Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The First Day

This was the first day of second grade for Genevieve, kindergarten for Ben.  There were no tears, thank God.

I made Genevieve's jumper.  It's the second round, because the first one made from the pattern was too broad and slopped off her shoulder.  I put it away and hoped she would grow broader next year.

I made Ben's shirt.  It is not a success in my eyes, but don't tell Ben: he loves when I make him clothes.  I'm not pleased that the collar is so large and odd (this was a vintage 70s pattern) and the buttons are spaced oddly.

And that is the barest skim of the details because I'm exhausted.  But happy.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I'm coming back to this space with the thing that keeps taking my breath away:  four years after he was laid off, my husband has a job.  A full-time job.  We are giddy as we lay out all our plans for the money, deferred for these years as he snatched every tiny freelance job that came along, including landscaping and church cleaning (he's an architect). 


This blog, although I never stated it explicitly, was born out of the chaos of my husband's layoff.  All options were on the table and we tried, oh, how hard we tried! to choose the life-giving, hopeful options. 

But I couldn't blog about the job situation because the pain and fear were too close.  And the newness of my husband's new job keeps washing over me, changing yet another plan or fixture of my thrift.  Because I do wonder:  how much thrift will I retain now that it's not urgently needed?

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Overripe Cantaloupe

It was my fault because I left the cantaloupe on the counter too long. Its flavor was good, its texture was not.  I blendered it into a smoothie and poured the leftovers into the popsicle molds.  I have finally realized that the popsicle is to summer what soup is to winter: take the little dregs or slightly undesirable leftovers and combine them into a new texture and everyone wants a bite!

Today Genevieve pestered her father into a lemonade stand on the front porch.  I told her it was a chilly day; she promptly used hot water to make the lemonade and billed it as "hot lemonade."  She didn't sell a single cup.  I poured 6 new popsicles of lemonade, her idea. 

What are your favorite popsicles?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Some People Run Marathons, I Can Tomatoes

That was my epiphany yesterday when I canned tomatoes.  I loathe running, but I love to listen to runners talk about the experience.

So I thought of how I had prepared for this moment, bought the equipment and set aside the time, and how I just had to take the first step and get started.  Then I looked at how much work was in front of me and quailed and wanted to give up.  After all, no one was forcing me to do this - I chose to do this because I love it!  So I pressed on and found my rhythm and got out of my head and enjoyed my mad skilz.  And when I was done, well, wow, the whole world looked sunny and (unlike the runner), I had food for the winter to show for it!

(1 bushel tomatoes: 12 pints pizza sauce, 12 pints salsa, 19 quarts whole canned tomatoes, all pressure canned with help from the children)

Sure, there are other reasons I like preserving, but my reasons are different from my mother's generation and I finally realized that.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Busy-Day Macaroni and Cheese

This is my go-to meal for busy summer days when my schedule threatens to swallow me and I need a little dependable comfort; I am immensely soothed by a proper meal eaten at a table with conversation.  It dawned on me that I have never blogged about this recipe because it appears during such busy times.  Like today, and that bushel of tomatoes.

I probably would still prefer oven-baked macaroni and cheese made with a white sauce (hello, Mom!), but any recipe that combines cheese and pasta is pretty darn good and this recipe is so incredibly easy.  The genius of cooking in the slow cooker is that it allows plenty of flex time at the end of the recipe - great for unpredictable schedules or spontaneous people.  This one, for example, can sit in the turned-off slow cooker for at least 30 minutes, probably more, if you're scrambling through your day - and then you get to have a nice, comforting plate of pasta!  I mix this up before we leave for swimming lessons, and it's done when we fall in the door at noon in wet swimming suits. Fabulous. 

Slow Cooker Mac & Cheese

Serves 2-3 if you're my family; I've been doubling this recipe this summer (see note on doubling below)

Generously butter a 3 or 4-quart slow cooker. 

Put in it:
1 2/3 cups uncooked macaroni or other similar small pasta
2 3/4 cups milk (I use 2%)
3 cups shredded sharp cheese, mixture of kinds preferred
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. ground mustard

Mix.  Cover.  Cook on low for 2-3 hours, taking the lid off for 20-30 minutes at the end if it looks soupier than you want.
To double this recipe, use a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker, cook on HIGH, and do not double the milk - make it more like 4 1/4 cups instead of 5 1/2 cups.

Now, there are some variables here, depending on how hot your cooker cooks and how soft or soupy you like your mac and cheese.  You will have to experiment. I like my mac and cheese on the firm, dry side with plenty of pepper and sharp cheese.  The cheese is important and I recommend that you mix several kinds of cheddar or Monterey Jack or the like, including a very sharp cheese.  I sometimes use a bit of smoked cheddar, too.  Some Parmesan would be excellent, I'm sure.

Serve with a plate of sliced tomatoes or cucumbers, purple basil optional, or whatever summer fruit needs to be eaten next.  Complete meal.  Complete comfort food.  Try it on your next busy day and let me know how you like it!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

And a Canning Update

According to my notebook, I have bought a bushel of tomatoes almost exactly mid-August for the past several years.  I might as well get used to that in combination with reunions, school preparation, and beach trips.  Today I was getting all tense and high-strung as I tried to figure out my schedule puzzle, and I just kept thinking of how I view canning tomatoes in the depths of winter, how lovely it seems then, and you know what, it worked; I found my nice calm center and Genevieve and I even had a happy cooking lesson and I had a nap.

A bit ago (a week? I don't know - August is a blur), Rebecca gave me a sack of zucchini. I made sweet zucchini relish, an indispensible condiment for tuna salad, 1000 island dressing, tartar sauce, and the like.

