Thursday, March 22, 2018

the solo

So a few weeks ago, my younger son, at the invitation of his choir director, auditioned for the Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms solo and then shocked me by getting it. It was all very exciting and cool and lovely. For weeks, he rehearsed daily. He went to voice lessons. He listened to the piece and practiced the Hebrew and worked on his breathing (which was the hardest part, according to him). And then, one week before the concert date, he came down with a hoarse voice and all hell — figuratively speaking — broke loose.

Actually, my kid, laid back child that he is, just rolled with it. The director said to go on vocal rest and for three days, the boy obediently kept his mouth (mostly) shut, but since I was the one ultimately responsible for my child’s health, and I’d also been the one to sign his performance contract and I knew that he was super excited to sing and I really wanted him to be able to do it, I was tied up in knots. What to do? What to do?

The entire week was touch-and-go.

Monday, we went over the mountain to the first rehearsal. Two days later his voice was mostly gone, so we went to an ENT who scoped him (and we got to see his vocal cords moving while he sang and IT WAS SO FREAKIN’ COOL): apparently, his vocal cords were swollen and he had calluses on them and there were signs of reflux, well shoot.

Vocal rest, the doc said.

After the concert, I said, and: How about steroids?

Thursday, the kid was actually sick with fever and cold, and that evening, another rehearsal: on the high notes, just air. Friday, we started the steroids and that night, his system racing, he hardly slept. Saturday, the concert.

I had no idea how it would go. After a week without rehearsing would he be able to do it?

Everything turned out just fine. The place was packed, standing room only, and that, plus the fact that he didn't have his normal vocal strength, made it hard to hear him, but he was poised and calm, focused, and he did it. At the end, along with the applause and the bowing, there was a handshake from the director and a surprise bouquet of tulips. The kid was glowing, and not just from fever, either.

We’re mostly back to normal now. He still has a cold, but he’s finished the steroid regimen and is sleeping soundly. He’ll see the doctor again in a few weeks to check on those calluses (the nurse said that if we bring in a thumb drive, she’ll put the thrilling inside-the-nose videos on it so we can watch them at home, yay!), but he’s already sounding much better.

And you know what? All things considered, the experience was a good one. He worked hard, he learned a tremendous amount, and, most importantly, perhaps, he had a wonderful time.

I am so glad it's over.

This same time, years previous: apricot couronne, the tables are turning, a morning's start, the walk home, oatmeal toffee bars, sour cherry crumb pie, caramelized onions.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

spring hits

The first day of Spring. A big storm — our first in two years! — looms, but all day, only rain, a fine sleet, or a few snow flurries.

Just for fun, a few of the day’s hits:


First, four hours at Panera, writing. A piece of baguette (a little larger than normal, thank you, Panera workerman) and two coffees. Back home, a quick early lunch (cabbage — the children gag it down) and then the three younger kids (my older son is at classes) and I head to town on a quest: books and ice cream.


In the car, my older daughter plugs her phone into the car stereo. Sixteen Going On Seventeen blares and the kids sing along.

Totally unprepared are you 
To face a world of men 
Timid and shy and scared are you 
Of things beyond your ken — 

Suddenly I bellow: BULL. SHIT.

The kids scream — Mom! — and shriek with laughter.

“You can sing the song as long as you understand it’s a complete lie," I say. "Have I made my point?”

Yes, they giggle, and I have a hunch that from now on when they hear that song, they will also hear my voice in the back of their heads calling bullshit.

 It’s a good feeling.


At Dairy Queen, the kids get their free first-day-of-spring cones.


At the library, each of us collects an armful of books. I pick out some read alouds, a few books I think the younger two might enjoy, some cooking material, a book on writing, and every single book on Puerto Rico I can find — so many that when I try to carry them, a bunch of them crash to the floor, oops. 


We stop at Kline’s for a second round of cones: today only 75 cents in honor of their 75th anniversary, mint cookies and cream.


