It’s been reading week at the elementary school, and yesterday was “Dress Like a Pirate Day” (because of the treasure in books, I believe), and because we are the Last Minute Family lately, Julia and I put her costume together about twenty minutes before she had to leave for school.
A week or two ago I pulled out all the bins of fabric from their bins and shelves and reorganized it. Rather than just organize by color, which is my usual method, this time I sorted first by type of fabric. So now I’ve got all the cottons and cotton/poly blends together, all the stretchy fabrics together, all the fancy (sheers, shiny, lacy) together, all the sturdy fabric together, all the super heavy duty (upholstery, etc) together, and – in its own huge Rubbermaid bin – denim.
It’s such a nice feeling to get that done and to go downstairs to my corner of the basement and see the neatly divided stacks and bins of fabric, just ready and waiting.
I also have bins with all the little bits and pieces that are too small to fold and really organize. For years I’d insisted (to myself) that they, too, needed to be part of my whole sort-by-color operation, but I’ve changed, apparently. I’ve become less rigid. I’ve gotten sick of all those scraps mixed in with the larger pieces. It’s annoying to see a pattern and think That’s Perfect! only to pull it from the mess and discover it’s a sort of triangular piece roughly 4” on a side with a weird little bite-like scoop cut out of one point and pretty much useless for the purpose I’d had in mind.
Done with that.
Anyway, while I was clearing everything out of the bins at the start of this project, I also pulled down the huge piece of gray fake fur that the cats like to snooze on, way up on top of all the shelves. I knew it had to be coated in cat fur, and at the very least I could run it through the dryer to clean it up a bit. As I tugged, a whole pet store’s worth of cat toys came flying down, pelting me on the head and shoulders.
THAT’S where they all were! I saw some I hadn’t seen in years. It never occurred to me that our little hunters would drag their rattling prey way up to their comfy aerie….well, now I know.
Yesterday morning, Julia yelled for me – there was something I HAD to see!!!! I brought my camera – a habit I’ve neglected of late – and there was Softie, in one of my nicely fluffed and reorganized bins. (Quilting cottons, by the way.)
Apparently I don’t have as many medium shades of fabric as I do lights and darks, so Softie made herself a little nest.
She’s staring at the desk lamp off to the right. I switched it on so I could take the pictures in this post.
Other than that little turn of her head, she didn’t move. Or get out of the bin.
Clearly I need more fabric, if only to keep the cats out of the bins.
We love our grilled cheese sandwiches around here. From the simplest – bread, cheese, a hot pan and butter – to all sorts of complex concoctions, no one in my family ever says no to this simple and simply satisfying sandwich.
So when Kitchen PLAY asked if I’d like to participate in their “30 Days of Grilled Cheese” event, sponsored by LAND O LAKES, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
We weren’t even going to have corned beef this year on St. Patrick’s Day. Julia and Bill had been sick, Alex isn’t a huge fan of it, and I wasn’t interested in working in a kitchen all day and then coming home and working in the kitchen all night. It was never a big deal at my house when I was growing up (we were Scots and English!), and when Bill was growing up, he didn’t really love the meal, but it was tradition…so, we got in the habit of making it once a year.
Anyway, at the last minute, sort of, Bill decided to cook some corned beef. Not the whole boiled dinner – none of us like boiled cabbage particularly, and there are tastier ways to cook vegetables. But corned beef was on sale, and heck, why not. So he bought a point cut (cheaper than the leaner flat cut) and put it in a dutch oven with some beef stock and the flavor packet that came with the corned beef. He used about enough liquid to come about halfway up the side of the beef – not enough to cover. Then he put the lid on the pot, put the whole thing in the oven, and braised it for about four and a half hours.
When we took the corned beef out to check on it at that point, the meat just fell apart when the fork touched it. Really. It was that tender.
And it was delicious. And tender. Did I already say tender? I’ll say it once more. Tender.
One of the things I never like with corned beef is that it just gets so…tense. Sure, slice it thin for sandwiches the next day, or slather it with mustard. But still…I just don’t think boiling does this cut of beef (the brisket) any favors.
So henceforth, when we feel the need for any sort of corned beef and cabbage dinner, we’ll braise the corned beef and serve it with fresh slaw. And then, the next day, have our Reubens with homemade sauerkraut.
