• the myth of the hungry teen

    Teenagers are huge eaters, or at least that’s what I hear. I have read countless posts in which mothers detail their never-ending struggle to keep their teens’ tummies full. We need more nourishing snacks! they plead. We’re running out of ideas! At a family reunion, someone suggested we have a grazing bar for the teens, as though teens are insatiable beasts and must be kept appeased at all times.

    Ever since the kids were little—and probably before they were even born—I looked forward to feeding a pack of teenagers. I’d be able to cook anything I wanted, and lots of it, too, and then I’d get the satisfaction of watching my children enthusiastically devour the food with gusto, no complaining. Furthermore, in the hollow-leg stage, there would be no such thing as “watching it”—for a few glorious years, the kids would be able to feast on all the cinnamon buns and chocolate cake they wanted and then, never full, turn right around and gobble down baked potatoes, veggie soup, and tomato sandwiches. What fun!

    Alas, this has not been my experience. My teens eat boringly healthy quantities of food, get full, and stop. Unless it’s something they love, they rarely take seconds. They don’t snack, either. Sometimes—and this is the thing I find most baffling—if it’s not a meal they like, they’re fine saying no thanks and patiently waiting until the next meal. So much for this teen plague of persistent hunger.

    Maybe it’s too early to talk. Perhaps they’ll turn 17 or 18 and suddenly be overcome with episodic bouts of starvation. I really don’t know. It’s just that from where I sit right now, the whole teens-are-bottomless-pits talk is, I’m sad to say, just that. Talk.

    So what’s your story? Are you one of those moms frantically searching the web for a good homemade granola bar recipe? Or are you, too, crushed by their non-energetic appetites?

    Signed,
    An Abject Mother Cook

    PS. I’m not that abject. The kids have healthy appetites, and I get plenty of chances to cook. Still, I have been surprised at the absence of a noticeable appetite shift, especially now that they’re shooting up like weeds. I find it curious, that’s all.

    PPS. Now my nine year old, on the other hand… When that kid gets hungry, he’s frantic. If I don’t toss some food his way right quick, all hell breaks loose.

    PPPS. Re that photo: he only ate about two-thirds of that stack before passing the plate to his hovering grandaddy. (Now there’s a man who can eat.)

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.29.14), a different angle, chocolate birthday cake with vanilla water frosting, ciabatta, dumping: a list, butterscotch cookies, and peposo.

  • getting shod

    “The farrier will be at the farm tomorrow,” my older daughter said. “You should come.”

    My daughter is not one to gush and coerce, so I took her suggestion to heart. If she thought we’d find the farrier interesting, then we probably would.

    When my younger son and I arrived at the barn, the farrier and his assistant were already working, and my daughter was in the back stables getting the next horse. “Leah hates the farrier,” she said. “If we tie her, she breaks the ropes, so I’ll have to hold her.”

    And so she did, standing directly in front of Leah while the farrier popped off her horseshoes, cleaned out her hooves, trimmed and filed them down, put the new ones on, and hammered them into place.

    The farrier worked out of a truck he had backed up to the door. He had a little box kiln that he said gets up to 2500 degrees, plus an anvil and a ton of tools. Everything was hard looking and efficient, including the farrier himself—all ropey muscle and utilitarian toughness. (But warm and friendly, too.)

    The most dramatic part of the whole process was when they stuck the red-hot guide shoe (or whatever it was) onto the newly filed-down hoof.

    Flames shot up and smoke billowed, and the powerful stench of burned hair filled the barn. The horse didn’t even flinch.

    PS. Interesting (gross) fact: dogs love to munch on discarded hoof clippings.

    This same time, years previous: pointless and chatty, 37, the skirt, warm feet and golden crosses, and ballerina daredevils.

  • home cut

    My older daughter decided she wanted to cut her hair. She wanted a bunch taken off, she said, but she still wanted it long, or at least long enough to pull back into a ponytail.

    “Look,” I said. “You have two options. One, you can get it professionally cut. I’ll chip in 15 bucks towards the cost and you’ll have to pay the rest out of pocket. With long hair like yours, the cut should last about a year, so it’d be worth the investment. Or, I could Google it and do it myself. Your choice.”