On a whim, I pull into Gift and Thrift — Summer clothes, I say, Puerto Rico’s going to be hot — and within minutes we've appropriated three of the four dressing rooms, swapping clothes and modeling for each other, affirming and critiquing, no minced words.

I find two dresses and a pair of sandals. My son finds five pairs of shorts and a scooter (only four dollars, so fine). Eventually the situation devolves into vintage gowns and halter tops, so we leave.


We stop into Food Lion for a red onion, cilantro, and milk, and my son spends the rest of his gift card money (y pico) on two chocolate bars, and, on the drive home — along the side of the road, plow trucks idle hopefully — he feeds us pieces.


At home, the junky weather has lifted so I go on a run. Halfway, I spy an approaching bicyclist. Right before I get to him, he pulls over to the ditch. Idiot, I think. You have plenty of space to get around me, and then I realize it’s my husband, how sweet!


Back at the house, the boys are working on a welding project...

Charlotte is feasting on a bunny, and Alice is sulking (maybe because Charlotte won’t share)..

at our house, Easter bunnies don't stand a chance

and the girls are making a peanut butter cream pie...


Supper is chili cheese dogs, peas, chips. We linger at the table while I read aloud from one of the Puerto Rican travel books I checked out.


Mom comes over to grind wheat and then scandalizes my husband by cleaning off the table with the vacuum.

She doesn’t wash it afterward, either.


All evening, we read (though the youngest is sad because he wants to play games and no one will join him).

I read to the younger two from A Day No Pigs Would Die, and then the kids head to their rooms to continue reading and I make hot chocolate with whipped cream and flip through a couple Cook’s Illustrated magazines (making exciting plans for the next day's cooking ventures) and then start Annie Dillard's The Writing Life. It’s so good! I laugh out loud, interrupting my husband's reading every two minutes with excerpts.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.20.17), pop quiz: what did you eat for lunch?, the quotidian (3.21.16), piggies!, over the moon, roasted vegetables, getaway, butterscotch pudding.

Monday, March 19, 2018

the quotidian (3.19.18)

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

Waffle desecration: peanut butter, whipped cream, bananas,
strawberries, sausage gravy, peaches, and syrup.

Yum: when your child's friend works at a donut shop.

Cold medicine, at its most delicious.

Trashed bagels and a real-live EMT rescue.

Put your clothes in my room, I said.

The Zax, by Dr. Seuss, come to life.

The Look.

Another play, this time with a hit of Italian opera.

Fireside anatomy.

He got hit with the clean-it-now bug.

This same time, years previous: last and first, all things Irish, a good reminder, the last weekend, the creative norm, warmth, no buffer, cornmeal blueberry scones, cherry pie, our house lately.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

fresh ginger cookies

Monday it snowed (a teeny-tiny bit but it was snow so yay) so I baked cookies. In light of my sludgy cold, ginger seemed the obvious choice.

I’d first made these cookies back in December, but then I never got around to writing about them. They seemed more of a bracing, nourishing mid-winter cookie than a frivolous Christmas treat anyway, what with the whole wheat base and hefty hit of fresh ginger. Besides, to me a ginger cookie is solid everyday fare, the kind of cookie that kids can grab from the cookie jar whenever they get hungry.

Okay, okay. So I don’t let my kids eat cookies whenever they want and we don’t even have a cookie jar, but! These cookies do feel wholesome and nourishing. I mean, what with all the spices and whole wheat and vitamin-rich molasses, they’re practically good for you, right? At least that’s the story I tell myself. I’m sticking with it.

This time when I made them, the cookies were even better than I remembered. I baked the first tray fresh, not even bothering the refrigerate the dough, and the cookies spread out flat. Crispy around the edges, soft and chewy in the middle, and with that strong ginger bite, they were wildly addicting. Even though my husband was so stuffy that he couldn't detect any flavor (because he, too, has been stricken with The Evil Cold), he so loved the texture that he ate three.

