Monday, February 28, 2011

Sticky sweet, two ways

Over at Simple Bites, Aimee has been posting up a storm about all things pancake. There was a post on homemade syrups and another post that included several pancake recipes. All that panny-cake talk got me hungry, so one night last week when I was scheduled to have a houseful of kids (eight total, to be exact), I decided to have a pancake feast.


cinnamon molasses syrup on a whole wheat buttermilk pancake

I spent a fair amount of the afternoon putzing around the kitchen, mixing up the dry ingredients and the wet for three different kinds of pancakes: pumpkin, cornmeal-blueberry, and whole wheat buttermilk (I made the buttermilk pancakes using 100 percent whole wheat and they were lovely—there is absolutely no reason to use any white flour in that recipe). I also made three corresponding syrups: cinnamon molasses, orange-honey, and buttery brown sugar. I planned to serve the pancakes in courses (my daughter’s idea), and there would be a huge skillet of scrambled cheesy eggs as well. And lots of milk, of course. ‘Cause you can’t have pancakes without milk.


My plan worked beautifully, or would have, if the electricity hadn’t gone off right when I started frying up course two.


The kids yelled and scrambled for candles and I, my shoulders slumping, said to my husband, “Better go get the outdoor stove.”


I fried the rest of the pancakes on the porch, a fading headlamp my only weapon against the encroaching darkness, and the kids ferried the pancakes from porch to table. The lack of light in no way inhibited them from stuffing their tummies to the bursting point.

Then, just when I was beginning to contemplate the mountain of dirty dishes (somehow I managed to soil nearly all of my spatulas and rubber scrappers and plates and forks and spoons and glasses and mixing bowls), the lights (and water) came back on.


My husband and I cast a Maria von Trapp spell over the kids while we blitzed the kitchen, and then my husband read from Little House while the kids lollygagged about and I sat on the floor in the middle of them and tried to knit without getting jostled.

All things considered, the meal was a success (though 18 eggs were definitely not enough). I enjoyed my time spent playing and creating and watching the kids stuff their faces. Also, I learned that I love cinnamon molasses syrup and that a bit of butter stirred into a standard brown sugar syrup makes for some serious deliciousness.


a dribble of cinnamon molasses-y goodness

Cinnamon Molasses Syrup

Adapted from Simple Bites

This syrup is wonderfully delicious on heartier pancakes, like sweet potato or pumpkin (I prefer lighter syrups for lighter pancakes). I also drizzled it on some leftover cornbread and loved loved loved it. In fact, I’m thinking that next time I make cornbread, I'll be making this syrup to go with it.

1/4 cup molasses
½ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup water
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter

Combine the first four ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes before removing from the heat. Stir in the butter. Store in the fridge, in a lidded glass jar.

Yield: one pint



and a dribble of buttery, brown sugar-y goodness, yum-yum

Buttery Brown Sugar Syrup

Inspired by Simple Bites and a bunch of other recipes on the web

I tried to make an all brown sugar syrup, but the brown sugar only stayed dissolved for a short amount of time before turning grainy. No amount of reheating could return it to it's smooth, syrupy form. For this reason, I used three parts white sugar and one part brown—white sugar dissolves completely and remains that way.

(I already have a brown sugar syrup in the recipe index—it has equal parts sugar and water and some thickener, so it’s a little less sweet. Plus, it makes a large amount—it’s still my bulk-syrup go-to recipe.)

3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
½ cup water
1/4 teaspoon maple flavoring
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter

Put the sugars and water in a saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil. Remove it from the heat and stir in the flavorings and butter. Store in the fridge, in a lidded glass jar.

Yield: one pint

To soak up the sticky-sweet: baked French toast, cornmeal-whole wheat waffles, Dutch puff, Farmer Boy pancakes, oatmeal pancakes, Russian pancakes, and whole wheat buttermilk waffles. Go on now, cook yourself up some breakfast love!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What I said

Here is what I said in my three-minute interview during this morning's church service.

What do you do?

Well, I homeschool my children and I try to keep the home running as smoothly as possible, but really, I just see all that as part of being a parent. I'm a mother.

What challenges (and joys) are you facing?

