• iced

    On Sunday, the forecasters were calling for ice, snow, sleet, and rain. We were pumped. My younger son was practically vibrating. Snow is a big deal to him under normal conditions, but then he had to miss a whole year of it. That pushed the anticipatory levels up a notch or three.

    I was excited, too. The white, wet stuff was scheduled to arrive late morning. That meant we could get to church (an important event for my extroverted self), but our Sunday company lunch plans were on the iffy side. I acted as though everything was happening, regardless of the weather, and proceeded with the quadruple batch of waffles and a double batch of sausage gravy. The guys cleaned the house, we set the table, and I plopped fresh candles into votive holders. But then at the end of church, the snow was coming down thick and fast so we canceled the lunch. I didn’t want anyone getting stuck in a ditch on our account.

    But all that food! Who else could we invite? As we (slowly) drove out of town, I called up a bunch of neighbors on my husband’s cell phone. Whaddaya know, all three households came, and every last waffle got eaten. Hurray for spontaneity and friends who roll (or skid and slide) over to our house on a moment’s notice.

    The children’s evening musical was canceled, so we curled up on the sofa with popcorn and a movie. Partway through there was a knock on the door: other neighbors were making a Christmas goodie delivery (this neighbor-full post is starting to make me feel rather urban!), so we had them in for an chatty visit. So lovely.

    It rained overnight. In the morning we awoke to discover ourselves inside our own magic ice kingdom.

    The kids rushed through their breakfast and into their snow clothes and out the door. I grabbed my camera and raced out, right on their tails. I didn’t want them knocking off all the ice before I had a chance to take a few pictures.

    It was gray and foggy. And beautiful.

    Mid-morning, the sun started timidly winking at us. I left my younger son at the table to puzzle out his fractions and dashed outside again. As soon as I turned on my camera, the sun got all shy and hid.

    This happened about three times. My socks were wet and I was irritated and my son got all his fractions done (because his sister helped him when I wasn’t looking).

    And then the sun came out for real and it was glorious.

  • the quotidian (12.9.13)

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

    Warm weather = “Let’s Build Tikal!”

    (Confusing picture clarification: that’s a background plant that looks like it’s hanging out of his mouth.)
    I don’t think this was how the Mayans did it.
    She loves her hat.

    Sick, but not sick enough to not dream of Christmas cookies.
    (Two children picked the iced lemon shortbread. Obliging them won’t be a problem.)
    And thus begins the Christmas treat making.
    Does your kitchen help unwrap caramels while wearing an evening gown?

    It kind of elevates the experience.
    Taste of winter.
    Fireside fibers.
    Castle construction.
    Goof-off suds.

    Just for anyhow: because orange cranberry scones don’t need a reason for being.
    The recipe called for three teaspoons of Ranch dressing powder. I did tablespoons. Oops.
    (The photo is of a re-make recipe. The kids refused to eat it. 
    I do believe they were too scarred from the first time around.)
    The Sunday lunch workhorses: we canceled our lunch guests due to weather and then, because we had a clean house and four batches of waffles and a half gallon of sausage gravy ready to go, 
    we invited over three neighboring households. 
    I didn’t get my fill of Thanksgiving so we did it all over again.
    Lights, lights, and more lights: ’tis the season!
  • cinnamon raisin bread

    When we visited my parents over Thanksgiving, my mother had cinnamon raisin bread on hand for the breakfast toast. Thursday morning (or was it Friday?) she snuggled in bed with the littles to read library books while my father trotted back and forth between kitchen and bed, bearing plates of cinnamon raisin toast. The children scarfed it as fast as he could make it.

    I watched the toast-making marathon from my corner in the kitchen where I was curled up in the red chair sipping coffee and reading An Inconvenient Truth. After my younger son came running out to the kitchen with the empty plate yet again, I pointed out, “You know, Dad, you can say no to them.”

    “Yeah, I know,” he said as he spread butter on yet another golden brown slice, taking care to keep his fingers out of the sticky, hot icing. “This is the last batch.”

    Year after year, my mother makes enormous loaves of cinnamon raisin bread topped with a rich butter frosting for holiday breakfast toasting. Cinnamon raisin bread belongs to Christmas. I never make it any other time of year. It’d be like playing Christmas carols in May.

