tuesday afternoon after school, third-grader JJ learning to make cornbread. “It’s going to be a joke on Daddy,” I told her.

The Happy Pappy raved over our supper—the cornbread, two cans of beans doctored up with chopped hot dogs, and some kind of vegetable (I wasn’t about to inflict us all with scurvy). He stuffed himself and declared he’d take the leftovers in his lunch next day.

He forgot the piece of cornbread, though. JJ took it along on the bus in the morning to give him and he ate it after school. When he arrived home I announced we were having another beans meal—JJ was busy with more cornbread. I showed him my cupboard stockpile and he laughed.

Although I skipped the hot dogs that night, Wednesday, we again ended up with leftover beans. Well, fine. I said if Daddy didn’t want them for his lunch the next day, we’d have them for supper.

Maybe he just forgot to grab the plastic container, Thursday morning? So for Thursday’s supper I needed to open only one new can of beans. Mixed with the old ones, they accompanied JJ’s next batch of cornbread and a different anti-scurvy vegetable—and this time the extras were definitely going to go along to school with The Happy Pappy.

I made sure in the morning he didn’t take off without his lunch. But after school on Friday we departed for the mountains, for a get-together weekend with a gang of teachers and their families. Nobody had been assigned to bring beans. Friday night and Saturday, we feasted. Spaghetti! Bacon and eggs! Hoagies! Chicken! Back home again on Sunday I couldn’t bring myself to revert to the regimen. I’d lost my momentum. I fixed tomato sandwiches for our meal, yummy tomato sandwiches.

Okay, so I shouldn’t have been the one to peter out first. But neither did Sir Simple fall onto his knees and beg me to keep cooking beans.

***************************


Happy Pappy-Style Cornbread

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup oil
1 1/4 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients together. Add the wet ingredients and whisk gently just until combined. Pour the batter into a greased square (9 x 9) glass pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until the top has a couple cracks in it, the edges are brown, and a toothpick, inserted in the middle, comes out clean.


Serve hot, with butter and maple syrup. And, of course, beans.

Updated on May 4, 2010: For a hundred-percent whole grain cornbread, substitute whole wheat pastry flour for the white flour. You can't tell a difference in either color or flavor!