Thursday, September 19, 2019

family night

Today, there was the regular stuff — work, studies, chores — but the best part was knowing that we’d be home for the evening, all six of us. These days, that’s becoming increasingly rare, and what with the upcoming whirlwind of a church retreat, Puerto Rican guests(!!!), pinchos and 16K doughnuts, plus birthdays and soirees and all the stuff in between, I was aching for a family night.

With an at-home evening to look forward to, the afternoon meandered most deliciously. I ran over to Mom’s so she could make me coffee and feed me candy and tell me stories. Then I hurried back home. My sister-in-law was coming over for an informal makeup tutorial, which is a hoot, considering how little me and my girls know, though the chicas certainly aren’t short on beauty supplies.

The girls arranged everything up on the table and then we set to, explaining and experimenting. The kids joined us then, and the color palettes exploded.

Lots of giggling, dark eyebrows, and one little boy even got a ladybug-adorned cheek.

They left, and my younger daughter got busy with supper: spaghetti carbonara.

While she browned the bacon and garlic and my older daughter washed a minor mountain of dishes, the kitchen rocked — with hip-hop and (attempted) twerking and and shouted conversations. Also, the cup song.

My older son and husband walked in then, grimy and starving, my husband a little more ripped than normal.

Then supper. We inhaled it — sooo good — and my husband and older son had a muscle-making competition. As soon as I grabbed my camera, though, they stopped. 

"Oh, come on," I huffed. "Just do it."


I waited.

And then….

The meal over and muscles made, we all split: table clearing, laundry-bringing-in-and-folding, dish washing, chocolate cake making (I got a craving), and grape juice steamering. My husband disappeared to the barn to work on the island, and kids got showers and argued (and I yelled, though not as loudly as this morning when one child accidently smashed a quart jar of grape jelly on the tile floor) and played more music and did outside chores.

Now, off to read bedtime stories. Night!

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.17.18), the quotidian (9.18.17), black bean and veggie salad, historical fun, the big bad wolf and our children, baking with teachers, candid camera, when the relatives came.

Monday, September 9, 2019

the quotidian (9.9.19)

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

Steak and cheese, with fried eggs, onions, and peppers. 

First the pie filling and now the juice.

The weather can't make up its mind (hot one day, cold the next) and neither can my coconut oil. 

Fancying up his board: he is so (sososososoSOOOOO) ready for snow.

She makes writing look way too easy (grr). 

The place I both long to be and dread to go, usually in equal measure.

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."
Robert Frost

This same time, years previous: coming home, the proper procedure for toweling off after a shower, outside eating, calf wrangling, the good things that happen, 2012 garden stats and notes, how to clean a room, fruit-on-the-bottom baked oatmeal.

Friday, September 6, 2019

a hernia, hip-hip!

Yesterday my husband had hernia repair surgery up in DC.

"free" socks!

He was supposed to have it at our local hospital but several days prior to his scheduled surgery, a couple friends mentioned a doctor up in DC who specialized in hernia repairs and charged straight up. Just, 2100 dollars and ba-bam, done.

So then that information prompted a whole bunch of questions. What did the hospital surgery cost? How much would our insurance cover? Would a couple trips to DC — first for the consultation and then for the surgery — actually save us money?

My husband made a bunch of phone calls, trying to pin down an actual number. Nobody could tell him anything, really, but eventually he got a loose breakdown: The operating room would cost x-amount of dollars, they said, and the surgeon y-amount, but the anesthesiologist charged by the minute so… (insert helpless shoulder shrug).

Finally someone referred him to an estimation department and they told him that the hospital charges $15K, but the agreement between the hospital and the insurance company is that the most the insurance company will be billed is an estimate $7900. And of that, we'd be responsible for our deductible and co-insurance, blah-blah-blah. In conclusion: we'd probably end up spending between four and five thousand dollars for the surgery. But that was only a guess. One never actually knew how these things might go.

Except this doctor in DC knew. His surgery even came with a three-year warranty.

So we switched. My husband called the office and that evening the doctor — yes, the actual doctor — called him back to discuss his case. Wednesday, my husband drove up for his three-minute check-up — Yep, it’s a hernia — and then yesterday I went up with him for the surgery. (If he’d waited for another week, he could’ve done the check-in and surgery in the same day, but because of an upcoming project at work, he wanted to get the surgery over as soon as possible.)

