• Blissed out on bread

    After the flurry of bellies and birthday and some dear out-of-town visitors and a guest post over at Simple Bites (about pizza sauce, three ways—check it out!), things are finally beginning to settle down around here.

    My henna tattoo is fading and now I keep my tummy covered most demurely. I’ve ceased wildly waving veils and tick-tocking my way around the house (though once in a while I’ll triple shimmy down the hall, just for anyhow). The birthday flowers are sprinkling their petals, the birthday balloon (that we tied to the door of the refrigerator freezer so that the kids would be less likely to bop it every time they walked past) is starting to droop, the next to last piece of birthday chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting just slipped down my gullet, yum-yum.

    And it’s cold outside. Or at least it feels that way after the close-to-100 degree temps we had this past weekend. This morning found Miss Beccaboo dressed in her new winter coat (thanks, Grandma!) furiously peddling her bike all over the yard with a skirt stuck on her head.

    Mr. Handsome glanced out the window, saw her, and stated flatly, “There goes the flying nun.”

    But really, what I want to talk to you about is bread.

    A person might wonder just how many bread recipes are necessary to have up one’s sleeve. Seeing as I have a bunch already listed on this blog as well as another whole blog dedicated to the subject of sourdough, my answer is this: there is no such thing as too much bread. Ever.

    I love bread.

    In fact, when we were at my aunt’s soiree and went out to dinner that evening, as we waited for our platters of Indian curry and filet mignon to arrive, we went around the table and took turns listing off our favorite food—something that brought us comfort and joy and unending happiness. My answer was sourdough bread, fresh from the oven and thickly spread with butter and grape jelly.

    So see, bread is my comfort food, the source of unending toothsome pleasure.

    That my belly and bottom are squishy like bread dough is perhaps no coincidence.

    Anyway, let’s talk about bread. A new bread. A bread that will cause you, as soon as you’re done reading this post, to stand up and walk out to the kitchen and mix it up. Because, as you will see, this bread is easier than a two-bit floozy and more delicious than mother’s milk.

    (Not that most of us remember what our mother’s milk tasted like. But we’ve all seen babies breastfeed. It goes something like this: first they wait watchfully, hands wildly a-waving, as the shirt gets hoisted and the bra unhooked, and while they wait, they pant. Take too long unhooking the bra and you end up with a hyperventilating baby on your lap. It’s one of the risks of breastfeeding. And then when the child latches on, well—hold on to your hats people ‘cause that baby is going to town. There’s gasping and snorting, gulping, the I’m-drowning-but-please-don’t-save-me sounds, lip smacking, heavy breathing, and underneath all the ruckus there’s the steady hum, the sound of a contented baby peacefully purring. Yes, babies purr. Considering that I did this thing called breastfeeding for ten years and spent hours upon hours watching as my babies’ eyes rolled back in their heads in contented blissment, I think I might understand the magnitude of the “more delicious than mother’s milk” statement.)

    I got this bread recipe from a friend of mine who borrowed my steam juicer to turn grapes into communion juice. (Loaning it to him made me feel holy, once removed.) In his thank you email he pointed me to a youtube video of a guy making bread. It was the best food video I have ever seen. I showed it to the kids (they were concerned because the dude took the Lord’s name in vain, twice) and then I showed it to Mr. Handsome just because it was so stinkin’ entertaining.

    The gist of the recipe is this: mix together flour, salt, yeast, and water. Let it ferment for 18 hours. Shape it and let it sit for another two. Bake. Eat. The end. If you get up right now and make it, you’ll be pulling a loaf of bread out of the oven come suppertime tomorrow night.

    Well, what are you waiting for? GET MOVING!

    Besides its simplicity and deliciousness, the other cool thing about this bread is its name: ciabatta. I’ve seen the word all over the place, but I’ve never known how to say it. (The curse of the TV-less.) Turns out, it’s a blast to say—cha-BAH-ttah. It means “carpet slipper.” But hey, don’t take my word for it—listen to how the youtube dude describes it. He’s much more entertaining than I am.

    I’ve made this bread nearly a half-dozen times so far. I wanted to see how it handled a higher percentage of whole wheat flour (freshly ground Prairie Gold wheat, for those interested in the nitty gritty). It works, I’ve learned, not all that great. Every time I increased the whole wheat, the bread got a little flatter and a little heavier so I’ve decided it’s best to stick with the original proportions (though maybe you’ll learn otherwise).

    The only other change I’ve made to the recipe is that I sometimes skip the plastic wrap step and just dump it directly onto the baking sheet. And I upped the salt just a tad ‘cause I’m a salt fiend.

