Friday, October 17, 2014

I dream of Tosi

Since Rob broke the oven over Columbus Day Weekend and it cannot be repaired until next week and the kids just finished the last of the Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bars, I had to come up with a solution to my inability to bake anything sweet for the next seven days.  I began to envision a blog post entitled, "No Oven, No Problem".  Then I went to the supermarket for some inspiration, searching for ingredients to make something "home baked" out of a bunch of store bought stuff.  I came up with a jazzed up version of the ever popular Rice Krispie Treat.
All summer I had been obsessed by the flavors in s'mores: graham cracker with gooey marshmallow and melted chocolate.  My fanaticism continues while I am reading for the second time, Christina Tosi's book about her bakery, "Momufuku Milk Bar".  While Christina is a trained pastry chef, her approach to baking and creating recipes is straight from her childhood favorites.  Her memories of Jello Cheesecake and the milk leftover at the bottom of the bowl after finishing her Fruity Pebbles flavor her baking.  She has ingenious "mother" recipes that morph into a myriad of many more only limited by her imagination.  One of her inventions is the "crumb" which she combines with cakes, cookies and ice cream to make them even more magical.  The graham crumb caught my eye, of course considering this past summer. The chocolate addition would have happened anyway as one of my favorite ways of decorating a cookie or brownie is to melt chocolate and using the famous artist, Jackson Pollack's style of painting, I "Pollack" them with melted goodness.  The following recipe is the type of thing that happens when one falls asleep while reading Christina Tosi's take on desserts combined with childhood memories.

 Rice Krispie "Tosi" Treats
(makes 24 squares)

 2 tablespoons butter
10 oz bag mini marshmallows
6 cups Kellogg's Rice Krispies
4 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 teaspoons Crisco

Make the Graham Crust and allow to cool. Crumble crust into small crumbs.
Heat the butter and marshmallows in a large pot on low until melted.  Add the Rice Krispies and stir to coat.  Spray a 9x13x2 inch pan.  Using a sprayed spatula, press mixture into pan.  Cool treats.  Flip treats onto a cutting board and cut into 24 square pieces.
Place squares slightly apart on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  
Melt chocolate and Crisco together in a microwave safe bowl on high using 20 second increments. 
Pollack the Rice Krispie  squares with the chocolate and quickly sprinkle the wet chocolate with Graham Crust crumbs.  Pollack on top of the crumbs again, if desired.  Allow chocolate to harden overnight.  Place squares in an airtight container for up to 5 days.  (If they last that long.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Sometimes I just don't feel like cooking.  But I want something delicious and satisfying to eat without leaving my house to go and get something that someone else cooked or baked.  Lazy.  There are also other mouths to feed.  My kids get home from school asking for a snack.  While their mouths are still full, they question, "What's for dinner?"  Don't they know I'm tired and I have no idea what the heck I am going to put on the table?  Monsters.
Sometime around the end of June, I began to crave s'mores.  Not that s'mores are difficult to make but they don't keep or travel well.  What to do if there is no open flame available to toast the marshmallows at a moment's notice?  I researched s'mores bars on the internet.  Thanks to sites like Pinterest, Food Network, and good ol' google, I was able to come up with some starter recipes.  But they were all a bit too involved.  By involved, I mean there was measuring required.  I didn't want to measure at all.  I wanted something easier than that.  Oh, and I didn't want to dirty any bowls and barely any utensils.  Too lazy to wash dishes. I managed to come up with a version of my own that is a blend of Val's Magic Cookie Bars and a few of the s'mores recipes I found.  It's crazy easy and quite addictive.  Just let the bars sit overnight after taking them out of the oven so that they stay intact when cut.  Or, don't wait and eat the gooey fabulousness while they are hot.  But you may need a plate and a fork which defeats the purpose of not washing anything extra.

