Saturday, December 31

After this post, I will officially be a Mommy Blogger. I've never blogged about my kids more than a word here and there and a few images. But I have to say that I am really in Love with the stages that they're in right now. Nahuel is so tender and sensitive and I love the way that he needs me. But his affection has expanded lately. Being a nursing Mamma's boy it's only natural that his attachment to me is stronger, but lately he shows more the need for his Papa's gentleness. He also gets more mischievous by the hour. Anything that can be strewn across the floor will be.  We've been busy securing all furniture and seeking out hiding places because everything is either a ladder or a hide out for more trouble.

Ada lives more in her own imaginative world every time I look at her, but more so when I've just tied a bow in the back of her dress. Ada is very particular about dresses. A dress is not a dress unless is is ankle length, soft, flowy and has some ruffles with a long sash that ties in the back. This is convenient since her Grandmother is a dressmaker and has volumes worth of sewing wisdom for her mother. I intend to take advantage fully of this feminine tendency of Ada's, being a lover of dresses myself, but by no means a prompter of this creative glitch, uniquely hers. I outgrew my Mothers good taste when I was about 12 and ever since have been trying to master the art of figuring out how to make whatever it is I want with dollar-a-yard fabric and no zippers, buttons, or any special stitches or feet. Sometimes I feel bad for her because she doesn't have a Mother who will teach her the wiles of womanhood. I paint my nails about once a year. I love to wear dresses with tennis shoes, I brush my hair about once a month. That's not to say I don't look in the mirror, but using a brush for more than my teeth is definitely not in my daily routine. (Actually Ariel gave Ada and I an assortment of brushes for Christmas because we didn't have any, anymore...)

My favorite part about when Ada wears a dress is the look on her face just after she finishes putting it on. As soon as it registers in her mind that she is wearing a dress A hazed almost drugged look floods her eyes as she focuses on some image in her mind of I wish I knew what and where...Sometimes she spreads her fingers out and runs them down the length of the skirt until her fingers no longer reach and then flips them out and twirls. Often she wanders around in a daze or just sits there for a few minutes and it's useless to talk to her because she is in a very far away place. Only when you clap in front of her face or catch her eye with something flashy and pretty does she look at you and giggle, not because she has been woken into this reality, but because you have suddenly become part of what she is imagining.

Last night we came home from a party where Ada's coat mysteriously disappeared, much to my annoyance. It wasn't very cold and wrapping my scarf around her neck was plenty to send her out into the air. When we arrived Ada and Nahuel ran off like they usually do to play their game of making Mama or Papa carry them into the house, stopping at the grapevine angel choir that lights up our house for the holidays. Ada said that the angels were cold and started to take off the scarf and wrap it around the neck of the angel at the front. At which time I ran inside to grab the camera and arrived just as she was putting the finishing touch on the scarf wrap.

I might add my children are obsessed with yard art. It if were up to them we'd have pinwheels and wishing wells and little statues of people all over. But alas I have not yet come to that place in my life, though I don't doubt that I will.  After the scarf was in place Ada stood and surveyed the scene and then walked up to the scarved figure and kissed the lighted being, walked to each one in turn, kissing them as well.

Some people are Huggers, some people prefer a good handshake at arms length and others a slight nod.  My Son is going through an identity crisis and is still figuring out what he is, but the rest of us here, we're Kissers.  It's one of the parts of Ariel's culture that I love most. Warm and inviting. When you walk into a gathering no matter how large or small, it's customary to walk around to each individual and kiss them a hello. It's a custom that breaks the ice, helps you to meat new people. After all, if you're in the same gathering, you must have something in common and there's an unconscious part of it that is validating. Obviously if I'm clean, good, pretty, human, enough to be kissed then I'm doing something right. I've mostly learned where to kiss and where not to kiss, but sometimes I go into kissing mode and kiss people that most definitely don't understand why I would do such a thing. Of course it's not necessarily a real kiss and my lips don't necessarily actually touch your cheek or any other part of your skin. It's a greeting that is cherished in hundreds of cultures around the globe and I feel that it helps people feel more connected. Once you've kissed someone there's no going back. It doesn't matter whether you are the same or agree or even like each other, you can deal with each other on civil terms.

Language is a key topic in our household, not just because my kids are learning what it is, but because we have a bilingual home and both languages are constantly growing and taking shape in one or the other of Ariel and I. Because of this Ada, though three, doesn't talk very much. Actually I don't know very many other three year old children very well. Maybe they don't talk very much either, but Ada is smart enough in every other way that I'm not worried about how she'll grasp it or when. She understands completely every word in both languages, she just doesn't say all of them yet. However with every other way of communicating Ada is a master.

All of these things combined make this figurative moment very important in how I view Ada and Nahuel and Mothering them in this place in our lives. Imaginative, sensitive to others needs, affectionate, playful. I can't claim to have researched every part of every stage of development that my kids will ever go through. All I know is that they are unique and beautiful. I believe that the nature of being human contains a self-propelled need to grow and change; experiment until you get something right and then move on to the next stage. I feel, in very simplified terms, that if I feed the need they'll make their own choices about what makes them happy and what they need to learn and will be at a great advantage having figured out how to learn early in life, something that I'm still figuring out.

I guess in a way this is my New Years resolution. In the last year I've been too distracted from what changes my kids are making. They are at a critical stage in their figuring out how to be people. Along with dog training and personal training and expanding my gardening skills and area are my kids. One important goal as I go into a new phase of Motherhood is to come up with a solid yet flexible plan to help my children to learn who they are, including reading and writing and enjoying simple things that will form them into anything but simple.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30

Holy Crud. I've had so many things to blog about in the last months. But most of them were Christmas related and the clock just never stopped tick tick ticking. Now it's all over Oh, alright, we still have two actual Holiday's left. But it seems very anticlimactic to share anything that might no help until oh, next Christmas. But I just have to share this one. I only wish that I'd taken more pictures...

As usual I went looking on the web for something I wanted to do to see if anybody had done it. And they hadn't. Something similar yes, but not the same and you just never know if what you're going to do will turn out, especially if no one paves the way with a tutorial beforehand. I was intending this to be the only thing I gave to most of my family, which is a LOT of people when you add it all up. In other words I needed to make sure they were good and that I didn't waste the whole lot without it turning out well. Here's what I made...

I call them , Cocosinalmonish Delight. I imagine that in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Evil Winter Queen gave Edmond something like this...Yes I know what she really gave him.

I guess it's time to explain one of my kitchen quirks...I (almost) only use one kind of sugar. I use other natural sweeteners, but as for sugar, I tend to stick with demerara. I have been persuaded in the past by some unmentionables, that sugar was an evil evil thing and I tend to agree. But I like to think that by using something in it's raw and unrefined form, I'm doing myself and my family a favor. It drives Ariel crazy (every once in a while he shows up with a bag of white sugar), but he has adjusted to drinking mate with it (I have yet to persuade him to use agave syrup, which is my next evil conniving plan), which is the most important thing in our house.  But the problem I find is that without enough moisture to disolve the large crystals of demerara, whatever I make comes out a little too sugary. Delicious. But the one thing I might change about this recipe is the Demerara. I think next time I'll try blending it in a dry blender to break the crystals down more, or YOU could just use white sugar as was in the closest original recipe found here. You COULD use their recipe. But then you wouldn't know how wonderful my magic ingredient is.

