Friday, January 30, 2009

Alas . . .

The last pumpkin from my garden. Sniff. This pumpkin is from a plant that sprung up all on it's own -- having hidden deep in the pile of compost I had put in my new garden last spring.  At the time I was a little perturbed because the vine took over half of my garden (OK, I'm exaggerating). But the few pumpkins that pollinated were hardy and long lasting. This baby looked as good as the day I picked it back in the late summer. 

This pumpkin is for pumpkin bread I am making for our weekend festivities. From this small fella I got enough pureed pumpkin for 4 loaves. (Plus an adorable pile of pumpkin seeds for roasting.) In my recipe calls for one cup of pumpkin per loaf. The extra two I put in the freezer for later. 

Making Pumpkin Puree
I like to steam my pumpkins and squash when I'm making something sweet, rather than roasting. This way you don't get any brown spots from roasting in the oven -- which I think has a more savory flavor. It's as simple as pie (well, easier actually) to steam pumpkin. Cut pumpkin into quarters (for a small sugar pumpkin), scrape off the seeds, and put into a large pot with about a 2 inches of water at the bottom. Put the cover on the pan and steam for about 45 minutes. Make sure you have enough water -- otherwise the results are not pretty. (Imagine burnt pumpkin cemented to the bottom of your pan.) After it cools slightly, simply scoop the soft flesh out with a large spoon into a blender or Cuisinart, leaving the skin -- which you can throw into your compost! :) Puree in the Cuisinart or blender until smooth. That's it! 

Roasting Pumpkin Seeds
Rinse the seeds off in a strainer. Pat dry with a kitchen towel. Dump the seeds onto a cookie sheet. Drizzle a little olive oil over the seeds and toss around. You just want a light coat of oil on the seeds. Sprinkle kosher salt, or sea salt (or just your plain old salt) on the seeds to your liking. Also, because we have two people with Portuguese blood in our home and I like to keep traditions alive, I sprinkle a little paprika over the pumpkin seeds. (After we were married, Victor moved in with two humongous containers of paprika. He noted "We are all about the paprika!") A little grated Parmesan or Romano cheese is great too (if you're not into paprika). Roast them in the oven for 1 hour at 250 degrees F. If you can toss them around 1-2 times, that's ideal, but usually I don't get around to that. 


Thursday, January 29, 2009

CD Organization

So, my SIL Tanya gave me this great idea. She purchased large notebooks with inserts inside that accommodate CDs. Brilliant!  (And yes, that is a Neil Diamond CD case on the floor. What can I tell you, I grew up with the guy. I hear his songs and think of my dad working around the house on the weekends.)
Here are my CD notebooks. Like Tanya, I insert the booklet that comes with each CD into the slot along with the CD itself. I've organized them by classification. It looks like everything will fit with some room to spare. Now these two notebooks can fit almost anywhere. And let's face it, if you have an ipod or two, you hardly ever touch these things! 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Digging for Leeks

Last year after learning from my Portuguese father-in-law how to extend the growing season in my garden with lettuce and kale, from my high school friend Abby (who now lives in northern New England) that leeks can be harvested in the winter, and gaining a better understanding from Eliot Coleman what things grow in the cold weather and how to get the most out of your garden space, I was even more excited about gardening than I had been in the past. Originally I thought that we New Englanders had a narrow amount of time to grow our tomatoes, cukes, and zucchini, and that was it. So many people don't realize how easy it is to grow simple lettuce in the springtime and fall. All you do is sow the seeds in the ground (just barely, since the seeds are so tiny), water and pick. My girlfriend Michelle planted a few rows of lettuce in her small kitchen garden on the side of her house, and she had more lettuce than she knew what to do with! 

Leeks are a very slow growing vegetable. I planted a bunch of them and scattered them throughout my garden. In my naivete I thought all leeks were suitable for overwintering, but that is not the case. Some can handle winter temperatures and snow, others cannot. I planted two varieties Varna and Seigfreid. The Varna at this point look a bit wilted, but they taste just fine. Besides, leeks are the type of vegetable you saute for soup rather than chop on top of a salad. The Seigfreid are looking fabulous! The green tops are just as firm and vibrant as they looked in the summer. What an amazing vegetable! 

