• instead of quiche

    The other night I had all the fixings for quiche—a disk of pastry, browned sausage, frozen spinach—but I just wasn’t in the mood. There was a half-gallon of white beans in the fridge, too. Every time I looked at them, I felt guilty. I really needed to use them up.

    A soup would be good, I thought, but white beans plus spinach would be sure to equal a dinnertime battle. I wasn’t in the mood for that, either. Maybe I could put the beans in the quiche? Meh…

    “I know! I’ll make a quiche soup!” I yelled, but not out loud. (Is this why I get headaches? Because I’m yelling inside my head all the time?)

    I’d turn the crust into crackers and the quiche filling into a brothy stew!
    The crackers would sit atop the stew, all jazzy-artful!
    It’d be quiche, deconstructed!  
    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    And that’s just what I did. I rolled out the pastry, cut it into rectangles with a pizza cutter, and stabbed it all over with a fork. I made a thick, dairy-free soup. Table side, we drizzled in a little half-and-half and sprinkled on the parm.

    The meal was super yum, even my husband said so, and the pastry crackers were a huge hit—so melt-in-your-mouth rich, fragile with tenderness.

    In the oven, they puffed up into flaky layers, kind of like a cheaters puff pastry.

    The whole meal gave me a big thrill, it did.

    Quiche Soup

    If I weren’t cooking for a lactose-intolerant eater, I’d add the half-and-half straight to the soup pot. Also, a bunch of cheese—the children would’ve probably liked that. However, the broth and beans and meat combined to make the soup plenty rich-tasting, I thought, even without cheese (or with only a bit as garnish). Either way, it’s good.

    ½ recipe of lard pastry
    1 glug of olive oil
    2 medium onions, chopped
    2 cups browned sausage
    1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, drained and chopped
    ½ gallon cooked white beans, drained
    3-4 cups chicken broth
    salt and black pepper
    half-and-half, for garnish
    freshly grated Parmesan, for garnish

    for the pastry crackers:
    Roll the pastry out as you would for a pie crust (i.e. between two pieces of plastic wrap), but make it more in the shape of a rectangle than a circle. Lay it on a sided baking sheet (to catch the fat drips), cut it into little rectangles with a pizza cutter. Stab each cracker with the tines of a fork. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown and puffy, about 15-20 minutes. Cool to room temperature before storing in an airtight container. Best used the same day they are made.

    for the soup:
    Saute the onions in the olive oil. When tender, add the sausage and spinach and heat through. Add the beans and broth. Bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

    to serve:
    Fill each bowl with the soup. Add a drizzle of half-and-half and a flurry of Parmesan. Set a couple crackers on top. Dig in! (A spoonful or two of white wine added along with the cream is very nice, too.)

    This same time, years previous: apples schmapples, dusting the dough, light-as-air hamburger buns and sloppy joes, how to freeze pumpkin

  • the quotidian (10.29.12)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace 




    Charlotte had her first visit to the vet.
    She weighs nine and a half pounds.
    The cat weighs eleven.

    Two thinking hats?
     He better get all the answers right.

    Making Music.
    (Or maybe I should title it “Not Fighting.”)

    Looking at pictures of Bezaleel and Guatemala.
    My son’s mentor helped to build the school where we’ll be working.

    Dreaming of something besides grammar. 

    Rosetta Stone: Spanish, of course. 

    All dressed up for a birthday tea party.
    (The florescent green socks peeking out of her cowgirl boots crack me up.)

    Exuberance.
    My daughter in yet another wig.
    (What is it with my family and wigs?)

    Joint Party: these boys all turned thirteen within a week of each other.

    Birthday activity: the hosting mom’s absolutely brilliant idea.
    See spider man up there on the left? That’s my husband. 
    (He helped to build the wall, back in the day when he was working for the university.)

    I made the party desserts: a chocolate peanut butter cake, two apple pies
    and a double batch of blondies.

    This same time, years previous: how to bake pies on the stove top

  • the details

    Sorry to leave you hanging there. I sort of dropped a bomb and then wandered off.

    Things are moving along in fits and starts. Some days it feels like this trip is the most preposterous thing we have ever done and other days it feels perfectly rational. I expect I’ll continue to fluctuate between the two feelings for like, oh say, the next twelve months or so.

