• A quick pop-in

    Just popping in here quick. I don’t have much to say and my brain feels kind of fuzzy, probably because I was up too late watching Taxi Driver.

    Right now I’m sitting on the green sofa. I just finished off a slice of blackberry pie and an iced coffee. And before that there was a plate of roasted corn and cherry tomatoes for me, and eggs (one duck), toast, and apples for the kids. The oven keeps clicking on and off—there’s granola in it. Fans are whirring, birds are twittering, and the noise machine is doing its thang.

    This morning the kids and I went to the dam again in search of blackberries because just the thought of all those berries going to waste out there in the middle of nowhere kind of put me in a tizzy. More! More! More! my inside voice yelled at me. Go get ‘em!

    So we did. We got a little over two gallons this time. They are sooo good, sweet, soft and melty, and thick with juicy sweetness. They kind of taste like honey.

    We discovered a Really Good Picking Spot down close to the water where you can get six to ten berries in one swipe. I had to tear myself away, both literally and figuratively, since I had waded in way off the beaten path.

    I grew up thinking that blackberries were junk fruit. My mother didn’t really like them (her distaste extended to red raspberries, too). Black raspberries were the only good raspberry berry, according to her. Even so, one year she put up 88 quarts of blackberries. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t like them?

    I don’t harbor any such prejudices towards my berries. I love ’em all and am thrilled beyond measure with my berry patch find. I’m actively dreaming of more blackberry pie; there’s another recipe at the top of my mental queue and it looks like it might just be a winner. (Last night’s was good, but not good enough.)

    hot pie on a hot, hazy afternoon

    *I’m reading Watership Down to the kids. It’s slower than I thought it would be, and I’m getting kind of tired of reading about rabbits. But I might as well get used to it since it’s a long book and, well, all about rabbits. The kids like it.

    *Last night I learned that some of my friends are addicted to Glee. I did not know this! I thought I was the only one watching the silly high school parody and therefore was a little embarrassed about my addiction. But the friends who are hooked are whip-smart intellectuals—one of them has read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek THREE TIMES THIS WEEK. So to discover that she stays up till 1 am most mornings watching Glee made my day. Because this means that I’m a whip-smart intellectual, too, right? (Never mind that I’ve never read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.)

    *It is dry and hot and the garden is officially going to pot. The flowerbeds are filled with giant weeds, but I can’t bring myself to weed them when it’s so dry. And we don’t mow during a drought so the yard is a wreck. We have become Those Neighbors That Everyone Is Embarrassed To Live Beside.

    *I commented on SouleMama’s post about raising meat birds. At first some people were really upset by what I said (that we enjoy butchering day), but then some others chimed in to back me up. It’s an interesting group of readers over there. I like being one of them.

    *We had the spring rolls for supper last night and no one liked them (except me). And I went shopping for the ingredients, did all that chopping, and made a scrumptious spicy peanut dipping sauce, too, and all for naught. I hate when that happens. Now I have a whole stack of rice wrappers. In order to use them up, I think I’ll have to fry them. Which should be pretty tasty, I think.

    *I live for my daily cold bath. Lately I’ve been reading MFK Fisher’s book, The Art of Eating, while I chill. Did you know that the average male will, between the ages of 20 and 50, spend more than 800 days and nights eating? Some people find that disgusting, but just the thought of that much food—and getting to eat it all!—makes me feel safe and happy.

    *Another interesting fact, though not food related: only 1 percent of blog readers leave a comment. Go on, folks, prove that statistic wrong! I dare you!

    *Did you know that a big bag of Peanut M&Ms costs nearly five dollars? I did not. In spite of my sticker shock, I bought them anyway. And a bag of Twizzlers and assorted Snickers, too. Because Mr. Handsome was taking the two older kids to the Harry Potter movie (part of my daughter’s birthday present) and the kids insisted that large quantities of junk food were a vital part of the experience. So I indulged them. (And myself. Two of the bags were already open when I handed them over to the movie goers.)

    This same time, years previous: Indian pilaf of rice and split peas

  • July evening

    Last night’s perfect July evening was ours for the taking, and we ate it right up.

