• Why I don’t teach my kids science

    I’m not anti-science. Not at all. My father is a science teacher and a heck of a good one at that. (I had him in 8th grade for the unit on reproduction. I was not embarrassed, though I did harbor a secret fear that he would come into the room with his zipper down. This was/is not a problem of his, so I’m not sure where that fear came from, but I’m just stating the facts. My fear was never realized, thank goodness, and I loved having him as my teacher.) In high school I took as many science classes as I could get away with and I aced each one. I won in state science fairs more than once. Science was grand. Then I went to college and took the one required class of basic science and that was that. But still, I like science.

    I just don’t teach it to my kids.

    Okay, so that’s kind of a lie. I do teach them a leedle bitty bit of science, mostly in the form of reading aloud to them about things like the periodic table of elements, Experiments They Could Do at Home But Probably Shouldn’t, and stuff like that. We watch videos, too: “The world’s most incredible stuntman” (physics is a blast until the parachute doesn’t open) and Newton’s Apple and anything and everything from National Geographic.

    But I don’t have a science curriculum and I don’t do science projects. No vinegar and baking soda volcanoes (though somehow the kids got into them anyway), no worm digging, no squealing over spider webs.

    Though a couple weeks ago I did notice that there was a very flat, dehydrated frog in the driveway. For days it reclined on the gravel right behind where I park the van. I realized it was a good teaching opportunity and that I should show it to the kids. But then, I thought, they will pick it up and play with it and quite possibly dismember it and I’ll find bits of dried froggy leather all over the porch. So I didn’t say a word.

    Until Saturday when “there’s a dried-up frog in the driveway behind the van” just kind of popped out of my mouth. Miss Beccaboo swooped down and snatched it up. She danced it around her papa’s head till he told her to knock it off (not his head, the annoying behavior) and then arranged it artfully on the porch banister. Then she-of-the-dry-humor said, “I think what it needs is a little bit of water,” and made like she was going to go get a bowl.

    “No,” I managed to get out between loud guffaws, images of a bloated, stinky, slimy frog floating in a bowl on my kitchen counter. “You are not. Don’t even think about it.”

    I don’t like messes (unless they are self-made), and I don’t have tons of energy to invest in lots of scientific hoopla. (I get swamped just making meals and dealing with attitudes, both theirs and mine.) But when it comes down to it, at this point in the game I don’t think I could beat what they glean from everyday life. Science, minus the labeling and correct terminology, just happens around here. Here are three examples:

    1. When the kids were at my sister-in-law’s house the other day, she helped them collect caterpillars and nestle them into jars with leaves and twigs. Within a day, the shelf in Miss Beccaboo’s room held an array of caterpillar-and-leaf-stuffed jars. She faithfully feeds the worms (that’s what I call them), watches them make their cocoons, and then as they emerge, sets them free. I admire the pretty butterflies when she asks me to (all the while silently wondering if we’re perpetuating an unwanted breed of caterpillars, the kind that will next year wreak havoc with my dill and basil), and then tell her to please get her gross, disgusting, revolting jars off my kitchen counter.

    2. The other day I ordered all the kids out to the garden to help me weed the strawberry patch. The kids worked hard, but they kept getting distracted by bugs and things. There’s nothing like a boring job to invite exploration and creativity! At one point, The Baby Nickel caught a grasshopper and opened its mouth to check for teeth. People plan little lessons around stuff like this, it occurred to me. They go on excursions and look under leaves. And me? I say, “Cool, hon. Now will you please put the poor grasshopper down and PULL THE WEEDS.”

    3. The kids have been having a great time in the tomato patch lately. They spear rotten tomatoes with long sticks and then see who can wing the tomatoes the farthest. There’s physics in that, you know. Not that they know that, but I like to think that when they hit physics class and learn about Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, they’ll say, “Oh yeah, the tomatoes on sticks. We know all about that already.”

    I’ll get more structured as the kids get older. In fact, I’m already digging around for a second-hand microscope. And I’d like to do some molecular biology with them this year. (That’s fancy talk for “study cells”). But in the meantime, I’ll settle for whatever comes along. If I’m in the mood, I may even seize upon it. (Maybe next time the dog kills a groundhog, I’ll hand the kids a knife and tell them to bring me the liver. Not to eat, though.)

    The following pictures have nothing to do with the above subject matter, except that they’re of the kids. Last night they hooked some chains up to the wagon and commenced to pretending they were horses (or rickshaw drivers, perhaps?) and wild wagon drivers. They went fast.

    So fast, in fact, that it appears that the Miss Beccaboo Horse is getting spirited away into the Celestial Heavens.

    It got a little crazy…

    They were some stunts…

    And some crashes…

    Then they got bored and scooted the trampoline under the swing set, something they’re not allowed to do.

    I stood on the deck and snapped pictures.

    Then I called to Mr. Handsome who was out working in the barn. “Time for baths. Call the kids,” I said. After which I stepped back into the kitchen to make them some bedtime PB and J sandwiches, allowing him put a stop to their game. I’m so generous that way.

    This same time, years previous: losing my marbles

  • The simplest sauce

    I didn’t grow up with home-canned spaghetti and pizza sauce. Up until several years ago when I started making my own, I was content to add a couple cans of plain, store-bought tomato sauce to a pot of sauteed onions, garlic, green peppers, and herbs. It worked, and I was happy.

    But then I started experimenting with my own sauce and promptly fell in love with both the method and the results. It’s a slow process, and not a very pretty one, truth be told, one that involves buckets of sweat and boatloads of dirty dishes. Broken down, the process goes like so: the tomato picking (or acquiring), the blanching, peeling, and coring, the chopping, simmering, and pureeing, and then, of course, the canning. If you’re making a pizza or spaghetti sauce, there’s also the onions, garlic, and peppers to clean, chop, and saute, the fresh herbs to gather, clean, chop, and measure, and so on and so on, till your kitchen walls are redly be-speckled and you’re swearing under your breath.

