Wednesday, November 30, 2011

butternut squash pesto cheesecake

So my cousin-in-law posted a recipe for a butternut pesto cheesecake and seeing as I had a bunch of butternuts in the back hall (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and oodles of pesto in the freezer (thanks, Me), I had no other choice but to make it.

When it comes to cheesecake, I’m ferociously fatalistic.

The original recipe was supposed to be some sort of healthy dip (all cottage cheese), but I tossed that idea out the window faster than you can say “reduced fat is gross.” People, it's cheesecake! It's dip! It's CHEESECAKE DIP!

So I doubled the recipe and used half cottage cheese and half cream cheese. Because while I’m a huge fan of cottage cheese (for the record, cottage cheese is not a reduced fat food) (unless you get the reduced fat version) (which I don't), I wanted the finished dip to have more of a ... of a ... well, creamy, cheesecake texture. The resulting texture was spot-on (though it’d probably be even better with 100% cream cheese) (if you're that sort of person). (I'm not suggesting my cousin-in-law's low calorie version wasn't spot-on, because it probably was, but I just don't know for sure because the only version I tasted was mine.) (Whew. That was exhausting.)

Confession: I did not like the crust.

Confession’s Confession: It was all my fault. Because I just tore up stale bread, tossed it with some melted butter and stuck it in the pan. It tasted exactly like what it was: wet, greasy, stale bread stuck in the bottom of a pan. Next time I’ll toast the bread crumbs, or maybe pulse up some Wheat Thins or something—like a graham cracker crust, but savory.

We ate the dip fresh, and semi-warm, for our Sunday night supper. It was good, but a little bland. Then it sat in the fridge for a couple days until I pulled it out to round out Tuesday’s lunch and it was fabulous: rich, flavorful, creamy, elegant. The kids dug into it like nobody’s business. And that's when I decided the recipe was a keeper.

It’d be the perfect thing to contribute to a potluck or Christmas party or family reunion. Because:

a. it can be made well in advance (I bet you could slice and freeze it, just like the infamous pesto torte),
b. it’s easy to transport (cover the pan with plastic and set it on top of a couple ice packs in a box), and
c. the flavors are gentle and comforting.

In other words, it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Then again, you could make it just for yourself, just because. That's really all the reason you need.

Butternut Squash Pesto Cheesecake
Adapted from Kate over at Motley Mama

1 cup cottage cheese
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese
2/3 cup grated fresh Parmesan
2 eggs
½ cup roasted butternut squash puree
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup pesto, thinned with olive oil (if necessary), and divided
1 cup toasted bread crumbs or savory cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted

For the crust:
Toss the crumbs with the butter and press into the bottom of a greased, 8-inch springform pan. Pat crumbs firmly to make a bottom crust (no need to worry about the sides), and set aside.

For the cheesecake:
Put the cottage cheese into the bowl of your food processor and pulse until creamy smooth. Add the cream cheese, Parmesan, eggs, squash, and salt and pepper and pulse until silky. Taste to check seasonings (I added about another 1/4 teaspoon salt).

Pour half of the cream cheese batter into the crumb-lined pan. Drizzle half of the pesto over the batter. Carefully pour the remaining batter into the pan and drizzle with the remaining pesto. Using a table knife, gently (and artfully!) swirl the pesto into the batter.

Bake the cheesecake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. The cake should be puffy, but the middle should still be a little jiggly (just like your tummy will be after you eat it). Turn the oven off and prop open the door by wedging it with the handle of a wooden spoon—let the cake sit in the oven for one hour more.

Cool the cake to room temperature before covering tightly with plastic and transferring to the refrigerator to cure. After a day or two, serve with crackers.

This same time, years previous: all a-flutter, apple chutney

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

peppermint lip balm

**It’s raining. Lamps are on, candles are burning. There will be a fire later (the temperature is dropping).

**My second and fourth children are Doing My Hair. Lots of brushing, braids, and clips. There was even a scrunchy stuck round my nose.

**The dishes need to be washed. I have baking projects and some little Christmas gifts up my sleeve. Maybe after my salon appointment is over?