So the journey to this recipe included at least three different tries, one was made with maple syrup and wasn't nearly flavorful or sweet enough (scratched completely), one I forgot to add the magic ingredient, and the last was ALmost perfect.  

Here is the recipe

Cocosinalmonish Delight

2 Egg Whites, 
4 Tbsp vanilla extract
4 cups raw almonds
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c dry unsweetened shredded coconut

Very simple to make, combine dry ingredients in one bowl(minus almonds. In a larger mixing bowl beat egg whites until frothy but not stiff. This is very important. Definitely the touchiest part of the recipe. The egg white are used to bind the sugars and other ingredients together, if it is too stiff, the egg whites won't want to stick to the nuts and you'll have a crumbly but delicious mess. If you want a dryer powdery nut instead of a golden crisp nut use another egg white or two as in picture just above. When you've frothed the egg whites, add the vanilla, Do Not Forget To Add the Vanilla. I believe at some point I did a small batch with no vanilla, There was a severe flavor deficit. 
Now add the almonds, stir them into the egg white mixture until everything is evenly coated. 
Now pour in the dry coating. Stir again until everything is evenly coated. 
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. spread them out evenly not allowing them to touch too much on the paper. You may have to use multiple baking sheets or mulitple oven sessions to finish them all, It's important to keep them evenly spread out on the pan, so NO CRAMMING! 
Allow them to cool before breaking apart and bagging. A fun wrapping idea that will save you wrapping paper: use parchment paper instead and tie it with some twine. I loosely line small baskets with parchment paper and filled them. 

If you haven't figured out what my magical ingredient is, it's coconut.



Sunday, December 11

A breath of fresh air is when you FEEL spontaneous and in the same instance are able to BE spontaneous. 

Sundays I usually put my kids down for a sabbath movie a couple hours before we leave for Church. If it's calm enough it helps my son take a nap and my daughter relax a little while before we tackle church, which is no small task for a Mother, especially when she has no husband with her that day. Which brings me to this moment. 

My mind is alight with thoughts and inspirations that come to me on wings of songs. Songs that help me remember the simple parts of me that I want to see more frequently. It is no small coincidence that I feel this way today.  This week has been busier and more stressful than usual. My husband and I both finished semesters in our respective fields of study, putting an end to the last few weeks of constant movie watching for my kids. In some small way, I think maybe it has helped. I wish I was the kind of person whose children didn't like to watch whatever presents itself on that screen in front of them. But Motherhood has afforded me that one occupation for my children when I need to do something with out small hands in between wanting to share in the fun. After the last few weeks my kids will probably not ASK to watch a movie in quite some time. And I hope not to ask it of them. 

Wings of song bring me the voice of one calming female whose voice rings of things real, spontaneous and self reflective. Things of the heart that usually aren't open for everyone on facebook to see. Well, my heart anyway. And while this semester has brought me closer to a lot of things that I want for myself, knowledge of things close to my core, I am tired. My kids are tired and growing and need more of their Mother.  So next semester I won't be in school. Not that it's a terribly lot of time I spend there, just two nights a week. It's been great for them to have more time with their Papa and depend on HIM more. To hear bedtime stories from HIM, have HIM make them dinner which they will not eat and bathe them and clean their room with them, because he usually works in the evening and those aren't the kind of things he usually gets to do with them. I won't deny that it's been really good for me too. But now is a convenient break and a change of winds. 

Do you ever have that feeling that things are about to change. And you don't know how or when, or maybe you just don't recognize that they already have? and every breath is tainted with just a little more excitement for what's next, but also the moment you're in becomes clearer and more joyfilled. Do you get that? It's a flavor thing, but one from the sixth sense of happiness, the one just out of my peripheral thought spectrum.

So I set out in this post to write about some of the things I want for the future. Because I know that changes in our lives are not usually predictable, but I like to think that I have SOME sense of control and it would clear my head. I guess I'm getting a jump start on my new years resolution.  Maybe it's the fact that I'll have two nights and few more hours, normally spent studying per week, to be myself. Maybe it's that my husband might switch gears at work to a normal schedule with more hours and health benefits. Or maybe it's that I want to figure out if I'm really going to do this whole home school life. I could go on and on for days about maybe's. But the point is that even though there's nothing wrong with the way things have been for quite some time, there are a lot of things right that aren't as good as they could be. There's a sense of motivation that I feel at this moment that I want to remember when it goes. It tells me that if there were more sleep and exercise and reading, especially from very specific more sacred texts, then there would be more of me to read to my kids and garden and cook real food and basically everything else that I never feel like I have the energy to do because there's too much laundry to fold or the dishes just keep piling up...

And that's it, in a nutshell.

Tuesday, November 22

A Tale of Two Pies

Here we go. Pumpkin Pies. You should know that I really did take this seriously before you read further. I am not a Scientist, but I do take Pies very seriously. There may be some places of necessary technicality or at least a little ramble hear and there. These are all ideas that have been ruminating in my head for a few years and I've finally found a useful purpose for them. Pumpkin pies generally consist of pumpkin filling and a crust, but then you probably know that. I have a go-to crust that I'll be using, which I'll give you the recipe for, but I really want to focus on getting the best pie filling from the pumpkin I can. I've selected a couple of recipes to try.

I mentioned before that I was on the watch to see if my pumpkins had frozen over yet. Well, they were nicely frozen last night when I went out to check on them, snow capped  from a storm a few days ago to be precise. But I recently learned a trick that my previously mentioned uncle uses to sweeten up his squash. Apparently he doesn't pick his Banana Squash until after the first frost. So unlike many other years, I left the pumpkins out. I wondered, but never moved them under my somewhat more sheltered car port. Last night I brought one inside and set it on the floor to thaw out. Today it is room temperature and solid as a rock, from that I know that there was no damage from the cold.

So I know that you need no detailed instructions on how to roast a pumpkin. If you do, these images should be more than enough instruction. And there is nothing wrong with your two year old periodically turning the oven off, it might just take twice as long. It doesn't take away from the fact that this is an experiment. I first scrubbed the paint off of the pumpkin. Actually I first took some pictures of the pumpkin. The apple is suppose to give you an idea of how big the pumpkin was. I tried to choose smaller pumpkins so that they would fit in my oven, but smaller fruits seem to always be somewhat more flavorful and some of the Jack-o-lanterns were truly Monstrous.

To start out, I scrubbed the paint off the surface of the pumpkin (Latex paint and Pumpkin Pie, not so much). I turned my oven on to 350 and placed a baking dish under the pumpkin to catch the liquids that will eventually seep out. 

I honestly can't remember how long I let that baby sit in the oven. It was at least 3 hours. But when I do this again in a few weeks, I'll let it sit longer. I use visual cues. Wait until the skin is darker  and more wrinkled than mine. A fork should poke through with no resistance and I mean NO resistance. The softer, the better. The longer it roasts, the more those sugars can carmelize. It seems like my oven was warmer toward the back, so I would rotate it once after a couple of hours.

Strip the skin off with a fork or knife. It falls away pretty easily. It was easy for me to work in sections stripping and slicing into the flesh.  This image really doesn't do it justice, but the flesh on this is two inches thick. I really thought that it was going to be a lot thinner and harder than it was. Just makes it that much sadder than all of this goes to waste so often.