    I totally understand why some people might be daunted. Heck, I’m daunted some days.

    And yet, I still do it. Keeping one eye cocked on the lazily simmering pot of tomatoes as it reduces, playing chemist with fresh and dried herbs, ladling the final product into pint jars—it’s a process packed with satisfaction, dirty kitchen be damned.

    Over the past couple days, I’ve been experimenting with some new tomato sauces. My friend (I think she took pity on me after looking at pictures of our dismal garden) called me up to see if I wanted two five-gallon buckets of tomatoes. Well, duh, yes.

    The day she called, I had gleaned several pounds of tomatoes from our pathetic garden and was already experimenting with SouleMama’s carrot tomato soup, so when the buckets of tomatoes landed in my lap, I happily branched out to experiment with a new pizza sauce (more on that later) and this roasted tomato sauce.

    It’s the simplest sauce I’ve made to date, so listen up, people. There are only three steps.

    1. Roast: toss halved tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them in a hot oven for three-quarters of an hour.

    2. Blend: whiz them up with a hand-held immersion blender (Eh? You have not a magic kitchen wand? Fool! Cheapskate! You mocketh the culinary arts with your inauthentic wizardry! Take thyself to a kitchen store and buy one henceforth! Now, away with you!)

    3. Can: ladle into mason jars and process in a hot water bath.

    Attention Weary Kitchen Workers! Please note, there is no blanching, no peeling, and no stove-top reducing. Verily, I tell you, straighten your aching shoulders and attack those last few tomatoes with renewed vigor! Hark, your job is nearly done! Delicious sauce will soon be yours.

    And is it ever delicious, oh my. Thanks to the time in the oven, the sauce is richly flavored and caramel-y sweet. It’s gorgeous, too—a dark red, flecked with bits of black from the tomatoes’ blistered backs. Vibrant, musky, sexy, oo-la-la, and yum. It’s all of that, and more.

    Roasted Tomato Sauce

    I add citric acid (purchased in the canning section of my grocery store) to the jars when canning as a precaution against the olive oil’s neutralizing qualities; if you omit the oil (but don’t!—it tastes so good), there is no need for the acid.

    8-9 pounds paste tomatoes, washed, cored, and halved
    ½ cup olive oil
    sea salt
    ½ – 1 teaspoon black pepper
    citric acid, to add to the jars before/if canning

    Toss the tomatoes with the olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper. Divide them between two large baking sheets and bake at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through. The pans will fill up with tomato juice (careful when turning!) and some of the tomato tops will blister black.

    Dump the roasted tomatoes into a large stock-pot and whiz well with an immersion blender. Or, if you no magic kitchen wand, you can get the job done with a blender. (If, by any chance, your sauce isn’t as thick as you’d like, now’s the time to cook it down a bit more—simply cook on low heat, stirring every few minutes.)

    Season well (I added another tablespoon of salt, a little at a time, tasting after each addition) and ladle the sauce into jars. Add citric acid (½ teaspoon for quart jars, 1/4 teaspoon for pints), wipe the rims, lid, and process the jars in a water bath—once the water boils, allow 15 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts.

    Yield: approximately 6 pints

    This same time, years previous: apple crisp topping, pasta with sauteed peppers and onions

  • Thoughts I have

    Have you ever heard of making pesto with butter? I hadn’t until several weeks ago, and then I made it as fast as possible because it involved butter and I lurve my buttah.

    Perhaps it’s no coincidence that if you remove the last two letters of the word “butter” you get “butt.” It’s where butter goes.

    I’m still taking belly dancing. I often practice before bed. My room is the only place in the house with a full-length mirror (though I have to open the closet door to get to it), and before bed is the only time I have when I can concentrate on my groovy moves without a pack of kids hip-boinking me.

    Mr. Handsome is not amused by my antics. He spends his days in chimneys, under houses, on roofs, inside drippy showers, rolling around in insulation, whacking his thumb with hammers (though I’m sure he’ll want me to tell you that only happens once in a blue moon as he’s an accomplished carpenter who knows the difference between a digit and a nail) and comes home completely beat. So when I start tick-tocking across the carpet, he makes a great show of loudly groaning, flopping over on his belly, and covering his head with his pillow. Considering that belly dancing is supposed to be a bit on the sensual side, this does not bode well—for me as an up-and-coming belly dance star … or for our relationship.

    But still, I practice. I practice all the moves: the tush-push, the snake arms, the Egyptian, the hip slides, the hip circles, the tail bone circles, etc. I am very dedicated.

    I am not nearly so dedicated about my running. I had been running first thing most mornings, but now that a chill darkness is seeping into my running time, I dropped it faster than a hot potato. I’d rather go for a walk in the late afternoon or do snake arms before bed.

    Didn’t this post start out about basil? Geez. The state of my brain is an absolute mess. Such helter-skelter thoughts I have.

    You know, they say that to write is to think clearly. I am living proof that this is a lie.

    Buttery Basil Pesto
    Adapted from Jennie of In Jennie’s Kitchen

    This pesto is creamier and less pungent than that of the straight olive oil variety. I don’t know that I like this kind better than the other, but everyone in my family loved it. I think they might have liked it better.

    There is one big plus to this version of pesto: it doesn’t turn an unappealing brown when exposed to air. In fact, I kept a loosely-covered jar of it in my fridge for several days and it didn’t change color at all. Amazing.

