Wednesday, August 26, 2009

if you think her typing rambles, you should listen to her talk

table cloth

I was just scouring my photo archives for a capture of before and afters of my (albeit puny) backyard. We've made a lot of progress back there. I don't really know why I bought a house with such a tiny backyard, it might have had something to do with the way our family was deteriorating and we were under the house hunting gun. But, in a turn of events that is atypical for me and mine, our quick fast utilitarian emotionless decision evolved into a home we love very much. I love the space, the feel, the floor plan, the openness, the simplicity. Sometimes I wish I could pick it up and plop it down in the city, but that's the stuff of fantasy and the here and now is fine enough. Our backyard was nothing, just an overgrown narrow mess of vines and weeds, when we moved in. And now it's usable. Small, but adequate. Play space and growing space (not the vegetables, those are in the front. but we do have some hefty old grapevines and 3 hazelnut trees) and a wide covered patio and plenty of room for hanging laundry in the sun. What more could I ask for, really? Anyhow, I did not find, in my fast search, the landscape photos I wanted. But I did find that one. A vintage tablecloth thrift score. I saw a hint of the colors and pulled that cloth out of a pile and swooned. Oh. I am such a sucker for bold graphics (of kitchen implements!) and thick, sturdy cotton, and paying four dollars for something so right.

Unrelated but on my mind: my boy's slowing down on his cucumber consumption. This is noteworthy since he and I are the only cucumber eaters in the house. If I put them on their plates, washed and sliced and ready to eat, the other two will swallow them down, begrudgingly. I sowed lots of seeds which have only produced one fruit, so far. But we got several from our ace farmers this week and maybe there will be more next week, and I have one or two leftover from *last* week. I love cucumbers. I really do. But out of hand and sliced in salads is feeling monotonous. I need to help with coming up with creative ways to use them. Suggestions? (um. edible ideas only. yeah.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

don't let this fading summer pass you by

My creation

Since the last time I came around here, the mister and I marked our thirteenth anniversary. Last year, I wrote a little about our whirlwind romance. And I'm proud that we made it through another year. A hard year. I keep thinking it will get easier and it keeps not getting easier and I'm not really sure what It is. But like the brilliant light that descends and casts shadows, marriage changes. I might not have to shade my eyes from the brightness of it so much anymore, but the sky can be so beautiful. And the stars in the dark night, worth waiting around for.

Also, I am still on a Neko Case kick and I am ever grateful for clever youtube users who post their own little videos, with songs I love as the background. So now I can share my favorite song off the the newest Middle Cyclone album with you. Here. I was going to tack it on at the end, but if you've never heard it, you can listen now and can catch up with me.

There is something for me, this year, about saying goodbye to summer that is so sad. Maybe it's a relic of growing up in the sunny southwestern desert. Maybe it's this stupid, nagging feeling that I missed out on the "best" years, those taut-bodied, reckless, careless days everyone seems to remember so fondly. I don't want to go backwards but I'm not ready to be in the winter of my life, either. And as much as I welcome a return to sweaters and endless cups of hot tea and seeing my breath in the outside air, I am thinking it wasn't enough. We're forecasting another warm spell this week, but it's not temperature alone I'm talking about here. It's being in the moment, it's not losing the pleasure in so much concern. It's holy heck! Thirteen years! Is this where we thought we'd be?

Monday, August 10, 2009

for science

Oh, be still my nerdy little heart. Did you know that They Might Be Giants is releasing (next month!) an album of science songs? TMBG is still our family house band, and even though I usually steer away from things I love once they become really popular (which implies that I'm partial to things that are not. which would be true.) I can't find one snarky thing ever to say about those guys. Maybe they're sell-outs and sing songs up and down the Disney channel (so I've heard, we don't have cable) and provide tunes for all sorts of things. But even a band needs to make a buck and I think they still produce consistently smart and quirky and singable songs. We love them. And I love that the Johns grew up and had kids and now devote a huge portion of their work to making music for children. I firmly believe that children will love all of their stuff (my kids sure do!), so I hope that the kid-centric albums are but an introduction to a band that should really be in everybody's music collection. I wrote a little some while ago about our history with They Might Be Giants, so I won't repeat myself too much. Suffice it to say, I'm looking forward to the new release very much!