    Ever the thrifty one, she opted for the home-cut version. So after work one day, while she was in the shower washing off the horse stink, I logged onto YouTube for a crash course in layering. I didn’t understand most of what I watched, but I got the general idea.

    First off, just for kicks, I did the what-you’re-not-supposed-to-do cut: flipping the hair over her head, pulling it straight out and chopping it off. It worked fine (ha), but she wanted it shorter. And more layered. So I set about experimenting. “It’s a good thing your hair grows fast,” I chirped. “I’m probably going to screw this up.”

    I was following the directions, but suddenly her hair looked way too short. My husband stepped out on the porch to have a look-see and actually gasped. So I told her to sit tight and ran back inside to re-watch the video. I was doing it right. Or mostly right, anyway. Thus reinforced, I went back outside and continued hacking away.

    And it turned out amazingly fine! Dramatically lightened and plenty long enough for a ponytail. She could hardly quit tossing her head long enough for me to snap some photos.

    I still need to do some touch-up around the face—shaping and texturing, something—but it’s no biggie. Cutting long hair is much easier than I thought it would be.

    Also, YouTube is amazing.

    This same time, years previous: on quitting, in which I have a come-to-Jesus moment, the run around, minute by minute, she outdid herself, a jiggle on the wild side, a list, and my beginnings.

  • better than cake

    Part one: A Promise 
    It was Monday night, the first night of choir rehearsal. The choristers and their families were invited for an ice cream social to be followed by a parent orientation and then an abbreviated rehearsal. I had already made arrangements with a friend of mine to do her the favor of dropping her son off on our way home after rehearsal. That way my friend could skip out as soon as the orientation was over and take her two tired little girls home to bed.

    “I don’t know if my son will remember that you’re taking him home,” she cautioned before she left. 

    “Oh, don’t worry about it,” I said. “We’ll snag him. I got it covered.”

    Part Two: Three (Potential) Tragedies
    On Wednesday when the kids and I were driving up the interstate, a car merged onto the highway in front of us. But instead of merging smoothly and , the driver drove directly across the line of traffic, his car perpendicular to ours. The cars to our left slammed on their brakes and one of them nearly crashed into the guardrail. Then, a few miles later, a tractor trailer ignored his yield sign and nearly plowed me off the highway.

    The very next day I was driving down a country road when a pick-up came chugging toward me right down the center of the road. I slowed. The truck kept coming. I pulled into the ditch, my tires crunching into the side of the hill. I had nowhere to go and, in my panic, couldn’t locate the horn. I braced myself for impact, but at the last very last second the driver looked up, saw me, and swerved back onto his side.

    Was this some cosmic joke? Three close calls in two days, and not a one of them my fault? Perhaps I’d better stop driving for awhile.

    Part Three: A Realization 
    We were driving north on 81 on Saturday, on our way back from The Frontier Culture Museum, and as we neared home, my thoughts turned towards the evening. “Hm,” I thought to myself. “We have to pick up our son from choir this evening. Maybe my friend would like to take a turn picking him up since I took her son…”

    And then I stopped breathing. Because HOLY COW. Oh my word, NO. I forgot. I forgot to take my friend’s kid home after rehearsal. No, no, no!!!

    So severe was my shock, that then I couldn’t remember if I was remembering correctly. Did I take him? Did I leave him? Had he been in our car? After five minutes of hard thinking, I came to the wretched conclusion that I had, indeed, left the poor boy behind.

    My husband was appalled. He raked me over the coals and back. And then he did it again. The children were no better. They were, quite frankly, stunned. As we came to the road that led to my friend’s property, my older daughter ordered me to turn left. “You have to go apologize to them in person, Mom,” she said severely.

    But I came straight home, too tired to think of going anywhere else. And too embarrassed. I was convinced I had totally wrecked my friend’s evening. Her husband had been working that night, if I recalled, and she had probably already tucked the girls into bed by the time her son finally phoned. So then she had to untuck the girls, pack them into the van, and trundle back into town to pick up her forlorn and forgotten child.

    And it had taken me all of five whole days to remember. Five days! I left the kid at choir for five days.

