Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 garden stats and notes

Talk about last minute, right?


It was (another) low-key gardening year. A late frost eliminated peaches and nectarines, we decided we're not eating much applesauce anymore, and I still have green beans from two years ago (they are severely freezer burned and, by this point, probably completely devoid of nutrients—plus, in order to make them palatable, they must be cooked for forever—but I don't care because cooking them till kingdom come is easier than planting more).


Stats:
strawberries, frozen, sliced: 16 quarts
sour cherries, frozen: 2 quarts
pesto with walnuts and olive oil: 10 half-pints
pumpkin seed pesto with butter: 3 half-pints
pesto torte, two: 16 slices
green peppers, sauteed and frozen: 6 half-pints
salsa: 20 quarts and 1 pint
canned tomatoes: 10 quarts and 2 pints
corn, frozen: 20 quarts and 14 pints
tomato juice, raw, canned: 15 quarts
oven-roasted tomatoes: 3 quarts
roasted tomato and garlic pizza sauce: 12 pints
roasted tomato sauce: 19½ pints
grape jelly: 9½ pints
applesauce: 15 quarts


Notes:
*Just did one bushel of Gingergold apples. No sugar added. It's a nice sauce.
*I'm going through the green peppers pretty quickly.
*There is no way we're going to have enough salsa.
*I missed nectarines. Hopefully next year....
*The grape crop was piddly. We hand-picked individual grapes, just enough to make a couple batches of everyone's favorite jelly.
*No red raspberries worth speaking of. Perhaps I need to start a new patch?
*We had lots of zucchini, rhubarb, asparagus, and lettuce for fresh eating.
*I planted some fall lettuce. Not much came up, but what did lasted forever. I should try it again next year.
*We seem to always have crazy-good crops of tomatoes. Not sure why this is because we don't do anything and other gardeners (in our vicinity) seem to have trouble. Keeping my fingers crossed.
*Dad hauled in many loads of horse manure, so next year's garden should be lush.
*I hate weeding the strawberries. HATE IT.





PS. Those photos! That color! Suddenly I'm craving summer....

This same time, years previous: old-fashioned sour cream cake donuts, 2015 book list, 2014 book list, the quotidian (12.23.13), cheese ball, hot buttered rolls, giant sausage and leek quiche, bacon jalapeno cheese ball, Christmas 2010, spaghetti carbonara, and windows at dusk-time.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

sex for all creation

One of the adult Sunday school classes at our church has been doing a series on science and faith in which different scientists, or science-related professionals (curiously enough, all men so far), share about the intersection of their work and faith.

 A couple Sundays ago, my father took his turn, talking about when he was fired from his science teaching job at a private Mennonite school for presenting the ideas of evolution. Here, this is him, holding forth.


Thanks, Andrea, for the photo! 
(Also, I'm in it. See me?)

Then last Sunday, a bushy-bearded EMU professor took his turn and, in the middle of his science-y tirade, he off-handedly mentioned a book. “Whenever I flip through it to look something up for a student, I end up rereading the whole book,” he said.

I ordered it that very afternoon.

“Guess what!” I said to my older daughter who was sitting, unawares and defenseless, in the easy chair by the wood stove. “I just ordered a book for you.”

“Oh yeah?” Her mind was elsewhere. “What is it?”

“DR. TATIANA’S SEX ADVICE TO ALL CREATION!”

That got her attention.

“IT’S ALL ABOUT SEX AND IT’S GOING TO BE AMAZING.” 

“Uh….Mom?” She was regarding me warily.

“You’re going to have to read it,” I continued. “Or wait! Even better, I’ll make you read it out loud to me.”

“I will not!”

“Oh, hon,” I gushed. “This is going to be so much fun. Just you wait.”

The book arrived a couple days ago.

I tried to get my daughter to hold it for a photo shoot. She refused, and I hooted wildly at her prudish indignation. (Though on second thought, maybe she was refusing because she was in the shower at the time?)

My son’s response was slightly different. This morning when I was running through his list of chores, I concluded with, “And I want you to read at least one chapter of the sex book.”

“No problem there,” he chirruped.


It’s the type of book that gets a lot of mileage. Last night we had friends over for a solstice party (just supper really, but everything is more fun if you call it a party) and as we sat around the table munching Christmas cookies and sipping tea, I suddenly remembered the book. Our friends hadn’t heard about it, so as they flipped through the pages, I explained: It’s a sex advice column for all of creation. All these different animals—insects, whatever—write in about their sex problems and the author answers them. I am learning so much!