S'Mores Bars
(makes 16 bars)

 1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 package graham crackers (4-5 oz)
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk (7  oz)
1/2 bag semisweet chocolate chips (6 0z)
1/2 bag mini marshmallows (5-6 oz)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place butter in an 8x8 baking dish and put baking dish in oven to melt butter.  Meanwhile, leave the graham crackers in their packaging and use a meat tenderizer or rolling pin to smash them into crumbs.  (Be careful not to break open packaging during this process as it will create a mess!).  Once butter has melted, remove baking dish from oven.  Using a fork,stir smashed graham crackers into butter. Press graham/butter mixture to create an even layer.  Open sweetened condensed milk and drizzle half of its contents in an even layer over the graham/butter mixture.  Evenly pour chocolate chips over condensed milk then top chocolate chips with an even layer of mini marshmallows.  Place baking dish back into oven and bake for 25 to 35 minutes until marshmallows are puffed up and lightly browned.  Remove bars from oven and allow to cool for at least 25 minutes but best to cool overnight before using a sharp knife to slice into 16 pieces.  These transport well to the beach and are delightful when kept chilled in a cooler!!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans."

Wednesday was Rob's birthday.  In spite of our family's crazy hectic schedule, I planned a dinner that is a little fancy and a little rustic at the same time but all of it needs to be gobbled up by 5:15pm since Declan and Rob are headed to soccer practice at 5:30pm.  On the menu:  Roasted chicken a la Mario Batali, Crispy Buffalo Potatoes, chunky blue cheese dressing with fresh cucumber spears, Parker House Rolls, and for dessert, Goo Goo Pie Parfaits.(Let's just say that I got a little inspired by the October 2014 issue of Food and Wine Magazine.)
 I created a timeline, I planned it all out.  I even had Rob open his gifts in the morning before heading off to work so that wouldn't hold up the meal.  I'm sure you know what's coming next:  It did not exactly work out as I planned.
While I was out purchasing some dry rubbed sage for the baked chicken, my cell phone rang.  Rob.  Hmm.
"Hi. It's me.  You're not going to believe this.  I got half way to Boston and they called to tell me that the meeting is tomorrow.  Not today.  I'm planning on stopping at the office and coming home early."
My mental response: "AAAAAH!!!"
My actual response:  "Well, you will have to find something to do.  I have a very busy afternoon planned!"
Probably not the nicest thing to say on someone's birthday.  But dammit!  I was preparing a special meal for him!!!
Once I calmed down from that news and I arrived home from my sage purchasing, I started on the dough for the Parker House rolls and attended to other tasks.  I finally had a few minutes to relax and my cell phone rang again.  This time it was work.
"Hi Andrea.  We have a little problem, well when don't we have a problem?  I have an issue with my sinus  it feels like my face is paralyzed.  I thought I could make it until Oct 9th when I have an appointment but I think I need to go to the emergency room.  Do you think you can close the store tonight?"
My mental response:  "F'ing Seriously?!!!"
My actual response: "Listen, it's Rob's birthday so if you can get someone else to come in, that would be great. Go to the emergency room NOW.  Let me know what they say.  If I have to, I'll close the store since the boys have soccer practice tonight, anyway."
My boss isn't a tyrant and she was doing all she could to be sure I didn't have to close but there wasn't anyone else to do it.  I crossed my crossed my fingers that #1 her face isn't paralyzed and #2 I don't have to close the store, after all.
How does this happen?
As all of the turmoil was happening, I realized that the caramel component I made for the dessert(while doing to many other things at the same time) looked a little dark. I tasted it.  Bitter.  I tasted it, again.  Maybe it's supposed to be bitter.  I left it.  Then the kids got home from school.
"Ooooh! it smells good in here?  What is that?  Can I try some?"
I gave each child a little caramel on the tip of a spoon. Declan's scrunched up face and and squinched eyes said it all. BITTER.  I had burned the caramel.  (insert sad face emoticon here, hash tag, frustrated.)