    Oh the shame. I could hardly bear to think on it.

    Back home, I sent an email to my friend, the end of which went, more or less, like this:

    I’m not sure I can make it up to you but I’d like to try. So here’s my suggestion: my husband will be picking up our son tonight and he would like to take your son home afterward. He will not forget. And I would like to send along a treat for you. I am hopeful that I can be like Amelia Bedelia and make something so delicious that you all take one bite and promptly forget the foolish errors of my irresponsible ways. It’s worth a shot at least, yes? So what say you? May I be granted a second chance? 

    My friend did not reply. I sent the delicious apology/bribe (a peanut butter chocolate cake with chocolate ganache that I just happened, thankfully, to have in the fridge) along with my husband anyway. When he returned, he reported that when he handed over the cake and said, “Read your email. I’m not going to say anything else.”

    “You know, kids,” I said. “There’s a lesson here. Sometimes when people do really thoughtless and irresponsible and stupid things, there’s a chance they might not be trying to make your life miserable. Sometimes they have no idea they’re even doing anything wrong.” Like, say, the drivers of those cars? Hmm…..

    I washed the dishes, glancing at the computer every two seconds to see if my friend (was she still my friend?) had replied. And that’s when it hit me: all those almost-crashes? That was the universe trying to pick me off because I had left behind that poor boy! I laughed so hard that my younger daughter came running in from outside to see what was so funny.

    Then the phone rang and it was my friend and she was laughing. She was not angry! She still liked me! She thought the whole thing was funny, uproariously funny. My anxiety drained away, and relief flooded so quickly I turned giddy. I felt clean, refreshed, light. 

    And humbled, too. Grace is a powerful gift, better than any cake.

    (But still, it’s always good to have a cake at the ready. You never know when you might need some forgiveness leverage.)

    This same time, years previous: test your movies!, the quotidian (9.24.12), simple roast chicken, painting my belly, roasted butternut squash salad, and one hot chica.

  • stop and sink

    We went back to the Frontier Culture Museum on Saturday. I know, I know, it’s crazy. My husband was dismayed by my fascination with the place. “I can’t believe you want to go back,” he said. “This is so not like you.”

    He didn’t really want to go. Saturday was going to be a glorious day, perfect for hanging around home and doing everything but digging the sweet potatoes that I was after him about. Plus, it was Fall Folk day at the museum. There would be food trucks and special activities and lots of people. My husband is not keen on crowds. “Why don’t we go on a day when no one will be there,” he whined. 

    “Because,” I explained for the hundredth time, “I’ve been there when it’s empty and I want to see what it’s like when it’s busy. I want to see what the special activities are like. It will give me a better feel for the place. Besides, the kids are begging to go.” Which was a half lie. Only the younger two were pestering. My older daughter was longing for a do-nothing day, but I gave her no choice. (My older son had an all-day choir camp, so he was automatically out of the picture, but I think he would’ve been happy to come along.)

    “Fine. Whatever you want,” my husband said.

    Actually, I was a little worried that we’d be bored. We had explored the place so thoroughly only three days before. What if it was a total letdown?

    I needn’t have worried. Last time we stayed for six hours. This time we stayed for seven and a half, and we didn’t even get to all the exhibits.

    “I don’t get it how people can breeze through this place in just three hours,” I said to my husband. 

    “Really, Jennifer? I totally get it it. Aren’t you watching people? They just walk in and walk out. It’s easy.”

    We, on the other hand, took our good old time, plopping our butts down as often as possible.

    It was marvelous fun.

    In Germany, a cooper had set up shop in the entry room. He spouted facts while shaving wood and pounding metal rings onto barrels.

    The kids and I flopped down on the benches surrounding his workspace and watched, mesmerized by his efficient movements and steady stream of information. “It’s so much fun to watch someone work when they know what they’re doing,” my husband commented later.

    We arrived late to a musket shooting demo. The crowd was just starting to disperse when my younger son zipped onto the scene and shouted to the tall pioneer lad, “Are you going to shoot the gun?”

    “No, hon,” I said. “He already did…”

    “Oh, did you miss the demo?” the guide interrupted me. “I can do it again for you.”