Boiling? No more.
Oh, and also – for dinner tonight, we had breakfast – corned beef hash and eggs. So good.
I check my “stats” periodically just to see where readers are coming from and which posts are currently popular. There are certain ones I see visited often, so I’m used to them, but then something completely unexpected will be the #1 post of the day.
Like yesterday – apparently a whole bunch of people came over via a Reddit link that referenced my “Herbivores of the African Plains” cake – Julia’s birthday, 2011.
Two weeks since my last post. Didn’t realize it was so long.
Winter break was last week, so everyone was home and the week sped past. My neck hurts from watching it, it moved that quickly.
I had a weird moment a few days ago…maybe not a moment…more like a drawn-out look through a different looking-glass. I was watching some cooking show – I think it was one of those international kinds of things where the host travels to various cities in a given country and samples the local food, in this case, lots of (yummy looking) street foods.
But it wasn’t about the host, or even the food. No, there were other people standing there during various segments, and a couple of them were speaking about the local food, and on the screen the person’s name would appear, and beneath it, the descriptive “Food Blogger.”
And I thought “hunh.”
Profound, I know.
I think I used to consider myself a food blogger, not that I like labels really, but if you had to describe what point on the blogging map I lived nearest to, I guess “food” was it. Closely followed by family. And aimless babbling.
Lately, however, say, within the past year, I feel myself parting with the “food blogger” affiliation. I still cook, of course, and bake. We must eat, after all. But I feel less like writing about it now. That could be because cooking is now my job, not just a useful hobby. I love my job, and I’m so happy – and even still a bit startled – to be doing what I’m doing. But…now that I am surrounded by people who have been cooking professionally far longer than I, I am – and I’ve written this before – feeling a bit humbled. Less…peacock-like about the things I cook. Not always, but a lot. So I just don’t photograph my cooking so much now. And on my days off…I tend to drift toward other hobbies instead. Those window quilts. The denim potholders. Stuff like that.
Or, very very occasionally, I spend part of my day off relaxing. It’s a strange endeavor. I always feel a little uncomfortable, a little guilty, doing NOTHING. This morning I had breakfast on the couch, watched old stuff on tv, and, at some point, actually dozed off. Yes. I took a nap. I woke up a little before noon feeling puzzled and too warm and more clear-headed than I’d felt earlier but still kind of sluggish. I figured since I’d slept the morning away I should GET UP AND DO SOMETHING, in order to make the most of my precious DAY ALL TO MYSELF. But. I had too many possible things to do and no idea which one to choose.
So I skipped them all and worked on trying to organize a few things for the household – paperwork, bills, finances, shopping…that sort of thing. Soon, very soon, I want to tackle our filing cabinet. Four drawers of the past, crammed in and mostly forgotten. It needs cleaning out and reorganizing.
So do other sections of this house. I went upstairs and put laundry away, and then reorganized the drawers in my bureau and rearranged the furniture a bit. I wanted to rearrange Alex’s room but he wouldn’t let me. I had Julia clean off the desk in her bedroom, and we added a lamp so she could do her homework there, and I was satisfied. For now.
Still so many projects to tackle. I scribbled a lot of them down on some lined paper I snitched from the kids’ supply, and I felt better just getting that on paper.
And that’s about it. Made excellent macaroni and cheese for dinner, fried some hotdogs to go with it, and that was that.
Now? I think I’ll go stare at my fabric for a while and see what it wants me to do.
Sometimes I just feel like I don’t have anything GREAT to write about so I just skip posting. I think I shouldn’t just sit here and ramble on and on about nothing, because it’s not good reading for anyone.
But sometimes it’s all I’ve got – the rambling on and on. It’s like talking to my sister – we just ramble on and on. Sometimes we have a purpose to our conversation, but mostly it’s just…like sitting at the kitchen table and chatting over coffee.
Well, I’ve got my morning coffee. Do you need yours topped off?
Seriously, I don’t know what to call these. But I wanted to tell you about them because they’re yummy and SO easy and I would have eaten a whole pan myself but fortunately I sent some off to school with the kids.
I have spent too much time (or wasted, probably) not doing things because I was afraid I’d do them wrong. If I didn’t think I could do something perfectly, I just wouldn’t do it. So many roads not taken.
