• Nuggets From….

    my Exceptionally Talented Therapist Friend:

    1. What everyone needs is to be delighted in.

    2. Each of your children has a specific emotional need that only you can meet. Remember, each child connects differently with each parent. Figure out what that emotional connecting point is for each of your children, and then refer back to it often—it will help you cut through all the extemporaneous crap and get to the core of what they really need.

    I’m still mulling over those gems, and I think I will be for a very long time.

  • A Little Elaboration

    So I didn’t get around to writing about all the Christmas cookies I made: the Cranberry-Orange Biscotti, or the Rosemary-Pine Nut Shortbread, or the Raspberry-Cream Cheese Brownies (chicken food—under-baked), or the Turtle Bars (more chicken food—overly-browned pecans), but I’m just going to forgive myself and move on. There’s always next year…

    I don’t even really know where to go with this post. I’m out of practice, writing-wise, and I don’t know how to say everything, or what to say of anything, so maybe I’ll say nothing. Nah, that’s too easy. How about a brief rundown of the past week, with a little elaboration on the points of interest?

    In regards to my mother’s Birthday Bash, you can read about it here. Let me just add that when Yo-Yo heard that his Grandmommy was now sixty, he said something like, “She doesn’t even look old!”

    That Sunday, after Mr. Handsome had walked around popping balloons and tearing down the paper chains, the Northern and Southern cousins descended upon us, and our house was immediately filled to the brim.

    It was freezing cold outside, but that didn’t stop the children, even the Southern ones, from periodically dashing outside to jump on the trampoline.

    And it didn’t stop me from frying donuts, outside on the porch.

    Niece Lauren

    When I set my mind on making donuts, there isn’t much that can stop me. Not even 15 degree weather. It was cold, people, cold! As in, leave a wet dishcloth on the picnic table and it promptly freezes solid. As in, take only one tray of the risen donuts outside at a time, plop them into the hot oil, and then rush the tray with its few remaining donuts back into the house before they turn into Dough Rocks.

    Little Niece Claire noticed that my hands were freezing so she thoughtfully brought me her Mama Kate’s big, red, warm mittens to wear. Bless her little heart.

    Here she is, chipmunking a donut while simultaneously glazing donuts and trying not to smile.

    I think homemade donuts taste better in freezing cold weather.

    Because trying to stay warm by jumping up and down and shivering violently does wonders for an appetite.

    Which is good when there are donuts around.

    That’s why it’s good to make donuts in cold weather.

    On Monday evening the Southern Cousins performed Lumbricus Terrestris, a play in six parts.

    It was The Real Thing—little neon wavy things distributed pre-show to the audience, props, memorized lines, songs, and even a game show complete with customized prizes for each mesmerized child.

    Then the cousins left, and we had Major Meltdown on Christmas Eve. Ho! Ho! Ho! Come bedtime, Mr. Handsome and I were so exhausted that we simply could not stay up to get the stockings filled, so we set our alarm for midnight and went to bed with the kids. In the wee hours of the morning we stuffed stockings, left a note from Santa, ate the plate of cookies for Santa, put Rudolph’s carrot back in the crisper, set out a basket of peanuts (from Santa), left another little note from Santa on the whiteboard in the hallway, and then stumbled back up to bed…

    Only to be awakened by Sweetsie at two o’clock—she was worried that Santa might get stuck in the chimney. For every hour or so, for the rest of the night, she would say, “Mama, mama, MAMA! Is it morning yet? Is it Christmas yet?”

    It was a rough night.

    (By the way, let me say here that we have always been very clear with our children that Santa is not real. However, back a couple years, despite our deliberate explanations, Yo-Yo insisted that Santa was indeed real. Mr. Handsome and I studied our options and then decided, What the heck, let’s have some fun with this.