These are the Varna Leeks. I had to try and recall where I'd planted them because everything is covered in about 6-8 inches of snow! I dug down to the base of the leek with a kitchen serving spoon . . . 
And cut them off with a knife! (I think Abby used a pitchfork, come to think of it.)
This is a Seigfreid Leek. Doesn't it look fabulous?! Amazing. Before winter sets in, leeks should be mulched with straw, or even leaves would do. You can see the mulch here around the base of the leek. 
The thought of being able to harvest anything from my garden at this time of year is so exciting to me! For the coming year I purchased two varieties that do well in the wintertime. Here is my harvest that I used to make lentil soup.
How are my cold frames doing you ask? Well, I think once the weather turns a little warmer I will be sitting pretty. The arugula and the mesclun mix are doing well, but their growth is slow so in short order I could eat up my entire supply! The reason I've run into this problem is because I didn't plant them early enough in the fall, so the plants are small. 
But come spring, I think these plants will flourish. I have spinach, parsley, cauliflower, arugula, kale, and mesclun mix ready to take off once the sun gets a little stronger. I'll be the only one in my neighborhood eating from my garden in April! :)
These guys look downright hot, don't they?! The other minor issue I've had is that with all of the snow we've received, often times the cold frames are frozen shut. Hmmm. I think if I were a little more meticulous about clearing the snow away, this would be less of a problem. 

Anyway, it's pretty exciting, isn't it??

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Playing with Dolls

My parents gave this to Ripley two Christmases ago. It's a tree house, and is extremely cool. Ripley likes to play with all of the gadgets -- the ladder, the "tire" swing, the winch, the bridge. However, when it comes to playing with the dolls that go with the tree house . . . 

His imagination and creativity is a little, well . . . you judge for yourself. These folks are apparently "sleeping" on the hammock. Am I doing something wrong as a parent?! Benjamin (9) used to do the same type of thing.
Now, Ripley knows how to play with individual jets and make them take-off from an aircraft carrier that we've had here since Benjamin was about 4. He doesn't cram them all into the hold and leave them there! I certainly haven't given them more examples of how to play with airplanes versus dolls. He has seen it and experienced it, so he pretends. Is this how my children view bedtime?! 

Every time I walk by these dolls, I giggle.

Monday, January 26, 2009


This is my church on a typical Sunday morning (yesterday to be exact). This is the Cafe. There is a 9:00 and 10:45 a.m. service -- so before, even during, and after the service people swarm into the Cafe for free food and beverages. For those who for whatever reason feel more comfortable outside of a traditional service setting - you can even watch Pastor Dennis preach on a big screen inside the Cafe while eating your morning muffin and cup of coffee. I love this part of church. 
One of the most important parts about going to church in the first place is fellowship. Connecting with others, sharing your life with one another, bringing up the fact that this past week has been a tough one, or celebrate an accomplishment with a friend. 
Life can be an isolating experience. It is important to purposefully make an effort to connect with others. Sometimes it is easier to simply stay at home and clean your house for the forth time this week, or watch another three hours of television. Living is about relationship and in order to have relationship -- meaningful relationships -- you have to first get out of your house. Facebook and email don't count (either does blogging). 
Even the kids have time for fellowship at "the kids table" -- you can see Ripley in the faded orange sweatshirt on the left. The kids table is actually a great place for adults to get to know one another. Invariably we all end up talking about our children's behavior or eating habits, life with kids, life before kids, etc., etc. 
Here you can see Victor involved in some type of meaningful conversation with friends. I'd like to point out here how impressed I am that Matt and Kara brought their own coffee mugs from home. Blush. Does it count that I remembered to do that last week?! Invariably when the second service starts, one of our Pastors - Sean, gathers everyone up and explains that if you are here to watch the second service, it is beginning, if your just gabbing -- exit stage left. We like to tease him sarcastically "Geee Sean, you sure are friendly here at Community Covenant Church!" As we gather up our kids, our handbags and coats and skidaddle. Every pastor should be so blessed to have a room full of fellowshipping jabbermouths. Right Sean? :)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rosalie is 5!

My niece Rosalie just turned 5. She loves to dance, so for her birthday party a teacher came and taught a ballet class. What a wonderful idea. The grown-ups seemed to be enjoying all of the adorable photo-op moments, and as you can see, the girls were loving every minute.

Everyone was told to come "dressed to dance". Ripley decided he was going to wear "cute clothes" which entails a button down shirt of some kind and non-sports related shoes. 
Tanya and I both received these "cupcake trees" for Christmas from my parents. Aren't these pink cupcakes adorable?
The boys were encouraged to participate in the dance lesson -- we explained that ballet is a very athletic sport, and that sportsmen of all kinds practice ballet to strengthen and increase their flexibility.
However, although the boys enjoyed watching the ballerinas, overall, they were not impressed. 

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Too Many Toys?