But that’s okay – I’m in a good spot at this time in my life.
Maybe that’s why I actually finished window quilt #4 today.
When I was a kid, my mother used to make this dish sometimes on Sunday mornings. It’s a slow-morning kind of breakfast, and Dad’s photography business was closed on Sundays.
I haven’t had savory baked eggs since that time, and lately it’s been on my mind. So I asked my Mom for details recently and here we are. The ingredients are simple – onions, butter, salt and pepper, eggs, cheese. The end result is so simple and incredibly yummy, I’m kind of annoyed with myself for not giving this a try years ago.
I went back to work yesterday after a few days off (see previous post for all the fun), and was so happy to be back there, not just because I love my job, but because of the people I work with. I love being surrounded by people who are good at what they do and are passionate about it. And the fact that they’re all so much better cooks than I am gives me something to work toward.
There was a very old merry-go-round at the playground in town when I was a kid. Wooden floor to it, with iron rails that curved out from the center and down to the edge of the floor…like a big, tough spider holding the whole thing together. Kids would stand on this, hanging on to the spider legs, while one or two other kids held the outer leg part and ran, around and around, making the whole thing spin faster and faster until the running kids couldn’t keep up and jumped on board to spin along with everyone else.
I didn’t like that ride. I don’t like spinning around and around, seeing the rest of the world blur and zip past….
(Enlarged close-up of hardened foamy section of a cough drop.)
I’ve never made cough drops before, just so you know. But I happened upon this post about making cough drop lollipops and coincidentally my husband is sick, AND I forgot to pick up cough drops at the store yesterday…so I just had to make them.
I figured I should post a picture of Softie since Scratchy’s been getting more face time lately.
Here she is, sitting on one of the quilts, which is on my ironing board. I’d been tying the layers together and went upstairs to check on the bread in the oven. When I came back down, Softie had claimed the spot.
While I was at work today Bill and the kids went digging for clams. Yep, in January. After about an hour and a half of digging they brought home fifteen pounds total. Mostly little necks, with about a dozen steamers, a razor clam, and two oysters.
She doesn’t need them, she just likes them. She likes to “borrow” mine now and then (when I let her…and if I don’t need to see for a while), but since I don’t let her keep them, her glasses-wearing has been minimal.
I took no pictures while we were opening gifts, but I did take this shot of Julia’s hermit crab (I don’t know it’s name – sometime’s it’s Hermie, sometime’s it’s Shelly…sometimes it has other names, depending on Julia’s whims) playing with one of the new sponges Santa left in his/her stocking.
A few weeks ago a dear friend of mine sent me a box of cookbooks. Included in that box was a book of German recipes, and contained therein was a recipe for Lebkuchen different from the one I’m used to making.
I had two days off, back to back, last week, and figured I’d use them for a baking marathon. That time of year, you know. I try (really, I do) to get the German cookies made early enough so we can ship them off to various far-flung family members so they arrive BEFORE Christmas. (Without having to overnight them, heh heh.)
Anyway, one of the cookies that’s part of that collection is Lebkuchen, a traditional German spiced cookie that includes candied citrus peel – what kind you use depends on the recipe you’re following. Bill’s mom’s version has candied orange peel and candied citron, the kinds that come in those 4 oz. containers in the grocery store.
I generally make more than one batch of these cookies, because they’re one of the favorites, so that means several containers of each kind of candied peel.
Now, this year, for various reasons (including the Scratchy saga), money is tight. And those candied peel containers are pricey, for the amount you get. And they’re also probably loaded with preservatives and additives and other “-ives” that aren’t at all good for you…so I decided it would be both healthier and cheaper to make my own candied peel. And it’s a cool thing to do. And pretty.
I’ve thought of doing it in years past, but then I’d get lazy and just buy the containers. This year, with two days off IN A ROW! I decided to candy some peel.
Some call it the season of giving, but if you think about all the advertising, it’s more like the season of getting. Of gimme, gimme gimme.
Even the commercials urging you to shop here to buy “the perfect gift” aren’t really interested in you and your gift-giving. They just want your money. Gimme.
And things. It’s all about things.
We’ve got lots of things in this house.
Things that we use, and things that decorate.