I scooted the children off to begin their homework and threw the ingredients for a new caramel sauce into a pan and got to work again.  I checked the chicken which was now in the oven.  Did I mention that roast chicken is one of the things I have been trying to master for a while?  It's just not in my comfort zone, so of course, I chose to add this recipe to my list for today.  What the hell is my problem?!!
The next hour was a blur as I focused on the meal coming together. Chicken roasting, potatoes crisping up, rolls nice and golden, cucumbers sliced, blue cheese dip mixed and in the fridge, serving bowls and utensils out and ready to go, chocolate custard chilling and the second batch of caramel cooling on the counter.  I managed to get it all on the table by 4:45pm (30 minutes before the boys had to take off for soccer practice) in spite of the chicken juices dripping all over the butcher block and running off the other side all over the floor (needless to say, the dog was very happy!).  In the middle of it all, I received a text from my boss.  She was fine and sent back to work with a heavy dose of antibiotics. Val came over to lend a hand and add to the festive, yet hectic occasion.  I finally sat down and ate too many rolls slathered with butter, glad I pulled it all off.
Then I realized, I never took a photo of the chicken before it became merely a carcass and the buffalo fries were completely devoured.  However I did manage to photograph Declan's dessert by yanking it out of his hands after he took a few bites.  As for the rest, you'll just have to take my word, for it.
While writing this, I remember one last thing and perhaps the most important detail that I forgot: I never put a candle in Rob's dessert and we failed to sing "Happy Birthday" to him.  So much for a spectacular celebratory dinner.  At least I heard that the team of 8 year old boys serenaded Rob on the field before pummeling him with soccer balls.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It's so very French

I love the cooking show, "French Food at Home".  Watching it makes me feel sophisticated, chic and oh so in a word: French.  I am seduced by the simple recipes and how everything seems to go well with a glass of wine or even champagne.   The host of the show, Laura Calder explains how to elegantly present basic meals, small bites and desserts in her funny French Canadian accent.  The set is a quaint little cottage.  The show's image is that of an effortless chic I can only dream about.
Because I still have lots of tomatoes to devour before the fruit flies get to them first, I made two recipes that would surely win a spot on my new favorite guilty pleasure list.  The first from Peter Rabbit's Natural Foods Cookbook.  Yes, the very one that Val gave to me when I was about 9 years old.  Duchess and Ribby's Tomato and Cheese Pie (the cat and dog from their starring roles in "The Pie and the Patty Pan" by Beatrix Potter)  is quintessentially English but I think would translate well to an afternoon picnic in Provence especially if served with a slightly chilled Beaujolais Nouveau .

The second from the cook book of my dreams: "Tartine" by Chad Robertson. This recipe for Tomatoes Provencal would go nicely at the picnic as well for obvious reasons.

Since I am on Cape Cod instead of in the south of France, I'm determined to make the best of it. A leisurely lunch on my deck overlooking my wild and woolly garden I have decided is better than being to far away from home, anyway.

Duchess and Ribby's Tomato Cheese Pie
(serves 6)

4 slices stale bread
2 medium tomatoes
one handful of fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
3 dashes hot sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a pie plate or 8x8 baking pan.
Tear the bread into small pieces and place them in pan.  Slice the tomatoes into small pieces and arrange them over the bread.  Tear the basil into small pieces and arrange over the tomatoes.  Sprinkle the cheese over the basil.  Beat the egg and combine with the milk, salt, pepper and hot sauce.  Pour mixture evenly over the cheese.  Place pan on a rimmed baking sheet and put into the oven to bake for 35-40 minutes until browned and bubbly.  Remove from oven and cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tomatoes Provencal adapted from "Tartine" by Chad Robertson
(Serves 4 to 6)

4 medium-large ripe tomatoes, or use whatever size you have
olive oil
for bread crumbs:
2 slices day old bread
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Slice tomatoes crosswise and arrange on a baking sheet, cut side up.  Spoon olive oil ( I use a squeeze bottle) onto each tomato half and season with salt.  Bake until the tops start to slightly carmelize, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make bread crumbs.  Place the  bread in a food processor and pulse to fine crumbs. Add the herbs, lemon zest, Parmesan and olive oil and pulse to combine.

Remove tomatoes from oven and spoon bread crumb mixture onto the tomato halves.  Bake until the crumbs are toasted and browned, about 15 minutes.  Serve warm.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tomato Pie Revision or How to Eat a Bumper Crop