    There were blue skies and frolicsome breezes to go with. There was pool time with friends, the moms (and dad) sitting on the side talking about butchering turkeys, kids’ schedules, and make-you-own spring rolls (my new craving). There was corn on the cob and the first tomato sandwiches for supper. And there was an excursion to a never-before-seen-by-us destination in search of our own little bit of blackberry heaven.

    We—Mr. Handsome and I, plus the two older kids (the younger two are visiting their grandparents’)—put on long pants and sneakers, gathered assorted plastic containers and extra long-sleeved shirts, and set out on a pre-bedtime adventure.

    We had no idea where we were going, really. Our friend Kathy’s directions were vague—drive down a certain road, cross a river (but not the second one), and look for a pull-off on the right with an old gated road on the left. No signs were involved.

    Amazingly enough, we found the pull-off without any trouble. We struck off into the dark woods (it was a full ten degrees cooler than at our house, so said our car thermometer), came to a river which we crossed on rocks, and then crashed around in the woods for a bit until we found the trail again. We hoped it was the right trail anyway.

    “Just go until you come to a place where the trees open up,” Kathy had said.

    And then suddenly, the sky growing big above us, there it was!

    The hike up the dam was steep. The view was exhilarating.

    climbing backwards—it’s a lot steeper than it looks

    I was a little concerned about what I would find on the other side. Was the water up to the brim? Would we just fall straight over and down to our watery death below? What if the dam suddenly crumbled?

    When I had asked Kathy how safe the dam was for the kids, I was thinking about falling and drowning and getting lost, so she caught me completely off guard when she said, “Well, there are black bears.”

    “No way!” I squealed.

    “Oh yes,” she said. “Just this morning when we were picking, one popped up not twenty feet from my husband. He yelled at it and it moved off. But then a little later it got in between where we were both picking. They’re really not dangerous, but last year there was a mama with her two cubs and that could be dangerous, of course.”

    “Well, yeah!”

    “And there’s snakes, too, but we didn’t see any this morning.”

    Clearly, falling into the dam and drowning were not the pertinent risks. My worries needed to get more … wild.

    We didn’t see any black bears, sadly enough. Or snakes (not one drop of sadness there).

    What we did see was a spectacular view and lots of sweet juicy blackberries. It was a little slice of heaven on earth.

    A prickly heaven, yes, but heaven nonetheless.

    The kids meandered all over the face of the dam, picking berries, throwing stones into the water kersplunk, and chattering to us about all sorts of stuff, their clear, happy voices echoing off the water and bouncing back up to where Mr. Handsome and I were battling thorns and bugs with a focused intensity that children aren’t yet capable of.

    The evening light fast fading, we collected our containers and headed back down the dam and into the now quite dark and spooky woods.

    We used the homemade log bridge to cross the creek, and I was as skittish as a city slicker, my kids running circles around me and jumping on the logs till I wailed at them to please stop.

    This morning’s breakfast was blackberries and granola. Later there will be a blackberry pie. And maybe a cobbler, too.

    July has a sweet side and I have found it, o happy day!

  • Muffins for my bran

    In the midst of the corn husking (and much to my husband’s irritation), I got the urge to do a little cleaning of the freezers. I had to make room for all that corn, after all. Plus, it was a pretty cool place to hang out on such a hot day. (I’m so sneaky!)

    Mostly though, I wanted to consolidate all the bags of grains that were banging around in the two big freezers and fridge freezer. I knew I had a lot of stuff, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it was. And how in the world is a person supposed to use anything up if she doesn’t know what that anything is?

    So I did a quick reshuffle of the applesauce, spinach, and blueberries to make room on the top freezer shelf for the grains. As I shoved the bags into their new home, I jotted down each item. The upper shelf was quickly stuffed to the gills, so later when I got around to emptying out the kitchen freezer, I had to put all those little bags of grain into a brown bag and into the chest freezer. So I’m still not totally organized.

    But it is much better.

    Here’s what I found (most everything is under 5 pounds): hulled oats, nutritional yeast, hulled buckwheat, chickpea flour, semolina flour, cocoa, seven-grain wheat-free flour, spelt flour, rye flakes, maseca, dark rye flour, buckwheat flour, barley flour, yellow couscous, white couscous, millet, quinoa, ground flax, oat bran, pearl barley, amaranth, orzo, poppy seeds, cacao nibs, and ten pounds of wheat bran.

