Thursday, November 29, 2012

pot of red beans

I am torn between feeling like I need to buy all sorts of stuff to see us through the next ten months and wanting to take just the bare necessities. I try to find a balance by making lists, asking people questions, starting a pinterest board about Guatemala, and lots of good old-fashioned stewing, thinking, and waiting.

But I can’t wait forever. Five-and-a half weeks isn’t much time, you know.

On Saturday, in the midst of my knock-down-drag-out cold, we completed the preliminary packing. My husband drug all the boxes of clothes down from the attic and I went through every single one. (Except for a couple plastic bags because by that point I had fallen over on the bed, a roll of toilet paper clutched in my hand.) We put a bunch of clothes in the suitcases, but now I need to go back through and make them into outfits, discard random unnecessaries, and purchase necessary missing pieces.

As far as non-clothing items, I've already settled on twinkle lights, votive candles, and a couple low-light decorative lamps. Go ahead and laugh, all you minimalists, but I have my reasons. Where we are going, they get about five weeks of sunshine a year. (Maybe I should scrap the lights and take Prozac. It'd certainly take up less luggage space...) There’s a steady misty rain—called chipi-chipi—most of the time, and it’s cold-ish. Things don’t dry, they mold. Last night I started talking to my husband about installing a heater in the house.

Which brings me to another point: out house. Nothing is firmed up, of course, but it looks like we’ll be staying in a house that’s been vacant for the last six years. Which means that it’s been heavily vandalized. Also, the water line is broken and the power lines are down. I hear the hilltop house used to be quite cute, back in the day. I’m clinging to that bit of hope like my sanity depends upon it. (It may.)

So in other words, we have no idea what our new house will be like. We don’t know what we’ll wish we had until we’re there and don’t have it. Which kind of stinks.

On the other hand, it’s only nine months. I can do anything for nine months. (At least that’s what I keep telling myself.)


My younger daughter is supremely anxious about going to Guatemala. She’s worried about earthquakes and airplane rides and vaccines. Hopefully we’ll evade the former, but the latter two are inevitable, I’m afraid.

Today when we were running errands, I had the radio set to NPR when Fresh Air came on. Five minutes into the show I realized what I was listening to: plane crash footage from the movie "Flight," oh my word. I immediately turned the radio off. My daughter piped up, her voice tense, “What was that about? Why did you turn it off? Why didn’t you want us to listen to it?”

Our agency has requested that we get the kids’ blood types. This requires a stick-in-the-vein blood draw. My already maxed-out daughter is doctor phobic; this would not go over well and that is an understatement. In mounting desperation, I called every medical establishment I could think of to see if they by any chance, ohpleaseohpleaseohplease, had her blood type on record. I called the hospital, the blood bank, and medical records, as well as her allergist and my midwife. Nothing.

Then someone told me about do-it-yourself blood type tests which require just a finger prick, no blood draw, and now I have four kits in my amazon shopping cart, oh happy day. (Though my daughter won’t think it’s a happy day when I tell her that we’re doing a science project that involves needles and her fingers, but oh well. I’d prefer to sit on her at home than in some strange doctor’s office.)

Do you have any advice on how to relieve a child's anxiety? Besides, of course, the obvious, like not listening to horrific plane crashes on the radio.


I wrote about beans for my last newspaper column. Because really, what else is there to write about when we're headed to The Bean Capital of the World? (Corn, I suppose. I could write that. But I’ve never learned to make proper corn tortillas by hand. Maybe I’ll figure it out this time.)

Recently, I’ve been craving beans all the time. You’d think I’d be all about pasta and curry and exotic salads, but no, I just want beans. My kids don’t share my sentiments. In fact, my older son, a bean-enjoyer if not a bean lover, has actually pleaded with me to stop. “Don’t make them any more, Mom. We’ll have to eat them all the time soon, so we need a break to save up our appetites, pleeeeease?”

He does have a point...

Here’s the link to the column and below is the non-recipe. Though knowing how to cook a good pot of beans maybe is a recipe? Like knowing how to fry an egg or bake a potato? It’s the simple things.

