Friday, August 29, 2008

Losing My Marbles

I think I may be. I’m not sure. But here are three things that recently happened that are forcing me to raise the uncomfortable question in regards to the soundness of my mental stability.

First, I found a quart jar of packed, labeled “Roasted Roma ‘08" tomatoes in the drawer where I store my empty jars and paraphernalia for fixing my coffee. It was supposed to be in the freezer. I have no idea how long it had been there, but I don’t think it was that long (I fix my coffee twice a day, so I’d have seen it, right?). It was still just fine.

Second, I found part of a block of cheddar cheese stashed in the freezer above the fridge. It was supposed to be in the cheese drawer of the fridge.

Third, when I reached up in the cupboard for the container of peanut butter, I was surprised to see a pint container of sour cream sitting there. It was moldy and rotten.

I’m not sure what conclusion I should draw. I don’t normally do things like this. In fact, the only times I behave like this is when I’m pregnant.

I am not pregnant.

There’s a good chance it just runs in the family, and I’m finally, inevitably, turning into my mother. She has been known to forget to put the chicken in the chicken-corn-and-noodle soup. Or to put an empty glass pie pan on the burner of her gas stove, which is fine, except that the burner was lit. Or to forget, because she was so wrapped up in whatever it was she was writing (not a blog), she has water boiling on the stove until it’s too late and the kettle is charred black.

Speaking of stoves, just the other day Mr. Handsome cooked himself some eggs for breakfast and then left for work. About twenty minutes later, I realized that my teapot was boiling away on the stove. Upon closer examination I discovered that Mr. Handsome had left on the burner upon which he had fried his eggs. At least he had put the tea kettle on it so no one got burned. At least I had left some water in the teapot so it didn’t char.

Wait a second! Maybe Mr. Handsome is the one losing his mind, messing with my kitchen contents.

Whew! What a relief! I feel so much better, now that I’m certain all my marbles are firmly secured.

Boink. Bonk-onk-onk-nk-nk-k-k-k-k. Hey! What’s that thing dribbling and rolling across the floor, away from my chair, towards the back door? Could it be a ma---?

Eh-hem. I’m not looking.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Out Of Boredom

I’m bo-o-o-o-r-r-r-ed! There’s nothing to do-o-o-o!

I used to sing the I’m Bored Song to my mom back in the day when I was a kid and I can still hear my mother’s blunt response, “If you can’t find something to do, then I’ll find something for you.” You can bet I skedaddled.

But now there is no one to boss me around. It’s kind of sad, really. I have books to read, of course. Dreams From My Father for book club, and Delivered From Distraction which just came in the mail today (though I think "Delivered From Boredom" would be a bit more appropriate for right now), and The Miracle At Speedy Motors, just for fun. See the problem is that nothing has to be done right now. I work best under pressure and when there is no pressure, I have no drive to get stuff done.

So I blog. And I boss you around.

Are you sufficiently bored by all my whining? Or are you bored because it's raining outside and there's nothing to do-o-o-o? All righty then! I have something for you to do. And since there's only about three more hours till supper time, you best be getting your tail in gear.

Remember those multi-colored peppers that I got for free? After giving a bunch away to some friends and family, I heeded my Girlfriend Kris’s suggestion and made a pasta dish with peppers and onions. You probably have peppers lurking about the house somewhere, don't you? If not, then in two days there will be the Farmers' Market, so plan to head over there to buy yourself a couple dandies. Then make this dish, okay?

Pasta with Sauteed Peppers and Onions

1 pound pasta (penne works well)
3 large yellow, orange, and/or red peppers, cut into thin strips
1 large onion, cut into thin wedges
olive oil
about one cup of freshly grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta in a large kettle of salted water. While it is cooking, put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet that has been heated to medium-high heat. Add the peppers and onions and saute until tender, turning down the heat if the veggies start to scorch. Sprinkle them with salt and black pepper.

Reserve about a half cup of the pasta’s cooking water and then drain the pasta. Put the pasta back in the kettle, sprinkle about half of the Parmesan over the pasta and dribble in the reserved cooking water, all the while gently stirring the pasta.

Plate the pasta, scoop a generous portion of peppers and onions over each serving, and sprinkle more grated Parmesan over the top.

But wait! I'm still bored. Telling you what to do didn't help me much. Sniffle. Oh yes, I promised Miss Becca Boo that I would put make-up on her. There’s no better time then the present, I guess. Toodles!

Solution for a Cold, Rainy Day

We are on day number two of nearly solid rain, dark skies, and cold (for August) weather. I’m still wearing my pajamas bottoms—they’re gray, dotted with pink and black cupcakes. I’m even wearing socks. I have all the lights on and a candle burning on the kitchen table, in a valiant effort to boost my spirits.

Miss Becca Boo and Yo-Yo Boy are listening to a story on tape, up in his room, and the two littles are playing house in the girls’ room. It’s quiet right now, but the downstairs is littered with big plastic building blocks, match-box cars, and stuffed animals, a reminder that it wasn’t this quiet twenty minutes ago. Every time I glance at the mess, it deepens my appreciation for the present stillness. How long do you think I have before a fight erupts? Five minutes? Maybe, if I’m lucky.