**The other night I woke up. I woke up because Sweetsie was standing at the foot of our bed. (It was either the second or third time that night, it’s all a blur now.)

My husband growled, “Go back to bed.” (He's completely uncivil in the middle of the night.)

Undeterred, she continued to stand there, sucking her thumb and breathing heavily.

“What do you need, sweetie?” I asked.

Her reply came as clear as an out-of-tune bell, “I’m waiting for my instructions.”

I punched my husband. “She’s sleeping, hon. Take her back to bed.”

Notice it's a blue rag now. She's becoming entirely too flexible.

**All this rough sleeping makes for a very tired girl at the end of the day.

It had been quiet for a long time before I finally went in to investigate.

And a very tired papa. Little brother, too. Heck, it’s bedtime—we should all be tired.

**I stayed up, foolish woman I am, and watched The Knit Witch on youtube. You guys are right: she’s awesome.


Now it is later. The kids are in rest time (except for a daughter that’s downstairs collecting tape and paper) (and except for a son who is downstairs looking for his leftover school work).

The childrens (that is not a typo) spent the morning making cards for a friend, and Christmas paper chains that look more like Easter paper chains.

As for me, I made peppermint lip balm and felt all sorts of mother earthy.

I made this recipe last year but I didn’t follow the instructions to stir until thick, so my balm separated into a waxy top layer and a honey bottom layer. (I’ve been using it all year anyway, despite the over-waxiness.) My failure didn't stop me from thinking ahead and ordering little lip balm tins for this year.  I’m so glad I did, as having them ready to go made it that much easier to jump into the project.

It’s really quite simple. Just melt the ingredients together, stir while cooling, and then fill the tins.

Bonus: it makes the house smell lip-balm-licious.

I’ll be giving these away as little gifts...maybe. So perhaps it’s foolish to go writing about it here on the blog where everyone can see it? Way to be all hush-hush secretive, Self. But that’s where a no-one-reads-this-blog-anyway mentality comes in handy—all I have to do is tell myself that no one actually reads anyway, so I can get away with saying whatever I want. Illogical, but true.

The REAL reason I’m writing about the balm is because I thought you might like to give this balm a whirl yourself. (The OTHER real reason is that I can’t resist showing off a little: Look at me! I’m going all down, down, down-to-earth, rah, rah, rah!)

What's that you say? You have no cute little tins on hand? No problem. Just dump all the balm into a mug, stick it in the bathroom cabinet, and apply liberally every time you make a trip to the loo. Do this and you’ll be sure-fire guaranteed to have shiny smooth lips till kingdom come.

Peppermint Lip Balm
Adapted from Amanda’s recipe on SouleMama

½ cup coconut oil
3 tablespoons beeswax (I used two ice cube-sized chunks)
1 ½ tablespoons honey
25-30 drops essential oil of peppermint

Put the coconut oil, beeswax, and honey in the top part of a double boiler (I used a little metal bowl on top, for easier clean up) filled with simmering water. Stir occasionally until everything is melted and runny (it takes about 15 minutes).

Remove the bowl from the top of the double boiler and stir in the peppermint oil. Set the bowl in a large pan of cold water and stir until thick and creamy (but not solid hard—you still need to fill the containers, remember). (Actually, the cold water might not be necessary. I tried it that way, and the balm on the edges of the bowl kept getting hard really fast. Just stirring it at room temperature might be good enough.)

Yield: one dozen ½ ounce containers.

This same time, years previous: Smashing for Pretty opens (and now we're closing - check out the 20 percent off sales!)

Monday, November 28, 2011


I’m still learning to knit. It’s a long and arduous process, made all the more difficult due to my inability to “read” the knitting. I don’t know how to fix my errors, so I knit with the fury and fear of someone walking on the edge of a high cliff—one slip and I plummet to my knitting death below.

For example, I knit two rows and purl two rows—but oops, I just did three by accident, so I pull out one row of purling, but now I can’t remember if I’m supposed to knit or purl and all the Yarn Staring in the world doesn’t reveal the correct answer. And so I yell at my husband that I’m going into another room and no one may come close or I will unleash all my knitting fury upon their poor heads.

