Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday mishmash

The good part about having such a harsh winter is that spring will be all the more wonderful for it. Half-assed winters leave me uncertain as to what exactly it is I’m looking forward to. But when we get string after string of bitter cold days and blustery snows, the craving for sun-warmed garden dirt, flirty breezes, and greengreengreen just intensifies. This year, when spring finally gets around to making her appearance, I’ll be ready. Just thinking about her arrival makes my skin twitch.

***

Thanks for all your sweet comments about Oreo. After 24 hours of hardcore sadness, things started to get better. My daughter pored over the photos of Oreo, editing and tweaking them to her specifications.

And then we got a call early yesterday morning that our neighbor’s ewe was in labor. When my daughter heard the news, she rocketed out of bed, whirled into her winter clothes, and shot out to the car. I dropped her off at the farm (Drive faster, Mama!), and about two hours later, she called me, bubbling with the good news, “It’s a girl!”

The perfect antidote to Oreo’s death is, I think, witnessing a healthy birth.

***

Two days in a row now, I’ve treated myself to (what I consider) an ideal afternoon snack:

1. Blondies with chocolate chips and pecans and still warm from the oven (or reheated in the microwave).
2. Coffee ice cream. (We are currently infatuated with Turkey Hill All Natural—only five ingredients: cream, milk, sugar, coffee, and vanilla.)
3. A big cup of coffee with cream.

The blondies take about 4 minutes (give or take 6 seconds) to mix up and then 25 minutes to bake. I make and bake ‘em right after lunch while the kids are doing their Spanish lesson (a half hour of a Harry Potter movie in Spanish, otherwise known as their favorite part of the day), and then I send them to their rooms for rest time and so I can enjoy my snack in peace and quiet.

***

Last night I sat down with the calendar and mapped out which kid goes to what summer camp. And then in the same breath (er, evening), I submitted our host invitations for two Fresh Air kids from New York City. It felt right to make the plans together. My kids get a special summer experience, and—by simply opening up our banged-up screen doors—so will two other children.




About the two kids bit. In my typical push-things-over-the-edge style, I decided that if we’re going to host one kid, we might as well host two. I chose the shorter of the two trips (I’m not completely crazy), a trip which overlaps with two different camp trips. In other words (because this is too complicated for me to write about coherently), I’ll only have six children for a day or two. Most of the time, one of the older children will be off at camp.

(Perhaps you'd like to offer a summer vacation to a child? If so, just give me a shout out and I’ll set you up. Trip dates are dependent upon where you live, but for our area they are June 30-July 10 and July 29-August 5.)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

my new superpower

Saturday morning I had a dream. In the dream I gave birth to a baby boy. It was lovely. But then there were some insurance issues and the baby got relocated and I spent a lot of time walking around the hospital waiting room trying to figure out what I needed to do to get to my baby boy.

And then I woke up.

Even with the insurance problems, it had been a pleasant dream. I laid there in bed (it was 6-ish—not quite time to get up) and thought about baby boys and how my brother and his wife were expecting their third child in the next week or so. They already had two girls, and the oldest girl had her heart set on a baby brother. She’ll probably be crushed if it’s another girl, I thought to myself. And then I reconsidered, Nah, once she sees the new baby she’ll be fine.

I drifted off then, and when I got up for reals about an hour later, my first thoughts were about that baby boy. And then—  What if they had the baby last night! Ha, wouldn't that be wild.

I fired up the computer and shot my brother an email. The subject line said, “Any baby last night?” In the body, I explained, “Weird dreams,” and then went on to ask if they wanted us to start sleeping with the phone by our bed since we were on call for the girls' childcare. I wanted to ask, Any boy baby? but I thought that might come across as presumptuous and irritating, especially if they went on to have a girl.

Twenty minutes later the phone rang. It was my brother.

“We have a baby boy,” he said.

GOOSEBUMPS.

 But wait. The stinker must have just gotten my email. He was pulling my leg to get back.

“Ha. You’re kidding.”

“Um, no...? We have a baby boy.”

He sounded tired and confused...and happy. I stopped doubting and started squealing.