But then I let the rest of the dough sit on the counter for a couple hours while I read by the fire and my husband slept the afternoon away, and by the time I got around to baking the rest of the cookies, the flour had hydrated so that the resulting cookies weren’t quite as thin. Lesson learned: Next time, bake up all the cookie dough straight away, in one go.

Also learned: let the hot butter and spice mixture cool before adding the egg. Otherwise, you’ll be picking out little bits of scramble, oh for crying out loud.

And don’t swing to the other extreme and stick the hot pan in a slick of snow, either, because then the mixture will get painfully thick around the edges.

Basically, just calm down a little. Sometimes “taking it slow” really is faster.

Note: When I mentioned “hydrating the dough” to my mother, she busted up laughing. I tried to explain — the flour hydrates while the dough rests, duh — but my mother wasn’t having it. You mean if I let my cake batter sit out, the cake’s texture will be different? And I’m like, Well, yeah...uh, probably? And then she snorted again so now I don’t know what to think. Am I off my rocker or is she?

Fresh Ginger Cookies
Adapted from Ideas In Food.

I’ve doubled the recipe and am recording it as such. If you’re going to go to all the trouble to measure a bunch of spices, you might as well make it worth your while.

The original recipe calls for just all-purpose flour, but whole wheat adds a pleasant nuttiness.

2 sticks butter
1 cup each brown sugar and white sugar
½ cup molasses
¼ packed cup minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon, rounded, ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon each nutmeg and ground cloves
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups each whole wheat pastry flour and all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Extra sugar, for rolling

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the sugars, molasses, fresh ginger, cocoa, cinnamon, ground ginger, salt, nutmeg, and cloves. Bring to a boil and then simmer gently, stirring frequently, for five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 20-30 minutes.

Working quickly, beat in the eggs. Stir the baking soda into the flour and then add both to the batter. Let the dough sit at room temperature for about thirty minutes to hydrate before shaping into balls, rolling in sugar (I used demerara), and placing the cookies on a parchment paper-lined (or greased) baking sheet.

Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 9-12 minutes, depending on size and taking care not to overbake them — they should be puffy in the centers and still slightly wobbly. Let them rest on the tray for a few minutes to set up and then transfer to a cooling rack.

This same time, years previous: good writing, the quotidian (3.14.16). opening night, raspberry ricotta cake, chocolate babka, a love affair, sugar loaf, all by himself, for all we know.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

loaded baked brie

How about this for delicious: A wheel of brie, topped with jam, bacon, and jalapenos, and then wrapped in puff pastry and baked.

Yeah, I KNOW. Awesome, right?

When I came across that recipe-slash-formula, I immediately jogged over to the fridge to add the necessary ingredients to my shopping list, and if you didn’t just dash over to your fridge to jot down the necessary ingredients on your shopping list right then — right now — then we’re no longer friends. Sorry, but that’s just the way of it. Eat brie or be lonely.

I felt a little guilty, making such a decadent treat on a weeknight just for anyhow. I didn’t even try to find a time when all the kids would be home to enjoy it, which was probably just as well since my husband, Mister Don’t-Feed-Me-Milk-Please, ate half of it.

The next day, I gave my older son the piece I’d saved for him. One bite and he yelped, Oh, DAAANG.

And then I got to thinking that a maybe a weeknight in March is the perfect time for such a treat? Thick in dreary, draggy, winter limboland (hello, Evil Cold, I’m looking at you), right about now is when we need a festive boost. Or I do, at least. Listless and edgy, tired of the thick socks and chilly mornings, I sure could benefit from an evening of good conversation around an ooey-gooey wheel of brie. You know, to elevate my existence and all.

Good thing I have another sheet of puff pastry in the freezer.

Now, to track down some friends….