Last night for supper I made a pan of smashing potatoes, green beans, corn, applesauce (Mr. Handsome also had a piece of leftover chard-sausage-cheese-cherry tomato quiche), and for dessert I used up our last bag of frozen, prepared-for-a-pie (with the sugar and spices) apple slices. I put them in a square glass pan and for the topping made up a variation of the (excuse me while I’m interrupted by a Giant Eruption---shrieking, stair-stomping, and the like---the stillness lasted approximately one minute and twenty-three seconds) blackberry cobbler recipe. The apples were syrupy (the syrup reminded me of the sauce in which apple dumplings are baked) and tender under the crispy-crunchy topping, perfect for a dreary August night.

Topping for Apple Crisp (or quite possibly any fruit, for that matter)
Adapted from the topping for Blackberry Cobbler

½ cup rolled oats
½ cup flour
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Mix together the first five ingredients. Add the egg and stir until incorporated—the mixture will be damp and sandy-ish. Put the crumbs on top of the prepared fruit (in this case, about five cups of apple slices, prepared with a mixture of flour, sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon as though they were going to be baked in a pie) which have been placed in a greased square glass pan, and pour the melted butter over top. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and crusty. Serve with cold milk or vanilla ice cream.

High-End Pesto

Because basil is in season and because everyone else is talking about it and doing it, I’m gonna share my pesto recipe with ya’ll. Just to put it out there.

I didn’t get this recipe from any old cookbook; I got it from a real chef from the highest-end restaurant in town. (Or is it highest-endest? Or highest-endedest?) Granted, he didn’t actually give me the recipe, but... See, a couple summers ago I had taken the kids to the children’s museum and they were having a special cooking presentation from a real chef from the above-mentioned establishment, and he just happened to be making pesto. So I watched closely, scrutinizing his every move. This is what I came away with.


4-5 cups basil leaves, packed
2-3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
½ cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
½ - 3/4 cup olive oil

Put all the ingredients but the olive oil in a food processor and pulverize till it turns into a green paste. Then, while it’s still processing, gradually pour in the olive oil through the feed tube. Stop once or twice to scrap down the sides with a rubber spatula. Put the pesto in small containers to freeze, or eat right away.

For a pound of pasta, reserve about a half cup of the pasta's cooking liquid and mix it with about a half cup of pesto (or more, depending on your tastes). Or, if you like it strong, don’t bother to dilute the pesto with the cooking liquid at all and use about a cup of pesto.

Several other suggestions for serving pesto:
*add to macaroni and cheese
*add to Alfredo sauce (in this recipe I just used cubes of frozen basil, but pesto would work just fine, too)
*spread in sandwiches with roasted tomatoes and sharp cheese
*spread it on pizza crust in place of the tomato sauce and top with grated cheese and tomatoes (fresh, roasted, and dried all work well)
*after mixing it into a pot of drained, hot pasta, add a half-cup of cream

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Book List

As a nod to the new school year, which we do not adhere to because I am just a tiny bit of a rebel and a heck of a lot my own independent person, I am putting up (within the next day or so) a link on the right that will take you to a site with the list of books that I have read out loud to my kids (the ones they heard on audiotape, I marked accordingly). Chapter books, mind you, not all the picture books that I have read again and again and again and again and aga---

I’m including their ages (so far, the list pertains only to Yo-Yo Boy and Miss Becca Boo) at the top of each section so you can get a feel for the age appropriateness of the books. I will be updating the site with new books and other odds and ends (an anti-TV rampage? Yikes!) as the spirit moves me.

I am keeping the comment section open at that site. Please feel free to leave ideas for other books that we, and others, would enjoy reading.

Ps. I’m not really a “rebel”. A conservative? Nah. A free-thinker? Not really. Weird? Definitely.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Odds and Ends

1. I put some dried cherry tomatoes on the pizza that I made last night and they were absolutely delicious. Chewy and tender and tomato-y. All that fear about the skins being too tough is for naught. I’ll be heading out to the garden (or sending one of the kids out in my place) today to pick a big bowlful for drying.

2. The Dove Tiramisu chocolates are fabulous. The Lindt Chili chocolate is so rich and spicy that I can only take a little nibble at a time, which is fine because one piece of chocolate lasts quite awhile that way. But don’t eat any right before going to bed; I couldn’t fall asleep for an hour last night due, I think, to that one piece of chocolate.

3. You wanna know something funny? Without reading that post about chocolate (which I'm refering to in #2), Mr. Handsome went and bought me a box of Gertrude Hawk chocolates, Dark Chocolate Lover's Special Edition, for an anniversary present. Isn't he sweet?

4. Last night I made pesto and finished off the jar of chopped garlic that I had sitting in my fridge. I loved having prepared, chopped garlic ready at all times, especially at this time of year when I am putting garlic in and on everything. The garlic has been sitting in my fridge for over a month with no sign of any rotting, so I plan to fix another jar soon.

5. My Girlfriend Michael Ann pointed me to another method for roasting tomatoes: put a bit of pesto on the Roma halves before roasting them. Is that not a wicked idea?

6. Mr. Handsome returned from his visit North with a boatload of discount bananas, courtesy of The Grand Matriarch (thank you!). There were two big bunches of bananas in each bag, ninety-nine cents a bag, and she bought us eight, EIGHT, bags. I’ve been peeling (Miss Becca Boo calls it "shelling"), chopping, and drying ever since.

My New Favorite Fruit

That would be nectarines.

