• it all adds up

    Yesterday morning I picked the red raspberries. I do this every other morning for a couple months, quitting either when I’m sick of them or the season ends, whichever comes first. The berries were late this year, but now they’re making up for lost time. I get two quarts, maybe three, every picking. It adds up.

    While I was strategically worming my way over, under, and through the briars in search of every single berry, I thought about the other red fruit we’ve been picking: tomatoes. In the same amount of time it takes me to pick two measly quarts of berries, my husband can pick two to three five-gallon buckets of tomatoes. With such a discrepancy in size and quantity (less is more, right?), you’d think the berries would be light years ahead in taste. But they’re not. I probably prefer the tomatoes.

    Every couple days, my husband staggers in from the garden under a fresh load of tomatoes. One of the kids lays them out to finish ripening on the table in the downstairs bedroom that is not a bedroom, and each morning I roast a batch of tomatoes for sauce.

    The process feels classic in its straightforward simplicity. I halve the tomatoes, oil them up real good, and cram them into two big baking trays. I scalp a head of garlic, pour golden olive oil into the papery crevices, wrap it up tight in a piece of foil, and tuck the silver ball down among the tomatoes. As the vegetables sizzle and blacken in the oven, the kitchen turns steamy and unbelievably rich-smelling.

    A couple weeks ago I did several batches of the basic roasted sauce. This week has been dedicated to roasted tomato and garlic pizza sauce. Six pints there, thirteen pints here. It all adds up.

    Tomorrow I plan to turn an entire bushel of Romas into salsa. In preparation for the marathon chop session, I’ve been stashing the ripest of the tomatoes in the fridge, but even so there’s a bunch more on the verge of turning. In this heat—how weird it is to actually be hot!—the tomatoes ripen fast. Unlike my leisurely saucing-making process, the salsa project will be much more overwhelming. Come morning, I’ll set the kids up at the table with cutting boards anchored on ratty towels (to prevent slippage and to catch the juicy run-off) and we’ll have ourselves a party. If all goes as planned, at the day’s end we’ll have twenty more quarts of tomato product to add to the basement shelves.

    Earlier this week, I bought a two-liter bottle of red wine for a spaghetti sauce. The wine was cheaper in the bigger bottle and I figure we could use a double batch of sauce. We sure do have enough tomatoes. The bushes are still loaded. My husband says we haven’t even yet reached the halfway point. The way I see it, I have at least two weeks, maybe three, of tomato puttering in my future.

    Which is fine by me. Tomatoes and raspberries: they are a nice way to close out the growing season.

    This same time, years previous: they’re getting it!, pasta with lemon-salted grilled zucchini and onions (we ate this for supper this week, but I added a few grilled sausages, YUM), 2011 stats and notes, and pesto.

  • peach crisp

    When it comes to peach desserts, I am finally gaining ground. We’ve eaten countless batches of our much-loved peach cobbler recipe, and as of a couple weeks ago, I have a peach crisp I’m satisfied with. (I have yet, however, to bite into a peach pie that is anything other than bland.)

    I used to make my peach crisp by slicing peaches and then capping them with a butter-oat topping. It was fine, but in a pallid, this-needs-ice cream sort of way. Dressing up the peaches (à la the cobbler method) goes a long way in creating juicy, flavorful fruit. In other words, sugar makes it better. This is a dessert. If you want something healthy, just eat the peach.

    My other great discovery is—and this might strike some of you as a no-brainer—chop the peaches, don’t slice them. I used to slice my peaches as I do apples for pie. But then I’d end up with a slippery slice of peach on my spoon and no topping. Or all topping and no peach. It was awkward. And disappointing. Chopped peaches make the eating deliciously convenient. I’m not even joking.

    Peach Crisp

    If I’m feeling pious, I sometimes dial back the butter for the topping—maybe 14 tablespoons instead of 16. I rarely feel pious.

    for the fruit:
    8-10 cups chopped peaches
    2/3 cup brown sugar
    2 tablespoons flour
    1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    juice of one lemon (or about 2 tablespoons)

    Stir together the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt and toss with the peaches. Tumble the fruit into a 9×12 baking dish and sprinkle with the lemon.

    for the crisp:
    1 cup quick oats
    1 cup rolled oats
    1 cup flour
    1 cup brown sugar
    1 cup butter

    Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Using your fingers, mix well until all the butter is incorporated.

    Arrange the clumpy oat mixture over the fruit.

    Bake the crisp at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling madly. Serve warm, with milk or vanilla ice cream.