    From the youtube dude, otherwise known as Chef John (I think)

    3 ½ cups bread flour
    ½ cup whole wheat flour
    2 teaspoons salt
    1/4 teaspoon yeast
    2 cups warm water

    Combine all ingredients and stir. The dough will be wet and sticky and beautiful. Cover the bowl with plastic or foil, making sure there is plenty of room for the dough to bubble and double. Set it aside at room temperature for 18 hours.

    After 18 hours has passed, and 2 hours before baking (or 3 before eating), stir down the dough using a rubber spatula. Grease a baking sheet with olive oil and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Dump the dough on to the pan so that it makes an oblong shape, like a carpet slipper. Flour the dough and cover it with a clean towel. Let it rise for two hours. Bake it for 25-35 minutes at 425 degrees.

    Yield: one loaf that is best eaten fresh, though leftovers make excellent toast.

    This same time, years previous: Butterscotch Cookies, Birthday Minutia, Ballerina Daredevils

  • A jiggle on the wild side

    Me dancing. I still can’t quite believe it.


    To understand how far out of my comfort zone I was, you have to understand that I have never worn a bikini, avoided all highschool dances like they were the plague, don’t sport a single tattoo or body piercing, and am not an up-front stage-y sort of person. That I painted my belly with henna and then showed it off in front of a crowd of (mostly) complete strangers is slightly surreal.

    Some people get culture shock when they move from country to country. I get culture shock just living inside my body.

    We did two dances. The first involved only six of us and some gorgeous veils. (For the veils, Rose bought reams of white silk and then she and Terri, another one of the dancers, dyed and edged them. Miss Beccaboo said they smelled like the ocean.)

    We swirled and twirled and tried our best not to let them slip through our fingers or get tangled up in our jewelry—no small feat. Factor in the breeze and it became an event of Olympic proportions.

    The second dance involved the whole group and much shimmying. I had to shimmy for 16 counts. That’s hard, especially when I still don’t know how to shimmy. But I just smiled and pretended I knew what I was doing.

    While I did confuse my left and right arms a couple times and totally lost the beat and stopped early for another part, I mostly kept my act together. I didn’t trip over the sound cables, drop my veil, or stand on the hem of my skirt and cause it to fall down around my ankles. My shirt didn’t come un-pinned and I didn’t smack any of the other dancers upside the head. Considering all that could’ve gone wrong, it was a flaming success.

    A bunch of the other women decorated their hands and feet with henna. It turns out that henna shows up much darker on those parts of the body. The henna on my tummy stayed quite pale in comparison. But then again, maybe it’s just me. As Anna Maria so kindly pointed out, “Your skin just doesn’t take well to any sort of color.” And Mr. Handsome suggested that I could’ve just cut a design in a piece of paper, covered my tummy with it, and laid out in the sun for an hour or so—it would’ve provided the same effect, just with a reddish hue.

    Rose’s hands.

    Here we are pre-dance, sweaty and nervous…

    And here we are post-dance, sweaty and elated…

    I was exhausted.

    Turns out it’s hard work sucking in a belly for hours on end.

    The photos are courtesy of my friend Steve, otherwise known as the husband of Anna Maria The Belly Vandalizer, the guy who helped me decide which camera to order (it’s coming in a couple weeks!!!), and an awesome photographer. To see more of his photos, visit him at stevendavidjohnson.com. Thanks, Steve!

    This same time, years previous: stream of consciousness, my beginnings

  • Painting my belly

    Tomorrow I will turn 35.

    Tomorrow I will also dance in public and show my belly.

    That this has potential to be deeply embarrassing has not gone unnoticed by me. In fact, I’m shaking in my flip-flops.

    Which is okay, as it turns out, because belly dancing is chock-full of the shimmy-shakes. So even if I just stand there and tremble, I’ll still be getting it partway right.

    At least that’s what I tell myself.

    To gear up for the event, I painted my belly with henna.

    Well, I didn’t paint it myself. I just laid on my back and tried not to breathe, let alone laugh or talk or do anything that would make my tummy jiggle, while my friend Anna Maria free-handed the henna. It took her about two minutes and fourteen seconds because she’s a total whiz.

    Then I had to lay flat on my back for an hour while it dried. To get my newly-painted and still-slightly-tacky tummy safely home, I had to hike up my shirt and tuck it into my bra, sit ramrod straight with my tummy sucked in to keep it as flat as possible, position the seat belt most carefully, and drive as gently as possible.

    Thank goodness it was dark outside.