Recently, I've been wondering about toys. Do my children have enough toys? Sometimes when I go over to a friend's house, I wonder. All of the newest gadgets and novelties, lined up ready for playing. My oldest, Benjamin has been around and "collecting" toys for nearly 10 years (in May). As they break I sift through them and try to keep them "fresh". We have the wooden train set, the electric train, the Lego's, the blocks, dress-up stuff, puzzles, matchbox cars, games, learning games, chess, microscope and other scientific things for Benjamin . . . When people ask what my children need for gifts (birthdays and holidays) I am usually at a loss. We haven't gone down the video game route: the Wee, PlayStation or GameBoy. 

Then, on Monday when I had both boys at home, I watched them play. Most of their "play" is inventive and imaginative. Maybe it involves a few cars, but not on a track. A ball, but not in a net. We have had plenty of snow to play in, so I sent them out to do a little shoveling (you know how jobs go for kids, it's the effort that counts) and to fetch a load of wood on their sleds. They had more fun. In short order they were sledding around the yard. And after lunch we went outside again to build snow forts. 

All day long, we didn't turn on the television or play video games (that stands to reason, since we don't have any). Sometimes I wonder (when my boys were bickering about who was or wasn't doing their job) if parents today don't want to do the work involved in good parenting. At one point, early in the day, I thought "Gee, it would be so easy to just plunk them in front of THE BOX." But, I didn't, and I think my boys are better for it. We had such a blast building "igloos" at the entrance to our driveway where the snow piled high from passing plows and Victor's shoveling. One for each boy.
I joked that they should spend the night out in their igloos. That was a bad idea. They both jumped at the chance and I had to explain that I was just kidding, and that we would need lots of leather, fur, wool and fire to get through the night without freezing. 

With too many toys, video games, computer games and television -- what's the incentive for trudging out of doors to let your imagination run wild?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


On Monday Benjamin announced "Mommy, when I'm thinking, like when I'm laying in bed or looking out the car window, I do math facts in my head." Then he added, "Well, not exactly math facts, but I play with numbers in my head. I'll add two numbers in my head, then add another number and on and on until I get lost!" May I just say that numbers do not come to my mind when day dreaming. My blessed boy. 

For those of you who have made my mom's Lemon Squares, I have updated the recipe to be even more lemony. As it is, they are lemony and have a wonderful texture (not gummy!) But the last time I made them I had extra lemon juice, so I threw it in and added a little more flour (Now 5 T lemon juice, 3 T flour). The result was fabulous, and everyone (this was my crowd of 11 two weeks ago) said they were the best lemon squares they've ever tasted. Simple. Classic. Delicious.

Yesterday I watched the Inauguration on television all day long. I raced out the door to pick up Ripley from school 30 minutes early so that we could be back in time to watch the swearing in. I almost kept the boys home from school to watch, but Benjamin said that the entire school was going to watch the ceremony, so I let them go. What a momentous event. I didn't want them to miss it. No matter what your political views, I hope that you can appreciate and celebrate all that our country accomplished and overcame in the election and Inauguration of President Obama. I sure can. For Ripley at age four, understanding the concept of the world, a country, a President and a government is a bit of a stretch, but for the past year I've been trying to explain it. He had a few funny lines as we watched, baked zucchini bread, dusted,  and vacuumed (during the commercials). When he first saw now President Obama at the Inauguration, Ripley said "He already won!" As if to say, what is he back for? I'd tried to explain to Ripley that Obama was going to be the President of the United States of America. Later, Ripley said, pointing to President Obama "He is America." Yes he is. And I am proud. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reuse: The Beauty of Antiques

On Saturday I had a few extra minutes to myself before going to a baby shower for a girl friend of mine from Ecuador. I was looking for a good old fashioned hand-held mixer, thanks again to my friend at RainGarden. Why didn't I think of this sooner? I've long been a proponent of the handheld manual can opener, why not the handheld manual mixer? (I fully understand electric can openers for those who suffer with arthritis type pain, however, for the vast majority of us -- Why can't we handle cranking our own cans open manually? I'm at a loss. And, electric can openers take up space on your counter. I digress.) I meandered into this tiny antique store that is quite literally "a hole in the wall". To get into the store, you must walk down a set of narrow concrete stairs and walk through a small door. The owner does a great job displaying various things on the sidewalk so that you know it's there, but until Saturday I'd never set foot in the place. When I did, the owner was pounding away on a typewriter. I thought to myself, is this for effect -- to set the mood? I glanced around. I'm amazed he stays in business, but the rent must be dirt cheap. Records, clothing, accessories, costume jewelry, little wooden drawers labelled in typewritten lettering (aaha!) things like: buttons, watches, game pieces, nail clippers. There was an entire selection of vintage fabric divided neatly by color, but in my opinion was way over priced. Finally I asked the man if he had any hand mixers. He started wandering around the store making all kinds of clanking noises here and there, and lo and behold pulled out four of them from I don't know where. 