You can see that the fruit is very stringy, but we'll just let our food processor work all that out for us. Cut into large chunks and process it until there are none left, till its nice and smooth. 

Drain it in a mesh strainer, seive or, even better, in cheese cloth.

Next for the filling. I found a recipe that calls for maple syrup and so I've used something from there.
However there were a few things that don't fit my taste. For one, I think spices should be considered as separate ingredients. Also My husband isn't real big on cinnamon; I on the other hand, love fresh ginger and we both love fresh grated nutmeg. Its a give and take thing. I also used whole fat plain yogurt instead of sour cream just because I ussually do when baking. So here's the final result for what's in recipe one:

Recipe I Pumpkin filling:

2 cups strained pumpkin puree
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 eggs
1/2 tsp cinnamon,
1 heaping tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger

For the second recipe I am using my usual:

Recipe II Pumpkin Filling

3 eggs
2 cups strained pumpkin pie filling
3/4 c whole milk
3/4 c heavy cream
1/2 c demarara sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 heaping tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

This part might have been helpful first, but since I'm assuming that you'll read through the whole recipe before trying it, that shouldn't be a problem. Just because the filling is meant to be sweet and soft and the main affair of a pie, does not in any way discount the wrapping. A crust is like the wrapping of a present. it can be of newspaper, brown paper bags or colorful satin textured super-wrap, but the wrapping of a present is important and adds to the over all effect of gift giving. If there is one thing in a bakers book I have  practiced and tried and experimented through and through, it is the pie crust. Like I've said before, dough is what I play with in lieu of a potters wheel and clay. And I learned alot of my techinique from a handy little (Big) book called JOY of Cooking. My coffee stained, bulging at the seems, steam warped copy is one of my prized kitchen possessions. If there was ever a book that shouts to the world the art and heritage of American Cooking it is Joy of Cooking. Get it. You'll never say nothing is uniquely American again. The recipe II Pumpkin filling above is taken from that The ingredients in this Deluxe Butter Flaky Pastry Dough, page 862 are as follows:

1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp salt
*mix* then cut in:
1/2 lb cold unsalted butter
1/4 c solid vegetable shortening.
add slowly
1/3 + 1 Tbsp Ice cold water and mix with your hands the minimum amount necessary to encorporate the water.

I Love this crust because it's soft and buttery. I should add that because I used part pastry flour, the recipe indicates that you should use 1/3 cup powdered sugar, but that's just too much sugar for me. So I actually used not quite 2 Tbsp. I know, big difference. The BIG trick is how you cut the fat with either a fork, two knives, or a mixture of both. (I've never had the luxury of a pastry knife.)Cutting the fat into the flour is key. Leave pea size pieces of butter intact. I 've also used a food processor wo mix my pie crust dough. It is tricky because the processor works so fast, but just remember to keep mixing to a minimum. Do the final kneading by hand into a ball. 

I also have to add a special disclaimer here in honor of my very best cooking friend and newly become sister and law (with which I had nothing to do) Ivy. My kitchen Library would be very sad without her generous donations over the years. On to pies:

As a last detail, the pies should be baked in the middle of the oven at 375 F.  give them about 40 minutes. But you'll know when the pie is ready to take out when it is still a little soft in the middle and moves just a little bit when you jiggle it. if it sloshes, not done. if if sways ever so slightly, it's probably done. Home cooking experiments are not an exact science and no matter how many descriptions I give you, nothing can take the place of your own practice.

Pie I
Recipe I Pumpkin Pie analysis:
Texture: Good, this sliced up better than the other,. The filling was nice and firm.
Crust: excellent Held together when cut, crumbled upon the touch of a fork.
Taste: Here's where I can tell the difference in my ingredients. This pie was not nearly as sweet as the other. Maple syrup is generally less sweet than sugar. Considering that the filling was plenty firm, It could stand some more maple syrup. But the general lack of sweetness was probably from this being made with a Jack O' lantern.

Pie II
Can you tell by the size of this picture, that I'm trying to place emphasis on this pie?

Recipe II Pumpkin Pie Analysis:
Texture: Good, not as firm as the first, but still good. There was 1 more egg in this recipe making it more custardlike. It was also in a smaller pan, making the filling thicker and it took longer to cook. I suspect that added to the softness of the filling.
Crust: Excellent. Not quite as pretty. But if you don't like a lot of crust this is a great way to do it.
Taste: The sweetness won me over. I Loved the ginger, but my husband thought it was too strong. So if you're not a hug ginger fan, use 1/2 Tbsp instead.

So there you have it. Two Pies. Two recipes, one pumpkin. And I would say that with the help of a food processor, there is no reason why an awesome pumpkin pie can not be made with a Jack O' lantern. but then, with some amount of determination..whatever, you knew I was going to say that....

Monday, November 14

Just Your Average Pumpkin...

Passionate things. Autumn is just a passionate time of year. Passion colors abound; oranges, reds, dark auburn and smooth subtle greys. I am passionate about Fall. It's the harvest, the rain, the cool weather, the need to snuggle up with someone warm, and the need to turn on the oven. I am not an expert baker. The technicalities of how exactly the baking soda works or the time required to fluff my egg whites perfectly before folding them into whatever it is I'm making, usually escapes me. But I love fall vegetables. I Love roasting them with olive oil and sea salt, Italian sausages, or chicken. I Love pureeing them and adding them to soups and breads and cookies.

I've been fortunate the last few years to be on the receiving end of other hard working gardeners spoils. For a long time it was my great uncle Lyman, in Logan, UT. He could feed a village, and does. They have in impressively large and healthy family and  from what I understand usually take a lot their excess harvest to the food bank. Now, I know it sounds silly and selfish, but the times I heard about them sending food to the food bank, it gaves me a very small twitch in my eye to think of the amazing produce I would not enjoy at their hands. However, we no longer live close enough that I can bum a box of produce whenever there is one. But... recently my parents acquired a healthy plot of land in the same bread-basket-soiled neighborhood. Now I have a new source for winter squash and potatoes. (Internal Hip. hip. Hooray!) Recently my mom brought down an enourmous banana squash. The walls of this beautiful beast were at least 3 inches thick. I made pumpkin pie and a large pot of pumpkin (banana squash) butter for the freezer. And yet my thirst for squash and the recent harvest of now frozen-over soil is not quenched. My garden didn't do too well this year and though I did get one impressive pumpkin out of it (are you impressed?), all I have to show for it is a shelf full of tomotoes ripening and a few cans in the basement food storage.

However there is one food that I have been saving, all decked out in weather proof paint. It sits outside my front gate to mark the coming of one of the great Autumn holidays, All Hallows Eve, long since gone. An egg carton filled with paint to mix and brushes to spare is about the max in free flowing decorating that my two and three year old can handle (or is it me?) We took it outside and enjoyed one of Octobers beautiful days when Aunt Kristin was here for a visit and lately I've been on the watch to see if it has frozen over too.