    Most of the time, my head is spinning. Perhaps you’d like to see my brain’s transcript? Here, take a peek:

    TwomonthstillweleaveEEK.Howwillwegeteverythingdone.VACCINES!Mustcleanouttheclosets
    andWEHAVENOSUITCASES!WHEREWILLWEGETSUITCASES!andtheatticeWEMUSTEATUP
    ALLOURFOODRIGHTNOW!anddigthroughallthewinterclothesandfindanoldcomputertotake
    andDEALWITHTHEKIDS’ANXIETYandfindinsuranceandgetrentersand—

    Good grief. What in the world are we thinking? We can’t even drive to town without the kids about killing each other. How in the world are we going to take a trip to another country? Clearly, we are insane.

    Also, we are so, so happy.

    Crazy happy, that’s us. Just go with it.

    As things stand now, my husband and I are slated to be the Vocational Arts Facilitators at Bezaleel School, a boarding school for K’ekchi’ Indians. My husband will teach carpentry and do maintenance for the school. I will do things involving literacy, working with women, maybe cooking. We will have a house. The kids will participate in a lot of what we do and continue their homeschool studies. They’ll either learn Spanish … or K’ekchi’ (which would be really bad because then we wouldn’t be able to understand them).

    The school is located five hours north of Guatemala city, in the highlands. It will be cold and rainy for the first part of the year, and there is no heat. The people are very tiny, reserved, and shy. We will not stand out at all, I am sure. Not at all.

    ***

    Now, for the back story

    Six weeks ago I was sitting in a sunny spot on the deck, chatting on the phone with my friend. We were discussing life and kids and Stuff In General and in passing she mentioned a job description she spotted on the MCC website. While we were still talking, I moved inside to look it up on the computer. And then I got so excited that I had to hang up the phone.

    I called a friend and neighbor who just so happens to be an MCC Person Who Knows A Lot. “Is this crazy?” I asked. “They are asking for one person for this job. They wouldn’t take a family of six, would they?”

    “Apply,” she said.

    I started filling out the forms before I told my husband, and by bedtime that night, we had submitted our resumes and letters of inquiry. (For the record, we have a history of moving fast. Our engagement lasted all of seven and a half weeks, and we put an offer on our current house only a few hours after my husband had walked through it—I had never even seen it.)

    “There is no way they’ll take us,” my husband kept muttering. “Six people? No way!”

    I was inclined to agree with him. It seemed pretty farfetched.

    A couple days later I cornered him in the back hall. “Suppose they say yes. Would you want to go?”

    “Isn’t that a question you should’ve asked at the beginning?”

    “Yeah, probably. And your answer would be…?”

    “Yes, sure. But they’re not going to take us. It’s crazy.”

    The “no” we expected to hear never came. Instead, our emails with MCC got longer and more involved. Friends who knew Stuff About This Sort Of Thing said that it was time for us to form a support team. We needed to quietly move ahead.

    About a month into it (read, a month of tongue-biting, hand-wringing, nerve-wracking waiting, waiting, waiting), we got a call from headquarters. “Would it work to do a conference call this afternoon? Between you and us and the MCC reps in Guatemala?”

    So that afternoon, instead of rest time, I set the kids up in the bedroom with a movie. My husband came home and we reviewed the list of questions I had written up. And then we sat at the kitchen table and waited. The appointed time came and went. When the phone rang, we both jumped, just like in the movies, and looked at each other, panicked. “Answer it!” my husband hissed.

    The details are still not all worked out, and of course nothing is for certain until it happens, but things are now moving forward rapidly. The job description is being revamped. We met with potential renters last Sunday. Last week we applied for passports. Today we shared the news with the church.

    There is so much more to this story, especially how we feel about it. There are Whys and What Fors and Hows that I have not even touched on. I imagine that as this becomes less News and more A Part of Our Lives, these bits and pieces will be incorporated into our story. The full picture will gradually be revealed—I expect it will be full of bright, splashy colors with some grays and dark shadows, too. Because no undertaking such as this is ever easy.

    (And for those of you worried about whether or not I will continue to blog: I hear there is internet access where we will be, so yes, yes, yes!)