And knitting is supposed to be a relaxing activity, ha.

If a stitch gets dropped, oh woe. And whoa. When that happens, I have to set the whole project aside and wait until Sunday when I can take it to church to ask my friend to help me fix it. This friend—a woman who has been known to sheer the sheep, card and dye the wool (whatever that means), and then knits beautiful things with it (bow low, reader friends, bow low), looks at my stringy mess for a mere couple seconds and then says, Oh yes, I see. You knitted that one backwards, so I’ll just reverse that like so and pick up the stitch there, like that, and there you are, all good to go now. I stare at my resurrected project in utter amazement and say stupidly, “I have no idea how you just did that.”

I’m determined to figure this whole knitting business out. I experiment with my brown yarn, trying different patterns to see the effect, not worrying if I mess up and need to rip it all out. It’s my scrap paper, so to speak. I’m making a red scarf for my youngest daughter (I stole her yarn so I had to repay her somehow). It has mistakes in it, but I don’t think she’ll care.

During Sunday school yesterday, I sat beside a friend who was knitting a sleeve for a sweater. She had the four needle thing going, plus a washer as a marker (or something). I watched, fascinated. I kind of even understand what she was doing.

My goal for this winter: learn several different stitches, and learn to make hats, socks, and mittens. Next winter, a sweater, maybe. Am I being completely unrealistic?

just starting out, adding to one of my old projects

I'm not the only one getting into the knitting spirit. My little boy has persevered with his knitting. He knows how to cast on and knit row after row. However, his rows kept getting shorter and shorter, thanks to all the stitches he dropped. His knitted creation (too short to be anything) is one step from the garbage, but hey, it kept him happily occupied for many, many minutes so I’m not complaining.

I even hauled the kids’ knitting projects to church one Sunday. I glanced down the row during the sermon—three of the kids were knitting away in unison. Bliss.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving of 2011

We all went to West Virginia for the turkey (that was actually a chicken) this year. My brother came, and my perfect aunt from over the mountains, and some of the Pennsylvania cousins: uncle, aunt, and boy cousins one, two, and three. We got there on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, before everyone else showed up, I went for a walk.

A Medieval Walk

It’s hunting season, so I put a florescent orange vest over my coat over my hoodie over my t-shirt and set off up the road. A gun banged in the distance, and I hadn’t even crested the first hill before I spied a dead deer in the gutter (not a result of that banging gun). I started to feel like I was in a war zone and I took a closer look at my florescent orange vest. How many square inches did it cover? How many square inches do hunters have to wear? Did I have a sufficient amount of square inches? And while my front and back were draped in orange, I wasn’t so sure about the side view. Would a gun-happy hunter mistake me for a walking deer in a blue coat? But then there was a lull in the shooting and dead deer spying and I kind of forgot all about how much I resembled a deer.

And then I ran into Eddie Murphy. I’m not sure which is which, but they both reminded me of Shrek’s donkey, so I promptly named one Eddie and the other Murphy. I could practically hear the thoughts running through their heads.

Eddie: Oh, will you look at that! It’s a person that’s trying not to look like a deer! Dang, ain’t she smart?

Murphy: I don’t know about you but I think we need that orange thing a lot more than she does. Our owner is a total dumb ass leaving us outside this time of year.

Eddie: That's right, Murf. We are in constant danger of gettin’ our behinds pinged. I just know, before this is over, I'm gonna need a whole lot of serious therapy. Look at my butt twitchin'.

By the time I got to the top of the hill, I was hot. I took off my coat and tied it around my waist. And then I looked over and saw my shadow walking along beside me in the ditch.

What with my hair in a ponytail, my hoodie up around my neck like a tied cape, the orange vest fluttering behind me like a fluttering cape, my coat tied around my waist like a short skirt and the sleeves poking up all sword-like, I looked exactly like a knight. (Or at least my noble shadow did.) I squared my shoulder and lengthened my stride.