    But despite my love of the bread, I almost never get around to making it. It could be because my December obsession with all things cookie allows so little time for other baking, or it could be because the cinnamon raisin bread is my mother’s specialty. She provides the traditions and I do the weird new stuff.

    But this past weekend when my mother sent home a partial loaf and we polished it off in no time flat, I decided I wanted a big batch of that bread all for us-eses. If my kids liked it this much (and raisins in bread is something they’ve had to grow into), then now was the time to be baking—and icing, toasting, buttering, and eating—it, claiming the tradition for ourselves.

    Hot: waiting for its slick of butter.

    This bread makes excellent gifts (and one year I gave mini loaves to all the neighbors as Christmas gifts), but I’m always a little nervous that people won’t fix it proper. I worry they won’t heed the instructions written on the attached card and will eat it without the toasting and buttering and, if doing it up all the way, the cinnamoning and sugaring. And then they’ll never know the bread’s full glory and all will be for naught. With so many variables, maybe it’s not the most excellent gift after all?

    Which is fine. I can make cashew brittle and crack and butter cookies for everyone else. The cinnamon raisin bread will belong to us. (And, in all honesty, the cookies will, too. But never mind that.)

    See how the icing got gooped up where I held onto the loaf to cut it? It happens. No biggie.

    Cinnamon Raisin Bread
    Adapted from my mother who adapted it from The Mennonite Community Cookbook, or so says she.

    1 medium potato, peeled and chopped in cubes
    1 quart water
    2 tablespoons butter
    3 teaspoons salt
    2 tablespoons yeast
    1 cup warm water
    1 cup sugar
    11-12 cups bread flour
    1 pound raisins
    2 teaspoons cinnamon
    ½ teaspoon ground cloves
    vanilla frosting (see below)

    Put the potato pieces and the quart of water in a saucepan. Simmer until the potatoes are fork-tender. Drain, reserving the liquid. Mash the potatoes with the butter and salt. Add the reserved liquid.

    In a small bowl, stir together the yeast and 1 cup of warm water. Let rest for 10 minutes.

    In a large bowl, stir together the potato-water mixture, 6 cups of flour, and the sugar. When the mixture has cooled to lukewarm, add the yeast. Stir until smooth. Cover with a towel and rest for about two hours.

    Work in the spices and remaining flour (or as much as is needed to make a nice dough). Add the raisins. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and satiny. Return the dough to the unwashed bread bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise until double. Shape into loaves (three large, four medium, or a bunch of mini-loaves) and place in greased pans. Let rise, covered, until doubled in size. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes (for big loaves—if making smaller loaves, reduce the oven time accordingly). Cool completely.

    To serve: spread the top with vanilla frosting. Slice, which can be tricky since it’s hard to hold onto the bread thanks to the frosting—persevere. Toast, making sure to put the bread in the toaster with the icing facing up. Thanks to the high sugar content, the bread toasts quickly, so watch it closely. Carefully remove from toaster. Butter, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

    To give as gifts: frost the bread and then slip it into the fridge, uncovered, for about 15-30 minutes so the frosting can harden up a bit. Then wrap the loaves in plastic wrap. Lay out several strips of plastic flat on the table (overlapping, in an x shape), set the loaf in the middle, and carefully pull up the corners until the whole loaf is encased in plastic. Tie a bright ribbon around the plastic. What you’ll end up with is a loaf of bread with a sprout of plastic on top. Confused? Here’s a picture (not of raisin bread).

    To freeze: Bag up un-iced loaves of bread and freeze. Store the frosting in the fridge. To serve, thaw and frost.

    Vanilla Frosting
    1 stick butter
    3½ cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
    1 teaspoon vanilla

    Cream the butter. Beat in the sugar, a cup at a time. Add the vanilla. Beat in the half-and-half, starting with a couple tablespoons and adding a little at a time until it’s a spreadable consistency but still thick. Extra frosting can be stored in the fridge for a couple weeks or in the freezer indefinitely.

  • sushi!!!