 I also canned a peck of peaches, whose beauty is shown in this photo as they ripened. Alas, I allowed them to ripen too long for easy canning, and I must remember next year to can them while they're still a bit firm. But they smelled so delectable!

I have three-quarters of a bushel of tomatoes down in my kitchen.  I made a batch of pizza/spaghetti sauce today and trotted my new pressure canner out for her first go.  She worked beautifully.  The rest of the bushel is for salsa and whole canned tomatoes.  And then I'm going to get an additional half-bushel of tomatoes and I'll tell you all about that when I do two new canning projects.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Late Summer Garden Update

I experimented with planting herbs in my porch pots this year.  It was very successful, although the purple basil took over, the creeping thyme died, and the lovage was very stressed by the July heat.  I love having thyme and summer savory available and looking so pretty.  I have yet to use the fresh rosemary; at first, I wondered why, because I adore rosemary, but then I realized it is more of a winter flavor to me. I'm hoping to overwinter it inside.


My baby basil plants are doing great.

The green beans in the raised bed were puny.  I ripped them out and started planting spinach in one and two week successions.  I have never done succession plantings before and I'm so proud!  I put reminders on my online calendar so I don't forget.

I am also experimenting with parsnips and beets beside some of my flowers; my husband warned me that they are especially susceptible to the juglon poison from our black walnut tree, so I don't know if it will work.  I do want to fill a big pot with soil and try growing some root vegetables on the front porch in our southern exposure, away from the wicked black walnut.

We got a pumpkin volunteer from somewhere (Halloween pumpkins?  I don't know) and it is romping over the fence and setting on adorable pumpkins.  Will they be big or miniature?  Who knows!

We had several volunteer tomato plants this year, and a volunteer pepper plant.  I moved the pepper plant out of the tomato jungle and I hope it will produce some peppers soon; it hasn't even flowered yet.  Some of our tomato plants are terribly wilted due to some mysterious blight, yet they are green and producing, so I just wince when I look at them and let them go.

How's your green thumb this summer?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cooking Lesson: Granola

The tyranny of the produce is upon us, but we squeezed in a cooking lesson.  I am going to be away this weekend, so I wanted to tie up several loose ends in the kitchen.  There was a little bit of tired old granola.  There was a bag of zucchinis in the fridge.

So, this is what we did:

1.  With my morning tea in hand, I prepped the zucchini for bread-and-butter pickles.  They needed to soak in salted ice water for 3 hours.  I was hoping the zucchini would be a reasonable stand-in for cucumbers.

2.  We ate breakfast, etc.

3.  Genevieve started making a new granola recipe that I begged from my friend Barb; it has Rice Krispies in it, which is amazingly good, and I had a lot left over after this fantastic recipe.

4.  Simultaneously, I made Crunchy Drop Cookies from More with Less with the little bit of old granola.  I used coconut oil with very little idea of what I was doing, and the cookies spread like pancakes; still tasty. 

5. I really did not stay at Genevieve's elbow as I have mostly done in the cooking lessons so far.  The recipe was in front of her the way Barb sent it to me, so it wasn't written for a kitchen newbie.  Genevieve did accidentally add a 3/4 cup of sesame seeds instead of a 1/4 cup; granola is pretty forgiving for that (although I haven't actually tasted the end result).

5.  I thought that granola was a good way to accustom Genevieve to the oven, to handling hot things, but she simply freaked out.  I'm afraid I was not gracious about it, but I did the stirring and moving of the hot pan while I prepped the kitchen for canning the pickles.

We have granola, we have cookies, we have excellent bread-and-butter pickles.  I did require a nap and coffee, lest you wonder.  I did not have the opportunity to snap many pictures and I have lots more to say about preserving these days - inbetween sewing school uniforms.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

He Did Corn

My husband is always casting around for what to do with the children on the days I am at my job.  He is not big on routines, so they make it up as they go.  One day recently, he hit on the idea of freezing corn.  I kid you not.  He said something about wanting to do something purposeful with their time together.

So he went to the cheap place out in the country and bought 7 dozen ears of corn for $2.50 a dozen.  The children husked it.  He boiled it outside, cut it off the cobs, and handed it over to the children again to stuff in freezer boxes.  When I got home at suppertime, the freezer was full of labeled boxes, the house was cleaned up and calm, and supper was on the table.  I kid you not.  The man deserves a prize, or at the least, a laudatory blog post.

There are several funny things I would like to point out here:

1.  I was planning to get rid of all those plastic freezer boxes and bags and use glass canning jars as another step towards less plastic in the house.  So now the freezer boxes are back in rotation and grinning gleefully.

2.  I only wanted 5-6 dozen ears of corn this preserving season.  I had already frozen 3 dozen just by buying an extra dozen here and there and boiling it with our supper corn.  My mom introduced me to this efficient way of doing corn. Now I have corn from 10 dozen ears in the freezer.

3.  They all enjoyed themselves.  My husband did not take any pictures, so here are mine, which I snapped as I thought I would tell you about my mini-batches of frozen corn.  Just when you think you know everything about your spouse, he busts out a kitchen project groove. I love that. I love him.

Friday, August 2, 2013

I Am Never Tired of Gingham

I made 6 more picnic napkins in red gingham, the classic picnic look.  However, don't think these napkins are only for summer, as they work beautifully for any meal away from home, including school lunches.  Do you hate to be reminded that school is coming?  I just cut out a school jumper for Genevieve this evening.

So, these napkins are the classic picnic look and I had so much fun staging a little photo shoot with watermelon for them. However, there was a kitchen smear on the camera lens that I only saw after the pictures were uploaded.  Drat.
The new, un-smeared photos are in my shop.  Whew.
And I have a big swath of navy gingham to hem into napkins for our house, too.