    Even with all my extreme precautions, my belly still rolled and pooched. (It’s what bellies do after they’ve been blown up with babies. Well, except for Rose, our snaky instructor who has four babies and a six-pack. What woman has a six-pack after birthing four boys, I’d like to know? It’s unnerving.)

    So because I had four babies, the henna smeared. As soon as I got home I woke up Mr. Handsome and ordered him to come down and minister to my belly with a toothpick, q-tip, and napkin. He was groggy and confused, but after about fifteen minutes and lots of explaining, he finally caught on.

    Then, to help the henna set, I was supposed to apply a mixture of lemon juice and sugar with a cotton ball. We, however, didn’t have any cotton balls, so Mr. Handsome used a panty liner to daintily dip and pat.

    I slept on my back that night and by the next morning the henna was dry and crusty. I softened it with some olive oil before pulling it off in bits and pieces, yipping every time one of my tender little belly hairs got stuck.

    Bath time is quite the adventure. The stain isn’t supposed to get wet since water can lighten it, so I have to drape my body over the edge of the tub and bathe my body in stages—first the top half and then the bottom half, with the back-washing being outsourced.

    Oh, the suffering I go through just to have fun! I should probably get my head examined.

    I’d like to pretend that my tummy looks so smooth all the time, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that these pictures were taken first thing in the morning before I ate breakfast or even drank my coffee. (And I may have sucked my tummy in just a little, too.) Because as soon as I chew and swallow that first bite of food, my belly falls to pieces. It swells and slouches, rolls and puckers, pooches and puffs. It goes hog-wild in its unbridled excitement over being fed.

    Therefore, I will not be ingesting anything until after the dance tomorrow.

    Yeah right. Like I could go for eight hours without eating. Now that’s funny. I’ll just have to settle for sucking my stomach in extra hard.

    So if you come to the dance tomorrow and see a henna-ed bellied woman in a black coin belt with a pained expression, that’ll be me.

    Just tap me gently on the shoulder and remind me to breathe, okay? Thanks.

    The One Who Is Baring All

    This same time, years previous:
    Roasted Butternut Squash Salad, cross-dressing, and one hot chica

  • We love Fred

    Fred is five-and-a-half years old. He got ripped off when he bought himself a bicycle (ended up paying $1600 instead of the original $200). He was buying a bicycle because he wanted to wear a bike helmet but thought it would look uncool to wear a helmet without a bike.

    Then he dropped a large knife and it went right through his foot. His friends carried him to the hospital, but the doctors and nurses didn’t act fast enough and he ended up losing half his blood. It was the janitor who noticed that there was a pretty big problem (he was mopping up all the blood so it was kind of obvious) and advised the doctor to stick a “two plus two” into his arm, and of course, since two plus two equals four, he was referring to an IV.

    I should also mention that Fred is an extremely popular college professor. When he teaches his classes, the room is packed with eager students, as well as journalists, bloggers, TV reporters, and even a sculptor working to capture the moment.

    And we love him just as much as everyone else does. He makes us laugh and teaches us math in between giggles.

    In case you haven’t already figured this out, Fred isn’t real. He’s just the main character in a series of math books that starts with fractions and goes right up through calculus, statistics, and linear algebra, but boy oh boy, is he ever amazing.

    This is my new favorite book and I feel rather evangelical about it. (And no, nobody is passing me big bucks under the table to write all this good stuff about Fred—I just am. BECAUSE I’M SO FREAKIN’ EXCITED.)

    My sister-in-law owns the whole series—a bunch of hardback, nonconsumable books, each book ranging in price from $19.00 to $49.00. (When you consider that one year of Saxon math costs around $150, you’ll understand how much of a steal the Fred books are.) I’ve only purchased the first one because I wanted to make sure we liked it, but next time I order I’ll be getting a whole bunch.

    We are CRAZY about Fred.

    It’s not just me, either. Earlier this week when I didn’t have much time for homeschooling and told Yo-Yo he could pick a subject and I’d pick another one, he promptly chose Fred. And when Mr. Handsome comes home from work, Yo-Yo sometimes reads him the entire lesson/story just because it’s so stinkin’ entertaining.

    The other thing I love about Fred is that we’re (I say “we” because I fully participate in each lesson—I can’t help myself) learning more than just math. There’s also history and grammar, manners and science, and literature and art.

    And get this. There are no endless columns of practice problems like you used to have in grade school. There’s simply the lesson and a few problems, of all sorts and all jumbled together, and then you move on to the next lesson. Boredom is not an issue.

