Thursday, July 26, 2012

July Thursday

Pretty:  Supper, made by my husband, after I worked a long day at my job.  He made a Thai stir fry with leftover pork chops, green beans, corn, and cilantro.  He served fresh peaches on the side because he said "it went together."  I was impressed!  The peaches were genius.

My husband has always liked to cook, but I commandeered the kitchen pretty much for the last few years.  Now I am working away from home two days a week, and he is back in the game! 

Yesterday he improvised a dish he recalled from the days he lived in a convent (yes, he did:  he was in voluntary service with the Church of the Brethren).  It was a layered dish, cooked slowly, of potatoes, tomatoes, and onions.  Excellent flavor.

Happy is my boy and his Lego.  He wakes up early to play with them.  Genevieve plays too, but Ben is pulled like a magnet to the Lego.  We have a large collection, a pass-on from a family whose children outgrew them.

This is Ben's double-decker bus below.

It was funny to see our friend's beef steers over the weekend. We will be buying some of this meat this fall.  I don't usually get a chance to see animals before I eat them, even though we buy mostly local meat.  It's a bit close for my city-girl comfort, even though I think people who eat meat should be willing to raise and butcher the animals.  Should!  Should!

Real:  I'm now thinking about getting ready for school and the sewing and buying that entails.  In order to be thrifty, I need to start sleuthing now for the stuff we are required to have.  I do not like this reality impinging on my summer!  I still have lots of summery things I want to do and I'm not ready for a school schedule again.  We planned some weekends away in September and October which helps to console me.

This is a pretty/happy/funny/real collection for Leila and Rosie's link-up. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thoughts on French Kids Eat Everything

I just finished French Kids Eat Everything, mostly in little spells while I rode the bus to my job.

Here are my somewhat random thoughts because I'm still sorting out the effects of the book.  It's basically the food/eating rules the French use, codified by a Canadian mother (Karen Le Billon) when she and her French husband took their children to live in France for a year.

1.  "Taste training" is a brilliant way to sum up what I'm trying to do with my kids.  In fact, it applies to more than just food.  I want to educate them on good taste which, admittedly, is far more subjective than it used to be.  I don't automatically think it's cute when they wear mismatched clothes or want to put ketchup on everything; I'm not rigid about it, but I do want to teach my children what goes together and why.  My husband, you should know, thinks this is a little too detailed.  I'm sure our parenting balances out!

2.  I do agree with the French philosophy of no snacks, in sharp contrast to the multiple small meals many American nutritionists recommend.  I had already cut back on giving the kids snacks because I was lazy, but now I realize it is making them much hungrier at meals, which are more balanced than snacks.  "Hunger is the best sauce," you know.

3.  I do wish I lived in France.  I think.  I'm not usually a Francophile, but so many of the ways I appreciate life match up to what people say goes on in France.  I've only been in France for a few days, but I did live in Germany for a bit and spent 3 weeks in Switzerland. 

4.  I love how calmly French people assume that children will learn to like all foods if they are exposed often enough.  I had already noticed that my children's favorite vegetable or fruit changes within minutes, so I don't pay much attention.

5.  We were getting terribly casual about table manners and eating together.  This book gives me impetus to get it together again.

6.  But holy cow, I can't picture eating every meal at a table with a tablecloth with other people.  I'm American enough to like a quick sandwich sometimes, or to read while I eat alone.  I appreciate food and I am usually very deliberate about pairing dishes and making it look nice, even leftovers, but I have other things I want to do besides eat!

7.  I find the picky eaters in this book tiresome.  I like Karen Le Billon for wanting to change her kids' eating habits, but I am annoyed and appalled at her spineless parenting.
8.  And the Le Billon family's eating habits just about fall apart when they return to Canada.  This revs up my anxiety about my kids in school with the food issue - how will their home training stand up to the cold, bad world? 

I managed to renew the book for another 2 weeks and asked my husband to read it. I'm still pondering things - I'll let you know if I have further thoughts.  And I welcome your thoughts!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Flip Flops and Jellies for Genevieve

My girl sprouted right out of her shoes, so we went shoe shopping the other day.  "Girl time," she called it and we did have so much fun.

A sheep cookie from Granny's Bible school

She has been begging for flip-flops all summer and I have said no because she had Crocs, slip-on sneakers, and two pairs of Sunday sandals and that was enough. I wondered if I was being too strict, but guess what? there were only two pairs of summer shoes in her size at the consignment store and one was flip-flops that were not tacky and the other was clear jelly shoes with big yellow flowers.  Somehow they don't set off my tacky alarm, maybe because I recalled my own screamingly-bright jelly shoes when I was a little girl.

Genevieve was so delighted and we were jubilant together.  Plus, I got both pairs for a total of $5! 

You know, I didn't realize until I sat here typing, thinking about little girls and fancy clothes, how much God took care of this for me. The shoes filled a need, were not expensive, and delighted Genevieve's frill-loving heart. Wow.  I don't always see the finger of God in details like this, but in my heart I know it was God this time. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Tennessee Corn Pone in the Slow Cooker

I have been having a slow cooker revival over here and I really must tell you about it.  I have had a large, 6.5 quart slow cooker for years, and I just got a smaller 3.5 quart so I could make more reasonably-sized recipes.  If you don't match the size of the recipe up to the slow cooker, it will not cook right.