    This same time, years previous: Bezaleel scenes, the quotidian (8.27.14), fresh tomato salad, buttery basil pesto, and odds and ends.

  • don’t even get me started

    All day long—all the time, really—I’m bombarded with ideas. There’s the slew of NPR shows I like to listen to when I have a morning in the kitchen. There are the blogs, Facebook articles, and magazines. There are the books. There are the sermons, classes, and conversations.

    So many ideas, so many thoughts. Some of them lap at my brain like the ocean tickles a sunbather’s toes, but others are like giant waves, begging to be played in. Most of the time, I stay on metaphorical dry ground, enjoying the crashing wetness from the safety of my towel. Once in a while, I turn playful, jumping into the foamy spray, yelling and getting soaked. Rarely do I actually make something of the waves (that are actually ideas). Which, to carry this analogy through, I guess would be … a friendship with pod of dolphins? A meal from seaweed? A driftwood couch? Homemade sea salt?


    The point is, I do a lot more input than output, idea-wise. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out by not fully processing—making something of—all the ideas at my disposal.

    Not that all my reflections are worth expounding upon, of course. For example, take the eggs. Just this morning I read about someone’s intense gratefulness and delight over the deliciousness of bright-yellow, homegrown chicken eggs, and I thought:

    Bah. There’s not that much special about homegrown chicken eggs. I can’t taste a huge difference. Besides, eggs aren’t really my thing. I mean, I like ‘em, but I prefer the buttered toast that’s served up alongside.

    And what’s so great about homegrown stuff anyway? The cherry tomatoes from Costco were far tastier then the red ones we grew. WHICH ARE NOW ROTTING IN THE GARDEN BECAUSE I DON’T CARE. In fact, I’m EAGER for them to rot themselves into oblivion so I’ll have an excuse to eat store-bought cherry tomatoes again SO SUE ME. 

    Sure, homegrown food tastes better (usually, ha), but many times, the difference is all in the head. The brain part of the head, not the tongue part.

    (I do believe I just handed over my credentials as a gardener and food blogger. I should probably be impeached or something.)

    See what I mean? All this from one measly phrase about eggs.

    It’s probably best I don’t detail all my reflections. Still, I’d like to push myself to think things through just a little more thoroughly. Package it up presentable-like.

    Unlike this post which my husband says makes no sense whatsoever. But I’m posting it anyway because it’s all I’ve got.

    This same time, years previous: atop the ruins, on not rushing it, chocolate malted milk frosting, and my new favorite fruit.

  • the quotidian (8.25.14)

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

    Stick a fork in it.

    Playing school.

    Keeping it (desperately) real.
    (Actually, to be completely real, the room was in the process of being cleaned.
    And everyone knows that it always gets worse before it gets better.)

    Creekside waif.

    Out for a stroll.

    Little boy blue.

    Snuggling the snoozer.

    Multitasking like a champ.
    Or a hungry eight-year-old.
    Moving up in the world.

    Pin a kitten in it.


    This same time, years previous: tomato jam, basic oatmeal muffins, earthy ponderations, part three, homemade butter, and starting a new baby.

  • that special date

    Last night in bed, my husband and I discussed what we should do for our anniversary. Culture tells us that anniv celebrations are big stuff. Gotta keep the flame alive! Be playful! Take a break from routine! Say nice things! Have heart-to-heart conversation! Reminisce! Dream! Hold hands!

    So, “What about going out to eat?” I suggested. But eating in public—doing anything in public, really—brings out the awkward in my husband, and it’s not fun to spend money on someone else’s cooking while feeling awkward.

    Next suggestion: we could see a movie? But then we’d have to arrange child care. And get there. And spend a couple hours sitting in the dark smelling chemical-drenched popcorn and staring at a crazy-huge flickering screen. So nah.

    Him: Did you buy me a gift?

    Me: No. Did you buy me a gift?

    Him: No.

    We laughed at our pathetically predictable selves, said goodnight, and flipped away from each other into our respective sleep positions—me: face-down to the left; him: face-down to the right.

    This morning we ran the loop together. Which was actually a perfect anniversary-type activity since we first got to know each other during sweaty, early-morning runs through various San Antonio missions. This morning—eighteen years, four children, and many adventures later—our younger son was up and begging to come along so we let him trail us on his too-small dirt bike with mismatched wheels. As we huff-huffed along, he kept up a running commentary of all the sights and sang snatches of song. It was like having a portable boom box, but cuter.

