• help! my blender broke!

    That new blender I bought?

    It broke! The other day when my daughter was trying to pry it up to put it away — it has some pretty intense suction-cup thingies on the bottom that make the blender really adhere to the work surface — the base broke.

    The blender still works but it’s no longer secure. (When my husband looked into the issue, he discovered that other people have had this same problem.)

    I told myself that if this blender breaks, then we’re getting a Vitamix, but now I’m hesitating. I really, really liked that Foodi Ninja, and Vitamix’s high price point (about the cost of a stove, practically) seems a little outrageous. Plus, the Vitamix has just a single blade so it’s basically just an ordinary blender, right? Would it really be as effective as the Foodi Ninja’s ferocious 3-blade blending?  

    Since I’ve never used a Vitamix, I emailed some friends who have Vitamixes. What about making butter? I asked. (I’ve heard that the Vitamix heats up ingredients — you can make soup in it — which would be disastrous for butter.) Do you have to use the tamper while blending? Did it have a dough blade? How effective is it at processing tough stuff like nuts?

    Here’s what they said:

    *No idea about a dough blade. (Maybe Vitamix sells one for, like, $975.00.) 
    *We have a separate container (with blade) for dry ingredients which I use to make whole wheat flour. But I think we bought that separately.
    *The dry container works for nuts and other stuff. 
    *It makes beautiful butter from cold cream straight from the fridge.
    *I used to make smoothies all the time and I rarely even needed to tamp them down. 
    *We have made pesto in it. 
    *Ours bit the dust a couple times and they fixed/replaced it for free.

    Hmmm, not exactly convincing, but not exactly negative, either. Just, not the rave review I was hoping for to justify a splurgy purchase. 

    For years, we used a simple Oslo. (According to Amazon, we bought a replacement blender in 2019.)

    While I liked the one-switch simplicity (flip up to go fast, down to go slow), and appreciated that it was durable and easy to find replacement parts, it required a lot of hands-on coddling. Plus, it needed lots of liquid to blend properly (stiff smoothies were A Real Project), had a small canister, was super loud, and the motor always smelled hot. 

    Switching to the Foodi Ninja, I was blown away by its efficiency and practicality. I loved the way the 3-tiered blade chewed up the food in mere seconds. I loved how I could lift out the blade and then pour directly from the canister. I loved how the lock-on lid, the solid base, and the different settings allowed me to walk away. I even liked all the little extras (which I thought I would hate): the dough blade that I used for making butter and the second, smaller blade base and the two other canisters for smoothies, nut butters, etc. 

    Yet even with all that wonderfulness, it only lasted for two months.

    So now what? Do we spring for a Vitamix? Do we dig deep into the Internets in hopes of finding another, lesser known and more economical, blending beast and then take our chances? And if we do get the Vitamix, which package should we choose? There are so many options! (The benefit of buying from Costco is that we can always return something if it goes wrong….)

    So I’m turning to you, friends. What kind of blender do you have? Why do you love it (or not)? Do you have a Vitamix, and is it worth the cost?

    My dream is a workhorse blender than I don’t have to even think about (except to swoon over its wonderous powers) for at least a good 10 years. It might be unrealistic, but I’m still hoping.

    This same time, years previous: cuajada, in the kitchen, the quotidian (8.6.18), pile it on.

  • crunchy oven-canned dill pickles

    I long ago gave up on ever making a crispy canned dill pickle. All canned dills, no matter what, always, always, always ended up softish. Not even the addition of a fresh grape leaf to each jar (which my mom did faithfully) much helped. The only way to get a crispy dill, I finally concluded, was via refrigerator dills. So that’s what I did — and I have a very good recipe, if I do say so myself — but I usually only make a half gallon or so at a time. Because who has space for clunky gallon jars of dills in their fridge, am I right? (I’m right.)

