Sunday, August 31, 2008

Beach and Pear Sauce

Last long weekend of the summer, and we decided on one last hurrah--a day at the beach. The instant baby CJ was ready to sleep, we headed north, and drove and drove and drove, remarkably peacefully through the rich, ripe farmland of southwestern Ontario, past an Old Order church with the "parking lot" loaded with buggies, past stands advertising everything from quilts to corn to spanish onions, most "No Sun Sale," past fields of cut wheat and those new-fangled gigantic rectangular bales of straw that must be moved with tractors, not unloaded from wagons by hand (a job I did as a kid), through the town of Teeswater which was setting itself up to host the upcoming International Ploughing Match, and coming to a stop, finally, along the road to Kincardine at a little roadside gas station/diner/tanning salon in a fly-through hamlet called Riversdale. We've eaten there before, always and only breakfast, and seen the grandpa who runs the grill peeling potatoes by hand. There's a sign on the wall that says "Any complaints about the cooking?" (or something to that effect) and shows a woman holding a shotgun. When we ate there earlier this summer, A read the sign, then said very earnestly, and a bit nervously, to the woman who came to take our order: "I won't complain about your cooking."

The teenage granddaughter took our order. Pancakes, omelets, home fries, toast, et cetera; by the end of the meal we'd filled our salt quota for the day, but in a good way. Off to the beach. Kincardine has a lovely public beach with boardwalks along dunes. There's some mention of an undertow on signage, but the kids and Kevin always go swimming. (If you must know, I no longer even pretend to take my swimsuit on these ventures because the chances of me being overwhelmed by the urge to put it on and dunk myself completely is so slim it has no precedent). But I like public beaches. I like staking out a little territory in the sand with the umbrella and chairs and blanket and bags, and I like people-watching. People are so endlessly interesting. Baby CJ was a bit of a mess today, and it's because he's suddenly five months and darn near crawling and incredibly mobile and no longer an infant. Note to self: they really do grow this fast.

So that was our beach day. I sat under the umbrella, mostly, though did wade mid-calf into screechingly frigid Lake Huron because the day was a good hot one. The hottest we've ever had at this beach, and this is our third summer going.

We left the beach hungry and exhausted, and cruised the main drag discovering an "Asian grocery" with hot samosas advertised for sale. Which was supper, along with exotically flavoured chickpea-flour chips and some seaweed for good measure. So yah, we were all starved by the time we got home. The kids had watched Star Wars One on the computer, and Baby CJ had screamed for at least forty-five minutes, off and on, despite one stop for a nurse (oh, the relief in his eyes when he realized he'd been freed from the cursed car seat, the joy, the delight; and then the fury to discover this was but a temporary ruse).

Got home to discover the pears on our countertop had spent the day going from green to overripe and gnat-ridden. The kids and Kevin shook these pears down from a neighbour's tree yesterday morning; she offered them to us, and said her tree hadn't borne fruit in nineteen years! (Which, come to think of it, makes me wonder whether our trees were fruit-bearing this summer due to Kevin's google-guided pruning, or because this has been a season of fluky fruit bounty ...).

So I'm making pearsauce. It bubbles on the stove behind me as I type. I had beach-brain, but figured I could do PB and banana sandwiches and supervise showers while peeling and coring and cooking down these pears--otherwise destined to be lobbed by Kevin off our back porch toward our black walnut tree--into something edible for a leaner season. They smell delicious. Okay, update: now I've mashed them with a potato masher (it's a chunky sauce) and will add some lemon juice and sugar momentarily, then freeze in ice cube trays for an easy school lunch treat.

Actually, I almost considered casually canning the lot, then remembered I still hadn't gotten lids ... okay, "almost" being the operative word. But still, I'm putting lids on my list lest the canning fancy strike unannounced. It won't be for peaches, however ... that half-bushel I debated buying from Nina? We're eating our way through those effortlessly, and I'm pretty sure she said those might be the last of the season.

Hello summer melancholy; and it' s not even fall.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Writing" Day

Hmm. The past two writing mornings seemed to disappear without me writing one actual word of fiction or poetry. This must change. Next week school starts and I resolve to take my writing ambitions seriously starting then. I will head into the writing morning with a clear idea of which story I would like to write (I've got dozens of ideas floating, and the only way to get anything done is to pick one and commit to it till it's written out). I will not check email or Facebook or read blogs. Instead, I will make things up out of my own head!

Oh dear. Thought I'd picked a calm moment, and instead, conflict just broke out in the living-room over a piece of plastic the size of my fingernail (Playmobil: the most vacuumable toy on the planet). Ah, parenthood. How to help my children work through their arguments on their own, which seems to be the ultimate goal? Sometimes just leaving them be is the solution. Kids can work out quite a lot if left to their own devices. However, there's a certain shrillness to the tone that alerts the mama-ear that a child-based solution is not forthcoming. Another possibility is showing them how to negotiate. This helps a bit, but probably more in a long-term, down-the-road-they-might-put-this-into-practice kind of way. Then there are the techniques of distraction: removing anyone who is being mean or intractable or screeching or whining or hitting or lying on the floor declaring his/her extreme boredom (time out); suggesting alternate play ideas (this only works if everyone is in a generous-enough mood); or sometimes just offering two options and forcing them to pick one, even if neither option is exactly what every child wants to do. ie. upstairs to your room, or outside to play, I'll count to ten, then you tell me which. Neither is not an acceptable answer. This is all assuming it isn't time for mama to stop what she's doing (aagh, blogging!), and do something with her kids--which for me would be to read them a story or organize an art project or sit outside in the front yard and people-watch.

