• Losing My Marbles

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

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

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

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

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

    I am not pregnant.

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

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

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

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

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

    Eh-hem. I’m not looking.

  • Out Of Boredom

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

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

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

    So I blog. And I boss you around.

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

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


    Pasta with Sauteed Peppers and Onions

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

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

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

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


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

  • Solution for a Cold, Rainy Day

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

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

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


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

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

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

  • High-End Pesto

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

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


    Pesto

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

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

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

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

  • Book List

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

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

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

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

  • Odds and Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • My New Favorite Fruit

    That would be nectarines.


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


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

    Nectarine Cobbler (using the recipe for Blackberry Cobbler)

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

    Nectarine Jam

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

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

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

  • Starting a New Baby

    A new baby? Huh?

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

    Huh?

    Maybe I should start at the beginning.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

  • How To Make Butter

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

  • So Why Did I Marry Him?

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


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

    ***************************************

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

    ***************************************

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


    It’s a good place to be.