    Then there was the Sunday morning rush out the door, the time spent among friends, the extra child come to spend the afternoon, a cobbled-together lunch of corncakes, bacon, and watermelon, and the stack of dishes from both breakfast and lunch that my husband and I washed together. Sundays are the kids’ day off from dishwashing, so while they scatter to their assigned rest-time space, we swish suds and wipe down surfaces while recounting all the bits of juicy church gossip.

    Today we lucked out with afternoon naps that included actual sleep, followed by writing time for me and fencing-with-large-machinery for him. Later there will be popcorn, apples, and a movie, all six of us smushed together on our close-to-breaking couch.

    So about that special date we should be on? I think we already are.

    This same time, years previous: he got me, 16, coming up for air, fourteen years, stewed tomatoes, and so why did I marry him?  

  • proceed with abandon

    For the first time ever (I think), I pre-ordered a book. It’s called Home Grown, and it’s about an unconventional childhood, a family farm, and lots of shit. (Because it’s about life on a farm and that’s how he talks.) (‘Course, this is purely supposition since I have yet to read the book…)

    I learned about the author, Ben Hewitt, on Tuesday night at our church potluck when a friend told me about an unschooling article she had read in Outside Magazine. She had saved the article for me, and the next morning after the sourdough bread had been started and the breakfast dishes washed up, I settled down at the kitchen table for a look-see.

    Straight off, I pretty much fell in love with the guy. I resonated with everything he said down to his little disclaimer about how he prefers the term “self-directed learning” to “unschooling.” I sent him a brief love—I mean, thank-you—note and then dived into his blog posts. The guy is a prolific and thoughtful (prolifically thoughtful, perhaps?) writer, so I’ve got my work cut out for me. It’s pure fun, though.

    Anyway, if you’re at all interested in matters regarding education, nature, parenting, and food, you might want to give this blog a once over. Warning: within a couple hours of linking to the blog on Facebook, I was getting feedback that included words such as “addicted.” Proceed with caution. Or abandon.

    Actually, when something is this good, abandon is better, I think.

    This same time, years previous: summer’s end, Valerie’s salsa, and sweet freedom.

  • bruschetta

    All week long I’ve been sitting on a best-ever recipe, itching to share it with you but hesitating because it’s so good that I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it justice with the written word. It’d be better, more persuasive, if I could give you a sample straight up—just stick my arm through the computer screen and into your house and hand you a little piece of edible heaven. But I’m no Willy Wonka, so words it is.

    Remember that scene in Julie and Julia where Julie fries thick slices of bread in lots of oil and then mounds the pieces with cubes of juicy tomato? While she stews over what sort of project she can take on in order to have something to write about, her husband takes bite after enormous bite of the bruschetta (CHOMP, chew, CHOMPchew, CHOMPCHOMPCHOMP) interspersed with moans of deliciousness while juice dribbles down his chin. It’s a glorious scene.

    That’s what I made. Except, I made it better.

    That’s right: I’m one-upping the Julias and blogging about it. Aren’t I classic.

    A couple years ago, a friend told me about a fresh tomato salad she makes. Basically, it’s tomatoes in a brine of olive oil and balsamic vinegar with garlic and fresh basil. I made it and liked it, but I didn’t swoon.

    But then the next year when the tomatoes were ripe, I called her up for the recipe because, well, it was kinda good. Fast forward to this year: I called her up (yet again) for the recipe and served it to my mom. Then my mom called me for the recipe and I had to call my friend back because I had already misplaced it. Since the recipe was fresh in my mind, I was all like, Oh heck, why not?, and made the salad again. And then, with the Julie and Julia scene playing in my head, I served it up as bruschetta and—CHOMP chew CHOMP chew—the rest is history.

    The Actual History

    Chapter One: I serve the bruschetta on Saturday noon and act like I’ve struck gold. My husband says it is good.

    Chapter Two: I make bruschetta, just for myself, that night for supper.

    Chapter Three: We eat more bruschetta for Sunday lunch. I use the leftover tomatoes that have been marinating in brine since the day before. My husband comes close to raving.

    Chapter Four: On Monday I make a skillet of bruscetta for lunch and share it with my older son. Upon discovering there are no seconds, he is crushed.


    For the tomatoes:
    4 cups of juicy ripe, multicolored (if you have them) tomatoes
    ½ cup minced fresh basil
    ½ cup olive oil
    1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1 tablespoon salt
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1/4 teaspoon black pepper

    Put the tomatoes and basil in a bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour the dressing over the tomatoes and stir. Let sit at room temperature for one hour before serving. Leftovers keep for a couple days in the fridge. (As the tomatoes get eaten up, freshen up the salad with a new tomato. You can only do this once or twice, though, before the brine’s strength diminishes.)