    And then one of my friends let slip that she’d discovered The Trick to making canned crispy dills. All you do, she said, is in the evening fill your jars with cucumbers, garlic, and dill, top them off with a boiling salt-vinegar-sugar brine, screw on the lids, and pop the jars in a 250-degree oven for 10 minutes, at which point you turn off the oven and let the jars sit in there until morning. 

    For real? I said, jaw on the floor.

    For real, she said.

    So this spring I planted 12 (or was it 18?) cucumber plants. Not just for the dills — I’m the only one who really eats them — but also for sweets. We’d been totally out of sweet pickles for months, much to everyone’s tremendous annoyance, and I’d been compensating with assorted, (far too) expensive jars of pickles, none of which the kids liked as much as our homemade sweets. (I have a very good recipe for sweets, if I do say so myself….)

    So anyway. I made a batch of these oven dills and then had to sit on my hands for a couple weeks, waiting for the flavors to develop. At long last, I finally popped open a jar and bit into the first dill and — CRUNCH. It worked!!!

    These pickles actually have that wonderful, much longed-for snap and crunch! They’re not quite as crunchy as the refrigerator dills, but they are leagues crunchier than any other home-canned dill pickle I’ve ever had. 

    gazpacho and dill pickles for breakfast, mmmm

    Whoop-whoop!!

    Crunchy Oven-Canned Dill Pickles
    Adapted from my friend Amber’s recipe.

    The second time I made these, a few of the jars didn’t seal, probably because:

    1) I didn’t bring the brine to a full boil, and
    2) I put the jars in the oven before I turned it on to preheat, which meant the temp in the jars maybe dropped a bit. 

    According to my friend’s notes, if the jars don’t seal, just let them go for another 12 hours and they will most likely do their thing. I didn’t quite trust that, though (never mind that there’s plenty of vinegar, we’ve been known to eat jars of pickles that have unsealed, and you can see/smell problem jars), so I popped those jars into the door of the barn fridge. We’ll use them up first, lickety-split. 

    per pint jar:
    cucumbers, washed and cut into spears
    1 small head of fresh dill
    ¼ teaspoon minced garlic
    a pinch of red pepper flakes

    Put the garlic and red pepper in the bottom of the jars. Tuck in the fresh dill. Arrange the cucumber spears, packing them in firmly.

    for the brine:
    1 quart water
    1 cup apple cider vinegar
    ¼ cup uniodized salt
    3 teaspoons white sugar

    Combine all four ingredients, and bring to a full rolling boil. Pour the brine over the cucumbers. Wipe the rims of the jars and screw on the lids and rings. 

    Place the jars in an oven that’s been preheated to 250 degrees. Do not over-crowd; leave a couple inches of space around each jar. “Bake” the cucumbers for 15 minutes. Once the time is up, turn off the oven, leaving the jars, undisturbed, in the oven overnight. If any of the jars haven’t sealed by the morning, let them sit a little longer (they may still seal) or simply  transfer them to the fridge. 

    The pickles are ready to eat after two weeks.

    This same time, years previous: fun times, the quotidian (8.3.20), the quotidian (8.5.19), glazed lemon zucchini cake, kiss the moon, kiss the sun, horses, hair, and eveything else under the sun, gingerbread.

  • with the cool kids

    Friday morning, my daughter-in-law texted: Random ask, would you and John like to go camping with us this weekend?

    The last time I went camping was at church retreat, probably around 2008 or 2009, but that wasn’t really camping since all our meals were prepared — we were just sleeping in a tent at retreat. And before that, my family went camping at Dolly Sods.

    When I was a teenager. 

    Once.

    In other words, camping isn’t in my comfort zone. It’s not even really comfort-zone adjacent, either.

    But I said yes almost immediately because here’s the thing(s): 

    1) When young adult children ask you out, you go (in the middle years, a big part of parenting involves making the switch from leader to follower). 
    2) All the cool kids camp and I wanna be cool. 
    3) Doing uncomfortable things makes me feel good.
    4) It sounded like fun!