    Now, Yo-Yo and Miss Becca Boo are fully aware that Santa is not real, but even so, after hearing me give Sweetsie a big lecture on the Santa Myth, Yo-Yo said, “Can’t we just pretend that Santa’s real? I like it better that way.” I told him that yes, we would do that, but I just needed to make sure that Sweetsie understood that we were playing a game.

    Apparently, if she’s up at night fretting over Santa getting his big rear jammed in our chimney, then she’s a little fuzzy as to the nature of this game. But at least I’m not lying.)

    Christmas Day was low-key. Well, as low-key as a day can be when your children are subsisting on a corn syrup-based diet. They did not have naps, and we put them to bed at a blessedly decent hour, after which we got to watch a movie, just the two of us, and then go to bed at a not-so decent hour.

    The next morning we were two hours late getting off for our trip to PA. Two hours! I think you can determine for yourselves, based on that information, on the texture (rough, smooth, satiny, coarse, prickly) of our morning.

    We visited the Great G’s, and then my girlfriend Amber, who has moved back into her growing-up home. (Remember that house, the one I raved about?) On the car ride there, I regaled my children with all sorts of stories, about how the little ditch at the edge of the yard turns into a stream after it rains, about the two sets of staircases, about the five-story barn and how Amber and I pretended to be vets with all the barn cats, about the two-seater outhouse, about the fabulous basement—one of the rooms of which sometimes gets several inches of water on the floor. About, about, about…

    By the time we turned into the mile-long driveway, my kids were psyched. They were pumped. They were twitching and chattering. We let them unbuckle their seatbelts (“Keep your butts on your seats!”) and perch on the edge of their seats, straining to be the first to see the bigger-than-life old stone house. Imagine their thrills (and mine) when we came to the little culvert-bridge and saw that the little gully was filled with water: “It’s a creek! It’s a creek!” We pulled up to the house, parked the van, and the kids jumped out and took off running. Before we could turn around and say “Hi, Amber, Merry Christmas”, they were the whole way down across the giant yard, on the other side of the creak, soaked and mud-spattered.

    After shucking shoes and changing only the most-soaked clothing items, I gave the children a tour of the house (Guess what! The floor of the basement’s Bread Room was covered in water!) and then settled down to visit with Amber in the kitchen. Later we learned that the kids went wading … in the basement. But of course. It was clear that the kids had caught my enthusiasm for the place.

    Then back into the van for a short little drive over to my Aunt Val’s where we met up with the rest of the family and for the next 24 hours we feasted and sang (fiddle, banjo, guitars, the spoons, a shaker, harmonica, a washtub bass), watched YouTube videos, played Take One, held the babies, congratulated the newly engaged couple, told stories and gossiped. Then last night after dark, we threw the melting down kids into the car and drove home through pea-soup fog, getting fabulously lost on I83 and having a crash-bang yelling fight, and then, upon finally getting home, falling into bed at midnight.

    Miss Becca Boo and Yo-Yo were Mary and Joseph at church this morning, and now we are home, home, home. We’re eating cereal, reading books, cleaning and unpacking, doing laundry, and now I am sitting in my bed, the computer propped up on the Usborne Time Traveler Book, listening to Becca Boo’s radio belt out fuzzily “What a Beautiful Mess I’m In” (aaah-ah, ah-aaah), blogging. It’s an Ah-Moment, most definitely.


  • On Its Own

    I frittered away most of Thursday in a state of slow-motion panic. The majority of the day was spent sitting at the kitchen table, trying to make sense of the five pages, front and back, of scrawled notes spread out before me. I had to come up with a final menu and the corresponding to-do list, as well as the grocery list, or rather two or three grocery lists since I couldn’t buy all the produce on Thursday because it would be starting to rot come next Tuesday and Wednesday when I would finally be ready to use it. I struggled through though, and by the time I went to bed that evening I had not only made my lists, but I had also gone grocery shopping, after which I picked over my Nicaraguan red beans while simultaneously attending a church council meeting.

    I’m a skilled woman. Or else obsessed. Or else just skilled at being obsessed.