    1 ½ cup basil leaves
    2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
    ½ cup pine nuts
    ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/8 teaspoon black pepper
    8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, cut into 8 pieces
    ½ cup olive oil

    Combine the first six ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse till roughly chopped. Add the butter and pulse till well mixed. (It may form a large unwieldy ball—if it does that, cease pulsing.)

    While the machine is running, slowly add the olive oil (it will dissolve the unwieldy ball, if you have one) till the mixture is a creamy-nubbly mess.

    Store in the fridge for several days, well-covered, or freeze.

    Yield: enough pesto for two pounds of pasta.

    This same time, years previous: Basil Pesto (what a coincidence!)

  • Crazy good

    I am not an icing person. Yes, I like my icings (especially this one and this one and this one), but aside from a few chaste swipes while mixing and decorating, I don’t like to eat it straight up. Icing is to top off a cake, not to be masticated all by itself. That some people go to bakeries and buy shots of frosting turns my stomach. I’m much more about the cake part of the equation.

    You can probably see where this is going. I’ve already blown my predictable self out of the water by first twiddling my thumbs all summer long and then beginning our homeschool studies in FREAKIN’ AUGUST. Considering this track record, the following statement comes as no surprise: FORGET THE CAKE AND GIVE ME THE ICING. Not just any icing, mind you, but this one.

    Chocolate Malted Milk with a splash of strong coffee—whoa baby!

    I’ve gone from never eating a shot of icing to consuming close to about five while decorating the cupcakes. I ate it straight out of the bowl, swooped up off the counter (where I accidentally plopped copious quantities while trying to shove it into the decorator bag), and squirted directly out of the decorator tube onto my finger. I licked spoons. I scraped bowls. I was completely and totally out of control. I ate so much I got the shakes. To keep from eating myself into a coma, I plunged the dirty bowl under water and buried the decorator bag in the trash.

    Then I went on a long walk when Mr. Handsome came home. The fresh air set me straight. So straight, in fact, that I had a cupcake (with lots of icing) and milk for dessert with no ill effects. The Baby Nickel, on the other hand, went berserk.

    I don’t know anything about malted milk. I’m not a malted milk person. My mother didn’t feed me malt. (She fed me carob and to this day I abhor the stuff. Thankfully, her detour into Health Nut Land was short lived. Me and my brothers emerged relatively unscathed.) (Except for my carob abhorrence.) And Mr. Handsome didn’t take me to trendy hamburger joints for malted milkshakes when we were dating. He took me to Denny’s. And a football game. (I still don’t see the point of bulky men running around a field in tight little pants.) And to his brother’s wedding (we were mortifyingly late and there wasn’t even any hanky-panky involved; we were just lost, like normal). And to cheap movies. There were a few dark, country roads and some deserted church parking lots thrown in for, um, you know.

    And that’s about all we had time for because then we got married.

    Because I don’t know anything about malted milk, I really have nothing to say about this frosting. Anything I do say will make it sound unappetizing (it’s kind of grainy and tastes a bit like toasted barley) when in reality it is kind of grainy with a hint of toasted barley….and it tastes perfectly wonderful. Let’s just say, if you like malted milk, you’ll love this.

    One more thing: the addition of coffee shines through enough so that the kids noticed. I love it when coffee shines through.

    Chocolate Malted Milk Frosting

    If you are coffee adverse, swap it for milk or cream. If there is no chocolate malted milk on hand, plain malted milk will suffice.

    1 stick butter
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    ½ cup chocolate malted powder
    ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
    1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
    1/4 cup very strong coffee, cooled to room temperature
    1 tablespoon cream

    Cream together the butter, salt, and vanilla. Beat in the malt, cocoa, and sugar. Add the coffee and cream and beat till creamy smooth and it reaches a spreadable consistency, adding more cream if needed.

    This same time, years previous: Nectarine Cobbler and Odds and Ends

  • My life in points

    Point One: Something Weird
    Two days ago I was totally opposed to the idea of starting school lesson. Totally opposed to it, as in, IT’S FREAKIN’ CRAZY TO START SCHOOL IN AUGUST WHEN THERE ARE STILL TOMATOES ON THE VINE (not on mine, necessarily, but on somebody’s, I’m sure) AND KIDS IN BARE FEET AND WHIRRING FANS AND THE POOL’S OPEN AND WE’RE EATING CORN ON THE COB FOR SUPPER AND THE PEARS HAVEN’T EVEN COME IN YET!

    But then Tuesday came. It arrived rainy, overcast, and cold. “Cold” as is I shut windows and wore a sweat shirt over my all-day-long pajamas and shivered and baked things and then left the oven door open to warm the house. My kids thought they were turning into popsicles and went about wearing four t-shirts and two pairs of sweats each. I kid you not.

    And then something weird happened: I got The Back-To-School Bug. I stood there in my layered clothes and stared at my messy bookshelves (that are totally non-aesthetically pleasing but I don’t care because they get the job done and at this point in my life I’ve become more utilitarian that decorarian) and then I de-booked the shelves. I boxed up unused books (kind of—there’s still a large pile in the middle of the living room floor), trashed old workbooks, brought front-and-center the new, prettied up the baskets of art supplies, added missing supplies to my shopping list, and created a rainy-day or for-when-boredom-strikes basket and before I knew it, I was browsing some homeschool catalogues, picking out titles of books to borrow from the library and had labeled a folder “lesson plans.”

    It was all so surreal that I felt like I had to walk around myself on tippy-toe.

    It’s still overcast today, and I’m still in my pajamas. I weighed the pros and cons of whether or not I should switch gears (from summer to fall, you know) this week or next. Or the next. If I decided to start lessons, say tomorrow, would I regret it, say, tomorrow? Was an August start foolhardy? Would I regret it if I waited for a month? Was there anything else I should be doing? (Note: all my dilemma-ing was centered around moi and none of it around the kids or, heaven forbid, about the actual learning part of the equation.)

