• the quotidian (2.27.17)

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



    We’ve eaten nearly an entire pig and I still haven’t found a pulled pork recipe I like.
    Just the way I like it: swimming in butter and honey.

    Birthday breakfast.

    With caramel, chocolate, and pecans: it shouldn’t have been disappointing, but it was.

    An impulse purchase: have you tried it?

    Slipping.

    Wink.

    Why bother with a sofa if you have a horse?

    I always thought she had horns…
    (Just kidding!)
    He changed the brake pads.

    Not working.

    Buzz off.

    Outdoor bedroom.

    Flying his cheesy freak flag.

    A third teenager!

    This same time, years previous: old-fashioned molasses cream sandwich cookies, roasted cauliflower soup, Oreo, the quotidian (2.25.13), the quotidian (2.27.12), for my daughter, creamy garlic soup, and Grandma Baer’s caramel popcorn.

  • steer sitting

    “Guess what!” my older daughter said when I got home from seeing a play last Sunday afternoon. 

    “What.”

    “The steer let me sit on him while he was laying down!”

    On my camera I found photos of the steers roaming the yard (“They’re hungry, Mom”), and there was a large, squishy cow pie next to the front porch (lovely), but no picture of the steer-turned-sofa, so the next day when I looked out the kitchen window and spied my older daughter stretched lengthwise on the back of a steer, sunning herself, I snatched my camera right up.

    “Careful, Mom,” she said as I approached the fence. “Don’t startle him.”

    The steer, for his part, didn’t seem to care one iota that a human being was draped across his back.

    “Make him get up,” I said, bored with the statuesque blob of beef.

    Ever obliging, my older daughter began rocking back and forth.

    Nothing.

    She kicked him in the sides.

    Nothing.

    She kicked him harder.

    Nothing.

    She rocked back and forth and jabbed him with her heels and—

    Whoosh! The steer stood up so fast that my daughter nearly tumbled over his neck.

    For a couple seconds the steer stood still while visions of bucking beasts and emergency rooms flashed before my eyes.

    “Get off!” I squealed, but I needn’t have worried.

    My daughter had no desire to be catapulted facefirst into a cow pattie and had already vaulted off, landing squarely on her own two feet.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (2.22.16), the quotidian (2.23.15), the quotidian (2.24.14), birds and bugs, bandwagons, cream scones, the morning after, and Molly’s marmelade cake.

  • jelly toast, a love story

    The other afternoon when I picked up my kids from my parents’ place, my mother was just finishing up her bread baking. Four loaves of brown bread were cooling on the table—the fifth one, not quite brown enough, still in the oven—and the entire house was warm with the yeasty-toasty smell.

    “Here,” my mother said, handing me a children’s board book. “Look what I gave your dad for Valentine’s.”

    Whaddya know, she had altered the book, pasting photo cut-outs of her and Dad over the faces of the bunny rabbits in the story.

    “Look at this one,” she said, pointing to the next-to-last page. “I even got the collar just right!”

    When I begged the book for a couple days, Dad almost didn’t let me borrow it, but then he did…begrudingly.

    The story is pretty much perfect, considering that for years Dad brought Mom coffee in bed every morning, often with jelly toast, toast made from Mom’s homemade brown bread.

    And now we’ve come full circle.

    The end.

    This same time, years previous: lemon cheesecake morning buns, peanut butter and jelly bars, pan-fried tilapia, toasted steel-cut oatmeal, the case of the whomping shovel, blueberry cornmeal muffins, and tortilla pie.

  • the quotidian (2.20.17)

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



    Breakfast for the gods…or me!
    I don’t even shape the loaf anymore: just pour the dough directly into the hot pot.

    Winter salad.

    For next Christmas, maybe: a work in progress.

    When cooking with fresh Asian noodles, rinsing them, post-cooking, makes all the difference. 
    Saturday morning pancakes.

    An education in junk food: dumpster-dived loot
    (The kids were not impressed.)
    Clean sink; steamy-hot dishcloth.

    Spilling its guts.

    Top knot.

    Gee! Haw!
    A windy day, a garbage bag, some sticks, and a whole lotta hope.

    Solor panel repair and the home-engineered hoist for lifting and lowering.

    The hoist operator and her back-up.

    Twizzler tease.

    This same time, years previous: Jonathan’s jerky, doppelganger, in the last ten months, in my kitchen: 11:50 a.m., almond cake, Monday blues, in the eyes of the beholder, chicken pot pie, the quotidian 2.20.12), and homemade Twix bars.