For me, getting to hang out with the people I love the most, day in and day out, is a wonderful gift but it can also be hard. Because it’s with the people that I love the most that I can also get the most angry, have the most clashes, get the most disgusted. In other words, I live in the raw, with my personal flaws—my short-temper, sharp tongue, selfishness—smack up in front of my face. Some other things that are hard for me are:

*finding a balance between doing what I want and what my kids need (or want).
*learning how to delight in my children, to be present to them.
*discerning the line between letting them just be and pushing them harder.
*learning to listen more and talk less.
*being consistent.

At home all day, I don’t get to perform and put on airs, and if I do, my bluff gets called. This can be frustrating, but it’s also grounding.

How can CMC support you in this everyday ministry?

Already I, as a parent, feel supported. It’s the little things. The other week we were short one chair in our row and Nancy and Paul invited Nicholas to sit with them. Tina gave us a big box of old books and tapes, providing my kids with—when I pulled it out for them—two solid hours of entertainment and a blessedly quiet house. When the kids have been in the throes of illnesses, Sue, Laura, Vi, Ann, and Hedy have all fielded our questions. Johann and Harold have been mentoring Jonathan. Alisha and Anna Maria are teaching Rebecca to sew and knit. And on it goes. My children are happy in this place. This is a huge gift and comfort.

Also, the words of support and encouragement I’ve received from so many of you—from Jennifer, Keith, Ruth, Marlin, Ted, Valerie, Michael Ann, Maria, David, etc—have buoyed me up, challenged me, and given me something to live up to. In other words, your encouragement helps to keep me on an even keel with my kids.

(My shoes matched. I triple-checked.)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What would you say?


If you were to be interviewed during the church service tomorrow, answering the questions the pastoral team has set forth for their series on Everyday Ministry— “what do you do?” “what are the challenges and joys?” and “how can the church support you?”—what would you say? You have one minute to answer each question.

Tomorrow I’ll go up front and answer these questions (they want me to focus on either homeschooling, homemaking, or mothering), and in the afternoon I’ll post my answers.

(Hopefully, my shoes will match.)

This same time, years previous: creamy garlic soup

Friday, February 25, 2011

For my daughter

One of my blog friends read my brother’s blog and then sent him some boxes of really cool stuff for his classroom prize box (that he normally keeps stocked with really non-cool stuff). Amongst all the goodies for my brother’s students, there was a package for my daughter.

(This woman is smart. She’s all up in the family business and knows, just from reading our blogs, that we’re within walking distance and that if she were to send a package to my daughter, it would make sense to include it in my brother’s box. If it were anyone else, I might feel a little freaked out, but ‘cause it’s Mavis, everything is super-cool. In fact, it’s better than that—being scrutinized by her is like getting a big bear hug.)

Anyway, my daughter’s package was stuffed full of little bags of all kinds of colorful fabric scraps, some already cut into squares. There was a whole bag of brand-new threads, as well as a t-shirt ("save an egg, crack a smile") with the tag still on it. My girl glowed.

And then she sewed.


And sewed and sewed and sewed.

She’d get right to work first thing in the morning, not even bothering to get out of bed.


She set up the ironing board and the iron and then impatiently danced around me till I stopped what I was doing to go teach her how.


Her sewing machine isn’t working at present, so she’s sewing a crazy quilt by hand. I have lifted not one finger to help her, which is kind of sad because I could give her some pointers and help to alleviate some of the crookedness factor.


On the other hand, she’s doing just fine, figuring it out as she goes along. We can work on the fine points later.

This same time, years previous: butterscotch ice cream

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The rustic side

I am discombobulated. Lit'l ol’ homebody, I-like-to-do-everything-my-way me has too much going on. So much so that it kind of paralyzes me. There’s regular stuff, like kids and rotten attitudes (mine included), cooking and house cleaning, and the skin-crawling frustration that comes from spending several months in very close proximity with each other. There’s also the outside pulls, like church, the Fresh Air Fund, correspondences, and extra-curricular activities (a writers’ group! book club! dance class! financial peace seminar with Damn, I mean Dave, Ramsey!). And then there’s the added stress of a half-dozen doctor appointments (the proverbial wrench thrown into the well-oiled machine), thanks to The Whomping Shovel, and its accompanying juggling act that is childcare. Perhaps the worst part, though, is that my brain has flipped out on me, gone all spastic. It refuses to buckle down and stay focused. Instead, it wants to experiment with new recipes and knit scarves and sort clothes and watch movies and call friends and read my mother’s book and create handwritten Works of Art, and when it can’t, it throws a sulking fit complete with protruding lip, much sniveling, and some good old-fashioned foot stomping. My brain needs to go on time-out.