Just now I went with the modelling-how-to-negotiate technique, which turned into insisting that A and AB negotiate. Which worked out, kinda. And I'm back at the blog.

We're now doing "quiet time," my favourite time of the day. Next up will be a walk to buy A's school supplies, and get some exercise and fresh air ... even if it starts to rain.

I have a canning question: can someone tell me whether a jar is spoiled if, when pulled out of the canner, it was bubbling, ie. air bubbles looked to be coming up out of it? All the tomato lids seemed to have "popped" successfully, but I'm remembering that one jar came out of the canner doing that--and I can no longer tell which one it was. Also, tell me, please, does canning get easier? Do you start to assume the lids will pop, that bacteria don't lurk invisibly within, that you've sterilized enough surfaces, and all the rest of it?

Can canning become casual?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Recipe for a Mess

So the tomatoes arrived. And I dealt with them. That's the short story. The longer version involves me questioning (on multiple occasions yesterday) why the heck I'd ever thought to pre-order two bushels of tomatoes this past April. In my defence, I'd just given birth. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation.

Despite imagining myself prepared to can, I discovered almost immediately upon returning home with these masses of tomatoes that I had no new lids; or, more precisely, the new lids that I did have (see--I knew I had lids!) were an odd size, which is probably why they were hanging around unused in our basement. My knowledge of canning is admittedly limited, but I do know the lids need to be new. So after a fabulously delicious and simple supper of hamburgers (local), sliced tomatoes, and corn on the cob (CSA), I sent Kevin and kids on a walk uptown to find lids. And bottled lemon juice, which I also discovered I lacked. While they were out, I washed the dishes, and the jars, and set up the canner on the stove, along with another large pot of simmering water for loosening the tomato skins, a small pot of simmering water for the lids, and a pot of cold water nearby for cooling the tomatoes before removing their skins. And I filled the kettle. And started washing the tomatoes. Our kitchen renovation makes all of this set-up ridiculously easy. There's room for everything, and I didn't even have to clear the island of the day's extra collected junk (A's pocket flashlight; receipts; two containers of driveway tomatoes, et cetera).

By the time Kevin and kids returned home, I'd already filled several jars with whole and halved, skinned and cored tomatoes. He'd found one packet of lids in the entire grocery store. So that put a limit on the amount I could can. I wasn't that sad, actually. Also, the store had no bottled lemon juice, so he'd brought home some lemons. In fairly short order, I filled seven quart jars, topped each with a teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (hope that's okay), attempted to remove air bubbles (huh??) with a rubber spatula, fished the hot lids out with a magnetic thingamabob made precisely for this one purpose, screwed on the lids, and stuck the jars in my simmering canner. I followed directions in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning and Freezing, and canned the jars for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, I filled another seven jars. That makes it sound effortless. How can I conjure for you the mess this was making of my kitchen. Note to self: do not wear a white shirt while canning tomatoes!!! (Noted far too late in the process to bother changing).

The kids were about, of course, and decided they would like a sleepover in A's room. They admired my work and chattered endlessly, and I nursed baby CJ off to sleep while Kevin handled virtually all of the bedtime prep: snacks, baths, flossing. I knew I'd do two canners-full and freeze the rest, so basically I just kept on skinning and coring, skinning and coring. I had the skinning down to a science. The skins really do slip right off after the tomato's been dunked in hot water, and this saves skimming the skins off whatever you're cooking at some later date.

The kids refused to fall asleep. Baby CJ woke up screaming. As a result, the first batch was in the canner much longer than the suggested 45 minutes. What was I thinking?? Do we need these tomatoes? Yes, they're organic, and yes, they won't have to sit in cans lined with bisphenol-A plastic; but. So baby CJ eventually nursed back to sleep. It was after 10pm by that point, and I was still faced with a bushel and a quarter of raw tomatoes. Kevin stayed up painting with me, and on and on we went at a positively feverish working pace. I spent the last hour or so fantasizing about sitting down on the couch with a beer. Or even just taking a quick bathroom break. My heart sank at every squeak from the baby monitor. But twelve large freezer bags later, I was done! I decided to stuff the freezer bags completely full and resolved to make giant batches of fresh tomato sauce this fall and winter. If I hold myself to one batch per week, I'll have enough in the freezer for close to three months. And with the fourteen jars (though one didn't pop) ... well, it's something.

Sitting on the couch with Kevin after midnight, I decided this would be my last canning attempt of the season. First and last. Yes, I'd love to make pickle relish, and can peaches, but I have to accept that I have a not-quite-five-month-old baby, and therefore that I cannot be up past midnight very often and live to tell the tale. The only concentrated time I have available to do this kind of work is after the kids fall asleep. So next year. I still intend to continue filling the freezer (one is already full, thank you tomatoes), but in smaller batches. For example, yesterday I also packed a pile of chopped fresh basil into an ice cube tray, which took a matter of minutes.