Turns out, the baby boy—a real one—was born right about the same time as my dream baby. The midwife didn’t arrive at their house in time (not her fault, they didn't give her enough time, or maybe I should say the baby didn't give them enough warning), so my brother delivered the baby himself and everything was marvelously honky-dory.


Perhaps I should invest in a crystal ball?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oreo

(Written Tuesday afternoon.)

When lambing season started this year, we told our lamb farmer friends that we would take a rejected lamb should the need arise. This would be our older daughter’s project as she’s our resident animal lover and beggar of all creatures farm related: cow, goats, sheep, llamas...

The call came yesterday. It wasn’t from the farmers we knew, but through the aunt (or mother? neighbor?) of a friend of a friend. There was a mad dash for bottle and milk replacer, old sheets, box, books on raising sheep, and hot water bottles. In no time at all we had a lamb in a box by the fire.


The children were ecstatic. They couldn’t keep her hands off her thick black-and-white pelt. My daughter immediately named her Oreo and called all her friends to tell them the good news.


The lamb was bigger than we expected, and she came with no history. She had been walking the day before, but hadn’t been able to stand since. She refused to suck. No one knew what was wrong, and with the original owner heading out of the country, we had no choice but to wing it.


One of our lamb farmer friends stopped by to check her out that evening. She was a hair lamb, he said—raised for meat, not wool—and she was probably two or three weeks old. There was no sign that anything was wrong, just weak. And with no background story to fill in the gaps, well...


So we gave her formula and a vitamin mix, recording each feeding as we went along. But then she started this weird thing where we’d feed her and she would act completely dead for five minutes. Should we feed her more? Were the feedings shocking her system? We had no idea, but things weren’t looking good.

That evening another lamb farmer friend came over with his plastic box of medicines. He showed us how to insert a feeding tube into Oreo’s stomach—it was like having James Herriot in my very own living room—and he gave her mineral oil.


He said that lambs are tricky business. It could be a vitamin deficiency, toxicity from too much grain (if she had indeed been given grain), or simple dehydration. He left us with an assortment of lamb supplies, not much hope, and the suggestion that we try enemas.

So now I know how to do enemas on lambs. It’s amazing what a person is capable of learning when she has to.

The original plan was for my daughter to be responsible for any lamb we got, but because Oreo was fading fast, we sent our daughter to bed and my husband slept downstairs with the lamb. When I came down at four-something in the morning, he was sitting in her box, her head on his lap.

She hadn’t drunk more than a couple ounces of milk. She hadn’t pooped. Her eyes were glazed. Should we be trying harder? Should we let her go? There was no way to tell. I gave her another enema, and we inserted the stomach tube for another feeding. We watched her closely. If she rallied, even a little, it would be reason to press on.

But she didn’t.



Together, in the new-and-improved box that my husband built.

The poor children. The tears and sobs. The petting and waiting and watching.

I made pancakes while willing the lamb to just please die already. I willed in the direction of the lamb. I couldn’t bear the slow decline. Waiting for the inevitable. No longer hoping but still sort of hoping. And detesting the idea of having a dying animal in my house. It was all so ... messy.

I put the supplies away. I scrubbed the syringes and stomach tube and bagged them up to return.

We had an appointment in town that morning. I called my husband. “Oreo’s hardly breathing. She’s going to die any minute. Can you come home and check on her while we’re out? I don't want the children to come back to a dead lamb in the house.” And then I packed the kids into the car. We listened to books on tape on the drive, and after the appointment we got ice cream. It was a nice break.

On the way home, we passed my husband. He didn’t smile and he didn’t stop.

When we walked in the house, Oreo and the box were gone and there was a patch of freshly dug dirt in the garden.

The sadness came crashing back, unyielding in its finality. What a shattering disappointment.

The last couple hours have been rough. But there is relief, too. Finality can be a gift.

And in between crying jags, our daughter is already dreaming about and hoping for the next phone call....

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

roasted cauliflower soup

It's time to make soup.

Seriously. I'm not even playing. You have got to listen to me.

Are you listening?