    When we started the series a month ago, Yo-Yo didn’t really know any math above basic addition, subtraction and simple multiplication (and even that was/is sometimes slow and belabored), and he had never done long division, but we jumped right into Fred’s world and with a bit of extra explaining, he was fine.

    Want to read more about Fred? Here’s the website, here’s where you order, here’s an interview with Fred’s creator, and here’s Fred’s creator’s website. Since I ordered our Fred book, two more homeschooling friends have placed their orders, one non-homeschooling mom has ordered, and my father toted the book to school to show to one of the math teachers.

    Fred is where it’s at, man. I’m tellin’ you.

    This same time, years previous: Greek Pasta Salad, hard knocks (involves blood), retreat (ha!)

  • I’m still here

    I have not fallen off the face of the earth, in case you were wondering. I’ve been fine and dandy. It’s just that life has picked up speed, from a bouncy trot to a canter, with full-out gallop mode looming in the near future.

    Well, fine and dandy except for last week’s migraine. That wasn’t fine. That was bad, like hell-in-my-head bad. It knocked me out cold and then traumatized me, to boot. Now whenever I feel the ghost of the knife blade between my eyes, I freak out and pop pills like a full-blown addict. In fact, I believe that today is the first drug-free day I’ve had since that migraine.

    Migraines are really, really freaky. They’re not like other illnesses (such as the stomach flu or a cold) where you feel them coming on, endure them for a bit, and then gradually get better. Nope, migraines kick you in the head and knock you out cold. And I mean knock you out cold. (I realize I’ve said that three times now. Sorry.) (But I WAS. I was TOTALLY knocked out cold.)

    After losing my vision that fateful Tuesday afternoon (any seasoned migraine victim would’ve known instantly that something big and bad was soon to follow, but not little old naive me—I was completely clueless), I suddenly found myself unable to get up from the sofa, unable to speak above a whisper, and unable to open my eyes—they stayed shut for a full two hours and then mostly shut for another four.

    What about the kids, you ask? Who took care of them while I reclined on my bed of pain? They did. They took care of themselves for the couple hours till Mr. Handsome came home from work, and aside from a few minor incidences—one smashed window, a flushed hairbrush, a broken leg, and a dismantled lawnmower—they did just fine. Kids are more capable then they let on.

    Okay, so none of the above incidences actually incidented, but the truth isn’t all that exciting and I didn’t want to disappoint. The truth? They played for an hour before catching on that I wasn’t just being lazy and then they proceeded to plague me with lots of love and attention.

    Sweetsie (in an eager, breathy whisper): Mama, do you want something to drink?

    Me: No.

    Sweetsie: Can I get you something to eat?

    Me: No. My. Stomach. Hurts.

    Sweetsie: Do you want a stomach pill? [Stomach pill = TUM]

    Me: No.

    Sweetsie: Please, Mama! Let me get you a pill and then you can eat something. Please?

    Me: No.

    Sweetsie (with a touch of desperation): But I want to make you something!

    Me: Rub. My. Feet.

    Sweetsie: Can’t I get you a stomach pill? Pleeeeease?

    Repeat the above conversation a half dozen times and you’ll get the picture. When Mr. Handsome finally graced us with his presence, I rose on wobbly legs and crept upstairs to my bedroom chambers.

    This past weekend was the annual soiree at my aunt’s house, and considering what had happened to me last year and the migraine I had just endured, I was petrified that some strange malady would inflict me the instant I started vacationing, so I took some preventative measures. I increased my pill intake, drank lots of coffee and wine (not that those beverages are necessarily beneficial in the war against migraines, but still), and tried to avoid looking at computer screens (easy, since there weren’t any) and speeding objects (hard, since we had to drive there), and as a result made it through the weekend without incident.

    The weekend included, but was not limited to, the following:

    Incredible quantities of incredible food.

    grilled tuna

    my mother, timing the tuna

    ice cream from California

    a royal brunch

    Countless games of Cornhole.

    unpacking the fun

    Entertainment—a professional bellydancer!

    Chit-chat and in-depth conversations that covered everything from bodily functions to theology to fashion to food to movies.

    The consumption of A Most Exotic Beverage.

    Now I am back home, in the thick of studies and grapes, dancing and church meetings, cooking and cleaning, eating and sleeping. There will be much to talk about. I’ll try not to stay away for so long this time.

    Peace out, dudes.

    This same time, years previous: Coffee Fix Ice Cream, Cornmeal Whole Wheat Waffles (these are totally amazing), Ricotta Cheese, and Pesto Torte

  • I’ll give you this

    I’m all foggy-headed and blah-yuck today. This past weekend our church had its annual retreat and it about did me in. Retreats are NOT relaxing. Can I get an amen?