    The kids borrowed a 2-person tent from a friend of theirs and loaned us one of their sleeping mats. We split meal responsibilities — they took supper and we took breakfast — and I baked a batch of granola bars and filled baggies with green peppers, dried mangos, almonds, coffee, and granola. My husband printed out a camping list and checked off all the (relevant) things.

    I had no idea how it would go. I wasn’t sure where we were headed or how far we’d have to walk, but it turned out to be a low-key, easy sort of camping trip. The walk to the campsite was super short, and the creek we had to ford several times was low. 

    We set up camp, went on a short hike to the middle of some stinging nettles (oops), took a dip in the creek, played Rook, roasted hot dogs, visited, and went to bed when the sun went down. (Almost as soon as we got there, I became weirdly nauseated. After I napped, belched a bunch of times, and started to feel better, we figured out that my nausea was probably due to blowing up the mattress pad.)

    My husband and I slept only moderately terribly, and the next morning I labored far too long over a few cups of disappointingly weak coffee, though no one pitched a fit. Probably because we were too tired to much care.

    And then it started raining, so we packed up our stuff and moseyed back to the van.

    photo credit: my daughter-in-law

    The rain let up as we neared town, and when we passed the pickleball courts, they were empty!

    They’re almost never empty, so we decided to jump on it: we quick swung by their house to pick up rackets and use the bathroom before heading back to the courts for several games, the last of which my husband and I (finally!) won.

    Back home, my husband and I unpacked, showered, rehydrated, ate big plates of groundnut stew (vegetables!) and chicken, and then curled up on the sofa with our laptops to research camping supplies.

    You know, for when we go on our next venture….

    This same time, years previous: a fantastic week, fried, the end, damn good blackberry pie.

  • the quotidian (8.1.22)

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

    The working kitchen.

    When the croissants aren’t up to snuff, we suffer sooooo much. (JK!)

    Seasonal Meal Rec #1: Bruschetta (tomatoes, basil, garlic).

    Seasonal Meal Rec #2: Vegetarian Groundnut Stew (zucchini, carrots, onions, tomatoes).

    Seasonal Meal Rec #3: Chef Salad (whatever you’ve got),
    with Croutons (stale baguettes, olive oil, everything bagel seasoning).

    Caraway Swiss: I am VERY excited.

    My latest attempt to beat the heat: premixing granola
    and taking it to work to bake in the empty, still-hot ovens.

    Resuscitations.

    And now their arms are sore.

    Soaking up the cuddles: puppy sitting.

    This same time, years previous: iced café con leche, the quotidian (8.1.16), a pie story, babies, boobs, boo-boos, and bye-byes, a birthday present for my brother, shrimp, mango, and avocado salad.

  • one step further

    photo credit: my younger daughter

    A couple weeks ago, after much dragging of feet, my husband and younger daughter finally took Daisy to auction.

    photo credit: my younger daughter

    Dropping her off kinda broke his heart, and it made me sad, too, but once she was gone, it was a tremendous relief. Bulk-processing milk from two cows, and at breakneck speeds, had been sucking up a ton of my time. 

    And then I decided to go one step further and not even make cheese with the milk we do have. For a couple weeks (and maybe even longer, we’ll see), I’m giving myself permission to skip cheesemaking entirely. I skim the milks, saving the cream for us, and then the skimmed milk goes to Fern and Petunia.

     At first, feeding all our fresh, wonderful milk to the pigs felt terribly wrong (it’s hard for me to silence the voice in my head that says I gotta make the most of everything), but it’s not actually a loss. Feeding the milk to the pigs saves us on feed costs and goes towards our future sausage, and when I water plants with the whey (or milk!), the nutrients build up the soil. In other words, “dumping” the extra milk isn’t wasteful — it’s just a shift in perspective. Food production is cyclical, and sharing the milk with the animals (and land) is as valuable as using it up directly ourselves. 

    mascarpone cheese

    Now that I’ve forced myself to let go, instead of the milk controlling me, I’m controlling the milk. And the best part? Once again I have energy to play! I’m having so much fun brainstorming new, more complicated (to me, anyway, because they’re new) hard cheeses, as well as returning to more recipes that call for smaller amounts of milk and cream, like soft cheeses and ice creams. It’s lovely.

    berry cream swirl

    (And very delicious.)