Are you?

Because, PEOPLE OH MY WORD I HAVEN'T MADE SOMETHING THIS GOOD IN AGES.




It's not flashy and it's not complicated but it will win you over with one bite promise. It's a keeper, this one is.

My process for getting around to making the soup—and it's a roasted cauliflower soup we're talking about here—was rather awkward, I admit. I first spied the recipe on a blog, a recipe which I recollected at the grocery store. So I picked out a cauliflower, but without any great conviction because, cauliflower meh.

The head sat in my fridge for most of a week until Saturday when I decided it was time for some serious cooking. So, in the midst of making a pot of broccoli soup, roasting and/or simmering four butternut squashes, mixing up a double batch of biscuits, and completing an array of sundry tasks, I turned the cauliflower into soup.

I chopped the lumpy head into florets, drizzled them with olive oil, and slipped the pan into the oven before going to the computer to look up the soup specifics. I thought the recipe was Luisa’s), but—Oh no! She didn’t have a recent post about cauliflower soup! To make a desperate situation even more desperate, I couldn’t seem to access any posts beyond the ones found on her opening page. How long ago had I read that recipe anyway? Perhaps she had posted it several months ago? My memory is a shoddy affair. So I shot Luisa a quick email explaining the problem and then, of course, promptly found the little arrow sitting pretty at the bottom of her page. After another email in which I told her to disregard the first—“and it wasn't you who posted that recipe apparently... (sticks head in toilet and flushes)”—I started flipping through the blogs I most often find inspiring. After a bit of fruitless tooling around, I remembered: Joy the Baker!

I did a recipe skim-through and then yanked the tray of sizzling cauliflower half out of the oven to sprinkle it with the missing ingredients: cumin seeds, curry, and chile cobán. I sauteed an onion and some garlic in a pat of butter and bit of olive oil, doused it all with a quart of chicken broth, and then added the roasted cauliflower straight from the oven. I added a cup of mashed potatoes (my only serious deviance) I found buried in the back of the fridge, left over from my crazy-day sweet rolls. A gentle simmer, a quick blend with the immersion blender, a taste test, and—ba-bam—I collapsed in a heap on the floor, eyes rolled back in their sockets. So good.

(Clarification: I did not literally collapse on the floor. That was an exaggeration to illustrate how I felt about the riotous flavors. Actually, laying on the floor would have been a foolish thing to do because it's hard to eat soup from a prone position, particularly when the bowl of soup is on the table and I am three feet below it. My arms simply aren't long enough to reach. Plus, the kitchen tiles are hard and cold.)


I ate two bowls for lunch and sent a pint jar of soup over to my sister-in-law’s house with precise serving instructions: heat it up in a mug and drizzle a little olive oil on top. She had just had a baby a few hours before and the soup struck me as being the ideal snack for a postpartum mama.

There is one pint left in the fridge. I tried to coax my son to drink it (the one who has been on a liquid diet), but my heart wasn’t in it. I really didn’t want to share. He shunned my offer, as I suspected he would, and now I’m happily anticipating my next eating opportunity.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup
Adapted from Joy the Baker

I used chile cobán in place of the red pepper flakes. Dried chipotle pepper would be another good option.

I blended a cup of leftover, plain mashed potatoes into the hot soup. It wasn't a key player, but it made me realize that any number of vegetables could be added to the soup, such as roasted squash, turnips, and potatoes. If you’re okay with the soup going green, toss in some kale. Or carrots for bright yellow. And why not roast the onions and garlic right along with the cauliflower? On the other hand, why complicate things? The soup is perfect—better than perfect—as is.

1 head cauliflower
3-6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt
1 rounded teaspoon curry powder
1 rounded teaspoon cumin seed
hearty pinch red pepper flakes
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
4 cups chicken broth

Cut the cauliflower into florets. Put them on a sided baking tray and drizzle with several tablespoons of olive oil, salt, curry powder, cumin seed, and red pepper flakes. Roast at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes or until the florets' bottoms are caramelized and they’ve gone tender-crunchy.