I don’t remember ever really eating nectarines before this summer. Maybe that would be because I bought them in the grocery store, out of season, and they were flavorless? I don’t know. Could be.

Anyway, when I went to the farm last week, I bought a bushel of nectarines along with my two bushels of Rambo apples. These nectarines are to die for. I’m serious. They are juicy and sweet and tangy tart. It was a cinch to slice them open and pop the pit out. I’ve been making dishes with these Nectar For The Gods ever since.

Nectarine Cobbler (using the recipe for Blackberry Cobbler)

Adapted from Epicurious, the Blackberry and Nectarine Cobbler with Ginger Biscuit Topping. It used a half cup of candied ginger pieces in the topping, and even though I'm not a fan of candied ginger (thus the reason I have a nearly full container of ginger sitting in my kitchen cupboard), I loved it in this recipe.

Nectarine Jam

I tried canning five quarts of the nectarines. I don’t know if they will be very good because I (or rather, my mother) have a hunch that they will get mushy. If that is the case, then I plan to mush them up even more, thicken them with a little sugar and cornstarch, and serve them in parfait glasses with whipped cream and a crispy ginger cookie alongside.

I dried them, too, and they shriveled up just dandy. I think I have five quarts of chewy sweet-tart pieces packed away.

I plan to purchase another bushel, maybe two, next year, and there's a chance I'll even look into getting some nectarine trees for our orchard. They're my new favorite, after all.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Starting a New Baby

A new baby? Huh?

No, I’m not pregnant, and no, I’m not going to be pregnant (better not, anyway). I’m talking about something totally different: my bread baby.


Maybe I should start at the beginning.

Back when Mr. Handsome and I got married, our friends, David and Tina, gave us a cookbook, Nancy Silverton’s Breads From La Brea Bakery.

I skimmed through it, but it appeared way too intimidating, so I put it on my shelf and there it sat for nearly a decade. Then, in the late fall of 2006 when I was swollen with the lump that was to become The Baby Nickel, I decided to give the book a shot.

That meant that I had to make my own sourdough starter from flour, water, and grapes. It took twenty-one days untill the starter was strong enough to use in bread making. Once it reached a steady strength, I had to maintain it by feeding it three times a day, morning, noon, and night. Thus the reason I called it My Bread Baby.

I had been baking bread with the starter for only several weeks when The Baby Nickel was born. His was a home birth and my goal was to push him out during the night and by morning be up and about, cooking food and feeding my bread baby as well as my human baby. Basically, I wanted to be Super Woman. (There are women who do that, you know. They’re up and about making waffles for the midwives. Or so I’ve heard.)

That wasn’t the way things turned, however. (Do I hear you laughing at me? That’s not nice!)

I ended up in the hospital for 24 hours (hang that placenta), but I wrote down the instructions for feeding the other baby, and my mother came through for me. Two and a half weeks later I ended up in the hospital again, this time for four days (darn that blood poisoning), and once again my mother, husband, and whoever was running the house at the moment, picked up the slack.

When I got home, my bread baby was none the worse for wear, and I was much better (thanks to two blood transfusions and some powerful antibiotics), so I picked up where I left off, feeding two babies now, instead of one.

I thought I would never be able to make authentic sourdough bread, you know, the artisan/European kind, because I didn’t have the right oven, not to mention the right training. But Silverton's book was fantastic, teaching me step by step, all the details, the science. I was turning out bread, just with flour, sea salt, and water, that had a hard crust, chewy inside, good hole structure. (Mr. Handsome loved to act all important by picking up a loaf he had just cut into, putting his nose up close to it, scrutinizing the inside and then declaring, “Ah, look at that hole structure.”) I felt like a magician—powerful, amazing, superhuman. It helped to take away the sting of not being able to serve waffles to the midwives.

It took two days to turn out a batch (two loaves) of bread because the bread had to do an overnight proof in the fridge. I bought a digital thermometer so I could read the exact temperature of the dough. I learned to make rye starter and whole wheat starter (so yes, then I had three bread babies to feed). I learned to knead the bread with a special slam-dunk-slap that was satisfyingly loud and quite therapeutic, and then I learned to knead it in Mr. Handsome’s Grandfather’s Kitchen Aid mixer, which was annoyingly loud, but quite relaxing.

Country White, Chocolate-Sour Cherry, Raisin Brioche, Fig-Anise, Pumpkin, Whole-Wheat, George’s Seeded Sour, Red Pepper-Scallion, Rosemary-Olive Oil, Potato-Dill, Whole-Wheat Sandwich, Pumpernickel, Multigrain, Izzy’s New York Rye, Parmesan Cheese, Sesame-Semolina, Rustic, Focaccia, Italian Ring, Baguette—these are the breads that I made. From the leftover starter I made dog biscuits and sourdough pancakes and waffles. We feasted on bread. Hot from the oven, the crust would shatter under the knife, and we’d spread it thickly with butter which would then melt and drip through the holes onto our hands and trickle down our wrists.

I was nursing a big fat baby, so I could do things like that.

I think it was around that time that I started to call myself The Kitchen Goddess. Privately, of course. My self-esteem had never been higher (I don’t know if that’s really true, but it could be).

So now our grapes are ripe and need to be picked soon. (I’m going to make the starter from our homegrown grapes this year—this bread baby is going all-natural!) The urge to conceive is getting pretty strong.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

How To Make Butter

The majority of what I know about making butter,
I learned from my Aunt Valerie.