And it is...a Pumpkin. Not anything special. Not a sugar pumpkin or any kind of special supposedly flavorful sweet pumpkin. Just a pumpkin. I've read that these large hollow beasts are basically tasteless and I really don't want to hear about how you can't use them for baking or eat them, I've read that the seeds are good for roasting and that's about the extent of thier usefullness outside of carving and lighting up the porch for couple of hours. I've heard all that. You've heard all that. I can't think of one food related question I've heard more at this time of year than "Do I have to use a pie pumpkin to make pumpkin pie?" Or "What kind of pumpkin do I have to use to make a pumpkin pie?" or any number of the same question with varied wording. What it comes down to is this: There are four round orbs sitting outside that I would feel really really sad throwing away. It comes down to the fact that even though I'm reluctant to share the graciousness of my uncles artfully grown garden spoils with those less fortunate than I, I still have a heart. There's something about the image in my head of starving children in far away places. The ones we think about every once in a while, not more, because it might disturb our comfortable way of going about in our big cars and eating at big chain restaurants. When I think about throwing out a genetically selected hard mass of food, what it comes down to is that it is still that: food. I can't stand to see it go to waste and I have enough scraps that go in my compost already. So I'm going to do an experiment. The name of the experiment is not: "What pumpkin makes the best pumpkin pie?". It is, "Can I make a decent pumpkin pie out of a Halloween pumpkin?". And there you have it. Stay tuned for updates on my experiment. I fully intend to take a couple to Thanksgiving Dinner (Did I mention that I'm passionate about homemade pies?) and I'm even going to try a vegan version that my Dad can enjoy. If you've ever asked yourself the same question, feel free to come by on Monday to taste the pumpkin pie filling, or just wait for it here as I take you through the process. I can't imagine that it could taste half as bad as the synthetic, overly sweet versions that are in grocery stores. To be started in the morning with roasting....DUN. Dun. dun......(Followed by eery alien whistling music....)      

Saturday, November 12

Driving Thoughts

It's too bad I can't blog while driving a car. Presently. I'm sure somebody can. Somebody who has an insane lack of judgement, or someone who has an insane amount of technology. As I drove home tonight from a gathering of sight, sound and other vital senses, I was full and overrun with thoughts that I wanted to blog. I've come to a few conclusions. Talking to other humans, I realize that we all have a need for ventilation. Not like slits in the back of our pants or anything (to delete or not delete?).  We all sometimes have a need to have a small or large outburst of words, either written or spoken. I've come to recognize that I am not the only one and because of this fact, I really need to stop worrying about whether or not anything I write has any relevance to anyone (since I wouldn't know the difference if it did(n't)). The point being that in a world where the 'virtual' and the 'real' are every day closer to the same thing, I feel a constant growing need to be in contact with real people. I don't know if I would feel this way if it weren't for the recent losses I've suffered of real people, but the fact that I remember that I feel this way on a daily basis is unavoidably true. Bottom line: I want to be around people. I want to feel their energy, their differences, their peculiarities. I want to feel awkward and explode with the energy of an expression that is uniquely my own, and find people who comprehend it all, possibly at the same time, possibly even feel rejection. These things are what make our interactions of people real. And yet, do these things happen in the virtual world of making a friend who is only recognizable to us by a profile picture or a button on their blog? Do we make actual friends by blogging and face book surfing? I imagine some people do. I have definitely grown closer to a lot of people through these sorts of mediums. I've found family that I didn't know I had. I've found reassurance where I was fairly sure I was walking out onto a flimsy plank over eel infested waters. But tonight is confirmation that to me, real people; breathing, sweating, dancing, stuttering people, is where life is at.  And this my friends, has not even touched on tonight's driving epiphanies.

Saturday, October 29

Open Face Calzone?

No food related blog post (refer to post below) should be without a recipe of sorts (refer to post below). And as you know, with me it's all about experimentation. Sometimes we leave earth and do something we've never imagined and don't know if any one else has imagined. I like to think of myself as the 'Nelix' of the Starship Agüin. But this was something I had once and thought it deserved a permanent place in my kitchen. Not without a story.

Last December, for the Holidays, we traveled to Argentina so our kids could meet their family and I could experience what Christmas and New Years is for Ariel. It was an exhausting trip. Every day was filled with visiting one family or another and we still didn't get to see a lot of important people or do half of what we had planned. One particular day, we came back to our simple rented apartment above the cobblestone streets of La Plata. We were all beat. It was all I could do to put the kids in their pajamas and put them in front of a movie to fall asleep in this strange new place. We were starving. So I sent Ariel out in search of something edible. I didn't care what he came back with, but I would prefer something green, my only specification. I expected him to bring back one of the savory tarts I had come to enjoy. But when he reappeared over an hour later, there was a pizza box in his hands. At first I was dismayed because I didn't really want pizza. Then he opened the box and I saw a beautiful mass of vegetables. I have no idea what it was called. But it was cooked over a wood burning flame and the crust was perfectly browned, little specks of cheese singed around the edges. This is the first time I've tried to replicate it. If was wasn't worth it, I wouldn't be blogging about it, or at least I wouldn't publish my post.

  • Open Face Calzone of Artichoke and Chard

  • Pizza crust, enough for two 14 inch pizzas
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Hand full of Vine Ripened Tomatoes (5 or 6 medium size Roma or equivalent)
  • A pinch of Salt
  • Two cloves of Garlic
  • Two hands full chopped, fresh Swiss Chard or Spinach, or half and  half.
  • 1 cup Marinated Artichoke Hearts 
  • Enough Mozzarella (or your pizza cheese of choice) to top off the veggies  

Split your dough in half and roll out to form
two ovals. Oil your pan, throw your dough on it, oil it too and set it aside. I liked this particular crust to be thick and bready, not thin and crispy. This is not a pizza and you'll probably be disappointing if you go into it thinking of it as pizza. If you don't already have a dough you normally use, the version here is pretty close to what I use, though I don't think it needs the sugar. Next prepare your sauce. This is the simplest and best thing ever. When there are good tomatoes in season it's the ONLY thing.  Simply use some sort of food processor or even a mortar and pestle to puree your tomatoes along with the garlic and a pinch of salt. Chop the artechokes into fine slivers. This helps my kids. They enjoy things more when they aren't in big chunks. Steam your greens until just wilted. The best way to eat your greens is young and tender. If you've never experienced baby chard, you've never experienced chard. I used half chard and half spinach mostly because I had a LOT of Spinich that was in danger of not being appreciated.You could probably saute them too. But either way don't scimp, they'll shrink a LOT and you'll end up with not enough greens to balance out the artichokes. Now take your dough that has been sitting out and stick it in the oven on 400 F for about 5 minutes. When your crust no longer doughy but not browned, take it out and smother it in tomato-y goodness. Now this is where you have to leave the pizza out of your brain. This is not meant to be a pizza. Separate your greens in half and spread them out in a thick layer over the tomato sauce, then do the same with the artichokes. Sprinkle your cheese over the top evenly.  you don't need a lot of cheese. The photo below is deceiving because there are light colored artichokes underneath. (The power of Illusion is one of the only powers a mother of a three year old has with her child's food!)

Everyone has their way of cooking pizzas and such. I would say use a preheated pizza stone, but obviously any old cookie sheet will do. Bake until cheese is browned on top and edges and crust is crispy. For me it was about 30 minutes on 400 F.

Did I forget to mention that my three year old daughter LOVED this. Even the second time around! She would have eaten half of it on her own. To be served, as in any Argentine meal, with a salad of greens.

Buon appetito!