    For the bread:
    a bunch of slices of thick, chewy bread
    olive oil
    1 garlic clove, cut in half, optional

    Heat a skillet on medium-high. Drizzle olive oil on the pan to cover the same area as one piece of bread. Quickly slap the bread over the oil. Repeat the drizzle-and-slap method until the pan is full of bread slices. Reduce the heat to medium.

    Once the bread is golden brown and crunchy, flip and fry on the other side. Except you need to add more olive oil at this point, so it’s a bit of a juggling act. Sometimes it’s easier to remove several pieces of bread and then drizzle and flip-slap. When both sides are golden brown, remove the pieces to a plate. Important tips: be quite generous with the olive oil and get the bread as crunchy toasty as possible.

    Brush each piece of grilled bread with a garlic clove, if desired. (Since there is garlic in the tomato salad, this isn’t a crucial step.)

    To assemble:
    toasted bread slices
    tomato salad
    fresh mozzarella, chopped or torn into small pieces

    Put two or three pieces of mozzarella on each piece of toast. Spoon some briny tomatoes onto each piece. Top with two or three more pieces of cheese. Serve immediately. CHOMP chew.

    This same time, years previous: photo shoot, two minute peanut butter chocolate cake (I don’t recommend it), red raspberry ice cream, whole wheat buttermilk waffles, earthy ponderations, part two, oven-roasted Roma tomatoes, grape jelly, and cold curried corn soup.

  • on unschooling and parental comfort level

    This summer (and despite the back-to-school pictures on your Facebook page, it is still summer … for another whole month), I read a book called Natural Born Learners. It’s a collection of radio interviews with all sorts of homeschooling experts, such as John Taylor Gatto, Kate Fridkis, David Albert, and Sandra Dodd.

    Mini Book Review
    One of my pet peeves is that books about homeschooling are so often poorly edited. Writers make lots of mistakes (I’m a classic example) but there’s no excuse for the published books and magazines. This book was yet another not-well-edited example. The transcripts were clunky, the layout dull, and transitions nearly nonexistent. But, and this is a BIG but: the heart of the book—the ideas and issues—were good as gold. So yes, I recommend this book. Just squint your eyes and rush over the typos and awkward wording. And be sure to keep a pencil close at hand for lots of oh-my-word-this-is-awesome underlining.
    End of Mini Book Review

    While reading this book, oodles of ideas caught my attention (such as the aforeblogged-about notion of homes as museums), but there was one idea in particular that gave me pause. Brenna McBroom, a long-time unschooler, gave voice to one of my biggest hang-ups about unschooling. She criticizes unschooling parents for hesitating to do anything that might be interpreted as “controlling” their children. She says that many unschooling parents are so committed to letting their children learn about the world on their own terms that the parents won’t interfere, even when their children are damaging property or hurting other people (Ekoko, 349).

    Not until I read the critique did I realize that this issue—the equating of unschooling with a relinquishing of parental control—is at the heart of why I hesitate to embrace unschooling. I’ve been witness to this extreme view of unschooling, and it is disconcerting, to say the least. So it’s a relief to see someone from the inner circle criticizing the same thing that bothers me. I don’t have to be just like those people in order to count myself an unschooler. Plus, internal critique gives the movement more credibility (at least in my eyes). (For the record, this is how I work with people, too: show me your weakness and I’ll trust and respect you.)

    The belief that unschooling parents aren’t allowed to be in control of their children is not, in fact, a true definition of unschooling. As I read more and more about different unschoolers and their diverse lifestyles, it’s becoming clear that many unschooling parents are not hands-off. They direct, boss, and encourage, as needed. They enforce hard work and chores. Some of them even require their children to do an occasional math workbook, gasp. And yet they are all still counted as unschoolers.

    A Google search of unschooling brought up John Holt’s definition: “When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear.”

    Ha, comfortably bear. I love that.

    Actually, I really, really love that. Because Parental Comfort Level is so subjective. For example, some parents might enjoy being at their kids’ beck and call, participating in their children’s project ideas, and doing most of the household chores so that their kids are free to roam. Other parents (me!) might require more personal space, structure, and evenly divided responsibility over household tasks. It just depends on the parent.