In an attempt to calm myself down, I invited a new-to-me friend over for coffee and made cream scones to accompany.

I made these scones a long time ago, and then I lost the recipe and then I found it but forgot to write about it, and then yesterday rolled around and when I woke up, I laid in bed for a few minutes pondering those cream scones. The more I thought about them, the more excited I got. So I threw off the comforter, went downstairs, and over the course of the next couple hours, amidst the medicine distributions, the floor sweepings, the granola doling-out, the order barking (brush teeth! bring in wood! pick up shoes! feed the dog!), I managed to whirl some flour with butter, douse the whole crumbly mess with a bunch of rich cream, and bake up a tray of light-as-fairy dust delightfulness.


My new-to-me friend loaded up her plate with two scones right off the bat and then later, when I came back into the room after putting the little boy in yet another time-out, she confessed to helping herself to another one. Not that there was any need to confess. I doubt she has any idea how her ravenous appetite tickled me all the way down to my toesies. Inside my stressed-out body, I actually did a little whoop-and-holler jig. Cooks like me, we love people who eat.

These cream scones are a cinch to mix up, but baking them can be a little touch-and-go. They’re so stuffed with butter and cream that in the oven they slump and spread (like certain body parts will if you indulge too frequently) and butt up against each other. I’ve attempted to fix the problem by setting the tray of cut scones in the freezer for 30-60 minutes prior to baking and then popping them directly into a very hot oven. It does help, some. But still, the finished scones are more than a little on the rustic side, like me and my life.


Cream Scones
Adapted from Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Small Breads

These scones are delicious fresh from the oven, but even when they are a day or two old, they’re nothing to sneeze at. While hot, they are quite flaky. For this reason, I don’t recommend bothering with butter or jam—it’d be too cumbersome. Besides, they’re so rich, they really don’t need enhancements.

If you don’t have cake flour, just use all regular flour. I suspect they’ll still turn out fine.

2 cups flour
½ cup cake flour (I used Softasilk)
½ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cold, roughly chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup currants, optional
extra cream and Demerara sugar, for glaze

Put the flours, sugar, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend. Add the cold butter and pulse till the butter has broken down into smaller chunks but is not completely incorporated. Add the cream and milk and briefly pulse.

Dump the contents of the bowl onto a work surface, sprinkle over the currants, if using, and quickly bring the dough together into one large ball with your hands—do not knead. If the dough is too sticky (mine wasn’t), add a little more flour.

Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a 6-8 inch disk. Cut each disk into eight wedges. Place the scones onto a greased baking sheet and scoot the tray into the freezer for 30-60 minutes.

Immediately before baking, brush the scones with a little cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake the scones at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. The scones are very fragile when they come out of the oven, so let them set up on the tray for another 10 minutes or so before transferring to a cooling rack. Serve warm.

Yield: 16 scones

This same time, years previous: Molly's Marmalade Cake, foods I've never told you about, part three

Monday, February 21, 2011

The case of the whomping shovel

After countless phone calls, two trips to the ER, consultations with various nurse-friends and non-nurse-friends, and a hike across town to another doctor, we are totally exhausted. So tonight, instead of going to my book club, I decided to stay home in favor of an evening of dish washing, bath taking, sibling wrestling, fireside relaxing, and book reading. The activities—both the chaotic and drudge, the relaxing and fun—are blessedly, thankfully, normal.

Slowly, slowly, sloooowly I’m coming down from the cliff that mothers shoot up when doctors say things like “leaking fluid from the central nervous system” and “CAT scan” and “meningitis” and “hairline fractures.” Gradually, my insides are relaxing, my speech is slowing.