    I did, however, enjoy my time in spite of myself. (Except for Sunday. On Sunday everyone and everything fell apart at the seams.) Each year the kids are one year older (imagine!) and just that much more independent. This was the first year that I went to all the sessions (that I wanted to) and indulged in leisurely conversations.

    That was nice.

    I’m not really in the mood to write (depressingly enough, this is often the norm nowadays), but I’m popping in because PW told me to.

    So instead of blabbing on and on about all my trials and tribulations, I’ll simply give you this:

    It’s what I made with the lemon butter that was leftover from that swoony supper we had last week—skillet-blackened zucchini tossed with lemon butter, pasta, and Parmesan cheese. It’s not really a recipe, but I’ll pretend it is.

    Lemon Butter Pasta with Zucchini

    This dish is quite versatile. You can replace the zucchini with steamed broccoli, asparagus spears, or green peas, add in some meat (chicken or fish would be nice), play around with the cheese (feta, anyone?), use various types of pasta (or maybe even a grain). Whatever you do, don’t nix the lemon butter. It’s key, and it rocks.

    1-2 cups leftover cooked pasta
    1 small-medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and then sliced
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 tablespoon butter
    2-4 tablespoons lemon butter
    1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

    Put the olive oil and butter (not the lemon butter) into a skillet set over medium-high heat. When it sizzles, add the sliced zucchini. Toss the zucchini around to coat it with the grease, and then let it rest a couple minutes to allow the bottom side to get nicely blistered. Toss a bit more till fork-tender (but not soggy) and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Add the pasta and toss to coat. Add the lemon butter and toss again. Sprinkle with the cheese and serve.

    This same time, years previous: hot chocolate, brown rice, white rice, and Indian chicken, pear-red raspberry coffee cake, family pictures

  • Whooooooosh!

    Just like the enthusiastic breeze that’s been whooshing through my windows and setting my papers a-flying, so is my head. It’s like my ears (eyes and mouth, too) are all open windows—anything that enters through those portals upends any ordered thinking that I might currently be applying myself to, setting my thoughts all a-swirl. No sooner do I pin down an idea to ponder than—whoooooosh!—a new gust of ideas comes blowing in, knocking whatever precious idea I was dwelling upon to the far recesses of my brain. I fumble and grab, bend down and pick up, stack neatly and weight down with heavy objects, but it’s no use. The ideas refuse to stay put.


    I am still a picklehead. After nearly two months with zero commercial hair products—no gel, no shampoo, no conditioner, no hair spray, no mousse (not that I employ all of those products on a regular basis, but I’m making a point here)—I went to my hair stylist dude guy and plopped my butt down in the chair.

    “Now, Jay,” I said, says I. “I want you to tell me what you think about my hair. I’ve changed hair products and I want to know if you think my hair is better or worse for it.”

    Then I waited patiently while Jay lifted and looked, touched and fluffed. “It looks good,” he said finally. “The ends seem a little dry, but I think that’s because you need a trim. Why? What are you using now?”

    “Baking soda and vinegar!” I half burbled, half giggled, practically giddy with pride.


    And so I told him about my formula. He had never heard of such a thing which surprised me. I figured they warned stylists-in-training about weirdos like me, probably in a special class called “All the stupid things that people do to their hair and why they don’t work,” but apparently Jay didn’t take that one.

    So anyway, since then I’ve washed my hair with shampoo once or twice or thrice, and I use a smidge of blue goop to mold my hairs into their proper place, but for the most part, I’m a die-hard picklehead. In fact, I’m not going to buy anymore shampoo. When the few bottles we have run out, I’ll coach the rest of the fam in the art of being pickled.


    Just in case you didn’t believe me about our traumatic Saturday, here’s a picture of the Baby Nickel’s poor smashed thumb.

    He cried for a long time after whacking it with that hammer.

    And he still winces every time I thoughtlessly grab his hand to wipe it with a dish cloth.

    (I interrupted his nap for that picture. I went into the room and woke him up just enough to get him to sleepily untuck his arm.)

    Tonight, after I told him to stop trying to clean out all the purple under his nail with a nail file, he told me his interpretation of the thumb-whacking event: Hammers have lots of purple in them and when it hits it makes the purple go through. That’s what.

    I never would’ve guessed.


    Last night a couple of us dancers (ha! that sounds just a tad bit more professional than my skill warrants, but I’ll run with it) broke into our instructor’s house (she’s sunning herself on some distant beach) to practice our moves.