  • thursday thoughts

    Why does coffee wake me up in the morning and make me sleepy in the afternoon? I just finished drinking a large coffee and can hardly keep my eyes open. What is wrong with me??

    *** 

    Last night I turned on our local NPR station just in time to hear a debate by Intelligence Squared. The topic: Give Trump A Chance. I was immediately mesmerized. This morning I told the two older kids to each pick a side and write about it. They read their opinions out loud to each other, and then I pulled up the debate on the internet so they could watch it.

    *** 

    One of my biggest pet peeves: how in some public restroom stalls, the toilet is off-center and closer to the toilet paper dispenser. Talk about precarious and awkward. I don’t get it.

    *** 

    For the last few days, I’ve felt sluggish. Cold—so cold—and sleepy and unmotivated. I do things, like make bread and explain the difference between multiples and factors and go running, but underneath it all is a heavy downward tug. If I were single and childless, these would be the days I’d curl up in my room and sleep/read/watch Netflix/drink wine (she says, wistfully).

    *** 

    Here’s a riddle that my younger son has been asking everyone: What is tall when it’s young and short when it’s old and glows for its entire life?

    *** 

    I’ve been on a bread kick, more specifically, a baked-in-a-pot artisan bread kick. Every day I mix up another batch, not bothering to wash the bowl even (see above photo). The fresh loaves are positively intoxicating and addicting, and they often vanish in mere minutes. Just think of the bread-making potential I’d have with two Dutch ovens!

    *** 

    Last Sunday, in a lull in conversation during an informal gathering of Sunday school delinquents, one of the women posed a question: What is a question you have that you don’t know the answer to? 

    Questions ranged from what is the balance between productivity and non-productivity (mine), to why a particular restaurant location has such a high turnover rate, to why a parent refuses to explain the existence of his ancient and mysterious scar.

    Question-asking—thoughtful question-asking—is such an art. And it’s a neat way to view the world, too. Kind of throws everything upside down.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (2.15.16), the quotidian (2.16.15), buses, boats, and trucks, oh my!, sweet, just stuff, food I’ve never told you about, and making yogurt in the dehydrator.

  • the quotidian (2.13.17)

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



    Jelly drip.

    The citrus trinity.

    Gradually becoming a kitchen staple.
    For after his shift: a late lunch.

    Falafel feast.

    From scratch: his very own chocolate peanut butter.

    Tea (er, coffee) party for one.

    Breakfast time, pun intended.

    Sometimes I hide their books.

    Spring is in the air, whoo-eeee!

    Relationships, and the looks that go with them.
    There’s a horse on my porch. 

    This same time, years previous: chocolate pudding, how we do things, the quotidian (2.13.12), the outrageous incident of the Sunday boots, life, interrupted (I wish), potato gnocchi, a meaty lesson, and mocha pudding cake.

  • bits and bobs

    Alert the presses! My husband and I slept in until after 8:00 this morning!

    I woke up earlier than that, but I kept falling back asleep, dreaming fantastical dreams about bread. Bread on rooftops, bread stuffed with all kinds of nubby goodness, and five-gallon-bucket-sized loaves of bread. When I eventually woke up for good, I just laid there, luxuriating in the bright light streaming in the windows, the quiet house, and the knowledge that we didn’t have to take my older daughter to the farm this morning.

    We went running then, my husband and I. It was such a treat, to run in the warm sunlight, unencumbered by flashlights and headlamps. I about died, but still. It was nice.

    *** 

    This week has been an exceptionally good writing week: four (!) blocks of child-free writing time, plus two (!!) meetings with my writing groups.

    My mom tells me that I’ll never get any writing done if I spend all my time in writing groups. She has a point, but not a good-enough one. I get a huge boost from reading other people’s work, listening to their writing process, observing their style. Plus, I’m extroverted and the groups’ (relaxed) deadlines give me reason to push myself.

    *** 

    Food is a large part of every writers’ group gathering. Depending on the host, there’s often cheese and wine, or tea, or homemade sugar cookies, or a banana-cherry pie made in with a yonanas machine. Often there are pretzels and grapes, and the afternoon sessions always include copious amounts of coffee.

    Anyway, I hosted both groups last week. For the small group, I made ginger cream scones, and for the large group, sweet rolls. I had also baked a tea ring earlier that day, but I kept that back for the family. They can get rather titchy about me giving away all the goodies.

    It was good I didn’t serve the tea ring, though: the bottom half was gummy raw, oops.