Loaded Baked Brie
Adapted from Ideas in Food

1 16-ounce wheel of brie
1 sheet of puff pastry
1-2 jalapenos, minced
4-6 ounces cooked bacon, crumbled
¼ - ⅓ cup jam (sour cherry, blackberry, spiced currant chutney, etc)

Roll out the puff pastry and line a pie plate with it. Place the wheel of brie — if you don’t like the rind, cut it off (I only bothered to cut off the top rind) — in the middle of the pastry. Spread the jam on top of the cheese, then sprinkle with the bacon and the jalapeno. Fold the pastry over the top, making sure to pinch it closed. Brush the top with an egg wash (or not).

Bake at 400 degrees for 30-45 minutes. If the pastry pokes up in a weird spire, never fear. Simply wrap the point with foil to keep it from burning.

Let the brie rest for 15 minutes at room temperature before slicing. (Leftovers are great, reheated, though the pastry won't be as crispy.)

This same time, years previous: kitchen concert, the quotidian (3.13.17), homemade pepperoni, family weekending, no more Luna, what will I wish I had done differently?, adventuring, the quotidian (3.12.12), now.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

another adventure!

A few years back, my husband and I concocted a dream: to travel around the country volunteering at different disaster sights, living out of a camper. My husband, with his mad carpentry skills, could head up the jobs with other volunteers helping out, and I’d take care of the kids, manage volunteers, cook, whatever. It’d be a hoot, or at least “an adventure.” But although we had the time and interest, energy and skills, as a family of six living on a single income, long-term volunteering without financial support was beyond our means.


But then hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, and after my husband went there in January (his report of the situation: There’s lots to do and Yep, we’d be a good fit), and after consulting with family and a few close friends, we sent a proposal to Mennonite Disaster Service, which we knew usually only relies on short-term volunteers.

May through August, we said. And we speak Spanish.

The worst they could do was say no.

interview ready 

But they said yes!

And then we were like Wheeeee! followed immediately by WE'RE ACTUALLY DOING THIS, YIKES.

The details are hazy, for both us and MDS. For MDS, long-term volunteering usually means two to four weeks, not four months, and often it’s retired folks providing the volunteer leadership, not families with four children needing financial support.

Plus, the situation in Puerto Rico is complicated. Normally after a disaster, it six to twelve months to begin the rebuilding, so at just barely six months, MDS is in the beginning stages. They are moving carefully, wanting to be as sensitive and sustainable as possible, so lots of components are up in the air.

What we do know is this: My husband and I will be leaders, answering to the three in-country coordinators, and managing volunteers and overseeing a building project or two (currently, there are about nine). The two older kids will be mostly full-time volunteers and the younger two will tag along, helping out wherever they can and (hopefully) staying out of trouble. But about our specific tasks and location and living situation, we know nothing. Oddly enough, this doesn’t much bother me. A person can do just about anything for four months, right? It’ll be fine.

Oh, and as for finances, we only have to raise enough money to keep the home fires burning, and, thankfully, our sweet, generous, kind, supportive church has agreed to back us, Thank you, Church! They've even provided a handy-dandy online donation spot (choose the line that says "Mennonite Disaster Services.")

Here's a video of my husband's January trip to Puerto Rico. It'll give you a good sense of what MDS is all about. (Esther makes me tear up every time.)

The kids’ reactions about our MDS plans have been mixed.

Older Son: But I already bought my ticket to Red Wing! And what about work?

He’d planned to spend the summer earning enough money so he’d be free to take a full load of college classes this year...and then we went and nixed the smart decisions we’d coached him to make. Hypocrites, we are.

But then we convinced him that we need his help (we do) and that the cross-cultural experience and Spanish study and family togetherness will be more enriching and valuable in the long run (they will), and now he’s fully on board (yay!). (Because of his school schedule, he’ll probably fly separate from us, arriving a little later and leaving earlier.)

Older Daughter: Awesome! But what about Velvet?

Plus, it was a little hard for her to imagine being gone for four months when she was in the middle of a month-long Florida trip.

But I assured her she’d have two full months at home before we left — plenty of time to recuperate and prepare — and when I called her with the news that the trip was official, she whooped most happily.

