Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fall Food Swap report: I score!

I score MAPLE, that is. When Laura told me my partner was from her state of Vermont, I immediately thought "Awesome. Maybe she will send me a bunch of maple stuff!" But I didn't want to get my hopes up too high because maybe I would open up my box and find a bunch of . . . I don't know . . . what else do they eat in Vermont anyway??

I was excited just to open my box because Stacia had wrapped everything up individually, so Sophie and I had a good time unwrapping all our little preezies.

And we were not disappointed! Maple in all forms!! 

This cookie cutter has a recipe for maple frosting that sounds amazing. I'll let you know when I try it. 

I've got two kinds of maple candy. The ones in cellophane are hard and last about half an hour. I tried to make the other kind once. It did not go well. There's a reason people buy them. Unfortunately, these do not last a half an hour.

And who knew this even existed? Maple cotton candy! It looks like my mother-in-law's hair but tastes like maple syrup. Sophie and I are beside ourselves with it. 

I also received some tea, which Sophie has designs on since she is now allowed to use the stove to make herself tea after school if an adult is in the house. 

I also have some Maple Apple Chutney. That should be good on roast pork, don't you think? Or maybe just with a spoon. As in over the sink.

And for a woman who says she does not scrap book, I thought this wrapping was pretty fancy.

Inside was a book she thought I would like given that my profile that includes "pie baker." Sounds good, and I've added it the nightstand stack!

And finally, Stacia proves that not everything good for fall need be edible.  Look at this beautiful necklace and earrings she made! Check out her Etsy shop Meadowbrook Designs for more of this gorgeous stuff.

And finally finally (I know this state exists because a certain person in my office will say "No, I don't mean the final deadline. When is the final final deadline?" which is her way of asking for the deadline for super special people like herself), something for Sophie, who up to now sort of thought most of this was for her too but was really excited and surprised to see that something really was for just her.

This is a typically lousy picture of a beautiful necklace made from sea glass.

Sophie LOVES it and has not taken if off since opening it. 

Thank you to my wonderful swap partner for a wonderful box full of goodies. If you think participating in a swap sounds like fun, keep an eye on Laura's blog. She'll be hosting another one soon.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

If you were my partner

. . . my Fall Foodie Swap partner, that is, you would soon be receiving a tasty little package.

Laura over at Cookie Crumbs—the blog documenting her excellent life, cookie business, and bakery in Vermont—hosted this swap. The deal is you swap and then post, but since my partner does not have a blog, I'll hold up both ends on this one, posting what I send and what I get.

It was fun to be paired with someone from Vermont and try to put together a package with the theme California Fall, demonstrating to someone who might be sceptical that we do indeed have a fall. 

My partner and I emailed back and forth a bit to get acquainted, and I discovered that she does not ski, drink wine (how is that possible??), or cook fancy stuff. But lest you think we not have anything in common, imagine my delight when she revealed as a disclaimer to the package she would wrap up for me that SHE DOES NOT SCRAPBOOK. Whoohoo! I wanted to give her a big high-five across the country. Not that there's anything wrong with scrapbooking (a funny friend of mine calls it crapbooking)—the finished products often being nothing short of astonishing—but I just don't. Have not and will not. When I am dead, my daughter will probably be left with a shoebox of photos (before the digital camera) and a few CDs (after the digital camera). My partner and I are also both editors and love our cats and cupcakes. She lives out in the boondocks, and I wish I did.

So there. Let's get this show on the road.

I couldn't find any decent paper to line the box, and so I took some recycled craft paper and hit it with a few stamps. This does NOT qualify as scrapbooking, especially since the way I do it, things not lining up and the stamp not being completely inked are part of the look (heh heh—yeah, right).

I included small a Talavera ceramic bowl because to me nothing says California as much as Mexico. Trust me on this: When I lived in the Boston area in the early 80s, I would practically break down in tears at the sight of a tortilla chip (different from a Dorito, although in Boston at that time only people from California understood this).

I then typed up a little list explaining my rationale behind the contents of the box. I'll spare you, but in addition to the bowl I included a fall-colored dish towel, black flaked salt, spiced fig jam, roasted pumpkin seeds, kalamata olives, and a few branches of rosemary from my yard.

Here we are packed and ready to go. Laura says I have to put this in the mail today, and I can play by the rules when there's a reason (like Laura says so).

My partner says she put her box to me in the mail today too. Post of that coming up as soon as it arrives. 

Aren't swaps fun?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ask and tell

Sophie attends a small K–8 school, where the children have a lot of interaction across grades. There are lots of ups to this: It's more like a family, the big kids look out for the little ones and are socialized to set an example, the little kids look up to the big ones and enjoy seeing what's in store for them as they move toward bigness.

