• better iced coffee

    Last night found me sitting at the kitchen table stabbing holes in watermelon chunks with a fork and then carefully filling the little holes with Captain Morgan’s. It had been a long day. The muggy heat made me want to beat something.

    I was mad at my clothes for being on my body.
    I was angry with my hair for touching my scalp.
    I was furious at the windows for not letting in more air.
    And I was outraged at the weather for not being breezy.

    Heat does not a rational Jennifer make.

    Also, I was ridden with the worst sort of writerly desperation that I will not detail because it’s pathetic and sad and no one likes a whine-fest—

    EXCEPT I WILL SAY THIS. A bad stretch of writing and my day is soured, down the drain, fizzled, kaput. So far, I have been incapable of separating my writing angst from the rest of my life. It bleeds into everything, distracts the crap out of me, and drags down the not-writing times when I should be focused on cooking, gardening, or hanging with the fam. Such a brain suck. Knowing that I’ll be battling this mind war for the next months (ha, YEARS! who am I kidding?) is enough to make me weep. Or spike my watermelon. 

    I know (or am pretty sure, at least) that bad spells are just that—spells—and I’m as likely to fall into a groove as I am to fall out of it. The key is to keep grooving. Or something.

    Blah, blah, whatever. Let’s talk about coffee.

    Really, this coffee is not anything new. I’ve already written about my iced coffee recipe. In this hot weather, I live on the stuff. (Lie: I only drink it once, after lunch. I drink hot coffee in the morning.) But then last week I saw a recipe for Cold Coffee Improved Upon. The recipe called for adding sugar (brown!) to the grounds at the start of the cold-brewing process, and I was like, Heck yessss. No more stirring sugar into cold coffee before drinking! (Hot weather makes me lazy.)

    The recipe also called for adding some cinnamon. So I did. I’m not a cinnamon-in-coffee gal, but the addition was rather nice: warm with a kick of fancy. I suggest you try it.

    Better Iced Coffee 
    Adapted from Dinner with Julie.

    1 cup finely ground coffee
    ¼ cup brown sugar
    ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

    Put all three ingredients into a quart jar. Fill to the top with cold water. Screw on a lid and shake. Set the jar in the fridge for 24-48 hours. Strain, put the coffee concentrate into a clean quart jar, and refrigerate.

    To serve: fill an ice-filled glass half full of coffee and top with milk. Stir and drink, ahhhh.

    This same time, years previous: weigh in, please, my ethical scapegoat, cilantro beet salad, orange cranberry scones, spaghetti with fresh herbs and fried eggs, chocolate peanut butter cake, cabbage apple slaw with buttered pecans, and sour cherry crostatas.

  • the quotidian (6.22.15)

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

    Grilled strawberries. Have you tried them? 
    They get soft and juicy, and their flavor intensifies. 
    I’d like to churn them into ice cream next time.

    We’re hooked.

    Keeping the mess outside.
    Boss of The Deep Clean.
    Caring for the neighbors’ animals has perks: milk!

    How he likes to wake up: breakfast on the couch and a book. 
    (Note: I do not limit my children’s cream cheese usage.)

    When the road crew comes: the best seats in (or out of) the house.

    My younger daughter’s wise investment: this book (but from Costco for 12 bucks).
    Having a good time without me: a photo that appeared on my camera.

    An unsolved mystery: how he managed to slice his right index finger 
    while holding the knife in his right hand.

    Tending the corn. 
    Tuckered out: after a rainy afternoon spent varmint hunting.
    Pizza so big you have to stick your tongue out while lugging it into the kitchen.

    This same time, years previous: in recovery, dobby and luna, magic custard cake, walking through water, three things, the quotidian (6.19.12), refried beans, Kate’s enchiladas, this particular Friday, what I got, and how to freeze cilantro.

  • sinking in

    I am in a fog. Last week when our water system sprung a leak, I didn’t notice (“Didn’t you see the water all over the basement floor?” my husband asked. “Well, yes,” I admitted. “I did see water, now that you mention it, but, um, it didn’t register.”) I put a pot of rice on the stove and then promptly forgot about it…until the smoke alarms reminded me. Once I even forgot to drink my coffee.

    My older son, in particular, takes offense at my glazed-over eyes. “How much longer are you going to be like this?” My answer—at least a couple years—did not sit well with him.