I wanted to make a vegetarian Sunday dinner because we were eating dinner out with friends, but when I looked through my supper notebook, I couldn't really find any.  Apparently we eat most of our meat on summer Sundays.

The menu I came up with:

Tennessee Corn Pone in the slow cooker
salsa, hot sauce
green salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and French dressing
frying cheese
plum tart with homemade vanilla ice cream

Tennesse Corn Pone (modified from Recipes from the Old Mill by Sarah Myers and Mary Beth Lind)

Have ready:
2-3 cups juicy, well-seasoned beans or thin chili*

If possible, put it in the slow cooker and heat on high for 1 hour. 

Mix in bowl:
1 cup cornmeal
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix separately:
2 cups buttermilk or yogurt thinned with milk
1 egg
2 Tbsp. melted butter

Add the wets to the dry and stir just until combined.  Put juicy beans in the slow cooker if they're not there already.  Pour the cornmeal batter directly into the juicy beans (heated or not).  Lay a double layer of paper towels across the top of the crock.  Put the lid down on these so that they are just beneath the lid - to catch the condensation.  Cook on low for 3 hours without peeking.  There will be a solid casserole in there, with a solid cornbread top.  Slow cookers do vary, so check it earlier to be on the safe side, although I saw a recipe online that recommended 5 hours on low.
Serve with toppings, if desired, such as salsa, chopped cilantro, sour cream, etc.

*For the beans, I usually season leftover beans with onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne, and a smidge of liquid smoke.  Variations include chili, salsa beans, and black-eyed peas in cream sauce.

I thought the cornbread layer was a bit thick - it's usually fine when I make corn pone in the oven, but I might try halving the cornbread part if I make it again in the slow cooker.   (For the oven:  bake at 425 for 30 minutes, but the slow cooker will keep your house much cooler!)

And then we had dinner with friends, way out in the country, and drove home in a cool, serene dusk. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Midsummer Garden

My husband has been watering our little garden with seltzer bottles with pinholes punched in the bottom.  They act as soaker hose, only they are much easier to place and no hose snaking across anywhere. 

We learned, now, that tomatoes like a deep drink every few days, not constant little drips.  So we water the tomatoes differently - and now we're getting rain, so that's a blessing. 

The bean plants are mulched with sawdust, a by-product of his wordworking in the basement.  He glanced at a website that said this is a good mulch for plants, like beans, that add nitrogen to the soil.

I dismantled the nasturtiums on the porch because they were puny and I was tired of hoping.    Our raspberries have given us about 5 berries so far.  The parsley that overwintered has not reseeded itself into anything useful.  We also pulled out 2 tomato plants that were wilty and yellowing.  And the ding-dang squirrels have taken every tomato that has approached ripeness so far; this is a city problem, but country gardens have deer, right?  Well, we are fighting back; I bought a repellent and a trap.  We'll see if we get any tomatoes.

I sound a bit irritated about our garden, I know. I have to remind myself that gardening is like cooking - I have to start at the beginning and learn from my mistakes.  Still and all, cooking holds far more joy and interest for me than the garden! 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Blue Skirt for Housework, Like Canning

One of my go-to housework skirts was really too ratty for wearing outside the house.

So I sewed myself another blue one, this one in a lovely medium-weight cotton chambray from the creative reuse shop. Recently I used some of it as a border for Ben's quilt and realized how lovely it felt.

I used a 1970s pattern for the new skirt.  It was pretty easy to sew, although I think the fabric should be lighter weight to hang better.

I feel like my mom in the 70s - a good, nostalgic feeling.  Just need a farmer hanky over my hair!

Thanks to my husband for the skirt-in-action photos - so much faster than me with the tripod.

I test-drove the skirt by canning pickled beets the first time I wore it.  I'm ready, skirt-wise, for canning season.

By the way, instead of tossing the beet cooking liquid, I just made it up into more pickling brine.  Then I froze it in jars.  I'll use it to make pickled red beet eggs this winter.  Thanks to Rebecca for the idea!  Also, thanks to Rebecca, I composted the beet stems today.  I couldn't figure out how to get them soft without losing their flavor.   Tamar Adler would be disappointed in me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


It was hot, but the children were so excited to be on the hunt for berries.

It was a lovely evening. We picked eagerly, but still came home with a meager lot. Collecting little pieces of food by hand is time-consuming!

While I picked and inbetween happy scraps of conversation, I wondered what my life would be like if all my food was so hard to come by, if I knew that I had to save up enough food to last through winter. . . I would try to incorporate beauty in my daily work because there surely would not be enough time to sit around doing crafts for leisure.

I wonder if I will be generous enough to share these special berries. . .

Monday, July 16, 2012

Yo-yos in My Workbag

Finally, I sat down to make yo-yos, those little circles of gathered fabric that I'm longing to play with.  I cut some circles during swimming lessons and I prepared to sew a few up during bedtime stories.  Genevieve asked me if she could make one.