Pot of Red Beans

1-2 pounds of tiny red beans

Rinse the beans with cold water. Put them in a large pot and add enough water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil, unlidded (or the water will boil over). Reduce heat, place the lid on sideways so some of the steam can escape, and simmer gently for several hours, adding more water as necessary.

When the beans are partially cooked, add the salt. When they are completely tender, taste and season. Serve hot with scrambled eggs, salty cheese, thick corn tortillas, and a cup of sweet coffee.

For when there is no refrigerator:
Boil the beans, eat what you want, remove the serving utensil and bring the pot of beans to a boil again to kill all the germs. Place a lid on the kettle and let it sit at room temperature until the next meal rolls around. By the third or fourth boiling, the bean broth gets thicker, richer, a bit saltier, and the beans become deliciously tender and flavorful.

This same time, years previous: raveled, peppermint lip balm, Smashing for Pretty opens

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

monster cookies

Back when my older daughter was a baby, I signed up to volunteer for the Big Brother Big Sister program. They matched me up with Rosie, a little girl of nine years old. Over the next nine years, we met almost every single week.

Together we cooked, traveled to West Virginia, went to plays and performances, read books, visited, scrap booked, painted pottery, butchered chickens, went for walks, etc. As she got older and her life got busier, we settled for a weekly breakfast at the local bagel shop. Now she is a young woman, a mother of two (just saying that makes me feel so old), and a nursing student.

A couple weeks ago, she brought her baby boys out to visit me. We visited while I worked in the kitchen and the boys ran circles around the table. I was making a “weird” salad—the wheat berry one.

“You know, there’s one thing I do with my boys that you taught me,” she said.

“What’s that? I asked.

“I always make them take at least one taste of everything.” And she boldly forked up a bite of salad for herself and another for the toddler.

It’s true. Whenever she turned up her nose at my weird cooking, I always had her take at least a no-thank you helping. She fussed sometimes, but for the most part she was quite good natured about my food-loving foistyness.

“I’ve been checking your blog,” Rosie continued. “There’s one recipe you still don’t have on there—the monster cookies.”

“You are so right. I really need to write about them, don’t I.”

Back in the early years of our relationship, we mixed up a batch of monster cookies. It must’ve made a monstrous (tee-hee) impression, what with the dozen eggs, three pounds of peanut butter, and 18 cups of oats, because she’s talked about those monster cookies ever since.

A couple days after her visit, Rosie posted two words on my Facebook wall: Monster cookies.

That did it. I bought the ingredients, made the cookies, and now I’m writing the recipe down here.

Rosie, this one’s for you! I love you, sweetie!

Monster Cookies
The recipe comes from my mother. When I was a kid, we mixed the dough up by hand, in a baby bathtub.

A note about the peanut butter: in this case “two cups a pound the world 'round” does not apply. This is not six cups of peanut butter. I’m not sure what the amount is in cup measurements. I simply eyeballed the jars’ ounces and then threw in a little more for good measure (pun intended).

Also, I added more Reese’s Pieces. You can add M&Ms, too, if you wish, but I think the Reese’s Pieces are better.

And about the oatmeal, I used quick oats, not instant or rolled. You can use a mix of rolled and quick (not instant), but I wouldn’t use only rolled as the cookies might turn out less soft and chewy and more crumbly. Though I don’t know that for a fact...

12 eggs, well beaten
6 cups firmly packed brown sugar
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 pound butter, melted
3 pounds peanut butter
8 teaspoons baking soda
18 cups oatmeal
1 pound chocolate chips
1 pounds Reese’s Pieces

In your largest bowl, or a very clean baby bathtub, stir together the eggs, sugars, and vanilla. Stir in the peanut butter and melted butter. Mix the baking soda with a cup or two of oatmeal and stir that in. Add the remaining oatmeal and mix well. Add the candy pieces and stir to combine.