    This same time, years previous: under the grape arbor, applesauce cake, garden inventory 2009, pizza with curried pumpkin sauce, sausage, and apples

  • in the garden

    These last few days, the garden has been transformed into the kids’ playground.

    It’s where the kids go to play, every day, and sometimes for hours—glorious hours!—on end.

    First they built a stream. Then they added ponds, bridges, tunnels, and dams. They built a red beet island and an asparagus woods. They planted flowers. They made leaf houses and floated Lego men.

    Some of my favorite happy-play memories involve large tree roots and matchbox cars, icy-cold swamps, wet sand and pincher bugs. There’s something primal about playing with the elements. It’s satisfying and peaceful, and—pun intended, forgive me—grounding.

    When they are in the garden, the children are
    focused. Their imaginations are fully alive and engaged. They are using
    only the most basic of play things: dirt, rocks, water, sticks. The
    game doesn’t end—it only expands. And (this is very important) they are out of my hair.

    For my
    children, an activity that is cooperative, sustained, and calm is very rare indeed. I’m milking it for all it’s worth, believe you me.

    My husband, on the other hand, is a bit stressed by their game. He worries that when he tills up the garden he’ll hit bits of PVC pipe and bricks and tear up the tiller tines. He frets that tools will get misplaced or broken. He fusses about the ground getting packed down hard as rock. He has a point.

    But so do I. “Honey,” I say, “The kids are happy. They are playing. This is the best part of childhood right here, right now. You can’t say no.”

    And so he doesn’t, of course. I’m good at making points.

    Every time I go out to the garden, I take my camera with me. There is always something new.

    Yesterday afternoon when I went out, I noticed that the ground over the tunnels had been turned into rock-lined causeways. This gave me an idea.

    “You guys should build Tikal,” I said. “Make the towers and the plaza.”

    We’ve been reading about the Maya ruins in preparation for our trip. (I have so much to tell you, squeal!) We’ll be about five hours from Tikal, and we’ve already told the kids that we’ll go visit.

    A few hours later when I went out to check on them, there was Tikal in all its glory. My older daughter was in the final stages of adding the prayer room to the very top of her tower.

    In case you were wondering, I don’t let the children run the water the whole time, but I am more generous than normal. What with the buckets of rain coming next week, I’m not too concerned about the well running dry any time soon.

    This same time, years previous: sweet potato pie, the morning kitchen, signs, news, and daydreams

  • the first teenager

    As of Tuesday, there is a teenager in the house.

    I love this new stage (or at least the idea of it, seeing as we’re only one day into it). Put teenagers next to tots and I’ll take teenagers any day. They’re so much more dimensional, rational, fun, interesting. Big bonus: they don’t poop in their pants.

    But this stage makes me melancholy, too. The last day my boy was twelve, I discovered him sitting on the floor pushing around tiny matchbox cars with his man-sized hands. It made my eyes smart.

    He’s not a little child anymore. Our time with him is fading.

    There are no do-overs.

    I never used to understand those mothers who made such a huge deal about their kids graduating from middle school or moving into the college dorm. And I certainly didn’t understand all the boo-hooing about babies learning to walk and talk. Kids grow up! It’s how it’s supposed to be! Life moves on, so YAY!

    Actually, the real reason I wasn’t all that sad back then was probably because I was too flooded to care about much of anything except surviving. I had no space to grieve anything except my lack of space. I grieved that something fierce.

    But now that I have some breathing room, I can ponder. And every now and then I get a glimpse of the future. I see that there are no gangly boys sitting on my carpet pushing around matchbox cars.

    I try not to think too hard about that. The achy feeling hurts.

    ***

    Our first day with a 13-year-old was relaxed and festive.

    I declared a holiday from studies, and my son challenged me to a (very slow) game of Ticket To Ride. (It was my first time playing. So far I’m not seeing what the fuss is all about.)

    We spent a perfect fall afternoon at the park with friends. (There was some not-so-perfect puppy puke in the van.)

    There were bowls of dirt to be made and decorated with real flowers.

    And more bowls of dirt with Legos! And matchbox cars!

    And evil monster earthworms!
     
    There were presents: books (this and this), lots of candy from siblings, a sleeping bag (because in the next few years you’ll be away from home more), and a tripod for his beloved video camera.