Younger Daughter: No, thanks. I'll stay here and live with another family.

Transitions are hard for this one. Remember how she dug in her heels about Guatemala? But I have a hunch she’ll end up loving Puerto Rico. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she’s the one, out of all of us, who makes the deepest connections. Just, she can’t know that now, so that’s rough.

Younger Son: Yippeeeee!

Pretty straightforward, that kid.

from my husband, to me: a made-in-China mug from the airport gift shop

Even though my husband and I have some concerns — with its long days and no-weekend weeks, not to mention the steady stream of volunteers and the group living situation, MDS volunteering can be quite grueling — the hands-on work will feel good. In the face of increasingly depressing world news, stepping out of our comfort zone to concentrate on other people’s pressing physical need will be grounding. Plus, getting to hang out with all sorts of people — Puerto Ricans! Amish! retired folks! teens! — will be super fun. Exhausting, yes, for sure, but also energizing.

We are so excited.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

one-pan roast sausages with vegetables

I recently discovered the easiest fancy dinner ever: roasted veggies with sausage. I’ve already made it, oh, three or four times, and within as many weeks.

Mid-afternoon, I dig through the fridge, pulling out whatever veggies are rolling around in there: broccoli, carrots, a red onion. I fetch potatoes, both sweet and white, from the back hall. In the kitchen, I peel and rough chop everything, drizzle them with plenty of olive oil and then tumble them onto a sided baking sheet and sprinkle with lots of salt and black pepper. Usually, I get carried away and have to use two, sometimes three, baking sheets. The important thing is to not overcrowd the pan.

I nestle a half dozen sausages in amongst the veggies and roast the whole thing in a blistering hot oven for about thirty minutes. The last ten minutes, I halve a lemon and place the pieces, cut-side down, on the baking sheet, and then, right before serving, I squeeze the hot lemon juice over everything and season with more salt and pepper.

The meal is a slam dunk every time. What with all the variety and bright colors and flavors, it feels celebratory. Add a loaf of fresh bread and it’s a downright feast.

One-Pan Roast Sausage with Vegetables
Adapted from Aimee of Simple Bites.

Other vegetable options include brussel sprouts, butternut squash, cauliflower, beets (though they'd probably discolor the other food), cabbage, etc. More variations: Add fresh herbs, such as rosemary or thyme, or toss in some garlic and red pepper. Maybe try roasting some fruit, too  fresh figs and apples, would probably be nice. The key is to cut the veggies the same size so they roast at the same speed.

We've tried different sausages but Sweet Italian is our favorite.

If roasting the veggies in shifts, simply pile all the roasted vegetables and sausages together both the ones that have cooled to room temperature and the fresh hot ones  and return to the oven for ten minutes to heat through before serving.

1 head fresh broccoli, cut into florets
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into sticks
1 red onion, halved and then cut into large chunks
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
several potatoes, cut into large chunks
4-6 sausages links
1 lemon
olive oil
salt and black pepper

Toss the veggies with plenty of olive oil and salt and pepper. Tumble into a sided baking sheet. Nestle the sausage links amongst the vegetables. Roast at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, stirring every ten. The last ten minutes of baking, cut the lemon in half and put cut-side down on the baking tray -- the heat helps the lemon release all of its juice.

The meal is ready when the sausages are golden brown and swollen fat and the veggies are fork-tender and blackened around the edges. Remove from the oven, squeeze the hot lemon over everything, and season with more salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

This same time, years previous: classic German gingerbread, tradition, wintry days, to market, to market, oatcakes, bacon and dates scones with Parmesan, soda crackers, an OCD indulgence.

Monday, March 5, 2018

the quotidian (3.5.18)

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





She's back!



This same time, years previous: we nailed it, dusty magic, creamy Costco-esque cake filling, the quotidian (3.2.15), girl party, the Chicoj coffee cooperative, grocery shopping, the quotidian (3.5.12), potatoes and onions, doctors galore, sky-high biscuits.