Sunday, October 30, 2011

I WAS Going to Write a Little Rant...

about a student family that does not see any need to meet the expectations of my studio. A student who will probably be asked to find another teacher at the end of the semester. It's ultimately not good for business to be known as the studio where the rules don't matter.

And then I thought better of it.

Last year, we carved our pumpkin on the front stoop of the house. This summer, I found THIS in the landscaping.

Apparently one little seed found it's way from the Gunk Bowl to the earth, took root and produced another little pumpkin to adorn our doorstep this year.

A more cheerful story.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chicken Fricassee

The kids and I returned home on Monday evening from a quick and wonderful trip. I'll not say precisely where I went because I did get the chance to visit with, and interview, two homemakers that I admire. Those interviews will appear here at some point, and once I bring them into the picture, I think it's important that I make them feel safe by protecting their privacy as much as possible. Thanks for letting me into your homes, girls.

Our little trip coincided with the ending of Brooks' football season. Literally, we waited until he had turned in his equipment, and then left town. The season was good in the way it kept him active and involved with his peers, but it was havok for our family meals. Michael would delay leaving work until it was time to pick Brooks up after practice, which also delayed our dinner time for an hour. Because Michael wasn't home, I was overseeing the girls' homework and activities on my own. I hadn't realized how much I relied on my good husband for that.

What with one thing and another, my meal preparation has dwindled to sandwiches and semi-homemade kinds of things. My goal for feeding my family became Lack of Starvation instead of beautiful, tasty, lovingly prepared food. Having seen the end of football season, and the homes and tables of some inspiring homemakers, I rushed off the interstate and into my kitchen.

Last night we had fricassee de poulet a l'ancienne, or, more familiarly, Chicken Fricassee. From Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Prepared in this way:

1 chicken, cut up for frying
1 sliced onion
2 diced carrots
2 stalks of celery, diced
4 T butter
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. white pepper
3 T flour
3 c. chicken stock
1 c. white wine or 3/4 c. vermouth
bouquet of parsley sprigs, bay leaf, thyme, tied up in clean cheesecloth

Cook the carrots, celery and onion in the butter in a medium hot skillet for about five minutes, or until they are almost tender but not browned. After, push the vegetables aside and add the chicken. Turn them every couple of minutes. They will get firmer, but not browned. Cover the pan, lower the heat and continue to cook for 10 minutes more, turning now and then.

Meanwhile, in another pan, simmer together the chicken stock and vermouth and herb bouquet. I have started to really love the taste of meat cooked in wine and this is the broth that will do it for you. Taste this stock for seasoning and add some salt if you think it's necessary.

After the ten minutes of covered cooking, use the salt, pepper and flour to coat the chicken. Cover and continue cooking for another 4 minutes, with another turn in the middle.

Pour the simmering stock mixture over the chicken and vegetables. Bring it all to a simmer. Cover and maintain for 25-30 minutes or so. You know, until the chicken is done. Stab a big piece and look for clear juices if you're not sure. Remove the chicken to a waiting dish.

Onion and Mushroom Garniture

Julia wanted me to use 16-20 tiny white onions, which I didn't have, so I just used another medium yellow one, as I had for the vegetables in the chicken. Also, 1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, stewed in butter, lemon juice and water. Add the leftover stewing juices to the chicken in the next step.

From the chicken mixture, skim the fat, then raise the heat and boil rapidly, stirring often. The sauce will reduce and thicken. You will want about 2 1/2 c. for the sauce. (At this point, I spooned some of this into the risotto I was cooking as a go-with. I also reserved some for my chicken stock for a later meal.)

The sauce

2 egg yolks
1/2 c. whipping cream

Blend egg yolks and cream in a mixing bowl with a wire whip. Continue beating and add the hot sauce by tablespoonfuls until about a cupful has gone in, then you can add the rest and beat thoroughly.

Pour the sauce back into the casserole. Set over a medium high heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Boil for one minute.

Correct seasoning, adding drops of lemon juice, salt, pepper, even a pinch of nutmeg if you like.

Arrange the chicken and mushroom/onion garniture and pour the sauce over all. Serve immediately.

French cooking is a little time consuming and fiddly. Though American food can be tasty, it is usually prepared quicker and more efficiently, thus missing the deeper flavors provided by all these endless steps. Let me know if you try it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

You Know the World...

I'm on a little road trip with my kids. They are on a brief break from school and the opportunity presented itself to go visit some friends. (Look for some more interviews coming!)

A scrapbooking friend of mine has asked me a few times if I thought scrapbooking would get me and my girls through some tough days of adolescence ahead. She noticed her own pre-teen daughter wanting to sit down next to her mom whenever the scrapbooking supplies were out. They would work on their projects together and the daughter would get chatty. I didn't really see the same thing happening with my girls, though they like to craft, too.

No, I think travel seems a more likely "refresh button" for my relationships with my kids. We get trapped together without so many of our usual distractions. We talk and laugh, rest and play. If I can afford it, I hope their remaining growing up years will include lots of little getaways with me and their dad.

I've been thinking of a quote from Haven Kimmel's "She Got Up Off the Couch." I'm on the road now without my copy of the book... I tried Googling the quote and couldn't find it. Pre-teen Zippy was taken by her mother to see a highbrow play on the campus of the big university - a very strange and stretching experience for such a young and uncivilized girl. Later, Zippy realized that her mom was trying to give her new experiences and make her world bigger than just their hometown of 300.