I still feel my little boy’s (‘cause it’s my little boy that took us for this spin around Wild Worry Town) forehead about six times every hour, and I continually make him turn his head to the light so I can check in his ear for leaking fluids, but he’s shaking off that horrible lethargy that made me so sick with nerves and he's picking up speed, so it’s kind of hard to catch him long enough to lay hands on him anymore.

In other words, he’s much, much better.


What happened was this: my husband was digging a hole with a bar and the little boy was “helping” with the shovel and the shovel got in the hole and the bar came down on it and—WHAM!—the handle of the shovel leaped up and smacked the little boy upside the head, right behind his left ear and along the jaw line. He cried an awful lot.

At lunch (this was on Saturday), he didn’t want to eat. He said his tooth hurt, but he was pointing to the opposite side that got hit and everyone was fussing about the food, so I just chalked the complaint up to whiny-ness and made him eat it.

It wasn’t till supper that something he said made me check in his mouth. There was blood mixed in with his scrambled eggs and the back quadrant of his molar was split down to the gum, just like a log of wood when someone takes an ax to it but doesn’t make it the whole way through.

Our doctor said we should go to the ER, so my husband took him. The ER doctor breezed in and out, never even seeing the break. (I know this, because I called the ER the next morning to have them read me the records.)

That night, the shovel-whacked kid developed a fever and intense pain in the left ear. Medicine three different times, hot water bottles twice, and still he cried. During church (yes, I took him, socallmecrazy—I figured he was injured, not sick, and I like going to church), I noticed there was water in his ear. After Sunday school I corralled a nurse and riddled her plum-full of questions. Other people weighed in. Sick kid—I mean, injured kid—just laid there, playing the part of Pathetic to the hilt.

So back to the ER my husband went. After four more hours, a CAT scan, and lots of waiting while the doctor consulted with other doctors, they came home. We were to be on the alert for a spiking fever, so I was up for a couple hours last night with a feverish boy (103 degrees, which is not considered “spiking” in our hot-blooded family) and my runaway imagination.

Today’s ENT doctor decided we ought to treat it as an ear infection, which it is. How he got it, we can’t be sure—the slight cold he had? the trauma from the blow?—but in 24 hours I expect him to be as right as the rain that is falling this very minute.

There’s still that pesky broken tooth to take care of. So tomorrow we’re off to see the dentist, wheee!

This same time, years previous: the morning after

Saturday, February 19, 2011

To win you back

This morning I chopped up Oreo cookies and stirred them into a cookie dough.


I’m not sure what came over me. It was odd. (And not worth repeating.)

I also made homemade Twix bars. (!!!!!) ("!!!!!" means "totally worth repeating.)


The recipe called for Club crackers—a (practically) never purchased junk food—so this, also, was odd.

Normally, cooking with processed food does not rock my boat, but today it did. Perhaps because of the coconut pudding a la Elmer Fudd. (Who is Elmer Fudd anyway? Does he have anything to do with pasty hasty-posting puddings?)

Or perhaps it’s because the natives have taken up squatting in the back forty.


Perhaps it’s because the combination of digging a hole and getting shot with my phallic telephoto lens makes my husband get all frisky-weird. (Yikes. That came out sounding way worse than I intended.)


Perhaps it’s because of the super-high winds that are whipping through our valley, relocating the clubhouse window to the orchard and making our dog’s ears stand on end.


But most likely it’s because I’m feeling guilty about ordering you out to the kitchen to cook up that nice pot of glue-disguised-as-coconut pudding. I need to win you back. The pressure is on, the bar has lowered, and I’m getting all sorts of sleazy, skirt-hiking slutty.

Peanut butter! Waggles some fire-engine red-painted toes.

Chocolate! A flash of slender, fine-turned ankle.

Crispy, buttery crackers! Hike that skirt a leeetle higher and—whoa!—check out that curving, muscular, smoooooth calf!

Caramel! What sumptuous, dimpled thigh, oo-la-la!

But—the skirt falls—that’s it. This is all you’re getting. Even I have limits.


There’s not much to say about these Twix bars except this:

*They taste like Twix bars.
*The caramel part is my favorite.
*I’m also really fond of the peanut butter-chocolate topping.
*They are addictive.
*If you have any problems with self-control, you probably shouldn’t make them.
*If you don’t have problems with self-control, you still probably shouldn’t make them because once you do you will have problems with that self-control that you now no longer have.
*You should make them.