So, on this note--do I order the half bushel of peaches I'd been planning to from Nina's buying club? I think I will anyway. Do peaches freeze? Or maybe peach freezer jam?

Yesterday afternoon, the kids were playing "Little House," a game based on the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder which we are reading right now (we have gotten to Little Town on the Prairie). AB was Laura, leading around her older brother, who was blind Mary. At one point, Laura demanded that "Ma" give her some work to do, so I suggested she get the clothes off the line for me. I didn't have time to check up on that project, which got derailed at some point by a million crows who were "attacking, attacking!" ("Mary" was most enthusiastic about this plotline). It was past midnight when I remembered the two loads of clothes still hanging outside; but when I went out to check, here my little Laura had gotten every stitch off the line and into an overflowing basket. So there you go. She was entirely helpful, and it was one less chore I needed to do last night.

Now it's nearly time for swim lessons. Off for my daily run. "Mommy might not be able to talk to you when we get to the end of this block," I told the kids yesterday. "I'll be puffing like an old train engine." A told me at the end of the block that I was indeed puffing, but not like a train engine; he did not elaborate.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tomatoes!

The tomatoes are coming! The tomatoes are coming!

Just got a call from someone who coordinates our CSA box to warn us that tomorrow we have two bushels of tomatoes arriving. Last year I got the skins off and froze masses of tomatoes, but this year we're already running low on freezer space. I've got the jars and the lids and the canner out of the basement, but the question is will I have to fortitude to attempt to can these tomatoes? While we're in the midst of repainting our kitchen?? I've heard that it's easy. I haven't canned since three summers ago when I went feverish in the kitchen with pickles and pickle relish in the 48 hours before giving birth to F, who was fifteen days early. It wasn't an experience I enjoyed hugely. The chopping, the boiling water, the steam, the heat, the work.

But I'm bouyed by my friend Nina's report that she canned 7 quarts of peaches with children underfoot in about two hours.

I will report back ...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Morning

We're not a church-going family. Coming from a Mennonite background, I've tried my best to make us so, and we may attempt Sunday school again this fall (AB enjoys it), but we don't find ourselves naturally drawn, on Sunday mornings, to our church. Other religious rituals have found a comfortable place in our home, including singing a prayer before our family meals (led forcefully by F, age 3), and, for me personally, humming hymns. I've had the first line of a hymn in my head these past couple of days: "My life goes on in endless song, above earth's lamentations." So yesterday afternoon, while the children were splashing outside in the wading pool, I sat nearby with the hymnal on my knee and sang the whole of that song. F came and sat in a chair beside me, cuddled in her towel. She wanted to know why I was singing, and I said it was because it made me feel happy and comfortable and peaceful. She said it made her feel the same way. Baby CJ was nursing, and it was a really joyful and calm moment for the three of us, in our beautiful shaded backyard, in the humidity of an August afternoon in Ontario, the leafy canopy overhead, the big kids splashing gleefully (the neighbours love us, I am sure!).

We have managed to give our kitchen and dining-room that just-moved-in feeling. Everything's cleared out for painting purposes, and it echoes. I picked up take-out pizza for supper last night, and as we sat eating together, it felt exactly like it feels when you've just moved in somewhere new, that very first meal in a brand-new house. I like that feeling, actually. I'm glad to discover it's as easy to replicate as ordering take-out and taking the pictures off the walls. The smell of fresh paint added to it too.

Did I suggest in my last post that I'd actually finished all my (house)work the other night? Yah, that didn't happen. Literally, by the time I came down the next morning, the kids had replicated the disaster in the living-room. I shall either have to ban all creative play (art projects, puzzles, games, and Playmobil), or live with the consequences of having fostered such fabulous creativity in my chiildren. Hmm. The latter, I think. If only I were just slightly more slovenly. How's that for a personality trait to work on.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Onions, Apricots, Work Work Work

Haven't mentioned that we got the bushel of onions we ordered from our CSA. I was expecting the tomatoes to arrive first, and had, quite frankly, forgotten about the onions. "How do we store these things?" I asked Kevin, who has exactly as much expertise as me, so I relied on the google consensus. Dry or cure the onions first, then store in mesh baskets, or--a more creative option--pantyhose. I've got loads of old pantyhose (my current job doesn't exactly come with a dress code), so that's my eventual plan ... once I get these onions off my table. We have a huge dining-room table, very plain but long, and virtually half of it is now overtaken by our curing onions. Kevin teased the kids that they would have to eat three raw onions every night to get rid of them. These are big, beautiful yellow onions, and I started to do the math on how many we'd need if we were to feed ourselves with stored onions over the winter. Say, one per day, or even five per week (not much for us; I use onions in virtually everything), that adds up to ... well, a lot more than what's on our table currently. How did people survive before grocery stores??? If we were to rely on what I've put up this summer, we'd be hungry before Thanksgiving ... and I'm trying hard. Anyway, the onions are supposed to cure for 2-4 weeks before storage. This might impede our hosting ability ...