Me Eats + Three

Sort of the point in this whole red neck blog is that I've never really known whether something I do fits with what is expected of one human by another. I don't necessarily want it to fit and I don't necessarily want to know if it does. And so my life is just one big awkward human moment, I just try to enjoy it. But there are some things that are common to all of us humans. We all, for one, eat. But what we eat and why we eat it, that comes from innumerable places as we go our merry way on this planet. It differentiates us and it defines us. I don't feel fully qualified to say much regarding the ethics of food. But Michael Pollen sums it up pretty well in The Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food. I've never been extremely concerned about the health factors either. It seems pretty simple as long as I am eating real food (again, refer to above links). We all have our special ways of going about this human act, but my kitchen is my own and I am on a quest to find a happy balance for my family and, like I always tell Ariel, make sure we live to be one-hundred-and-eleven. 

With myself, two kids, and an Argentine, food at our house is a constantly changing adventure. Not because we are trying dangerous and daring things, but because you just never know what to expect. One day Ada's favorite food is corn chips, the next she won't touch them...that's life with a three year old. I've pretty much stopped planning meals around what they will and will NOT eat because, well I love to cook, and every time I make something specifically for THEM and something about it isn't JUST right (pretty much every time) it's like a cold wet blanket in the middle of January. But I do want to make things that they LIKE and I want to make things that will teach them what food actually IS (Wonder Bread NOT being included in this category). Since I've stopped trying so hard to please them and just focused on making good food, it seems like they've eaten more and better.

Food at our house is also an ongoing test in the human ability to adapt. We have two entirely different food cultures that we are meshing. I guess that could be true in any household. Having an Argentine in the house, there's pretty much no way we could ever go vegan or vegetarian. But I must give my carnivore a little credit (actually, alot) for the ways in which he's adapted. We usually eat meat once or twice a week, and very rarely red. In 'his' country, they eat red meat once or twice a day and fluffy white bread is the only kind of bread unless you happen to be diabetic or have high cholesterol. Some time I'll blog about a traditional Argentine Asado. It'd be worth the risk of disgusting most of the people who read my blog.

For all of the adaptation Ariel has endured, there are a lot of things we elect to do the Argentine way. For their love of meat, they use their vegetables very creatively and frequently. No meal is complete without a salad of greens, simple or complex. Rarely served with a bottle of salad dressing, rather some variation of vinegar and oil. Yams are eaten savory, with herbs, in stews and purees, not with marshmallows on top. Coming from the land of high fructose corn syrup, Argentine food to me is about cleansing your taste buds and filling them with simple goodness. In the beginning of our marriage, learning to cook for him was a labor of Love. In our first little apartment (which I was afraid to leave for fear of being mugged) I basically spent five months experimenting with six ingredients (literally that's ALL I did). Simply potatoes, garlic, white flour, onions, eggplant, and eggs I stole from my mother in law's chickens (Yes Lucia, it was me).  I bought cheap vegetables when I could, but for the most part that was it...until my Mom came to visit. She can attest to the fact that it WAS a pretty bland diet. When she came down for my wedding, she brought with her peanut butter and for the first (and last) time in my life I enjoyed 'American cheese'. It was nice because it didn't need a refrigerator and we didn't have one anyway. We were VERY poor.  The art of simple food arose out of necessity, but I have always had kind of an obsession with making something out of nothing. Many of those somethings have turned into very disastrous, inedible substances (each specific awkward instance is recorded very well on the walls of my brain and if you remember one of them yourself, I've probably retold the story laughing my guts out, more than once), but I keep experimenting. Cooking for my family still is a labor of love, though toned down and quite a bit less romantic with two kids.

Argentines follow a strong Italian tradition. Going beyond the ingredients, it means taking the time to cook and then, the time to enjoy food together. One of the ways we do things 'Argentine' style is that we eat 'Almuerzo' instead of dinner. Almuerzo is at the same time as lunch, though not to be compared in any other way. It means we spend a fair portion of time together in the middle of the day. A huge part of Argentine culture is about just enjoying one another's company over a meal, and 'Almuerzo' is always followed by drinking yerba mate unless there is something of THIS world that keeps us from it.  It is, in effect, ingested group therapy. If you are ever invited to drink yerba mate with us, it's only because we value you and want to validate you as a human being. That just what we do when we drink mate. That's not to say that there won't be a healthy share of brutal honesty along with a good amount of political discussion, also unavoidable parts of Argentine culture, but mostly, it's about talking. I attribute drinking mate with Ariel to why we are such good friends, because we are very different creatures. But taking the time, brings us back to the same place every day, together. It's also important that we spend time together with the kids. They drink mate too. But it's not about the mate, its about learning how to communicate and value each other. And this way they don't starve to death if they didn't like what we ate for almuerzo.

My biggest challenge with feeding my family (Argentine included) is teaching my kids about food. Though every day I doubt whether I am capable, I WILL teach my children that green food is good and that food is about people not just what you do and don't put in your mouth. So there you have it. That is part of the food culture at OUR house. I would love to hear about YOUR food culture. Why do you do things the way you do?


Monday, October 24

Lost Things

How do you start to replace something when you can't even accept that you've lost it; keys, a bag, a necklace, your favorite shirt? I am a loser of things. All things. Right now I remember putting my wedding ring on the top of a shelf, somewhere doing something dirty with one of the kids. Was I changing a diaper? Was I cleaning up a gigantic spill? Either way, it's been 6 months of keeping my eyes open, and still no ring. I look for it unconsciously, constantly. Every time I reach up high for something that is just out of sight, I feel around for a tiny round smooth object that my fingers may have just missed the last time I reached up there.

One of my most legendary favorite lost objects was also a smooth little ring. But it was plastic and blue and transparent. It's face was a heart. I got it from a silly boy I met at the silly mall with my silly friends. I was 13, and though It's hard for me to say it, I have to admit that my silliness all started around that time. I am much sillier now than I was then. But this ring; this small token that told me I might not be as odd as I thought; I kept it long after I figured out what a silly silly person that boy was. I wore it around my neck on a long chain with a few other sentimental thread-able objects. But because I am a person who loses things, I sometimes wore it on my finger, and I sometimes put it in the pocket of my pants and washed my pants. I sometimes loaned those pants to other people and they washed them and gave them back to me, with the ring still inside. Through my melodramatic adolescent 8th grade year, I lost and found that ring so many times that I thought it was impossible for me to actually lose. I was so annoyed that the unlosable object was such a ridiculous reminder of such an insignificant person in my life. I did actually WANT to believe that.

So in an attempt to disprove my theory that I could not lose that ring, one day while walking home from school, I took it off my finger and tossed it into the air as high and far as I could. I was near a very large pine tree and imagined that it was caught on one of the high branches and I would never see it again. As time passed I wondered what had come of it. Had it fallen down? Had someone picked it up? Surely no one would have gone underneath the tree and found it. I went back one day and looked around under the tree; I didn't scour the area thoroughly or anything. I just looked a little bit. I tested my old hypothesis. And no I did not find it. I must admit that I was disappointed. But I learned a lesson: Some things can be lost. Now I've grown a bit. I know that you don't really need to try hard to lose most things. In fact somethings seem to have a mind to lose themselves all on their own. Once, a few years ago I saw my niece wearing a little ring exactly the same color and size as my little trinket. I almost wondered if I was going crazy, but I remembered very clearly that I had not found my ring and I had thrown it into the tree. I had to make a very conscious effort not to want the ring, even just to remind me of a childhood crush. 