“Like what?” our friend asked.

“Well….” I hesitated. Did he really want to know? But he was looking at me, waiting patiently, so I blurted, “Like, all about the different penises. Some have horns and spikes!”

And then I was off, expounding upon the evolutionary tactics for different genders, exploding honeybees, and plunger-like penises. The book makes for entertaining conversation, that’s for sure, one that is wonderfully enhanced if you have a captive audience of slightly appalled teenagers.*

Speaking of teens, this book would make a great Valentine’s Day gift for one, yes? Or, in the case of no teens, it would make a splendid addition to the typical flowers/mountains/covered bridges coffee-table décor. If conversation lags, just point to the cover and say, “What do you think that's a picture of?” (I thought it was a twisted-around scorpion at first. “You’re kidding me,” my husband said. “It’s two beetles mating. Obviously.”)

Also, whenever the kids get in yet another fight, this book is the perfect weapon. Simply pick it up and start reading at random. "In humans, for example, sperm start their odyssey in the acidic environment of the vagina. But acid is lethal to sperm (which is why strategically placed lemon sliced make a good, if rudimentary contraceptive)...." (pg. 24). The children will run screaming from the room, or they will unite in their efforts to shut you up. (I haven't tried this yet, but I have every intention of doing so.)

*I’m picking on the kids. First, they were not a captive audience. Second, they were engaged and interested, and they comported themselves with enormous maturity.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (12.21.15), the quotidian (12.22.14), self care, flat, Christmas pretty, and homemade marshmallows.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016 book list

It's that time again, friends! Here's what I've been reading in 2016: some nonfiction, a bunch of memoirs, some novels, a few plays, and a bit of Young Adult. Not too shabby, me thinks.

*Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. (Actually read this at the end of 2015 but forgot to record it.) Slow and beautiful, hauntingly sad.

*Black Chalk, by Christopher J. Yates. Can’t remember it—Oh, wait! Yes, I can! A dark thriller that I thought so-so.

*The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr. Some good (and comforting) writing nuggets (like, it took her months to write the first chapter of her memoir and find her voice), but I still prefer Bird by Bird.

*Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs, by Sally Mann. I’m fascinated by her perspective on life, and her work: raw and evocative.

*Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. I don't remember it, but my notes say: Not credible but interesting.

*All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. Good, but I wasn’t head over heels like everyone else.

*The Birchbark House, by Louise Erdich. Young adult (for book club). An okay, easy read.

*When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. I appreciated the healthy perspective towards death, but I enjoyed his wife’s writing better than his.

*Tips: Ideas for Actors and Tips II: More Ideas for Actors, by Jon Jory. Extremely helpful. I only wished that I could've read this books before Outside Mullingar, not after.

*A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back, by Keven Hazzard. A fast, entertaining read. Informative, too, for a mother of an EMT.

*Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. I read this play in two sittings. It left me gasping for air.

*Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. (For book club.) Absolutely abhorred it, which is funny because so many respected friends loved it.

*On Acting: A Handbook for Today’s Unique American Actor, by Steven Breese. Excellent.

*A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams. My first time reading the play; I enjoyed it. 

*Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carlo Rovelli. I didn’t understand most of it...but I read it!

*Small Blessings, by Martha Woodroof. (Name drop: the author is in one of my writing groups!) Likeable characters and enjoyable read. The book was set in a town not far from here, and I got a kick out of reading about familiar places within a novel.

*Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Challenging and paradigm shifting, I wish I could’ve read this one with my book club because it requires processing. I chewed over the ideas for months.

*The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers, by Betsy Lerner. Informative.

*Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor. Required reading for my kids, so I read it, too. So, so good.

*The Silver Star, by Jeannette Walls. Can't remember it.

*Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren. Excellent (though I skimmed some of the science parts). Gained new insight into bi-polar disease. Also, it made me want to plant an oak tree.

*A Story Lately Told, by Anjelica Huston. Dull and souless, but I was intrigued to learn Angelica is one of the actors in Transparent (which I loved).

*Hungry Heart, by Jennifer Weiner. The beginning was interesting, but after a bit it felt long-winded and whiny. By the end I was skimming whole pages.

*The Babylon Line, by Richard Greenberg. A play. Okay, but just that.

*Accelerando, by Lisa Loomer. A play. Complicated and slightly bizarre.

