Friday, August 31, 2012

walking the line


Dear Reader,

One of my favorite sayings is “Never trust a writer.” The same goes for photographers or actors or composers, whatever. Because here’s the deal: writers, rather, bloggers (let’s pick on them for now because obviously) take great care to choose only exactly what they want their audience to know. They work their butts off to make their words tidy, condensed, attractive, witty, meaningful, and inspirational.

But that’s not the whole picture. Life isn’t tidy or condensed. Life isn’t even all that pretty.

There is a line between wanting to make oneself look good and telling the truth. But the line is blurry, sometimes almost invisible. Some truths aren’t appropriate to share (TMI, you know), and details can be sloggy-boggy. Telling the truth artistically is hard especially since art is all about making impressions—good, interesting, beautiful, creative impressions. Art is about Selling Our Perspective.

I have a fairly large, built-in BS detector. I read blog posts about some blogger's cozy Saturday mornings and look at the photographs of syrupy, stacked pancakes and I can’t help but think, “Oh, come on. You aren’t irritated that your kid woke you up with his dead-animal morning breath? The pancakes didn’t get cold and mushy while you fiddled to get the perfect shot? Show the dirty dishes in the sink! Talk about how you miffed your husband by fiddling with his pannycakes! Talk about how you used up the last of the syrup for the photos and the kids had to use honey and they acted like they were dying because they hate honey on their pancakes. TELL THE WHOLE STORY, PEOPLE!”

Maybe this reading-between-the-lines habit is a defense mechanism to protect me from getting too depressed with my own chaotic, helter-skelter, raw existence. Maybe it's sour grapes. Maybe it's because I know how much I don't say.

Because I’m guilty of making my life look good, too. Not that my life isn’t good, because it is—parts of it are downright gorgeous—but I often make it look better than it really is. I beautify it. I edit my photos—to lighten, brighten, heighten them. The same with words. I leave out whole chunks of the story. I polish the parts I put in. Do you have any idea how long it’s taken me to write this post? A long time. Like, hours and days.

You’d think that with my BS detector I’d be drawn to only the rawest of blogs. But that’s not the case. I enjoy blogs that are put together, beautiful, erring on the side of too nice. They are pretty to look at, inspiring in their simplicity, clean. But I also enjoy blogs that are painful in their rawness, the ones that talk about depression, illness, and the ugliness that each of us has inside. These blogs, though, are almost always witty. I don’t know if I could handle them without the humor.

So anyway. Last week I wrote a post about the end of summer. It was a little rosy. But the truth is, I have been loving this late-summer season and feeling sorta glowy about it. So that part was true.

But it was also true that:

*the weather was a little too warm for those cozy pjs
*the bed sheets were slipping off the mattress because they don’t fit our bed right
*my husband was dumping out the tomatoes, not laying them out (though I didn’t know that until later)
*the downstairs reeked of rotten tomatoes because the little buggers insisted on hiding their rotting spots and then oozing out their stinky insides all over the shelving.
*the target-throwing game soon turned into bathtime and there was a lot of yelling, pounding on doors, and too much water running down the drain
*the end of summer equals allergy season, so we all walk around with itchy, burny eyes.

The line between art and truth is hard. Writing (photography, etc) is supposed to crystallize our experiences, focus them. And yet, the end result is supposed to be enjoyable to read (look at). So how are artists supposed to make real life, which is so rarely pretty, consumable? How to find a balance?

On second thought, maybe this is more about communication than art. Maybe it's more a question of self-presentation than it is about Artsy-Fartsy. Maybe...?

In any case, have you figured out how to walk the line?

xo,
Jennifer

PS. The "never trust a writer" saying? I think I made it up. But I'm not positive.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

puppy love

My older daughter has been wanting her own dog for quite some time now. A small dog, she said. A beagle.

“You’ll have to pay for it,” we said. “It will be expensive. Food, shots, the works. Do you really want to pour all your money into a dog?”

“Yes,” she said.

So we started a leisurely search. We looked at ads in the paper and researched small dogs online.

Then yesterday she asked me to put something on Facebook. I obliged. “My daughter is in the market for a border terrier puppy,” I wrote.

By evening, we had a lead. There were some mix puppies at a pet store in town. (I was not aware that our town had a pet store. Which just shows that we were, indeed, leisurely going about this puppy-finding business.)

I called the store this morning, got the information, and called my husband. “I may go over to that part of town later,” my husband said.

About fifteen minutes later, the phone rang.“It’s pretty cute. And there’s one left. You should bring the kids in to see it this morning.”

Only then did I tell my daughter that we maybe found a puppy for her. She was over the moon.

“My stomach hurts,” she half-whimpered, half-giggled on the way there. “I’m too excited.”