A couple years ago, three actually, because I was pregnant with The Baby Nickel at the time, we started to buy our milk from a farm. (The funny thing was, I couldn’t stand the taste or smell of raw milk because of being pregnant, so I couldn’t drink any or eat any of the yogurt or ice cream I made from it, but once the baby popped out, I was just fine. Odd, huh?)

Buying raw milk is an expensive proposition, but Mr. Handsome and I squeezed our eyes tight shut, gritted our teeth, and wrote out a check for the purchase of two shares. Then we opened our eyes and smiled. Or rather, I smiled, and Mr. Handsome grimaced---he wasn't as in to the spending-money-on-expensive-groceries thing. We get two gallons of raw milk every week, and we also buy an extra half gallon every week and just put the cash in the little money box on the table inside the door of the milk shed. I still have to buy a gallon of milk from the store about once every week, but that’s okay.

There are usually two or three inches of thick cream at the top of each milk jar which I skim off and put in smaller jars. Some goes into the refrigerator for my coffee, but most of it goes into quart jars and then into the freezer. (Only fill the jars 3/4 full because the cream expands in the freezer—if it’s filled too full, the glass will break. Trust me, I know.) I pull out a jar of cream when we get the urge to make homemade ice cream, but usually the jars just sit in there. Once I have a stockpile of frozen cream, about 8-12 jars, then it’s time to make butter.

I remove the jars from the freezer, take their lids off, set the jars on my back hall counter, and cover them with a clean cloth.

Allow the jars to sit there for two or three days to ripen; the cream turns into butter faster when the cream has had time to age first.

(I make a sour butter, one that is not good for eating fresh, but is very good for baking—in a recipe I’ll usually use half bought butter and half homemade. If you would like to make butter for fresh eating, use fresh cream and do not culture it.)

On butter-making day, using my meat baster tube thing, I suction out the milk that is sitting on the bottom of the jars and squirt it into a big bowl. Even though I only put cream in the jars, the cream still rises, leaving some milk at the bottom. By omitting the extra milk, I can fit more cream in my churn and get the whole process done faster.

I dump three or four jars of cream, depending on how full they are, into my butter churn, gifted to me by the very generous Grand Matriarch, screw the lid on tight, put a towel on the floor, snag a kid, and order them to start cranking. I set the timer for five or ten minutes per kid and they rotate through, doing their part.

Now, if you do not have a butter churn, you can still make butter by using a blender. Actually, that is how my Aunt Valerie taught me. You simply whirl the cream in the blender, with the lid off and while stirring the top part gently with a wooden spoon (if you dip the wood spoon in to the blender too far then you will get butter with wood chips—not a good idea at all).

Once the butter has come, I pour off the buttermilk into the same big bowl into which I had squirted the bottom milk and dump the butter into a second bowl.

This buttermilk is pure golden, so don’t you dare throw it out—it’s my favorite part of butter-making. To culture the buttermilk, I fill clean quart jars 3/4 of the way full (they will eventually go in the freezer) and, leaving the lids off, I set them on the counter in the back hall, covered with a clean cloth, and let them ripen for a couple more days. I know it has cultured when the buttermilk is solid, like yogurt, and I can see little holes and cracks in the buttermilk in the sides of the jars. (You can use the buttermilk without culturing it first, but I think cultured buttermilk adds more depth and pizazz to baked good. Whatever that means.)

Then I put lids on the jars, label and date them, and pop them in the freezer. I use my buttermilk mostly for pancakes and waffles (it makes them light and sky-high fluffy), but not for salad dressings or drinks—the flavor is too strong for that, I think.

When the churning process is complete and I have a big bowl of butter, then it's time to wash it.

I do this by setting the bowl in the sink and letting cold water run into the bowl while at the same time using my hand to press and turn the butter, pushing out the last drops of buttermilk.

Once the water runs off clear, no longer white and milky, I push out the last of the water. Then I add a couple teaspoons of salt and knead it in to the butter. This turned out to be about two pounds of butter, but I didn’t know that then. I just eyeballed it, aiming for about a teaspoon per pound.

I measure the butter using a half-cup measure (equals one stick of store-bought butter, see?) and place the measured blobs on pieces of plastic wrap.

I wrap the butters up, put them in a bowl, and set the bowl in the fridge.

After several days, I put the butters in a plastic bag and move them to the freezer.

So Why Did I Marry Him?

You mean there should be a reason besides the fact that I thought him strikingly handsome? It's not enough that his eyes were blue and his hair was black (and now the black is peppered with gray, rendering me a knock-kneed fool)? Masculine sexiness won't cut it? Really?

Oh, okay. Here’s my list, or rather, an excerpt from the book:

...I know that I’ve married a truly wonderful person.... His fun-loving, spontaneous outlook on life was contagious. Nothing plodding about this guy! Whoo-ee! I saw him as a hard worker, intelligent and informed, honest, respectful, creative, interesting, conscientious, and endowed with good common sense. I very quickly hinged myself to his side.


I’m still hinged, after twelve years, and I plan on remaining right here, stuck fast to his side.

It’s a good place to be.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sweet Freedom

One of the things I like about being a grown-up is that I can buy chocolate whenever I want. And I can buy however much I want. I can eat it in the morning, right before supper, or at bedtime. I can eat as much as I want. Being a grown-up can be a lot of fun.