*Jesus Land: A Memoir, by Julia Scheeres. Powerful, dark, incredible. I felt like I was reading a nightmare; had to hurry through so I could end it and get on with my life. Highly recommend (but only if you’re emotionally stable, and even then, proceed with caution).

Up next: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, by Neil White and then I'm open to (desperate for) recommendations. Fire away!




* * *

PS. 2015 book list and 2014 book list.

PPS. Books I've read to the kids for our bedtime read-alouds include Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'BrienA Little Princess and The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson BurnettMore Stories from Grandma’s Attic, by Arleta Richardson, and we're right now finishing up A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Have you discovered any new read-alouds this year (for ages 10-15)?

This same time, years previous: toasty oatmeal muffins.

Monday, December 19, 2016

the quotidian (12.19.16)

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


My husband and older daughter were neck-in-neck, eating these. About 9 or 10 each, I think.


Oops.


It's always such a relief when these cookies are done.


He waited until it was 17 degrees outside to change the locks.


Photobomb.


After years without a hot water faucet handle: FINALLY.


Now people can find us!


In installments: fire-laying.


The beast has been resurrected, thunk-thunk-thunk.


What I get for allowing my younger son to inflict me with his notions of beauty.


Reflected sparkle: the best part of the tree.

This same time, years previous: brightening the dark, supper reading, on my to-do list, fa-la-la-la-la, how to have a dunging-out date, the quotidian (12.19.11), chocolate-dipped candied orange rinds, scholarly stuff, and walnut balls (and I'm not even being dirty).

Saturday, December 17, 2016

almond shortbread

Baked, so far: butter cookies, gingerbread men, lemon squares, cranberry crumble bars, peppernuts (made by my younger son whose desire to bake is so fierce that denied kitchen access makes him weepy), and this almond shortbread.


They’re not called shortbread, though. According to Luisa, they’re Heidesand, or Sandy Almond Sugar Cookies, but they don’t taste sandy to me, and they’re definitely not sugar cookies because sugar cookies are soft, HELLO. Hence, shortbread. (They could also be butter cookies, I suppose, but let’s not complicate things, ‘kay?)


I adore these cookies. Really, really adore them. The crunchy pearl sugar, the strong hit of almond, the dry richness: it's all most satisfying. My husband, however, much prefers the leckerli and everyone (but me) was wild over the pfeffernüsse. Funny thing, taste buds.


But since I am cook and reign supreme of all things food, I made another batch (a double batch, actually) of the ones I loved. Being dictator has its perks (which is not a very funny joke, considering the current political shitstorm, Merry Christmas and Happy—Ha—New Year.) (Wow. I was in a good mood when I sat down to write this. Down, Subconscious, down!)


ANYWAY WHERE WAS I? Oh yes, cookies. Sweet, yummy, cozy-safe cookies. In order to make these cookies, one must have almond paste. I’d never used, tasted, or even seen almond paste before, but I trusted Luisa, noted the book's high volume of recipes calling for almond paste, and shelled out forty-plus dollars for a bucket of the stuff. (And then this week, I saw teeny-tiny boxes of the stuff on the grocery store shelf for over five bucks a pop and I was like, Bulk buying rocks.)


After I opened the almond paste, I divided the paste into 8-ounce portions, wrapped them up tight in plastic, put the whole lot in a large plastic bag, and stuffed them into the freezer where they will last a short eternity. Seeing how much I love the one and only cookie I’ve made with the paste, I’m awfully glad for my stash. What can I say? I’m half squirrel and almond paste is my nutty security blanket. 



What Christmas treats have you made thus far? I have a few more on my list, and weepy boy is at it again. In other words: we’re not done yet.

Almond Shortbread
Adapted from Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss.

No pearl sugar? Use demerara or granulated sugar instead, though it won’t be nearly as crunchy.

I used a kitchen aid to mix the dough, but these can be mixed by hand, using your fingers to crumble everything together.

14 tablespoons butter
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 ounces almond paste, grated or broken into small pieces
¼ teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 egg yolk, beaten, and pearl sugar, for coating

Cream together the butter and almond paste. Beat in the salt, vanilla, and confectioners’ sugar. Add the flour. Roll the dough into logs, about 2 inches in diameter (though mine were smaller, I think). Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for a couple hours or several days.

When ready to bake, brush the logs with the beaten egg yolk (à la buttering corn on the cob) and roll the logs in the pearl sugar. Slice the logs into ¼-inch slices and place on a cookie sheet. The cookies will only puff slightly, so they can be fairly close together. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-12 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden. Cool completely before storing in a glass jar at room temperature, or, if wanting to keep them for longer than a week, bagging and freezing.