The tomatoes are ridiculously abundant in Val's garden this year.  I have been picking them like crazy and insisting that friends take them. (I'm not sure how much longer they will remain friends with me at this point as they are all likely sick of my pushing fresh tomatoes on them.) Believe it or not, I am getting a bit tired of "The Most Amazing Tomato Sandwich...EVER!"  I can only serve cherry tomatoes to the one child of mine who will actually eat them, so many nights at dinner.  I have begun to look through cook books to see what can be made with the delightful fruit.  I know I will mourn its passing once October rolls around.  Until then, I am on a quest to use it as many ways as possible to enjoy the @#$% out of what is here now.
There is a delicious looking recipe in Tartine by Chad Robertson for "Tomatoes Provencal".  I'm sure I will be trying that one out in some fashion to use up the multiple bags of cherry tomatoes I continue to harvest almost daily. But today I don't have any fresh breadcrumbs readily available and the toasting then the dirtying of the food processor has me in a snit. I'm looking for something just as satisfying with less demanding clean- up.
One of the entries in the September chapter of the VCCK cook book named "Summer Harvest" is "Tomato Pie with Herbed Whole Wheat Crust".  I really want to eat it for dinner tonight but I am also too tired to make the pie crust.  Here is a version with puffed pastry for those of you who are as lazy as I am. 

 Tomato and Cheddar Tarte
(serves 6 or more)

approx 3 tablespoons flour for rolling out dough
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg and water for egg wash
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
6 medium sized fresh tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Dust work surface with flour and roll out puff pastry .  Transfer pastry to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment.  Brush with egg wash.  Fold in all sides of the pastry about 1/2" and press down with tines of a fork.  Brush the folded edges with egg wash.  Prick entire surface of puff pastry with a fork to create air holes.  Bake pastry for approximately 10 minutes to par cook the dough.
Meanwhile, grate the cheese and slice the tomatoes. Combine nutmeg through pepper in a small dish.  Set aside.
Remove pastry from oven.  Cover inside edges of pastry with cheese and top with tomato slices.  Sprinkle with herb mixture.  Drizzle olive oil over the dried herbs to moisten.  Place tarte in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until edges are golden brown and tomatoes and cheese are bubbling.  Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes.  Remove tarte from pan to cutting board.  Cut into squares and serve warm.

If you a lucky there will be leftovers to reheat in your toaster oven for a snack or for a delicious breakfast rounded out with scrambled eggs.  If you are like me, someone else in your house already had this idea before you got up the next morning. That someone ate the rest of the tomato tarte disregarding rule #1:  Leave all last servings of anything especially baked items for the cook/baker.  I'm about to write someone up for breaking the rules.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Don't Have The Recipe: Asian Chicken Stir Fry

 The kids went back to school today.  Declan already has Tae Kwan Do at 6:00pm tonight so that throws a wrench into our dinner time.  I need to make something that is easy and fast.  Thankfully, I have time to prep it before the kids get out of school but this one can be done even if you don't have extra time.  It's based on one of Val's go to dishes: "Chinese" Chicken Stir Fry.  "Chinese" because in 1970's white America, everything Asian was dubbed "Chinese".  We didn't know anything about all of the Asian cuisines that we now consider normal fare in this country.  But this recipe is different.  Why?  Because I gave Val back her recipe file and I didn't put the "Chinese" Stir Fry in the cook book.  So, I don't know the exact ingredients.  I kind of remember most of them, though. The sauce is part from memory and a few of my own additions.  (We didn't have fish sauce readily available in our local supermarket back then, either.  Not to mention that Val hates the taste of cilantro.)  By the way, I am NOT making an Asian inspired dish to go with tonight's activity.

Chicken Stir Fry
(Serves 6)

1 1/2 cups rice
1 3/4 lb chicken breast (about 3)
3 cups chopped to 1" pieces (i.e. broccoli, green beans, peppers, onions, mushrooms)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce (i.e. Siracha)
zest and juice from 1 lime
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon dried ginger
2 teaspoons corn starch
vegetable oil for cooking
1 handful fresh cilantro, optional

Prepare rice according to package directions.
While rice is cooking, cut the chicken into 1" cubes, season with salt and pepper and set aside.  Chop vegetables.  Mix sauce by combining soy sauce through ginger.  Stir in cornstarch to dissolve.  
Heat a wok or cast iron skillet on high.  Add cooking oil.  Once oil is hot, add chicken and cook until outsides are just done.  Remove chicken to a plate.  Add more oil if needed.  Add  vegetables until just cooked.  Add chicken back to pan.  Mix sauce to incorporate corn starch as it often settles to the bottom.  Immediately add to chicken and vegetables, stirring to keep from over cooking.  Cover for 1-2 minutes until sauce is thickened and chicken is cooked through.  Serve over rice.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Unintentional Gardening

I made big plans.  I worked the compost into the soil.  I mulched.  I planted seeds in neat rows.  And it all seemed to be working out.  In late May there was tender, green lettuce. 