(Please note: my husband gave me the go-ahead to post about these.)


Homemade Twix Bars
Adapted from Hoosier Homemade

48 club crackers (about 1 1/3 sleeves)
2/3 cup peanut butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 cup graham cracker crumbs

Lay 24 crackers in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, sugars, milk, and graham cracker crumbs. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat a bit, and cook for about five minutes, stirring steadily. Pour the caramel over the crackers and immediately lay the remaining crackers on the hot caramel, pressing down a little so they stick together. Chill the pan in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Combine the chocolate chips and peanut butter in a glass bowl and microwave, stirring frequently, till the chips have melted. Spread the chocolate on the top and chill until it sets up.

Cut into bars and store in the refrigerator.

This same time, years previous: dulce de leche coffee, blueberry-cornmeal muffins

Friday, February 18, 2011

For a lift

Next day confession/update/warning: my husband doesn't like this pudding and doesn't understand why I do.

"It's so starchy," he said. "I can't believe you like it."

"People are going to be so upset. They expect you to have a discerning palate and then you go and give them glue. They're never going to trust you again."

"It just goes to show what an integral part of the process I am. You shouldn't ever post without having me taste the food first."

"Ha! I know what it tastes like! PASTE!" Hahahahaha! "I'm gonna call you Elmer's from now on." Hardy-har-har.

"But the texture is really good."

In my defense (can I even HAVE a defense after such a brutal raking over the coals?), I like glue. So maybe there is a little too much thickener. Maybe it does need an egg (but then I'll loose the gorgeous, glorious whiteness), maybe, maybe, maybe...

If only I had another can of coconut milk in my pantry, I could try another round. One thing I do know, I'll have my husband taste it before I post about it. Pinky promise.

********

Please, please, please tell me you have a 13.5 ounce can of coconut milk in your pantry! Wha—? You’re not sure? Well, go check then! I’ll wait.

(I'm waiting, waiting, waiting...)

You do? Yay! Now real quick, scroll down through this post till you get to the recipe (which is for coconut pudding, if you must know) and make it right now. Once the pudding is chilling in the fridge, come back and finish reading.

Back so soon? Of course you are! It's such an easy pudding, no?

Alright, for the rest of the post now...


Every single person really must have this pudding in her (or his) life. Especially during February, the dreariest time of the year (except for today, which oddly enough is 70 degrees and giddy-gorgeous), ought we have a sweet taste of the tropical. It’s good for the sun-deprived soul.


Of course, if you’re feeling desperate enough you could skip the pudding all together and just sniff suntan lotion. But I think eating is more fun than sniffing, so I’m digging the pudding.


At first, though, I wasn’t too sure. In fact, after my first few tastes, I was convinced it was headed for the chicken pen. It had a pasty-starchy texture, as though the thickener hadn’t really cooked into the pudding. But, I learned, that weird taste was because the pudding was still warm. Once it was chilled, all traces of starchiness completely dissipated, leaving behind billowy mouthful upon billowy mouthful of stunningly silky-smooth pudding.

The smoothness of this pudding can not be expounded upon enough. It’s like satin. Like silk. Glossy and slick, lustrous and sultry.


It’s dazzlingly white, too. Shockingly so (kind of like my legs in February [and May and August and October, etc]). The absence of any color makes me realize how unusual it is to eat white white food. In this pudding there is no golden egg yolk or yellow butter to warmify the colors, nothing whatsoever to mar the brilliant purity.


When topped with some whipped cream, it’s white-on-white, in all the classy, right ways.


Coconut Pudding
(Not much) adapted from Kare of The Hazel Bloom

I can think of all sorts of fun ways to play with this recipe. What about using coconut cream in place of the whipping cream in the recipe and/or using it to sweeten the whipped cream topping? Or how about using milk in place of the water? Or coconut water? Or what about using some rum as flavoring? For topping, perhaps you could sprinkle on some toasted coconut and pecans, almonds, or macadamias? And think of the fruity possibilities! Pineapple! Mango! Kiwi! Lime!