But, on the other hand, there's influence you would rather be delayed just a bit.

Sophie leaned over at dinner last night and asked if I would stay with her a little later that night when I tucked her in. There was something that happened at school that she wanted to talk to me about in private. Fine, I said, thinking this would be something about what girl said what to whom, who has a crush on whom but realizing this sounded a bit more serious.

Which is was.

"Mama, when he was doing his school job picking up trash [Sophie thankfully works in the kitchen] one of the middle school boys found a little square foil wrapper, and the older kids were making the biggest deal about it. They wouldn't tell us what it was, but they said we would find out later in sex ed."

Little. Square. Foil. Wrapper.

Right. So with flashbacks of a middle school teacher putting a condom on a cucumber while we blushed, cracked up, and tried to divert attention from such an embarrassing spectacle by lobbing spit wads across the room, I stumbled on to the most sanitized explanation I could muster.

The seed. The egg. Stopping the seed so there would be no baby. Why do the sex thing then? Well, um, because . . . it's fun. Usually. The recreational aspect had obviously never occurred to her.

Moving right along—next question! "I don't mind if you do not want to answer this, but after you and Daddy had me, did you ever, you know, have sex?" We did. "And you still . . . do?" We do [I could imagine Husband adding "Not nearly often enough!"]. "In your bed, right?" Yes, usually. [She had asked about location once as she was lying in bed beside me one morning, and the look of horror on her face was priceless.]

And finally, a few words from our sponsor: "This is not something you need to blab all over school because some other parents might have different ideas about when their kids should know what. And if I hear you have blabbed, I will never explain anything to you again. [Of course she doesn't believe that.] Besides, if parents think that you are the source of all this fascinating information, you will never be invited over for another play date again. Ever."

I mean, crap. What was I supposed to do?? "Haha. Good question, but I'm not going to tell you. Go pester those middle school kids some more and get them to tell you. You're too young to hear it from me!"

Do you think those middle school kids know about blow jobs? I'm just not ready for that.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I like green

Most of the time.

I like green figs on the tree, but not this late in the season when I wonder if they will ever ripen before our Indian summer ends and cooler weather and the rains move in. These are Brown Turkeys, which will be amazing fall fare, if only . . .

Same with our tomatoes. You can't imagine how much water and care we have put into these. They've been sitting in the fog much of the summer. At least tomatoes can be fried and eaten green.

I like green better when it is where I want it.

Like in this Cucumber Gin and Tonic, yet another brilliant summer drink from my friend Trevor over at his blog. As if anything could be more refreshing on a hot Indian summer day.

I was wondering, though, what to do with the leftover cucumber juice.

How about a few green cubes?

Perfect in a glass of water when it's not quite cocktail time.

What do you think about pink cubes? I've got a bunch of watermelon. . . .

I hope you're enjoying crisp fall weather rather than the heat wave we have predicted for the next couple of days. I'll be ready with my cubes though.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

We want to know

Who does this to toy mice?

Who does this to dish towels?

But most of all, we want to know

Who stole Daddy's panties??

Husband gets up nearly every morning at the ass crack of dawn (these days in the dark) to go riding. He rides up hills that would take me all day and include stopping for a nap, a picnic, and the like. He kicks some serious ass, which is why in his fifties, he has a physique most twenty-somethings would envy. Point is the dude deserves a little respect, don't you think?

But, no.

The other morning, he returns from his ride, lays out his socks and underwear for the day on the bed, and gets in the shower. He returns to . . . nothing. Socks, gone. Underwear, gone. He wonders if he imagined laying them out. Further investigation reveals the underwear . . . clear on the other side of the house, under the dining room table. On its way to the kittens' lair, in the office where we make them sleep? That's what we're thinking.

But what we really want to know is

Who done it?

Here are the suspects:

She looks innocent enough,

but he has the look of a convicted felon. However, I don't think anyone should be fooled.

What do you think?

And the socks? Our house cleaner apparently found one of them and returned it to a dresser top. The other is still missing.

Yes, we're worried.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It's good to be ready

Husband and I rented the movie Julia the other night. While I find watching drunk destructive people unpleasant, watching Tilda Swinton, whom I always find elegant and sophisticated, transform herself into this mess on heels was a delight. 

She does it all. After mastering the cycle of drinking herself into oblivion, banging complete strangers, passing out, and waking to do it all again, she kicks it up a few notches to running someone over with her car, kidnapping, grand theft auto, eventually finding herself on the lam in Tijuana, running from and sometimes chasing Mexican kidnappers, shooting people, and almost getting shot.