Today was Nina's buying club. She had extra help this week, and it felt very well-organized and smooth, even though a lot of people were there when I was. AB sold sweets, as she's done before. I got a half-bushel of blue plums, so we had to make room in the fridge for them. We hadn't gotten through our apricots, so I halved them, removed the pit, and froze them on baking sheets in the freezer till solid, then popped them into bags. My canning/freezing guide recommended a syrup or sugar pack instead, but I'm hoping that's just to keep the colour; too much extra work, plus I don't like sugary things. I tasted one frozen and it was delicious, so maybe this will be a winter fruit treat when we're eating nothing but apples. I also put away two bags of plums since some arrived a bit over-ripe. But they are delicious. My fruit plan this summer is to binge on whatever's in season. We will survive on apples and the occasional never-seasonal fair trade banana in the winter, so let's celebrate the variety and flavour of summer fruit.

This evening, I had to skip joining the family at Buskerfest, which is happening just up the street from us. There was simply too much work to be done. I had four days' worth of laundry sitting unfolded in baskets, plus diapers to fold, plus the day's dishes, plus these apricots to put up, plus the main floor looked like small people had been randomly flinging every toy in the house while simultaneously half-putting together every puzzle and dumping every game with small pieces, while inventively scissoring and pasting sheaves of scrap paper. For days. Which is exactly what had been happening. It was 7 before Kevin got the kids out the door to eat their Buskerfest supper (hot dogs and sausages; gelato for dessert), so I stayed home instead and fiendishly attacked the disaster that was our home. I'm only just done and it's past midnight. (Okay, that's an exaggeration--I did a few other things between now and 7pm, including sit on the couch and drink a beer.) I won't be able to clean tomorrow, because Kevin will be painting in the kitchen and dining-room. He's going to take the week off work specifically to get this done, and we wanted to get a jump on it. We're both hoping it won't take the whole week, so that we can enjoy a bit of a family holiday, too, before school starts.

School starts ...!!! I'm not ready. This has been such a fine summer. And I love having all my kids around me. They're such great kids. I realize every parent will tell you this, and every parent who does is absolutely right.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Comfort Food

Food is a comfort. In a real, visceral way, when I'm feeding my body, I'm feeding everything I want this body to be and do, I'm embracing life and celebrating the desire to live and breathe ... and feed.

Yesterday's comfort food:

Oatmeal cooked by Kevin, for breakfast. (Local oats, via Nina.). Still need a better topping option, because I find plain sugar, brown or white, does not agree with my teeth. I just don't like the sensation. So I usually eat it unsweetened with a bit of milk. Bland and solid.

Lunch was a squishy finger-licking panini eaten over top of baby CJ's head while watching Vicky Christina Barcelona at Movies for Mommies uptown. Talk about a luxurious moment. Roasted eggplant and pepper and melted cheese and fresh basil, a good movie (really? Woody Allen made this?), and alone time for me and my gorgeous babe, a complete rarity. That moment made the mad dash to get there worth every scrap of effort.

For supper I made my ultimate comfort food: black beans and rice. I cooked four cups of dried beans with a handful of whole peeled garlic cloves, a bay leaf, and salt. We eat this over brown rice and a variety of accompaniments, depending on the season. Yesterday we had CSA lettuce salad with sunflower seeds and a honey/balsamic dressing, chopped tomato salad with a very light balsamic dressing (tomatoes are here!), local sheep's feta from the market, local whole milk yogurt, a few crumbled nacho chips, and hot sauce. "Thanks for making this food," A said, or something along those lines. This is everyone's favourite meal, everyone's comfort food. The kids and Kevin also ate the sweet corn from our CSA box. And then F went to brush her teeth and floss immediately afterward.

Before bedtime: less-stress tea, a mixture grown and composed by Karen Kliewer of Little City Farm. With honey (from Nina). Thank you, food.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Swim and Park

What a great adventure with the kids today. Getting out the door is the main challenge, planning for all the eventualities, and in this case getting together the gear for swim lessons and a picnic in the park afterward, but once that's conquered, the kids and I work together like a well-trained team. Actually, the kids probably are a well-trained team, and I'm the coach, shouting encouragement and reminders as I push the jogging stroller (F and baby CJ riding) and chase the big kids on their bikes down the sidewalk. Maybe one of the reasons the Olympics are so appealing is because we all know what it's like to push through and perform our own personal bests, in tasks unrecognized but necessary. So mine today was to chase those kids down the sidewalk while pushing the stroller loaded with children and gear and picnic and water bottles and towels.

After swim lessons, we headed directly to the park where we found some shade and ate happily, though not especially locally. Carrots and cucumber and zucchini slices were local, but the hummus and pita were not, and were bought. I haven't been successful making my own hummus. Our blender isn't up to the task (we haven't found a task our blender actually is up to, come to think of it). But we sat on our blanket and chatted and watched jet planes in the sky, then the big kids ran and played on the playground and F and baby CJ and I read books, and the sky was blue, the air fresh and cool, the sun brilliant. This is the life, I thought. My own personal gold medal, to be-labour the metaphor ...