    Part One: Preamble in a Tea Shop
    The other night, over a pot of tea, I confided to a girlfriend that I’d never had sushi. Her eyes bugged. She gasped. Once the shock passed, she started fussing over me, acting like I was the most pitiful creature on the planet. We have GOT to fix this, she declared. I am going to take you out for sushi some night. Just you wait.

    Part Two: In My House and Head
    My older son recently read a whole magazine centered around sushi. (Perhaps this is how my girlfriend and I happened upon the topic of sushi?) My son loves tuna and salmon and shrimp, but he’d never had it raw, with seaweed. And my kids have been exceedingly anti anything Asian-tasting that comes out of my kitchen. (They don’t like soy sauce which kind of nixes everything.) But then my son read this magazine and he started doing weird things like collapsing in chairs and moaning, “I am craving sushi.”

    And then I had the following three-part epiphany:

    1. My sister-in-law is Japanese.
    2. Our families would be gathering together in West Virginia for Thanksgiving.
    3. I could ask my sister-in-law for a sushi-making lesson.

    So I did, and she said, “Yes, and my brother is coming and he is a sushi chef.”

    Well, okay then.

    Part Three: The Feast
    Friday was Sushi Day. (Could there be a more fitting, post-Thanksgiving meal than sushi, I ask you? I think not.)

    practicing with raisins

    Right after breakfast, the chefs got to work. My sister-in-law’s brother, Yasushi, headed up the crew, but his girlfriend, Yuki, and my sister-in-law worked alongside him all morning long. I took pictures, tasted everything, asked questions, and got in the way.

    pressed sushi with smoked salmon

    Guys, I did not know this before, but making sushi takes a lot of work. I should’ve been clued in, I suppose. In my son’s magazine, it said that high-end sushi chefs will take a whole year just to master the art of making sushi rice. That’s some crazy perfectionism, no?

    an egg roll in the making

    It took Yasushi about half an hour to cook up three beaten eggs into a layered, scrambled egg roll. There were the shitake mushrooms to soak and simmer and slice. There was the shrimp to cook up, the avocado and cucumber to slice. There was the raw salmon, tuna, imitation crab (raw pollock) and fish roe to … just get out of the fridge because, well, raw. There was the miso soup with noodles-that-were-really-mushrooms (and that my entire mushroom-adverse family ate without knowing, ha!) and tofu. There were dried tuna flakes (for making the soup broth), and there was Japanese basil, wasabi, and pickled ginger (which I profoundly adore).

    The kids helped roll the sushi. It made me cringe, watching them enthusiastically (er, carelessly) handle the perfectly prepped ingredients, and it speaks to the chefs’ tremendous generosity and grace that they just smiled and continued to encourage the kids to pitch in.

    The meal was fabulous. There was family-style sushi (with shrimp and julienned scrambled eggs, and raw tuna rosettes), and unrolled (pressed) sushi with smoked salmon, and a small plate of “challenging” raw tuna (my sister-in-law’s wording) with seasonings and nothing else, and all manner of rolled sushi, and miso soup. It was fabulous. (Oh wait. I already used that word. Oh well, it bears repeating because it was. Fabulous, that is.)

    Now. I’ll admit that I felt a little weird eating the straight-up raw fish. I tried to chew slow and savor the mild flavors and soft and creamy-tender textures, but the whole time I had to fight the impulse to chew and swallow as fast as possible. Because never before in my life have the words “savoring” and “raw meat” fit together. It was mind-over-body warfare. There was nothing unpleasant about the flavors, so it’ll just take a few tries to get over my niggling primal discomfort. (Girlfriend, I’m thinking I’m ready for some more practice, hint-hint.)

    slurping soup

    The younger kids weren’t crazy about the sushi (my sister-in-law says that even Japanese children aren’t that fond of it), but the older two plunged right in to the adventure. My older son says it was good, but not exactly what he expected (whatever that was).

    the only leftovers

    So anyway. That was our Day-After-Thanksgiving Sushi Adventure. It was totally different, fascinating, delicious, and delightful. What a treat!

    Part Four: The Epilogue
    The chefs brought their own rice maker. They say that everyone has one in Japan, and furnished apartments even come with one. I’m kind of smitten by the graceful ease of rice-making that the sleek machine allows.