I tested them all and chose the one that was sturdy and smoothest when the beaters twirled around. It's possible that it cost more than a new one a Target, but I'm certain that it will last longer. They just don't make things like they used to.
I also purchased a few antique hand embroidered hankies. Aren't they lovely? They aren't reproductions fabricated in China (which I have purchased in the past, accidentally) these are the real McCoy. These I actually use instead of tissues. 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Snowy Sunday!

I hadn't checked on the weather forecast, so I was completely surprised to wake up on Sunday morning to snowfall -- major snowfall. I'd thought we were going to get 1-3 inches of snow, changing to rain in the afternoon. Victor (chief shoveler) estimated that we received 6-8 inches! How fun! So, after church (we did venture out) we went sledding down the street from our house. 

We aren't the type of parents who sit on the sidelines and watch  our kids sled. No, no, no! We stand in line and wait our turn to go down the slopes! Here is Victor lookin' good as he starts his journey down the hill . . . 

Down, down, down . . . 
And then skillfully RAMS into our cute four year old, Ripley. 

Fortunately, they were both laughing after the er  . . .  event. 
Church, sporting a winter jacket. He was none too pleased to have snowballs collecting on his fur.
Up the hill again.
Ripley, always happy to please the camera.
And here Victor goes again! Last week, several of the neighborhood guys built a jump from one of the hay bales that was lining the new street. Memories of taking-on jumps as children in our heads . . . 
We were soon reminded that we have in fact landed in our forties . . . 
Victor, laughing through his pain. 
Ripley, loving every minute of it.


Function: noun
Etymology: perhaps from Greek skat-, skor excrement
Date: 1927
:an animal fecal dropping

When I was living in Colorado, reading Farley Mowat's book Never Cry Wolf and preparing for my backpacking trip to Alaska, I became familiar with the term "scat". Once you know to look for it, it's a great way to know what animals are nearby and what they are eating. Well, I can tell you with certainty that a) rabbits are IN my garden with frequency, and b) they are eating my old broccoli plants. Whippersnappers.

They are also hopping through and around my wild blackberries that I'm planning on taming this year. And, clearly, this year I will also be building a fence. Sad, but I've finally embraced the reality that one is needed. I had several encounters with wildlife last season from rabbits stunting the growth of my carrots and beets by nibbling their tops, to deer chomping at my ready to pick peas, and painstakingly trained strawberry plants. So when the ground thaws, I'm hoping to draft Victor to help me build a fence. 
One natural aide has come to my rescue though. Yesterday morning our dog Church was barking as he looked out the slider facing our back woods. I let him out as usual to chase the local squirrel population. But what Church had in his sights was a fox! I wish I could have gotten a picture of him (or her) but I was awestruck looking at this beautiful animal. A very healthy fluffy looking fox with dark red fur and lots of black highlights. As Church came bounding out, the fox, who was checking out our neighbors dog kennel (they have tiny little yapper type dogs), slowly meandered away irritated by the inconvenience of Church's appearance (certainly not scared). Our fox slowly trotted across the back of our woods so that Ripley and I could see him. Ripley asked "Does the fox have sharp teeth?" "Yes" I said. "Then Church should come inside, because I love Church." Poor Church was still way back by the dog kennel running around in circles asking "Which way did he go? Which way did he go?"

Friday, January 16, 2009

Seed List 2009

Due to encouragement from my husband, Victor, when we put my new garden in last spring I made it much larger than I'd originally planned. I am so thankful. As it was, I felt crowded and short on space. This year I am expanding my growing areas into some other spaces I have scattered around our yard. For two cents I could pick up and move to a 10 acre farm house. We've joked about it, but how could I leave my asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries? My blueberry bushes, pear, apple, peach, cherry and apricot trees? They are like my children! Plus, we are settled here, have wonderful neighbors and who wants to sell a home in this market? Not I. 

This year I am going to down size my perennial garden -- which everyone loves and compliments -- however, you can't eat a day lily. Well, even if you can, I don't want to. I'm not going to get too radical, but I am going to downsize a little bit. I want to plant more herbs and thanks to Raingarden I am going to try growing my own Chamomile Tea. Next year, who knows?! I might even get Victor going with the chainsaw and push back into our woods, just a little bit. 