    Right now there is a lull in all the craziness. My family (most of it) is here, the kids are resting, and everyone is lazing around, chatting and snoozing. In another hour it will be time for Mom’s little birthday bash, but for now, I have my coffee and my computer and all is well.

    So, would you like another cookie recipe?

    I said I would try to write up the recipes for all the Christmas cookies I make, but sadly enough, I’ve fallen short of my goal. That doesn’t stop me from trying to catch up though.

    Like I said, I’m skillfully obsessed.

    These little cookies are oh-so-dainty, but yet they have Great Presence. They are a complete piece of dessert. You can’t cheat with them, cutting one piece extra big, or secretly nibbling away at the edges. Which is kind of sad.

    But what it lacks in snitching availability it makes up for in flavor. Each cookie stands on its own, and each cookie demands to be lingered over, savored, and enjoyed. And for the obsessed, that can be a pretty tall order. You know, repeated tastings and all that jazz.

    Sometimes it pays to be obsessed.

    Lemon Cheesecake Tassies
    Adapted from The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett

    For the dough:
    3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, flour
    5 tablespoons butter, cut into smaller chunks
    1 large egg yolk
    ½ teaspoon vanilla
    2 ½ tablespoons sugar
    ½ teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated or chopped
    pinch of salt

    Combine the flour and butter in a food processor and pulse until it has turned into fine crumbs. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients and then pour them into the processor. Pulse briefly, just until combined.

    Using your hands, gently press the crumbly dough mixture together into a ball of dough. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces.

    Grease a 24-cup minimuffin pan, and press each little ball of dough into the muffin cups, shaping it so the dough rises up the sides. Bake the crusts in a 350 degree oven for 12-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

    For the filling:
    1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
    1/3 cup sugar
    1 large egg
    1 1/4 teaspoons lemon zest, finely grated or chopped
    2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
    ½ teaspoon vanilla
    About 2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam, well-stirred

    Process all the ingredients, except for the raspberry jam, in the food processor until creamy and smooth. Scoop the mixture into the pre-baked crusts (there may be a little filling leftover—pour it into a little ramekin and bake it separately), making a slight indentation in the batter. Return the tassies to the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes. Put a little dollop of jam on top of each tassie and pop them back in the oven for another 3-5 minutes, or until the filling is puffed and brown.

    Leave the tassies in the muffin pans to cool, though you may want to run a knife around the edge to loosen them up (especially in the places where some of the jam is touching the edge of the pan). Once the tassies are completely cool, remove them from the pan.

    To freeze: Place the tassies in a plastic container, putting wax paper between the layers.

  • Black Boots and My Long-Necked Deficit

    I told you I would tell you about this bread, Chocolate-Sour Cherry, but I just haven’t gotten around to it till now.

    The truth is, I don’t like this recipe, and I feel guilty for not liking it. I mean, who in their right mind doesn’t like chocolate-sour cherry bread? I imagine that long-legged, long-necked, black-boot-wearing French women eat it all the time. Probably even for breakfast.

    Maybe I need to put on my black boots and try it again. It might taste different then.

    But I can’t fix the long-neck deficit.

    The other possibility is that I’m not making it right. But this last time I followed the recipe exactly. I used my own dried cherries and good chocolate. But still, I just don’t like it. It’s too dry. And I don’t like the sourdough-bread-turned-chocolate flavor.

    I guess I’m just not sophisticated enough.

    However, I know there are others out there who have longer necks than me, so I’ll take the time to type up the recipe for you. You’re welcome.

    Chocolate-Sour Cherry Bread
    Adapted from Breads from the La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton

    ½ cup (4 ounces) cool water
    2 teaspoons yeast
    2/3 cup (6 ounces) white starter
    5 ½ tablespoons (1 ounce) dark cocoa powder, unsweetened
    1/4 cup (2 ounces) sugar
    2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons, (10 ½ ounces) bread flour
    4 tablespoons (2 ounces) butter, cut into smaller pieces
    1 ½ teaspoons salt
    2/3 cup (3 ounces) dried sour cherries, unsweetened
    4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into ½-inch chunks

    Put the first six ingredients (down through the flour) in the mixing bowl and mix for three minutes. While the mixer is still running, add the butter, a tablespoon at a time. After the butter has been incorporated, add the salt and mix for about nine more minutes. Add the cherries and chocolate and mix for just a couple minutes, until it is well blended.