When I was halfway home, I heard a gunshot in the direction of my house. My father had been out hunting when I left—perhaps it was him? Thirty second later another shot rang out and I gave a little skip of hopeful happiness. A minute later and there was another shot. Oh dear, I thought. Problems. And then, Or maybe I should think, 'oh deer'? (Turns out, it wasn't my father doing the shooting.)

At home I grabbed my camera and drove back up the road to take pictures for you since I almost never think to take my camera on walks with me.

And thus concludes the tale of a bright morning walk with guns, knights, two asses, and a dead doe. The End

Other things that happened:

Tools and guns...

The grownups sat around inside...

and played with plastic tools that my mother picks up at her local thrift store while the kids ran around outside...

and played with guns. (Yes, they were real, and yes, they had permission.)

(Overheard: "Don't shoot each other!")

Odd, manly rituals such as...

A. measuring each others arm spans. (Your arm span is supposed to equal your height, right? Well, not so for my husband. My husband is just a smidge shy of six feet tall but his arm span measures 6 feet 5 inches. So now we call him Gorilla Man.)

B. playing table football with money.

Actually, I don't know what that game was called. All I know is there was a bunch of yelling and quarters kept hitting people in the head.

The kids sat out on the porch and watched through the window.


around the table. We're big yakkers, all of us. Lively times, ya'll.


I learned how to purl and am immensely please with myself.

My brother...

played the mandolin and made lots of weird faces while I tried to take pictures of him.

What a dork.

Food (of course) ...

We had Feast Number One at noon: chicken and stuffing, garlicky mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, turnips and greens, kale, applesauce, and cranberry salad.

Feast Number Two: A Supper O' Desserts. I ask you, can there be anything more glorious?

Nectarine tart, black raspberry pie, apple pie, two pumpkin pies, banana bread, chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, vanilla ice cream, and coffee.


Yesyoushouldbeimpressed. (Plus, the next morning we had gorgeous loaves of stovetop bread for our breakfast toast.)

This same time, years previous: Thanksgiving of 2010, Swiss chard and sweet potato gratin, pumpkin pie

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

the new bestest ever

Please tell me that you haven’t made the pies for Thanksgiving yet? Please, please tell me you have a bag or two of unclaimed cranberries hunkered down in your freezer? Please, please, please tell me you’re in the mood to make a pie today, right now, immediately, at this very minute?

Because, honey sugar, it’s what I have on my agenda, for you.

[Ahem, cough-cough, much pompous throat clearing]

I hereby merrily (and joyfully and happily and ecstatically) proclaim the great news of November 23, 2011: I have discovered the new bestest ever pie in the world and it’s totally perfect for Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or New Year’s dinner or Three Kings Day or winter solstice day or the first big snow day or Sunday dinner or Monday dinner.

It’s perfect, and it’s perfect for whenever, is what I’m trying to say.

For quite some time, I’ve been on the lookout for a cranberry pie. I’d tried some mixed fruit cranberry pies, and while they were good—cranberries make everything good—they weren’t pure cranberry. And then Aimee posted a cranberry pie and I got down to business lickety-split.

One bite and I was bowled over. It’s potent, unlike normal pies. In fact, it's so dark and rich and strong that one small sliver carries you over the moon and back, no problem.

Cranberry Pie with Cornmeal Streusel Topping
Adapted from Aimee of Simple Bites

Aimee calls this a cranberry-orange pie, and while the pie contains both orange juice and zest, I found their flavors to play more of a supportive (but delicious) role, so I dropped the “orange” in the title. To me, this pie is all about the cranberry.

I used frozen cranberries instead of fresh, increased the amount to a generous 4 ½ cups instead of 4, used light brown sugar instead of Turbinado, and added one tablespoon of tapioca as thickener just in case. Not a hitch in sight anywhere.

This pie is best eaten the same day it is made.

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust (I used this one)
4-5 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
zest of two oranges
juice of one orange (it looked like a lot—close to ½ cup, perhaps)
1 gently rounded tablespoon granulated tapioca

for the streusel topping:
½ cup flour
½ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup cornmeal
½ cup salted butter, cut in chunks

In a large bowl, toss together the cranberries, sugar, butter, orange zest and juice, and tapioca. Pour into the unbaked pie shell.