The other area I plan to plant in is our side yard. Our side yard is a wooded area. There are all kinds of beech trees scattered throughout with wood chips underneath to cut down on weed maintenance. But on the edge where the wood chips meet our front lawn, I have full sun in the summertime. In this location I plan to plant vegetables that take up large areas like squash, pumpkins, watermelons and cantaloupes. I am going to make mounds all along our side yard in which these plants can grow. There is plenty of room for them to roam without taking up my precious garden space. Isn't that a clever idea? 

The other thing I would like to experiment with are extra places to grow potatoes. I understand that you can grow potatoes in old tires. Anything stackable. I need to do some more research on this. All in an effort to gain more growing area! 

Here is a list of things I learned last year and hope to improve on this year:
  1. Better utilization of garden space. I am amazed when I see pictures of city and suburb gardens jammed into small spaces and producing enough to feed their families of 4-6! 
  2. I don't have room to do too much experimenting. 
  3. Only grow those things that your family LOVES to eat and plant lots of those things. 
  4. Learn more about succession planting and take advantage of the additional yields this practice will give you. 
  5. Obscure vegetables are fun and all, but be sure the majority of your space is used planting things you know you will get lots of use out of. 
  6. Start seeds earlier in the winter. I don't have a good window to put my seeds in to grow them (we only have one window on the south side of our house, and it's in Ripley's bedroom), so I rely on florescent lighting in the basement to grow my seedlings. It's cooler down there, and florescent lighting just isn't a good as the Sun God created. So when I brought my seedlings out in May to plant they were literally 2 inches tall. Friends were planting enormous "seedlings" they'd purchased at Home Depot and I was left praying over my microscopic dwarf crop. It all worked out more or less in the end, but my sweet peppers didn't have the opportunity to mature for the most part. So most of them were picked green and small. My tomatoes brought forth a great crop, but ripened later than my Home Depot friends' tomatoes.
  7. Cut back on weeds using layers of newspaper and straw (thank you Raingarden, again). This was a huge time saver, after I finally learned about it.  

Benjamin took an inventory of last year's seeds, from that list I ordered new ones and now have created a list of all that I have and plan to plant this year. It's so exciting! Keep in mind that many of these things I have only a few seeds left over from last year. But, enough to grow a few plants with!  

Here it is:
Winter Density Lettuce
Barcorole Lettuce
Ruben's Red Romaine
Gourmet Greens Arugula
China Choy
Mesclun Salad Mix
Bloomsdale Spinach
Siberian Kale Mix
Nutri-Bud Broccoli
Broccoli Rabe
Heirloom Cauliflower
Cascadia Bush Snap Pea
Sugar Pea
Tendergreen Bush Bean
Stringless Green Bean
Cannellini Soup Bean
Bluelake Bush Bean
Tavera Bush Bean 
Italian Pole Bean
Edamame Sayamusume
Black Beauty heirloom Eggplant
Black Eggplant
Brandywine Heirloom Tomato
Yellow Pear Cherry Tomato
Yellow Perfection Slicing Tomato
Roma Paste Tomato
Martian Giant Slicing Tomato
Peron Sprayless Slicing Tomato
CA Wonder Sweet Pepper
Sweet Bullnose Red Pepper
Sweet Sunrise Orange Bell Pepper
Serrano Chile Pepper
Cayenne Pepper
Thai Hot Pepper
Black Beauty Summer Squash
Butternut Winter Squash
Hopi Orange Winter Squash
Small Sugar Pumpkin
Howden Pumpkin
Dakota Rose Watermelon
Harvest Queen Muskmelon
Italian Dark Green Parsley
Slow Bolt Cilantro
Lettuce Leaf Basil
Genovese Basil
Russian Mammoth Sunflower
German Butterball Potato
Bintje Potato
Yukon Gold Potato
Red Sangre Potato
Kurota Chantenay Carrot
Riverside Onion
Siskiyou Onion
Celebration Celery

Still to order: 
Yellow Summer Squash
More Cucumber Varieties

As you can see, our selection is pretty straight forward. This year, I hope to have more to store away for the cold months. As it is, I am almost completely through my supply from 2008. Sniff. Sniff. The other thing I would like to try more of is saving seeds. Last year I only tried a few things. 

May is coming soon, before you know it I will be harvesting asparagus! 

Be well.
Go ahead, start your own garden. Take back your food!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Southeastern New Englanders are Wimps!