She did it, with a little coaching from me!  Unfortunately, the lid I had grabbed to use as a template is a bit small.  I'll cut larger circles next time.

However, it was just the right size for Genevieve's third tooth. . . which she lost unconsciously as she ate corn on the cob. . . which I unconsciously wiped off the table after supper. . . which my husband found in the sink stopper later on.  The tooth finally got in the peachy yo-yo under the pillow, and now Genevieve has a shiny gold dollar and no tooth. (For the record, I got a dime when I was a child and I think this would have been fine, but her daddy loved the idea of the gold dollars.)

The yo-yos are traveling around in my work bag.  I made some drawstring bags to use as shoe bags when packing suitcases.  However, I snagged one to carry around my handwork and I love it.

So one of these days, I'm going to make some for the shop.  In the meantime, I just cut out my second dress for myself.  It's a 1970s sundress and I really want to take it on vacation shortly, so I'm happily immersed in that.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ice-Cold Lemonade

My husband has been making lemonade with the "recipe" found in Gyo Fujikawa's Oh! What a Busy Day!  The book was given to little-girl-me in 1979 by my cousins Timmy and Tommy.

Lemon juice and sugar
Lot of water, lots of ice.

Stir them all together.
Stir and swirl them all around.

And presto! like magic!
It's puckery,

Then he adds a few leaves of Thai basil. Pow! Delicious.

Genevieve came across an Eloise book in the library this week; I knew Eloise was a famous children's book character, but I didn't realize how shockingly bratty she is - apparently, her behavior rocked the 1950s children's book world!  I enjoyed the period details in the text and illustrations.  What children's books inspire you?

Friday, July 13, 2012

These Cookies Made Me Turn On the Oven

My husband and I have a little tug-of-war about cooking in the summer.  He doesn't like any cooking heat in the house at all.  I do my best, but honestly, we have to eat something besides cold cereal (which I do not consider a meal).

After I tasted these cookies from a friend, I tried to resist the urge to turn on the oven and make them.  I could not resist.  They are fantastic  - definitely in my top-5 cookie recipe roster.  The killer ingredient here is ground coffee - not instant coffee, not espresso powder, but ground coffee.  If you like the crunch and power of chocolate-covered espresso beans (I do), you will love these cookies.  The texture is firm yet chewy, with flecks of strong coffee, and a complex flavor.  If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know I don't rave about food.  Consider this paragraph my rave!  I suggest you blast your cool comfort with some oven heat and make them.

Those are cocoa powder lumps - I stirred it in by hand - my mistake.

Mocha Drops

Cream together in a mixing bowl:
1/2 c. softened butter
3/4 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 egg

Add and beat until combined:
1/4 c. sour cream or plain yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. cocoa powder

In a separate bowl, stir together with a whisk until fluffy and combined:
1 3/4 c. flour (I used 3/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour as the 3/4 c.)
4 tsp. ground coffee - not instant - I used decaf
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Stir dry ingredients into butter mixture until combined.  Drop in 1" lumps (I use an eating teaspoon) onto parchment-lined cookie sheets.  Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes until edges are set and middles are still soft.  Allow to sit on hot cookie sheets for 1-2 minutes to firm up to remove to cool on wire racks.  Makes 3-4 dozen.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Getting Hold of Contentment

Sometimes it's not easy.  But for me, if I ignore myself for a little while and keep living my life instead of sulking on the sofa, things improve.  How nice to be old enough not to get lost in a wallow!  I mean, there are problems in my life, but this is just a bad mood, friends.  So here is a collection of contentment for Leila and Rosie's Thursday tradition.

Pretty:  a little birdhouse Genevieve painted at a birthday party.  Her daddy hung it up for her as soon as it was dry.  I love this spot of whimsy and I often glance at it while I deal with the laundry.

Happy as they wait for the Fourth of July parade to start.  It was fun to be with friends in the beloved neighborhood where I grew up.

My boy gives me flowers wherever we go, wherever he finds them. 

Funny photos I'm taking these days.  I'm learning to use the manual setting on my camera, thanks to my friend S who loaned me her little book.  I printed out my camera manual which didn't help a lot.  I got several books from the library which helped a little, but finally, finally, I think I'm cracking the code of aperture and shutter speed.

These could be artsy photos, except that's not the look I was aiming for.

Finally, the real part of my contentment is this blueberry pie.  It was not as good as I thought it would be, but that didn't detract from sharing it with dear friends.  I had some Cool Whip in the freezer (I know, I know) and it did taste of chemicals.  I used this recipe, substituting some pineapple juice for part of the water.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Nasturtiums Bloomed

They're a scraggly lot and they've suffered in the dry heat oven, but they finally bloomed.

I planted these for extra-special salads, and I meant to garnish our salade necois with it on Sunday. . .

but the children were so excited that I told them to go ahead and eat a blossom.

Ben was not impressed.  Genevieve liked them a lot. 

Oddly, I cannot get these dang things to climb, so they sort of sprawl.  Next year I'm going to get bush variety and I'm going to plant them a lot closer together.  There will be big salads and lavish garnishing!