    While continuing my internal debate, I sat Yo-Yo down and discussed what his school schedule might look like; he was receptive. Then I decided chocolate cupcakes might help to smooth out the transition (that I hadn’t yet decided I’d make), so I baked a batch. Then at lunch, the cupcakes cooling on the counter, I announced to the kids that the next day we’d start lessons—tonight we’d eat cupcakes and tell Papa all our plans. They groaned, loudly, but the corners of their lips flirted with smiles. I saw.

    I won’t bore you with all the little details of our lesson plans, mostly because there aren’t many and because I might suddenly feel embarrassed because I cover subjects with broad sweeping strokes like“history” and “reading,” none of this “consonant blend” and “the modern age from 1850-2000″ stuff. I keep things vague and simple. I like to think it’s because it leaves space for all kinds of possibilities but it’s really because I don’t know enough to be specific. Don’t tell anyone, ‘kay?

    (Mr. Handsome is relieved, both audibly and visibly, when he sees me making moves to provide a little learning structure for our precious progeny. I think he harbors deep dark fears that our kids will grow up to be broom pushers because their mother was soooo laid back.

    Come to think of it, if they do become broom pushers, they’ll be mighty good ones since I’ve been coaching them in the Art of Broom Pushing. Porch-sweeping has dominated our August like you wouldn’t believe.)

    Point Two: My Daughter’s Outfit

    She made this herself.

    Yesterday (without permission, but I forgave her her trespasses this once) she cut off her pant legs to make shorts and cut off the sleeves of one of her shirts. She then put the shirt sleeves on her legs for leggings (though I don’t think she knows enough to call them leggings). First thing this morning, she sewed the sleeves-turned-leggings to her pants-turned-shorts.

    It makes my head spin to look at her.

    Point Three: The Garden
    It’s a blasted mess.

    It’s been this way for months.

    I blame the drought one hundred percent.

    Usually I can not understand how people find time to go anywhere over the summer months, but this year I understand. If you aren’t putting up obscene amounts of produce, then the summer is for flying free. Who knew?

    I didn’t fly, but I could’ve. Instead, I twiddled my thumbs almost completely off.

    I did get a couple buckets of potatoes, and some baskets of tomatoes came in towards the end of the season. We’ll have the dry beans to harvest and store. A small pittance it is, but I’ll take anything I can get.

    I’m hoping that this year’s dud-of-a-garden provides impetus for a kick-butt garden next year. We shall see….

    Point Four: Muffins
    I am hooked on these muffins. They are whole grain, tasty, and infinitely adaptable.

    Here they are, dressed up with blueberries, chunks of nectarine, and white chocolate chips.

    And here they appear as ginger-peach muffins.

    I didn’t take pictures of the red raspberry dark chocolate, but I really really liked them.

    The oatmeal needs to soak in the sour milk for at least one hour, but more often than not I let the mixture soak over night. To give me even more of a head start, I also mix together the dry ingredients and line the muffin tins the night before. With those several steps done, the muffins come together right quick in the morning.

    Basic Oatmeal Muffins
    Adapted from Aimee of Simple Bites

    Visit Aimee’s post to get more ideas for yummy variations.

    Keep in mind that the added dark or white chocolate greatly increase the yum factor.

    1 cup rolled oats
    1 cup milk
    1 teaspoon vinegar, either cider or white
    1/3 cup packed brown sugar
    1 egg, beaten
    ½ cup butter, melted and cooled a little
    ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
    ½ cup, plus 2 tablespoons, all-purpose flour
    1/3 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    ½ teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    ½ teaspoon cinnamon
    add-ins of your choosing (see below or here)

    Combine together the oats, milk, and vinegar. Cover and allow to rest at room temperature for at least on hour or over night.

    Mix together the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.

    Combine the soaked oats with the egg, brown sugar, and melted butter. Add the dry ingredients. Gently fold in the add-ins.

    Divide the batter between twelve lined muffin tins (they will be quite full). Bake at 375 degrees for 13-18 minutes.

    *Blueberry-Nectarine: add ½ cup blueberries, ½ cup diced, unpeeled nectarine, and ½ cup white chocolate chips

    *Red Raspberry Dark Chocolate: add one cup of red raspberries (I freeze mine first so they stir in without mushing) and ½ cup of dark chocolate chips/chunks

    *Ginger-Peach: replace the nutmeg with ½ teaspoon ground ginger; add 1/4 cup minced candied ginger, 1 cup diced peaches, and ½ cup white chocolate chips (this one was a hit at the most recent bellydance gathering)

    This same time, years previous: Earthy ponderations, part three and starting a new baby (this one is still going strong, though it’s napping at present)

  • Fourteen years: memories, lists, and a smidge of math

    Fourteen years ago, Mr. Handsome and I got married in my parents’ driveway under a black tarp, buckets of Queen Anne’s Lace at our feet, with fifty-some guests all comfy on metal folding chairs watching on.

    I hadn’t wanted to marry him that morning. He had arrived the day before in his little red Toyota Celica (we promptly dashed to the courthouse to sign the marriage papers, last minute for everything as was—and is—our custom) and then busied himself stringing lights around the garage/barn (that he had helped pour the floor for on his first visit to my house the last summer). But come Saturday morning of August 24, 1996, I decided I didn’t even really like the guy.

    I don’t remember what my last minute funk stemmed from. Perhaps he was acting overly goofy or arguing with me just for the heck of it. Whatever it was, I was suddenly excruciatingly aware that I’d be stuck with him (and his behavior) for the rest of my blessed life and I just wasn’t in the mood for it. But I knew I had made the decision to marry him in less stressful times, so I soldiered on, ever the martyr. And really, it wasn’t serious doubts I was having. I just didn’t, at that time, really, you know, like him.

