• Waking Them Up

    My babies are waking up! I got them out of the fridge yesterday morning; the poor things looked chilled to the bone, watery, and weak. So pathetic and sad! I almost felt guilty.

    They clearly needed to get the blood moving again. To stir some life back into them. To eat something! So, I did what any good mom does when her kids look cold and weepy—I fed them (just water and flour, nothing fancy) and almost immediately, it seemed, they were back to their boisterous, tangy-scented selves. It made my heart swell with pride, it did! Silverton says to wait for three days before baking after chilling the starter, but I bet I could’ve baked with them today.

    Anyway, all that to say: We’re back in business, folks, and I have a couple new recipes up my sleeve. Well, at least one … but I think it’s a good one. It involves pumpkin seeds and a sweet potato. Just in time for Thanksgiving, too.

  • Ideas and Suggestions

    1. I read Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan, for the first time in my life this past weekend. I picked it up off the shelf in the library and had to ask the librarian if it was an abridged version since it was so thin. She said that no, it was the real thing. I read it to the kids in three days (we could’ve easily done it in one sitting) and finished it up on Sunday night. I don’t normally cry when I read to the kids (I do get a little choked up sometimes), but somewhere in the last chapter I started crying and I didn’t stop till I finished the book. I don’t mean a little sniffle cry; I mean, a tears-streaming-down-my-cheeks-and-Miss-Becca-Boo-flying-into-my-lap-to-hug-me type of cry. It is an exquisite book.

    2. My Aunt Valerie gave me a new tip when she last visited me. She told me to save all the fruit juices that you have left in the bottom of your jars and use them to replace some or all of the water in your granola recipes. So in my last batch of granola I included sweet cherry juice, the dregs of the jar of apple cider, and some peach juice. I don’t detect a change in the flavor, but it makes me feel kind of smug to do it.

    3. I have always cut up my squashes and pumpkins and boiled them till tender and then scraped out the flesh to use in pies and other dishes, but this year I decided to learn how to roast them. All you do is wash the pumpkin, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, cut it into smaller chunks, and set the chunks skin-side-down on cookie sheets.

    Cover the pumpkin with big sheets of tinfoil (I save them for the next time I do a pumpkin bake) and bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for a couple hours till the pumpkin is fork-tender.

    After the pumpkin cools for a bit,

    scoop out the meaty flesh.

    Allow the scooped-out pumpkin to sit in the bowl for a little because some more liquid will ooze out which can then be poured off.

    Pack the pumpkin into pint-sized boxes and pop them in the freezer.

  • Go Obama!

    (So I’m not very good at keeping mum. Ya wanna make something of it?)

    I saw The Man yesterday, with my very own eyes, and you know what? He looks just like he does on TV. In fact, it was almost exactly like watching him on our fuzzy, static-y TV ‘cause with all the jostling and screaming it was kind of hard to get a good, focused look at him.

    Here he is.

    Oops, let’s try the zoom now.

    See what I mean? He looks calm, collected, confident, and, believe it or not, energetic. How does he do it?!

    The day’s events in a nutshell: Me and two friends took nine kids and some food to a field and sat there all afternoon in the freezing windy cold and then we didn’t get in because about five thousand people jumped in line in front of us (CURSES!) but then Obama came on to the back of the field (bless his heart) and we saw him for five minutes, after which Miss Becca Boo threw up, and then, after slinking (as if you can “slink” with nine children) through the woods on the other side of the building and seeing him exit the building and drive off, we went home. And thus ends the year’s history/social studies/political science lesson.

    The extremes we mothers will go to in the spirit of home education! I think we should be sainted, or something.

    Ps. Except that now he’s doing that special announcement thing tonight, so I guess we’ll be pulling out the TV (that we don’t have) and making some popcorn. At least we’ll be warm this time around.

  • A Leftover Creation

    The other day when I was still on a zippy high after my foray into apples and rosemary, I created a new pizza. Now, I don’t know if much can be invented in the way of pizza what with the already too-many-to-count crust recipes and topping combinations, but I daresay that I have quite possibly chipped a little hole in the glass ceiling of pizza possibilities. Among the tools used to make that little hole were curried pumpkin, sausage, and apples.