Now it's heading toward suppertime and I'm wondering what Kevin will be bringing home in our CSA box this evening. Supper will be brown rice (I add a handful of wild rice to the pot, too), and likely some stir-fry of CSA box offerings. And salad with feta and a balsamic/honey dressing, and more driveway tomatoes. I haven't explained driveway tomatoes, Kevin's gardening project. We have very little unshaded yard, so a couple of years ago, Kevin started growing tomatoes in containers along the driveway. This year he tilled a patch of front lawn along the driveway and planted more tomatoes and eggplant (we've gotten two of those already), and, along the back fence where there is now more sun thanks to those pruned fruit trees, we planted some potatoes that had gone to seed in our cold cellar. The jury's out on those yet, but the driveway tomatoes are producing brilliantly. Mostly cherry. We may need to re-brand, however. Something about driveway doesn't conjure up delectable.

Olympic Thrills and Homemade Paste

Another late night. Kevin and I decided to watch the men's triathalon in full, and were we ever glad we did. Simon Whitfield won gold for Canada in this event in Sidney, but that seems like awhile ago now (I still remember watching the replay of his win, sitting on our tiny green Ikea couch in our miniature cat-hair-infested apartment near the Danforth in Toronto; pre-children). Our commentators had built up Simon as a medal hopeful for these games, but I tend to take these Canadian medal hopeful predictions with a big grain of salt. ("If she performs a personal best here, she's got an outside chance at a medal, Ron.")
We saw the race from beginning to end. According to the commentators, Simon has really improved on his swim since winning the gold in 2000; after winning gold, do you really need to improve on anything? In the bike race, there was a huge pack, but fortunately no crashes, and no one really got away. It's the running race where Simon excels, and every step of the way, he stayed with the leader pack. The male commentator kept counting him out, doubting him: "I don't like the way Simon's running right now. His shoulders look stiff. He's falling behind here. He can't let these leaders get away from him or his race is over." Et cetera. And every time Simon would push on and there he'd be--up with the pack again. The pack gradually dropped people till it was only four. "Oh no, not fourth," Kevin said (we've seen a few great performances that ended in Canadian fourths). With a kilometre left, Simon fell off the pace and it looked completely impossible. And then--there he was again, and pushing into his sprint, past all of them and into the lead! Kevin and I were on our feet trying to run the race for him. He was overtaken by a big young German in the last 50 metres, but crossed the line in second, and looked like he couldn't have taken another step. It was sure hard to get to sleep after that. Midnight, and baby CJ had another rough night. But totally worth it.

Just as I was writing this, I got to watch Alexandre Despatie win silver in diving. AND a daring 21-year-old Canadian trampolinist win silver. AND an unknown, unexpected Canadian hurdler win bronze: Priscilla Lopes-Schliep (sp?). Okay, so the medals are exciting. I'll admit it. But why? And why claim these athletes as my own? Somebody's done a thesis on this, I expect.

Yesterday I made paste for an art project. Thought I'd include the recipe here. I haven't let the kids use glue for ages because inevitably the bottle gets emptied in one crazy "project," like "Glue Lake on Blue Construction Paper." This homemade paste is supposed to last forever. I'm keeping it in the fridge. I didn't have the oil of cloves (what is that??) the original recipe called for.

Paste for Children's Play (from MCC's More-With-Less Cookbook):
Combine in a double boiler: 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 4 cups water. That's it. Stir and cook till thickened, then stir in 1 tbs alum to preserve.
Mine came out lumpy, but there were some distractions while preparing it, the main one being I was trying to make paste for an art project that was already in full swing, so impatience was a factor. It worked, though. Things got stuck together.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pear Cake and Sick Baby

So Kevin found more pears and apples on our trees yesterday. The pears are particularly beautiful, and the apples, though bumpy and small, have a tart old-fashioned flavour. With help from F and AB, I used them in a recipe for apple cake from MCC's Simply in Season. It calls for 5 cups of chopped, unpeeled apples and turns out very dark and moist, almost too moist unless eaten immediately, and I've had success cutting it into squares and re-baking it at 300 or so, turning the squares, until the crust becomes crispy and the sugars carmelize.

I peeled the fruit, and substituted pears for most of the apples. The very first apple I chopped open, out leapt a large bug! AB thought it was an earwig. It crawled across the cutting board as I ran madly for something to squash it with (too squeamish to do it bare-handed). "Now that's an adventure in local eating," I said. AB wondered what an adventure was, and I said it was something unexpected and exciting. AB said, "I think you did scream, Mommy." Oddly, that apple had no visible holes, though others did, and none of the rest had bugs or worms.

What with F snacking, all the chopped pears and apples added up to 4 cups, not 5, but the cake can be made with less fruit, though the 5 cup version is superior.

Here's my modified recipe for Apple (Pear) Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Combine 5 cups apples (pears) with 1 cup sugar (1/3 to 1/2 cup more, if you've got a sweet tooth) in a large bowl. Let stand.
In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 cup oil, 2 lightly beaten eggs, and 2 tsp vanilla.
In a third bowl, combine 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp salt. You can sift this together if you want (I didn't).
Stir flour mixture into fruit alternately with egg mixture. Spread in pan. Bake 50-60 mins. (In my oven, it's 50 mins.), or till toothpick comes out clean.