    By the time the wedding started, I liked him again.

    We ate supper first, guests spilling over onto both porches and the yard, and then there were pictures and last-minute vow memorization. The service itself was simple—some scripture, some readings, a meditation, the vows, a few tears, and then a fierce hug as the sun went down.

    Homemade ice cream and cookies followed.

    In the bathroom, my brothers’ idea of a joke.

    It sounds like a small enough affair, simple and sweet, but my parents will tell you otherwise. For the seven-and-a-half weeks between engagement and wedding (we don’t mess around), they worked their tails off. To cope, they wrote up schedules and task lists for each month, and then, as the time drew near, for the week, and then, heaven help us!, for the hour. Here, let me read off some of what’s on the lists (thanks, scrapbook):

    Beginning of August…

    *house washing
    (yes, a basket of kittens were part of the decor, and for the little cousins to play with)
    *paint basket

    *black board


    *wash houseplants

    *paint patching
    *plan garage decor
    *buy flowers to plant

    *make lasagnas
    *clean oven racks

    *take down treehouse

    Hey, look at that. I’m only up to the 14th of August—we weren’t to be married for another ten whole days…

    *hang blinds
    *bath tiles

    *try corn? (we served fresh homegrown corn, off the cob)
    *make granola and hide

    *call about peaches
    (there was still regular canning to do)
    *ice blocks
    *lawn chairs?
    *bleach shower curtain
    *wash kitchen chairs and cupboards
    *put calves into goat pasture
    *take down fence for parking

    *trestle table on back porch

    *beautify bathroom

    And then for the 23rd…

    *clean (didn’t we do this already?)
    *tie dog and wash porch floors
    *bring home lasagnas

    My mother was so organized that come the day of the wedding, we all sat around bored.

    She had arranged for friends of theirs, two couples, to come work the kitchen while the wedding was going on. She wrote out a two-page guide for them. I get an enormous kick out of her very neat penciled instructions. It goes like this:

    3:30 Orientation

    after 4:00
    *put out butters

    *heat corn

    *arrange relish (carrots, celery, peppers, blk and green olives, cukes) and fruit (watermelon, grapes?) trays

    *put out breads and cover tightly (braided bread, round dark, sesame, oatmeal wheat)
    *put out soak pails

    *check bathrooms
    *thaw cookies on back porch

    semi last minute
    *set out drinks: tea, lemonade, water

    *light kitchen candles and outdoor citronella candles

    last minute
    *toss salad (lettuce, chopped eggs, bacon)

    *bring in lasagnas (girls will be baking these at Fountain Fire Hall and delivering them)

    *set out ice

    Very last minute: sing. Stay in tune and don’t bawl. (The four of them and my parents sang the dinner blessing, What is this place)

    during ceremony
    *check bathrooms

    *wash spoons and whatever else there’s time for
    *prepare ice cream—3 freezers (see directions in containers in fridge)

    She drew a little sign on the edge of the page with these words written inside:

    Light garage candles and plug in rafter lights
    immediately prior to ceremony if rainy;
    otherwise when ice cream making begins

    during ice cream turning (light picnic table candles when ice cream making begins)

    *put sauces into dishes
    *powder cookies (tea cakes)

    *arrange all cookies on trays (chocolate raspberry bars, molasses cookies, tea cakes, lemon bars)

    *set out cookies and sauces (strawberry, raspberry) on picnic tables along with small plates, napkins, spoons, pitcher of water with ice, stacked glasses

    That was just page one. Page two was a map of the kitchen with lines and arrows indicating traffic flow, as well as a diagram of the kitchen table showing how the food was to be arranged.

    *Pails for used silver on kitchen stove and picnic table at carport

    *trash bucket beside stove

    *trash bucket beside picnic table

    *extra corn on stove

    *extra lasagnas in oven and on back porch, also the breads

    *extra drinks on counter beside fridge

    *ice for drinks in fridge

    *ice for ice cream in freezer

    And scrawled diagonally across the page:

    Keep door to back porch shut as much as possible or guests will think they’re in West Virginia.

    And so we were married.

    Mr. Handsome and I, we are so totally different. Sometimes it blows me away how different we are. I always thought I’d marry a studious man, a guy who liked to sit around in the evening and discuss esoteric theology, whatever that is.

    Instead, I got a tool belt-wielding, calloused-handed, down-to-earth, sharp-tongued manly-man. With emphasis on manly, as in manly-man.

    I have no problem with how things turned out.

    Still, being so different and all, it can be pretty hard to find stuff to do together on special occasions like, say, our anniversary.

    Me: “Any ideas for what you want to do on Tuesday?”

    Him: “I don’t know. What do you wanna do?”

    Me: “I don’t know.”

    Long pause, in which I think about childcare possibilities, movies, special food to prepare, whether or not we might enjoy going out to dinner, if we should spend the evening cleaning the attic or running the errands…. and Mr. Handsome thinks about the axle on his truck. It’s been giving him problems.

    The silence is deafening.

    Me: “Soooo, since there’s nothing we want to do together, how about I find free childcare and we hang out at home and then put a hundred dollars in my camera fund since we didn’t spend any money?”

    Him: “Sounds good.”

    At least we agree about not having anything to do together. So maybe we’re more alike than we let on?

    Back in the day

    Fourteen years is a long time to live with someone completely different from yourself. Fourteen years means we’ve shared a bed for…let’s see…WHOA! 5110 nights! Taking into account a handful of weekends apart, perhaps it’s only 5000 nights, but still, five thousand nights is a lot of nights. That means there have also been 5000 days and 5000 suppers. How about dirty supper dishes? With a super-low estimate of 35 dirty dishes, that would be 175,000 dirty supper dishes.