This same time, years previous: the warming, the quotidian (12.14.15), mini dramas, bits of goodness, the quotidian (12.16.13), soft cinnamon sugar butter bars, the quotidian (12.17.12), fig and anise pinwheels, my baby, and cranberry white chocolate cookies.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

science lessons

I’ve never taught my kids science. I’ve read them books about science-y things—the periodic table, human anatomy, erosion, whatever—but we never did straight-up science. I figured they could just read a book and learn it on their own time if they were interested. (Example: my older son decided to become an EMT, took a class that involved things such as insulin levels and blood vessels, and I was like, See? He’s learning science and I’m not even doing anything!)

But then my older daughter started making noises about being possibly, maybe, potentially, I-don’t-know-perhaps? interested in science. Vet work, maybe. Something with animals, vaccines, and well, science. Probably it was time to start laying a basic foundation, getting some of the terminology under her belt. However, since academics don’t come easy to her, I knew we’d have to be more proactive and intentional. But I really, really, reallyreallyreally didn’t want to do the teaching.

And that’s when it hit me: DAD. My father’s been a science teacher his whole life. Why not ask him to tutor her?

Right away Dad said yes. Ever since the end of this summer, my older daughter has been going over to my parents’ house twice a week for science lessons. It’s a serious matter, these lessons. There’s homework (Aim for an hour a day, five days a week, I instructed Dad) and charts, microscopes and real goldfish, diagrams and plants.



And then when my son, his EMT training complete (for now), decided he’d like to study Anatomy and Physiology, my dad said sure. Now both kids are trekking over for lessons. Sometimes they have their lessons individually, back-to-back, and other times (like when he shot a deer and they did an organ dissection) Dad lumps them together. My mother plies the kids with yummy treats, like toast and cake and entire dinners, and then they come home and do their homework.



Information is sticking, too. This morning while I was explaining Algebra problems, I noticed my older daughter was doodling an atom in the corner of her notebook, the electrons orbiting a blob of neutrons and protons.


Way to go, Dad, and thanks!

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (12.14.15), hot chocolate mix, constant vigilance!, sunrise, sunset, my elephant, crazier than usual, cracked wheat pancakes, Sunday vignettes: human anatomy, and ginger cream scones.

Monday, December 12, 2016

the quotidian (12.12.16)

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


Kitchen play: heidesand (my favorite), pfeffernüsse, and basler leckerli.


A pan full of virtue.


Sunday's lunch leftovers.


Big splurge: EVERYTHING almond


Supervising (illegally) the making of the peanut butter cream pie.


On  the water bucket: just chillin'.


Ice water.


Morning wacky.


Tucked under the couch: the remains of that night.


A study in different body temps, plus, joint biology homework.


Someone enjoys shaving cream a little too much.


Winding it up.


He  can do better, promise.


This same time, years previous: Italian wedding soup, okonomiyaki!, in my kitchen (sort of): 4:14 p.m., stuffing, iced, pimento cheese spread, the quotidian (12.12.11), peanut butter cookies, Ree's monkey bread, and cashew brittle.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

yeasted streusel cake with lemon glaze

At  noon today, when I picked my younger son up from my friend’s house after a morning of writing (I was doing the writing, not him), she asked me what my afternoon plans were. After pausing for a second to scan the fridge calendar with my mind's eye, I said, “Oh, nothing, really. More writing, probably, and cooking and homeschooling. That’s my activity trinity, you know.”

And it’s true. That’s what I do every day: write, kids’ studies, cook, rinse and repeat. It’s fun, often—a fair balance of creativity, people-time, and productivity—but I never quite feel like I have sufficient time for each activity. Also lamentable: when I sit on the sofa to write in front of the cozy fire (pure bliss), my vacant-eyed presence drives my kids positively bonkers.

Such is life, chillens, I say. I have work to do. NOW LEAVE ME ALONE. (They don’t, of course.)

Anyway...where was I going? Oh yes, cooking. Fun, fun!

Last Thursday I made that turkey dinner and then we ate turkey for four days straight until the masses revolted and I had to switch it up. Last night was pizza. Also last night, I set a pot of beans to boiling and then, while I watched a movie (I'm reading this book and felt research was necessary—turns out, I'm ambivalent about both) with headphones, the beans boiled dry. All this while my husband was sitting on the other sofa, reading, no headphones in. He heard the burbling pot and then he heard it not burbling and yet he did nothing.