    Clearly, it was time I made some bran muffins. So I made two kinds, both from Marion Cunningham’s breakfast book.

    I am in love with that cookbook. I want to marry it. I’ve read the whole thing, and still I find myself picking it up and ruffling its pages in my spare time. I’m dreading the day when I have to return it to the library. Tears will be shed.

    First I made the hardcore variety, bran muffins straight up—lots of bran, whole wheat, honey, molasses, buttermilk, and raisins. The batter was kind of dry and crumbly, like moist sand, and I was afraid they would taste like bran rocks and then I would have to fall out of love with Marion’s book and I really didn’t want to do that. So I was quite relieved to discover that the muffins were absolutely delicious—moist, sweet, dark, and deeply satisfying. I ate two (and a bite) for breakfast and was full till noon.

    The kids, on the other hand, weren’t impressed. The boys each had one and mostly did not complain, and the girls each had part of one and complained a whole bunch, but none of them fussed about being hungry till the sun was high in the sky, thus proving that every cloud has a silver lining.

    Which reminds me, I never heard what Mr. Handsome thought about them, so right now, this very minute, I am calling him at work to find out what he thought about the muffin I sent with him this morning.

    It’s ringing…ringing…ri— “Hello?”

    “What did you think of that muffin I gave you this morning?”

    “It was good.”

    “You liked it?” I fished.

    “I think so. It didn’t strike me as dry or unpleasant to eat.”


    “It was good.”


    “I think I liked the other ones better, but then, you did, too.”

    [Editor’s note: I never said I liked the other ones better.]


    “What are you doing?”

    “I’m writing it down.”

    “You’re writing it down?”

    “Yep, every single word. You want me to play it back to you?”

    “No. I don’t want to know what I said.”


    “Are you still writing it down?”


    “Are you there?”

    So see? It really is a good bran muffin recipe. The man who doesn’t like super-dense foods even said so.

    The second recipe, one that I made that afternoon and we ate with our supper of fried potatoes and sausage and scrambled eggs, was a much lighter, kid-friendly recipe. The recipe involved bananas and cake flour and butter and white sugar. It’s like a glorified bran muffin, still plenty good for you, but not whack-you-over-the-head bran-y. Everyone was very happy with them.

    Did you know that bran muffins crackle when you put them in the oven? The bran actually talks, goes all snap and pop as it dries out. Or does whatever it is that bran does in an oven. It’s quite entertaining. And with the amount of bran in my freezer, it looks like I’ll have a bit of cooking snap-and-pop entertainment to keep me happy for a good little while.

    Now I just need to figure out some good muffin recipes that call for barley flour and amaranth. Ideas, anyone?

    Classic Bran Muffins
    Adapted from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

    2 ½ cups bran
    1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
    2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
    ½ teaspoon salt
    2 eggs, beaten
    2/3 cup buttermilk
    1/3 cup neutral-tasting oil (I used canola)
    1/3 cup molasses
    1/4 cup honey
    1 cup raisins

    Stir together the dry ingredients and then stir in the wet. Add the raisins.

    Spoon the batter into 18 greased (or lined) muffin tins. Bake at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

    These are best fresh, but leftovers are good, too. They freeze well.

    Banana Bran Muffins
    Adapted from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

    Marion suggests adding any or all of the following: walnuts, orange zest, and granola. I did none of that.

    I made 12 muffins and two small loaves of banana bran bread which I topped with coconut and chocolate chips à la my favorite zucchini bread recipe.

    12 tablespoons butter
    2/3 cup sugar
    2 ½ to 3 cups mashed bananas (about 4-5 ripe bananas)
    3 eggs
    2 cups cake flour
    1 ½ cups bran
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

    Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and mashed bananas. Mix in the dry ingredients.

    Spoon the batter into 24 greased (or lined) muffin tins and bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

    This same time, years previous: spicy Indian potatoes, blackberry cobbler

  • Corn day

    We did corn on Saturday.

    Lots and lots of corn.

    The kids stuck with us all morning, husking and silking, but by afternoon they had fizzled and it was mostly just me and my hubby plugging away, boiling, cutting, and bagging.