    Suddenly I feel very tired.

    Fourteen years ago, I married this man.

    Despite our differences and the sometimes disheartening lack of shared interests, we have done an awful lot of together-living.

    Together we have, in no particular order:

    *bathed naked at a well in the middle of nowhere (Quick! Hand me a towel! I see someone up on that hill!)
    *shared a single bed in a mouse-infested, HOT tin storage shed next to an evangelical church with a souped-up sound system
    *made four more human beings (though I want to be clear that only I birthed them, thank you very much)
    *sat through many counseling session, only a few of which were useful
    *been lonely
    *parented other people’s children for a couple years (i.e. foster care)
    *fell on the floor laughing
    *read out loud to each other (The Brothers K, A Severe Mercy, City of Joy, etc)
    *cleaned up the kitchen
    *experienced depression, ADHD, cancer, hemorrhaging, dengue, and an emergency c-section
    *dug potatoes
    *decided we’re horrid parents
    *decided we’re superb parents
    *decided we’re just plain old parents
    *lived through a (small) earthquake and a hurricane
    *built a house out of mud
    *gotten lost
    *enraged each other
    *hung laundry
    *renovated a house from top to bottom and inside out (the “together part” is used quite loosely here)
    *hosted donut parties
    *made hundreds and hundreds of quarts of applesauce
    *dumped 40-plus quarts of home-canned peaches down the drain
    *lived in two apartments and owned two houses
    *had massive tickle fights, towel-snapping wars, and impromptu water battles
    *shared countless late-night bowls of cereal

    Speaking of cereal, Mr. Handsome brought me home a box of Captain Crunch today. We have a thing for it.

    And each other.

    This same time, years previous: Valerie’s Salsa and Canned Tomatoes and So why did I marry him? and How to make butter

  • Waffle love

    We’ve started a new tradition: Sunday waffles.

    It began last Sunday (it might appear to be kind of early to declare it a tradition, but you gotta trust me on this one—it’s a tradition fair and square, hallelujah and amen) when we swung by our friends’ house on the way from church to drop off their weekly egg order. The family—both parents and two of the nicest teenagers I know—was outside at the picnic table eating their Sunday lunch of waffles.

    They hollered for us to join them, the father beckoning us over with huge sweeps of his arm, calling to us in his thick German accent, but we declined. We were eager to get home to our work-free afternoon, and besides, I’m cautious about unloading six hungry appetites into unsuspecting laps as it could do a person in. It does me in and I’m not unsuspecting.

    Almost immediately, the entire family vacated the table and surrounded the van. They hung in the windows and opened the doors, the better to chat with all of us. When I next turned around, the Two Nicest Teenagers In The World were handing out napkins and wedges of Nutella-smeared waffle to my kids. When we finally drove away, the whole car smelled of melting chocolate and buttery waffles.

    I spied an opportunity to teach a lesson on manners and promptly seized on it. “Kids,” I yelled, over their backseat ruckus, “Kids! Did you notice what they did back there?”

    “Yeah! They gave us waffles,” they shouted back gleefully.

    “It was so kind,” Miss Beccaboo added in a sugary-sweet voice. (These days, she’s big on the word “kind.”)

    “Exactly,” I said, warming to my speech. “They not only offered us food, they came over to the car to give us food and talk to us. That’s what you do to make people feel welcome, you go out of your way. Now remember that.”

    “Why don’t you make us waffles for lunch?” Yo-Yo asked as soon as I paused to draw breath.

    The car rocked with shouts of Yes! Let’s! and Please, Mama, Pleeeease!

    I hesitated. Sunday noon isn’t the best time to make a meal that takes any amount of time, and it’s usually when I rid the fridge of the week’s leftovers, but as our church lets out earlier in summer, the kids (and parents) weren’t quite at The Point of Melt Down, and the leftovers would still be there on Monday… But then there’s the issue of serving my kids a meal consisting of just starch and sugar, completely devoid of greens. I don’t usually do that. But hey, we had a freezer full of fruit (when are we going to use it up anyway?) and I could make the waffles whole grain—

    “Alright,” I said, and the car rocked harder.

    The meal was a roaring success (though I learned that a double batch of waffles is not enough) and everyone left the table supremely happy. We all agreed Sunday waffles would be our new family tradition.

    This Sunday I mixed up the dry ingredients (a triple batch) before church. Once home, I bustled around the kitchen cooking waffles, whipping cream, thawing strawberries, and making a blueberry syrup. Sweetsie was so excited about the upcoming feast that she could barely contain herself. She was everywhere at once, being more helpful than was necessary, and when I tripped over her one time too many and banished her from the kitchen, she just giggled.

    The kids take the adornment of their waffles very seriously. They can eat all the fruit they want, but they are only permitted one scoop of whipped cream (I’m exempt from that rule). Yo-Yo and Sweetsie eat theirs straight up, but Nickel makes heart-shaped waffle sandwiches stuffed with cream and strawberries and Miss Beccaboo uses hers as icing.

    When lunch was over, there was only one waffle left. Sweetsie so stuffed herself that she collapsed on the floor in a heap, groaning.

    Next Sunday I just might break out the jar of Nutella that they don’t know I have. They’ll go wild.

    Whole Wheat Buttermilk Waffles
    Adapted from the little recipe booklet that came with one of our waffle makers

    The absence of sugar is not a typo.

    1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
    ½ cup white flour
    1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
    ½ teaspoon baking soda
    ½ teaspoon salt
    6 tablespoons butter, melted
    2 eggs
    1 ½ cups buttermilk

    Mix together the dry ingredients. Whisk in the wet ingredients.