    Part Five: Random, Non-Sushi-Related Postscript
    And then the girls tried on dresses. One future prom-going guest wore my sister-in-law’s dress. My older daughter wore my wedding dress. And my younger daughter wore my class night dress.

    Glam, they were.

  • Thanksgiving of 2013

    Turkey and pie, family and friends, Japanese and American, music and candles and snow flurries, origami and finger strings, reading and visiting, walks and hunting, tea and coffee, and the baby. The baby sleeping, the baby eating, the baby smiling, the baby talking, the baby bathing, the baby changing, and baby doting. In a popularity contest between the turkey with its slew of mighty side dishes and the baby, the baby would win, hands down.

    One note about Thanksgiving day and its food. I’ve come to the conclusion that my mother has devised best T-day eating schedule. It goes like this:

    Casual cereal-and-toast breakfast.
    Noon Thanksgiving feast. (Hold the desserts.)
    Mid/late-afternoon massive bowl of fruit.
    Suppertime dessert feast.
    Bedtime snack of cheese and crackers if anyone’s still hungry.

    I think it’s brilliant and plan to copy it for the rest of my life. (But, on the off-chance there’s something better out there, what’s your tradition T-day eating schedule?)

  • kale pomegranate salad

    I was thinking I should only eat oatmeal and grapefruit today, considering that tomorrow is Thanksgiving and that even though my mother is making a cake and a slew of pies, she still asked me to contribute a cheesecake so we are going to be drowning in desserts not to mention the turkey, and then the next day we’re having a sushi-making lesson courtesy of my (Japanese) sister-in-law’s (Japanese) brother. But then when I woke up this morning, I realized that I had good toastable bread and there was three-quarters of a wheel of Brie leftover from supper last night, and then my kids asked me to cut into one of the two pomegranates I bought yesterday, and well, forget about any pre-Thanksgiving austerity measures. Let’s eat!

    I toasted (and buttered, because forget restraint already) the bread, warmed a wedge of cheese in a hot skillet, and whacked a pomegranate till it coughed up its seeds. The kids were fascinated. Scratch that. I was fascinated. (And hurt. Because I missed the pomegranate a couple times.)

    I don’t know much about pomegranates, but they’re all over the I-nets these days. There’s this video on pom-spanking, and Aimee did a whole post on the festive fruit. They’re juicy and tart-sweet—an excellent pop of flavor for anything and everything, declare the masses, and the masses are right.

    Guys, I’m sold. I got my poms for 1.19 each. That’s more than a cup of pretty berry-seeds for a buck-twenty, and when you compare that to the cost of a half pint of blueberries or raspberries, it’s a fine deal indeed.

    My children (just the two youngers were around for the fruit slamming/snacking) chew-suck on the seeds and then spit the insides out. Which is flat-out wrong, but I can’t convince them otherwise. We ate a bunch for breakfast and then at lunch I put a scoop of seeds on my kale salad and thoroughly enjoyed the pop of sweet color.

    My pomegranate journey has just begun. It’s gonna be a tasty one.

    Kale Pomegranate Salad

    There are so many variations on this theme that it’s enough to make my eyes cross. Listen. All you need to do is lightly saute some chopped kale in butter—it’s done when it’s bright green and glossy with a touch of wilt. In a separate skillet saute some slivered almonds in butter. Sprinkle salt in both pans. Put the kale on a plate. Sprinkle the nuts on top. Grate a bit of fresh Parmesan on the hot kale, and spoon some pomegranate seeds over all. Eat. (But first take a photo because it’s so dang sexy.)

    I wasn’t going to write up a recipe (because that’s what I just did, right?) but then I realized that some people are rather fond of their ingredient lists, so…

    2 cups, coarsely chopped kale, sauteed in butter and salted
    1 tablespoon almond slivers, toasted in butter and salted
    light flurry of freshly grated Parmesan
    1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds

    Toss and eat.

    There. Now go do it. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • a treat

    Starting early Sunday afternoon, my husband and I found ourselves with no children for the next 24 hours.