    Transfer the dough to a clean, oiled bowl, cover with a shower cap let sit at room temperature for a couple hours. At that point, cut the dough into the desired sizes and shape into loaves (I made four mini-loaves, but you can also make two regular bread loaves, though they will be small). Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

    The following morning, remove the loaves of bread from the refrigerator, take off the plastic wrap, and cover the loaves with a cloth. When the dough has reached a temperature of 64 degrees, dock the tops (I think I forgot to dock mine), and bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

  • Christmas Gifts

    I like to give little gifts to our neighbors at Christmas time. Yes, it’s cliche. Yes, everybody else does it. Yes, I know I’m not original. But that’s okay. The Christmas season provides a window of opportunity to show people that I care for them. I like that—it’s a good thing, in my mind. Besides, I’m already in the over-do-it-in-the-kitchen mode, so just putting myself out a little further is not that much of a stretch.

    We don’t know many of our neighbors, at least not well. Many of them are elderly (I rely on the fact that they are probably hard of hearing—helps me to feel less guilty about all the screaming and hollering that emits from our living quarters), and the rest are mostly adults who have jobs and stay indoors when they are home. We kind of rule our neck of the woods.

    I know our neighbors are kind folk, deserving of a little plate of Christmas goodies. I know this, merely because they have not turned us in, yet. I’m hedging my bets that one little plate of orange-cranberry sweet rolls or some chocolate-covered toffee to buy us one more year of goodwill.

    I’m such a pragmatic person.

    This year I’m giving little loaves of Country-White sourdough bread. I have a bunch of the little loaves stashed in our freezer, destined for our neighbors’ gullets. (And then I went above and beyond my intended giving-plan and sent some little loaves with Mr. Handsome when he ran into town the other afternoon—those loaves went to our pastors and church elders and church secretary. No, I am not buying my way into heaven! I can’t believe you just thought that! Come on, people, it’s Christmas. Can’t a body just want to give a gift without their motives being scrutinized? Geez.)

    The way the plastic wrap stands up on top of the loaves, it makes them look like they just stuck their doughy fingers in a light socket and got electrocuted. It makes me feel rather quaint, giving electrocuted baked goods away as Christmas gifts.

  • But Then

    I am opposed to healthy desserts. I am averse to them. I loath them. I am aggressive in my defiance towards them (thank you, Word Perfect Prompt-As-You-Go). Reduced-fat cream cheese? No way. Whole wheat cookies? Blech. Applesauce in place of oil, or yogurt in place of sour cream? I don’t think so.

    Desserts are supposed to be rich and sweet, made from the best of butters and sugars and chocolates and creams. I would much rather eat a small piece of deliciously calorie-laden cheesecake any day, instead of a medium-sized piece of pallid reduced-fat, reduced-sugar cheesecake. (Of course, the “small” piece of cheesecake is for theoretical purposes only.)

    But then I ate these walnut balls, and I’m having to eat my words, along with them.

    These cookies are rich, decadent, and divinely delicious, but they are also, I still can hardly believe this, healthy. As in, their base consists of ground-up walnuts. And there is some whole wheat flour in them. And flax meal.

    Flax meal in cookies? I know! I felt the same way! I could handle the nuts alright, but the whole wheat flour was pushing it, and then to add flax? Good heavens, I thought, Someone has surely gone over the deep end! But, this recipe works. It not only works, it also jives and jitters and does the two-step Mombo-Bombo. (I made that up.)