1 ½ cups water, divided
½ cup cornstarch (I used ½ cup therm flo, minus 2 tablespoons)
1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
½ cup sugar
½ cup heavy whipping cream
½ teaspoon coconut extract
sweetened whipped cream, for topping, optional

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup of water with the cornstarch. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed kettle, stir together the remaining ½ cup of water, the sugar, whipping cream, and coconut milk. Bring it to a boil and slowly add the cornstarch water, whisking steadily. Cook till bubbly and thick (with the therm flo, this happened immediately and then it began to splutter all over the place), and remove from the heat. Stir in the extract.

Pour the pudding into a bowl and cover with a piece of wax paper (to prevent a skin from forming) and cool to room temperature before covering the whole thing with some plastic wrap and transferring it to the refrigerator to chill the rest of the way.

To serve, spoon the pudding into little dishes and top with sweetened whipped cream.

This same time, years previous: an open letter to Isaiah (yes, the prophet dude), I don't feel much like writing

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Snippets

*FINISH! I bellow at my slow-eating daughter.

I am!
she retorts indignantly. I’m chewing my cud!

*Lunch for four kids: 3 giant cooked potatoes, sliced and fried, with ketchup, a minuscule amount of corn (perhaps 18 kernels per kid), a little pile of green beans, 1 quart of applesauce, 1 roast beef sandwich, divided 4 ways, and leftover tomato soup divided 2 ways and drunk out of a mug.

*I look down in the field and see my little boy squatting in the orchard. Not till he stands up do I see the handsaw in his hands. I scream and holler wildly.

But they’re dead,
he insists.

No they’re not!
I yell.

They’re green inside, he pleasantly informs me.

Yes! I know! I say.

I was just cutting them up like Grandaddy and Papa did, he explains.

So this year, our fruit trees (just one apple, I think) (I hope) got twice-pruned.

*The kids are asleep and my husband and I are sitting in the living room, he on the chair, me on the sofa, going over our budget yet again. (An eraser is very helpful tool in getting the numbers to add up.) We’ll do it again tonight, and then the next night and the next. See, we’re taking a Dave Ramsey class and we’re learning a whole bunch of useful stuff. Like get rid of credit cards (I think it’s happening), and spend all your money on paper before you spend a penny, and name every single penny because otherwise it will float away. I wish I had learned all this 20 years ago. That my kids will know this—the ins and outs of managing money—by the time they leave our house is a small consolation.

*My tummy is angry at you, Mama, my little girl grumps. It’s hungry.

*It’s midmorning and I sneak two slivers of flourless chocolate cake ‘cause my breakfast oatmeal just wasn’t exciting enough. The cake is actually pretty good when it's heated up and drowned in whipped cream.

*I’m getting more creative with money. I like to wrap it around my waist. Like so, it gives a whole new meaning to the term “money belt.”


Or around my wrist, thickly.


Or I can drape it loosely around my neck...


Or not so loosely, choker fashion.


(With this chain, the analogies are never ending.)

*I’m sitting on the sofa while my oldest son drills away on the piano. I knit and call out instructions. He works extra hard when I stay with him the whole time, egging him on every minute. Bonus: my scarf will soon be done.

*Some friends take all four of the kids to a basketball game. Each ticket can be redeemed for an ice cream cone at the local (wonderful) ice cream shop, so when in town for my dance class, I get the ice cream in cups to go and take it home for our dessert. But one of the children has to forgo, due to some name-calling earlier in the day. The theatrical sobbing is deafening, but once the ordeal is over, I'm glad I stuck it out. And I’m pretty sure that child will have a better behaved tongue (for a few weeks, at least).

*I am in my belly dance class. The instructor is teaching us how to do inner hip circles while walking forwards and backwards. In other words, our hips are making a circle parallel to the ground while our legs move up and down. I have to shut my eyes and chant to myself to stay balanced and in rhythm. It’s crazy-hard, and I know I must look ridiculous, but I don’t care. It’s fun.

*When I’m in town, I bump into a friend—ouch! (ha, ha)—who encourages me to come to a local sporting event. I can’t tonight, I say, I need to be with the children. A little later in the conversation, my evening plans come up again, but this time I elaborate: we have some reading to do. Oh, school work, she replies knowingly. No, I correct, just reading for fun. And then I wonder, do other people not prioritize fun reading?