    Okay, so not really. But we did have ourselves some typical date-time fun: movie and dinner out.

    Except the movie wasn’t exactly fun.

    We went to see 12 Years a Slave.

    Actually, I forced my husband to see it. He fussed and whimpered and begged off due to emotional sensitivities. But the other options—Gravity, Captain Phillips, Nebraska—weren’t playing at the right times or places or weren’t out yet, and the ones my husband wanted to see—Ender’s Game, the latest Hunger Game one—weren’t my cup of tea, and I certainly didn’t want to see any of the other drivel-slash-fluff that was showing (not that I actually noticed what else was showing…). If I’m going to drop twenty-two bucks on a movie, I want it to be beautifully done, well-acted, and enlightening. A girl’s gotta have standards.

    12 Years a Slave was all that and more: thoughtful, harrowing, engrossing.

    *I shivered the whole way through.
    *I spent about four percent of the total viewing time staring at my lap or the backs of my eyelids.
    *I plugged my ears twice.
    *I didn’t smile or laugh. Not once.
    *I did not cry.
    *My husband and I couldn’t talk for several minutes afterwards.
    *I highly recommend it.

    They say this movie is unusual in that it’s about slavery. Before I went to see it, I didn’t get that. Because I’ve seen lots of movies that have bits of slavery in them—Civil War stuff, the underground railroad, etc. But now I get what they mean, and they are right. I’ve never seen a movie all about slavery from the inside of slavery. Watch it. It’s worth the big bucks. (My husband isn’t mad at me for making him watch it.)

    Anyway, then we went out for drinks and supper.

    Me: baked goat cheese with warm—and incredibly soft and chewy—pita wedges and a margarita.
    Him: an enormous cheese and bacon burger, house chips, and root beer.

    Back home, we sat down in front of the fire. The heat made my bones melt into puddles. I didn’t want to move.

    The house was so quiet.

    And then I murmured, “Let’s sleep in front of the fire tonight.”

    My husband smiled. “We could bring down the kids’ mattress…”

    We hesitated. Dragging down a mattress, blankets, and pillows would mean a bothersome morning clean-up. Sleeping in our regular bed in our regular room like regular people on a regular night would be so much easier.

    “We should do it,” I announced, pushing myself up off the couch. “Do something different. Break out of our comfort zones. Not be such sticks-in-the-mud.” (Which is funny because we just came back from a wild, let’s-live-in-another-country adventure. How is it that something as simple as sleeping downstairs instead of up can be a shake-‘em-up exercise while nine months in Guatemala is just par for the course? I don’t understand myself.)

    We ended up hauling down the mattress (and, in the process, discovering that there was a colony of stink bugs living between my son’s mattress and box springs—we vacuumed up right around three dozen—go look under your mattress). You’d think we’d have been toasty-oasty all night by the fire, but we slept so hard that the fire was almost completely out, come morning, and the house was an invigorating 58 degrees.

  • the quotidian (11.25.13)

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

    In the making: potato soup.
    Browning the ground beef and sausage for the ragu.
    Chemistry, the Khan way.

    A girl, a sling, and her doll.
    Amusing note: my children are appalled at how Lucy (in I Love Lucy) takes care of her baby. 
    When Lucy lays Little Ricky down, still whimpering, for the night and then walks out of the room,
    turns out the light, and shuts the door, they all yell at the screen, “That’s not how you put a baby to bed!” 
    And once, when Little Ricky cried in his crib and Lucy tried to soothe him by simply 
    patting his back, my younger son bellowed in shocked indignation, “PICK HIM UP!” 
    It’s interesting how the attachment practices that didn’t use 
    to be the norm have somehow become their norm. 
    Or maybe they are the natural norm and children just haven’t unlearned that yet?
    My lunch: greens, roasted butternut, feta, sunflower seeds, and balsamic vinaigrette. 
    I had two helpings.
    The trampoline is back up and hard at work saving my sanity.

    Our current resident bread baker.

    Color pops: the post rest-time treat.
  • how to use up Thanksgiving leftovers in 10 easy steps

    This time of year, there is always a barrage of articles and blog posts telling all us poor, clueless, overfed North Americans what to do with our Thanksgiving leftovers. The titles are generally pretty straightforward, such as How To Use Up Thanksgiving Leftovers, though every now and then someone has a burst of creative brilliance and adds an exclamation point and number a lá 37 Ways To Use Up Thanksgiving Leftovers!