    ***

    Daisy’s sale stats: She went for “82 dollars a hundred,” and since she weighed 1470 pounds, so we got a check for $1169, after the fees were removed.)

    This same time, years previous: the coronavirus diaries: week whatever, the quotidian (7.29.19), the quotidian (7.30.18), my deficiency, do you strew?, heading north, the quotidian (7.30.12), Indian pilaf of rice and split peas.

  • no matter what happens

    The other day I read a quote by Kate that went something like this: Make supper first thing in the morning because then, no matter what happens the rest of the day, at least you have supper. 

    So yesterday morning, right after breakfast, I washed lettuce, chopped veggies, and boiled eggs for the evening’s chef salad. And it’s a good thing I did, too, because then I invited my daughter-in-law to go on a walk with me and afterward we sat down at the table to eat lunch together (toasted olive bread and cheese, gazpacho, and iced coffees) and ended up talking until after four o’clock! And then my husband and I ran out the door to play Ultimate. Limping into the house afterward, hot and sweaty and bone-weary, I was so thankful for my early-morning thoughtfulness.

    Once again this morning, with the same bulls-by-the-horns energy, I made supper right after breakfast. This time: vegetarian groundnut stew.

    Supper made, I feel ridiculously smug. I can sit here on the couch, absorbed in my other projects, knowing all the while that no matter what else may come up, a full, nourishing dinner awaits.*

    It’s lovely. 

    *I still need to cook the brown rice in the turkey broth, and stir the peanut butter into the veggies…

    This same time, years previous: yogurt, the water-bath method, hill of the martyrs, in the kitchen, injera and beef wat, a trusty skirt, the quotidian (7.28.14), rest and play, the boy and the bike ride, July evening.

  • the quotidian (7.25.22)

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

    From my mama: cookies that smile.

    Espresso + raw sugar + whole milk + ice = my afternoon delight.

    I have plans.

    Just one of the many variations.

    Blueberries galore, and now I’m wishing I’d picked even more.

    Blueberry-topped.

    Blueberry-swirled.

    Everyday ice cream: I made it on (to?) the big screen!

    Our snuffly four-legged garbage disposals: throwing out food has never been so fun.

    Ultimate(ly) wet.

    He’s yet to perfect the art of packing light.

    Siblings: 5/9ths.

    Sisters (in law).

    Steak feast (with grilled portobellos and gorgonzola, oo-la-la!).

    After dinner ramp plans: for the parents.

    This same time, years previous: peach pie with bourbon and fresh rosemary, Magpie, Italian meringue buttercream, the best one yet, lemony cream cheese frosting, all practicality, in the kitchen, vegetarian groundnut stew, a riding lesson.

  • Mamma Mia

    This summer, my younger son took a theater intensive for high school students, hosted by a local university. The participants auditioned a couple months in advance and, prior to starting, they were supposed to have all their lines and music memorized. (I think they each had at least one check-in session via zoom with their acting coaches, too.) Then once the intensive started, they had three weeks of daily, nine-to-five rehearsals, and the course concluded with three performances this weekend. Our family went last night.

    My expectations were pretty low, but oh my, what a riot

    The cast had less than three weeks to mount the whole show, so every little thing felt extra special: live music, mics, dancing, harmonies, a full set, props, gorgeous costuming, speedy transitions, high energy. The kids were clearly having an absolute blast, and their joy and energy overflowed into the audience. There was so much laughter, cheering, and hooting! 

    The whole thing was a delight — I’ve always thought of Mamma Mia as a fun, but trite, show, so I was surprised to find parts of it actually meaningful; a couple times I even teared up — and I am beyond impressed with all the hard work that went into the show, and grateful to all the people who made it happen. 