    This may look like a complicated recipe, but please do not be dismayed. There is lots of room for working ahead. And actually, I just created this dish at the last minute, off the top of my head, as I pulled the leftovers out of the refrigerator and freezer. I had the soup in the fridge and the browned sausage in the freezer and only had to caramelize the onion, grate the cheese, and saute the apples. So, make the soup for supper tonight, and then a couple days later (or months, if you freeze the leftovers), you can whip up this spanking new pizza.

    I ate the leftover pizza for breakfast and lunch the following day, and, the day after that, for breakfast. I just kept the leftovers on a plate on the counter, no refrigeration necessary, and heated up each piece in the microwave for about 15 seconds. The leftovers were excellent on day two, but by day three the crust was getting a little soggy.

    Pizza with Curried Pumpkin Sauce, Sausage, Apples, Caramelized Onions, and Sharp Cheddar

    1/2-1 cup leftover curried pumpkin soup (see below)
    2 cups sharp cheddar, grated
    1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
    1-2 cups bulk sausage, browned
    4 apples, cored, peeled, sliced
    1 large onion, cut into thin rings
    1 recipe pizza dough

    For the curried pumpkin soup:
    Saute a chopped onion and some diced celery in some olive oil. Add 1-2 tablespoons curry powder. In a separate kettle, boil (in water) a large handful of unpeeled fingerling potatoes and 1 or 2 diced carrots. Add the drained, cooked veggies to the curry mixture. Add a couple cups of cooked pumpkin, and two or three cups of chicken broth (I used turkey gravy). Puree the whole mixture with your handy-dandy immersion blender. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a cup of cream or milk. Heat on medium-low heat. The soup should be fairly thick.

    To serve, garnish with any of the following: yogurt, sour cream, grated cheese, chives, parsley. Make sure you reserve one cup of the soup, or divide the soup into one-cup containers and freeze, for the pizza recipe.

    To assemble the pizza:
    Saute the apples in a little butter till tender but still firm, about ten minutes. Set aside.

    Saute the onion in some olive oil until dark, golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. (See here for more detailed instructions.) Set aside.

    Roll/press out one large pizza crust (I divided the recipe of pizza dough into two balls and rolled the crusts out thin—one was for the kids’ cheese pizza and the other was for this recipe). Spread the curried pumpkin soup over the crust. Sprinkle on some of the grated cheese. Distribute the browned sausage, then the sauteed apples, and finally the caramelized onion. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese over all, and bake at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

  • Signs, News, and Daydreams

    Writer’s block.

    I feel better now that I wrote that. Because I wrote it.

    I sometimes get this way. I don’t write for a day or two and then I have a build-up of ideas and I can’t sort through them and choose what to write about so I don’t write anything at all. And then I feel worse.

    I’m tempted to write another Splat post. Maybe I’ll start a series of splats. Just every once in a while I will write down everything and anything that comes to mind—a brain-purging exercise. Then I would, hopefully, be able to breathe easier and, for a period of time, at least, write posts in a more calm and rational manner.

    But I’d feel bad for you, my poor readers, who’d be left to sift through the riff-raff of my brain. Making you struggle through the murky mire of my mental state just wouldn’t be right. Or fair.

    So, as a compromise, and in a superhuman act of self-restraint, I will exorcize myself of only two or three thoughts. The rest I will write down on paper and then burn, if I feel the need.

    1. After three different tries over the past several weeks, I finally, just yesterday, tracked down the person who was “selling” political yard signs. After a semi-complicated game of phone tag, we finally got to talk to each other directly and he gave me directions (yes, I was talking on the cell phone while driving) to where I could meet him. He was waiting in his sticker-covered pick-up truck when I pulled up. I bought two signs; one for now, and the other for when the first sign gets stolen.

    2. I don’t normally like to talk about things I’ll be doing in the future because there is always the chance that I won’t do it and I don’t like to disappoint, but I’m breaking my rule to tell you this bit of very exciting news: One of the political candidates, who’s sign is in my yard, is coming to town this week! Yo-Yo, Miss Becca Boo, and I are going to go midday and camp out all afternoon in order to get good seats. I figure this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, as well as our history/current events lesson for the year.

    3. The other day when I was putting The Baby Nickel down for a nap, I had this following daydream: The aforementioned political candidate’s entourage was driving to town and one of the staff members called me to say that they needed a place to stop for dinner and could I please feed them? They would be there in fifteen minutes.

    Oh dear! What could I possibly feed them?

    I quickly ruled out fancy stuff—lack of time. And no meat—it would take too long to thaw and cook.