Measure all the streusel ingredients into the canister of a food processor and pulse to combine (it took quite a few pulses). (Or, rub together with your fingers. That will work too.) Sprinkle the crumbs over the top of the pie.

Bake the pie* at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes, or until golden brown all over and the juices are bubbling madly.
Serve with vanilla ice cream.

*Important Pie Baking Note: Place the pie on the bottom rack of a very hot oven (about 425 degrees) and bake for 15 or 20 minutes or until the pie juices are starting to bubble. At that point, set the pie on a foil-lined baking sheet (to catch the juicy drips) and reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. This extra step helps to ensure a golden brown bottom crust.

This same time, years previous: apple rum cake (oh goodness, I want this NOW)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

right now

I’m feeling chatty. Like I just want to curl up with my computer and talk, you know? Not about some preordained topic or event, not about a recipe, not about anything, really. Just random stuff, whatever falls from my fingertips.

It’s a dreary, rainy, foggy, dark day. I feel kind of sad, kind of excited, kind of peaceful, kind of stressed, and kind of mellow. Most days, one particular feeling rises to the surface and beats all the others into submission, but not today.

I’ve been rather bored lately. (Yes, I do realize I was just complaining about being super busy. But you can be super busy and still bored, did you know that?) Last night, I counted out the many ways in which I am bored to my husband and he burst into tears. Just kidding, about the tears, but I did bore him to sleep. He argued with me for a few minutes about the ridiculousness of everything I was saying and then said, “Isn’t your period coming?” and we both busted up laughing, and then his eyelids drooped and he said, “Can we go to bed now?”

I’ve kind of lost my will to cook. Part of the problem may be that ever since my decade of breast feeding ended, I’ve never been back down to my pre-pregnancy weight. I’ve made some substantial changes (greatly reducing snacks and junk food and trying to get exercise), and even though I feel like I’m not over-eating at all (in fact, it can be depressing how little I’m actually eating), the last few pounds aren’t budging.

Part of me thinks this is fine—I’m still in my normal weight range and I’m certainly not overweight—but another part of me worries I’m on a slippery slope. A pound here, a pound there, a pound of pounds EVERYWHERE.

What makes it all the more confusing is:

a. I never really had a solid grasp on a healthy weight before I started the baby-making marathon
b. my body has changed shape after popping out four humans—how much of that changed shape is inevitable?
c. do I really want to spend years tweaking and fretting and worrying when I’ll end up a little pile of organic matter in just a few more decades?
d. but I certainly want to be healthy
e. and it’d be nice to look attractive, too
f. (I’m not talking about inner beauty here, either. Besides, how can I act all confident and sunshiney if I feel like I look bad?)
g. is it lazy to accept my tummy rolls? Maybe I’m supposed to accept them? Nurture them? (Okay, okay. So that’s going a little too far.)

I could go on and on. Like, this is stupid because I am healthy. Or, the women in Nicaragua were all thick around the middle and probably never gave a second thought to that extra padding except to be grateful for it. In fact, the majority of women thicken in the middle, even those that never have children. It’s a part of life, I think. Right?

I could starve myself and run for miles and knock off the pounds, I’m sure. But I don’t want to spend my time and energy that way. Besides, I think I should be allowed to eat when I'm hungry and till I'm full. Isn't that kind of basic?

Clearly, it’s all about balance and I have none.

This really is relevant to the not-cooking-so-much-anymore issue: it’s not as much fun to cook if you aren’t going to eat it. I’m not that kind of cook.

I’ve kind of decided to ignore the whole quandary right now and cook anyway. I’ll just eat good breakfasts, go for walks when I can, and pass on the nachos (usually) at bedtime ... and make a boatload of sweet rolls just because.

I rolled them out after supper and my little boy informed me that the rolled-out dough was the same size as the kitchen floor rug. I never know how to roll out the dough when I make such a huge recipe—dress and roll half the dough and then the other half? or do it all at once and make tire-sized sweet rolls?—but this time I got smart. I rolled it all out at once, dressed it, and then used a pizza cutter to slice it in half. Rolled up in opposite directions, and I had two long sweet rolls ready to slice. Problem solved.