June brought sugar snap peas, I trained the vines to grow up the chain link fence of the dog pen.  In spite of an unknown pest, the beans grew and I began to harvest them in July.  As expected, weeds and uninvited plants began to pop up here and there.  But I was able to stay on top of them by yanking them out and adding them to the mulch between rows. By midsummer, my garden was growing, producing and looking neat and cute in the back yard.

Then August came and hell broke loose. It seemed that overnight, volunteers overtook every available walking space I had made between the rows.  Suddenly, there were a few too many tomato plants.  Where did they come from?  Must be the compost that I used to enrich the soil. I was far too lenient by allowing (only) two "squash" vines to meander instead of pulling them out and throwing them in the compost pile.  I felt bad about ruining perfectly good plants even if I hadn't intended to plant them.  Perhaps "hell" isn't exactly the best way to describe a flowering, flourishing garden, is it?

I could make an attempt to clean up the madness.  I could pull out the bolted lettuce, get a handle on some the of the weeds that rival my tallest tomato plants.  And what I really should do is redo the perennial flower garden that provides a border along the house.  That Montauk daisy is out of control. But I don't want to do any of it.  I like it when the garden is a bit unruly, doing its own thing, growing and not caring if it fits inside my little make shift fence, or not.

I began to feel better about my lax rules in the garden when I saw that the two monster vines that are now beginning to overtake our entire yard have a few butternut squash growing from each one.  At least they are showing me that they are grateful for my generosity of spirit by producing something for me to eat.  As for the tomato volunteers, they all have tiny green orbs in clusters of six to eight that promise to turn red anytime in the next week, or so.  I can no longer access the bean plants as the monster squash vine has wound itself into a barricade.  It's o.k. I think the beans got tired and stopped growing anyway.  I've come to realize that it's best to plant the intention then let the garden do the rest.  And if that means there will be butternut squash soup, so much the better.

The Most Amazing Tomato Sandwich...EVER!

I'm all for tradition.  Hellman's slathered all over two slices of soft white bread, piled high with garden ripened tomatoes, that makes a pretty darn good sandwich.  But last summer I came across something that makes freshly picked tomatoes even better. I found a version of this recipe in Bon Appetit (July 2011). The page was torn out and shoved in one of my many folders full of recipes to try.  Only I actually had drawn a star above the recipe for "Chicken Breasts with Tomato-Herb Pan Sauce".  Perhaps I tried it, liked it and filed this page away.  I don't recall.  I actually adapted this recipe for "Basil Rouille" from the recipe for a Bouillabaisse that occupies the same page as the chicken dish.  I never tried the Bouillabaisse. I don't plan on it.
Anyway, back to the "Rouille".  It adds the perfect amount of salti-umaniness to slices of fresh tomato.  It also allows me to utilize the basil "bushes" that Val miraculously grows in her garden.  Seriously, these plants are huge and someone has to take advantage of the abundant harvest. But the uses for this delectable spread don't stop at tomato sandwiches: it makes BLT's even more delicious, dollop it on salads, grilled vegetables or serve it as a dip. I can't get enough of it so I keep a batch on hand at all times for tomato harvest.  And I always lick the spoon.

Basil Rouille
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy butter
zest from 1/2 lemon
juice from 1/2 lemon
Mince garlic cloves and transfer to blender.  Add basil and olive oil.  Puree, stopping to scrape down sides, if needed.  Add mayonnaise, anchovy butter, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Puree until combined.  Store in refrigerator for up to one week.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Are you there Mom? It's me, Andrea.

A wave of nostalgia hit me while I was in Barnes & Noble helping Ava pick out some books. As we browsed the shelves in the young adult section, there it was. The cover looks different now, updated, sleek font on a stark white background replacing the old "seventies" style pen and ink drawing of a sad girl looking over her shoulder, yellow black and purple. The outward appearance tweaked to appeal to kids of Ava's generation, but the contents inside unchanged.  Judy Blume's coming of age books that revealed the secrets no kid wants to tell got me through the "tween" years that Ava is just embarking on.  "Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret", "Blubber", "Then again, maybe I won't".  I can visualize all the cover art and remember the feelings I had when reading the worn paperbacks over and over again. After swimming in the pond near a friend's house, laying in my bed at night turning the printed pages, smelling the ink. Wishing I were not so chubby, that I had better hair, that I fit in, uncomfortable in my own skin.

