Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Now this was a meal to feel good about

Free range lamb, from Trader Joes, browned in a skilled. Tomato sauce from my garden tomatoes and peppers. Cooked pearl barley from a local farm market. Served with peas from my garden. Delicious, soulful, special. Not a meal you that leaves you feeling hungry an hour later. It lingers with you on other levels. Certainly we can't have lamb every day, but it is nice to make a fuss about it when we do.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Local Food

I guess food is on my mind this week. As the dividends pour in from the garden, I am contemplating our food strategy for next year. I do love my garden, and I value my ability to produce food. However, more often than not this summer I found myself either running to the store for this or that, or eating out, only to find that suddenly I was stocked with a bushel of green beans. Although we do try to grow a variety of foods in our yard, ranging from tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and beans to our little apple trees, there still isn't enough variety to round out our diet. Additionally, our garden is becoming more of an expensive hobby than a sustainable way of getting food. This weighs on my mind, because it's a lot of work.

I think my objectives next year will involve finding less expensive ways of raising food, maybe focusing on the things that are more expensive to buy, narrowing the scope of what we grow so I can learn everything there is to know about a particular crop, and joining a CSA to ensure that we have a steady stream of local produce.

Oh, and those apples were amazing.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The dying art of potluck

Growing up as I did, Methodist, and in relatively close proximity to my grandparents and bajillion aunts, uncles and cousins, I was schooled from a very early age the fine art of potluck, and what constitutes a "covered dish." We attended a potluck yesterday with my son's soccer team, with instructions to bring a covered dish. I whipped up this little number: loaded mashed potatoes. I don't have a recipe because I was throwing it together on the fly, but the basic ingredients are mashed potatoes topped with shredded cheese, bacon, green onion and you can dollup on some sour cream at serving. It is a good thing I made something reasonably substantial because here was the complete menu, as brought by the various guests:

My mashed potato casserole
A Skyline Chili-based 7-layer dip w/ Fritos (truly inspired and yummy!)
Potato Chips
Ice Cream cake

Hmm. I am not writing this to complain about the food, but I felt a little out of place. I wondered did I get lost in some time warp? Upon leaving my house, I was fretting a bit that my humble and easy to make casserole was perhaps not up to par. How surprised, nay, shocked I was to find that it rated main dish status! On one hand, the kids had fun, spent most of the time swimming, and were well satisfied with the offerings given them, seeing as how they often turn their nose up at potluck fare. But on the other hand I felt a bit sad. I thought back to my grandma's chicken and noodles, and all those aunties and church ladies of my youth, whipping up amazing things. They weren't just feeding us, they were nourishing us, as well as showing off their special dishes. Every lady had her own dish she was known for. My mom, for example, was always tapped to bring her potato salad (her secrets: sweet relish, heavy mustard, and one egg per russet potato.) I have this one aunt who makes corn casserole that would curl your toes. And another aunt whose meatloaf makes me want to show up on her doorstep with a plate and fork and a napkin tied around my neck. Oh and let's don't forget the aunt who makes the lemon bars. And the coconut thingies. And the pie. Please, don't forget the pie!

I guess this is a statement about our food culture, and about the way we fail to preserve the truly good things in life. Having something like a potluck isn't about the food at all. It's about the meeting and greeting, and showing that we care. I fear, though, that if we get to the point where everyone is bringing chips and bakery cookies and buckets of chicken, people will eventually lose interest in going to the event altogether. It is about the food, and it isn't about the food.

I take heart. This Christmas time my aunts and uncles and cousins and my own family will gather as we do. A couple of my cousins make sure to keep Grandma's legacy chicken noodle recipe. Someone always makes these delicious meatballs. My one cousin will bring an uber healthy and yummy offering (she's a nurse.) People will bring out their meatloaves and 7-layer dips and a big spiral cut ham and the casseroles that you don't recognize but you take a dollup because someone you love made it. There will be mac and cheese, so the kids have something to eat. And yes, someone will bring the buckets of chicken, because someone has to. It wouldn't be Christmas without it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I'm just tired

It took two free mornings---well, not "free" if you count the running of errands and folding of clothes and making the breakfast and the washing the dishes. Let's's taken a couple of free hours over the past few days to recognized that I'm feeling quite burned out. And further, I'm understanding that it is quite self-inflicted. I'm filling my days with impossible task lists, I'm filling my calendar with too many obligations, and I'm filling my body with all the wrong things. And yet I'm so unfulfilled. The weight of sending my baby to kindergarten, combined with having my husband busy at work and sometimes out of the country, and my own crazed standards of homecaring perfection have left me drained. On top of that I'm dealing with a nagging health issue, the kind that won't kill me, but none of the options for fixing it are good (I fear going into the hospital healthy and coming out with even more problems.) At the moment I find myself grinding to a halt. And the saddest thing is that because I stay at home, I sort of feel guilty for taking a day or two "off." For today, I'm going to just give up the guilt complex and relax.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Time flies, does it not?