All good stuff, except the heels. I cannot get them out of my mind. When you have shit this serious to deal with, do you think "Huh. I've really got myself in a dangerous mess. I'll put on my HIGH HEELS. All the better to run for my life in." This is exactly the reason after 9/11 I stopped wearing them on airplanes and urban areas, especially when I'm with my kid. You just never know when you'll need to take off running, perhaps carrying someone.

So, YES, the high heels added to Tilda Swinton's crazy hot mess look, but don't you think she would have been better off in some more SENSIBLE SHOES? I'm not talking about orthopedics here—how about these new ones I recently bought?
Comfy, cute, and super fast. Because my life is so exciting that you never know what will happen. 

Monday, September 14, 2009

You really should make this

Especially if you're beat at the end of the day, are the snack mom for tomorrow and need to bake mini zucchini muffins, and are making Caesar salad dressing and homemade croutons for the dinner before Back-to-School Night tomorrow. Because you deserve a tasty dinner!

Doesn't this look good?

And it's seriously easy. First, heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Slice open a boneless, skinless chicken breast. Fill with cheese—any kind of cheese. I used goat cheese here, but I've also used brie. Close up the breast and wrap in a few slices of prosciutto. No need to use the super expensive type for this dish—the Trader Joe's version (the Italian, not the German, which I think is way too salty) works fine.

Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in an ovenproof pan. My old cast iron work perfectly for this. Saute chicken for a few minutes, turn, and place pan in the oven to finish for about 20 minutes.

Slice, serve, eat and get on with everything else you have to do. At some point go to sleep.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Back to corn: Freezing and pudding

You know how it goes: You post something on your blog (corn soup), someone comments (freezing corn for corn pudding), you respond (two of my favorite words together: corn and pudding!), someone tosses a recipe your way (corn pudding! with basil!), you make it, and you have a new favorite. Well, that's how it went. Does blogging not seriously rock?

This corn pudding incorporates some of the best flavors of the season: fresh, sweet corn and basil. And it made a great accompaniment to my beer can roasted chicken the other night—a nice change from potatoes.

There it is posing with the chicken, some sauteed summer squash, and some braised fennel in parmesan and white wine. I'm also thinking it would make a great side dish for THANKSGIVING. Can you believe I'm thinking about it already?? I should get a life.

So how does corn pudding in November fit into eating seasonally? Through a big loop hole: I try not to BUY produce out of season (I explained once to Sophie that when fruit has to get on a plane in Chile and fly all the way here, it is more expensive and the trip adds more air pollution that when it takes a short truck ride), but that doesn't mean I can't EAT it out of season. So when produce is cheap and plentiful and I have time, I like to can and freeze.

Behold this dandy little device I bought recently.

As hard as I try, I can never get all the air squeezed out the bag when I'm packing for the freezer and worry that I am bruising the contents. This little guy sucks the air right out, minimizing the chance of freezer burn. And the price is right (about $3.50 on sale), although you'll have to buy their tricky little bags.

To prepare corn for freezing, I blanch the ears for about 30 seconds in boiling water and then cool them in an ice bath to stop the cooking.

I give them a good dry-off (you don't want ice crystals forming in the bag) and saw off the kernels.

Here is an adaptation of Ina Garten's recipe for corn pudding from the Food Network. I reduced the butter (you're welcome) and omitted the sugar (fresh corn is sweet enough). Next time I might try substituting half the ricotta with goat cheese. I'm always looking for an excuse to put goat cheese in recipes. This is a huge recipe, a perfect size for a large Thanksgiving dinner, but you may want to halve it for a regular meal.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 cups fresh corn kernels cut off the cob (6 to 8 ears)
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
4 extra-large eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (6 ounces) grated extra-sharp cheddar, plus extra to sprinkle on top

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the inside of an 8- to 10-cup baking dish.

Melt the butter in a very large saute pan and saute the corn and onion over medium-high heat for 4 minutes. Cool slightly.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, and half-and-half in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal and then the ricotta. Add the basil, sugar, and pepper. Add the cooked corn mixture and grated cheddar, and then pour into the baking dish. Sprinkle the top with more grated cheddar.

Place the dish in a larger pan and fill the pan 1/2 way up the sides of the dish with hot tap water. Bake the pudding for 40 to 45 minutes until the top begins to brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Laughter and critical thinking:
Both good things

The protest against Obama's address to school children leaves me practically speechless. Do these parents think their children are so stupid that listening to an alternative viewpoint might endanger their minds? We listened to as much Sarah Palin as we could get our hands on during the election, and Sophie is fine. Critical thinking is good for kids.

But read the speech, conservative parents. He's not campaigning or promoting policy. He's talking about working hard in school. Are they concerned that hearing something reasonable from a person they have taught their children to hate might make their children's heads explode? That's a little easier to understand. The fact that I am in agreement with Newt Gingrich is admittedly disconcerting. It makes my scalp itch, but I think I'm going to be ok.