    And then I realized what I would do: I would pull out a bag of last year’s Roma green beans, a bag of my parents’ white sweet corn, some fingerling potatoes, a quart of the canned Lodi applesauce, some homemade jam and a loaf of bread. There is still chard in the garden, so I could cook up a big skillet of greens. For dessert I would turn to the freezer again for red raspberries and strawberries, and I could open jars of peaches and sweet cherries.

    What could be better, and fancier, than just the simple stuff from the garden, cooked up and served in its most basic form? Now that would be worthy of a king, er, president-to-be (hopefully).

  • Interrupting Myself

    I was going to wax eloquent about homeschooling today, but I am instead interrupting my program to bring you a recipe for an apple tart. It can not wait until tomorrow. I must get this recipe off my chest and into your hands immediately. It’s an emergency.

    This is one of Orangette’s recipes. I love Orangette. Yes, I know I had that little falling out with her over chocolate chip cookies, but now, after this tart, all is forgiven. Totally forgiven. Peace and goodwill reigneth. We are bosom buddies forevermore. If she were to walk into my house right now I would kiss her feet. And then offer her a piece of tart. Then she would kiss my feet, of course. Because we are bosom buddies.

    Orangette said this tart was simple, but then her instructions were about a mile long causing me to get a case of the silent inner tummy chuckle twitches. However, I will admit that her clear, precise instructions are what make her recipes so easy to follow, and so trustworthy. I’m cutting down on the verbage in this post (this is an emergency after all), so if you need more explanation, please do click on over to her site.

    Basically, all you do is make a butter crust which you roll out into a rectangle and then you lay the apple slices on the crust, sprinkle the apples with sugar, and bake the tart. Afterwards you brush the cooled tart with a strained sugar, water, and apple-core glaze. So, you see, it really is a simple recipe.

    I followed her instructions almost to a T, but not quite. I was feeling a little frisky, so I replaced some of the water with apple cider, and then, get this, I added a sprig of rosemary! I don’t normally do things like that—dashing uncalled for herbs into glazes is just not my style, and I almost never presume to improve an Orangette-endorsed recipe. But my oh my—that fragrant green sprig made me feel so high-end and classy that I’ll probably start sticking it in everything! My nose, my ears… just kidding.

    Another thing: I’m pretty much sold on this butter crust.

    Just one more thing: One of Orangette’s commenters suggested adding grated cheese to the butter crust.

    Eh-hem. Stay with me here, please: If you don’t add the rosemary, you could add some freshly grated nutmeg to the butter crust and then simmer the apple cores with a stick of cinnamon…

    Apple Tart with Cider-Rosemary Glaze
    Adapted from Orangette

    For the crust:
    1/4 cup cold water
    3/4 teaspoon cider vinegar
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1 ½ cups flour
    9 tablespoons cold butter, cut into chunks

    Put the dry ingredients and the butter into a food processor and process until you have a dry, crumbly mixture. While the processor is running, slowly add the liquid through the feed tube—the crumbly mixture should almost immediately come together to make a ball of dough. On a piece of plastic wrap, press the dough into a disk, wrap well with more plastic, and refrigerate for at least thirty minutes.

    When you are ready to assemble the tart, roll the dough out onto an ungreased baking pan, roughly forming a 11 x 16 inch rectangle.

    Peel, core, and slice six or seven tart apples, reserving the cores for the glaze (just set them aside in a little saucepan). Lay the apples slices in tidy rows on the dough. Fold the edges of the dough over to make a crust, or else pinch them up to make a little wall. Sprinkle the apples with a couple teaspoons of sugar (I used Demerara).

    Bake the tart at 375 degrees for 25 -35 minutes.

    For the glaze:
    3/4 cup sugar
    ½ cup water
    ½ cup apple cider, optional (if not using the cider, increase both the water and the sugar to one full cup each)
    small sprig of rosemary
    the reserved apple cores, optional (if not using the cores, use one whole cup of apple cider and omit the water entirely)

    Combine all the ingredients, except for the rosemary, in a little sauce pan and simmer over medium heat until the liquid has reduced by about half—it should take about 30 minutes or so. Add the sprig of rosemary for the last minute. Pour the glaze through a sieve and brush over the cooled tart.