    I didn’t actually want their help for those parts anyway—there was too much heat, sharp, and sticky going on.

    We didn’t get as much corn as I hoped, I think because some of the corn was on the small side (boo to the husband-and-son picker duo).

    But the ears were gorgeous—I think we found three bad spots total.

    And we’ll have another, smaller picking later this week. It will be enough for the winter, that’s for sure. So I’m not complaining.

    The kids discovered that since I was in corn up to my elbows, they could get away with using my camera. For once I got lots of pictures of me, mostly of my midriff.

    In the course of the day, I managed to do two really, really stupid things.

    First of all, I sunburned my back. It was totally unintentional, and Mr. Handsome, the sunburn police (whenever I’m out in the garden he accosts me with, “ARE YOU WEARING SUNBLOCK?”) never even thought about it.

    Because I was working in the shade, you see. And it didn’t occur to me that I could get burned while hanging out under a bushy tree.

    But you can. Boo.

    The second stupid thing I did was listen to my husband when he said to come over and help him get the corn out of the boiling water. This was stupid because—and the thought did cross my mind as I walked over to help him, making me doubly stupid—when one person is working with boiling water and an ear of corn slips and splashes back into the kettle, they know it is happening and can jump back in time. But the other person, the one standing on the opposite side of the kettle of boiling water, has no idea that an ear of corn has just slipped and so that person—ME!—stands there like an idiot while boiling water splashes all over her tummy, arm, and down her leg.

    I yelled and hollered, my husband laughed (he insists it was from surprise—BOO), and my baby said, “Mama, your tummy has tears!”

    And then my kids fought over who would get to take pictures of the carnage.

    I suppose you could say that the third stupid thing would be that I was wearing a cami with the bottom pulled up. That’s a stupid thing to do when you’re working outside and a) you’re a fair damsel and b) you’re dealing with boiling water.

    But it was hot outside!
    And the breeze around my middle felt so deliciously wonderful!
    And it’s totally unfair that guys get to walk around with their shirts off!

    If I had more experience living life with a bare belly, I probably wouldn’t have had all those stupid things happen to me. Because practice makes perfect, right? (And no, I don’t mean perfectly stupid, either.)

    I made this roasted corn last week with the corn that my brother gave us.

    And then I made it again, but a triple batch that time. Because it has lime and feta and so therefore is a fabulous summer dish/salad/whatever-you-wanna-call-it to keep in a jar in your fridge, ever ready to be called into service on a hot day when you don’t feel much like cooking. Amen.

    Roasted Corn with Lime and Feta
    Adapted from the August 2011 issue of Bon Appetit

    The original recipe called for Manchego cheese and minced jalapeño, of which I had neither. The Feta and minced green bell pepper stand-ins were nothing to be ashamed of.

    6 ears corn
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    2 tablespoons butter
    1/4 cup minced green pepper
    2-4 tablespoons minced fresh chives
    1/4 – ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
    2 teaspoons lime zest
    2 tablespoons lime juice
    ½ cup feta cheese
    S&P to taste
    lime wedges, for garnish

    Roast the un-husked corn in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, turning once or twice. Let cool before shucking and cutting kernels from the cobs.

    Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the corn. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the corn starts to get tinges of golden brown. Stir in the butter and remove from the heat.

    Put the corn into a serving bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients (not the lime wedges). The cheese will get a little melty—not only is that okay, it’s delicious. Taste to correct seasoning and serve immediately.

    The corn can be chilled in the fridge, but allow to warm to room temperature before serving, or give it a quick zap in the microwave.

  • Birthday revisited

    I’ve gotten a number of questions via emails and comments about our latest birthday bash, and most specifically, regarding the cake and interview.

    The birthday cake goes first. Because I’m a firm believer in dessert first. (Not really, it just seemed like the right thing to say. I’m actually a very boring person—the kind of mom who insists on veggies first or else. The “or else” being, most often, no dessert.)

    This cake was inspired by pinterest: this picture. I told my daughter that she could choose the flavors for her party cake, but not the decoration. That part would be a secret till the very end. She was delighted with it, I think, but there wasn’t much time for fawning over it. As soon as the candles were out, the kids tore into it.

