Monday, August 27, 2012

Preserving

"What you preserve is the cheeriest memento mori. It is a way to say and mean: of everything that passes, this is what I choose to keep. It is a clear reminder, there for the tasting, of where and when and how you have lived."  -Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal

Today's little after-work project: starting a batch of fig-lemon-thyme jam. Tomorrow I shall put it up, so that we may feast on these bright, sweet figs in the dead of winter.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Speaking of Books


C received a brand-new copy of Charlotte's Web for her fourth birthday in February--and as you can see, this book has since become a major favorite. She received two other E. B. White books in the same box set, and we first started with Stuart Little, but she rejected it (apparently, the first chapter was a little too exciting for her). So we began Charlotte's Web, and it immediately captivated her imagination. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that we've read it at least ten times. We typically read a chapter a day, during D's naptime (though he adores picture books, he doesn't quite have the patience for chapter books yet). Honestly, I don't think I will ever tire of reading E. B. White's fabulous prose, and love to see C becoming a little bookworm. When we neared the end during the first read, I was wondering if the death of Charlotte would be too much for her. But it is so beautifully written, and ends on such a hopeful note, that I came to realize that this is actually a nice, gentle introduction to the topic.


(It's also very cute to hear C and D saying words like "salutations!" and "idiosyncracy," even when they aren't entirely sure what they mean.)

C&D are also huge fans of the Alfie and Annie Rose books, and we recently checked out the first Paddington book from the library, which C enjoyed. Though we haven't re-read The Secret Garden yet, she still loves that one too. The other afternoon I peeked into the children's room to see C&D snuggled up on their bed with the book open on C's lap. D was saying excitedly, "Dat Colin's daddy!" and pointing at a picture. "No," C said gently, "That's not Colin's daddy. That's Colin's doctor." To which D replied his default response to being enlightened by his sister: "Oh!"



And while we're on the topic, I have to mention Sparkle Stories. C received a year's subscription for her birthday, and she listens to at least one story every day during quiet time. These stories are gentle and sweet, and we all love listening to them. (See above for how C likes to enjoy them: snuggled in our bed with her dolls.)

D's current obsession, though, is in the musical realm. He loves "Life's a Happy Song" from the Muppets movie so much. (We listen to the one on the soundtrack, but I also adore this version. The children actually haven't seen the movie, but we knew they would enjoy the cheerful tune. It is, however, incredibly catchy, and I think we may be destined to have it perpetually in our heads for the foreseeable future.) D wants to listen to it every day, and when we turn it on, he starts running back and forth sing/shouting the chorus in his adorable toddlerese: "My dot ebwyting my need white in fwont a me" (translation: "I've got everything I need right in front of me"). It sure is hard to be cranky while listening to this song, though! Here he is singing a few bars before he bats the camera away:

video

(For the record, other current musical favorites are Elizabeth Mitchell and Frances England.)

Anyway, went a little off-topic there, but I want to know: what were your favorite (or your children's favorite) books growing up? I'm always looking for more great classics to add to the collection!

Friday, August 17, 2012

A New Chapter

Between my Google Reader--which is stuffed with crafting/sewing blogs, food blogs, gardening/homesteading blogs, and parenting blogs--and my library reading list, I have no shortage of inspiration. Every day, I read about people doing amazing things, but rarely do I follow through by bringing these ideas into my own life.

But one day in late June, I read a blog post that inspired me, because it helped me realize a simple truth about myself that I, for some reason, rarely acknowledge. I love to write.

And so, I started thinking. A tiny seed began to sprout and grow, and grow, and grow. And then, I made a decision, a very big one indeed.

I decided to write a novel.

Oddly enough, the vastness of this project managed to excite me rather than exhaust me--and that's how I knew it was right. I'm up to about 16,000 words now, and every time I sit down to write, I'm happy to be back in that world. It's a perfect outlet for my wandering mind, and I am having a great time with it.  

My book will be middle-grade/young adult fiction (though adults will probably enjoy it too). Adventure, intrigue, satire, a little sci-fi--oh yes, there will be lots going on! My goal is to have the first draft finished by Thanksgiving.

When I'm not writing (or working, or gardening, or cooking, or minding the children), I am reading. I've been enjoying some books on writing (this has been my favorite thus far, and this one is next on the reading list). These have served as a continual source of inspiration for this, my new project--an exciting new chapter for me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Good Morning, Bad Afternoon

Yesterday, we headed out for a little "vacation" in a part of our city that we rarely visit. It was shaping up to be a lovely day: we stopped for pain au chocolat and ladybug cookies at a cute bakery, headed over to the locks, and sat down to a picnic lunch while watching the boats go up and down.

And then, in an instant, the direction of the day changed when C tripped and fell right into the stone bench on which we were sitting. Four hours, two stitches and many tears later, we left Urgent Care, the kids slurping up popsicles and recovering from the traumatic afternoon. Luckily, C's injury was superficial and only required stitches because it was right next to her eye. She's back to her normal self and we are just happy to have it behind us (and so, so glad that it wasn't any worse). I'll spare you pictures of her sad little puffy eye; instead, here are some photos from the happier part of the day.

This place has it all! Boats, seaplanes, trains, bells, seagulls, salmon, botanical gardens!

  Captivated by the boats

D clinging to Daddy for comfort (the rushing water was a bit too loud)

Discovery

Dancing among the wave sculptures

Watching the salmon swimming upstream in the underwater viewing chamber

Monday, August 13, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

One 32 fl. oz. bottle of inexpensive vodka ($12 including tax) 

+

Four vanilla beans, split down the middle and added to the bottle to infuse 
($0.50 per bean when purchased in bulk. Use one bean per cup of alcohol.)