    Note: Orangette did not comment upon whether or not it was imperative to consume the tart immediately after glazing, but I can report that while the glaze (and I only used about half of the mixture—I see another tart in my near future) did soften the crust a little, it did not take away from the crispy-buttery texture. In other words, wait to glaze the tart till you will serve it, but leftovers will be absolutely fine.

  • Love, The Tooth Fairy

    Yo-Yo Boy lost his first tooth yesterday.

    That’s right, I said his first. Yes, that’s right … he will be turning nine years old on Thursday. Yes, that’s right—he’s a late bloomer. It’s not my doing, okay? It’s not like I’m scotch-taping his teeth to his gums, refusing to let them fall out.

    Actually, I’m with you—it was about time, if you ask me. His mouth was beginning to resemble a falling-down split-rail fence! His two bottom teeth were both loose (I think his top two are also loose), and his second teeth had grown up behind them. We even made a special trip to the dentist to see if everything was okay, and the doc assured us he was just fine. He explained that because Yo-Yo’s new teeth were preventing his tongue from naturally bumping up against the loose ones, it might take extra long for the first teeth too fall out. He sure was right about that.

    Then yesterday while the kids were resting and I was sitting at the computer, deep in a thought-filled stupor (that’s what happens to me when the blissful, post-lunch quiet descends upon the house and I have just slurped down a large cup of café con leche), I heard Yo-Yo throw open his door (it creaks) and pound down the stairs in his annoyingly flatfooted way. He sprinted towards me, his hand outstretched before him, at breakneck speed. “My tooth fell out!” he half-stage whispered, half-squawked. He widely grinned at me, revealing a mouthful of blood. I sent him to the bathroom to wash up and when he came back I oohed and aahed over the little piece of enamel. We put the tooth in a glass, to save for the Tooth Fairy I reminded him.

    “Aw, mama! That’s you. I know that!” he said.

    “Really? Hmm.” I said.

    He had to call Grandmommy and Grandaddy to tell them the story, and he couldn’t wait for Mr. Handsome to come home so he could fake him out by putting the tooth back in and then pretending it fell out again. There was much speculation over what the Tooth Fairy might bring. “It can’t be big,” I warned. “The fairy is really small, you know.”

    As I shooed the kids up to bed after the bedtime stories, I told Yo-Yo to make sure he left his window open a crack so the fairy could get in. “Mama!” he said, exasperated. “There is no Tooth Fairy. I’m talking to the Tooth Fairy right now!”

    “Huh,” I said. “I don’t know about that … I don’t think I look like much of a fairy.”

    Mr. Handsome ended up spending part of the night in the boys’ room because The Baby Nickel woke up. He said that Yo-Yo kept waking up, too excited for the fairy. He even asked Mr. Handsome if he could look under his pillow and Mr. Handsome said no and Yo-Yo boy didn’t look.

    Yo-Yo came running down the stairs at 6:30 this morning. “Look, Mama! Look what the Tooth Fairy gave me! And she wrote me this note and the writing is tiny because she’s so small. Come read it!”

    Several minutes later he said, “I know it was you that gave it to me.” I think he was trying to convince himself.

    When it comes down to it he does know that I am the Tooth Fairy, yet for those few minutes the line between reality and imagination wavered. If I had my way, I’d keep that line blurry for just another few years. Or at least long enough to let the Tooth Fairy collect her precious baby’s pearly gems.

    And I won’t use any scotch tape. I promise.

    Dear Yo-Yo Boy,

    I have been waiting and waiting for that tooth of your’s to fall out. Once in a while I would even fly into your room and peek into your mouth while you were sleeping, just to make sure it was still there. I almost never see a tooth hang on that long, especially with another tooth behind it pushing it out, and especially in an almost nine year old. (By the way, happy birthday ahead of time!)

    Now, you get busy wiggling that other tooth. It will soon fall out, mark my words.

    The Tooth Fairy

    Ps. I hope you like the little car. Maybe if you crash it into your mouth (on accident, on purpose) it will knock the other tooth out.

    Pps. I hope it is not too difficult for you to read this. It’s just that my typewriter can only make small letters since it is so tiny, but you know, that’s just how it is for a little Tooth Fairy like me.

  • Jigging For Cake

    By any chance, did you put up some rhubarb this year? Did you happen to freeze any of the green-red chunks in plastic bags? In two-cup portions, perhaps? If so, you are a lucky winner and I now give you permission to dance a little jig. I’m serious. Go ahead. Dance!