    To get the four cake layers, I made one recipe of dark chocolate cake and then sliced the two 9-inch cake layers in half. I don’t normally cut my cakes in half like that because I am horrible at cutting in a straight line, but with one kid stationed on the other side of the cake to yell orders at me (go down! go up! go down! go up!), it was actually pretty simple. So simple, in fact, that I think I’ll do it more often. The cake to icing ratio is better that way, especially when I use the creamy fluff frosting in between the layers.

    Which is what I used for this cake: one recipe of the cream fluff frosting. Man, I love that stuff!

    Then I iced the outside of the cake with mint buttercream, which was just this recipe but minus the vanilla and with the addition of 3 drops of peppermint oil and a bunch of green food coloring. Then I made a second batch because I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough. When I was all done, there was an ample cup leftover—it’s now in the freezer waiting to deck out some future cake.

    To make the ice cream cone dump, I crumbled up a ball of foil and iced it with the classic chocolate frosting. (I made an entire batch of it even thought I was only going to use a tiny bit—I didn’t want to waste my good ganache or use the green frosting and then have green splotches showing through. So there’s a quart of chocolate frosting hanging out in the freezer now. I’m jealous of its chilly living quarters.) After the iced foil chilled in the fridge for a little, I stuck it on the cake and mounding more chocolate icing around the base to make it look flattened and smooshy, like ice cream looks when it hits pavement, or a mint green cake.

    I made one recipe of chocolate ganache (minus the peanut butter) and poured it over the ball of “ice cream” and down over the edges of the cake. Then I stuck an ice cream cone on the ice cream and sprinkled multi-colored sprinkles on the ganache.

    And then we ate the cake. And it was good.

    Full disclosure: 7 sticks of butter were used in the making of all those icings.

    (For the record, I think a delicious cake would be the dark chocolate cake with the cream fluff frosting between the layers and then a ganache over top—no buttercream. It’d be like a giant whoopie pie, mmm.)

    Now for the birthday questions.

    I’m not sure how this tradition came about but it was probably as a result of me wanting to get inside my kids’ head, see how they think, document it, and then, over the course of many years, use the questions as a way to track how they grow and mature. It’s the scholarly nerd in me poking through.

    I didn’t expect it to become one of their favorite birthday traditions, but it has.

    Starting when each kid is about five years old, I go off in a corner with them on their birthday and ask them a whole list of questions. As they answer, I scribble furiously in an effort to keep up. Then that evening, over the birthday supper or after the gifts have been opened, I take the envelope of all their previous interviews—an envelop that has not been opened for the entire year—and read each question and all its answers. Sometimes the answers are boring and sometimes they’re hilarious. Sometimes there are big changes from year to year, and sometimes the answers are surprisingly alike.

    My questions are embarrassingly bad, poorly worded and simplistic. (But in my defense, I started out writing these for little kids.) Eventually I put the list of questions into a word document—I print off a new copy as needed. There are fifteen questions—here are just a few, to give you a taste:

    *What are you most scared of?
    *What is your favorite book?
    *Who is God
    *What do you not like about our family?
    *What do you like about yourself?

    What are your document-their-growth birthday traditions? I’d love to know….

    This same time, years previous: limeade concentrate, brown sugar granola, Dutch puff

  • To sip and refresh

    In spite of all my cocky talk about embracing the heat and yadda yadda yadda, the truth is, I’m slowly dying a thousand deaths, in the form of melting.

    In fact, this is not really me writing this because I am just one big puddle on the floor. The kids slip on me every time they walk into the kitchen.

    I keep reminding myself that this was the norm when we lived in Managua. We were sticky sweaty all the time. Even sleeping was painful. And I was 9-months pregnant to boot. (Well, not for the whole three years. Just, you know, one month. BUT IT FELT LIKE YEARS.)

    But it’s really hard—nay, nearly impossible—to stay in the right frame of mind for three consecutive minutes, let alone hours, when the heat just won’t let up.

    So I forgave myself the error of my moping ways and made more popsicles and a crunchy-yummy salad.

    I got a cold bath in the middle of the morning. And I read about steamed puddings while I soaked. (Why is it that I’m attracted to foods that require excessive steaming and baking when we’re in the middle of a heat wave? It’s entirely unreasonable.)