    See, a few weeks ago a publisher approached me with an idea. We met the very next day to bat around ideas, and the next day I stayed home from church to Google “How to write a book.” (!!!) That afternoon my husband and I rearranged our bedroom so I could have an official book-writing place, and the next evening he built me a table-desk from an old door in three hours flat.

    I got some plants from the greenhouse and stuffed them in little pots and old bowls (oxygen for my brain), and I scavenged a white board and bulletin board from the thrift store.

    I read about quaint writer sheds and sleek studios and offices that take up entire rooms, but let me tell you, not a one of them has anything on my nook. What with the tall, breezy windows and high ceiling, an entire floor and bed on which to spread out my papers, and a desk that has a hole in it from where the doorknob used to be, I couldn’t be happier. Plus, the room has a closeable door, and when my time is up, I leave everything where it is and no one messes with it. Oh the glories!

    (Also? Our bedroom has been severely underutilized. Why? Why?!)

    Actually, these last couple weeks have been spent not on the book but on the seminar I’ll be giving at our church’s national convention. But since the seminar is on homeschooling (“Skipping School,” Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in room 2104A—COME!) and that’s what the book is about, it all blurs together.

    Last week my children were all otherwise occupied thanks to their regular work schedules, my mother and a girlfriend, and an Interfaith Peace Camp, so I had six hours each day (and nine hours on Thursday!) to spend writing. I’ve always thought that I can only stand to write for about two hours at a time, so my endurance has come as a complete surprise. It certainly hasn’t been all roses, but the overwhelming feeling is enjoyment. Which is, to say the least, encouraging.

    I haven’t sunk into a project like this for…well, for since forever, I guess. I live my life on the surface, only dipping into projects here and there, always prepared to be yanked from whatever it is I’m doing—perhaps this is a side-effect of mothering?—so to sink into something this deep feels luxurious. I have permission to go inward. No, scratch that. I have been asked to do this. In a way, I’m off the productivity hook. While there is the goal of a finished product (which is actually a very large and pointy hook, ah!), daily productivity is not the expectation. For now, the process is what counts. Consistency. Plodding forward, one new idea, vignette, and researched idea at a time.

    And now, if you’ll excuse me. I have an outline to tackle, and a working title and table of contents to conjure out of the thin air of my brain. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can I think I can I think I can IthinkIcanIthinkIcan TOOT TOOT!

    This same time, years previous:
    mud cake, spinach dip, the quotidian (6.16.14), the smartest thing I did, the business of belonging, street food, language study, Greek cucumber and tomato salad, a glimpse, sourdough waffles, and when I sat down.        

  • a photo book

    Nearly two years after returning from Guatemala, I finally made a book from some of the pictures. I used to—years ago—make photo albums, but that felt overwhelming. Then I saw Amanda’s post on personalized photo books, and a seed was planted.

    I’ve known that these books are A Thing, but I never gave them any serious consideration. I was afraid the process would be cumbersome, the pictures would look stupid in print, no one in the family would appreciate the book, and it’d end up being a colossal waste of money. But then I realized that I’d never know if it would work or not if I didn’t ever give it a try. So I took the plunge.

    It took me a while to ready the book, and I never did quite figured out how to maneuver my way through the options. Thanks to my ineptitude, it was probably harder than it needed to be. Also, I got a little stressed out over all the printing options, the hundreds of pictures to choose from, and trying to organize my photos into chronological order. So I reined in my perfectionist tendencies and focused on trying to imagine what the children would like and then selecting photos that would jog their memories. The best I could, I lumped photos into categories—food, work, people, school—but I eventually quit trying to keep everything in order. Case in point: the photo on the front cover was taken in Nicaragua. Whatever.

    A couple days after I submitted the book for printing, I had the sickening realization that all the photos I used had been taken from my export folders, and all the photos in my export photos had been downsized. The quality was going to be terrible! But it was too late. There was nothing I could do. The worst that could happen was the book would arrive and go straight into the trash and I would’ve wasted fifty dollars. Oh well.

    And then the book arrived and it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it was kind of neat!

    Sure, the photos weren’t crystal clear and I hadn’t sized some of them to fit the page as neatly as I could have. In retrospect, I could have done without some of the photos and used more of others, especially of the children doing their thing. But it was my first book. It wouldn’t be fair to expect it to be perfect.