    Except that her front door sticks so it makes breaking in rather difficult. You have to pull the door towards you and push down really hard on the knob and then—wah!—the door flies open. Only problem is, the door knob is unusually close to the door frame so you leave a bit of your knuckle skin behind every time you enter.

    Fortunately, I also know where she keeps the band-aids, bulk boxes of them probably purchased to bandage all the skinned knuckleheads.

    (I’m thinking I might send my husband over there to reshape the door, whatever that means. Think she’d mind?)

    (And while he’s at it, I’ll have him replace the light bulbs in her outdoor lamps. If anyone would have seen us teeter-tottering our way down the stairs at the end of the walkway last night, they would’ve thought we were absurdly inebriated.)


    This is our bath water. We only get baths once a week.

    Come Saturday night, we put a little water in the tub and bathe the Baby Nickel. Then in hops Sweetsie and in goes a little more water. And so on, up through Miss Beccaboo, Yo-Yo, me, and finally Mr. Handsome.

    Please tell me you didn’t believe that.

    Though I do know a farming Canadian family (or the son of) who did just that.

    No, we get baths almost daily and that dirty water is from one day’s worth of four dirty kids. They hop in, soap up, and then stand to rinse off with clean water. We’re speed demons where bath time is concerned. No rubber duckies in this family.


    I never showed you what other escapades the kids have been up to.

    Here’s their high wire act.

    They got out Mr. Handsome’s come-alongs and rigged up their own tightrope.

    I don’t even know how to use a come-along.

    They took turns walking the wire.

    Yo-Yo and Miss Beccaboo got pretty good.

    The Baby Nickel about castrated himself. He’s not been so lucky lately.

    Then Yo-Yo and Miss Beccaboo built themselves a riff on a potato gun: an apple gun fueled by an air compressor.

    They’d jam a piece of copper pipe into an apple and then, using a smaller rod, they’d push the piece of apple that was now in the copper pipe farther in to the copper pipe, down towards the other end that they had semi-closed off with a flat washer and electrical tape.

    Then Yo-Yo would hold it steady (and aim away from the house, thank you very much) and Miss Beccaboo would stick the air compressor tube into the electrical tape-wrapped bottom end and let fly with a burst of compressed air and—wheeeeeeee!


    I learned how to dry pears. It’s so simple it isn’t funny. There is no coring or peeling involved. Basically, you just sit back in a chair, put your feet up, and wave a knife through the air and you’re done. Crazy simple.

    Okay, so there’s a little more to it than that.

    But not much.

    Cut out the blossom end of the pear and any tough little knots.

    Pull off the stem. Slice the pear into quarter-inch thick slices, discarding the two little side cuts that are mostly all peel.

    (Confession: I ate almost every single one and then wondered why my tummy felt funny.)

    Dip the pear slices in lemon juice-laced water (4 cups cold water mixed with 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice)* and lay them on your dehydrator trays.

    After about 8-12 hours at 135 degrees, you have yourself some lovely, chewy pear slices. (Either pop the seeds out, or eat them. I eat them and they’re so unobtrusive that I don’t even notice I’m doing it.)

    Bag and freeze.


    Oops, that one went by so fast I couldn’t catch it. Guess I’ll call it quits.

    The end.

    *This just in: Mr. Handsome conducted an experiment and left one rack of pear slices undipped. He reports that they were no different than the dipped variety. Yee-haw!

    This same time, years previous: on being green

  • Swoony supper

    I make supper a lot. Like, practically every single night, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, year in and year out. Yadda-yadda-yadda, ad nauseum, so on and so forth. The meals are basic and earthy, intended to be well-balanced, fill bellies, please as many tongues as possible, use up the ingredients I have on hand, and be plentiful enough to provide leftovers. They’re meals that I whip up and smack down, BAM.

    Last night’s supper, on the other hand, was thoughtfully crafted, each dish chosen (as I strolled through an upscale grocery earlier that day) to balance against the others. The ingredients were expensive (by my standards, as well as the rest of the world’s) yet simple, requiring only minimal embellishment.

    Here’s what we ate: lettuce leaves dressed with lemon-olive oil-honey dressing and topped with slices of juicy pear and creamy brie, jasmine rice cooked in chicken broth, oven-roasted shallots, grilled salmon ($19.99 a pound—yikes! [but I got ten bucks off]) with lemon butter, fresh sourdough baguettes (one with seeds and one without), Kahlua-spiked chocolate pots de crème capped with whipped cream, and, for me only, a glass of red wine.