And then we got to the store and there was this ugly, ratty dog and no cute puppies and I was like, Is my husband out of his mind? But then a guy took us out back and there she was. My daughter scooped her up and that was that.








She is a beagle-Jack Russell-border collie mix. They say that although she’s only ten weeks, she’s nearly full size already. Of course, since we rushed headlong into this purchase, we know nothing about this sort of dog. She could turn out to be a yappy, howly stupid thing. Or she could be sweet as pie.


I’m hoping for pie.

PS. Her name is Charlotte.

PPS. I am in love with her floppy ears.

This same time, years previous: oatmeal jacked up, why I don't teach my kids science, losing my marbles

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

grape parfaits

The other night my daughter asked to make something special for dessert. She didn’t have any clear ideas—she just wanted to cook.

“Well,” I said, “there’s grape filling in the fridge.... Oh, I have an idea! Watch this.” And then we proceeded to beat cream cheese and whip cream and thicken grapes and toast graham crackers.


I instructed her to get the wine glasses from the cupboard and showed her how to fill them—a blob of cream cheese, a plop of grape sauce, a sprinkling of crackers—repeating the layers until everything was used up.


It ended up looking like a put-together dessert rather than the hodge-podge of ingredients that it was. It tasted right classy, too—rich, fruity, and cool.


Grape Parfaits
This looks a lot more complex than it actually is. I was just winging it—no recipe and no measurements, using up what I had on hand.

No grape filling? Sub in another pie filling such as sour cherry, blueberry, rhubarb and strawberry, apricot, etc.

For the grape filling:
2 cups of grape sauce, skins in, seeds removed
1-2 tablespoons Therm-Flo or cornstarch
½ cup sugar

Combine everything and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and chill.

For the cream cheese:
8 ounces cream cheese
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whipping cream

Whip the cream. In a separate bowl, cream together the cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla. Fold in the whipped cream.

For the graham cracker crumbs:
1 ½ packages graham crackers, ground into crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons butter

Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Cook, stirring constantly, until the crumbs are toasty and a couple shades darker. Immediately remove from the skillet so they don’t burn.

To assemble:
Get out 6 to 8 of your fanciest goblets. Put a spoonful of cream cheese mixture in each, then a spoonful of grape sauce, and then a sprinkling of graham cracker crumbs. Repeat the process until all the components are used up or the glasses are full, whichever comes first.

This same time, years previous: chocolate yogurt cakeroasted tomato sauce, pasta with sauteed peppers and onions

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

pasta with lemon-salted grilled zucchini and onions

A number of different sources contributed to this meal.


The grilled zucchini wedges and lemon salt (brilliant) came from Ree. The grilled onion came from an NPR interview in which a chef said his favorite thing to grill was red onion. (I think I’m beginning to see why.) The bag of chopped cooked chicken came from the depths of my freezer—

Speaking of freezers, the other day I sent my older son to the basement to fetch some more empty quart jars.

“Mom!” he yelled from the foot of the basement stairs. “There’s a buzzing noise down here! It’s really, really loud! I’m not going in there!”

So I had to go investigate. It was the upright freezer alarm. The door had been left partially open (my husband accepts full responsibility). All the stuff in the door was thawed. The bags of corn and green beans and containers of pesto that were sitting along the edges of the shelves were softening. I rearranged things, shut the door tight, and in a couple hours the food was frozen up nice and hard again. It wasn’t too much of a tragedy, lucky us.

Also, speaking of freezers, both my freezers are filled to the gills. I can’t make bread or cakes or anything that might need to be frozen—there simply isn’t room. Locating the wheat germ or a jar of green peppers is like a 3D game of Tetris, but with frozen-stiff fingers and scraped knuckles. Every time I get out a box of strawberries, a jar of tea concentrate, or a chicken, I feel like celebrating. More space!

So that’s the freezer status.


Back to the meal. You can play around with the ingredients here—grilled red pepper! crunchy green beans! tuna!—but the lemon-salt is key. It kicked the flavors over the top.


Pasta with Lemon-Salted Grilled Zucchini and Onions
Inspired by Ree and others

1 pound spiral pasta
2 thick slices of red onion
2 medium-small zucchinis, quartered lengthwise
2 cups cooked chicken pieces, warmed
2 lemons (zest from both, juice from one)
salt and black pepper
a couple glugs of olive oil
½ cup each, mozzarella cheese and freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup torn fresh basil

Put the zucchinis and red onion slices in a pan and toss with a glug of olive oil, the zest from one lemon, the juice of half the lemon, and some salt and black pepper.

Grill the onion and zucchinis on a medium-high grill. Turn the zucchini wedges every couple minutes (or so) so that all three sides get grill marks. Grill the red onion slices, turning once. Remove veggies from heat and chop roughly.