I've been having lots of flashbacks, lately. I went to parent night at Morse Pond School (the middle school for 5th and 6th graders) last week.  I was awkward in fourth grade but it all came to a head in fifth, my first year at Morse Pond.  Mixed in with all the other former fourth graders from the three elementary schools across town, in a classroom with no real friends, cast aside by the group of popular girls.  I was on the fringe.  My "friend" (let's call her Jane) was in the popular clique.  During the years between the ages when we were four to ten years old, our mothers created "play dates" for us on Saturdays. Most of the time I went to her house, her mother thinking I would keep her out of trouble.  Instead, "Jane" bullied me into submission and tortured me to be silent and go along with her mischief. Once we arrived at Morse Pond, "Jane" knew that associating with me would mean her social death, so she ditched me.  And she was mean.  And I was fat and so totally uncool. I especially hated recess, the playground. A social free for all. That's when it's apparent that you have no one to hang out with. Could it have really been that bad? I must have had a few friends. It's hard to remember when you have spent most of your life blocking it out.

I look at Ava every day and I am thankful for her that she is beautiful, athletic, graceful.  She has friends and likes recess.  After lunch, she plays soccer and kickball.  No one ever wanted me to be on their team.  The boys would audibly groan when they got stuck with me. Most of the girls didn't care about winning. But I am also happy that Ava doesn't seem to hang out with those kids who intentionally exclude others.  I know who they are.  I observe them. I see them when I volunteer at school, while they walk down the hall. I am watching when they think no one is looking.  I hope Ava stays away from them and continues to be the oblivious, happy, kind child I know she is. But these are my issues, I hope they will never be hers.

Ava reads as much as I did. She brings books everywhere, reads them in the car.  Back then, my favorite time to read was after a summer day spent on the beach, laying on my bed, my clean, wet hair making a damp spot on my pillow. Ava does this, too.  I like to think she has all and only the best parts of me.  I wonder what she will think of "Margaret" and Judy Blume.  Ava is more open with me than I was as a child at her age with Val. There are times I can sense when she doesn't want me to go to far, to push.  I pull back and create some space for her privacy and secretly cross my fingers that she will confide in me when she needs to. For Val, it was like pulling teeth to get me to divulge any embarrassing and sad details from my daily life at school.  My fifth grade self could never believe that she may have ever felt that way. To rehash the days events made it even more painful, burying it deep and trying to forget, praying I would wake up the next morning to be a different person with cooler clothes was a better solution in my eleven year old mind. I'm sure Val knew this. But how can a mother make it all better?  At least when I got off the bus everyday, I could count on her being there. I could count on the square Tupperware container filled with chocolate chip cookies or some fresh brownies still in the pan.  I could count on that one moment when I didn't have to worry if I was good enough, cool enough, or that I was wearing hand-me-downs instead of a new pair of Levi's cords and an Izod shirt.   Perhaps the chocolate chip cookies and tall glass of milk added to my baby fat.  That would probably be a concern for parents now, the ones that don't see the importance or what the whole thing represented to me. I still believe that a homemade cookie after school and the few uninterrupted minutes shared before homework, Girl Scouts, dance lessons, soccer practice, etc. can make everything all better at least for that moment. I think Ava does, too.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

See Me

I'm actually a list person. I make lists mostly of things I need to do.  Sometimes I number the entries and list them in order of importance, especially if I feel that I have limited time  to accomplish the tasks (which is most of the time). I triage what takes precedence like paying that pesky electric bill before the lights get turned off and baking cookies for a school party tomorrow that my daughter just now told me about.

Val has always had a list. She writes them on small white scratch pads, the kind you purchase in a pack of six at the grocery store. Hers are very neat and are made of up of just a few one word entries like "manure" and "dust". They are written in her meticulous handwriting, using a fine point Bic pen in either black or blue. I write mine on any scrap that is lying around. I often resort to using one of the kids' dull pencils.  There are cross outs and descriptions with my entries.  Sometimes, I can't read my own handwriting.