    Dinner (not “supper,” you’ll notice) was an unusually leisurely affair. Afterward, bellies stuffed, the kids ran off to play and Mr. Handsome and I retired (not “moved”) to the living room, him to the recliner, me the the green sofa where I curled up cozy-like, my feet tucked under me.

    Mr. Handsome attempted to tell me about his day—I had asked, after all—but it proved pointless. I was hyped up on good food and could think of nothing else.

    I caught bits and pieces of what he said, though. There was something about a water heater, a cabin, and a muddy hole that kept filling back in with water, to which I smiled vaguely and said, “Those shallots—weren’t they just incredible? So simple, too. Just roasted with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Nothing to them, really.”

    “Yes,” he said. “They were good.” And then he mentioned something about wiring a basement. “If anyone hammers a nail there, they’ll get electrocuted, but oh well,” he chuckled.*

    “That salmon, wow,” I amicably replied. “I just popped it on the grill and then topped it with the lemon butter. It was soooo good.”

    “Mm, yes. It was good,” he said, and then in yet another valiant attempt to change the subject, “I was listening to NPR about that Florida preacher—”

    “Don’t even talk about it.” I said firmly, sitting straight up and punching the air with my wine glass. “It makes me mad just thinking about it!”

    Suddenly exhausted, I slumped back against the sofa. “Brie,” I said dreamily. “Brie is amazing, don’t you think? So … creamy. And I got it for a good price, I’ll have you know. There’s a whole bunch leftover, too. I’ll be living on brie and pears.” I sighed happily. “Brie and pears—they were meant for each other.”

    Mr. Handsome finally surrendered. “Brie is delicious. The salmon was delicious. Everything was delicious. It was an amazing dinner, hon. Totally amazing.”

    Grilled Salmon with Lemon Butter
    Adapted from Epicurious

    Substitute lime for the lemon, if you wish. There will be leftover lemon butter, which they say is excellent over chicken. I imagine it would also be good tossed with pasta and broccoli and some shavings of Parmesan…

    1 pound salmon
    salt and pepper
    1 teaspoon lemon zest
    4-6 tablespoons lemon butter (recipe follows)

    Salt and pepper the salmon. Preheat your grill. Oil the rack. Grill the salmon for about 4 minutes on each side (keep the grill lid closed), or until it registers 155 degrees when pierced with a meat thermometer. Transfer the salmon to a platter and sprinkle with the lemon zest. Scoop some tablespoons (start with four and go from there) of lemon butter on the top and serve. Pass the extra lemon butter.

    For the lemon butter:
    8 tablespoons butter, melted
    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 teaspoon salt
    ½ teaspoon black pepper

    In the jar of a blender, combine the melted butter, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper. Blend till frothy and smooth, about 20 seconds. Pour into a little jar and chill in the fridge. (Or, if you prefer, you can wait till the butter is cool and then shape it into a log and freeze—then you can chop off a little whenever you need it.)

    Oven-Roasted Shallots
    Adapted from Molly’s blog Orangette

    I ate the leftovers for the next day’s lunch along with some brie, freshly baked sourdough, and pears. And then I died and went to heaven all over again.

    1 pound shallots, peeled, large ones cut in half
    1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    a pinch of sea salt

    Put the shallots in a 9 x 9 glass pan and toss with the vinegar, oil, and salt. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and turn the shallots—the bottoms should be caramel-y brown. Cover the dish and return it to the oven for another 30 minutes. Serve the shallots warm or at room temperature.

    *Mr. Handsome is an exceptionally careful carpenter. He was speaking hyperbolically.

  • Saturday

    Saturday was a semi-traumatic day for my family.

    1. I chopped my finger instead of the garlic.
    2. The Baby Nickel got stung by a wasp. (We think that’s what it was, anyway.)
    3. I deadheaded my finger while deadheading the flowers.
    4. A tree branch fell on Mr. Handsome’s head.
    5. Miss Beccaboo stepped on two nails simultaneously.
    6. The Baby Nickel smashed his thumb with a hammer.

    There were tears, band-aids, blood, ice, globs of neosporin, loud yells, and a few choice words.

    We all marveled at the collective mess we had become. As Miss Beccaboo dug in the cupboard for the box of band-aids to dress yet another one of my wounds, she said, “I think I should put band-aids on all of your fingers, Mama.”

    But it was a productive day, too.

    1. Grapes got picked.

    Mr. Handsome has a frightfully long torso. Here’s his worker-man legs…

    And here’s his worker-man head, all up in the clouds.