    And now we have a teenager!

    This same time, years previous: aging, buttermilk pancakes, the quotidian (10.25.11), cheddar cheese fondue, apple tart with cider-rosemary glaze, my oldest son’s birth story

  • breaking news

    For the last five weeks, I’ve been unable to focus. Stuck. Tense. Edgy. Scatterbrained.

    Maybe you noticed?

    Because my blogging has certainly suffered. When Something Else is taking up all my mental energy, it’s nearly impossible for me to write about the normal stuff. Manuvuering around the elephant in the room is exhausting work.

    My husband would come home in the evening and find me listlessly lying on the sofa, moaning miserably, “I can’t do this anymore.”

    “No news?” he’d say.

    “NO!” I’d explode.

    “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it” he’d say all rational-like, and then he’d go about his normal life. So exasperating.

    Last night, exactly five weeks after we first found out about the possibility, we received the green-light phone call. We are going to Guatemala with Mennonite Central Committee for the 2013 school year, January through October.

    We’re taking the kids and skipping country! We’re going to Guatemala! We’re going to Guatemala!

    WE’RE GOING TO GUATEMALA!

    Last night, my husband and I were in a meeting (regarding Guatemala, in fact, but more on that later) when his cell phone rang. He didn’t recognize the number so he ignored it. Not until we got home did he see he had a text message and a voicemail, both from MCC headquarters.

    We scanned the text message and then whooped and high-fived. We must’ve been pretty loud because our older daughter got out of bed and came downstairs to see what was going on. We had moved on to listening to the message on speakerphone and were standing stock still in the kitchen, straining to hear every word.

    “We’re going to Guatemala!” I whispered.

    “We’re going to Guatemala?” she asked, eyes big.

    “Yes!”

    “We’re really going? We’re really going? We’re really going! We’re going! Yes!” She was trembling with suppressed squeals and jumping up and down. She stopped long enough to give me a death-squeeze around my middle and then tore off upstairs to tell the other kids the much-awaited news.

    A little later when I went upstairs to tuck the kids in, my older daughter was laying in her bed, a million questions on her lips, my younger daughter was sound asleep, still unenlightened, my older son was smiling drowsily, and the littlest? The littlest was curled up in a ball under the covers, crying.

    “I’ll miss Charlotte! I’ll miss my friends! I’m scared of the airplane!” he sobbed.

    So. This is pretty much what we’ll be like for the next two months—all over the map.

    Hang on to your seatbelts, people. It’s going to be some ride!

    PS. I have so much to say about this—five whole weeks of stored-up angst and thoughts and stories, to be exact. You’ll hear all about it, probably more than you want to. Stay tuned!

    This same time, years previous: silly supper, brown sugar syrup

  • the quotidian (10.22.12)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace 

    Human pillow: we were babysitting my nieces
    and the little one fell asleep on the big one.
    To ease her discomfort and tedium,
    my older son read her a story.
    He also took the picture.

    Sunday feet.
    (And look at that! The shoes match!)

    This is my favorite ever spaghetti sauce.
     Sadly, and very weirdly, my family isn’t as head over heels as I am.
    Therefore, for days in a row, I got to eat a bowl of this for my lunch.
    Pasta heaven, it was.

    As a result of the most recent visit to the orthodontist,
     my son now has a medieval torture device stuck to the roof of his mouth.
    Thank goodness for green smoothies!
    (Or brown ones.)
    (It’s not sludge, promise.)

    My husband finally dug out some winter gear. 

    Friendship. 

    Bouncing Beauties. Or Leaping Lovelies. Whatever.

    Recycling re-purposed.
    Please note that the little boy is wearing a yellow dress. It’s an important detail.

    Boy + Puppy = A Rollicking Rumpus

    My mother and power tools.
    Whoever would’ve thunk it!

    Cuddles for Miss Grumpy.

    On Saturday’s walk, I ended up at my parents’ property. 
    My husband and kids met me up there.
    As I was getting into the car to return home, I looked in the window and saw this.

    This same time, years previous: a pie party!, making my blog header, a moment of silence, classic cheesecake, love, the Tooth Fairy, boy in a blue dress

  • autumn walk

    I went for a walk this evening, just me and my camera. I needed time alone, time to think about something other than all the ordinary things I always think about. For a floating-free hour, I focused on the sky and clouds, the colors, angles, shadow and light, the exquisite beauty of a decaying, worn out summer.