You have got to be kidding me. Today it is forecast to be 16 degrees along with 1-3 inches of snow. The Midwest is dealing with -20 to -40 degree temperatures and we, Southeastern New Englanders are canceling school. I'm baffled. We have furnaces in the schools, right? We have snow plows, right? What's the problem? I have to admit that when we see folks down south on the news skidding all over the roads and getting into pile-ups, we snicker a little up here. But places that don't have enough plows, sanders and salters to make the roads safe (and why would they, since snowfall is rare?) are at a big disadvantage. And drivers don't have the opportunity to learn how to drive in the snow. We however, have no excuse. We are wimps. It's official. Our fellow Northern New Englanders are laughing their butts off at us. It's an embarrassment. Allow me to say to the rest of the New Englanders out there who know how to deal with the cold and snow: We are sorry. We have let you down. It's hopeless, we are wimps. We are going to race off to the stores before the snow begins to fall today, all 3 inches of it, (with our children in tow, because there is no school) and purchase our obligatory loaf of bread and gallon of milk. It's all we know. It's what we do. Send us down south where we belong. (Then we'd no doubt complain about the heat, the humidity, the snakes and the bugs.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ripley Comments & Benjamin Swims

As I've mentioned, it's been snowy around here. Typically when we get snow, within a few days it is gone. The warm water off the coast invariably turns on coming precipitation to bone chilling sleet and rain. Usually our winters are filled with slush. So, it's been lovely to have a lasting winter wonderland over the past two weeks. However, on our way home from school yesterday Ripley exclaims "I don't even know how the ground is doing!" The poor guy, he was wondering about the grass. What's happening under there?! 

Then, we stopped by the mailbox as we pulled into our driveway. Ripley received a lovely invitation to his cousin Rosalie's 5th Birthday Party. I've mentioned that Rosalie is the only girl on both sides of her family, but she is girl enough for everyone. She loves to dance, and watch Russian ballets, so it was no surprise that the invitation had a hand colored ballerina on the front. It read at the end "children should dress to dance". After hearing that, Ripley says "But I don't have anything to dance in! I don't even have a dress to wear." He was under the impression that if he wanted "in" on the party he had to go sporting dancing attire -- the way his cousin Rosalie sees dancing attire. Ripley was actually considering if this was worth the sacrifice. He seemed very relieved when I let him know that he wasn't required to wear a dress and that he could dance in anything he wanted. "How about Superman?" referring to his costume. Sure, that would be fine, I said. 

Rosalie: The Princess Ballerina of our family

On Saturday, Benjamin had a swim meet. His team is a small low key group, which is nice. He loves it, has a great time, and gets plenty of exercise without the stress and pressure of a more hard core competitive team. 
Here he is (on the right) cheering for his team with two of his friends Kyle and Jeffrey.
Getting ready (Benjamin's on the right)
And taking off!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What's in your pantry? And other news . . .

So, what's in your pantry / freezer? I am part way through an inventory. Things, particularly in the pantry department, have gotten out of control. I could feed my family off what's in both for months. And that's my plan! Do any of you overachiever types have the problem where you buy supplies for a certain recipe that you don't have time to make? Well, I've done that 100 too many times. I have makings for the oatmeal raisin bread I've been meaning to make for weeks (today, really!), granola makings that didn't get done during the holidays, and tons of accent ingredients that I need to make my stand by favorites -- like coconut milk, chickpeas, tuna, pasta . . . you name it, it's in there. So, this is what I'm going to do: take an inventory, create a list, and chip away at our supplies. Things have gotten out of hand and you can hardly get in there! Blush. It's not pretty.

I am feeling very empowered, encouraged and excited about our wood stove, and our efforts to conserve oil and save money. We keep our digital thermostats set at 60 degrees. In the morning, I start a fire in the stove and slowly get the temperature up. If I'm really struggling to get things going - or it's especially cold outside and drafty inside, I'll turn the heat up to get the house in the 66-68 degree range and give the wood stove a head start. (After the temperature is reached, the thermostat automatically kicks back to 60 degrees.) But, normally, the wood stove does all of the work. That means it's very possible that the house is 60-64 degrees for long periods of time where the wood stove is getting started. (As I'm typing this the thermostat reads 62 degrees.) For those of you who know me, this is amazing! Back in my single, carefree, ignorant days, my temperature setting of choice was 72 degrees! Yes, indeed. The thing is, I am actually getting kind of used to it. Now, if we weren't saving money out of the deal and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, I'd be back up to 68-70 in a heart beat. The boys often say "I'm coooolllllldddd!" and we encourage them to put on a sweater, and something on their feet. Occasionally, they put on a hat. But, I think it's good for them, and there is no need for them to be romping around in a thin long sleeve t-shirt, jeans and bare feet in the dead of the New England winter! 