Everything went like clockwork. They were ready for him when we arrived (on time), and when I went back to see him before they wheeled him into the OR, there was a small crowd loitering around his gurney, tying their masks and waiting for the nurse to finish finalizing the paperwork.

I read for a couple hours (Slow Man; it seemed fitting) before they called me back to fetch him. I helped dressed him, said hello to the doctor, got his home-care instructions, and then, a few minutes later, we were walking (or rather I walked, he shuffled), hand-in-hand, out to the car.

The whole experience felt efficient and neat, and clean. Whereas the hospital had seemed positively obsessed with contamination — they’d given my husband a whole list of detailed instructions: the night before surgery he was to shower with a clean bar of soap, dress in clean clothes, and sleep in a bed with clean sheets; the morning of, he was to shower again, with another bar of clean soap (what is this, As Good As It Gets?) and with a bottle of sterile solution that, according to the warning label, may or may not make a person go blind, and change into yet another clean set of clothes — the surgery center gave none. Just, don’t eat. Which made sense. At the surgery center, they were doing routine surgeries for mostly healthy people, but at the hospital, a place teeming with disease, the risk of infection was much greater. (So why are hospitals doing surgeries for healthy people in the first place?)

Back at home, the kids had cleaned the house. Our bed was made, a jar of flowers on my husband’s dresser. My mother brought us enough supper to feed us for three meals, and a chocolate coconut cake.

Today my husband is sore, but Ibuprofen and Tylenol are enough to manage the pain. The kids and I did school work and chores.

While I wrote upstairs, he monitored the chaos, sort of. All afternoon, he’s lounged on the sofa or recliner, taking catnaps, reading, watching somethingorother on his computer, and helping our younger daughter prepare for her driver’s ed test.

It’s fun having him here, all to ourselves, unable to do work and projects or lift more than ten pounds.

getting (rolling) up

It’s like he’s on holiday which, in turn, makes everything feel a little more relaxed, a little more special, like a party.

This same time, years previous: the big finale, southern sweet tea, five-dollar curtido, in my kitchen, in my kitchen: 5:25 p.m., the cousins came, regretful wishing.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

at home

Last week, I didn’t leave the house from one Sunday to the next. Or, more accurately, I didn’t go to town. I did leave the house a handful of times: to go running and to visit my mother one afternoon, and another afternoon a friend came out to chat. But mostly, I was at home. It was okay. Boring yes, but not torturous.

And now this week is turning, unintentionally, into a repeat performance. I hosted a writing group meeting on Monday, and Tuesday a new-to-me friend came for a visit, but beyond that, I’m just here. 

It’s weird, but the more I stay at home, the less I want to go anywhere. A quick trip into town to go the library or pick up groceries begins to feel like a hurdle and I find myself putting it off as long as possible, and then putting it off some more. I can see how a person might become a recluse. Just give in to the suck of inertia.

So what do I do all day long, you ask?

Well, mornings are pretty fixed. I run (except for when my ankle swells up for no good reason, humph), shower, and then writewritewrite, only taking breaks to grab breakfast, pee, and do a bit of homeschooling.

The long afternoons are a little more challenging. I pick raspberries and pop grape eyeballs from their skins and do yet another canner load of tomatoes. I feed my starter and make granola and put a pot of dried beans on to simmer. I tell kids to wash dishes and hang up laundry and sweep the porches and put things away. I read or nap and sometimes, like now, I blog.

Occasionally I get irrationally grumpy (hello, PMS and Stupid Ankle That Won’t Let Me Run) and then my son pulls a pantyhose over his head and makes me laugh.

Other simple pleasures that get me through: NPR, Hershey Kisses, and books. Right now, I’m reading Esperanza Rising to my younger son, and to myself: Ask Again, Yes, and Slow Man, which I am, predictably, taking forever to finish. (Of note: last week I whizzed through Three Women and then paced the house wishing I had someone to discuss it with.)

Evenings are reserved for more reading, sometimes Netflix (Schitt’s Creek, with my younger daughter; The Hunt, with the three younger kids; Barry and season three of Stranger Things, with my husband; and, as of tomorrow, season ten of The Great British Baking Show, whoo-hoooo!!!!!!), and getting all wild and crazy with fruit leather.