Things that bring us joy, and things that gather dust underneath the beds or lie buried beneath other things. Things the children were overjoyed to unwrap last year or the year before, which are now clogging shelves or access to the closet.
We have too much stuff. Too many things.
I’m working on getting rid of the excess.
It’s not easy.
I blame genetics. Or the Great Depression. Or my grandparents growing up poor in the East End of London.
They didn’t have much when they got married. But over time, with a lot of hard work, they did well for themselves. And they acquired things. Lots of books. Mementos. Serving ware. Things.
They lived into their eighties after living good lives and providing the world with one child – my mother. When they died, my mother was left without her parents, but with a lot of things to sort through. To keep, to give away, to throw away…
And before all that, my mother continued the tradition of collecting and keeping things.
Our house – a full four stories high – was full of things. There was a closet in the dining room, for instance, that was floor-to-ceiling dishes and glassware and salt and pepper shakers and odds and ends of serving ware. The walls were adorned with platters…teacups and saucers…interesting plates.
I thought it was pretty cool (except when I had to wash them).
We got lots of things for Christmas. My mother, a depression-era baby, wanted to give us magical Christmases with lots to unwrap. She did a great job. I grew up thinking that was the whole point and quest of Christmas. To give The Best Gifts Ever. I overspent. I drove myself crazy. I gave people lots of things.
And I have lots of things now.
The other part of all this, is the Saving of Things.
That spoon was given to your grandmother by her great-aunt-in-law’s cousin Matilda on her deathbed.
That sort of thing. The sort of thing that, while yes, it’s just a spoon, is also That Spoon, and it is this capitalized identity that gives the spoon a weight far heavier than the few ounces you see on a scale.
It becomes more than a spoon. It is a spoon with meaning. With history. With great-aunt-in-law’s cousin Matilda’s very blood and soul forged into the metal.
It must be kept.
This makes it really hard to clean out the attic or to hold a yard sale.
All those possessed things refusing to budge.
About 8 years ago lots of events took place. (Like they do every year, I suppose.) The ones I’m thinking of include these – my parents sold the house they’d lived in since the year before I was born. Part of it was also my father’s business, and as a retired couple whose daughters were out of the house, it was too big. For my father.
My mother never wanted to move. The house was such a possessed thing.
And I understand that. I grew up in that house. So many memories in those rooms. It was my home.
But. It was too much. Too big and old (and drafty) to heat efficiently, too much to maintain, too many things that would need attention eventually, which would cost more than they wanted to spend.
So, with great gut-wrenching reluctance on my mother’s part (and my mother is a WHOLE ‘nother story that would need a separate blog), the house was sold, and they moved into a smaller place about 3 miles away.
And attempted to cram 40 years or more of things into a much smaller house. It wasn’t easy. And it’s still not really done. The basement? Full of boxes and boxes of things. There are two full-sized hutches in the dining room, each filled and covered with all those dishes and glasses and things from the closet and walls of the former dining room.
My mother won’t let go of these things. This came from so-and-so. That was given to me by this person who died twenty years ago. These were the sugar decorations from your first birthday cake. Yes, they are crumbly, but still.
That same year, my daughter was born. A gorgeous, healthy baby girl. A baby sister for our son. A girl cousin for the lone girl niece on either side of the family. A happy occasion.
And, at the very end of that year – this was 2004 – a tsunami struck a lot of the Asian coastal countries, destroying homes and families, drowning lives and memories and dragging them out to sea.
My mother did not look on 2004 fondly. She was focused on the sale of her home, and oh, yeah, she also broke her hip. That, at the end of the year, was all she could focus on.
I pointed out that a granddaughter was also born that year. Oh, yeah.
That didn’t sit well with me. But again – I need a separate blog for all that.
Anyway, those three events – house, daughter, tsunami – have become intertwined in my mind. I think about them like this:
I love my home, I love my stuff in my home.
I love my daughter.
What if a tsunami came and dragged it all out to sea?
I wouldn’t care about the home or the stuff.
I can’t imagine losing my daughter. Or, rather, I can, but I choose not to because it is too painful to even contemplate.
But it has changed something in me.
My feeling about things.
I care less about them. Instead, I feel as though they are looming over me sometimes, crowding me with all their history and meaning.