    And on the child. Some children are natural givers, chipper-in-ers, go-getters, and responsibility taker-on-ers while others are … not. Some children, bless their sweet little hearts, are sloth-like, overly introspective, needy, and prone to taking the easy way out.

    Sometimes (heaven help us) multiple parenting styles and personality extremes exist under the same roof, so for unschooling to flourish, flexibility and common sense must take precedence (two personality traits I find in short supply).

    “What a parent can comfortably bear” provides plenty of wiggle room. I like that.

    I don’t know if what we’re doing counts as unschooling or not. Again, in John Holt’s words, “unschoolers … learn … when it makes sense to them to do so, not because they have reached a certain age or are compelled to do so by arbitrary authority.”

    I guess this means that when I pay less attention to the ever-present Arbitrary Authority known as Institutionalized Education and more attention to my own children’s developmental abilities and interests, even when—and maybe especially when—their methods and time tables for learning are other than What’s Expected, then that’s unschooling.

    So yeah, I guess this means we’re unschoolers, more or less.


    Random pictures courtesy of an afternoon at the river with friends and cousins.

    This same time, years previous: stewed greens with tomato and chili, the quotidian (8.20.12), this is what crazy looks like, how to get your refrigerator clean in two hours, and earthy ponderations, part one.

  • kale tabbouleh with tomatoes and cucumbers

    August is the season where I serve supper and my husband weeps.

    I’m not trying to make him cry. I’m actually being a conscientious, upright, in-tune-with-mother-earth-type person. In other words, I forage in the garden for what’s ripe and then slap it on the table. One night there was a delightful bulgur salad along with corn on the cob. The next night I served a mountain of corn on the cob and leftover peas.

    The food was delicious—people pay big bucks for fresh veggies, you know—but throughout the meal my husband wore an aggrieved expression. Sure enough, a couple hours later I found him with his head in the fridge, rooting around for something to more to eat.

    Me: You hungry?

    Him: I need food, Jennifer. Food! I already made three eggs and I’m still famished. I! Am! Hungry!

    And then he whimpered.

    So the next day I went shopping for food. I bought snacks and apples and ham. I made big, husband-pleasing plans for pizza and pastas and taco salad. (The tomato sandwiches, pesto with candied cherry tomatoes, and roasted beets I’ll slip in around the edges.)

    In the meantime, the leftover bulgur salad is all mine. I’ve been eating great mounds of it for my lunches. It makes me feel virtuous, energetic, and only a wee bit resentful that my husband isn’t as nuts about it as I am. Because it is the perfect lunch salad.

    Also, regarding this food preference difference: is there actually a gender-based divide in taste preferences?  Is there truth to the stereotype that (more) men like wings, burgers, and pizza and (more) women like mushrooms, blue cheese, and kale? Is it sexist to even raise such a question?

    Kale Tabbouleh with Tomatoes and Cucumbers
    Adapted from Aimee of Simple Bites

    for the salad:
    1 cup bulgur
    8-10 leaves of kale
    1½  – 2 cups chopped tomatoes
    2 medium cucumbers, peeled and chopped
    1/4 cup minced onion
    ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
    ½ cup mint leaves, chopped

    for the dressing
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
    ½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
    ½ teaspoon salt
    freshly ground black pepper

    Put the bulgur in a bowl and cover with two cups of boiling water. Let sit until the bulgur is soft and the water is absorbed. (If there is any extra water, drain it off.)

    Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.

    Wash the kale, remove the tough stem, and mince the leaves. Drizzle the leaves with 1 tablespoon of the dressing. Using your hands, massage the dressing into the kale leaves until they are glossy and soft.

    Add the kale, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, mint, and parsley to the bulgur. Toss with the rest of the dressing. Serve at room temperature.

    Leftovers can be refrigerated for several days. They make perfect lunches (for the non meat-eaters among us).

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.19.13), basic fruit crisp, and thoughts on nursing.

  • the quotidian (8.18.14)

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

    Flower fun.

    Irony: watching Charlotte hunt down, play with, and and then eat a rabbit.
    All while holding a giant pink bunny.
    (And angry at me for taking pictures instead of helping.)
    Salted caramel ice cream, oh yes!

    Giant exhale: the play is over. 

    This same time, years previous: easy French bread, from market to table, starfruit smoothie, summer visitor, the beach, garlicky spaghetti sauce, around the internets, peach cornmeal cobbler and fresh peach ice cream, drilling for sauce, barley and beans with sausage and red wine, peach tart, and tomato and red wine sauce.