    ***  

    Along with the two writing groups, I also have two other writing coaches/sounding boards/whatever: my brother and an out-of-state friend. One time when I was in the depths of despair about my work (and I mean that in the most serious of ways: curled up in bed crying my eyes out), I told my husband that I was afraid I couldn’t do this. I’m stupid, I said. I can’t even do basic organization. And then, as proof of my ineptitude, I cited all the people who are helping me.

    My husband cocked an eyebrow. “Um, Jennifer? Have you seen the acknowledgment sections in books? There’s a reason they’re super long: most writers don’t write a book all by themselves.”

    I felt a little better after that. And super-duper grateful for all my longsuffering cheerleaders.

    *** 

    I’ve been spending more-than-normal amounts of time at Panera, writing and drinking coffee, and I’ve got my visits down to a science.

    1. Since they boot me off their internet at 11:30, when the lunch hour picks up, I make sure to get there by 8:30 so I have a solid three hours.

    2. I buy a coffee and spend the first little bit checking email and blogs while the warmth from the drink seep through the cup to my fingers, prepping them for their work-out. Once the coffee hits my blood stream—I can practically feel my brain clicking into high gear—I shut down Facebook and open my Google docs.

    3. After about an hour, I refill my coffee cup (light roast and half decaf) and buy a cinnamon crunch bagel, toasted, no butter, to go with it. Or, as in Thursday’s case, an orange scone.

    4. I take bathroom breaks as needed. The trot to and from the loo gets my blood flowing and the wiggles out.

    I find that when I leave home to write, I’m often more productive.

    Of course, there’s the time lost driving there and back, so in the long run it’s probably no more productive than my at-home style of fritter-writing? On the other hand, when I write in public, I’m more focused.

    *** 

    I just finished reading Kitchens of the Great Midwest—such a fun book—and it reminded me of Olive Kitteridge. What should I read next?

    *** 

    Last night my older daughter and I binged on Parks and Rec. It’s so fun, finally getting to share my favorite shows with my kids. We are both huge April fans.

    And then I watched some Portlandia. I was still laughing, even as I was falling asleep.

    (All these Netflix are proof: I really need a good book.)

    *** 

    After yesterday’s frigid temps (didn’t get out of the 20s, I don’t think), this morning’s warmth made it seem like the whole world was cooing.

    Naturally, I got a hankering for hot dogs. One thing led to another and now my brother’s family and my parents are coming over for grilled veggies and hot dogs.

    So now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go whip up a batch of rock-my-world cocoa brownies to go with the ice cream and caramel sauce we’ll be having for dessert.

    What are your supper plans?

    This same time, years previous: chasing fog, one-pot macaroni and cheese, school: the verdict, addictive and relaxing, hauling wood, and my me-me list,

  • crispy baked hash browns

    For his birthday breakfast, my younger son requested potatoes, sausage, eggs, toast, and orange juice.
     

    Normally, I make baked hash brown potatoes for breakfast since they’re so easy, feed a crowd, and can be made ahead of time: whole potatoes, boiled and peeled, and then grated into a large pan with lots of salt and drizzled with copious amounts of browned butter. But this time around, I wasn’t in the mood for cooking ahead.

    So the morning of, I made baked hash browns with raw potatoes. They weren’t nearly as complicated or time consuming as I thought they would be and the wow-factor was pretty enormous.



    (Excuse the abbreviated post. I’ve been writing all morning, and, apparently, I have no words left.)


    Crispy Baked Hash Browns

    4-6 potatoes
    oil or fat (I used an ample amount of olive oil and bacon grease)
    lots of salt and black pepper

    Peel and grate the potatoes. Place the grated potatoes in a bowl of cold water. Stir in some salt and let sit for a few minutes. The cold water soak keeps the potatoes from turning brown and going limp, and the salt adds flavor. Drain the potatoes, squeezing out all the excess water.

    Liberally oil two large, sided baking sheets. Now’s the time to use pans that brown well, not the pans that produce anemic-looking baked goods. Sprinkle the grated potatoes over the pan in a thin layer—no big clumps. Salt heavily. Black pepper is optional.

    Bake the potatoes at 400 degrees on the bottom oven rack, one pan at a time. After about 10 minutes, or when the potatoes look like they’re getting a good brown on them, pull the pan from the oven and flip the potatoes. Bake the potatoes for another 5-10 minutes or until they are good and crispy.

    Serve hot, with ketchup.