The Simply in Season recipe includes nuts and a sugary-cream glaze, but for my taste, this is just right as is. If you find it almost too moist, as I did, cut into squares, and rebake as suggested above. I haven't done that step with this version yet because the peeled pears were not as juicy as the apples. But I might, just to see how it does; if I do, I'll report back later.

In other news, baby CJ has a nasty cold and stuffed nose, and could not settle last night. So after our usual Olympic gorge, Kevin and I went to bed with this fussy little guy. I thought we might be awake all night, and around 12:30AM almost went downstairs with baby to watch more Olympics. I wanted to see the finish of the triathalon. But with lots of nursing, baby was able to sleep, off and on, and miraculously, so was I. Non-stop breastfeeding seemed to be the best medicine. (I did not regret that cheese and tomato sandwich scarfed right before bed). So I don't know what happened in triathalon. But this morning, I watched Karen Cockburn win silver in the trampoline, a sport that brings back memories of jumping most unspectacularly in a friend's backyard many many years ago. And I just watched our equestrian team clinch silver in show jumping. As AB says, "I really really want to be a horse rider in the Olympics." Yah, I hear ya, kid. She also wants to keep a horse in our backyard. It's like listening to myself, oh, twenty-odd years ago.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Eggs, Chard and Olympic Addiction

Yesterday evening's adventure in local food did not start out well, but all adventures need their downs as well as their ups. Kevin had gotten three dozen eggs from our favourite egg farmer at the Kitchener market. Lately, Kevin's been running down to the market by himself, which ends up being a much more efficient use of our Saturday time; though in the past we have enjoyed going with the kids and staying for lunch. I'd also gotten a HUGE bunch of chard in our CSA box, and remembered that my friend Heather has spoken fondly about chard in the past, so I figured she must know something I don't, and she kindly sent a recipe called "trouchia" from a cookbook called Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. In addition to the chard, it involves eight eggs. I hardly ever (no, never) cook with eggs. This may change. Eggs make secret appearances in my baking, but otherwise eggs are breakfast food at our house, and Kevin does breakfast.

So I was cracking farm-fresh eggs into a big bowl, when the seventh one whooshed into the bowl in a darkish, completely liquid mass. A rotten egg! I've never seen a rotten egg before, whole in its shell. I tried rescuing the other eggs, but couldn't completely save them from the encroaching cloud. I must have Depression-era blood in my veins, because pouring out those seven eggs felt insanely wasteful. It almost seemed preferable to risk food poisoning. But not quite. The second go-around I cracked each egg into a small bowl, then poured it into the big one. No more rotten eggs.

Here's Heather's recipe for trouchia, only slightly modified:

Heat 2 tbs olive oil in a pan you can also use in the oven. Saute 1 onion, chopped, 1 clove of garlic, minced, and cook slowly, about 10 mins, then add your chopped chard leaves (I did not use the entire massive bunch, because I was planning on feeding it to the kids; I also used chard I'd previously blanched). Season with salt and pepper as desired.
Meanwhile, whisk together 8 eggs, add 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley or other herb of choice, 1 cup grated cheese (I used Nina's cheddar), 1 tbs parmesan, and a pinch of salt. When the chard is cooked, scrape the contents of the pan into the egg bowl, stir.
Preheat oven broiler.
Reheat the pan with 1 tbs olive oil, then pour in the egg/chard mixture, give a stir, let it cook on medium-high for about a minute, then turn it down to low. I covered the pan with a lid at this point. It took longer to set than I'd expected, perhaps 10 mins, or even more. Cook till set, but still liquidy on top. Then remove lid, sprinkle on 1 tbs parmesan and perhaps some extra cheese, and set under broiler. Watch closely. Broil just till set and browned.
Serve in wedges from the pan.

The kids LOVED it. (Usually we have at least one nay-sayer; not this time). Adult family members loved it too, plus it presented very attractively, which my food generally does not. I tend toward hearty two-pot meals, stews, beans, rice, pasta. A ate three pieces of the trouchia, or approximately one-third of the total. We ate it with buttered bread (Nina's), and a pot of Leftover Surprise: brown rice, hamburger and zucchini stir-fry, and black beans heated up together into an utterly delicious stew. (An example of my usual style of food; good and tasty, but not exactly pretty). No dessert. We rarely do dessert.

Kevin and I popped a bottle of bubbly wine (it was the only kind we had on hand), and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. AB said, "We don't have to hurry tonight, do we?" After reading from The Long Winter, our bedtime book of the moment, and flossing and et cetera, Kevin and I sat down to watch more Olympics, which are always on in the background these days. I said earlier that it's exciting to watch our Canadian athletes performing personal bests, and that's true, but watching a Canadian athlete perform a personal best AND win a medal LIVE really gets me off the couch. Yes, Canada has finally medalled at the Games, thank you women wrestlers, rowers, and a fine young swimmer. Last night, we got to watch a 19-year-old Canadian man from B.C. come third by a hair in the 1500 metre freestyle, an event he wasn't predicted to medal in. We were on our feet with a whoop at the end, feeling the joyful buzz of a tribal win that must be bred in the bone. We might imagine ourselves sophisticated and civilized, but what are the Olympics but a giant celebration of some basic human tribal impulse? That was my Big Thought of the evening, perhaps assisted by the bubbly.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pear and Apple Cobbler

Some good adventures in local food today, including Nina's buying club. I took pictures, but haven't figured out how to post those easily yet, so will put off doing that till later. She's also got a chicken coop in her backyard, the cutest coop you've ever seen, but my kids weren't interested in posing. Too busy playing. And begging for apricots. And squabbling over the fact that we hadn't brought enough money to buy a giant pretzel (or, better yet, an almond horn) for each. Lessons in sharing. Not necessarily lessons learned, but lessons nevertheless.