I love our book-filled evenings. For awhile there I was reading everything—first a bunch of chapters from Little House and then a sizeable hunk of reading to the older two (from Little Women and now Jane Eyre). Thing was, my voice was giving out (I read for 1-2 hours throughout the day, as well), so now I join the kids on the sofa, my knitting in hand, while my husband reads the Little House books. Then I do part two of the evening reading. My throat is grateful for the change.

*Commentors are complimentary about my Sunday skirt, and I am flattered, so I post a full(er) body shot of me in my duds.


*We host a potluck dinner for my Sunday school class and one of the members brings a 24-ounce box of smoked salmon just for us. The kids are beside themselves with glee. Cutting into the foil, the next evening, is a Special Family Occasion. I fork bits into birdy mouths and they squawk for more (all but the youngest daughter who spits hers in the trash, silly girl). I make a cream cheese-salmon mixture to go on buttered sourdough toasts, but the kids prefer to eat it straight up. Fearing all 24 ounces will get gobbled up in one sitting, I squirrel a portion away in the fridge. I have my sights on a salmon-cucumber-dill-sour cream pasta salad.


This same time, years previous: odd ends, creamed chicken with cheese biscuits, cleaning up bad attitudes, tortilla pie

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Just stuff

I have had no new recipes for you lately. For this, I am sorry. I have tried a few recipes, but they’ve been mediocre to miserable. There was this flourless chocolate cake which turned out dry and crumbly, and this red popcorn which turned out dry and crumbly. (Julie! Julie! Wherefore art thou, my Julie of the stellar ribs and tangy sour cream ice cream? I miss you!)


I made a lemon pasta, too. It was good, fine and tasty, but it was just what it was, a lemon pasta. Nothing earth shattering, so I’m not going to bother you with the details (mostly just cream and lemon, for the curious).

The Baby Nickel turned five. He informs everyone of his new age, and I overheard him announce that now that he’s five, the other kids can kick him and it doesn’t hurt anymore.


He iced his own cake, a banana cake with caramel frosting and some chocolate butter cream to decorate it with (all his choices, not mine). The decorating tube was too bulky for him to wield efficiently, so he resorted to his good old phalanges.


Of course, they had to get licked clean every few seconds. So basically, it was a spit-icing cake.


Yes, you may gag. It was totally disgusting. But you know what? It was his birthday and I never let him play with food with such complete and utter abandonment and he had a blast, germs be damned. (But rest assured, nobody outside of our immediate family got served any of the birthday cake.)

The kids built a block tower and then I let them take my camera upstairs and photograph it, unsupervised.


Trusting them with my camera is what I call “living on the edge.”

A phantom mouse has been living in our kitchen stove. Every night we’d hear it scritch-scratching and I’d whip off my slipper and tip-toe over to stand by the stove, slipper-wielding arm raised high, and though the mouse would scritch and scratch, he never poked his head up. But then one night when my sister-in-law was babysitting the kids, she actually saw the mouse, so we knew it was for real.

And occasionally, the stove still reeked of mouse urine whenever I'd bake.


One evening (when I was at my belly dance class), my husband finally had enough. He yanked the oven out from the wall and proceeded to take it apart. This was no small feat as the oven was welded together in all the wrong places. At one point, he started banging on the stove and yelling at the phantom mouse to get out of there NOW. The kids joined in. The noise was deafening.


The mouse never did show itself, and eventually my kitchen was littered with stove parts—the oven box sitting on the floor, the turd-riddled insulation carefully carried outside and stomped upon (nothing crunched). It was a mess.


I left the house again (a knitting lesson, this time) and when I came home, the stove was back in place, plus it had been mightily improved with a thorough scrub-down, new burner liners, and a working oven light.

But today, while working some math problems with my son, I thought I heard a faint scritch-scritch-scratching...

A couple weeks ago when the oldest two kids were not at home, I let the youngest two trash my kitchen.


They cooked up a feast with ice cubes, butter, leaves, dirt, and salt and pepper.


They used all the shoes in the back hall to make a fort out of the kitchen table.


The measures I’ll take to squeak in a little writing time...