But really. I would think the conservative would be happy. He's talking about responsibility—conservatives like responsibility, right?? I mean it's not like he's talking about compassion or anything dangerous like that.

But wait. This reenactment parody explains it all. 


Work hard, play hard, and think hard. And care lots. 

Friday, September 4, 2009

I call a time out for health care

Time out from chilled soups, seasonal produce, and my daughter's crazy outfits.

As a five-year cancer survivor, I've thought from time to time that I wouldn't wish something like I went through on my worst enemy. I can't even begin to explain how horrible it was to think that I could die and leave behind a four-year-old who might not even remember me years later. I remember thinking "Jeez—just give me enough time to launch her through adolescence, get her to an age where she will remember how insanely I love her and how badly I did not want to leave her." It was hell, in addition to all the tests, waiting, procedures, and recovery.

But lately I've been . . . um, sort of . . . wishing it on people. All sorts of people, even ones I do not even know. Even some I really like. But limited to people who oppose health care reform. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of these people are "haves." They have good health insurance, good educations, good jobs, and came from good families. No coincidence that these things often go together.

But let's start chipping away at some of that. Here's what I have planned. Start off with a good job that includes good insurance. A house? Yes, that too. Let's add an illness, say cancer. Now let's subtract the job—through no one's fault; there's a recession, you know. Oops—there goes the health insurance. You might get another job; you might not, at least not right away. Or you might get a job that does not include health insurance. I hear those are becoming all the rage these days. Good luck purchasing affordable health insurance given your preexisting condition. There's a good chance if things get bad for you, any private health plan you can afford will leave you with a lot of uncovered care. Maybe you never find that affordable coverage. So you . . . what? Raid the kids' college fund? Cash out your retirement? Fine. Is it still fine when you are forced to sell your home? My breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and follow up would have put us through our savings and out of our home even in one of the most expensive markets in the country. Or course you've got options. Maybe you won't sell the home but instead skimp on treatment. Or follow up. But that's silly: When you're dead, you don't need a house. Oh, wait . . . there's that family you leave behind. They might like a house.

I'm not that far away from this scenario. I have the job and the insurance; I've also got the preexisting condition. My husband has the job, but in a bid to stay afloat during these difficult economic times his employer has just cut health insurance for dependents. It's that or lay people off altogether. Take away just one piece—my job—and the rest could go pretty quickly. And I'm one of the haves: well educated, good job, healthy savings. Which I have because I have worked hard and lived responsibly? Yes, but also because I was born in the right set of circumstances that included positive examples, support, and opportunities—it's called dumb luck. I hope you've had it too.

But does affordable health care need to be your problem for it to be a problem? If it's a problem for a majority of Americans, isn't it everyone's problem? Isn't that what being a country is about? For fuck's sake—isn't that what Jesus would have wanted?! Big breath. I'm an atheist, after all. But for reasons that completely escape me, there is this weird link between conservative politics and religion. Go figure.

I'm not saying the government should take it all over or give it all away. I'm just saying that basic health care, including what can end up being fairly extensive health care when you are really sick or hurt, should be within reach of everyone. Without government intervention, the present system works for too small a number of people. Something's got the change. I think Jesus would want the net cast wider.

If you're still here, thanks for listening. I'll be back to corn tomorrow, but don't count me out for Obama's address to school children.

I occasionally get it right

So last week on a very hot day, I made melon soup and put it in the refrigerator to chill for the next day. In rolls the fog, and we eat chilled soup in chilled weather.

BUT the night before last, after noodling over what to do with all that sweet end-of-summer corn and slightly tired of corn on the cob and off the cob, I made corn soup.

I'd been looking for a corn soup recipe that really tasted like corn, so all the recipes that included things like potatoes, celery, etc. were out. This recipe has little else besides corn. The cobs are simmered along with the corn and then discarded, which reminds me of a Chez Panisse recipe for peach ice cream that has you simmer peach pits in the cream before stirring in the puree. 

I chilled it, and

last night was HOT. And having chilled soup was NICE. 

Thinking I was on a roll, after dinner I brewed up Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear batches of iced tea for us to enjoy today.

And so, of course, we woke up to 

FOG. Which will probably burn off but leave us with a day not quite as warm as yesterday. No complaints: Better for me and for my redwoods


3 ears of corn, shucked
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups water

Cut kernels from cobs with sharp knife, then cut cobs in thirds.

Cook onion and garlic in butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add corn, cobs, water, and salt and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

Discard cobs, then puree mixture in a blender until smooth. Chill until cold and serve.