That’s what I did last night, anyway. I made a grape puree as I would for pie filling and then blended up the sauce — no sugar — and went to town. Figuratively speaking.

clockwise from top left: grape, grape-applesauce, grape-banana, grape-applesauce swirl 

All of them were a hit, but I liked the grape banana best. Or maybe the plain grape. Or the grape applesauce?

The swirl version was especially pretty.

My younger son keeps accidentally calling grape leather fruit "tar.” It does bear a resemblance.

In other news, my hair is still falling out. This is the handful I got this morning after its twice weekly washing.

What is wrong with me? I’m taking great care of it — no heat, sulfate-free products only, and minimal washings. I haven’t brushed it for two years, only gently combing through it with a pick about once a day, sometimes less.

Last Wednesday, four days out from my last wash, it was beginning to feel dry. So of wetting it down and adding my normal creams and potions, I gave it a good oiling to moisturize and condition it. 

Adding oil to my hair: now there’s something I never thought I’d do.

And so go my days, the hours spooling endlessly. It’s both tedious and productive, satisfying and dull. I grit my teeth and hunker down, doing my best to take advantage of the quiet. Sooner or later, something will pop up and — poof! — all traces of calm and boredom will instantly vanish.

Oh, look at that! A bunch of Puerto Ricans just walked in the door!!!

And we're off!

Or at least they are, to go get pizza. I'm at home, typing this.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.27.18), an unlikely tip for runners, a big deal, tomatoes in cream, peach crisp, they're getting it!, puppy love.

Monday, August 26, 2019

the quotidian (8.26.19)

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

Applesauce fruit leather: thanks, blog reader Katie, for the prompt!

Puerto Rico on my plate.

Last minute tests: gearing up

The table around which they grew....

...soon to be replaced!


She's a digger, this one.

Breaking horses isn't always a walk in the park.

Some days....

This same time, years previous: full circle, it's what's for supper, fresh nectarine galette, the quotidian (8.23.16), on love and leftovers, don't even get me started, he got me, 16, coming up for air, chocolate malted milk frosting.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

chocolate cake

The other day I sent a piece of my latest confectionary treat — a chocolate cake with vanilla bean buttercream, both recipes Yolanda’s — over to my parents’ house for them to try, and then yesterday when I popped in for a visit, my mom handed back my now-empty plate.

“Thanks for the cake,” she said. “But Jennifer, why do you need another chocolate cake? Our regular one is soooo good!”

So I tried to explain. Our standby cake is good — dare I say fantastic — but this one has something else. A dark richness. A chocolate density. A solidness that helps it hold up against trimming and layering. (Because I’m all about cake sculptures now, apparently.) Mostly, it’s just a very good, very chocolatey cake.

Seriously? I needed to explain myself? This was chocolate cake. Enough said.

leftover half of an egg, filled and iced for a potluck picnic

I’ve made this cake a bunch of times — mostly in the shape of eggs — but now I’m trying basic layered cakes, too.

The cakes bake up with a nice, rounded dome. When I trim it off — insider’s secret: the top’s the best part, tender and intensely chocolate — we fight over the scraps.

Yolanda always drenches her cooled cakes with simple syrup, though she doesn’t say why. I figure it’s just to keep them more moist. To me, dumping water on a cake is counterintuitive, so I’ve yet to drench them as thoroughly as she does.

However, I’ve noticed that the bottom and edges of the cake do seem a little dry, so maybe I ought to hit them extra hard? Next time, maybe.

Chocolate Cake 
Adapted from Yolanda of How To Cake It.

I’ve always iced this cake (I can’t resist an opportunity to make buttercream!), but it’s not necessary. The cake is sturdy and rich — and chocolatey — enough to hold its own.

Next time I won't split the layers: the ratio of icing to cake was too high for our tastes.

2 sticks butter, room temperature
2 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs
2¾ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cocoa powder, Dutch processed
2 cups boiling water
1-2 cups simple syrup, optional
favorite icing, optional

Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat very well. Add the eggs, two at a time, and beat well, scraping down the sides after each addition. Once it’s well-mixed, beat for another 3-5 minutes to get it nice and fluffy.

Put the cocoa in a separate bowl, add the boiling water and whisk well. Set aside to cool for a bit (about 20 minutes), or slip into the freezer for a bit, stirring every couple minutes. You just want to take a bit of the heat off.

Measure the remaining dry ingredients into a third bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternating with the warm chocolate, starting and ending with the dry.