This time though, I haven't lost a ring or my keys. I can't bring myself to believe most of the time that I've lost anything at all. Nothing that didn't want to be lost anyway. I wish I could come up with some sort of test, to check my theory that these infinitely important 'things' have indeed been lost. But every time I think about them too much, and try to imagine contacting them to figure out what happened, I shut down and it takes me a few days to recuperate. A few days that, as a mother and spouse, and a person who generally tries to paint a positive picture of her life, I can't afford. Today I feel like I can see more clearly than I can most of the time. It also hurts a lot more than it does most of the time. It seems like it's the first time that I've identified this huge, gaping, black hole, though I know it's actually on a weekly basis. But I do a pretty good job of keeping it all in.

They say that the train of mourning has different stops on its arrival to...wherever a safe, healthy place is. The first stop is denial. That's where I've been stuck for the last year and a half. Unconsciously I've been trying to replace some of those 'things' which have been lost by seeking out other relationships and people that I care about. But I'm like a broken record; trying to push my way over that nick in the groove that makes me repeat the same thing over and over again, the whole while trying to act like there is no nick. How can you replace something you've invested your whole self into for your entire life? I just want to be able to fill the empty spaces. This isn't the first time I've lost someone dear, but it's the first time I've lost three. Today I feel like a house sized anvil is crushing me with the weight of trying to act like I can just go on and time will heal all wounds. It won't.  But I feel like I'm getting closer to stepping back on the train to the next stop.

Tuesday, October 18


Sometimes you just need to write, and write, and not think about what it's about or who or how. My first memorable English teacher was a cranky old crone in the eighth grade. She laughed at me when I asked if I could write my assignment as a poem. I got a D+ in her class. The next year there was an old fart that taught me the way of my words. His name was Gordon Cottrell. I could have been thirty or sixty or twelve to him and it wouldn't have mattered. He was a man who could see into the soul of a person and find what creative thread wound round their heart and force them to pull it out themselves. Being the emotional, pubescent teen I was, my mind was in a constant wandering state. I remember very clearly the changes I would go through in a day, from feeling completely shut up inside of myself, to feeling like life couldn't contain the beauty I gave it. I remember everything because that was the year that I came alive. It was as if everything before was puppetry. For a brief space of time I was lonely and happy. There are few times when those two words meld into each other, but it doesn't make it any less true. I knew that I had always been a loner. That no friend was ever actually a friend, and that something about my family kept me from feeling a part of the human race. Maybe every 14 year old girl feels that way? But for that brief period of time I enjoyed it. It was in part for a little thing we did every morning in Gordon Cottrell's class called a free write. Sometimes it was a word. Sometimes it was an unfinished phrase. But there wasn't a day when I walked into his class, sat down, opened my spiral notebook, or any piece of pressed lumber I could find, and didn't opened my mind. Back then I was over analytical. Overly critical of myself, overly confident, in as much as I ignored every other human being.  But when I closed my hand around my pen and Mr. Cottrell would announce 'today's free write' it didn't matter what it was. He could have said 'donkey butt' and it would have sparked the same enthusiasm in me as a line from Edgar Allen Poe. Because what I needed wasn't someone who understood my problems or someone who would push me to polish my grammar. I needed someone to give me the first word.

I imagine now, opening myself in that way, making myself vulnerable. At the end of the ten minutes, when he would finally tell me that it didn't matter how far we had gotten, I had to stop so we could go on with the class, I had written something so completely personal and free flowing that I'm glad that he doesn't remember it. He was an old fart then and he's an older fart now. I saw him in a store a few years ago when I just found out that I was pregnant with my second child. I heard his voice from the other side of a display and it filled me with the same liberation I felt as a fourteen year old girl opening her heart about the mundane, the spiritual, the creative: explorations in words. I had to introduce myself because he didn't remember me. And to be honest it gave me a pang of shock. Someone who was so influential to my growth and who probably didn't actually read, so many many very personal, constantly changing, things; and I was just a passer bye to him, one in a hundred students he had in a day.  But it doesn't change the impact he had on me or my writing. There was a time in my life, when I felt that I could not be a whole person without writing every thought down in a journal. I look back at those journals, and though it's entertaining to see the things I felt as a growing young human girl, most of it is pretty useless. Now I'm trying to find my words again. I'm back to where I wake up in the middle of the night with clarity and words that never come by day. And I think I'm brave enough to share them. My kids actually let me get enough sleep that I'm half sane the rest of the time too. As I watch them grow, I want them to find people like Gordon Cottrell, who are accepting of every stage of creativity. We as humans are unlimited in our ability to make something from nothing. And though I've enjoyed making lots of other things, babies, bread; turned sand and dust into rock and glass; I'm glad I finally found my words again.

Saturday, October 15

Friday Fixer-Upper

In an effort to immerse myself more fully in blog-world, to understand it more completely, I am creating a 'Meme'. Can memes be created by just anyone? Well, I am just anyone and I am doing it. So what if it's merely because I thought of a silly title for today's post. You don't have to tell anyone. In all actuality, posting today has nothing to do with the fact that it's Friday, accept for the fact that Yesterday was Thursday and it happened to be the day that Ariel and I finished (or at least very very close) a summer-long fix-up-project. It is still Friday in all of the United States. Hopefully it will be when I finish this post, because it would be some what less effective if it were not. 

Friday's Fixer-Upper

This is our backyard when we moved into our little duplex house in West Valley, Utah, 5 years ago. I am surprised that the grass was still green. It must have been those April showers. We've spent the last 5 years trying to keep that ugly grass green.  We've seeded and reseeded, watered by hand and with sprinklers, fertilized and aerated, and it has always been brown by mid June. With our dogs, it's been dirt clods by September. I take full responsibility though, because I'm proudly stingy with the water. It's more effective to use it on the garden, which seems like it takes  the same amount of effort but gives me fruits and veggies in return.

 Ever since we moved in, it seems we've barely left one project for five minutes to find ourselves knee deep into another. I've grown accustomed to one friend asking me as she comes up the stairs on arriving, "So what have you changed lately?" Which makes me feel good. Someone noticed.

So this year, it was finally time to do something about that grass. I'm just tired of it. One thing about me is, I don't keep up with the Jones'es. I just don't. I guess you could say I'm passionate about it. A trait I inherited from my Dad possibly? If someone thinks it should be done, I bet I'll find a way not to do it. But despite my neighbors well manicured lawn and neat little picket fence, I found myself planning out our landscape. Not the kind of planning that one day I would like to do, but the kind that you're going to do somehow and soon. ( I must admit, it has something to do with starting progress toward an ornamental horticulture degree from Utah State University. Talking so much about growing things made me realize that I could do a lot more with what I have than I thought.)

First things first, move the shed, and later on,
paint it orange. The paint was from a lucky find at Home depot of clearance paint for $7.

Enclose the house and yard with fencing and double doors. The best thing I got out of the old yard was the wooden door that came from the old fence. We reused every piece of wood that wasn't rotting apart and only had to buy about 10 slats of wood to finish the double door. Up until this point, everything has happened slowly, over a period of 3 years. Last year I tilled in half of the grass in front. It wasn't growing anyway. The portion closest to the house is my greens garden. It will be easy to protect when winter hits, being so close to the house, so the lettuce, chard and beets will grow through the winter. This year we turned the front portion on the drive way strip into a perrenial and herb garden. I planted alot of random seeds in the spring of wildflowers someone gave me a few years back. I have been delighted to watch the seeds sprout and guess at what is a weed and what is a flower. i have yet to figure out what these big pink perennials are. We also had a few varieties of mountain flax and poppies that were gorgeous in the spring. We also dug up a square of garden space that has been growing a few feet every year. This year though, we're running it all the way back to the fence.