    And I have yet to even mention the clincher: there is no refined sugar. Instead, the recipe calls for maple syrup. (And dark chocolate chips, but they do not, I repeat, do not, count as a refined sugar.)

    I can not believe how much I love these cookies. If I had to pick just one of the many cookies that are crammed into my freezer to eat, right now, I would choose the walnut balls. The texture is superb—chewy, dense, tender. And the flavor is deep: dark and nutty, with a just a touch of bitter. And then there is the chocolate.

    Now, I will admit that the final cookie looked a little too healthy to suit me. They had a bit of a grayish hue to them, making them look dull and unappetizing (devious little things), but I, brilliant cook that I am, remedied that problem by rolling the little sweets in a some powdered sugar. Then they just looked white and sweet … and totally plain.

    Like I said, devious little buggers.

    I am no longer opposed to healthy desserts—it’s just not possible, after eating these walnut balls. Therefore, I now believe that healthy desserts are fine, as long as they are made from pure ingredients, and as long as the end result is both rich and decadent.

    Walnut Balls
    Recipe gifted to me, via cell phone, by my girlfriend Linell

    2 ½ cups English walnuts
    2/3 cup whole wheat flour
    1/3 cup flax meal
    ½ cup, plus a little drizzle more, maple syrup
    1 teaspoons salt, scant
    2 teaspoons vanilla
    1/3 cup chocolate chips (I used mini chips)
    Powdered sugar, for rolling

    Grind the walnuts to a fine powder in a food processor. Dump the ground nuts into a bowl and add the flour, flax, and salt. Stir well. Add the vanilla and maple syrup and mix until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Shape the cookies into small balls, the size of a large gum ball, and line them up on a cookie sheet. They do not change shape while baking, so you’ll probably be able to fit them all on one cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown and the tops are tinged with brown.

    While the cookies are still warm, roll them in powdered sugar, and then roll them in powdered sugar once more before serving.

    These cookies freeze well, but will need to be rolled in powdered sugar again before serving (they get all blotchy and mottled in the freezer), so only roll them in sugar once before freezing—save the second rolling for when you get them out to eat. Otherwise, you will be rolling them three times, and that would totally defeat the Healthy Cookie Effect.

    Yield: not enough.

  • Rolls

    I know I’m done with baking bread, for now, but that doesn’t mean I’m done talking about bread. I don’t ever really run out of things to say, bread or otherwise—that’s just not something I struggle with, a lack of words.

    I have been getting brave with my bread baking. I used to make just the boules, but now I’ve broken with tradition and made not only loaves, but also rolls.

    Silverton does have recipes for rolls in her book, of course, but I didn’t even take a peek at those when I started making my own. I just shaped the rolls, set them in a greased pan, did the overnight refrigerator proofing, and then baked them the following day. What makes them so fun, is docking them. I did get this idea from Silverton, I’ll admit, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling a sense of ownership in the delightful process.

    To dock rolls, take a pair of kitchen scissors and snip the tops of the rolls, first one way,

    and then the other,

    to make a nice little X.

    You could say the rolls look kind of spiked, scared almost, but I think they look cute. And snip-snipping their tops is kitchen work at its most thrilling. You gotta give it a try.

  • The Procedure

    Miss Becca Boo was awake, off and on during the night, crying and wailing, cradling her sore hand. Mr. Handsome spent the night with her, and once when I walked over to re-tuck-in The Baby Nickel, I heard him singing to her.

    When she came downstairs this morning, she lay on the sofa and cried from the pain. Nonstop.

    Something clearly had to be done.

    So I got on the computer and googled “relieving pressure to a smashed finger”. Up came several different articles, all of them consistent with each other, so when Mr. Handsome came downstairs, I filled him in (speaking in my hush-hush voice) on what we needed to do. He only slightly raised his eyebrows at me, surprised that I was up to such a plan, and then he quietly went about helping me set up shop:

    First, Mr. Handsome put a DVD (BBC’s Planet Earth) in the computer and arranged the kids on stools in such a way that Miss Becca Boo, who was sitting on her stool at the kitchen table, had a clear shot of the computer screen.