Zest the second lemon and add ½ teaspoon of salt (give or take). Chop the lemon with the salt. Now you have lemon salt! Sprinkle over the veggies.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain and put in a serving bowl. Add the grilled veggies (making sure to scrape in every last speckle of lemon salt), the chicken pieces, cheeses, and basil. Drizzle with olive oil and the juice from the remaining half lemon. Toss to combine.

This same time, years previous: 2011 garden stats and notes, topping for apple crisp

Monday, August 27, 2012

the quotidian (8.27.12)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace 


Cousin cuddles.
Please note: my son is not yet thirteen
but already he's adorning his wrists with bands and chains.
Is this something that all preteen boys do?


This Laura Ingalls imposter loved our scraggly peaches.
Which reminds me. What do you call a fake noodle?
An impasta.



A jar of bees: captured by the child most allergic to them.
Either she's really stupid or really brave.
Though I suppose it was smart of her to give her little brother
the privilege of setting them free,
since, for his troubles, he got stung twice.



A true-blue paperbag princess!
(Though she preferred the title of "Rag Princess.")



Smashed and crispy, with oil and salt: the damaged, freshly-dug potatoes.



Ketchup in the making.



These days, a daily ritual.


This same time, years previous: tomato jam, basic oatmeal muffins, earthy ponderations, part three, on not rushing it, chocolate malted milk frosting, nectarine cobbler, odds and ends, fresh tomato salad, buttery basil pesto, basil pesto

Friday, August 24, 2012

16


Me: So. What do you want to do for our anniversary?

Him: (Blank stare. This date has not been in the forefront of his mind obviously.)

Me: I lined up childcare, so we can do something together if we want. If not, I can go somewhere to write and you can have alone time at home.

Him (gamely making an effort): We could go out to eat.

Me: Sure. Where would you like to go?

Him: I don’t know... How about Dave’s Taverna?

Me (not wanting to be a party pooper): Eh...

Him: Yeah, um... Red Lobster?

Me: American-style restaurants kind of gross me out.

Him: Well, do you have any ideas?

Me: The Blue Nile!

Him: I don’t really go for African food.

Me: It’s not African food. It’s Ethiopian.

Him (speaking slowly, as though to an idiot): Jennifer, where is Ethiopia located?

Me: Africa.

Him: Right.

Me (blithely pressing on): What about The American Indian Café?

Him: I don’t really go for Indian food. See, when I go out to eat, I want to eat food that I know I'm going to enjoy—

Me: Well, when I go out to eat I want food that’s different from what I can make at home!

Him: To sink my teeth into a good cheeseburger—

Me: BORING!

Him (deflated): Isn’t there any place we can agree on?

Me: What about The Little Grill?

Him: Everything there is kind of under-seasoned, you know?

Me: No, but okay. Not The Little Grill.

Him: (moody silence)

Me (resigned): So I guess we won’t go out to eat. Do you have any other ideas of stuff we could do?

Him: (no answer)

Me: We could go to Barnes and Noble, get coffees, and read books!

Him: Oh, that sounds dreadful!

Me: Uh...we could play tennis?

Him: No!

Me: I know! We could go shopping for clothes!

Him (flatly): You don’t need more clothes.

Me: Yes, I do.

Him: No, you don’t.

Me: Yes, I do.

Him: NO, YOU DON’T.

Me: Fine. So we won’t go shopping. (pause) You could dig potatoes!

Him: (snort)

Me: We could go shopping for upcoming birthdays!

Him: (eye roll)

Me: We could clean the girls’ room! Redo it! Paint walls!

Him: (giant eye roll and moaning)

Me: So I guess we won’t go out on a date.

Him: I guess not.

Me (reaching for the computer): This conversation is completely ridiculous. I've gotta write it down.

Him (alarmed): No, you don’t! You don’t have to write down everything we say!

Me: Okay fine

This same time, years previous: coming up for air, wedding memories, so why did I marry him?, Valerie's salsa, canned tomatoes, how to make butter

Thursday, August 23, 2012

testing

blah blah blah

summer's end


I’m propped up in bed, freshly showered, wearing my soft cotton strawberry shortcake pajamas.

Through the open window I can hear the kids throwing darts. (I hope not at each other.)

Directly below me, my husband is rattling and thumping about. He picked four five-gallon buckets of tomatoes this evening and is now laying them out on the shelving we’ve set up in the downstairs bedroom that is not a bedroom.

Tomorrow morning I’ll turn the ripest of the tomatoes into salsa.

The juicer is simmering on the stove top and a half dozen quarts of juice are cooling on the counter.

Most days, I make something with tomatoes and something with grapes, but it’s piecemeal so there is no rending of garments and tearing of hair involved.

It’s nice.