    And then I fixed yet another half gallon of cucumber lemon water because it is my new best friend and I love it to pieces.

    Or droplets.
    Or swallows.

    To make a new best friend for yourself (don’t you wish relationships were so simple?), slice a smallish cucumber and half a lemon into the bottom of a large jar, top it off with water, and let it soak for a couple hours before pouring it into ice-filled glasses.

    It’s unbelievably refreshing! It tastes of cucumbers—the crisp green crunchiness of them—and the faint tart-pucker of sweet lemons. And whether or not you knew it before, those are the exact flavors you crave in hot weather.

    And one more thing: it is going to feel soooo good when this hot weather breaks. So go sip your cucumber lemon water and think on that and all your problems will slowly melt away.

    So says the puddle on the floor that is me.

    Cucumber Lemon Water

    Adapted from Zoe’s blog Whole Eats & Whole Treats

    1 5-inch(-ish) cucumber, washed, unpeeled, and thinly sliced
    ½ lemon, thinly sliced
    2 quarts cold water

    Put everything in a large pitcher and let sit for two hours before pouring into ice-filled glasses.

    You can get a couple uses out of the cucumbers and lemons (though I’ve only refilled the jar once, myself): simply refill the jar with water and soak for a couple more hours before serving.

  • Half-mast

    My eyes aren’t quite open yet. I was up till a little after 11:00 last night, watching the marathon movie otherwise known as Sybil—3 hours and 6 minutes of child abuse and the resulting multiple personalities. Sally Fields does a phenomenal job, and while I loved the movie (as much as you can love something that disturbing), I spent a good portion of it with a dishtowel over my head and—at one loooong point—with my fingers in my ears.

    So then, of course, I couldn’t sleep till about midnight because I was thinking of all my schizophrenic behaviors and what would it be like to give the Church Me one name, the Furious At My Kids Me another, the Happy In My Kitchen Me yet another, and so on. It was both an enchanting and disturbing thought.

    And then when I finally did doze off, I was almost immediately awakened by our outside black cat meowing at the top of his lungs in our bedroom doorway. (If any of you have seen the movie, you’ll recall the loud meowing cat scenes and headless cat drawings, yikes.) A screen had fallen out of a downstairs window earlier that day and I had forgotten to close the window.

    Then I couldn’t fall back asleep for another hour because of the blasted heat…

    So that’s why my eyes are at half-mast this morning.

    This same time, years previous: a free-wheeling education

  • How to beat the heat

    First of all, give up. It’s impossible. You’re going to get a little moist no matter what you do.

    Once you’ve embraced the new stinky sweaty you, the sky’s the limit. You can crank up the oven and bake your way into a coma. You can wear stretchy pants, a shirt-like sports bra, and a skin-tight tank top and belly dance your heart out. You can dig potatoes under the blistering sun, hold a hot laptop on your lap, and drive around in a sweltering car and none of it matters any more because you’ve come to accept the truth that: IT’S HOLY COW FREAKIN’ HOT, MAN!

    But there are a few things you can do to alleviate the suffering.

    For the out-in-the-sun-all-day worker man, pack some chocolate in his lunch, along with some leftover green smoothie, cool applesauce, and salty tortilla chips. And on the evening before the day that the forecasters have been yakking about all week, when it’s supposed to bump 100 degrees with a heat index of 115 and the worker man is scheduled to be tearing off a roof all day long, do a little research about homemade electrolyte drinks and make one for the poor dude. Make it sour and salty and then call him repeatedly to remind him to drink it all, even if he thinks “it’s rather harsh.” (When he says “harsh,” giggle evil-y in his ear and then sternly command him to drink it or else.)

    Get up early and do a quick garden run pre-coffee to dump water on the suffering plants and collect a couple handful of ripe goodies.

    Cook up a storm. If you move fast enough, you make a breeze.

    At noon, close the kitchen blinds.

    After lunch, send the kids to rest time (and try not to feel too guilty about banning them to their steamy upstairs rooms) and plunk your bum down on the sofa under the whirring ceiling fan, a glass of iced coffee leaving vigorous sweat puddles on the end table beside you.