That night, we all clustered around the computer on stools to watch a movie while I baked pan after pan of buttery, cinnamony sweet rolls. Rolls done, we crowded around the table, poured glasses of cold milk, and I let the kids eat till they popped. Because hey, how many times in your life do you get to have fresh-from-the-oven, homemade sweet rolls for a bedtime snack? Exactly.

I had another sweet roll epiphany that night. (I was on a roll.) (Tee-hee, a roll. Get it?) I was running out of glass baking pans, so I greased up one of my bread pans and stacked in a bunch of rolls on their sides. I ended up with a pretty loaf of pull-apart sweet rolls.

The genius of this method is that you can fit a whole lot more rolls in the oven when they’re stacked in loaf pans than when they’re laying flat on their backs in 9 x 13 glass pans, thus greatly speeding up the baking process. Plus, they’re easier to store and reheat. I’m kind of smitten.

(That movie we watched whilst our very pores became infused with the yeasty smell of sweet rolls? The Human Planet. Have you seen this amazing series yet? It’s nearly six hours of gorgeous photography and incredible stories. So far we’ve seen disc one—there are three total—for the ocean part, I kept getting short of breath; for the dessert (I mean DESERT) part, the kids kept jumping up for drinks of water; and for the arctic part, we huddled close to keep warm. I can’t recommend this series highly enough.)

Changing the subject: we’re starting to wonder if our youngest daughter is sleep walking. The other morning when my husband came downstairs at 5:30, all the lights were on and Sweetsie was sound asleep on the sofa. She said she didn’t remember turning the lights on.

My husband found her downstairs this morning at 2 am—same story. He even took a blurry picture to document it.

She’s collapsed against the sofa because there were books on it. It must not have occurred to her to move them?

Her sleeping is getting progressively rockier. After discovering her downstairs this morning, my husband put her in bed with me and took himself off to her abandoned (and very comfortable) bed. Sweetsie tossed and turned, stole my sheets, mumbled Harry Potter curses, and was up at six, begging me to take her downstairs.

Perhaps we should tie her ankle to the bedpost?

Also, she’s found a substitute for her spit rag (note the red rag she's holding). We might be back to square one.

There's more to say, but I'd better call it quits. The kids are up and the rain is falling and I need (want?) (no, it’s a need—cranberries are central to my emotional well-being) to bake a pie and prepare for a meeting tonight.


This same time, years previous: pasta with creamy pumpkin sauce (I made this for supper last night - delicious), steel-cut oatmeal

Monday, November 21, 2011

ushering in the fun

We did, indeed, get to see Hamlet three ways this fall, funfunfun. On Friday, the kids and I hopped into the car and sped down the interstate to the Blackfriars Playhouse, raucously singing along to the songs on my son’s MP3 player (that he piped through the car’s speakers)—Peter, Paul, and Mary, Beethoven’s Wig, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, etc.

We were scheduled to arrive 75 minutes before the show because, not only were we going to watch the show, we were going to usher for it, too. Because—get this!—as new members of the volunteer usher brute squad, we get to see the shows for freeeeeee!

Since my son is 6 years shy of 18, the minimum age for ushers, they are graciously allowing us to usher as a team. Though judging by the size of his shoes (mens 10 ½, yikes) he might look the part a little sooner than is normal.

Not his ushering uniform. He was dressing up for fun and asked me to take a picture.

Notice I did not say “act the part.”

We attended an usher training where we learned about patrolling for photography (which led to an interesting discussion on the ride home about how actors are their art), checking bathrooms, our dress code, putting up seat backs, and handing out programs.

The really good news about this whole arrangement is that we get one comp ticket each time we usher, which means my daughter can come along and watch with us! (Or, we can save up comp tickets and take the whole family.)