While I was cooking supper, Kevin came in with apples and pears from the trees in our backyard we'd written off as dying. They haven't produced since we moved in five years ago, but this spring Kevin did some pruning (Google-guided), and ... pears and apples!! A said: "Quick, take them to Mom so she can cook them!" Since they didn't go in my beef stir-fry, I thought I'd whip up a cobbler. Ah, yes, whip up a cobbler. The kitchen was at this point in a state beyond disarray, the dishes having not been done all day, supper in progress. But with help from Kevin and AB, the apples and pears were getting chopped while I cut butter into flour (local and local). AB wanted to cut an apple. They were small and hard, and I said, better not, but she is very determined, and next thing ... blood!

It was one of those moments that makes me blog in my head, if you know what I mean. I've been doing this for years, long before blogging existed, and it helps cut through the crazy moments (at least, for me): I mentally narrate as we go, imagine dressing up the moment in fabulous or funny or tragicomic or whatever style best suits. It never flows quite as fabulously out of the moment, but oh well.

The Scene: Utterly disastrous kitchen, sink piled with pots and plates, vegetable debris on counter, flour on floor, baby sleeping, A unloading a 1/2 bushel of apricots into the fridge for me, radio on, F playing on her own, AB and Kevin happily chopping, rice steaming and wok bubbling, and me measuring, when ack! "I cut my finger!" Shrieking and howling because this child is nothing if not melodramatic, I race her to the bathroom, door partially blocked by apricots and A, run nasty gash under water, bandage, all the while assuring her she won't bleed to death. "If only I'd listened to you Mommy," she actually says. Am I a terrible mother for finding some pleasure in that rarest of statements? Adding to the moment, F immediately dashes upon hearing shrieks and begins wailing that she herself is mortally wounded too, coincidentally also on her hand, clutches my leg, look look Mommy (on close inspection it appears to be a well-scratched bug bite). Of course, the moment is soothed and conquered, and we move right on, finish the cobbler crust, lay it over sugared fruit, set the table, et cetera.

Can I also say that I did so many dishes tonight the accomplishment was medal-worthy? Funny story: The other morning, after Kevin had gone to work, the kids kept regaling me with: "Daddy did so many dishes this morning!" and "You wouldn't believe how many dishes Daddy did this morning!" and "Did you know Daddy did a huge pile of dishes this morning?" It was true. He'd washed the dishes I hadn't gotten to the previous night because he'd been at soccer and I just couldn't manage them (this never happened before the birth of #4; somehow, I always always managed to wash the dishes at the end of the day, kind of a personal policy for me, clean kitchen, happy house, or something like that). So, yes. He'd done a day's worth of dishes first thing in the morning. I was grateful. But clearly I'm not selling my own dishwashing very well. When I asked, the kids had no idea that I regularly (ie. EVERY DAY) washed the same huge pile of dishes ALL BY MYSELF! They weren't impressed, though. There's some fundamental difference between the things Mommy does and the things Daddy does. What is it??? I don't know. It's not Kevin's fault. He pitches in always and spends a lot of very very hands-on time parenting and keeping this house going. But still.

Before Lunch

By their very nature, these posts have to happen during brief lulls, which makes it seem I'm permanently at the computer, the kids in the other room, baby on blanket, crafts this morning, et cetera. And I'm not. Honestly. If there's any one secret about parenting four kids, it's this: it's a lot of work! Prepare to have your life completely overtaken by work. Prepare to have laundry permanently in all stages of done to undone: dirty and piled on the basement floor, in the machine, on the clothesline or drying rack, in the basket waiting to be folded, folded in the basket and waiting to be put into drawers. It's never ending. And that's the laundry part. Consider the food part. The scheduling part. The hygiene part. Eighty nails to clip each week, my own not included. And through it all the breathing and the genuine calm which I find (most of the time) to get us all up and over the bumps and falls and unexpected turns.

Every day is an adventure. I feel myself constantly called on to excel, to dig into depths of strength previously untapped. It's full-body and full-mind exhausting, and empowering. Just to make it through the day.