The way I’m talking, you might think that I just flew the coop yesterday. Not so. I’ve been married for twelve years (tomorrow), and I have four kids (that's supposed to imply that I'm a responsible adult, on some level). After college, I lived in Nicaragua for three years, far, far away (I’m not just referring to distance here) from the coop. I’m 32 years old, for crying out loud, but I still get excited over buying chocolate.

This morning I took Sweetsie and The Baby Nickel to Walmart (the rest of the family is in upstate New York) because I needed to get a few important items like red lipstick, birdies for our badminton set (couldn’t find them), and unlined paper. At the end of my list, I wrote “chocolate”.

Therefore, my last stop was the chocolate aisle. While the kids ritched around in their seats (The Baby Nickel on the front seat, strapped in, and Sweetsie perched on a big box of disposable diapers), I pondered the many choices. I had trouble deciding what would be best, so I played it safe and bought a variety. (And this is after I had already been to the baking aisle where I had bought two bars of Baker’s semi-sweet baking chocolate, two bars of Nestle 53% Dark Chocolate, two bars of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate, and a bag of Kraft Premium Caramel Bits—I had used up all my semi-sweet chocolate bars when I made those Chocolate Chunk Cookies.)

This is what I picked out:

*Reese’s Select Clusters (peanuts, pecans, peanut butter, and caramel in milk chocolate)
*Dove Dark Chocolate pieces, individually wrapped
*Dove Desserts—Tiramisu, Dark Chocolate, individually wrapped
*A bar of Lindt Excellence, Chili, Dark Chocolate
*A bar of Lindt Creation, 70%, Orange

I came home and stashed the bars and bags into my chocolate cupboard, up above the microwave. I already had a variety of baking chocolates (two kinds of chips, several kinds of cocoa, white baking chocolate, unsweetened baking chocolate), so now my cupboard is looking rather full. Even to me.

The good news is that it should take me awhile to work my way through that stash. I don’t gorge on chocolate, especially not the dark kind. One piece here and there is plenty.

After all, I am a responsible adult who knows how to handle her freedom. I mean, her chocolate.

(Gummy bears, however, are a different story...)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cold Soup, Perfected

Every year the women on my mom’s side of the family get together at my Aunt Dr. Perfection’s house for our annual fall soiree. We descend upon her house, hungry for the fantastic food she fixes, ready to spend the next 24 hours eating, talking, eating, lounging (we rotate between the front porch, the back yard garden, and the sunroom), and eating some more.

Obviously, she’s a good cook. Otherwise we wouldn’t eat so much.

A couple years ago, she served us a cold corn soup. It was spectacular---cold, creamy, lemony---so I copied the recipe down (from one of her cookbooks, possibly a Williams-Sonoma book) and brought it home with me.

This past week my mother sent me a couple boxes of exceptionally sweet and delicious white corn that my father had grown. It was nearly bedtime when the corn arrived at my house (we had met halfway between our houses in one of our send-a-child-to-the-grandparents’ expeditions), so I cooked it up for a bedtime snack, and then cut the rest off the cob and tucked it into the fridge. A couple days later I dug my aunt’s soup recipe out of my recipe box and got to work.

Cold Curried Corn Soup
Adapted from the recipe book that my Aunt Doctor Perfection has sitting on her little wire shelf in her kitchen.

This is a great soup to have on hand during the hot days of August (that actually haven’t been so hot this year). Serve it as a first course to a fancy meal, as a simple lunch, or as a refreshing mid-afternoon snack.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 small potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
5-6 cups of fresh corn
2 ½ teaspoons curry powder
5-6 cups chicken stock
juice from one lemon, about 2 tablespoons
white pepper
thin lemon slices
some sour cream, about half a cup
some finely chopped parsley, about 3 tablespoons

In a medium to large soup pot, saute the onion with the olive oil. Add the potatoes and the corn and saute for another couple minutes. Add the curry powder and cook for yet another minute. Add the chicken stock and the lemon juice and simmer for twenty minutes, or until the potatoes are quite tender.

In small batches and using great caution (I gave myself a talking to about being careful and still I spritzed corny soup all over the kitchen counter), puree the soup in a blender. Pour the pureed soup through a sieve to remove the fiber stuff—you’re going for a creamy soup here. This part takes a little bit of time because it seems like the soup will never go through. Just be patient and stir the soup while it’s sitting in the sieve, pressing on the sides and jouncing it up and down a little. You should have about a cup of goop left in the sieve when you’re all done—feed that part to the chickens. Season the pureed, sieved, creamy soup with salt and white pepper, pour it into a jar (I had a little over two quarts of soup), and put it in the refrigerator to chill.

To serve, garnish with the sour cream, chopped parsley, and the lemon slice. Mmm, perfect.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Mandatory Suggestion

Last year I discovered a new way to preserve Roma tomatoes: roasted, in the oven. I’m sure that all of you have access to Romas, either from your garden, your neighbor’s garden, or the Farmers’ Market. My point is, you need to go buy some and then make these tomatoes.

I am not sure what is the best, most efficient way to do these tomatoes—I’m still experimenting. So I’m just going to tell you about the several different methods I have employed. The recipe and method are flexible, so you’ll have to play around with the ingredients yourself. My point is, pretty much anything you try will be fine.

But whether or not you make these tomatoes is non-negotiable. That's my main point.