And, being that it's about science and all, I couldn't help but be reminded of this link. Seriously, i if you don't already have this very old collection of science songs bookmarked, just click on over and do it right now. If you are already familiar with TMBG, you'll recognize Why Does The Sun Shine. But the whole collection is great. I've had it linked for years (I don't remember who sent it to me. I remember passing it on -to some of you, probably!) and the tunes are so catchy and informative they quickly became part of our life. Scroll down to the "experiment songs" and you can imagine my girl, when she was still a spritely age 6, dancing outside during a desert monsoon with an umbrella singing Who's Afraid of Thunder?. I love these science songs because they sound so much like the sort of hummy little numbers I like to make up myself, but with science accuracy!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

your best polenta

Okay, you got me. This is about my best polenta. I've heard this rumor running around that some people don't like polenta. And since we like it a lot around here and find it quite versatile, I will tell you how I make it. The following might even resemble something like a recipe. With some exact, and some eh-whatever, amounts listed. It might become your best, too. No hard feelings if it doesn't.

I usually make a triple batch at a time, using 3 cups of cornmeal. You can buy coarse cornmeal that is specifically labeled 'polenta' but my regular cornmeal, which I buy 25# at a time from a natural foods bulk distributor, is coarse enough for me. I will just write up the amounts for a regular sized batch, but the pictures are from a triple.

4 C water
1 C cornmeal
3 TBSP olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
a whole buncha chopped up kale (or other greens)

Bring the water, oil, and salt to boil in a good sized pot. Slowly stir in the cornmeal. Keep stirring and turn the heat down so it's just simmering. If you pour the cornmeal in slowly and stir vigorously, there shouldn't be any lumps. Keep stirring while it thickens. I tend to start out with a whisk and then switch to a wooden spoon.


Once it's fairly thick, like pudding, I wash up a lot of kale and chop it. Tip: always put in more kale (or spinach or beet greens or whatever) than you think is right. Once they're cooked up they practically disappear and I like to err on the side of too many greens than not enough.


Then I dump the kale into the pot and stir it in completely.


It should be very thick. Very thick! Es muy importante!


Pour the whole mass into a greased bread loaf pan and let it set up. I put it in the fridge if I have a while or the freezer if I am in a hurry. Which for all my energy saving endeavors is an all around AWESOME idea, sticking just off the burner glop into a 0 degree freezer, I'm sure my freezer hates me. It takes a few hours in the fridge to get good and set up and hard. I think this is the key to making it my best polenta.


Once it's set up, I flip it out onto a cutting board and cut thin slices. If it was cooked slowly and thickly and had enough time in the fridge to set up, it will cut easily and will not fall apart.


I put the slices on a greased baking sheet and bake at 400 until brown and crispyish, about 20 minutes. I took pictures of the process, but you can see that the dinner frenzy, the "Mama! I'm Hungry Wight Now!"s and my "Yes, I know you're hungry, that's why I'm cooking dinner"s getting more frequent and closer together, distracted me and I did not grab the camera for the baking part or the eating part. I like to cook them until they're almost a little crunchy. Use your imagination.

We eat it under stuff, like pasta or vegetables or lentils, or on its own in a snacky way, or as a medium for dipping up hummus. So many ways to love polenta! My girl always requests that I whip up some "polenta sauce", which is her favorite way to eat it. The polenta sauce is one of those crazy things I made up once and was so well received it became a family staple (which is honestly the history of most of my dishes). It's stupidly simple and surprisingly delicious and you should make some and try it. It goes like this: you blend together marinara sauce and ground raw almonds. Es todo, no mas! I keep ground almonds on hand (and throw the stuff into all kinds of random things) but if you do not, you should. Gah, so bossy. No, if you don't, you should grind up your raw almonds first and then add the marinara sauce. I can't tell you amounts. I do it until it's thick and, this sounds weird but you'll just have to try it and see, cheesy. It becomes rich and creamy and is very reminiscent of cheese (I first made this when we were very very vegan and while we do eat -goat- dairy now, and have for some years, I'm still down with no animal product meals and eat a lot of 'em) and spooned on top of, or as a dipping sauce for, my best polenta? it's really good.

Oh, and I should mention that you could make this without the greens, but then you'd be making it without greens, and why would you wanna go and do that for?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

the wrong and the right of it

Today was rotten. This is not my complainy place but I can't be one of those happy all the time, organic cotton and clotted cream bloggers. Oh you know the genre. Not the mommybloggers, but the betterthanyouraveragemommybloggers. I don't really think that everyone who blogs such constant contentment and harmony and unicorns is really like that all of the time. I appreciate presenting a certain public image. I do it myself, to a lesser degree. I'm not blogging with my pants down here, you know. It's me, but a muted me. The one that can say, hey internet! I'm here, too! But will hopefully not get me in trouble anywhere.