    Preheat your waffle maker and cook according to the waffle maker’s instructions. (I oil the waffle maker lightly and only once in a while, and I probably wouldn’t even need to do that as it never seems to have any trouble sticking.)

    For waffle variety: this is another great waffle recipe. It can be almost completely assembled the night before and is 100-percent whole grain and sensationally delicious.

    This same time, years previous: Earthy ponderations, part two and Cold Curried Corn Soup

  • The way to go

    The morning after the refrigerator debacle, I was sitting at my desk clicking through my morning tour of favorite blogs when Julie’s post caught my eye. She was writing mostly about apple-red raspberry pie, but it wasn’t the pie that got me, it was the ball of red raspberry ice cream sitting alongside the pie.

    As I pondered the recipe, I remembered the couple boxes of mushy, juicy red raspberries that I had hurriedly stuffed into one of the basement freezers in midst of the previous evening’s frenzy. That did it, I decided. Red raspberry ice cream was the way to go.

    So I went.

    I did not grow up with red raspberries. In fact, my mother was very outspoken in her distaste for the fruit. “They taste like Pepto-Bismol,” she’d say, screwing up her nose and smacking her lips, pretending to taste the foul medicine. “Now black raspberries,” a beatific smile relaxing her face, “they are something else. Black raspberries are far superior.”

    Black raspberries are pretty incredible, I’ll admit, but over the years I’ve grown to love the red variety, so much so, in fact, that given a choice between red or black, I’m not sure which I’d chose. I kind of have a hunch I’d go with the red because they’re so … red. And because they’re tart and they go well with so many foods, adding an often much-needed color/flavor boost.

    (I think my mother’s opinions regarding the red raspberry have softened somewhat. While she and my father still don’t have any of the bushes on their property, she did fall head over heels in love with the red raspberry-rhubarb pie. We spent phone conversations discussing that pie.)

    I’ve made different red raspberry ice creams before and they always involved pureeing and then straining the fruit to remove the seeds. This ice cream doesn’t mess around with any such nonsense, and because I happen to like the seeds, this appears to be the only way to go.

    If you add the fruit earlier in the mixing process, the ice cream will blush pink all over. I opted to go the swirl route, waiting till the ice cream was as stiff as I could get it before spooning in the crushed berries. (Actually, I didn’t wait for the ice cream; I was running around upstairs overseeing the kids’ room clean-up tasks, aware out of the corner of my mind that the machine was grinding away, probably for too long. It worked out in the end, though. The rooms got cleaned and I got my ice cream.) As soon as all the fruit had been scraped in, I shut off the machine and boxed up the ice cream.

    I had some leftover peach cornmeal cobbler on hand (yes, I’ve made more and another one is on the kitchen line-up for today) and I kept fixing little bowls of warmed-up cobbler to eat with mini scoops of red raspberry ice cream. I think I did that a total of three times. It would’ve been four, but when I got home from my church council meeting the cobbler pan was shiny clean. I may have wailed. After pacing between cupboard and fridge for a good while, I finally settled on a plate of cheesy tortilla chips and salsa. The chips were good, but they weren’t cobbler and ice cream.

    Red Raspberry Ice Cream
    From Julie over at Dinner With Julie, not really even adapted

    This is one of those ice creams that is best served up straight away, but it’s good after a rest in the freezer, too.

    1 cup whipping cream
    ½ cup half-and-half
    ½ cup milk
    ½ cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
    ½ capful (½ teaspoon) of vanilla
    1 cup red raspberries

    Stir together the cream, half-and-half, milk, ½ cup of sugar, and the vanilla. Freeze in your ice cream maker.

    While the ice cream is churning, mash together the red raspberries and 2 tablespoons of sugar with a fork.

    Spoon the fruit into the machine in the last minute of churning, earlier if you want the ice cream to be pink all over.

    Yield: 1 quart

    This same time, years previous: Earthy ponderations, part one and Two morals and Oven-Roasted Roma Tomatoes

  • How to get your refrigerator clean in two hours

    1. Go to the fair.
    2. Arrive home from the fair at 9:58 with a carload of exhausted, dirty, ice cream-sticky kids.
    3. Open the fridge door and notice that it’s (the inside of the fridge, not the door) warm.
    4. Notice that it stinks, too.
    5. Open the freezer door and notice that everything is soggy.
    6. Panic.
    7. Put the kids to bed while simultaneously panicking and yelling at your husband who is also panicking, but in a manly sort of way.
    8. Call your brother at 10:15. You do not care if he is awake or asleep. This is an emergency. He says yes to your question of whether or not they have extra fridge space.
    9. Thank your lucky stars that your brother’s family does not hoard food like you do.
    10. Curse your unlucky stars that you hoard food.
    11. Remember that your mother wanted to clean out your fridge when she last visited you.
    12. Decide not to think about that.
    13. Load a couple wash baskets with food to take to your brother’s house.
    14. Load a couple boxes with food to take to the basement.
    15. Cover the counter with a multitude of jars and tubs and bottles and bags of food that might no longer qualify for that title.
    16. While your husband drives the soggy, stinky food to your brother’s house, dump all the unnecessary, ancient, not-worth-keeping food into one giant bowl: maraschino cherries (two bottles), a bit of salsa, moldy blackberries, rotten celery, a lime and a lemon, horseradish, old oil, ham broth (from Christmas, really?), honey mustard no one will ever eat, a half can of orange juice concentrate…and the list goes on. And on and on.
    17. Refrain from gagging.
    18. Feel nauseous anyway.
    19. When your husband comes back, give him an opportunity to wash the dishes. (In other words, declare that you quit and walk away in search of some desperately-needed fresh air.)