Next, turn the gravel next to the car port into a patio. Something the kids can ride their bikes on. Thank You Liz and Edgardo for your hours of slave labor.We started out with about a hundred pavers that we found for free on KSL and from our neighbors and picked up a couple hundred more of the same size from Home depot for $1.50 a piece. This was by far the most expensive part of anything we've done out here. But I would have spent more, it has been so worth it.

Next Dig out the grass. I say dig, because one of my most active experiments has been reclaiming the clay soil that my garden grows in. Two inches of top soil goes a long way then everything else you're looking at is practically sterile. The grass we dug up was a significant portion. We split it into two sections, one with fabric and river rocks to serve as a pad for the camper trailer. I hope the grass will take care of itself now that there's not so much of it. (Yes, that straw colored corner IS grass) This week we found a great place to buy wood chips. The county reclamation sells them by the 'truckload'. But I'm pretty sure that must be a dump truck load. We mulched the front flower bed and everything in the back a good two inches and still had about a cubic yard to spare, all for thirty dollars and two loads in our utility trailer. It's the size of a truck bed, and the guys who loaded us up would have given us more for our money if we had a bigger trailer.
Since the soil in these areas isn't great either, and I dug what was up for the garden, the wood chips will decompose to help the soil and whatever I plant there in the spring.

We've also added half a ton of sand  to the garden and will be adding some horse (or whatever free) manure to help the garden. The area under our ugly trees has been a barely surviving flower bed. Our dog Molly gets a bit rambunctious, so we've hung some wire fencing and retail display pegs(?) to protect the plants until they have a chance to get established. Hopefully next year everything will grow! Then I'll take a residential landscaping design class and I'm pretty sure I'll want to do it all over again.

Tuesday, October 11

Experimentation is the Spice of Life

The other day I was shopping at Rancho Markets, located in our local Latino Mall, and came home with a special spice. A spice I had never tried. A spice that I needed to try, even if just to say I had. I Love to shop at Rancho Markets for a number of reasons, one being that they have such amazing deals on things that I love. I'm still working on my theory for why certain things are cheaper there and others are not, but the biggest assumption is that it all comes down to what is cheapest in Mexico at the time. In a one income (actually, 1 full time student, 1 part time student, 1 part time work) household we do the best we can to eat sustainably. For some reason I felt inclined to write that in an equation: S+1/2S+1/2W= Us, which mostly means we grow as many tomatoes, veggies and herbs as we can and eat locally produced bread and such when we don't make our own. I recently learned that as far as sustainability goes, in some ways Mexico is way ahead of us in the United States. I figure they must realize that their future depends on their natural resources (Gol! Gol! Gol!), a big part of them being agriculture and tourism. Mostly they lead certain areas of biodiverse cropping.  So while my rationale is not completely free of holes, I like shopping there. Mostly for the produce.

I Love Fall's abundance of red, orange and brown colored things. As much as I prefer the greens of basil or spinach, sweet potatoes, yams, apples and pumpkins make me feel like all is well. Last week I took one trip to Rancho Markets because they had Yams on sale. 4 pounds of yams for every dollar spent. As usual I wandered around the tables with mounds of limes and papayas and cactus leaves, but stopped at the yuca. My eye was caught by the price hanging, hand written above them. 3 lbs/$1. Into my cart, literally exploding with sweet orange fleshed baby yams, I tossed in two plumply round wax covered tubers, not knowing what on planet earth I was going to do with them. And now, a week later, I want to experiment, which is the true spice of life. As I write my house is being filled, inch by cubic inch, of a smell that I have never experienced. It is earthy, nutty, sweet and new. And yet half an hour ago I had no idea what to do with two plumply round brown skinned fibrous yuca. About an hour ago I went in search of what to do, if I was smart and planned all of our meals out ahead of time, it would probably be for a different day. If. I typed in, like I always do, the name of the ingredient I wanted to use, and found a lot of other people who had the exact problem as I did. Very few people (who use the internet for finding food related inspiration) have any idea what to do with a yuca. So I figured I'd better write a blog about it, actually I felt a responsibility to blog about it. Of course, even as I write I don't know if the experiment will be a success. I don't know if anyone will want to try my yuca fries, even my husband or my two cookie loving children.  But here is what I did:

Roasted Yuca Fries:

Start by pealing the Yucca root. (Some have a waxy coating for preservation, I just checked to see that it IS compostable) Cut the Yucca into 2 or three shorter sections equaling your desired length of fries (when in doubt, 2-3 inches). Cut these sections into 1/2 inch thick julienne strips which you will then proceed to toss in olive oil to coat. Then toss yet again onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and any other spices you like. I am a garlic fiend, so I shook some dehydrated California garlic granules over it all, followed by some nutmeg, because I put nutmeg in just about everything (no joke).

Turn your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your pan on the top rack. Set your timer for 20 minutes. and check every 5 minutes after that, turning every time. In total I ended up with about 35 minutes total oven time. If I were to do it again, I'd cover with tin foil for the first 20 minutes or so. You know the fries are done when the edges start to turn golden brown. Serve them with, oh ANYTHING.

Ok, so I finished my experiment. To judge whether or not it was a success I have my picky-cookie-loving-son Nahuel, who ate half of them himself. Granted he slithered and slathered them in ketchup, and it took him most of the afternoon to finish them, but hey, he's two. The texture was dense, crisp outside, soft inside. I thought it was more satisfying and better tasting than potato fries because there was more to taste and it's a tad bit sweeter than a potato.

Monday, August 1

Here Comes the Sun: Part 1 of Unknown #

In a way I wish I could write the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth today about my vantage point. But there is a part of my brain that doesn't allow me through that door, those details are still being processed in another chamber of my small mind. But also, there is the fact that I am only a partial witness. No one person can know the whole truth and no one has a monopoly on the love of a soul who knew innately how to Love so many. I only know my small part and I still discover what that is as I pass new landmarks of feeling the lack of him; a person that I mention in conversation sometimes as if it were a natural part of my lexicon. The truth is that I speak not his name lightly and usually only when I am either in the company of some very trusted or those who know almost nothing of his life or his death. But today, I write not because I have anything important to say, but because there are things that need to be said again and again and to new ears. I write because Tomorrow was the day he decided to leave for the hundredth time. Tomorrow, 5 years ago, was the day he finally succeeded in leaving. 
Of all the things we have of him that should be told to our children and all who should have known him and who he should have known, his name is only the most basic. 
Let them say it in Reverance or in Jest, only let them say it. Mark.

Saturday, July 30

Chard Tart

 I feel a sudden lift in the cloud of writers block. I've been distracted (going to school, landscaping my yard, gardening) and without a camera. But as I ate my lunch and thought on how superb it was I needed to write it all down. "Eggless Chard Tart" And that was it. Here you have the most important thing I've ever learned about savory tarts.