    As for the rest of the family, they were all quite taken with the book. The children fought over who had dibs on taking it to church to show off to friends. My daughter took it to work to show her boss. My husband keeps picking it up, turning the pages, and sighing wistfully.

    When my mom came to visit, the children crowded around, all talking at once. As she slowly paged through the book, stories and memories poured from the children. It was like a spigot had been turned on full force. And then it dawned on me that while I had done a lot of processing and sharing through the blog, my children had never gotten the chance to show-and-tell their stories. Their excitement was gratifying, but it also broke my heart a little. I wish I had provided them with a way to process the experience a whole lot earlier than this.

    But oh well. My imperfect book is here now, and we love it to bits. That’s good enough for me.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (6.9.14), last Sunday morning, the quotidian (6.10.13), fresh tomatillo sauce, and white chocolate and dried cherry scones,

  • the quotidian (6.8.15)

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

    Adding up a little at a time, but still not nearly enough.

    So much lettuce: the kids are begging for mercy.

    Fabulous waffles: creamed honey, peanut butter, bananas, whipped cream, and a tiny drizzle of syrup.

    Chocolate peanut butter.


    A new month: the kids’ budgets.

    Huddling on the couch, terrified: I was listening to this.

    Wild bird-sitting for a friend.

    Ham and bacon.

    This same time, years previous: delivery, white icing, thorns, Jeni’s chocolate ice cream, strawberry daiquiris, mint tea concentrate, nothing is lost on the breath of God, and what it’s about.    

  • a better grilled cheese sandwich

    I think I read about this twist on traditional grilled cheese in a recent Bon Appetit. Instead of using butter for the outer sides of the sandwich, they suggested using mayonnaise.

    Naturally, I was curious. Would the mayonnaise make the sandwich taste different? Would it get the bread as toasty-crisp as butter does?

    Turns out, the flavor is excellent, but I would never guess my grilled cheese had mayonnaise on the outside. (And since the skillet gets a light butter greasing before adding the sandwiches, there is still some butter flavor.)

    But even though there’s not a noticeable improvement to flavor, I discovered a couple practical benefits to using mayo:

    1. Mayonnaise is way easier to spread. No more ripping up the bread with firm butter!
    2. Mayonnaise provides complete bread surface area coverage which translates into uniform golden toasty goodness.

    These benefits have me sold. I have been making my grilled cheese with mayonnaise ever since.

    A Better Grilled Cheese Sandwich

    the bread:
    Any kind works, but I’m partial to a sturdy artisan bread like my homemade sourdough. And not whole grains, please. The whiter the better.

    the cheese:
    A good, melty kind, whatever you like, and a lot of it. Seriously. Pack it in there. (The sandwich in the pictures did not have enough cheese.)

    add-ins (optional):
    If using add-ins like ham or roasted tomatoes: put a layer of cheese, then the add-in, and then another layer of cheese. This way the melty cheese will bind everything together most spectacularly.

    the mayonnaise:
    A thin coating on the outside pieces of bread. Full-fat, of course.

    the butter:
    Just a tad.

    the process: 
    Make sure the skillet is fairly hot before adding the sandwiches and then turn the heat down to medium. Take your time—the longer the better. Ten minutes? Fifteen? Rotate the sandwiches to get them evenly toasted.

    Do you have any killer tips for making a better grilled cheese sandwich?

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (6.2.14), when the studies end, on pins and needles, the quotidian (6.3.13), meat market, chocobananos, of a sun-filled evening, the best chocolate ice cream ever, sour cream ice cream, on hold, and hypothesizing.    

  • the quotidian (6.1.15)

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

    My midday cup of joe: hot weather has struck.
    Contented absorption: a rare moment (for this child).
    Snap snap.

    Ready for the homeschool evaluator.

    Breaking all the rules and then capturing it on camera for me to see: so smart.

    Planting trees pays off: the summer house.

    Thanks for all the eggs, m’cluckies!
    The field got a haircut.

    Gardening in the buff, or so it would seem.
    Our Work To Eat Program.
    To go with potato chips: evening snack.

    This same time, years previous: in her element, the race we saw, a bunch of stuff, on the subject of grade level, showtime!, small pasta with spinach and bacon, down to the river to chill, three reds fruit crumble, barbecued pork ribs, open-faced radish sandwich, and fresh strawberry cream pie.