    Late afternoon decide you’ve had enough of this “embrace the heat” junk and take everyone to the pool.

    Stay in your swimming suit for the rest of the evening.

    Serve chips and dips for supper. Make popsicles for the next day’s snack while the half-sick-from-heat exhaustion worker man washes a mountain of dishes.

    Give the kids hose-baths on the deck. Give yourself one, too, while you’re at it.

    While the half-dead worker man reads bedtime stories, go upstairs to take another bath. This is the most special bath of the day because you will soak in cold water and turn into a burny-cold human popsicle. First run cool water into the tub and ease your body into it. It should be cold enough that you flinch, but not so cold you freak out. When your legs start to adjust to the cool water, go hardcore—all cold water. As you leisurely bathe yourself, your feet will get colder and colder and colder. Sponge water down your back and shiver deliciously. If you have extra time, the whole experience is improved upon by the addition of some Epsom salts, a good book, and a glass of white wine.

    Go back downstairs and sit in a darkened house on the sofa beside the almost-zonked-out worker man. Hoist your swollen left foot, the one that thinks you’re permanently pregnant, on his lap and beg that he rub it. Whine a little, if need be.

    Then read a book. Or write a blog post. Whatevs.


    Today I’m also over at The Domestic Fringe where I’m writing about beet salad. Come say hi!

  • In my kitchen (and barn)

    *caramelized onions destined for the freezer—because what else is there to do when the entire onion patch is going mushy rotten?
    *for breakfast: the first ear of corn, uncooked and scraped off the cob for a toothless child with rumbled hair
    *roasted corn (from the filled-to-bursting sack my brother gave us) on its way to becoming a salad (yes, I am the insane woman who cranks her oven up to 450 degrees over the blazing hot noon hour, yikes)
    *granola breakfast bread
    *scalloped eggs
    *dark chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting (and, not yet added, chocolate buttercream and chocolate ganache) for the the new parents at church
    *shocking beet hummus
    *baby chicks!
    *baby chick on barn floor—thanks to that photo, I’m seriously wishing my concrete counter tops were slate gray instead of red
    *panting (or making a face so your mom will cease and desist with all the obnoxious picture taking)

    P.S. The barn is not my domain. At all. But my husband forgot to set up for the chicks that were coming so this morning, in the midst of kneading bread and boiling eggs and digging potatoes, I set up a little nest for them. It’s a slapdash affair, one that involves torn strips of cardboard and a glass pie plate for their feed. I’ll let my husband fix them up a proper nest when he gets home tonight.

    This same time, years previous: homemade shampoo and conditioner, braised cabbage, salvation’s chocolate chip cookies

  • I found it!

    I do not have a zucchini bread recipe in my recipe index. Perhaps you have noticed? Perhaps it has bothered you that I have neglected to include such a seasonal no-brainer staple? Perhaps the lack of zucchini bread has led you to the conclusion that I’m a mediocre cook, or even worse, a cook wannabe? Because really, how could a home gardener with a food blog not have a zucchini bread recipe in her arsenal? It’s practically blasphemous!

    Or, perhaps you don’t care. Perhaps you hate zucchini. Perhaps you never even look at the recipe index or, horror of horrors, know it’s there.

    However, after I get done with this post, there will be a zucchini bread recipe in the index because I have found my dream zucchini bread, glory be!

    Zucchini bread has been the bane of my July zucchini-eating existence. Every summer I dig through my files and try to find one that I like. But because I never take notes (because they’re not that note-worthy), I never remember which one it is that I’d like to make, so I hem and haw around, make several kinds of bread and stick them in the freezer and then leave them there. Not because we don’t like zucchini bread, because we do, but because the breads are always rather unmemorable. Just, you know, plain old zucchini bread. Bah humbug, let’s make scones.

    This year I made two new kinds of bread. The blueberry zucchini bread was good but it didn’t inspire any kitchen jigging. The lemon rosemary zucchini bread was more savory and quite fine, but again, no jigging. (Mr. Handsome and I both agreed it’d be improved by a hot lemon syrup baptism.) And that was the end my zucchini bread making experimentation ’cause my plants keeled over and I switched from get-‘em-used-up-now mode to the-precious-few-zucchinis-in-my-crisper-must-not-be-squandered mode.