    And I’m left sitting there scratching my head because, Really? Thanksgiving leftovers are a PROBLEM? Whatever happened to just EATING them?

    However, because everyone seems to think that a glut of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce pose unimaginable culinary hardships and I don’t, I’m going to assume that my hassle-free, shockingly simple method truly is unique and you all are dying to know about it.

    Because we all know what assuming does. You and me, baby. You and me.

    How to Use Up Thanksgiving Leftovers in 10 Easy Steps

    1. Open the refrigerator.

    2. Select what you want to eat. (If the options are overwhelming, just grab three things. Chances are, they’ll taste real good together.)

    3. Spoon the desired portions onto a plate.

    4. Put the plate in the microwave and zap until the food is hot.

    5. Get a fork.

    6. Put food on fork.

    7. Put fork in mouth.

    8. Remove fork from mouth.

    9. Chew food.

    10. Swallow.

    Today’s snark brought to you by A. Lil Common Sense, 
    with a nod to Nuttin Elsie II Rite O’bout, and Casey de Ornery Grumps.
  • candid crazy

    We have fully acclimated back to life in the States, I think. The glow of the rediscovered ordinary has faded to comfortable shabbiness. I’m a little sad because I liked the buzz I got from normal stuff like a soft mattress, toast, measuring cups, and apple cider. It was magic.

    Now I’ve re-engaged in my private and persistent battle with boredom. I often feel at loose ends. The days are full with the kids and their studies and adventures and scuffles. I do lovely, self-fulling things like write, read, visit with friends, and watch movies. I think and ponder and work myself up into ranting tizzies over world affairs and cultural idiosyncracies.

    But it’s not enough. (And no, nothing is ever enough. This is my personality, my Achilles heel, my poke-y thorn.)

    I think back to times in my life when I was completely boredom-less. There was that afternoon when I was an almost-teenager and I spent hours playing in the ocean, fully absorbed. There were the natural births of three of my children and the all-engrossing task of getting them into the world. There were the intense, rather awful months of fostering a difficult teenage girl. There was the bellydancing. There were the weeks when I was involved in a play. There were the first three months of survival in Guatemala.

    Not to over-analyze the situation, but I think I might thrive on pressure just a little. Also, being productive. Maybe being in front of people, too. And since I’m not about to put myself into a pressurized situation willy-nilly (I have to have stellar reasons and be fully sold in order to put myself and my family through such stresses), I think my best bet is to work at being productive. So…

    I’m taking up knitting.

    It’s a pretty mild solution (sorry to be so anti-climatic) but I’m hopeful it will work. Doing something with my hands will (please, please, pretty please) rein in my antsy mind and insatiable desires. (Yikes. That sounds a little more risque than I intended.) In my free moments, I’ll have something to pick up and zero in on. The soft yarn, the clicky needles, my eyes staring at one spot, the making something will work together calm me. (Good grief. Now I sound like a jittery druggie.)

    I’ve done this before. I got a so-so scarf and a now-trashed hat out of the deal, along with a solid sense of accomplishment (questionable though it may be). I’m slowly gearing up for the plunge: getting the yarn box down from the attic, pestering friends, studying patterns (which is foolish since they’re as legible as hieroglyphs to my un-knitting-educated eyes), and purchasing supplies. My fingers are itchy to start. It’s like I have that I’ve-been-trapped-inside-all-day-and-need-to-have-a-walk-NOW feeling, but it’s all consolidated into my fingers.

    Knitting isn’t the long-term solution, make no mistake. I’m fully aware that it’s simply a coping mechanism, a way to bide my time and ponder until I land on the next rock-my-world, go-go-go, thrill-seeking, push-my-limits (and everyone else’s) project.

    I sound crazy. It’s one of the risks of being candid.

    From the archives (I told you it’s an ongoing problem).

    So come on now. Be candid. What’s your crazy? (And if you say you don’t have one, I won’t believe you.)