This same time, years previous: foods I never told you about, part two

Monday, February 14, 2011

The outrageous incident of the Sunday boots

My aunt tells the story of a woman who went all day wearing two different shoes and didn’t notice it till right before her evening’s speaking engagement. At that point all she could do was laugh merrily and point out the mismatch so that everyone could join in the joke.

That story stuck with me, partly because it’s so incredibly preposterous (what sort of woman could wear two different shoes and never even know it? wouldn’t she feel a difference? could a person truly be so absentminded? so careless?), and partly because it speaks to my skirt-tucked-into-panties, run-in-stockings, zipper-down-holy crap! fear of not being completely put together whenever I venture out into public. So every time I think of that addled woman clomping around in her two different shoes for a whole entire day, I chuckle. That poor dear, tsk, tsk.

Well.

Well...

Yesterday I went to church wearing two different boots, one black, the other brown, and I didn’t even notice my mistake until Sunday school, after the hour-and-a-half-long church service in which I sat in the very front row.

I repeat: I WENT TO CHURCH WEARING TWO DIFFERENT BOOTS AND I SAT IN THE VERY FRONT ROW (to boot).


It wasn’t like I was wearing pants or a long skirt, either, oh no no no. My knee-length poofy skirt stopped a few good inches above the boot tops so my boots, in all their mismatched glory, were 100 percent visible.

And I had no idea. I never even noticed they felt different (which they do—the brown ones are more comfortable than the black).

(This extreme cluelessness brings to mind the bizarre tales of full-term pregnant women pooping out a baby in the toilet and then claiming they had no idea. I always wrote those women off. But now, after yesterday’s mishap, I’m not so sure...)


It wasn’t till Sunday school that I discovered my mistake. Getting ready to seat myself, I happened to glance down at my feet, and— I froze. I sucked air. I let loose a series of half-whimpers, half-shrieks, “I don’t believe—! I'm—! Two different—!”

I giggled manically.

“I might cry,” I squeaked. “Or maybe I’ll laugh?”

“They say people only look at other people from the thigh up,” one kind soul offered. Another woman untucked her feet from under her chair to double check her shoes. (They matched.) Everyone smiled and chuckled, but then the discussion turned to other things (clearly, they did not comprehend the enormity of the situation), and I was left sitting there in my two different boots, attempting to exude a sense of calm.

However, it’s pretty darn near impossible to pretend you posses any semblance of equanimity when you’re wearing two different boots.

So every now and then when a huge smile threatened to split my face, I’d duck my head and shake it ruefully from side to side, all my insides—my very veins—jiggling with an overwhelming attack of the giggles.

It wasn’t until we were in the car and half-way home that I pointed out my miss-booted feet to my husband and kids. They howled, and John struggled to keep the car on the road and study my feet at the same time. I hoisted them up on the dashboard to make it easier for him.

Mom and Dad had arrived at our house for lunch before we got home, so, “Shhh,” I told the kids. “Don’t say anything and let’s see if Grandmommy notices.” (I knew Dad wouldn’t. He’s notorious for not noticing haircuts, gaudy earrings, and painted fingernails.)

I sashayed into the house, brown heel-black heel clicking on the tile floor, and hugged Dad and Mom. “You like my outfit?” I asked Mom. She admired my skirt, one she had scavenged for me from a thrift store, and turned back to the table where she was assembling platters of meats and cheeses for our sandwich feast. The kids and I exchanged glances. Mom smiled away, oblivious. And then my younger daughter piped up, “Did you see her boots?”


Mom turned around again and looked. She double-taked. She gaped. And then, and then! The gut-wrenching, foot-stomping laughter completely overtook. We roared and wailed, sobbing with hilarity, ricocheting off door frames and tables, hanging on to each other, rocking and shaking, our shoulders hunched, breathless, eyes brimfilled up with tears.

Of all people, I knew my mom—a woman who leaves the chicken out of the chicken noodle soup, who sits on her glasses and smashes them flat, who boils kettles of water dry—I knew she would get the humor. I was not disappointed.

So now my aunt’s story has been replaced with a new one, the story of one crazy-addled woman who wore two different, knee-high boots to church one Sunday. The poor dear, tsk, tsk.

The end.

This same time, years previous: a meaty lesson, foods I've never told you about, physics lesson (it's horrifically windy again today—what is it with this time of year?), slow thinking