We love OUR little small town, but I think we improve it when it's colored by the rich experiences of it's inhabitants. I think it looks sweeter when we can see it's contrast against other settings. Our citizens seem less homogenized when we recognize the dynamic personalities that were trees lost in the forest of intimacy.

And when I bump the horizons a little further east or west, I say to my children, as Zippy's mom said to her, "Why, it's just the world. You know the world.'

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pickled Beets

As Dad and I planned our garden this spring he asked eagerly, "Should we do beets?"

"We can do beets if YOU want them, but I don't care for them."

So beets we planted and beets we grew. And, when we had time to set aside, beets we pickled. All my siblings remember that Dad has always put up with the beets so that he could have those pink pickled eggs from the brine after the beets are eaten. Whether we are rewriting history or he is, he now says, "Oh no, I love beets."

It was interesting to spend this day in the kitchen with my dad. I remember always have pickled beets around, but I never remember making them with Mom. Being late garden season, of course we had other things to can besides the beets. On this day, we did tomato juice, pickle relish and beets.

Here is her recipe:

Pickled Beets

1 gallon beets
2 c. water
2 c. sugar
2 c. vinegar
1 sliced lemon
1 T cinnamon
1 t. cloves
1 t. allspice

Boil the beets until you can slip the skins off. Rinse them in cold water and the skins should peel off easily as you rub them with your thumbs. Slice them as desired and place them in jars.

In a stockpot, combine the water, sugar, vinegar and lemon.

Into a cheesecloth bag measure cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Tie the bag shut and float in the brine. Bring to a boil.

Pour brine over sliced beets leaving one inch headroom.

Process jars 15 minutes to seal.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Sigh. I started thinking about how important community is during Sunday School today. Our group was discussing a willingness to drop everything to serve where we are called. In the book we were reading, there were lots of references to people leaving their local lives to go live someplace desperate - "doing God's work."

A young guy in our midst - someone who is artistic and passionate by nature - who is single and can't decide on a college major so is working two jobs for which he is overqualified - said he was feeling really convicted. He works 'round the clock and "doesn't really DO anything." Never mind that he led worship that morning, chose music for the service and executed it fantastically. Never mind that he is home next to his mother who is battling cancer or that he is standing next to his dad who is strained and afraid.

I felt mad.

What is it about modern culture that trains us to despise our roots? That teaches us that if we've stayed in the county in which we were born, we haven't ACCOMPLISHED anything? Screw that. So if there is any hint of the Arrogance of Youth - thinking we're too big for this small town - I will not listen passively. I tried pointing out what he does for so many so that he would take seriously the ministry he already offers, but I fear it just came across as a way to let oneself off the hook from a true "calling."

Now, I believe that people CAN be called away from the familiar. I've told my kids that we would be happy for them and encourage them in whatever path they might be called to. But I've also let them know that they should not feel pressured to believe that their responsibility is to get as far from home as possible in order to feel successful. I've let them know that it can be a smart person's faithful choice to serve mightily in the home, community and family which made them who they are.

I stewed on this topic on the five minute drive home. I stewed about it while I cut up the butternut squash for our lunch's soup. The squash and I stewed alongside each other while I cruised Facebook and pieced together the story just unfolding of a family in my town reeling from a violent incident that occurred during the night.

A couple was waiting up for their two high school aged children to come home from a school trip. Their home was invaded and both husband and wife were attacked. The wife was able to call the police but by the time they arrived, her husband was dead. He had been a respected employee of a beloved institution in our town. His wife attends a prayer group that I'm in. She was also Sophia's chess club leader in elementary school and their son is a classmate of Brooks'. We are by no means close friends, but this is a small town and they have been in our lives. I still feel stricken and heavy with the news.

That prayer group had our regularly scheduled meeting this morning. Our leader had arranged for a pastor from the host church to meet with us and help us pray. We pieced together some more information about our friend's injuries and the surgery she had the previous morning. We learned who was caring for the kids and nodded knowingly as someone mentioned how tightly-knit their neighborhood is. We all expressed the lame but very intense desire to leap to our feet and bake casseroles for them.

I wait to discern how I can best support these people appropriately. I anticipate this man's memorial service, which I know will be flooded with the people of the community, who know how to come together in a crisis. I'm eager to hear from Brooks when he gets home from his day's activities how the school acknowledged the grief in its midst.

I know I can't articulate this quite right, but maybe you can absorb my meaning when I say that this episode of violence - leading to loss and grief and a season of healing - makes me all the more stubborn on this topic. I better hear no one say that the needs Here, the community Here and what I have to offer Here, isn't important.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Mouths of Babes

An acquaintance of mine inspired me recently. Last spring break, her older daughter went on a school marine biology trip to Florida. She took her younger daughter - Brooks' age - for a few days in New York City. Just mother and daughter. I loved the idea.

Since Michael doesn't care to visit NYC, I thought it might be nice to do shorter trips with individual kids over the years. I'm planning Brooks' trip for during some break in this school year.

Ava has been asking questions about why it might be desireable to go to such a big city. Finally, she asked, "But isn't it, you know, DANGEROUS there?" What did she mean by dangerous, you might ask? I DID ask and was told that that particular city has gangsters and mobs.

I feel 90% humored and 10% saddened by this.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What Did She Mean By That?

I spent the weekend away from home.

My personal trainer said, "Welcome home, Mommy. You have one hour to nap, then you get on the treadmill."

Wasn't expecting that.