Divide the batter between two greased, wax paper-lined cake pans. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes. Cool for ten minutes before running a knife around the sides of the pan and inverting the cakes onto a cooling rack.

Before icing the cakes, drench thoroughly, tops and bottoms, with simple syrup. Yolanda uses Sir Squeeze A Lot. I use a disposable water bottle into the lid of which my younger son poked lots of holes. It’s not fancy but it works.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.21.17), a new room, sun-dried tomato and basil pesto torte, stewed greens with tomato and chili, grape jelly, two-minute peanut butter chocolate cake.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

peach fruit leather

Back when we were in the thick of nectarines, eating them fresh and slicing giant bowlfuls for drying, it occured to me that I should try fruit leather. Because my dehydrator sheets are mesh and the soupy liquid would just drip through, I’d never experimented with leather before. But my new oven, I realized, had a dehydrator setting. Why not give it a go?

And thus started a whole chain of fruit leather-making experiments...

Pureed fruit: cooked and fresh, nectarines and peaches.
Acid: bottled lemon juice and fresh.
Sweetener: sugar, honey, and/or an over-ripe banana
Dehydration: in the oven — two parchment-lined pans in the oven, or a whole stack of pans (here’s where I wish I had four or five oven racks) — or in the dehydrator (hello, parchment paper!) 

Everything worked, but there were subtle differences and our preferences to go with.

The leather made from pre-cooked fruit took on a glossy, smooth shine, almost like plastic, and had a more muted flavor.

From nectarines, pre-cooked.

The fresh peach puree (with lemon, a bit of honey, and one banana per processor blending) resulted in leather flecked with bits of peel, and it had strong peachy flavor.

From fresh fruit, uncooked.

The addition of banana (our all-time favorite dried fruit) was a smash-hit, providing subtle banana flavor and a nice chew.

Leather made in the dehydrator tended to get a little crispy around the edges, even when I took pains to spread it on nice and thick, and then, when I had to dehydrate it extra long (because it was so thick) it got so dark it appeared scorched, even though it wasn’t.

The crispy bits that wouldn't roll; we call them "fishfood."

Leather made in the oven was much chewier (our preference) and it got done faster.

I realize fruit leather seems kind of crazy considering the slow cook time and the lightening fast speed with which it disappears. But keep in mind that it takes minimal prep — no need to peel — and since it’s all getting blended up, bruised, squishy-soft fruit is fine. Plus, there's no nitpicky slicing and laying out of the fruit, and then, at the end, prying the dried fruit from the sheets. Just, blitz, pour, and roll. Easy!

I keep the fruit leather, rolled and cut into inch-wide(ish) sections, in the freezer for packed lunches and snacks.

The rule is that no one is allowed to just snack on it willy-nilly — it’s to be saved for packed lunches and necessary snacks, and eaten in moderation please — but I don’t think anyone much listens.

Peach Fruit Leather 

I’m eager to experiment with other fruits. Maybe this winter I’ll simmer a pot of rhubarb and then add a bunch of strawberries before blending. Or I might buy a giant Costco bag of frozen mixed berries and give that a whirl. And if I ever get my hands on a case of almost rotten bananas, watch out!

So my oven isn't tied up all day, I usually make the fruit leather at bedtime and then let it dehydrate overnight.

Very ripe peaches, washed, pitted, rough chopped
1 mushy banana
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, either fresh or bottled
2 tablespoons honey or sugar, optional

Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend until soupy. It will taste only mildly sweet and fruity, but no worries — the flavor will intensify as it dehydrates. Pour the sauce into a big bowl and blend up more fruit, adding each batch to the bowl as you go, until you have enough sauce to fill your dehydrator trays.

Ladle the pureed fruit onto parchment-lined dehydrator sheets or large, sided, parchment-lined baking pans. Dehydrate (in the oven, at 150 degrees) until no longer sticky to the touch. (If the edges are done, but the middle is not, use a pizza cutter to remove the parts that are done and then return the unfinished portion to the oven.)

Roll the leather while it is still warm and then, using a scissors, cut it into desired pieces. Bag and freeze.

This same time, years previous: a little house tour, the quotidian (8.20.18), the Peru post, miracle cat, the quotidian (8.19.13), the quotidian (8.20.12), this is what crazy looks like, whole wheat buttermilk waffles, Valerie's salsa.