    20. Come back and help wash down the fridge.
    21. Let your husband take a turn washing down the fridge and watch, completely depleted but pleased, nonetheless, as he disassembles the thing and then points out all the dirt you left behind.
    22. Discuss what may have gone wrong with the fridge.
    23. Fret about another huge expenditure whopping you upside the head so soon after the purchase of your lovely new cleaning machine. (Appliance polytheism does hold a certain appeal, you admit.)
    24. At midnight, go to bed.
    25. Wake up at 7:44 and go downstairs to a wildly gesticulating husband who points out, with much knob-turning and way too many words for your fuzzy brain to absorb, that the fridge setting wasn’t just turned down a little bit as previously thought, it was turned down one-and-a-holy-cow-half revolutions, as in OFF.
    26. Recall that you have four children.
    27. Interrogate them.
    28. When the littlest one fesses up to the error of his Curious George ways, explain the importance of NEVER touching the refrigerator knob, and then forgive him.
    29. Feel pleased on many fronts: the fridge is shiny-clean and empty, there is no need to buy a new fridge, and while the work was intense and disgustingly painful, it was blessedly short-lived; there was no time to dread the task—typically the most painful part of refrigerator cleaning.
    30. Become an obsessive refrigerator knob checker because there is no way on earth that you want to repeat that cleaning method ever again.

    The End

    More How-To Stories:
    How To Get Your Kitchen Clean On A Leisurely Sunday Afternoon
    How To Get Your Bedding/House/Kids Clean All In One Day

  • On minimalism, illusions, and barley

    The unheard of is happening: it’s raining! We’re supposed to take the kids to the fair tonight but I’d rather not go. I’d prefer to stay at home and luxuriate in the foreign sound of pounding rain on metal roof.

    Plus, it’s chilly outside—perfect for baking nectarine tarts and making spaghetti sauce.

    Plus, I made a library run this morning and I adore the sounds of the kids slishing pages, books thudding to the ground after they finish them.

    So tell me, why would I want to go out on a night like tonight? To some godforsaken field the whole way across town where the lights glare and the music blares and my kids are bound to get a frightful case of the gimmies? I am not a proponent of fairs.

    I am a fair proponent, however, so because we said we’ll go, we’ll go. I will stop my whining right now.

    The other night for supper, I threw together a hodgepodge of a meal which ended up delighting me down to the tips of my paint-flecked toenails. I got the idea from a fun blog called Stonesoup, the focus of which is minimalism. (Which is not a word, I know. Humor me, okay?)

    I am not, let me state for the record, a minimalist. I routinely make my life as complicated as possible and then take perverse pleasure in trying to wiggle my way out from under. Just ask my husband.

    And, again, for the record, I get irritated with modern thinking, the kind that tries to lump everything you’ve ever known into three categories, or perhaps five. You know what I mean: The top three things to look for in a man. Or, Three kitchen gadgets you simply can not do without. Or, Cleaning your house in five easy steps. We are a people flooded with too much stuff, too many desires, and too little wisdom. Compartmentalizing life helps us to feel like we’re in control.

    To which I say hogwash. There is no such thing as being in control of life.

    Though the illusion is quite charming.

    Oh my goodness. Now where in the world did that speech come from? I must be feeling peevish.

    But, since I brought it up…

    The top three things to look for in a man:
    1. work-worn hands
    2. twinkly eyes
    3. straight teeth
    Bonus points for a tool belt.

    The top three kitchen gadgets you simply can not do without:
    1. a sharp knife
    2. a grater
    3. band-aids, because knives and graters are dangerous things
    Bonus points: food to chop and grate.

    How to clean your house in five easy steps:
    1. Eliminate the word “easy”
    2. Put everything back in its place
    3. Dust
    4. Vacuum
    5. Wash windows
    Bonus points for not crying.

    And to think I started out this post telling you about my supper. Sheesh. I’m not sure I even remember what it was anymore. I’m starting to feel guilty for sitting here when I have dirty windows and all my bookshelves are, quite simply, chaos shelved.

    Supper was (quick! before I run down another bunny trail!) beans, barley, and sausage simmered in tomatoes and red wine.

    The top three components of a good dinner:
    1. scrumptious
    2. easy
    3. filling
    Bonus points: it gives you the illusion you are in control.
    Extra bonus points: the kids like it.

    Barley and Beans with Sausage and Red Wine
    Wildly adapted from Stonesoup

    I used barley because it’s what I had on hand, but pasta would work fine, as would (wild) rice.

    1 quart chopped tomatoes and their juice
    1 onion, chopped
    1 cup red wine, plus a splash more to deglaze the sausage pan
    1 pound sausage links
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 19-ounce can Cannellini beans and their juice
    3 cups cooked barley (or another grain)
    ½ teaspoon oregano
    1 teaspoon salt
    ½ teaspoon black pepper
    Parmesan cheese to serve, optional

    Cook the sausage links in a kettle over medium-high heat for about 12 minutes, turning frequently (or according to package instructions). Transfer the cooked sausage to a plate, cut each link in half and set them aside.

    Put the olive oil in the now-empty sausage pan and add the onion. Saute for about five minutes.

    In a large-ish kettle, dump in the tomatoes, red wine, and the sauteed onions. (Splash some extra red wine into the dirty sausage-and-onion pan and cook for a minute or two, scraping the bottom to loosen all the flavorful bits. Add the wine-y, oily juice to the pan of tomatoes.) Simmer over medium heat, uncovered, for about 45 minutes until a bunch of the liquid has evaporated and the contents have cooked down a bit. (If you want the final dish to be more soup-like, cook it for less time.)

    Add the sausage chunks, barley, beans, salt, pepper, and oregano. Simmer for another five minutes. Taste to correct seasonings.

    This is delicious served with a flurry of Parmesan and some slices of warm, buttered toast.