So even if I feel like I'm crashing some kind of blogging party by even daring to stick my words someplace and think other people might read them, I like being here. But as I was sitting on a blanket at the park today, at a park day sort of thing that is supposed to be friendly and fun and terrific, for children and parents alike, I was thinking about what a party crasher I always am, about how I really shouldn't bother. I managed, all morning, to be the same old cheerful mama that my children expect of me, the humorous and laughing mama, the engaged and patient one. It was a going through the motions morning, but the motions are such well-worn paths, I can close my eyes and steer without thinking and arrive, effortlessly, at the same gentle and kind (but firm) destination.

But by mid-day, the auto pilot went awry and I struggled to keep on track at all. Everything felt hard and wrong and rotten. So there I was at the park, and it happened that I had to be supportive of my daughter who had just experienced a huge disappointment (she was hoping to run into a kindred spirit she knows, who she has seen only once all summer and fell apart a little when she learned that was not to be). And in trying to comfort her, I just cracked. The plaster facade chipped away I have never been so glad to be wearing large dark sunglasses.

I sat there by myself and let all of my worries and regrets collide in a fiery explosion in my head. I sat there and wondered What The Eff Am I Doing Here?! Here being the park, an obvious outsider. Here being my town, lovely but not enough. Here being my life and situation, here being unknown and unemployable and thirty-three and, let me tell you, if you're going to have an existential crisis, maybe don't do it in a public park. Not that anybody noticed or that there was anything to notice, but it was an awful feeling. Maybe you call that feeling feeling-sorry-for-yourself, whatever. I was sorry and I was feeling and I was all by myself and if the shoe fits. . .

And then my boy fell off the play structure. His foot slipped on one of those big, curvey ladders and he fell, the back of his head bonking on the way down. He screamed, I ran to him, scooped him up, "I just want to go home wight now" he cried. And I couldn't have agreed with him more. We quickly gathered our things and made a beeline for the car. We've had other park day busts before, but this is the first one that felt weightier, more of a symbol of our not belonging, than any other.

I did not intend to write about this. I guess it just fell out and I am too jumbleheaded to erase and think of something else.

But even when so much is wrong, even when I seem to keep setting myself (and my kids) up for disappointment all the time, even when I don't know how to begin to get things right, I have to remember this: there are still books and blackberries, there are aprons and pockets and toast, there are songs and sunflowers, full moons and laundry on the line, and a dear little boy and his cat.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

thoughts about purple

purple artichoke flowers

When I was young (my son tells me, "you are wung, mama. you are not old and winkley!" and i think he will probably need glasses like his sister) I really liked purple. This is nothing surprising, what given my age and gender and, oh, the fact that there was a lot of freaking purple in the 1980s. I had many purple things, most of which are memories now. Save for this terrible cotton/poly caftan sort of thing, I don't even know. It was a "bathing suit cover-up" when I was my daughter's age, but I sure tried to pull off wearing it as a dress, cinched in the middle with a silver sequined belt cast-off from my grandma. And once it stopped being the inspiration for failed fashion design attempts, I started sleeping it it. It was a nightgown thing, more ragged every year, for the rest of my childhood. I had it when I got married (nothing says wedding night like the bathing suit cover-up you wore when you were ten, hey baby! not specifically then, just I moved it with me and had in the back of the drawer). I found it and wore it, indeed, when I was in labor with my girl. It sort of went into hiding for a few years and now, I'm not quite sure how it happened, but my daughter found it and sleeps in it. Full circle. It is hideous. I think I like my purple better now when it's not in my closet (full disclosure: I'm wearing a purple stripey t-shirt today, so I'm fickle like that).


plum purple

justice + peace + love + (purple) green beans

Monday, August 03, 2009

quickberry! quackberry! pick me a blackberry!

blackberry bramble

Yes, I know that blackberries are the invasive scourge of yards and farms and gardens all over this part of the country. Yes, a vexation, but, oh, so tasty. I don't want to imply that everyone born and raised in this area is across the board callous and hard toward the brambly fruit. But it seems to me that the longer one has lived around these parts, the more blackberries are a nuisance. The more their tart sweetness, their abundance, is taken for granted. Having grown up in the southwestern desert, and having had a recent 3 year stay in Arizona, I cannot help being in awe -still!- that berries grow wild, like, everywhere. You just take a walk and pick them. On the side of the road, wherever! Bring a bowl. Bring several. Because there are just so! many! berries!

We're on the front end of blackberries now. We rode our bikes the other day to a sure picking spot. The bramble was thick and the berries were plenty. The best ones are always just beyond reach, but if you're careful, you can slide a slow arm in among the thorns and get to ripe ones, the juicy ones that just fall off the vine when touched, the ones that drip purple juice down your fingers.