    And that’s how we got our own private little demo. Sometimes it pays to be late.

    Afterward, the guide took took the kids to the other side of the property and so they could help him split some logs.

    And after that we walked over to an older gentlemen had a whole stash of different fire-starting materials. He demonstrated all of them, and, in turn, the kids told him about when they were in Guatemala and set of firecrackers with a magnifying glass. Before we left, he let the kids choose from his collection of homemade arrowheads.

    All afternoon, my younger daughter had been begging to go back to England. When we had visited that morning, she had helped with the laundry. She wanted to go back to visit with the woman who worked there (and who had, I learned, been working in that English house for the last fourteen years), but when we got to the house, it seemed deserted, the washtubs empty and only a few linens drying in the grass. I sat down on a bench to wait while the kids went through the house one last time. After a bit, my husband came out. “They’re sewing,” he said. “You might as well come on in.”

    Sure enough, the children were gathered around the long table, mending the linens.

    “Never in all my years here have I given a sewing lesson,” the good housewife crowed.

    We lingered around the table, savoring the late afternoon sun and the peaceful quiet, the children’s narrow focus on needle and fabric a sweet reprieve after our day’s glut of activity.

    my very favorite window

    So here’s some museum-going advice from an infrequent museum goer: When you visit the museum, stop and sink. Sink to the ground, sink into a chair, sink into your curiosity. Allow yourself to just be in the space, observing, listening, doing. You might not get to see everything, but you’ll go home filled up and tuckered out.

    PS. And now I’ll stop talking about the museum. Pinky promise.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.22.14), hurdle-free molten brownie cakes, we love Fred, and vacationing till it hurts.

  • the quotidian (9.21.15)

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



    Sea salt from Spain! From a reader! Be jealous!
    The dregs from the bushel: time for another orchard run.

    Cleaning: it gets worse before it gets better.

    He built himself a bed! In a tree!

    Tree drops, for…

    the piggies, to make them deliciously fat.

    Breaking ground: a shelter for her animals.

    After a day of work: picking her up.

    And her, too.

    Topping off the oil.

    She’s not sticking her tongue out, so that’s a plus. 

    This same time, years previous: the big, bad wolf and our children, baking with teachers, candid camera, when the relatives came, thousand island slaw with roast chicken, I’m still here, and retreat.  

  • historical fun

    “I am such an idiot.”

    That was the line that kept running through my head yesterday. I wasn’t miffed because I did something stupid (at least not this time), but because of what I didn’t do. What I did do was take my kids to a museum. What I didn’t do was take them there before now.

    Oh, I knew about The Frontier Culture Museum all right. I have friends who say they go there “all the time.” Some of them even send their kids there for camp, or have older kids who volunteer there during the summer. And it’s not like the place is far away. No, no, it’s exactly 45 minutes from our doorway to their parking lot. And it’s cheap, comparatively speaking. When we purchased our tickets, the cashier rang us up and then said, “You do realize that if you pay five dollars more, you can get a family membership for the whole year?”

    I thought it over. “You mean we can come back tomorrow and the next day and the next day? For a whole year?” Which was kinda rhetorical, but I wanted to make sure before I smacked down the forty-five bucks, which I did almost before she got done saying, Yes, my dear. That is exactly what I mean.

    And all this before I had even seen the place. Basic math is quite compelling.

    We had perfect weather and the entire place to ourselves, or so it seemed. I read somewhere recently that the best time to go to museums is right after school starts back in session: the summer crowds are gone and the teachers haven’t gotten around to organizing field trips yet. There were only a few other couples wondering about, and at the very end of the day I saw a mom and two kids. That was it. It felt like there were more volunteers working the place then there were visitors.

    The website suggests that visitors allow three to four hours to explore. We spent six, and we were rushing things. The grounds are divided into the Old World (Ireland, England, Germany, West Africa, etc) and the New World (American Indian, the 1740s, 1820s, a schoolhouse, etc). The volunteers work on location. So, for example, when we happened upon the American Indian village, the volunteer was working on making reed mats for the wigwam’s roof. When pushed for details, he said that it takes about an hour to cut the reeds, since he has to go find and harvest them himself, and then about half a day to make one mat. And all this while using only period-appropriate tools.

    the blacksmith

    When we arrived at the Old English house, not a volunteer was in sight so of course the kids immediately swarmed the place, exploring every nook and cranny.