While the cauliflower is roasting, saute the onion in the butter along with another tablespoon or two of olive oil (or just use olive oil only). When the onions are tender, add the garlic and cook another couple minutes. Add the broth and the roasted cauliflower (scrape in every last drop of the spice-infused oil). Simmer for 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is completely tender.

Blend the soup until it is creamy smooth. Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle with olive oil.

P.S. I ended up sharing the last pint of soup with my mother. She fully understood what a tremendous sacrifice I was making, which made the loss bearable. We didn't save any for my father who was dozing on the couch, though. My generosity only extends so far.    

Monday, February 24, 2014

the quotidian (2.24.14)

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


At Shannan's bidding, I downloaded FotoSketcher and have been 
turning everything into watercolors ever since.


It's become a compulsion.


I may need an intervention.


Doctor's waiting rooms: I've had more than my normal share this week. 
 This one got bonus points for having a Keurig and real mugs.


The good part of a missed day of work (for my husband) for a medical appointment: he drives while I knit.


Hurtling down the highway to the dental chair, needles, anesthesia, and sore gums.


Minus ten teeth, plus chains.


On a liquid diet for five days and counting.


The rest of us, however, are most certainly not on a liquid diet: blueberry baked French toast.


Butchering the squash.




Weather confusion: a lawnmower turned snowplow with chains, a sled, and a kid in shorts.

Friday, February 21, 2014

peanut butter and jelly bars

Earlier this week when Mavis posted a recipe for chocolate peanut butter shortbread squares, I was suddenly reminded about her other recipe—a recipe for peanut butter and jelly bars—that I was going to tell you about but then promptly forgot .

Well, not exactly promptly, I suppose. I did make the bars, twice. Photographed them twice, too. But then my camera broke and a bunch of other distractions wedged themselves between the peanut butter bars and my keyboard and that was that. Until Mavis kindly reminded me, that is.


Funny thing is, I’m not crazy about these peanut butter jelly bars. They are good, yes, and I’ve eaten (more than) my fair share of them, but I wasn’t all hog-snortin’ wild about them. And I don’t make it a practice to write about recipes that I’m not hog wild about. However, the children went bloomin’ nuts over those bars.


The first time I made them, our house was filled with a higher-than-average number of children. Almost as soon as I sliced the bars, the kids were crowed around the table, begging and eating and reaching and eating, like you never did see.

One little friend got rather repetitive in expressing her appreciation for them. “These cookies are really good,” she said. “You need to give my mom the recipe.”

pause

“I like these cookies a lot. You should give the recipe to my mom.”

pause

“These are yummy. Can you give the recipe to my mom?”

(I never did give the recipe to her mom.) (Until now.)

The bars are like granola bars, but with a cleaned-up ingredient list: flour, oats, brown sugar, butter, and, of course, peanut butter and jelly. They come together fast and are delicious served still-warm from the oven, washed down with lots of cold milk. This makes them an excellent mid-afternoon snack for those days when your house is overrun with short ruffians.

So it’s for the children (and for the weary adults who have to feed them) that I make an exception to my only-write-about-my-favorite-things rule. These bars turn hungry children into happy children.

So I guess I kind of do love them after all.


Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
Adapted from Mavis Butterfield’s blog.

2 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup flour
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter, melted
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup jelly (I used grape)

Combine the oats, flour, and sugar in a bowl. Add the butter and peanut butter and stir to combine. Set aside ½ cup of the oat mixture.

Press the oat mixture (except for the ½ cup that I just told you to set aside, duh) into an 8x8-inch baking dish that has been lined with parchment paper. Spread the jelly over the dough. Sprinkle the reserved oat mixture over the jelly layer.

Bake the bars at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned and the jelly is bubbling. Cool completely before cutting the bars (unless you want to eat them slightly warm, with a glass of milk, which I suggest you do).

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

almond cake

I made you a cake.