We came home with just a few pounds. Enough for having fresh blackberries on hand for a few days. There will lots more berry picking trips in the weeks to come.

My boy requested a blackberry pie, but I'm no good at pies. I'm a rotten, lousy, grumpy pie maker. This has, I like to think, nothing to do with my skills in the kitchen and is completely about my preference for using whole grain flours. Wholesome and healthy, right on! But I can't make a pie crust for anything. The dough is too thick and falls apart and I've given up (yes, this is the part where a committed pastry chef would scoff at my ingredient choice and wonder why I don't just get the right sort of processed flour. and, well, this where I respond that I guess I'm just not all that committed to pie. love pie, but slopping crunchy crisps and cobblers together is fine enough for me).

No pie, then. That's when I thought about a friend of mine who made and served a blueberry boy bait when she had our family over for dinner recently. It was delicious, light and fluffy and well-received by all. When she first said blueberry boy bait, I heard Blueberry Boy bait. A bait for blueberry boys. Which probably sounds like a ridiculous thing for me to have heard, until you consider how many times in my mothering tenure I've read aloud Peter in Blueberry Land. Many, many many times. The blueberry boys and the cranberry girls are practically my kids' cousins. But no, it's actually like this: blueberry Boy Bait. Like the "boy bait" is the product and it just happens to be blueberry flavored.

I have no business baiting boys. Apparently, the recipe was created by a fifteen year old contestant in the 1954 pillsbury bake-off. And you have to know that the naming is always everything. But it is a fun thing to say. Even if you're 33 and married and only glance up a little when the college track boys run by your house (wait, did I type that out loud?).

So I made a blackberry boy bait, using this recipe. I substituted, um, blackberries for the blueberries, upping the quantity a smidge. I also used (see above) whole wheat flour. I think the extra fruit makes up for the slight heaviness that the whole wheat flour causes. And, in my book, you can't go wrong with cooked up fruit, in just about any form.

My three (a girl and a man and one little boy) all seemed to be quite taken by its charms. I guess it worked? I confess that I haven't had any yet, so I can't proclaim its deliciousness first hand. I'm saving my piece for tomorrow's breakfast.

blackberry boy bait

Sunday, August 02, 2009

the words are written in the air

Someday the herb bed in our front yard will (per the plan) border a reclaimed brick patio. Right now, it's just a big L cut into the middle of our grass. Really, it's the girl's herb garden, she is the current and future healer, the one who sings to plants and stops bleeding with leaves and has an apothecary of sorts underneath her loft bed. And maybe it looks funny, the way all these plants are springing up, surrounded by lawn. But so many of them are flowering now, and mostly they just look beautiful:

My creation

I was playing this song (this impromptu-esque live version, particularly, more than the studio version) a lot this past winter. And something made me think of it today. It's glad and hummy and oh, thirtysomethingwithkidsandworriesandbilllsandgrayhair don't you remember dancing?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

one more

I thought there were 4 but then I spied 1 more

This is true: I can point out, on each of my children, the very first freckle that ever popped up on their fair skin. And this could be an embarrassing thing to admit. What sort of hyperfocused, hovering smothering mother would, could know such a thing?! But when something happens slowly, one little speck at a time, you notice. And since then I've lost count, of course. The way losing track of things happens the more things you have.

If you're here with me now, I guess you're all over other places, too. I don't read so many blogs, but enough that my Reader usually has something interesting for me and plenty, I'm sure, to keep me away from the pile of laundry on the bed (doing laundry? hanging it on the line and all that even? no problem, bring it on! but the putting away is something else entirely). I can keep up with what I've got, is what I'm saying and I don't seek out new folks to follow anymore, even when I read little bits that make me think, oh! yes! that!

Which is all to say, there's always room for maybe one more and I'm really glad that one of my favorite people is writing more and maybe you know and love her, too. Or maybe you don't but you might. Hey, milkstained this one's for you!

Also, those tomatoes were the first that our yard produced. I found and picked four the other day, took them in and washed them, put them on the cutting board, salad greens waiting in a bowl. But I had forgotten to take a picture! So I did stop making dinner and grab my camera and the tomatoes and run back outside. The first tomatoes must be documented! Oh, digital age, you let me be a memory hoarding freak so effortlessly; the obsession isn't just tolerated, it's practically expected, lauded, in some circles. Yes. So, I was holding four tomatoes in one hand, trying to hold and focus with my other and wait? what is that over there? another one! We have a lot of tomato plants (for our small gardening space) and expect many, many more. No worries: I won't take a picture of each one. Promise.