Shape the dough into ping-pong-sized balls, plum-sized balls, or even—heaven help us—tennis ball-sized balls!, and place on greased cookie sheets. Flatten the dough with your fingers and tuck in the ragged edges. Bake the cookies at 350 degrees until they are slightly golden around the edges and still puffy, tender, and a bit wet in the middle. Once out of the oven, allow them to firm up on the cookie sheets for five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Eat the cookies warm, with a tall glass of cold milk alongside.

Both the baked cookies and the cookie dough freeze well.

Yield: enough.

This same time, years previous: Thanksgiving of 2011, Thanksgiving of 2010, Swiss chard and sweet potato gratin, pumpkin pie

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving of 2012

On Wednesday, the day we were scheduled to leave for West Virginia, we got an email from my dad saying their internet was down. (He was writing to us from school.) The internet stayed down the whole time we were there so I wasn’t able to do the on-line reading I had saved just for that purpose. Nor could I work on my writing projects. Two hours before we left to return home, it came back on, so we all gathered around the computer to Google Earth our new digs (too blurry to see well) in Guatemala.

I don’t think I’ve been unplugged for that long in months, maybe years. Also, I don’t think I rested so deeply in a long, long time. What think you? Might there be a correlation?

the togetherness hub

While in WV, I went on a walk, laid on the sofa, drank lots of lemon ginger tea, visited, took oodles of pictures, feasted royally, and read an entire book. It’s been a very long time since I read a book from start to finish in little more than 24 hours.

A note about the book, Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?. I wasn’t too keen on Rhoda Janzen’s first book (I wrote about it here)—it was cute, sure, but she struck me as shallow and not very self-aware. The new book is different. She writes with the grace, humor, and wisdom that was missing before. Also, the book is religious, and as a fairly skeptical person (religiously speaking), it was refreshing to read about someone who went from being a skeptic to a, um, Pentecostal, I kid you not. Reading about her process gave me some much-needed understanding, though I still have trouble comprehending some of the theological hurdles she leaps. In summary: the book made me reflect and laugh and I needed that.

When I was done with the Fat Church, I started a book on the Maya resurgence and the K’ekchi’ experience in Guatemala. Not quite as entertaining, but educational nonetheless.


My son got his first deer!

He took a hunter-safety course this summer and this was his first time carrying a gun. The story of how he shot it isn’t very pretty. Let’s just say he didn’t get it on the first shot and leave it at that.

My brother skinned the deer while my son mostly watched.

 The little kids perched on the hood of the van to watch.

The next day, my son and daughter cut the meat off the bones.

They worked at it for hours, mostly by themselves, I think. We’re splurging and having the meat turned into bologna. I hope we like it.

That evening my brother built a fire and the kids roasted chunks of venison.

They thought it was wonderful, the best meat ever.

I thought they looked like a pack of cave people, what with their fingers black from the smoke and greasy from the bits of charred meat.


In other news, Lloyd The Freak paid us a visit.

He’s very serious about staying on top of current events.


My brother brought along his clay piggy bank, (intentionally) dropped it on the porch, and then let the kids sort the coins.


While in the midst of squeezing lemons for a batch of tea, I spied a nifty photo op.

It’s a reflection of my mom and me working in the kitchen, see?


On the way to WV, Charlotte puked herself silly. We knew she'd get carsick, but that carsick? Come on.

At my parents' house, she rode around on my daughter’s hip like a real baby.

My mom let her in the house as long as someone was holding her.

“Keep her butt off the furniture!” she’d squawk.

The kids listened, mostly.

(Right before our return trip, my husband gave Charlotte a bit of Dramamine and she didn’t throw up once, glory beeeeee.)


We roasted hot dogs in the wood stove.

There was a turkey, of course. And a whoopie pie cake. And pies.

And lots of other incredibly delicious stuff, like banana bread and sauteed chard and corn and mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and fresh fruit and stuffing and gravy and apricot pudding and whipped cream and blueberry bars and cole slaw and cranberry relish and beans and rice and Shirley’s sugar cookies and, and, and ... GROAN.