First thing: Don’t burn them. But even that is a matter of taste. My mother thinks that anything that has a caramelized flavor tastes burned. I happen to love the caramelized flavor—the bits of the tomato that turn dark brown and chewy. I was able to salvage a small fraction of the tomatoes pictured above. My mother would’ve chucked them all.

Oven-Roasted Roma Tomatoes
I think this is adapted from Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but I’m sadly too lazy to go look it up and double check on that. You ought to read the book anyway. Let me know if you find the recipe there, okay?

A medium-sized bowl of Roma tomatoes
about a cup of chopped, mixed fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, rosemary)
several cloves of minced garlic
a couple splashes of olive oil, maybe 1/4 cup
a couple splashes of red wine, optional
salt and black pepper

Wash the tomatoes, cut the tops off, and slice them in half, lengthwise. Lay them skin side down on a large cookie sheet that has sides and that has been lined with tinfoil. To make this whole process worthwhile, you’re going to want to fill your oven with as many trays of tomatoes as will fit on your racks, and lay the tomatoes as close together as is possible without them laying on top of each other. They will shrink to about half their original size. I do two big trays at a time, though I would do more if I had more racks for my oven. (Mr. Handsome, can you please help me out here? Find me another two racks?)

Now, there are different methods for the next part. Here’s three of them. Pick one, or create a new one.

Method #1
In a small bowl, mix together the chopped herbs, garlic, olive oil, red wine, salt, and pepper. Using your fingers, distribute the herb mixture over the tomatoes, making sure that each tomato has received a little dollop of green goodness and juice.

Method #2
Sprinkle the chopped herbs over the tomatoes. Then the chopped garlic, the salt, and the pepper. Drizzle the olive oil over all, followed by a couple splashes of wine.

Method #3
Put the prepared tomatoes in a large bowl. Add the olive oil, wine, and garlic and gently toss to coat. Lay the tomatoes out on the trays. Sprinkle the chopped herbs over all.

Another idea, which may become Method #4 in the near future
Prepare them as in method #3, but use herbes de Provence in place of fresh herbs, as in the Tomato Bread Pudding recipe that nearly slayed me.

Last night I lighted on the best way to roast these tomatoes. See, they take a long time in the oven and during the day I often run into trouble because I want to bake granola or bread or potatoes or something and the tomatoes are in there, hogging up all the space. Also, I’ve been roasting them a little too quickly and they’ve been too caramelized (okay, Mom, burned) while at the same time still being a bit too juicy. So last night I turned the oven to 225 degrees right before I went to bed (around 9:30 pm) and they roasted all night long. I could smell them when I got up to go to the bathroom, and that made me smile to myself because I was being productive even while I was sleeping. I checked on them at around 6:15, and only about six halves were too heavily caramelized—the rest were just fine, and about half of them were not quite done. Tonight I’ll set the oven to just 200 degrees.

Pull the tomatoes off the trays, one by one, as they finish roasting, and lay them on a dinner plate. When they are all off the trays and have cooled to room temperature, put them in a quart jar, label it “Roasted Romas ‘08", and put them in your freezer.

These tomatoes are fabulous in grilled cheese sandwiches, or any kind of sandwich for that matter. They taste rich and warm and darkly tomato-y. Chop them up and add them to pasta dishes, pesto, salads, dips, dressings, and so forth. They will disappear pretty fast, so you better run your oven every night for the rest of the month of August if you plan to have enough to make it through the winter.

Just a suggestion.

Two Morals

Out on yesterday’s pre-dawn run-slash-walk I passed a house that has two enormous pear trees out front. I’ve been watching these trees for several years now. I’ve toyed with the idea of knocking on the people’s door and seeing if they wanted their pears, but the trees seem cared for and last year they even had ladders out there and were filling buckets with pears, so I decided that I didn’t have a chance. But this morning as I came puffing down the road, I saw an older man walk out to the end of the driveway to check his mailbox. So I stopped and politely inquired (that means I said “sir”) if those pear trees were his. They were, he said. Do you use them? No. Could we have them? Yes. I explained where I lived (I didn’t want him to go and give the pears to someone else because I was just a nobody to him), and we talked about how and when to pick them and I ran away, nay, bounded away, for I was filled with that tickle-ly gleeful feeling.

After my morning cafĂ© con leche, I made a 30 mile round trip to pick up more produce. At the first farm I bought two bushels of Rambo apples and a bushel of nectarines. I’ve never done nectarines before, but I decided since it was a good year for fruit and the farm had them, I might as well make hay (or rather, jams, dried fruit, canned fruit, and sauces) when the sun shines.

Then I drove a few more miles to a neighboring farm where two bushels of Romas were waiting for me. A young man came out and loaded them into the car for me. I noticed that they had been sorting peppers, they were all over the place, so I asked if they ever sell seconds of the peppers. He said, “Oh, you can just have those.” I gaped at him, “Are you serious?” He gave me a box and I filled it with giant, only very slightly blemished (what are knives for anyway?) yellow, orange, red, and green peppers. He offered to get me another box, but I declined, all the while feeling guilty for turning him down since I could see the sun was shining and I knew I should be making hay.

But I can only make so much hay.

I don’t even know what to do with all these peppers. Freeze them? I still have peppers in the freezer from last winter. If I had a grill I’d roast them. Just saute a big ol’ pile and wolf them down?