Friday was our first time on the job. My son and I were assigned the balcony, and my daughter sat in a corner and knitted while we stood there and tried not to get too bored. Once the show started, I let the kids sit up closer while I stayed back by the door. It was a simple job (thank goodness I didn’t have to approach any patrons about photography usage—confrontations with strangers makes me a wee bit nervous), and we were able to watch the whole show. We are signed up to usher for this week’s closing show of The Importance of Being Ernest, and then there will be A Christmas Carol—I expect we’ll usher for that show more than once in order to get some extra comp tickets saved up, and because it’s the sort of show that we’ll want to see over and over again.

The downside of volunteer ushering is that we don’t get the best seats (though comp ticket holders can reserve any seat in the house, from what I understand), and I’m a big fan of sitting close enough to see the sweat fly. Plus, there’s the fifty-minute drive each way and the late bedtimes.

But there are so many upsides—exposure to theater culture and etiquette, learning to be professionally hospitable and gracious, the incredible shows—that I’m not even about to complain. No, no, quite the contrary—I’m tickled hot pink over our newest adventure.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

a new ritual

I am not a storyteller. I do not regale my children with enchanting tales that have a beginning, middle, and end. Rather, I am more of a conversationalist and lecturer. If something happens to me and I want to tell someone else about it, I regurgitate it all, in a rush, splat. There is no weaving, no crafting, no plotting. Therefore, it is a rather odd coincidence that I have fallen into the habit of telling my baby a story every night before bed.

It came about quite by accident. One night when I went upstairs to tuck the kids in to bed, my littlest grabbed me with his big blue eyes and said, all sweet-like and pleading, “Mama, tell me a story about when you were little.”

So I told him about the time when my dad woke me up in the middle of the night but it didn’t seem like the middle of the night because everything was lit up with a weird yellow-orange light because a gas line had exploded a few miles away. It felt like the whole town was out and about, and we walked around talking with the neighbors just like Atticus and Scout and Jem did when Miss Maudie’s house burned down (though I didn’t include that last part in my story).

And wouldn’t you know, that pleading question is now the first thing he says to me every night when I walk into his room. So I curl up on the bed beside him and rack my memory for something interesting. As I start to talk, his breathing slows and his body stills. His eyes fix on my face, and he listens for all he’s worth. I can actually see him listening. When I finish—and the stories are no more than a minute or two long—he smiles, sucks in a big breath like he’s coming up for air, and giggles. He always, always begs for one more story.

A week or so into our new routine, he asked me to retell a specific story. “The second one you told me,” he said. I was surprised. Was he keeping a mental list of the stories I told? I asked him to recount the ones I’d told him, and sure enough, he could correctly identify story one, two, three, four, etc. I was impressed. For whatever reason, these random memories I’m dredging up to appease him with are sticking in his noggin.

I doubt he could keep the stories in order anymore, though, there have been so many. Usually they’re just bits and pieces of my past, like the time one of our rabbits chewed off my Barbie’s hand, or the one about how I put our neighbor’s chubby dog on an aggressive keep-up-with-me-while-I-ride-my-bike-around-town fitness plan when I was just supposed to be taking it for a little walk every day, or the time bear tracks were found in the swamp below where I waited for the bus on dark school mornings and how I was too scared to go to the bus stop by myself anymore. Others are more well-rounded stories, like when my dad chased the joyriders out of the creek, or when one of our rabbits abandoned her litter and we tried to keep the bunnies alive in the oven (total fail). In every single case, no matter how fragmented the memory, he acts like I just gave him a piece of the moon. Which makes me wonder: is story telling more than just the sum of its parts?

In any case, I’m slowly, very slowly, beginning to see this new ritual as an opportunity and not a chore, and sometimes (but not often enough) I think about the story ahead of time. Once in a great while there’s even a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This same time, years previous: orange-cranberry bread, smashing for pretty, chocolate pots de creme, feminism part one

Thursday, November 17, 2011

lemony lentil goodness

Our evenings have gotten busier than I like. Take this week for example: something has been scheduled for every singe late afternoon and/or evening. Lots of good stuff. Lots of fun stuff. But stuff that, nonetheless, requires coordination, car keys, fossil fuels, hurried suppers, and missed bedtime stories.