I laid on the sofa and snoozed and then woke up with a terrific craving for chocolate so I sent my younger daughter out to the kitchen to beg some chocolate from my mother. My daughter returned with the message that there would be chocolate cake later. I sent her back with the message that I really needed chocolate, candy bar chocolate, right now. So my mother dug around in her kitchen and produced a bar of chocolate and my husband and I snarfed the whole thing down, with some cashews on the side.


I wasn't the only one who rested and relax-ed.






My brother did yoga demos.

The children thought it (him) odd but enthusiastically joined in, of course.


This white-haired angel earned herself the well-deserved nickname of The Virginia Screamer.

Yes sir, this girl has got some serious lungs. She's merciless.


My aunt drinks two cups of coffee every morning.



Postscript: The day after we returned home, I got hit upside the head with the mother of all head colds. As in, sleep-with-a-roll-of-toilet paper-in-my-hand. As in, don't-tilt-the-head-forward-to-look-at-the-floor. As in, lay-in-bed-and-watch-back-to-back-episodes-of-Mad Men. As in, I'M-DYING-WHEN-WILL-THIS-BE-OVER.

Don't worry about me too much. I'll probably make it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

a Thanksgiving walk (updated)

We went to my parents’ home in West Virginia for the festivities. Thanksgiving morning, I decided to head out for a walk. I invited my husband to go with me, but he turned me down.

“I’ll go!” my older daughter said. “Can I bring Charlotte?”

When my younger son saw us step outside, he begged to be allowed to come, too. Feeling extravagant—I already had a girl and a dog coming with me, so why not add one six-year-old to the mix?—I said yes. (I forgot to tell anyone else that he was coming with us, though, shame on me, so my husband was worried the whole time. But not worried enough to catch up to us, I might point out.)

The sun was bright, the air crisp, the ground frosty. We walked and I took pictures and my son held my hand and told me knock-knock jokes.

Here I am rocking the hunter safety orange. Why in the world do they make the orange camouflage? Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose?

We walked the whole way up to a little church that has a spring in it. The handwritten signs couldn’t have been more appropriate.

On the way home, we encountered a lot of fresh blood sprayed all over the middle of the road and I was reminded that I was indeed in West Virginia in the middle of hunting season.

And thus ended our picturesque Thanksgiving Day walk.

Update: My husband read this and then offered a correction. "I wasn't worried. I was just curious if he was up in the woods about to get shot."

This same time, years previous: in which I discuss sweet rolls and weight issues, pasta with creamy pumpkin sauce, steel-cut oatmeal, cranberry pie with cornmeal streusel topping, apple rum cake

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

a big day at church

The summary:
Sunday was a big day at church. I got up at 3 am to finish baking for the bake sale. I did the children’s story. I, or rather, our support team, hosted the congregational lunch. And then there was a congregational meeting to attend. After that I went home, changed into pajamas, and crawled into my bed for a two-hour nap.

The details, summarized:
*My husband was kind of grumpy about all the food I was making. “There is no way this is all going to sell,” he griped. “This is ridiculous.”
*Before breakfast, he smacked a mouse dead (not saying where or how because that would be TMI and because I get PTSD just thinking about it) and Charlotte ate it.
*We discovered that my husband sent my daughter’s laid-out church clothes home with my brother last night when he came to pick up his girls that we were babysitting (follow? good) , so my daughter had to hike over to their house to get dressed.
*We stacked the car full of deliciously-filled washbaskets and made each of the kids hold a tray or pan of something.

*At church we flew around stuffing mailboxes and setting up for the bake and craft sale.
*I got miked up for the children’s story and then, ten minutes before the church service started, I realized that I’d left my carefully written out and practiced story at home—PANIC. So I called my brother. His wife sprang into action, zipped over to our house, located the papers, and sped all the way into town, bless her heart. The usher delivered them to me with about six minutes to spare, whew.

Question: how many children fit inside a K'ekchi' skirt? 
Answer: twenty.

children's time photos courtesy of girlfriend Anita

*Every single one of the baked goods sold. Take that, Mr. Grumpy!

*We fed people lots of pizza.

The end.

This same time, years previous: ushering in the fun