The moral of my tale is this:

1. Early morning exercise pays off.

2. Don’t drink coffee before going to pick up produce. The general feeling of well-being that comes from drinking coffee eventually wears off and then you suddenly realize that there is a lot of work to do. It’s rather dismaying. And sobering. The only remedy is to go drink another cup of coffee and blog about it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thoughts On Nursing

The Baby Nickel is still nursing.

Apparently he's pretty thrilled about that.

I’ll give you a second to scoop your chin up off the floor and regroup. (If you have trouble regrouping, as in you aren’t able to comprehend how anyone could nurse a child past the age of one and it makes you angry just to think about it because, good grief, that would just ruin a child and it's all about the mother being weak and needy anyway, then, well, I’m sorry.)

Yes, he’s a strapping two year old, 30½ months to be exact. Yes, he talks, sometimes while nursing. Yes, he eats solids. And yes, he has bitten me (hard, even drew blood, but I was, breathe in, strong, breathe out) though it was not intentional (he kindly, worriedly, suggested, “Mama put band-aid on ouchie?”).

I never nursed any of my children this long. By this point I was always either pregnant or already nursing a wrinkled, red-faced, squawking infant (aw, shucks, I kind of miss that—stop that, hormones!) and so I’ve never had the chance (and no, I did not have any desire to tandem nurse since I can only handle one child sucking the life out of me at a time) to nurse a child this long. The Baby Nickel is my seca leche, my milk drier-upper, my last child. I’m savoring his babyness. While most of the time I’m jumping up and down with glee over the thought of no diaper bags, no diapers, no sippy cups, no kid in my bed, and no green-and-white plastic booster seat at the table, part of me is a bit melancholy. You know, the sun is setting on that time of my life and all that jazz.

Just for the record, Yo-Yo Boy was weaned at 16 months, Miss Becca Boo at 25 months, and Sweetsie at 18 months. Those are rough guesstimates.

What do I love so much about this nursing a young child thing? I love it that when I tell him it’s time for milk he drops everything and starts running towards me, grinning, smacking his lips, panting in excitement. I lift him up and he wraps his arms around my neck, squeezing tight. I love it that at the same time he is becoming fiercely independent, he still needs me in this special, tangible way. Totally precious.

I love it how he stops nursing and pulls off the breast to join in the conversation. For example, last night we were all lounging around downstairs. I was perched on a stool, nursing, when I detected that someone had let fly a stinky. I demanded, “Who farted?” and The Baby Nickel promptly pulled off the breast and declared, “I did!” I ignored him and persisted in asking around. The Baby Nickel kept saying, “I did! I did!” I finally looked at him and asked, “Did you fart?” He grinned and said, “Yeah, I faht”, and went back to nursing, immensely pleased with himself.

In the morning I always fix my coffee before sitting down to nurse him. The other morning The Baby Nickel got out all my coffee stuff. I told him that I already had my coffee and pointed to my travel mug that was sitting on the kitchen counter. He pointed to my coffee cup and demanded, “Drink your coffee. I want milk!” So that’s what he was getting at when he pulled out my coffee fixings—he was trying to hurry me along so we could get down to the important business.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be nursing my baby (I can assure you he’ll be weaned by the time he goes to college). We skip nursings here and there. Mr. Handsome often puts him down to sleep at night, and some mornings are rushed and we never get around to snuggling together. I’m trying to get my mom and dad to take all four kids for a 24 hour period (to be in my house with no children for an entire day will be pure bliss). So it’s winding down, this nursing thing, and life is moving on.

But it sure is sweet while it lasts.

Check This Out

If you want to see Mr. Handsome in action (via my brother's brain and pen), click here. It's a pretty accurate depiction.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Medley

I have a number of recipes stuffed up my sleeve, waiting to be shared with you (and every time I wave my arms about they nearly slip out...). I’ve been wanting to post them, but I don’t get around to it, and in the meantime I keep cooking and clicking pictures and now I have so many that I’m afraid I would overwhelm my lovely readers if I threw everything---SPLAT!---at you at once. So I’m compromising. I’m picking three recipes (trying to avoid the dessert food group so you don’t think I live on just chocolate and butter, even though that’s the truth) and posting them together, medley format. La-de-da.

Part One (La): Main Dish

Vegetable Beef Soup

I’m bad at writing down recipes for soups, especially vegetable soups, because instead of following a recipe, I just cook with what’s on hand. However, this soup is simple and conventional and delicious, so I’m going to go ahead and share it anyway. I made a big pot and we've been eating it for several days straight. It helps me feel a little less guilty about my afternoon forays down to the basement to dig in the freezer for those delectable chocolate chunk cookies.

a little olive oil
a couple of meaty beef bones
one onion, diced
a couple stalks of celery, diced
some red wine, a couple big glugs, maybe ½ cup, if you insist on measuring
3 or 4 carrots, sliced
enough potatoes, chopped, to make about a quart (I used French fingerling)
3 or 4 cups green beans, chopped
3 or 4 cups corn
2 quarts stewed tomatoes and/or juice
2 bay leaves
salt and black pepper

In a large soup pot, one with high sides (to avoid splattering grease all over your kitchen floor), heat the olive oil. Salt and pepper both sides of your soup bones and gently ease them down into the hot pan. Clap a lid on top (I hate grease splatters on my floor) and wait a couple minutes before carefully lifting the lid and turning the meat over to brown on the other side for another couple minutes. Remove the meaty soup bones to a plate and let cool for a little.