    This same time years previous: timpano!, a horse of her own, the quotidian (2.9.15), gourmet chocolate bark, dear Mom, to read, chai-spiced hot chocolate, and facing facts.

  • the quotidian (2.6.17)

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



    Slurp and crunch: Christmas colors in February.
    Always a hit.

    My contribution to the food flash mob (my wording, not theirs) at our local mosque.

    Picking them over: for the cheese.

    Breakfast of champions for a brand new 11-year-old.

    She made him chicken chuchitos (and guacamole).

    When you have a bonafide Spanish teacher in your house, sit up straight and pay attention. 
    Looks like this might me the extent of the snow this winter: what a bummer.

    One of the kids, at least, is ready for spring.

    My (futile) floor-stomping reflex makes her laugh.
    Some wicked-sharp carving tools for the birthday boy, much to the older kids’ horror (and jealousy).

    Clothesline sentinel.

    Bedtime snuggles and kisses. 

    This same time, years previous: object of terrorloss, cheesy bacon toasts, chocolate mint chip cookies, eight, seven, travel tips, the perfect classic cheesecake, learning to draw, lemon tart, and potatoes with roasted garlic viniagrette.

  • baked brie with cranberries and walnuts

    My husband and older son left us on Tuesday night for a few days of volunteering for Mennonite Disaster Service in West Virginia. I’m not sure what they’re doing exactly. Building something, probably.

    When my husband leaves, it throws me a little. Who will wake me when I need to get up early? Who will make sure there’s a fire in the morning and load the wood stove at bed time? Who will lock the house and change the batteries in our running flashlights and pick up Melissa after work and scare away the boogieman?

    I can be a little pathetic at times.

    This time around though, it wasn’t really a big deal. My older daughter takes care of all the animals and empties the trashes and wakes me up in the morning if I need to get up early (though I did, eventually, figure out how to use the alarm clock myself). The younger kids haul over the firewood and hang up the laundry and bicker. All in all, the days have passed rather uneventfully.

    It’s kind of nice, not cooking hardly any food (because feeding only five people is an absolute breeze) and spending the evenings lounging in front of the fire with the kids, all of us lost in our own books, or else me reading out loud to them from The Education of Little Tree. Today I dropped the kids at Barnes and Noble so I could sequester myself in Panera for a couple hours of writing (after which I treated them all to a donut at our very own, brand new Krispy Kreme), and a couple days ago I dumped them at the library while I met with one of my writing groups.

    In other words, I’m coping. 

    Wednesday night, though, was special. I put the kids out in the barn for the night—

    Just kidding! They spent the night at my parents’ house!

    —and two of my girlfriends came over. For five straight hours, we talked our hearts out. Also, we ate cheese and chocolate cake. It was lovely.

    I made a baked brie. It was the same one I made for our Christmas Eve cheese feast, but I cheated and baked it in the afternoon so I could take photos. I figured my girlfriends wouldn’t mind being served reheated and already-partially-eaten cheese. (I mean, partially-eaten-from cheese. The cheese wasn’t partially eaten. That’d be gross.)

    The next day, I served the leftovers to the kids and my mom for lunch and now there’s only a smidge left. Sorry, Hubby and Son. If you leave—even if it is to do good deeds—you lose.

    Baked Brie with Cranberries and Walnuts
    Adapted from Aimee of Simple Bites.

    The proportions depend on the size of your brie. I had leftover walnuts and cranberry sauce, so either my brie was on the small side or I didn’t load it up enough.

    Also, make sure to cut off the top of the brie. This time, because I just scraped the wax off, there was still a seal and the cheese didn’t bubble and ooze (sorry, bad word choice) like it was supposed to.

    1 wheel of brie, about a pound
    ¾ cup classic cranberry sauce
    2/3 cup walnuts
    orange zest

    Cut off the top of the brie and place the brie in an oven-safe dish, cut side up. The pan should be a good bit bigger than the cheese so it has plenty of space to melt and bubble. Bake the brie at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

    While the brie is baking, toast the walnuts in a skillet. Roughly chop and set aside.

    Pile the cranberry sauce atop the hot brie and return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes, or until the brie is hot and bubbly and looks a right jolly mess—at least three times as messy as mine looks in the photos.

    Top the brie with the walnuts and grate over a flurry of orange zest. Serve immediately, with crackers, pretzels, or toast rounds.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (2.1.16), object of terror, the quotidian (2.2.15), a Wednesday list, stuck buttons and frozen pipes, itchy in my skin, how we got our house, in which we enroll our children in school, taco seasoning mix, and wheat berry salad.