    And then, kind of out of the blue and thanks to the Fresh Air Fund (how random is that?), I got served the zucchini bread I’ve been looking for all these years.

    Here’s how it came about.

    Saturday morning I got a call from a prospective host family. “Is it too late to sign up?” the mom asked.

    “No, no, no!” I assured her. “The program desperately needs more families—they have something like 900 kids on their waiting list—and you still have a couple weeks before the next trip. But we need to do the interview as soon as possible so we can get the paperwork in.”

    And so it was that I found myself sitting at her dinning room table that very afternoon, enjoying the view of the valley through the large, open windows, listening to her mother tell stories of the Fresh Air children they had when she was little (“We had a boy named Enry-kay.” “Enry-kay?” “Yes, E-N-R-I-Q-U-E.” “Mom! That’s EnRIque! Oh my goodness, Enry-kay! The poor kid!”), a plate of freshly baked zucchini bread sitting temptingly directly in front of me.

    I only had one piece because I can not pretend to be semi-professional and eat at the same time, but I was fully aware of what I was eating. There was definitely some whole grain in it, and the bit of chocolate, just on the top and all melty and soft, was quite lovely. There was toasted coconut, too, and I was pretty sure that it also was just a topping. I contemplated asking for the recipe but restrained myself. Perhaps random recipe requesting wasn’t what normal people did? I certainly didn’t want to appear more discombobulated and weird than I was already (quite naturally) acting. So I kept my mouth shut, collected the paperwork, and took my leave.

    Less than 24 hours later, I caved. I had to call the family back with a couple questions about their references, and at the end of the phone conversation I piped up with, “And one more thing—it’s kind of an odd request—but may I have your zucchini bread recipe?”

    “Of course!” she said cheerfully. “There’s really nothing fancy about it—”

    “But there’s some whole grain in it, right?”

    “Oh yes, I use all whole wheat—I grind my own. It still calls for a lot of oil, but I cut back on that and it turns out fine.”

    All whole wheat? Wow.”

    She promptly emailed me the recipe and today I made it.

    And now there is a zucchini bread recipe in my recipe index.

    Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread
    Adapted from Andrea’s recipe

    Andrea says she uses freshly-milled hard white wheat. I used (home-milled and frozen) Prairie Gold wheat.

    I’m not a fan of chocolate chips in my zucchini bread, but they are delicious as a topping. I sprinkled just a few on my loaves before baking, but next time I’ll do more (just down the center top for the trough-of-molten-chocolate effect) and kind of press them into the batter a little—my chips stayed on top and pop off when I slice the loaves.

    In the oven the coconut gets toasty brown which makes for one heck of a fabulously crunchy topping. Do not neglect this step. (You can add nuts to the topping, too, but I did not. I think a some walnuts or pecans would make an German frosting-type topping.)

    Note from July 2, 2014: Today I under-baked a double batch. The edges were pulling away from the pan, the top of the loaves were nicely browned, and the toothpick came out clean. However, the inside of the bread is still dense and soggy. The take-away? Bake these another 5-10 minutes after you first think they are done. The bread is in no danger of drying out. In fact, it needs to.

    Note from June 27, 2015: One recipe fits perfectly in a 9-inch springform pan. Sprinkle the top liberally with chocolate chips and then a lot of coconut. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes.

    2 cups whole wheat flour
    1 ½ cups sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    2 teaspoons baking soda
    3 teaspoons cinnamon
    3 eggs, beaten
    3/4 cup neutral-tasting oil
    2 teaspoons vanilla
    3 cups grated zucchini
    ½ to 1 cup chocolate chips
    ½ cup coconut, give or take

    Stir together the first six ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add the oil and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry and add the zucchini.

    Divide the batter between 4 small, greased loaf pans (or 2 regular-sized). Sprinkle a row of chocolate chips down the center of each loaf, pressing the chips into the dough just a little. Sprinkle the loaves with the coconut (all over, not just the center). Bake the loaves at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes (or, for the large loaves, close to an hour). Cool for ten minutes before running a knife around the edge of the pans and inverting the loaves onto a cooling rack.

    To freeze, wrap each loaf in plastic before placing in another plastic bag and transferring to the freezer.