    Second, I laid her hand on a clean rag. She refused to stop holding her sore hand with her good hand, so…

    Third, I gave her a candy cane to hold with her other hand.

    Fourth, Mr. Handsome sterilized the fingernail, using a Q-tip dipped in alcohol.

    Fifth, I fished a metal paper clip out of the Christmas ornament box and straightened it out.

    Sixth, using a pair of pliers, I held the paper clip over the flame of a votive candle.

    We were set to go.

    But then, when Mr. Handsome saw how I was heating up the paper clip, he said, “It will take forever to get red-hot that way. Hold on a minute.” And out the door he dashed, back in a couple seconds with … Oh, good grief! A blowtorch!

    Miss Becca Boo took one look at the evil-looking weapon in Mr. Handsome’s hand and freaked out. I didn’t blame her. My innards were already in a twist. Just the thought of what we were about to do made me feel ill, like how you feel when you get to a bad scene in a movie. I sucked in my tumultuous tummy and played Calm As A Cucumber.

    Mr. Handsome fetched a towel from the bathroom, and I held it up by Miss Becca Boo’s face, creating a shield between her and the Scene of Surgery, just like how they did for me when Yo-Yo was cut out of my tummy.

    Then, Mr. Handsome lit up the blowtorch—Whoooosh! Miss Becca Boo wailed, the kids yelled that they couldn’t hear the movie, and I whispered loudly into her ear, “Look at those bison! Suck your candy cane!”

    More whooshing. Then all was quiet. I could smell burning hair, or rather, fingernail. After a second, Mr. Handsome tapped my arm and told me to look. And there was her purple fingernail, blood oozing out through the hole.

    Mr. Handsome poured some hydrogen peroxide into a bowl and I added warm water, but Miss Becca Boo refused to put her hand in the water.

    “It won’t hurt,” I told her.

    “Did this ever happen to you?” she asked me.

    “No,” I admitted. “But it happened to Shannon when she was little. Would you like to talk to her?”

    So I called Shannon and held the phone to Miss Becca Boo’s ear, and after the phone call, she slowly eased her hand into the water.

    And thus ended the morning’s medical procedure. We put our professional surgical instruments whence ere they came: the alcohol and peroxide to the bathroom cupboard, the dirty rags to the laundry, the votive candle to the center of the table, and the blowtorch to the back of the pick-up truck. I wiped down the table (I think), and we pulled up our stools and dug into our bowls of granola and Corn Chex.

  • Friends Are For Sharing Pain, and Since You Are My Friends…

    Miss Becca Boo had an awkward encounter with a window sash on Saturday. I didn’t see what happened, but apparently, when she opened the window, she smashed her finger … somehow.

    At first, it was just a little bit purple and swollen, but by the end of the day it was all-the-way swollen.

    I showed it to Nurse Friend Vi, who sat behind us in church yesterday, and she said it looks okay, not smashed, broken, or infected. I should just give her Ibuprofren on a regular basis, and make sure no red streaks materialize.

    Red streaks—yikes!

    It keeps looking worse, but she’s eating and playing, albeit with her injured hand gingerly held out before her. (She is having some trouble sleeping, even with the painkillers.)

    Just looking at her mutilated finger makes me feel rather ill. I just wanted to share that with you.

  • Frenzied Finale

    I finished up the last of the bread baking on Friday.

    I’m sick of baking bread, as in I-can-hardly-stand-to-eat-bread-anymore sick. My refrigerator seemed to always be loaded down with the proofing bread (and now it’s my freezer that’s loaded down), and I was putting so much of my energy into feeding the starters and mixing and shaping and baking when I already had the extra work of Christmas baking and menu planning. I was spending way too much time in the kitchen, so it’s with an enormous sigh of relief that I put the baby away.

    I will not bake more sourdough till 2009. Merry Christmas!