    Toss four kids several hundred years back in history and things are bound to get interesting. The long dining room table was just right for a fierce confrontation. Yes, all four could fit in the fireplace. And then they discovered the kitchen bellows and had a Miracle Max attack.

    When I spied an English woman in wide-brimmed straw hat bustling down the road to the house, I hissed at the kids to Quick, mind your manners, and then we got the proper tour in which we learned about cheese graters, stale bread pudding, the old refrigerator that’s used for shelving in the locked bedroom upstairs, the geese named Benedict and Beatrice, the best way to tackle sheep for sheering, and the crown of thorns hanging in the kitchen to bless the fields.

    flax

    mouse smasher

    And so it went. At the Irish house, we were entranced by the whole flax-to-linen process, the stone walls, the snoring, very huge, pigs. At the German house there was a well, sauerkraut in the making, and a mousetrap like none other. In the African village we found a snake (not an intentional part of the display, and kind of ironic, considering the entire area was located on swept dirt to keep away the snakes) and learned about growing yams. The boys helped the corset-wearing pioneer woman at the 1740s cabin turn sod for more garden space (in a weird, twisted way it felt like our assistance now eased their burden then) while she proudly showed me her tobacco crop.

    By the end of the day, we were wiped. That night at supper, the kids regaled their papa with story after story, and today, refreshed after a shower and a night of sleep, I keep thinking about our next visit. Would Saturday be too soon?

    This same time, years previous: in defense of battered kitchen utensils, the quotidian (9.17.12), the potluck solution, cornmeal whole wheat waffles, and hard knocks.

  • nectarine bourbon pie

    I have wanted to tell you about this pie for a couple weeks now, but I keep hesitating. See, this post isn’t supposed to be about nectarine pie. It’s supposed to be about peach pie. Yes, yes, of course there’s a backstory…

    I don’t like peach pie. I think they are bland, slightly slimy, and sickly sweet. But I am convinced there should be a good peach pie recipe out there, somewhere. Peaches just feel like they were made for pie. So I keep trying and I keep getting disappointed and I keep signing off peach pie for good this time (!) because there is no such thing as a good peach pie, so there.

    But then I spied this recipe for peach bourbon pie and I thought, “This one? Just maybe….?” (It’s a curse, I tell you, a curse.) Problem was, I didn’t have any peaches left. Only nectarines. So I made the pie with nectarines and it was fab. And then I made it again with nectarines and it was still fab. And then I was like, But maybe this peach pie is so good because it doesn’t have any peaches in it? So I contemplated buying peaches from the grocery store (I know! Gross!), and I even went as far as to stroke the fuzzy balls that Costco placed under a sign that read “peaches,” but those things looked about as tasty as engorged tennis balls. There was no way my peach pie experiment would stand a chance with fruit that hard.

    And that’s where I am in the peach pie saga: with not a single winning peach pie in sight. However, I do have a kick-butt nectarine pie and it just might work for peaches. Next year, I’ll make it with peaches. If it works, I’ll amend the title to say “peach (or nectarine) bourbon pie.” Until then, the jury is out. But if you happen to have non-tennis ball peaches on hand, do give it a go and let me know the verdict, ‘kay?

    Nectarine Bourbon Pie 
    Adapted from Food For My Family.

    One note about the cornmeal topping: it’s pretty soft right after making it, so I put it in the fridge to harden. When I’m ready to top the pie, I turn the mixture out on a cutting board and chop it up with a knife. This way I get nice pebbly crumbles.

    About the filling: the macerated nectarines tasted so delicious, prebaking, that I followed this recipe (minus the tapioca and with less sugar) when preparing fresh nectarines to eat with French yogurt cake. Try it!

    ½ recipe rich pastry
    6 cups sliced nectarines (no need to peel them)
    ½ cup brown sugar
    2 tablespoons minute tapioca
    2 tablespoons bourbon
    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 recipe cornmeal streusel topping

    Toss together the nectarines, sugar, tapioca, bourbon, lemon juice, and vanilla. Set aside for 30-60 minutes, giving it a stir every now and then.