    If you’re local and have a free evening, tonight’s the last night to see this rolicking, family-friendly show. Tickets are sold at the door, and the show starts at 7:00.

    photo credits: Caleb Schlabach

    This same time, years previous: backyard wedding, three shining dragon eggs, apricot pie.

  • four fun things

    Back when I was going to physical therapy for my hamstring, the therapist often used a muscle pounder thingy on my leg to help break up the fascia and facilitate healing. She recommended we buy one for ourselves, so when my husband found one on sale at Costco, he picked it up. (similar, Amazon)

    I thought it might be an unnecessary extravagance — was it really any better than old-fashioned (and free) massaging? — but we have been LOVING it. My husband has a wonky back, and using it on the sore spots every other night or so has made a huge difference.

    For me, my hamstring is still giving me grief. It got better, but now that I’ve started playing Ultimate again it’s aching and burning quite a bit. Days that I work it harder than normal, I’ll use it on the back of my leg. I’m not sure we’re using it correctly, but my leg feels all warm and relaxed afterward, so I guess it’s fine?

    And it does wonders for getting that jittery feeling out of crazy legs! Nights when I feel an attack coming on, I use it on a few pressure points and the crazy feeling lessens dramatically. It’s a marvel!

    Sidenote: I’ve recently had an increase in leg muscle cramps: as in, I went from none to lots. So I did a little research and learned that leg cramps are a symptom of perimenopause: lower estrogen levels make it harder for the body to absorb magnesium. Anyone else have this problem?

    ***

    Another friend did it again!

    I’d preordered the book and it arrived at suppertime. I started reading right away and got so absorbed in a story about marriage, morels, and venison that I burned the burgers. (They were still good.)

    The takeaway: Lucy’s essays about marriage, the natural world, and growing up are a delicious read, her writing rich and chock-full of insights. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, and am full of admiration for her mad writing skills. Recommend!

    ***

    Have you watched Julia (HBO Max)?

    Both my husband and I enjoyed the show — it did my heart good — and I hear there is going to be a second season, yay!

    And speaking of shows, I need recommendations. My husband and I are (very slowly) watching Station Eleven, but I’ve spent so much time being confused (perhaps because I keep trying, and failing, to relate it to the book) that we may need to start over from the beginning and rewatch it as a stand-alone story.

    Other shows I’ve recently watched: Inventing Anna (loved it, but my husband refused to watch it due to the cringy factor); Somebody Somewhere (okay); Hacks (fading interest); Working Moms (okay, but meh); Life In Pieces (lost interest). I did enjoy Life & Beth, after the first few episodes. I see Netflix has a new season of Alone which I’m looking forward to watching with my younger son…

    What else?

    ***

    If you need a laugh, or GALES of laughter, you gotta read this embarrassing story about a woman’s run-in with Ethan Hawke.

    photo credit: my younger daughter

    It’s perfect and cringy and wonderful and I laughed for minutes, smiled for days. (Don’t skip the comments. They are a landmine of hilarity.)

    ***

    This same time, years previous: currently, yogurt cheese, movement, all things Thursday, putting up walls, four weeks down, three to go, in which a pit bull bites my butt, ouch, zucchini fritters, roasted carrot and beet salad with avocado.

  • banana pudding

    I am not a pudding person. I mean, I like pudding and will happily eat it if it’s served to me, and I’ll even make it for my family (they adore it), but it’s not my first choice. I’m much more likely to reach for a pastry or a loaf of bread. 

    But then last week the bakery made banana pudding for the diner dessert and I could not keep my hands off it. I scooped out the bits leftover in the corners of the pan and, when the pan emptied, I went to work on it with a rubber spatula (until my daughter wrenched it from my hands and took over the pan polishing). 

    At one point we ran out of pudding, and, since the person who was in charge of making more wasn’t in yet, she walked me through the steps via texts and phone calls. I had to work fast, on account of the customers beating down the door for more pudding.