Every Saturday morning and some days after school, there was a list by the phone for each one of us kids.  (Although Ethan's always had b.s chores like, "rest" and "eat".  Every Saturday he had a hockey game or practice not to mention he was completely unreliable when it came to real jobs like vacuuming. But he got what was coming when he became a teenager and his job was to de-tick the dog every night after our beloved "Spock" spent the day running through the woods in the backyard.) There were separate lists for each of us each labeled with the first letter of our name. For instance, mine began with an underlined capital "A" , below that she wrote things like "pick raspberries" and "sweep porch".  Sometimes she needed to elaborate or show us how to do a new task. To indicate this, Val added "-see me" after the entry.  The dreaded "see me".  This meant we had to endure a lecture of sorts.  Something as benign as "bathroom- see me" became a dissertation on wiping the toothpaste out of the sink and a demonstration of the proper way to hang a  wet towel after bathing. We hated "see me".  It always meant dragging out the process of doing chores and possibly missing the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour.

I don't add that loaded phrase to my to-do list. I don't want anyone to interrupt me while I'm paying the bills or writing a blog entry but I do make a separate entry for Rob, labeled with his name, underlined.  Instead, I insist on explaining every entry before he begins which I am sure is annoying in its own way.  He puts up with it.  Probably because he can now record his favorite show to watch later instead of missing it and I must admit that I am quite generous for allowing him to fold the laundry while watching the Red Sox game.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring Assessment

I finally raked off the flower beds on the side of the house where I drive in and park the car. These are the ones that I see everyday, so they needed to be addressed first so that the thought of not getting to it wouldn't drive me crazy. Tonight, Stella and I were able to inventory and assess the rest of the yard on the other side of the house.
I put on some sweat pants, an old inside out sweatshirt and rubber boots. After pouring myself a generous glass of red wine and dumping a handful of Cape Cod Potato Chips (Sea Salt and Black Pepper) into a bowl, and setting it on the deck, we set out to survey the little patch of land at 33 Hampden Road, me with glass in hand and Stella with her favorite "baby" a stuffed hedgehog, encrusted in drool.
Lots of raking is left to do along the white picket fence with the paint peeling off (another project, yet to be addressed) and the grass needs some major TLC.  The compost area demands a complete overhaul.  I don't know what has been digging underneath, (perhaps the culprit is Stella?  I wouldn't be surprised.), and there are old toys, broken wiffle balls and a variety of candy wrappers and popsicle sticks that have revealed themselves before the hostas and other greenery flourish and hide them again. (Thanks, kids!) Well, Hallelujah!  The day lillies seem to have popped up overnight!  Daffodils against the front of the house are just about ready to bloom, which can only mean that I need to get my @$$ in gear and get ready to amend, plant, water and mulch until I can't stand up again.
I checked my gardening diary.  (How else am I going to remember what happened, what I did, last year?  I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night!)  On April 7, 2013 Rob had already rototilled the vegetable garden plot and I planted Ava's lettuce seedlings (a project from a Girl Scout meeting a few weeks before).  By April 13, I was planting radishes and spinach.  O.K. I guess based on my progress from last year, I shouldn't panic, yet but I still feel like there is so much to do before Mother Nature decides it's time for the lettuce come up!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Ready for Spring

The first thing to do is, rake.  I wanted to pull all the dead leaves off the sprouting crocuses and already blooming snowdrops that were peeking through, desperately looking for some sun but I knew I had to wait a bit longer. March is such a tease around here.  And wouldn't you know it.  Snow and hurricane force winds arrived on March 26th.  They even cancelled school the night before in anticipation of this one.  It's a good thing I held off I thought, as the kids and I hunkered down for what we all hoped was the last snow day of the year.  Even though Ava and Declan are still in elementary school and excited about a day off from school, even they are sick of the snow. Ready for baseball and dreaming of jumping off the raft at Megansett beach....well at least it will melt quickly at this time of year.
So, when I finally got out there to rake, I wasn't at all crabby about it, which can be my nature at times. (It's shocking that I can have that attitude, I know, but there you have it.) I was actually excited!  Excited to get going, get planting.  Suddenly, there are so many things to do.  Rototilling the small patch for the vegetable garden, turning the compost, preparing the seeds and I'm already behind.  I've got to get some pansies for the steps by the mind drifts to thoughts of summertime when I'll suddenly stop and wonder,
"Where did Spring go?"