I never knew how much I could love two little people...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I do love a good bridal shower

Congratulations to my friend Erin!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Front Porch

When the weather gets just right, I love being on my front porch. In fact, when it gets cold this fall, you'll find me wrapped in a warm blanket sipping my coffee for as long into the season as I can.

When we were house hunting, I specified that I would only buy a house with a front porch. Not a terribly easy thing to find in all the neighborhoods we were looking at. Heck, even our tent has a front porch.

Earlier in the summer I realized my porch was a disgraceful mess, so I prettied it up with some plants and a new pillow. Now it looks pretty welcoming, I think.

We have a deck out back. It's just not the same. You can't wave to the neighbors as they bike or walk by from the back deck.

On days like this, I tell the boys "this is a front porch kind of day." They know this means I will be parked out there with a stack of books, journals and magazines. They know that this also means they can ride bike or climb the tree to their hearts' content. And that all meals will be simple and taken on the porch.

And they don't seem to mind a bit.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I've been a bad gardener...

I am weary of my garden. The weeds have taken over. It is still very very hot out and I haven't been in the mood to rise at 6am to pull them. I struggle to feel gratitude for all the tiny white blooms on the bean stalks, signaling a fall crop on the way. I feel too tired to make tomato sauce and salsa, but I will be grateful when it's done---when I reach in the freezer for some sunshine-in-a-jar this winter. And yeah, I'll get to planting some fall lettuce and spinach, and I'll be glad eating my salad as I watch the first snow fall. But right now, all I want to do is sleep!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Simple Cakes

Inspired by this post from Jolly Good Gal I thought I'd share some of my less than perfect, delicious homemade birthday cakes.

I typically try to keep the basic cake pretty simple.

I will usually try to use a candle or ornament to be the decoration.

Cupcakes are still all the rage. I did these with white icing and red sprinkles, to look shiny like McQueen, with a yellow thunderbolt of icing.

Here is my patented technique of making a cheap theme cake---Thomas was actually cut out from an extra invitation. I just taped some toothpicks on and stuck him on the rails.

Sometimes we don't need a theme at all.

Or even a decoration. Or even a correct number of candles.

I have to mention my sweet Aunt Louise who believes everyone should have a cake on her birthday, and that it should be home made if at all possible. This one was for my sister and my shared birthday party. (My aunt once made an upright panda cake for my brother's first birthday!)

Cake baking can inspire creativity, especially if you have a Halloween baby, like mine.

It is just too tempting to make them all spooky-themed.

There is an endless assortment of ideas in the magazines.

He said he didn't want anymore spooky birthdays, but he loved these best of all.

Sometimes one is watching one's weight, and we portion control.

And sometimes the kids help with the baking and make all the decisions.

Sometimes the cakes look just splendid.

Sometimes the cakes are a funny joke, like me telling Zack sorry, a new bike isn't in the budget this year, but then putting a bike on his cake. (Yes he got the bike, lol.)

Sometimes cake isn't even your favorite, and you get pie.

Or cobbler.

And sometimes things get, well, misjudged. You tell everyone they are having a new creation: "Avalanche Cake." Having eaten each and every one of the desserts pictured, I can tell you that marble cake with white icing and strawberries was the best one of all!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Things I love about camping and Kelleys Island

First and most obvious, Lake Erie.

Getting that first stubborn punky fire going.

Ancient glacial grooves.

Enjoying the outdoors in our own way.

Seeing stuff like this quarry lake.

Cracking up by the campfire

The sound of the thunderstorm, and rain pelting the tent at night, and waking up to sunshine in the morning.

Swimming at the beach.

Discovering fossils in the rock (the first fossils I've ever seen outside a museum!)

More fossils, everywhere! (this was from Marblehead by the lighthouse.)

Having a bit of alone time while Ken took the boys up to the pier.

Climbing rocks at the old quarry.
Wandering way far off the hiking trail on an old railway bed into the empty quarry and having to scrabble 20 feet up a muddy embankment because we heard traffic, lol.

This moment.

Bicycling everywhere on the island, including to the little village to go to a restaurant called The Village Pump on the last day, where we ate fried perch to die for as a reward for finding our way back to civilization after our 3 hour hike.

The ferry crossings.

Meeting an artist from Findley painting the Marblehead Lighthouse. He let us know this was his first time picking up a brush in 25 years, a reminder that it is never too late to find your way back to creativity!

Knowing that we had such a good time it was hard to say goodbye.