    Line a 9 (or 10)-inch pie plate with the pastry. Fill with the fruit. Top with the cornmeal crumbs.

    Bake the pie at 375 degrees on the lowest oven rack for about 20-30 minutes, or until the juices start to bubble. Then move the pie up to the second rack, and lay a big piece of foil (or a large baking pan) on the bottom rack to catch the drips. (It’s important that you don’t block the heat at the very beginning of the baking time so that the bottom crust gets sufficiently brown.) Once the pie is golden brown and bubbling like mad, it’s done.

    Delicious fact: this pie is not hopelessly runny when served warm.

    PS. Have you ever wondered what my children think about all our gardening? Well, you’re in luck. My older son wrote a guest post for Mavis on just that very thing. Read all about it here!

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.16.13), goodbye summer, hello fall, and Greek pasta salad.

  • the quotidian (9.14.15)

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



    Fresh beans and sauteed mushrooms: all mine.
    The moon and stars, from a friend.

    For my water.

    A silly supper of curses: the remains.

    “Double, double toil and trouble; 
    Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”

    Woefully wonky.
    Kitty paws.

    Prancing Piggies

    The peace part of War and Peace.

    Oh, nuts.

    This same time, years previous: 2014 garden stats and notes, the good things that happen, chile cobanero, ketchup, two ways, making my children jump, cinnamon sugar breadsticks, September studies, whole wheat jammies, coffee fix ice cream, ricotta, and me and mine.    

  • what writing a book is like

    As you already know, I’m writing a book. This sounds much more straightforward and easy than it is.

    Writing a book is actually more like deciding to enter a wicked-hard race even though you’ve never run a race before. But everyone tells you you can do it—No sweat, really, they shout cheerfully from their comfy easy chairs—and they keep insisting that you can absolutely do it, for crying out loud, until you actually start to believe them, partly because you think it might be fun to run a race and partly out of curiosity—could you actually do something that difficult?—and partly because you have a sneaking suspicion that you might be more amazing than you think.

    So you take a couple deep bracing breaths, do some athletic-looking leg lunges, and start running. But something doesn’t feel right, and that’s when you look down and realize that you don’t have feet. Oh crap, no feet. So you start crawling—the race is happening, you can’t quit now—but the pavement hurts your knees and gravel gets stuck in the palms of your hands and you can’t really see where you’re going and that’s when it dawns on you that this is absolutely not invigorating. It’s demoralizing and utterly wretched and how long is this race supposed to be anyway? And what if you don’t actually have what it takes to run the race?

    As you gimp along, half in the ditch, half out, ruing the stupid day you let your stupid ego talk you into this stupid race, a fancy electric car purrs by, followed by a ragey, big-ass pick-up truck and you choke on their dust and fumes and your eyes water and you start to wonder what’s the point of running anyway when there are so many faster ways to get somewhere. And that’s when you notice that there are no other runners in this race. It’s just you, by yourself, and suddenly you feel sad and pathetic but also just a teeny bit noble for doing something that no one else can see because maybe you are a little bit awesome anyway? Even if you don’t have feet?

    And then you look behind you and see tracks. Not sneaker tracks, because obviously, but snakey tracks. They’re swervey and smooshy-looking and dishearteningly indecisive, but they’re yours and you’re like, Cool, I actually moved. And then you’re like, Well heck, inching along isn’t so bad as long as I can take however many breaks I need.

    And then you notice that you smell honeysuckle and the breeze feels tingly-cool and that mist over yonder ridge—the ridge you can see when you peer under your left armpit (you’re crawling, remember)—is so ethereal that it almost convinces you that magic really does exist. And then you realize that as long as you don’t look straight ahead—and if you cover your eyes and hold your breath when the cars whiz by—this going-somewhere-slow-all-by-your-lonesome deal isn’t actually all that bad. Gives you something to do and all…

    That’s what writing a book is like.

    This same time, years previous: retreating, 2012 garden stats and notes, blasted cake, the best parts, whooooosh, lemon-butter pasta with spaghetti. on being green, hot chocolate, and Indian chicken.