This morning we had friends over to play. Next up: lunch (leftovers? something on just-thawed loaf of bread?). Then dance camp for AB, 5 years, and so in love with dancing. This afternoon is her special last-day performance. I'm taking the other kids to spend the time in between drop-off and recital to Grandma's house to play (me too). Grandma's coming to the recital too. Then we pick up our weekly installment of food from the buying club, an amazing weekly event conceived and organized by my friend and neighbour, Nina, who is obsessed with local food and farming and farmers and has a total calling for this work. We are endlessly blessed by her obsession, and it has made eating local very easy. Her latest success is arranging for local pasta to be made with local wheat. She even has local farmers growing hard wheat so we can make almost completely local bread. I'm thawing a package of local hamburger for our supper tonight; again, from Nina's buying club. Sometimes our fridge runs a little low on supplies, but I'm trying to make do till the next buying club or CSA box.

Still watching the Olympics. Canada has yet to medal, but I don't really care. It seems so pleasantly Canadian, somehow. All these hard-working dedicated athletes breaking personal bests ... how could I possibly be disappointed by their efforts? It feels like I'm not alone in that support, and that's what I LOVE about Canada.

Okay, time to heat up leftovers, slice bread, call children to eat!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Soccer Evening

Okay, this is way too easy to do. I sense an impending addiction. It's like being able to blurt out anything to anyone (or, as the case may be, no one) at virtually any time, with (almost) impunity.

To set the current scene: baby is lying on a blanket on the floor, "talking" (shouting, more like it; he's got a big voice), surrounded by bits of Playmobil, while the other kids play something I can't quite make out. I love their imaginary games, though truth be told, they're too obscure to follow, and seem to rely on repetition: "I'm putting this bed in here, because they have to sleep in here." "But then there is no door." "This is a door." "I have to pack up all your jewels." "Okay." Enhanced by incredible engine noises from A, age 7, and always but always the loudest child anywhere. Not because he's shouting but because of his sound effects, which he's been performing since infancy. Airplanes roars, explosions of all kinds, motors, engines, robots. He seemed to come by his repetoire instinctively, before he could have known what noise a car would make.

I wasn't going to write about the kids. Much.

Anyway, that's the scene, and I'm on the computer in the kitchen (bad placement for someone prone to check more often than she should), and there are dirty dishes on the counter, pots unwashed, leftover supper food just put away (pasta, with almost entirely local homemade sauce and salad; cherry tomatoes from our driveway garden!), and Kevin's off to play his weekly soccer match. Let's hope he comes home uninjured. (Black eye a couple of a weeks ago. Ouch). The Olympics are on in the background, too. And I'm about to floss the kids' teeth, one by one, with them lying on the couch with their heads in my lap. All of the ones who have teeth.

Updated Writing Morning

I am being driven crazy by my Mac. Computers are giant time-suckers. I should be writing with a pen and paper ... if only I could read my own writing.
But really it's just been a frustrating writing morning. Nursing interruptions, and poor focus. I'm working on a poetry collection that I've been working on for FIVE YEARS. Good grief. It's mainly about young motherhood and maybe someday I'll be done. Or have produced enough poems that I like at the same time to attempt to publish them. By which time I'll no longer be a young mother. Really, I'm not a poet, I'm too drawn to narrative to write really fine poems, which need to be seeded with the mysterious, the spiritual, the hidden and only partially revealed, not plot.
Ear plugs in. I rewrote a few old poems, with some success. Will post one here, if my internet connection doesn't fail me.

Or not. Just tried and it looked ... well, disappointing. Haven't figured out how to move pictures around so they look pretty and don't interfere with text. As a former newspaper copy editor, I don't want to publish something that looks subpar. Oh well.

I have three hours a week right now to write. I'm down to my last half hour of the week. I've rewritten a couple of poems and started this blog. I think I'll be heading downstairs feeling distinctly disappointed, restless and aimless. Kevin's had a hard morning with the kids. There has been a lot of conflict. Right now the kids are in the room next door "cleaning" up the girls' room and Kevin is in and out of my working space with the baby in a sling, my working space being the changeroom/toyroom/soon-to-be-baby's-bedroom/my computer on tiny computer table; and now Kevin is speaking with great frustration to the kids: "This is worse than before!" Time-outs and threats and warnings. We have four children ages seven down to four months, two boys as bookends, two girls in between. It feels, today, like I've been unable to shut out the mundanity and get to work.
Okay, resolve for next week's writing day to go better. Next week I will start a new story instead. I'm afraid of the new story, that's today's real problem. I've written two in a collection that was previously a novel, and it's material almost too close to my heart, and too painful, and I am terrified of failure. That makes working on it with any level of success very difficult. Requires more bravery than apparently I've got today.

Ear plugs out. Sigh.

Writing Morning

So this is it. Publishing as I type.
I haven't yet decided on a focus for this blog, and that seems to be what makes good blogs great. Should I write about my children? My personal life? People do. I'm so much better at fiction, that I wonder whether this blog will just shrivel and die before it has the chance to develop into anything. There is a distinct possibility that will happen. When I write, on these writing mornings, I'm honing very particular material into a very particular shape, and this feels oddly shapeless. Even the word "blog" sounds flabby and indistinct. Blah blah blog.
I'm defrosting my second freezer today. That's my adventure in local food for today. Starting my writing morning by packing the first (now defrosted and cleaned) freezer full to the brim with packets of beans and strawberries and rhubarb, so that I can unplug the second before I need to fill it with the rest of this summer's offerings. No tomatoes yet, and I like to put up a lot of tomatoes.