Yes, some things are meaningful to me. Some things I cannot part with. Or, rather, I could, but choose not to, at least for now. Some things – habits are hard to break – I will keep for my kids. Pieces of furniture. Sets of dishes. These are functional things. They will be used.
I think I’m tired of things that just sit there. That aren’t used. That, okay, I can look at them and feel time shift and remember something significant, or a certain person…but…I don’t find it quite as hard to let go any more.
I don’t want to be crowded.
I don’t want to be haunted by these things, or by the…the familial obligation to keep things because great-aunt-somebody-or-other left them behind after she died and now I’ve got to dust it.
Yes, I have items that mean a lot to me; that have some kind of significance. But how many of these special things do I need or want to keep? Do I need to keep EVERYTHING I’ve ever been given? EVERYTHING passed down from a passed-away relative? I feel things clutching at my arms and legs, and clinging to me with whispers that trigger all my guilt reflexes. I don’t want that. I don’t need that.
They are things. Sure, they bring me a smile or a memory.
But if a tsunami were to strike?
They are just things.
I know – this has been long and rambling. And unedited. And not thought out entirely. I just sat down and started typing, with a vague idea of what I wanted to say, and this is what came out.
Years ago I would definitely have disagreed with these words.
Yesterday, which was Thanksgiving, was also my only day off this week. As I mentioned in my previous post, we did a brunch instead of the traditional turkey dinner, which was wonderful and relaxing and left us with a whole afternoon and evening to do whatever we felt like doing.
This post has nothing to do with Scratchy. I just wanted to post a photo of something.
It’s Wednesday morning, the kids are getting ready for school. Tonight Bill and I and the kids will all be cooking and prepping food for tomorrow.
We’re not going traditional this year. Not exactly.
Oh, we have a turkey, but we’re not serving it whole. Bill’s making sausage with the dark meat and I’ll brine and roast the breast portion for those who want turkey slices.
We’re doing brunch this year instead of dinner. My sister and I came up with the idea for a variety of reasons, and the more we talked about it, the more enthusiastic we grew.
We’re keeping some traditional things (stuffing, gravy, pumpkin/squash pie) but my sister is making a brussels sprout, bacon and potato hash, I’m making kale pie (for the eggy breakfast portion of the program), and for dessert, besides the pie, there will be apple waffles with an apple syrup.
Beverages will include coffee, tea, hot cocoa and hot cider.
My niece, Natalie, is making rolls or biscuits, too.
Oh, and I’ll be serving one of my Camemberts, too. A larger one. We’ll see how the texture came out. I’m pretty sure it’ll taste good, regardless.
And that’s the plan.
Naturally I’ve caught a cold, which started the other night with a sore throat, joined the next day by aches and congestion. I think the sore throat part is subsiding, now it’s congestion in my head and chest. Oh well. Tea with honey and lemon…rest when I can get it…and advil to get me through the work day.
It could always be worse, so I’m not complaining.
Anyway, that’s my little status update for the time being.
I hope you all (those of you who are celebrating it) have a wonderful Thanksgiving! And those of you who don’t celebrate the day – have a wonderful Thursday!
Sure, I could have called them pumpkin muffins, because a pumpkin is, after all, a squash…but these were made from one of our butternut-futsu hybrid squashes, not a pumpkin squash, so I decided to stay accurate. Or accurate-ish.
But I digress.
The thing I like best about these muffins, besides how yummy they are, is that the recipe came about because I hadn’t been grocery shopping and I didn’t have some of the things called for in the original recipe.
I believe it’s my responsibility, not just my right, to place my vote.
I feel that if you choose not to vote, you don’t have any right to complain about the way the government is run, since you didn’t bother to put your own two cents in at least once every four years.
But that’s just me.
And about voting tomorrow?
I don’t feel all that passionate about it.
I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the idea that ONE person will bring about major positive changes in four years.
Regardless of political affiliation.
I think any president – Democrat or Republican – can just come in and magically clean up whatever mess the previous president left behind.
Or change course so that whatever party the newest president belongs to will be all happy and satisfied.
Because this isn’t a dictatorship. There are lots and lots of voices and opinions. The president can’t just announce that this is the new way we’re going to do things around here. Which is good. Except that it makes it harder to get things done.