Twenty days' time (though it can go longer)

=

Fabulous vanilla extract

The extract on Day 1

Total savings: $62.64. (The same amount of extract, when purchased from our local grocery store in 2 fl. oz. increments, would be $76.64.)

Though you end up with a lot, this extract will keep indefinitely--certainly a great investment if you bake a lot!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Summer: A Poem

I wrote a poem today. It's the first one I've written in years (my heyday was back in high school). I've recently rekindled a relationship with verse, thanks in part to some books I've been reading (more on that soon) and to rediscovering a much-loved volume of Hermann Hesse's work. Anyway, thought I'd share it here because, well, why not?

Summer

Sometimes
we stay in the garden
for hours

In late July,
when it's quiet and I wonder
where they've gone,
I wander to the berry patch

There, the leaves shake
The branches part
And my children emerge,
palms full
of fat blueberries

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sourdough Bread

“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight...[Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells... there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.” 
― M.F.K. Fisher

Over a year ago, Alanna started a sourdough culture following the recipe in Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen's inspiring book The Urban Homestead. The culture, affectionately known as "Doughy," has now produced many wonderful loaves of bread enjoyed by our family and friends. Lately I've been baking two loaves of sourdough bread every week using the following recipe which Alanna adapted from the one in The Urban Homestead (which was, in turn, adapted from Nancy Silverton's Breads from the LaBrea Bakery).

The day before you plan to bake the bread, take your sourdough culture out of the fridge for an hour or two and give her a good stir.



Then weigh out 12 ounces of culture, 24 ounces of wheat flour (usually a split of whole wheat and white for us), 12 ounces of water and two teaspoons of salt. Mix everything with the dough hook for about 5 minutes until they form a nice dough. Cover the bowl with a cloth and wait for about an hour.





This is a good time to feed your starter. I usually mix in one cup of white flour and one cup of water, then I cover the jar with a cloth and then wait for an hour or two before putting it back in the fridge.



Now split the dough into two equal chunks and hand knead and shape them on a floured surface until you have two decent looking loaves. These loaves then get wrapped loosely in flour-coated cloth and placed in a bowl. They will proof for several hours on the counter before you cover them with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge overnight.



A few hours before baking time the following day, take them out of the fridge. They usually rise quite a bit at this point.



Time to prepare the oven. Preheat to 500° F with the bread stone in the middle and a cookie sheet offset on a lower shelf.



Place some flour on the pizza peel and position the loaves. (This is a good time to score the top of the loaves with a knife, though the loaves pictured were not scored.)




When the oven comes up to temperature, slide the two loaves onto the stone and splash about a cup of water on the cookie sheet. Close the door quickly to capture all the steam. Then lower the temperature to 400° F and bake for about 45 minutes (rotating the loaves once halfway through). When the internal temperature of a loaf is 190° F, the bread is ready. It needs to cool for at least an hour before it's ready to slice.

Then, after enjoying a slice with your favorite spread, you are free of bad thoughts and full of good bread!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Back to School

One of my college friends, Becky, stopped by for a visit over the weekend. It was wonderful to see her, and since it's been ten years now since our undergrad days together, it made me a little nostalgic for the way things were back then.

Which inspired today's adventure: we took a trip back to the campus to show the kids my old stomping grounds. (I still remember visiting the local university with my mother and sisters when I was little. We would picnic by the lake, watching the swans and wading in the water. Back then, the beautiful old buildings and wide lawns seemed so enormous and captivating.)



Going back to the campus today brought back so many memories: Becky and I arriving breathless to our Russian Literature discussion section, having madly rushed across the enormous campus from Biochemistry in only ten minutes. The physics professor who was equally passionate about the precautionary principle and the fugues of Johann Sebastian Bach. Learning about the inner workings of the body, down to the tiniest movements of electrons; grappling with more philosophical concepts like phenomenology and emergence (all of which fascinate me still). The insidious smell of acetone that seemed to permeate the entire Organic Chemistry Lab building. Studying Southeast Asian culture while enjoying a vegan Thai buffet lunch (which, I must add, we also enjoyed today). And later, in grad school, organizing happy hours and potlucks with my fellow food groupies (AKA nutrition students). Strolling through a Hogwarts-like portico with a friend on our way to a yoga class. Many, many hours in the libraries and many, many bus rides. And also, of course, some tedious classes in windowless rooms. It was hard to appreciate these things while in the midst of the stress and intensity of those years, but now I can look back at them fondly.

But, I digress! We arrived on campus this morning with a goal in mind: I wanted to see a little corner that I had never before seen. I knew it would be amazing (it is called Sylvan Grove, after all), but I wasn't quite prepared for the mystical, secluded feel of it. A true secret garden!

 The four columns, representing "Loyalty," "Industry," "Faith," and "Efficiency"

In the grove

  B&D demonstrating the scale of the columns

 "I'm going to take a nap right here."

 The quad



 Watching the "waterfall"

My family

As we were leaving, we walked by the statue of George Washington that has greeted me on my way into campus many times over the years. C was amazed: "How did he get up there?" After deciding that the sculptor had climbed to the top of the pedestal and made him there, she mused, "He looks over everyone. He's like the lifeguard here!"


I couldn't have put it better myself.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Walk in the Woods

Time to get out of the city! This beautiful hiking trail is not too far away from our home, so after a short drive we were immersed in the glorious woods. Spending a morning here never fails to soothe our souls....