    You can’t tell from here, but he was super grumpy about picking grapes. He’s like this every year, so I don’t pay him any mind.

    This little guy, on the other hand, loves picking grapes.

    He shimmies right up into the arbor and hops around like a little monkey.

    Considering our track record, I was fully prepared for someone to fall off the ladder and was rather surprised when no one did.

    2. Snoozes were taken. (He was gearing up for the dread grape-picking job.)

    3. Lawnmower lessons were given and taken.

    4. And fruit-on-the-bottom baked oatmeal was discovered.

    I read about the concept on Tasty Kitchen and less than twelve hours later I was pulling a pan of fruit-on-the-bottom baked oatmeal out of the oven. It smelled heavenly.

    The kids, upon discovering that I had messed with the standard fare, set up a-moaning and a-wailing to beat the band. Yo-Yo was the loudest, but he shut up as soon as he tasted it, had seconds, and was disappointed when it was all gone.

    It’s more a formula than a recipe: toss a bunch of fruit (I used fresh pears) with a bit of sugar (I used both white and brown) and cinnamon, scatter it over the bottom of your greased baking dish, and top with your favorite baked oatmeal recipe. I had a couple tablespoons of ground almonds left over from my twittering tarts, so I tossed them on top the oatmeal batter along with a sprinkling of demerara sugar for added crunch—delicious.

    It’s a wonderfully delectable and hearty breakfast. And the best part is that it’s fortifying enough to get you through whatever the day might bring.

    Thank goodness.

    Fruit-on-the-Bottom Baked Oatmeal
    Inspired by Tasty Kitchen

    I used about six pears for this recipe, but I imagine peaches, nectarines, apricots, apples, and/or plums would be delicious, too. No doubt nuts and dried fruits would make a tasty addition, as well. The bottom (ha! a pun!) line? Do whatever you want.

    4 cups fresh fruit, chopped, peeled, and cored, as needed
    2 tablespoons brown sugar
    2 tablespoons white sugar
    1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
    1 recipe baked oatmeal (enough for a 9 x 13 pan)
    2 tablespoons ground almonds, optional
    1-2 tablespoons demerara sugar

    Grease a 9 x 13 pan. Toss the fresh fruit with the brown and white sugars and cinnamon and scatter over the bottom of the pan. Spread the baked oatmeal batter gently over the fruit, and sprinkle the ground almonds and demerara sugar on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Serve warm with cold milk.

    This same time, years previous: the big night and my artistic mother

  • A tale of two twittering tarts

    Last week after picking up two bushels of pears from a fruit stand, I sent a tweet out into the vast cosmic void: Researching all things pear. What’s YOUR favorite way to eat the fruit (besides straight up, of course)?

    Two people responded with recipes, both of which were tarts, one chocolate (thanks, Jan!) and the other almond cream (thanks, Cousin Zoe!). I made them both.

    That night I told my family that they must eat some of each kind and choose their favorite. They took their orders seriously, applying their forks most industriously.

    The result? They chose the almond cream, and I chose the chocolate.

    Though the next day, after the almond cream had spent the night firming up in the fridge, I found myself wavering, and after splitting the last piece with Mr. Handsome this afternoon, I’ve joined the ranks of the almond cream lovers.

    The almond cream tart sports an almond crust, a thin layer of cream cheese, slices of juicy pear, and a heavy dusting of cinnamon sugar that, after baking, melts into a glorious golden glaze. It’s like cheesecake, only more refined and delicate.

    Almond Cream Pear Tart
    From my cousin Zoe

    While delicious at room temperature, this tart is best after a twelve hour rest in the fridge.

    For the crust:
    3 tablespoons butter
    7 tablespoons (or ½ cup minus 1 tablespoon) sugar
    3/4 cup flour
    1/3 cup finely ground almonds
    pinch of salt

    Cream together the butter and sugar. Mix in the flour, ground almonds, and salt. Press the crumbs into the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan.

    For the filling:
    8 ounces cream cheese
    3 tablespoons sugar
    1 egg
    1/4 t almond extract
    3 pears, cored, peeled, and sliced
    2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

    Beat together (no need to wash the beaters after using them to make the crust) the cream cheese and sugar. Add the egg and almond extract. Pour the filling over the crust. Arrange the pear slices on top of the filling. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the pears.

    Bake the tart at 425 degrees for 10 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for anther 15-20 minutes. Cool the tart to room temperature before serving, or, better yet, chill it overnight in the refrigerator. As Zoe says, “It’s a long, hard wait but you’ll get through it.”

    This same time, years previous: a quick rundown, spilt marbles, part II, and say cheese!