Add the onions and celery to the pan and saute them in the leftover olive oil and beef fat. While they are sauteeing, pick the meat off the bones, removing the bits of fat (your dog and cat will appreciate them), and chop up the meat into bite-sized pieces. Do not throw out the bones.

When the onions and celery are sauteed, add the red wine, bay leaves, beef bits, and soup bones. Cover with water (not too much because you’re going to add the tomatoes later—they will provide the main liquid for the soup) and bring up to a gentle boil.

Add the carrots and potatoes and when they are partially tender, add the green beans. When everything is tender, add the corn and the tomatoes and heat through. Season with salt and black pepper. Throw the soup bone to the dog (she's sitting right by the door, tongue hanging out, drooling).

Serve the soup with thick slices of brown bread, butter, and a variety of homemade jams.

Part Two (De): Snack

Mustard Eggs
This recipe comes from my Girlfriend Amber's collection.

Mr. Handsome likes these eggs in his lunch, so every once in a while I cook up a batch and keep them in a jar in the fridge, all ready to be packed into his little white and red cooler first thing in the morning. He’ll eat two, just as they are, along with his sandwich, or for a snack, or chopped up on his potato salad. The kids like them, too, though I’m still trying to get them to enjoy the yolk—all they want is the mustardy whites.

12 eggs, hard boiled, shells removed
1 ½ cups vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon yellow food coloring

Put all the ingredients, except for the eggs, in a saucepan and heat through, stirring well. Put the eggs in a half-gallon jar and pour the hot liquid over top.

Put the lid on the jar and refrigerate. After 12 hours, shake the jar and turn upside down for the next 12 hours. Continue this process of shaking and turning (the jar, not you, silly!) and after three days they are ready to eat (we do cheat and start eating them sooner and they’re still good, though not as fully mustardy).

Note: The one downside to these eggs is the smell. Right after you open the jar (or your little Tupperware container at lunch break), it smells like someone let rip a really bad one. A really, really bad one. However, the smell rapidly dissipates, and if you just inform everyone right off the bat—“It’s not me! It’s these eggs!”—you can avoid some potentially embarrassing situations.

Part Three (Da): Breakfast or Lunch

Russian Pancakes

I got this recipe from my wise Girlfriend Shannon. I also got a similar recipe from a foreign student who lived in my college dorm one year. They're similar to crepes. (Maybe they are crepes?) I make these for breakfast sometimes, but more often I make them for lunch. They provide the kids with protein and are delicious to boot.

While the pancakes are a snap to whip up, they do take about half an hour to cook, since I only fry one at a time, but I do other things while they’re cooking—empty the dish drainer, wipe down the counters, water the plants, talk on the phone—in other words, I’m not spending that entire half hour slaving over a hot stove.

To serve them, I drizzle them with honey or sprinkle them with powdered sugar before rolling them up. Sometimes I stuff them with cream cheese and blueberries. This last time I made some whipped cream and used that as the filling. We had peaches, too.

This recipe makes one blender full and feeds my four kids and me, but just barely. If we are extra hungry, or if Mr. Handsome is eating, then I have to make a double batch.

6 eggs
1 heaping cup flour
1 ½ cups milk
pinch of salt

Whirl the eggs in the blender. Add the flour and salt and whirl some more. Add the milk and whirl again. Whirl, whirl, whirl.

Heat up a medium-sized skillet. Melt a dab of butter in it and swirl to coat the bottom of the skillet. Pour in some batter, maybe about 1/3 cup, depending on the size of your skillet, just enough to thinly coat the bottom of the pan. After cooking for a minute or two, the bottom of the pancake should be nicely browned and there will be lots of little bubbles in the batter,

flip the pancake,

and allow to brown on the other side.

Put the pancake on a plate when it is done cooking. Repeat the whole process, stacking the pancakes as you go.

Don’t call people to the table to eat until you have a big pile because they will scarf them down immediately and then yell for more which will annoy you and give you a headache. It’s easier to make all the pancakes first.

How my kids eat them.

How I eat them.

So there you have it, just a little taste of the kind of music I like to make. La-de-da, boom, boom, yum.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What's Been Going Down

The Baby Nickel has been going through lots of undies.

He is pretty good about peeing in the toilet, as long as I don’t forget to take him every hour or so, but he refuses to poop there. He finds lots of other creative places to squat.

Sweetsie loves to lay on the floor of the downstairs bedroom (which is not really a bedroom) and listen to CDs and tapes and hold her spit rag and suck her thumb. She does this for hours, sometimes listening quietly and sometimes belting it out at the top of her lungs in her throaty voice.

Miss Becca Boo plays with Blackie. All. Day. Long. First thing in the morning she slips a jacket on over her nightgown and disappears outside to hold her darling baby. Today she decided that it was Blackie’s birthday, I think in hope of getting me to give Blackie extra milk for her birthday "dessert".

Yo-Yo Boy mopes around the house until he comes up with a new activity, the more dangerous the better. Then he becomes the boss of everyone and the ringleader and the guilty culprit, etc, etc.

At my behest, Mr. Handsome came home from work, albeit a little begrudgingly, to dispose of the trapped, wild rabbit that was caught in our fence.

You already know what I like to do in my spare time—perch my tail on my wooden chair and caress the keyboard with my fingertips. Ahh.