That brings me to my next bit of news. Months and months ago Victor suggested that we as a family take off our shoes when we come inside our house to cut down on dirt tracking in. I'm not Japanese, never grew up taking off perfectly warm shoes, and didn't want to start. But, in an effort to cut down on my cleaning time, I've acquiesced. Now when we come inside, we shed our shoes and put on warm slippers. However, that does not mean that when you come over to my house you have to shed your shoes. I'm just not into that. As someone who likes to "dress up", when you put on an outfit, thinkin' you're lookin' pretty dern cute -- shoes included -- you should have a right to keep your "look" together. Sorry, but that's the way I see it. If you want to, by all means, get comfy and take them off and slap on your slippers. (I'm sorry, but that dress is just not going to look as cute on you though.)

Regarding my desire to exercise more regularly, thanks to my friend Katie, I've joined a local group of women who . . . run. As a group they run various road races throughout the year and work together to keep in shape and train. It's great because, like my Wednesday running date with Bethanie, it keeps you accountable to get out there. One or two times a week whoever is available can join in and run as a group. Last Saturday Katie said that she was going to run 5 miles at 7:30 in the morning -- would I like to join her? I did, and I'm so proud. It was about 20 degrees outside, so we were all bundled up. But the sun was out and reflecting on the snow and ice -- it was beautiful. 

This weekend we received more snow. We've had more snow this year than usual -- and it's been fun! The way I see it, if it's going to be cold and desolate outside, why not have snow to play in? It's so beautiful! We've gone sledding numerous times, and did so this Sunday after the snow we received on Saturday night. We tromped over to a decent little hill in our neighborhood, and as it just so happened several other neighbors had the same idea. We had a little impromptu neighborhood sledding party -- the kids had a blast, as did the parents. Good clean fun.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jeff's Vegetarian Chili

Jeff is my old (as in, the past, not old as in ancient -- although you are older Jeff!) housemate. He has this hard core chili book that implores you to apprehend specialized Mexican herbs, and cooks everything the "long way" (rather than the most efficient) -- however, the results of all of the recipes we've all tried are fabulous. Back in our young single days, whenever we'd have a big crowd over -- Jeff would make 2 vats of chili. One of the favorite stand-by's was the 3 Bean Vegetarian Chili. "3 Bean" to me doesn't do this chili justice in a name -- trust me, it's splendid. After making it for my crowd of 11 on Thursday, everyone wanted the recipe. Here is a less labor intensive version that's not quite so hard core. I think Jeffrey will approve.

3 Bean Vegetarian Chili
(As you can see in the picture, I also added a chopped zucchini because I had one on hand. The picture was taken before all of the veggies were cooked. Sometimes this chili can get a little thick. Feel free to add water to get the consistency you prefer.)
  • 3/4 C medium or coarse Bulgar
  • 1 C orange juice (I didn't have any, so I used cider)
  • 1/3 C olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 C chili powder
  • 3 T ground cumin
  • 3 T dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 T dried thyme
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper (the recipe calls for 1-2 t, but that gets really hot -- and I love spice!)
  • 1/4 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 can (35 oz) plum tomatoes w/ juice (whole or diced or crushed -- last time I used diced and crushed b/c that's what I had - frankly, I liked that combo best)
  • 3 C water (the recipe calls for chicken broth, but it's not necessary and I wanted to make it totally vegetarian -- you couldn't notice any difference)
  • 2 large sweet red peppers - 1/2" dice
  • 1/2 lb. french cut frozen green beans **Note** don't worry about the exact amount of veggies. If your package is 16 oz., just use the whole thing! Add more of your favorite things, less of your "not as favorite". It's all good.
  • 1 pkg. (10 oz.) corn kernels
  • 1 can (16 oz.) dark red kidney beans - rinsed and drained (sometimes I used black beans instead because I prefer them)
  • 1 can (16 oz.) chickpeas - rinsed and drained

Suggested Toppings: Sour Cream, Shredded Jack or Cheddar Cheese, Sliced Scallions.Serve along with Cornbread and Butter! Yum. Yum. Yum.


In a small bowl, combine Bulgar and orange juice and let stand at room temperature.

In a large pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic, stirring occasionally until they are tender

.Add in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, thyme, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and salt. Stir and cook for 5 minutes or so.

Add in the tomatoes and 3 C water (or broth, if using) . If you're using whole tomatoes, break them up with your fingers as you are adding them in. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook partially covered, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, chop the red peppers into dice. Throw them in the pot. (You may need to raise the heat up a little.)