    Usually, I speed through the countryside at breakneck speeds. I glance around and think to myself, “It’s so beautiful. I wish I could capture it with my camera.”

    Today, that’s what I tried to do. I walked slowly. I stepped off the path. I turned around and walked backwards. I looked up, and I looked down.

    Today, I noticed.

    This same time, years previous: would you come?, deprivation, keeping my hands in the toilet, pumpkin-sausage cream sauce

  • rich

    We had our donut party on Sunday.

    Every year I think to myself, Self, no one is going to come this year. They’re all tired of this sorry affair. Why would they leave the comfort of their homes to come stand around in your yard and eat a couple donuts? I mean, really.

    And then I go and get ready anyway. On the off-chance that someone might show up.

    This year we wiped down walls and scrubbed tables and potted plants and mowed and washed the porch and set up tables and ordered cider and apples and filled a shopping cart with a shocking amount of sugar and oil, and people came, of course. I knew they would. But still, it catches me off guard every year.

    The party, from our end of the deal, was kind of fraught. Nothing big—no oil burns or food poisoning or salt-instead-of-sugar in the dough—just…off. I felt unfocused, out-of-balance. Kind of sideways weird.

    Me, being fraught.

    We had decided to start frying early this year so that we wouldn’t have such a mad rush once the party started and so I wouldn’t have to stay behind a pot of hot oil the entire time.

    But we cut out the donuts too soon and forgot to take rising time into account so suddenly we had hundreds of donuts simultaneously ready for frying.

    Oops.

    wooden skewers for glazing: my husband’s genius idea

    And then the glaze separated.

    My mother—this was her first time to attend the party—took a bite and asked, “Is the milk sour?’

    I about lost my head. “Oh my word, Mom, no. Just NO. Do not even suggest such a thing. Are you out of your mind? Do you want to put me over the edge? BECAUSE I AM GOING OVER THE EDGE RIGHT NOW!”

    She backpedaled right fast, let me tell you. (And no, the milk was most certainly not sour. Good grief.)

    We’re still not sure why the glaze separated. Maybe it was too thin? My husband added a bunch more sugar and that seemed to help a bit.

    Another reason for my off feeling: a couple nights before, one of the kids suffered a bout of random and repeated puking. So I was queasy. Or rather, I was worried I might be queasy. Bubbling pots of oil are enough to make a healthy stomach feel twitchy, and after bearing witness to all that retching— well, I felt ill just thinking about the possibility of feeling ill.

    And then, an hour before the appointed time, my older daughter got stung by a bee and started up with her big old reactions—huge swelling that lasts for days and lots of pain and tears.
     
    To top it all off, the kids were bugging me silly—the youngest in particular. Probably because we were frying donuts two hours before the party was to start and he had nothing better to do.

    The naughty boy took pity on the naughty puppy and read him a book.

    Right around four o’clock when the party was supposed to start, I had all these sad feelings. The no-one-would-come feeling was front and center, but there were other feelings, too. There was the I-can’t-do-anything-right feeling, and the I’m-not-jiving-with-the-day feeling, and the my-kids-are-hellions feeling, and the I-just-want-to-curl-up-on-the-sofa-and-read-a-book feeling.

    But then cars started trickling in the drive.

    The trickle soon turned into a downpour. Cars flooded the field. The yard teamed with people.

    “So, um,” (clears throat) “I ate nine donuts and six holes. You?”
    “Five!”
    “Five? Are you kidding me? What ARE you? A lightweight?”
    “Aw man, I just got here! Give me a little time!”

    There were teenagers on the porch, chicken-lovers in the hen house, and sugar-buzzed kids jumping on the trampoline. Some parents took a bunch of kids over to the other side of the house for organized games. One girl, a budding lover of all things English related, came up and recited The Highway Man for me, her mouth full of donut. People gave me hugs.

    Still, things were off. I ran out of donuts to fry and panicked because I suddenly realized that I really liked standing behind a pot of hot oil the entire time. And then all the hundreds of donuts somehow got eaten and I panicked because, Oh my word we are running out! This never happened before! Eep! Eep! Eep! Freak out! Freak out!