Just kidding. I made myself a cake, ha. The recipe jumped out at me from one of the more recent Cook’s Illustrated magazines (‘course, according to them, it’s the best almond cake in all the history of almond cakes, but I’ve already said enough about that, and ‘sides, I’m not above adjectiving my recipes with bold strokes upon ‘cassion), so come last Saturday, I was in the mood for some ‘sperimentin’, never mind you that I still had half a carrot cake imprisoned in the glass cake stand atop the kitchen table.


(‘Sup with all the half words anyway? Weird. Moving right along...)

So I whipped up the cake. It’s a simple affair. One layer, no icing, and everything gets ground, beaten, and blended in the food processor. The resulting cake is dense and straightforward, nubbly with bits of blended-up almonds and capped with a crunchy lid of slivered almonds and lemon sugar.


It’s the kind of cake that:

*belongs in a picnic basket (not that I have a picnic basket) and then eaten out of hand with juicy, freshly-picked berries (because berry picking is what’s supposed to happen on picnics).
*pairs perfectly with a cup of morning tea.
*gets on fabulously with a big thermal mug of milky coffee.
*holds up under whipped cream and the scrutiny of an uppity guest (not that I ever have those).
*keeps well, should you have to set it aside to finish up The Other Cake.
*is underappreciated by children which means that you can hoard it without feeling guilty (not that I would ever feel guilty about hiding a cake that my children loved) (because I wouldn’t).
*feels like a hearty breakfast in a dainty dessert’s body, if that makes any sense.





I'm particularly fond of the buttery browned edges.

Almond Cake
Adapted from the January-February 2014 issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.

The recipe calls for blanched, sliced, toasted almonds. The Cook's Illustrated folks claim to be annoyed by the flecks of brown in the cake that come from the almond skins. Plus, they say the skins give the cake a bitter flavor. I used a mix of sliced almonds (not blanched) and whole almonds. I did not toast them. I’m not sophisticated enough to notice a bitter flavor, and I find the brown flecks enchanting. My recommendation: use whole, untoasted almonds and be done with it.

for the batter:
1½ cups almonds
3/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup canola oil

Put the almonds, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in the food processor and pulse until the almonds are finely ground. Transfer to a bowl.

Put the eggs, sugar, zest, and extract in the now-empty processor and blend on high for about 2 minutes. With the processor still running, add the butter and oil. As soon as the fats are incorporated into the batter, add the dry ingredients and pulse several times to combine. Pour the batter into a greased and wax paper-lined 9-inch springform pan.

for the topping:
2 tablespoons sugar
½ - 1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/3 cup sliced almonds

With your fingers, mix the sugar with the zest until combined—about 10 seconds. (Lick your fingers clean.)

Sprinkle the almonds over the batter and top with the lemon sugar.

Bake the cake at 300 degrees for 50-65 minutes. Let cool for ten minutes before running a knife around the edge of the cake. Cool completely and serve. This cake keeps well, covered with plastic, at room temperature.

Monday, February 17, 2014

the quotidian (2.17.14)

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

The Snow Edition

Outside...


Luxuriating.


'Twas rather windy-ish.


Yet another wrestling match.


Soaking up the rays.



Wishing for wings.
(The man has a thing for jumping into snow.
When he was in college, 
dozens of guys jumped out of their first, second,
and third story dorm windows into the giant drifts. 
You can probably guess who the instigator was.)


Preparing to leap.



Dog turned groundhog.
We were all crowded 'round the window admiring her sweetness when she visibly shivered 
and we realized that the kennel gate was closed with her on the outside. 
And just like that, her darling-ness turned into straight-up pathetic-ness, the poor dear.


Because this is what you do when white stuff falls. 
(Except instead of being all cutesy and quaint, my children made a pack of slain snowmen. 
Maybe it's a subtle message to the gods of winter?)


I'm guessing deer.


Grateful for the sexy big equipment that plows us out.


And inside...


An Inconvenient Truth: good, extreme-weather entertainment.
(And now they won't let me turn on the lights.)



Contrary to all appearances, she's not attaching it to her pants.


"Your move."


Grandmommy and a book, all to herself.


Forget the stews and roasts, our snowed-in menu had a summery twist: 
fruit salad, hot dogs, potato salad, ice cream, and green salad.


And carrot cake.