After a few minutes, add in the frozen green beans, frozen corn and Bulgar. Stir.

After a few more minutes, add in the chickpeas and kidney beans. Stir.

Simmer until all the veggies are tender and the chili is thick. (Sometimes, I add in a little extra water b/c I don't like it too thick.) Taste and adjust any seasonings.

Beware: This chili is spicier the next day. And as with any tomato based dish, it's better the next day. This is a great thing to serve at a party because you cook it the day before and then on the day of the party it's "one less thing" to worry about! Yumola.

Friday, January 9, 2009


That's P.A.L.S. Pam, Amy, Linda and Sandy. We should have sat in order, but we didn't. What can I say, it was the end of the night! From left to right: Linda, Amy, Sandy and Pam.

Sitting here on this couch is an incredible group of ladies and a testimony to what God can do. You see, about 9 years ago, all four of us were in the middle of the ugly awful thing called divorce. Our spouses had been unfaithful, battled all kinds of addictions, and were abusive physically, verbally or emotionally. We banded together through the most difficult time in our lives, praying for each other, listening to each other, building each other up, and supporting each other -- like in the Old Testament when Moses arms were tired and Aaron and Hur held his arms up, we held each other up through the valleys. Every Friday night we would all gather at my house -- the deal was, I would cook for them and they would clean up after me. (A cooks dream come true!) We were bound together like only God and trials can bind.
Now, 9 years later, we have all been through counseling, dealt with our past and with God's help come out whole. Three out of four of us are remarried to wonderful, supportive, kind hearted, faithful men. And Amy, who was a little hesitant to embark again into this sometimes scary and uncertain journey called marriage, is finally open to the idea. And after being with all of us and our wonderful men on Thursday night is even embracing the possibility! God is Good.
Now we are dispersed over Missouri, Massachusetts, Northern Rhode Island and Southern Rhode Island, so we are rarely all together in one place. Joy! From left to right: Victor, Pam's children Aimee, Allegra, Zackery; Amy, Benjamin, Ken, Linda, Pam, Kevin ... and the back of Ripley's head.

We ate Vegetarian Chili (recipe forthcoming) and Chicken Soup, with Strawberry Spinach Salad, Gorgeous Bread and rich conversation. It was such a joy to see you all!

A quick word about divorce. If any of you are considering divorce, let me be sure and tell you that it is a horrible thing. There is a reason that "God hates Divorce", it's because it rips apart everyone in it's path. All four of us would say that it's something to avoid at all costs. We did our best to be guided by God and to honor Him with our behavior and choices throughout our whole ordeal. In a word, if you are considering divorce -- don't. There are few situations that merit embarking on such an awful trail. It is a lot less painful to work it out, compromise and love the unlovable. Pray, and be guided by God. Divorce is not an easy solution to marital problems.

If you have already experienced divorce, know that God can see you through, heal your wounds and bring you to a place of peace and joy, with a lot of work and commitment on your part. Make sure to pray through it, get support and surround yourself with real friends (who don't just tell you what you want to hear, and show up when you need them). Start your own Friday Night Dinner Club.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Strawberry Jam, and Tea for Four

Here is yesterday's breakfast. I'm not a huge breakfast eater, but yesterday I splurged and had what Ripley has been having for days. Banana Bread with Homemade Strawberry Jam. Wow. I made two different versions of strawberry jam last summer. This one is by far my favorite. As usual, it's a combination of two recipes. Spring is on it's way, so I'll give you the recipe in preparation (and hope) for warmer days ahead:
Strawberry Jam
7 pounds strawberries, hulled
8 cups sugar
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
Put all ingredient in a large pan. Bring to a boil for about 5-8 minutes until you have reached the setting point. Put into sterilized jars. Yum. Yum. Yum.
I've been doing a lot of cleaning and prepping because I'm having 11 people over for dinner tonight! Ripley has been helping me out dusting with the duster, vacuuming, washing out sinks, etc. When I was stopping for lunch (he had already had his hours before) he exclaimed, "We never have tea parties. Can we have one?" I have to admit, the last time we had a formal tea party was about a year ago, but generally it's not a popular request. So, in my effort to practice patience (which I think in large part is produced by understanding, compassion, and realistic expectations) we sat down and had tea. Ripley had orange spice tea and I had green after eating my kale soup and whole wheat bread. Ripley invited two "friends" as you can see on the couch. They are facing left because they were watching as I read This is London, by M. Sasek.

Our miniature schnauzer "Church" (don't ask) has taken up residence by the fire, permanently. He loves the new wood stove.