Suppers have been bare bones: an ovenfull of baked potatoes, veggies from the freezer, beans and rice. Only one night did I make a meal that involved any creativity whatsoever, and that was the night that my husband did the running and I got to stay at home. I made a lemony red lentil soup, and wouldn’t you know, the kids hated it. But I thought it was so incredibly delicious that I didn’t even care. It is the perfect soup to have on hand for my lunches: nourishing, easy to reheat, and intoxicating with exotic flavors.

Just a little over an hour ago I returned from an errand that involved an entire morning spent in the car listening to Harry Potter while one carsick child moaned in my intolerant and unsympathetic ear (me: If you’re going to throw up, tell me; otherwise, stop groaning), and by the time I got home, I was starving hungry. I threw some cheese sandwiches and apples on the table for the kids (toast for the recovering sicky) and then went about preparing my feast of soup. I sauteed a large handful of fresh spinach in some butter, and heated up a bowl of brown rice and another bowl of soup. The presentation of this soup is most important and I take care with it, even when it’s just for little old me’s lunch: soup on the bottom, then a mound of brown rice on one side, the spinach on another, and some plan yogurt on yet another. A grind of black pepper and I was set.

The first bite went in my mouth. “Oh wow,” I said out loud, even though the kids were already in rest time and there was no one else in the room to listen to me swoon. But, and I’m not sure if you know this already or not, some foods are so exquisite they simply must be appreciated out loud—this soup is one of those foods. I sat down at my desk and tried to force myself to eat slowly, but all too soon my spoon was scraping up the dregs of lemony lentil goodness.

This soup is not an Indian food, per say, but it reminded me of dahl. There are the seasonings—cumin, turmeric, and mustard seeds—a couple large onions, and the salted, earthy spinach. But it’s the lemon—oh, the lemon!—which elevates the dish to a whole other level. Chapatis, while superfluous, would be a delicious accompaniment.

This season of business is passing, I think (I hope), but in the meantime, for this week at least, this soup will be key in getting me through.

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon and Spinach
Adapted from Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks

I made a couple significant changes (omitting the cilantro and cooking the lentils [and rice] in lots of flavorful chicken broth), so I’m not sure Heidi would want me to associate my recipe with hers, especially considering that my version is rich with chicken broth and she’s a vegetarian.

Note: this recipe is also posted here.

2 cups red lentils, rinsed
6 cups chicken broth (or water)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon turmeric
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 medium onions, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons yellow mustard seed
2-3 lemons, the juice of
lots of fresh spinach
cooked brown rice
plain yogurt
black pepper

Put the lentils, turmeric, 1 tablespoon butter, and salt in a large pot and add the chicken broth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are very soft. Puree the soup using a handheld immersion blender (or a regular blender).

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and add the onions, cumin, and mustard seed. Saute until the onions are very soft—about 15-20 minutes.

Add the onions to the pot of pureed soup. Squeeze in the juice of two (or three) lemons. Taste to correct seasonings.

Immediately before serving, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a large skillet and add the spinach. Sprinkle with salt and toss until wilted.

To serve: fill the bowls with soup, and garnish liberally with scoops of warm brown rice, the sauteed spinach, plain yogurt, and freshly ground black pepper.

This same time, years previous: bad mamas

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

the quotidian (11.16.11)

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

*blue, blue, oh so blue!, autumn skies: but today they are heavy and dark with rain
*the fruits of my (much needed) inspiration to clean out my spice cupboard, thanks to Aimee of Simple Bites
*an apple pie, ready for the oven
*fixing the wheelbarrow tire: he hooked up the air compressor all by himself (and without me knowing) and then used it correctly, too
*slicing apples for the dehydrator
*cozy reading time
*caramel popcorn cooling on the table: decreasing the popcorn and (unintentionally, I promise!) increasing the butter makes for some out-of-this-world deliciousness
*a trash can lid hat
*gorgeous green, good for both my eyes and my tummy. (Bonus, my kids love them, too.)
*after an evening of guests: the table, still dressed and lit. As we’ve had a lot of company in the last couple weeks, we’ve been burning candles endlessly. I light them as soon as I get up in the morning to make the cold, dark mornings a little more inviting.

This same time, years previous: a homeschooling experiment report