    Now you need to fetch that bag of rhubarb from the freezer, turn on the oven, and pull out your medium-sized glass mixing bowl. You are going to make a cake, and the cake will be so tasty that you will probably (absolutely, certainly, and definitely) eat entirely too much.

    In this cake the rhubarb is mixed into the batter and then sprinkled with the brown sugar mixture, but then as the cake bakes, the rhubarb and brown sugar-cinnamon topping sink to the bottom, creating a fruity, gooey, sometimes crispy-caramel-y bottom layer.

    It’s the kind of cake bottom that makes you insist that it’s your job to serve everyone their piece, and then you intentionally use a fork instead of a cake server to scoop the pieces onto the dessert plates because you are well aware that the fork will not pick up all that brown crunchy goo, which means that after you’ve swept the cake pan off the table and set it back on the counter, you can hunch over the pan and quickly, using your spoon or even your fingers, polish clean the pan’s sweet bottom.

    And then you’ll need to dance another jig to burn off all that snuckered cake.

    Not that I would know anything about scraping up brown-sugar goo with my fingers and then dancing a jig as penance. Nope. I do stomach crunches.

    Rhubarb Cake
    It is possible that this recipe came from Epicurious, though I can’t be certain about that, because when I jotted down the ingredients in my little recipe book I forgot (oops) to make any mention of this recipe’s origins.

    This time around I added some red raspberries, as well as the called-for amount of rhubarb—the berries were a pleasant enhancement in regards to both color and flavor.

    For the batter:
    ½ cup butter
    1 ½ cup sugar
    1 egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    2 cups flour
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    ½ teaspoon salt
    1 cup buttermilk or sour milk (to make sour milk: pour a couple glugs of lemon juice or vinegar into the bottom of the one-cup measuring cup before filling the cup up to the brim with the milk)
    2 cups rhubarb, chopped, tossed with 1 tablespoon cornstarch

    Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and beat some more. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt (that you have already mixed together in another bowl) alternately with the buttermilk. Do not over-beat. Gently stir the rhubarb into the batter and pour the mixture into a greased, 9 x 13 pan.

    For the topping:
    1/4 cup butter
    2 teaspoons cinnamon
    1 cup brown sugar

    Mix together with your fingers and sprinkle over the top of the rhubarb batter.

    Bake the cake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

  • Autumn Comfort

    As you all know, ‘tis the season for pumpkins and sausage, and I just found a splendidly homey, yet gourmet-ish, recipe that combines the two: sauteed onions and garlic, browned sausage, white wine, fresh sage, pumpkin, cream, nutmeg, and cinnamon, with Parmesan cheese grated on top. If I had to categorize my food, this sauce would fit under the title of October Comfort Food; it goes hand-in-hand with wood stoves and crunchy leaves.

    Pumpkin-Sausage Cream Sauce
    Adapted from Simply In Season

    1 pound, or less, bulk sausage
    1 onion, chopped
    4 cloves garlic, minced
    1 bay leaf
    1-2 tablespoons fresh sage
    1 cup white wine
    1 cup water
    1 cup pumpkin, cooked and mashed
    ½ cup cream
    one or two pinches cinnamon
    1/4 – ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    salt and black pepper as needed
    Parmesan cheese, optional

    Brown the sausage in a kettle or skillet. Scoop the sausage into a bowl and set aside. Add a little white wine to the pan to deglaze it, and add the onion and garlic and, if necessary, a little olive oil, and saute until golden and soft. Add the bay leaf, sage, and wine and simmer for a couple minutes to reduce the liquid by about half. Add the water and pumpkin and heat through. Add the sausage. Turn the heat down to low and pour the cream into the sauce, making sure that it does not bubble (you don’t want it to curdle). Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Serve the cream sauce over pasta (or rice), sprinkling it with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

  • A Cold Nap

    My babies are sleeping. Shh.

    Because I did a lot of baking over the past couple weeks and now have quite the stash of bread in the freezer, I decided to put the babies to sleep for a week or two. There’s no need to be using up all that flour if I’m not needing it. So I filled two pint jars three-quarters of the way full, one with the whole wheat starter and the other with the white. I labeled and dated the jars and popped them in the fridge.

    It’s nice to have a break from the rigorous feeding schedule, but I know I’ll be glad to see my babies again when I wake them back up. Frozen sourdough bread is plenty good, but there is nothing like a hot loaf of crusty bread, straight from the oven. Mmm. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.