“I assumed you knew what you were doing,” he whined, sniffing the beans to check for scorching.

(They’re fine, just pleasantly toasty. No one will know.)



But beans and pizza are not the stuff of December cooking. No, no, December food is all about the baking. I’ve been doing my share of messing in the kitchen, mostly thanks to Luisa’s book. I’m working on the cookie section now, but earlier I was up to my elbows in yeasted cakes, one of which I will share with you as soon as I get done running my mouth, too much coffee, thank you, Panera. 


One thing you must know about this book: the recipes are different enough from my typical baking so I’m not always sure how I feel about them. Which is good, I think, because it means I’m making different food—food that has not been adapted to cater to my North American tastebuds—which is as it should be since this is a German cookbook. Three cheers for authenticity!

The downside, of course, is that I’m not immediately hog-wild about every single recipe. I have to sit with the food for a while, eating it (oh, curses), mulling over the textures and flavors, seeing how they hold up against time and our appetites. Some recipes I’ve enjoyed straightaway (the cinnamon pretzels were a slam-dunk), but others I’ve had to make numerous times, to give myself time to acclimate to the different flavors and textures. In a way, you might say, I’m breaking them in. Like shoes, but sweeter smelling (except for the ammonia carbonate, but more about that later).

This basic yeasted coffee cake is one such breaking-in recipe. I’ve made it a number of times, playing with the method, experimenting with different techniques and ingredients. Do I like it best with fruit or without? Does it matter if I switch out the instant yeast for rapid rise? Is it easier to mix the dough by hand or with a mixer?


testing, testing. one-two, one-two, testing, testing, one-two-three

But no matter what I did (and I did a lot), there remained one constant: my family gobbled it up. Also, I discovered that I craved a piece of the cake every time I had a cup of coffee. Positive signs, those are.

Bear in mind: The texture of this cake is more like a bread-y muffin than a cake, really, so stay open-minded and refrain from thinking “cake.” Also, it’s on the dry side (because it’s a bread, see?), so take care not to over-bake and make sure to serve it with a cup of coffee or a glass of cold milk.



Yeasted Streusel Cake with Lemon Glaze (Streuselkuchen)
Adapted from Luisa’s bestseller book, Classic German Baking.

Using a kitchen aid yielded a dough that was more biscotti-like than bread-like, so…stick with hand-mixing. Also, I adapted the recipe’s method to work for rapid rise yeast. If you prefer instant yeast, stir an equivalent amount into the flour and do not heat the milk.

According to Luisa, streusel ought to be pronounced “stroy-sel.” And she's right (of course)! Saying it that way makes one sound like an honest to goodness Germanic maven. Try it!

The lemon glaze, in my non-Germanic maven opinion, is not optional.

A couple times I followed Luisa’s recommendation to add fruit (a layer of chopped apples before topping the cake with the streusel) and while yummy, I prefer the cake with no fruit.

for the cake:
½ cup milk
3½ tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon yeast
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 cups flour

Put the milk and butter in a small pan and heat over medium-low heat until the butter has melted. Cool to lukewarm and then stir in the yeast.

In a mixing bowl, combine the salt, sugar, and beaten egg. Add the milk mixture. Stir in the flour and mix well. Turn the dough—it will be quite sticky—out onto a floured counter and briefly knead until the dough is soft and supple. Place the dough into a buttered bowl, cover with a towel, and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour. It will puff slightly.

Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper (I suspect you could skip the paper and just grease the pan, but I haven’t tried that yet). Press the dough into the pan as you would pizza dough. (Actually, I first lay the paper on the table and roll out the dough directly on the paper before transferring lifting the paper-dough combination into the pan and then using my fingers to press the dough all the way to the edges of the pan.) Cover the dough with a cloth and let rest for 30 minutes.

Dimple the dough by pressing down on it with your fingertips. Sprinkle the streusel (see below) evenly over the dough, gently patting it down so it sticks.

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the cake is puffy and slightly golden. Drizzle with the glaze (see below) immediately. Let the cake cool to room temperature before slicing. It keeps well, on a covered cake plate, for several days.

for the streusel:
1 2/3 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
10 tablespoons butter

Measure all the ingredients into a bowl and, using your hands, mix together until combined. There should be smaller crumbs mingling with pea-sized (or larger) lumps. Set aside.

for the glaze:
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon each fresh lemon juice and water

Whisk together and set aside.

This same time, years previously: managing my list habit, the quotidian (12.8.14), and a family outing.