    After all that pudding flurry, I had to make it for myself at home, of course. One would think it’d be easy, since it’s all store-bought ingredients, but I don’t do easy very well (I can’t make boxed brownies to save my life). It took me a couple tries to even source the right ingredients. 

    The first time, I bought cook-and-serve vanilla pudding instead of instant because I can’t read. It wasn’t until the next day when the mixture was still soupy that I pieced things together. I was going to feed it to the pigs but then my daughter cooked it up and, since it appeared to set fine, I just ran with it. (It worked, though the pudding texture wasn’t quite as creamy as it should’ve been.) That pudding, I took to a July Fourth gathering where it got gobbled. 

    Then I sent my older son to the store for more pudding mix, but he came back with instant banana pudding, probably because I mentioned I was making banana pudding even though I’d texted that I wanted vanilla. So now I have two boxes of instant banana pudding sitting in the drawer. Any suggestions?

    Finally, my younger daughter made it out of the store with the right stuff and, just a couple days ago, I made it again, this time the right way from start to finish, whew! (Except now I’m looking at my photos and I realize I used a 5-ounce box of pudding when it was supposed to be only 3.4 ounces so I guess my pudding was stiffer than it should’ve been? Dang, instant food is hard.)

    I’m kinda sick of banana pudding now (though not so sick that I didn’t just eat another serving — photos make me hungry) so last night I took a bunch of it over to my parents and my mom made such a fuss that you’d of thought I’d brought her the moon. 

    I recently read a piece somewhere about the thrill of taking comfort food to potlucks. Most people show up with their quinoa salads and hummus, the article said, but it’s always the Doritos and rice krispie treats (and the banana pudding) that get eaten first. There’s something so homey about the easy classics (which I don’t know much about, clearly, but I am learning) so why not just go with it sometimes? It’s easy “cooking,” and the guaranteed (and outsized) appreciation and adoration does wonders for one’s ego.

    So listen. Next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up a box of mini Nilla wafers, a can of sweetened condensed milk, and a box of instant (INSTANT) vanilla (VANILLA) pudding. Stash them away in the back of your pantry where they will while away the months, just waiting to be called into service and make you a star.

    Banana Pudding
    The recipe is based on Magnolia Bakery’s famous banana pudding, a mash-up of my co-worker’s texts and The Girl Who Ate Everything.

    Go easy on the bananas and wafers: “layer” means a single layer. The pudding is king — don’t dry it out or moosh it up with too many crackers and bananas.

    The bananas need to be just barely ripe; they hold up better this way. Also, I think they’re best sliced quite thin. They will get brown, over time, in the pudding, so if this bothers you, dipping them in lemon waters helps prevent discoloration, or so I’ve read….

    The pudding can be eaten immediately, if you like, but after a few hours, the crackers will soften and become cake-like, and the banana flavor will permeate the pudding. Up to you!

    1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
    1½ cups cold water
    1 box (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding 
    2-3 cups heavy whipping cream
    ½ teaspoon vanilla
    4-5 bananas, barely ripe
    1 11-ounce box mini Nilla wafers

    Beat together the sweetened condensed milk with the cold water. Add the pudding mix and beat some more. Cover with plastic, transfer to the fridge, and allow to set up for at least four hours, though overnight is even better. 

    Once the pudding is set, beat the heavy whipping cream and vanilla until you have stiff peaks. Fold approximately 2 cups-worth (of the cream pre-whipping) into the pudding, reserving the remaining cup or so for dolloping, or decorating.

    To assemble, put a single layer of Nilla wafers in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Dollop over half of the pudding and spread smooth. Put another layer of Nilla wafers (reserving some for decoration, if you wish), and then a layer of banana slices. Spread the rest of the pudding on top. Optional: decorate the top with crushed wafers and whipped cream. 

    Store the pudding in the fridge, covered, or devour immediately. 

    This same time, years previous: mushroom burgers with cheese, the quotidian (7.8.19), fresh strawberry cake, nose spots, the quotidian (7.7.14), the quotidian (7.8.13), simple creamy potato salad and French potato salad.