Savory Tarts: a History

Sometimes two miraculous things happen at once and whatever is left over falls into place as if it were masterfully orchestrated. Once upon a time I fell in love with a country, and a man who lived in it. Maybe sometime I'll tell that story. But this one starts in the middle of it and now we find ourselves with two offspring who are no doubt the best of both of us. But when it comes to food, they are still just kids. I am always amazed with people whose kids eat EVERYTHING. Not true. I am sometimes amazed with people whose kids will eat ANYTHING. I have a hard time finding anything that my fiery sprite of a daughter (by the same name, in a different language) WILL eat.
On to the next related tangent: We, in this great country have such a thing as quiche. A crusted egg souffle that is light and airy and where I grew up always included half cooked broccoli and a dab of ketchup on the side. In the land of the a fore mentioned Argentine, there is such a thing as a tart. I remember the first tart I enjoyed. It wasn't the first tart I ate. But it was the first time I knew that I was in love with them. Ariel an I were enjoying a day in 'el centro', La Plata, wandering through shops, window shopping with no money and people watching. It was during a time when we were waiting for his visa to come through the US Embassy so that we, a newly wedded couple, might return to live in the US. We were totally strapped, even for Argentine standards. The hand full of times we ate anything that wasn't labored over in our hot little refrigerator-less kitchen, usually involved a street stand that advertize one thing on its menu, 'Chori-pan'. The most glorified of glorified hotdogs. But today there must have been something special. Some reason why we couldn't wait to go home and cook something. Instead of our regular park-gazebo chori-pan visit, we stopped in a little shop that made pizzas and 'tartas'. This was a lesson in Argentine cuisine for me. Not the most delicate or sophisticated little shop, but one with a line that went out the door. Which was good for me, because I had no idea what I wanted to order. When it was finally our turn we ordered two tarts, one of them was onion and tomato an the other was some variety of spinach. After ordering, the already made tart was conveyer belted up into an oven and slowly passed over a covered gas flame, coming out on the other side unrecognizably, perfectly charred. Around the corner at the same park, San Martin, we delved into our paper wrapped lunch. It would serve for nothing to describe to you the details of the feast. Needless to say, it was good and I have yet to enjoy as much the combination of Onions and Tomatoes. I remember it romantically blurry, the way I remember most things from that part of my life. And now I find myself with a three year old that won't eat food. She'll eat lots of other things and I am afraid I see her rib cages more bare than before, but as most things in parenthood with your first child, I may be wrong. It may just be a little girl well on her way to being four.
When we were in Argentina for Christmas I wanted to find that little shop again. So I sent Ariel out in search of it while I readied the kids to go out into the city. Little delicatessen style shops are pretty common and my only specification was that I wanted something with green vegetables in it. Ariel came back unable to find the same shop, with a dwarf version of a tart made with Swiss chard. Argentines love Swiss chard. Probably because most of the year it's too hot to grow good spinach, which makes it more expensive. I hardly knew what chard WAS when I first visited Argentina, not exactly what one thinks of as typical South American Cuisine. But that is probably the one vegetable that Ariel asks for and misses. So I've started to grow the stuff, which is, lucky for me, quite easy. When my beets won't come up and my tomatoes won't ripen, I always have at least SOME Chard. It's taken me a while to figure it out. Mostly to figure out what to DO with it. When we were sitting again at a park in La Plata (different park) I had another epiphany. Mostly because as we sat there, I offered my daughter a peice of tart, thinking surely she would throw it on the ground and I would be ready to catch it in the event. But to my amazement, she devoured it. So I set myself in motion to figure out how to make that tart. We ate it at least every other day for the rest of our trip. And I am happy to say that I figured it out.  And my daughter eats it practically every time I make it. Today, my son ate three helpings. So here is the most simple most delicious savory tart that my children will eat. ( Did I mention it has green vegetables in it?)

Chard Tart:

Things you'll need:
1 onion
about 1 lb of Swiss chard, chopped (preferably fresh, but frozen will do)
1 garlic clove (minced)
olive oil
roughly 2 Tbsp flour, any kind
pan for sauteing
2 rounds of pastry shell, frozen pie crust or whatever you like to use for a crust(that isn't sweetened)
8 inch pie pan
2 tomatoes sliced (optional)
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese or other cheese (optional)

Preheat your oven sometime during this process to 400 or whatever your pastry dough instructions say. The filling won't be raw so it doesn't matter how it cooks.
Chop your onion finely and saute in olive oil slowly (medium low heat) until just BEFORE brown. sprinkle flour over top of onions and mix in with a wooden spoon until flour has absorbed the oil. There should be no dry flour, let it sit for a minute. Then add garlic (minced) an allow to cook momentarily before adding chard to pan. Allow the chard to wilt and mix thoroughly, sprinkle about 1/2 tsp nutmeg and about 1 tsp salt over the top and mix it in with a wooden spatula. Take greens mixture off of the heat and set aside. Roll your pastry shell and place in pie pan. pour filling into shell and place tomatoes evenly over top followed by cheese. Place 2nd pastry shell on top and roll closed. (You can also use a larger piece of pastry dough rolled out and simply fold excess over the top lightly.) My husband always prefers a little egg(or alot) brushed over the top of the dough before it is cooked. You can also add an egg into the filling if you cool it down first before putting it into the pie pan, however I don't. I Love this method with chard because it takes any bitterness or acidity out of the chard. It has a creamy texture instead of a springy/airy texture. That's why my kids love it too!
PS. The best thing I've learned about tarts is that they don't have to contain eggs.

Monday, March 21

Life: People. Places. Sounds. Words. Time.

  As we come across and over and through everything that life is, we all search, actively or passively, for what makes it worth it. Sometimes in our finding, we lose a little too. Lose a little of ourselves, lose a little of the ones we love.  Maybe it's a big chunk that breaks off and leaves the exposed flesh raw and burning. Or maybe we shake it off, scrub it off, say good riddance and walk away with no second thoughts. But I think more often, the pieces that we lose don't come down in a big splash, like a rock falling off a cliffside into a river. They fall away from us in the wind and in the rain. Not uncommon, and not altogether unpleasant.

Today I am reminded that the search is ongoing and though we do leave some pieces behind, very few things are ever lost. Today my life is a little brighter and the colours don't run so much, because I found one of my missing pieces. I found a friend that I had not forgotten, but had forgotten that I had. Just looking at a face and thinking of the sound of a voice reminds me that there are others like me. And when you're me, probably when you're you; it's easy to think that you're the only one.

Wednesday, March 2

This is a story about a boy and a girl.  One of them little and the other one littler. Both with quirky smiles, that come out once in a while. Usually I am the quiet giddy observer to the silent thoughts that creep across these soft round faces. Hardly ever on camera and even less with a clean face. Those things are overrated for a kid made to play. This is the famous head tilt, left eye lilt that makes me blush everyday.

This is Ada. She recently left the age of two but she hasn't gotten over the terribles yet. However, she is really wonderful at some things, like kisses on owies; she always remembers just where he gave them to you. Shes also marvelous at yelling 'wahooooo!!!' and shaking up a storm whenever there's a good beat. She's cool enough for cats (they're her favorite). Over the hill, over the edge...over anything, and under it too. Shes a mean green potty trained machine and she happens to have just had a Birthday Party.

Here she is, in her fancy white party dress. Everybody whose anybody who knows Ada knows there aint no party without opening presents. She's not so concerned with what's inside, just make sure the wrapping's something to touch, squish, throw over your head and wave around.

And of course, what would a party be without a birthday cake?