    My husband ran into the house and rolled out the ball of dough seconds—the tough bits of dough leftover from the first cuttings—but he rolled them out super thick and we didn’t have time to rise them so I ended up frying up disgusting balls of half-cooked, burned grossness. And people ate them, ew!

    By then, however, I wasn’t feeling so bad about all my “off-ness” feelings. Clearly, people were having fun. How I felt was beside the point.

    And then I realized, the reason I felt so sad right before people came was because we were frying the donuts early. See, whenever I’ve fried donuts before, I always had a crowd of people around me. It was a fact, a mathematical equation: frying donuts = a party.

    But—and this was my mistake—it wasn’t a party because of the donuts, oh no! It was a party because of the people!
     

    I know this, I do. Deep down I know that people only need a welcoming space to be together.

    But I still get caught up in the little details, in my angsty self-esteem issues, in my I-want-to-be-the-best mode. The thing is, when it comes down to it, those things really don’t matter one wit.

    (Though I doubt many people would come if we just served cold, leftover oatmeal. So maybe the details do matter. Just a little.)

    This same time, years previous: the donut party 2011, no special skills (homeschooling rant), apple cake, Italian cream cake, The Stash of 2008

  • grab and go: help wanted

    This year for my husband’s birthday present, I made him a bunch of lunches. Because the guy hates packing his lunches in the morning, I thought it’d be real sweet to make him an assortment of food and stick it in the freezer so that on weekdays he could just run down to the basement in the morning, load up his cooler, and go.

    Actually, my gift wasn’t all that creative—I did the same thing another year. But I never know what to get him (he refuses to articulate any wishes), so it’s not like I have a ton of options. Besides, he has to eat anyway, and his morning grousing grates on my nerves, so look at me go, killing two birds with one stone, bam-bam.

    Coming up with the foods to make ahead and freeze turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. The foods had to be freezer tolerant and tasty at room temperature. Also, he’s lactose intolerant, so no milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, or butter, bummer. Plus, he’s not a huge fan of legumes (crazy man).

    The snacks and cookies were easy enough. I mixed up a huge bowl of fruit salad and froze it in pint jars. I made a bulk batch of gorp and two kinds of cookies (one was dairy-free), portioning it all out into little baggies. But the main course stumped me.

    I emailed one of my culinary guru friends. She’s a whiz at cooking for people with special needs, so I thought that for sure she’d produce a bunch of viable options. She, however, was equally confounded.

    She wrote, “I can’t think of something that would be good after freezing and thawing, eaten at room temperature, and not including legumes or unusual grains or dairy, except for bread, muffins and cookies.  I have hardly ever done freezer meals, except for soup, so I don’t have much experience either.”

    It wasn’t just me. This was a tricky situation.

    My husband can tolerate a small amount of dairy when eaten with a lactaid pill, so in the end I resorted to cheese. I made pepperoni rolls and hot ham and cheese sandwiches.

    The hot sandwiches were kind of a bust. Not only do they use cheese and get cold in the freezer (though they still tasted good when thawed to room temperature), but they use an insane amount of foil. And then my husband went and announced that he’s not exactly partial to the spread I used—a delicious, I thought, mixture of horseradish, dijon mustard, fake butter (that has lactose in it—who knew!), and poppyseeds. Oh well.

    I liked my friend’s soup idea, so I got my husband a nice thermos for a birthday present. It’s great, I think (though my husband isn’t jumping up and down with glee), but using it requires a couple extra “cooking” steps in the morning—heating up the soup, warming the thermos, putting the hot soup in the warm thermos…. Simple stuff, yes, but my original goal was to make foods that had zero morning involvement. Just grab and go.

    So. This is where I need your help. I’d like to have more ideas for foods I could make ahead and freeze for my husband’s lunches. The birthday is over, but it’ll come again next year.

    Am I forgetting something? Do you have any favorite make-ahead lunch foods?

    To recap, the requirements:

    *lactose free
    *freezer tolerant
    *tasty at room temp

    Please help!

    Love,
    A Stumped Cook

    PS. I also gave him a gift card to Dick’s Sporting Goods store, so not all his gifts were food-related. In case you were worried. (I think he was.)