This evening, my sister-in-law dropped off a bushel of crispy-crunchy apples, and the boys and I finished mulching the flower beds.

The days now are thinner, sharper.

Soon there will be dark, slow mornings, cider and donuts, mountains of library books, and fires in the woodstove.  

(Written last evening, while the crickets chirped.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

grape jelly

Last year at this time, I was drowning in peaches and nectarines, the tomatoes were just beginning to ripen, and the grapes weren’t going to be ready for nearly another month.


This year, we never got any nectarines (thanks a lot, funky spring), we finished up the peaches over a week ago, and I’m in the middle of tomatoes and grapes. It feels weird to be so far ahead of ourselves, seasonally, but it’s going to be nice to wrap up the garden a little early.


On Saturday I turned our first grapes into jelly. I think grape jelly might just be my all-time favorite jelly. It’s so rich and vibrant. And it’s so terribly easy to make. One juicer load yields enough grape juice for three batches of jelly ... which equals exactly 12 pints and 3 half pints.


When making jams and jellies, I almost always refer to the handy-dandy guide that I’ve saved from a long-ago purchased box of Sure-Jell.


Instead of Sure-Jell, though, I use Natural Dutch Gel. I buy it in bulk, and come jelly-making season, we plow through the stuff. (I’ve already made six batches of peach jam, and I made three more batches of grape jelly yesterday.)


Grape Jelly
Adapted from the Sure-Jell pamphlet

5 cups unsweetened grape juice
7 cups sugar
½ cup natural Dutch gel

Wash the jars (four pints and one half-pint) and place in a 200 degree oven. Set the lids in a saucepan of hot water so the rubber can soften.

Pour the juice into a large soup pot. (The boiling jelly will rise up quite high, so make sure you have lots of space.) Add the Dutch gel and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Once the juice is boiling, stir in the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil again and boil hard for one minute.

Remove the kettle from the heat and ladle the jelly into the jars. Wipe the rims, lid, and screw on the rings. Set the jars on a towel and don’t touch them for at least 12 hours.

PS. This is my 1000th post! One thousandth. ONE THOUSANDTH!

This same time, years previous: whole wheat buttermilk waffles, earthy ponderations, part two, cold curried corn soup

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

photo shoot

On Sunday morning I got up early, dressed for church, and then, while the family still slept, I drove over to my brother’s house. My brother had asked me if I'd be willing to take some pictures for their band's new CD.


I took a few—three hundred and eighty-nine, to be exact.


It’s a good thing I took so many. A lot of the pictures turned out blurry—a combination of the cloudy morning and the wrong lens. Then there were the usual half-shut eyes and telephone poles shooting out of heads and awkward poses.  

How about you sit on the junk pile! Or, Why don’t I stand on the deck and take some pictures of you craning-straining to look up at me?

But some of them turned out nice in spite of myself. Thankfully. 








And then the baby got out of the house and joined the shoot, grassy toes and all.


Not all of the pictures were of the band.


I was putting my camera in the van when my sister-in-law asked if I’d take some pictures of their family. But of course!

Lately, their older daughter has been suffering from a moderate to severe case of camera shy-itis, so while I snapped pictures, I yammered about rainbows and their new kitchen and how old she was and such.


The distraction helped. But then Little Sis yawned real big, so I called it quits and wrapped things up.



The end.

This same time, years previous: two-minute peanut butter chocolate cake, red raspberry ice cream, oven-roasted Roma tomatoes, earthy ponderations, part one

Monday, August 20, 2012

the quotidian (8.20.12)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace 



Heaven: permission to tool around the back forty on Grandpa Jack's tractor.


Memories: Just before we left, Grandma sat him down,
asked lots of questions about the weekend, and wrote down what he said.



Weird: she can't help herself.



Playing a wordless game of rocks: big hair and not-so-big hair.
(Tina, how we love thee.)



Wounded: she flayed (what a horrid word!) the back of her ankle on a step.



The line-up: after returning from a tractor ride to the woods (courtesy of Uncle Johnny) 
and discovering a beaver dam.

 
 
Surprise! The grandparents flew in their children's much-adored babysitter.



Ice cream on Jack's Mountain.



Going home: after seven hours in a car, I feel like a part of me has died.



Warning: this is what happens when you give your daughter a make-up kit for her birthday.



Grill ready: made into this salad.
Verdict: yummy, but a little bland.  



Breakfast oatcakes.



A morning ritual: packing into jars the tomatoes that roasted in the oven overnight.



Picking over the candy—I mean, the cherry tomatoes.



Cleaning out the freezer: puff pastry with caramelized onions, Swiss and Parmesan cheeses, 
and (not shown) a dab of grape jelly.  

This same time, years previous: basic fruit crisp, this is what crazy looks like, how to get your refrigerator clean in two hours, two morals