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Odd Things in Freezers

My freezer is a jumbled mess.  Half opened bags of frozen fruit, a random assortment of leftovers once thought worthy to occupy space to be eaten later at some point ( I don't know when and they inevitably get thrown out by me, the person who froze them in the first place during a mad purging spree.), 2 hotdogs in a ziploc bag and other essentials such as coffee and ice cubes for cocktails, it's all in there.  I also have trash in my freezer.  This idea I stole from my mother, Val.  Meat wrappers that would otherwise end up all over the yard before trash day, chewed to bits by neighborhood dogs and raccoons are now safely hidden away and smell free while cluttering up the freezer and camouflaging the ice cream.  But all this seems normal to me.

Other people have their own ideas of "normal" freezer etiquette.  My father allows his friends to put anything they see fit into his own freezer located in my parent's barn.  "It's a good thing you haven't gone into the freezer."  he said to me one day in an off handed kind of way. I was puzzled that he would bring such a thing up and why would I need to open the freezer in the barn?  "Billy's mink is in there."  

Obviously, he wanted me to ask why Billy's mink was in his possession. To humor him, I bit. It seems during the winter months, minks are illegal to hunt, only muskrats are fair game.  Billy did not want to get caught with the contraband that accidentally ended up in his trap but it was far to prized a pelt to cast aside. My father being a good friend and always up for a bit of mischief and minor crimes, assisted him by offering space in the freezer at 540 Old Meeting House Road until early spring when the minks are legally up for grabs, again. I have no doubt that the frozen stiff animal lay aside exposed ice cubes and popsicles that will be offered to my children in the warmer months.  Gross.

Believe it or not, frozen animals stashed in home freezers for purposes rather than eating, is not new to me.  In college, I had a dorm mate who kept her cadaver feral cat in the common room freezer between study sessions in which she had to identify various muscle, ligaments, etc on its skinned corpse.  But I still don't understand why she was studying what looked to me to be a common house cat. She graduated with a degree in physical therapy.  For humans.

To be honest, I have experienced bizarre items for human consumption in Val's well kept freezer.  Back when we only had one freezer in the house, a brick red Frigidaire to match the stove and dishwasher, there seemed to be lots of items brought home by my father and stashed away neatly by Val.  Along with the Hood harlequin ice cream ( my sister Karyn and I always requested only chocolate as this was the first flavor to go and she always responded that the store didn't have any.  I swear to this day, that she did this because my younger brother, the "Crowned Prince" never liked chocolate anything.  Well, he didn't really like ice cream either, being undiagnosed lactose intolerant so the vanilla and strawberry would sit and crystallize until someone gave in and ate it or it got thrown out.) there were often stuffed quahogs and the occasional blue fish filet which may seem exotic to families who live elsewhere in the country however are normal meal ingredients here on Cape Cod. But by far the worst to topple out and land on my foot had to have been the headless eels.  Their black bodies were coiled up and tied securely in a clear baggie. My father fished them by plunging 5 pronged spears through the winter ice.  I don't know what was more traumatic, seeing the frozen snake like creature ( I admit to being afraid of snakes.) or knowing at some point that Val would be chopping it into 2 inch pieces, breading and frying it up for dinner to be served along side mashed potatoes and green beans. Even now, I can envision my father devouring this meal holding the breaded fish as corn on the cob and cleaning the spiny bone of all the flaky white flesh with his teeth as all three of us children ( and I think Val did, too although she hid it well) looked on in disgust.

When I think about it, a freezer is like any other "closet" in a house, revealing clues about lifestyle and personal stories. Just as a pair of muddy boots tells of toiling in the garden or a little black dress holds memories of cocktail parties, weddings and New Year's Eve toasts. There's probably fodder for a therapy session in my messy freezer: my life is chaotic and I feel often that it's out of control. But I'm not going to focus on that right now.  Instead I'll choose to savor the homemade mint ice cream I made for my son (his favorite flavor) and unearth those few hot dogs for dinner tonight.