It’s like if we’re going to pick a movie to watch. My daughter will want one movie, and maybe my son will want a different movie. And they each want the movie THEY picked. Sometimes because they really and truly want those different movies, but sometimes just because.
Just because Alex picked the movie, then Julia will not want to watch it. Not that she has no interest in that movie – maybe secretly she’d really like to watch it. But. Just because Alex picked it, Julia doesn’t want to watch it.
And of course it works the same way in reverse. Julia will make her choice, and Alex, just because, will absolutely no way in heck want to watch that.
That’s what politics looks like to me. I know it’s probably more complicated and nuanced and lofty, and it’s also more ugly and money-driven and selfish.
So it’s election day tomorrow.
Maybe we’ll have the same president, maybe we’ll have a new one. The thing is, whichever president we have, things will be slow to improve or change or whatever, because there will be plenty of people from the opposing party who don’t want to work with the president and his party.
That’s how it all feels to me. Like lots of squabbling. Roadblocks everywhere. Regardless of party.
A week or so ago I took a peek at the undersides of the cheeses and discovered that the mold was MUCH more developed under there. The instructions for making camembert hadn’t said anything about flipping the cheese over, and maybe turning it was a given, but I hadn’t been doing it.
This morning a big bowl of Vichyssoise that Bill made last night for tomorrow night’s dinner got mostly knocked over when I closed the door after removing a bowl of dough that was under the bowl of soup. Apparently the prior arrangement prevented a shelf on the door of the fridge from hitting the lip of the bowl of soup. When I removed the dough bowl and moved the soup bowl lower, that changed the whole inner logistical physical set up, and the next time I opened the fridge, to get apples for the kids for their lunches, I discovered a thick, pale green leek and potato pond on one shelf and small vichyssoisefalls dribbling to the bottom of the refrigerator.
I became unhappy at the sight.
While I was trying to salvage some of the soup by – yes – herding as much of the pond back into the bowl as possible with soggy paper towels, Alex suddenly appeared in the kitchen and froze – grinning – one hand in the corner cupboard reaching for a Hershey kiss. The caramel swirl kind, in case you’re interested. Anyway, I snapped at him to cut it out and stop doing that and it would be nice if he LISTENED TO ME for a change.
Totally undeserved. He slunk away sadly.
I felt even less happy.
I got the soup cleaned up and managed to salvage enough for us all to have a few sips tomorrow night. We’ll call it an appetizer.
Then I went into the bathroom to help Julia with her hair.
She has long hair, like I did at her age, and, like mine at that age, it is prone to tangles. Jungles, really. Probably why my mother usually kept my hair confined in a braid most of my childhood. Julia, however, is not as malleable a child as I was. She doesn’t like braids. She prefers her mane flowing wild and free. Until it snags around her earring. Then it’s all sorts of fun for both of us. I tried unwrapping the hair from the earring, but that pulled and hurt. So then I thought if I just took the earring out, that would solve everything. But the back had been pushed on too tightly and my right thumbnail is very short at the moment and I couldn’t slip it in there between her delicate earlobe and the earring back…so of course THAT hurt – a lot – and she started crying and I felt horrible and at the same time, and SO frustrated that I snapped at her, too, and that, of course, elicited more tears on her part…and if I wasn’t on an antidepressant that has, apparently, dried up my tear ducts, I would have sobbed right along with her.
I took her into the living room and we sat together on the big comfy chair, and I held her while her crying slowed and stopped. Then I continued to hold her and kind of wished she and I could trade places, and I could be small and someone bigger could hug me.
Finally, after a time of silence, I asked her, softly, “Do you forgive me?”
And I pulled back a bit so I could see her face.
She pressed her lips together and shook her head.
I hugged her again.
So be it.
A few moments later I managed to unwrap the strands of hair from her earring and then pull her tangly tresses into a ponytail. We didn’t have time to fight the jungle any more.
I felt worn out. Worn down. Horrible.
The kids, of course, being resilient people, had bounced back. Mommy’s crabby mood would pass, they knew. Soon it was time for them to head to school. Alex was putting his shoes on in one corner of the kitchen and Julia was behind me to my left. She asked if I could give her a ride to school and let Alex and their friend J walk.
I think that was her way of forgiving me.
I have such great kids.
And then I turned suddenly to shut off the light over the stove and elbowed Julia right in the eye.