Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back from the beach

Of course there will be more photos and stories later, but it is late and I'm tired.
It was more than wonderful. Puerto Rico, I'll be back. I miss those waves already.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Late Night Brussel Sprouts

Even the dog got in on the brussel sprout action!

Have you ever grown brussel sprouts? No, I guess that's a silly question. No one, at least not city dwellers, grows brussel sprouts. Why? They're slow. They don't like the heat of midsummer days. They thrive in the cold. Lots of folks think they're gross.

Not us. We grew them this summer from little plants. Little plants that we probably put into the ground a little too late--because these guys were slow. I'm talkin' slow. We watched them all summer long, wondering, waiting, wishing, hoping... for something to happen. They grew beautiful cabbage-like leaves. "Where are the sprouts?" we'd say every day when we checked them. I remembered seeing how they grew when we received a stalk of them many years back in a CSA. Our brussel sprouts weren't resembling that one, at all.

Then one day, something happened. Something grew in the "armpit" of the leaves. It looked like a pea. What was it? Our first SPROUT! Carl and Gus ran over and told the neighbor, "Megan... our brussel is sprouting!" You would have thought they won the lottery. Such are the joys of gardening with children. Every little growth is a miracle for them and a way to keep us all a little closer to the earth.

The garden has been put to bed for weeks. Well, everything except for the slow growing brussel sprouts. Finally last week, after it had already snowed a few times and the garden had been heaped with raked leaves for winter warmth, we chopped 'em down. It was dark, of course, as it always is in areas so far from the equator this time of the year, but we did it anyway. The boys felt like they had brought home something great from the hunt. The kill. "Let's get it!" They poked and prodded on each stalk, carefully popping each pea-sized sprout off the thick trunk. Oh the excitement! After four giant stalks, we had the bottom of a large bowl filled. Yeah, the bottom. Had those little rascals been full-sized, we could have filled two bowls. But no, they were our pea-sized brussel sprouts and I've never seen the boys so excited to get dinner on the table.

I'm proud to say, my kids eat brussel sprouts. And I thought I was the only freak.

Friday, November 14, 2008

::Ten Things::

Fall is a time I have always enjoyed. The warmth of the summer starts to fade just as we realize that we're ready to pull out the flannel sheets, bundle up in a blanket, cover up the bare legs with pants. The crisp greens begin to fade into a smeary blur of red, orange, yellow and brown. Warm beverages and soups with crusty bread appeal much more than the adventurous and crunchy salads of summer. I look at my yard with a smile, knowing that it is time to put it to bed, time to put away the tools of our every day activities outside, knowing that we can again focus on inside projects. The sky turns a different shade of blue, the golden time of the sun setting is a brighter shade of gold. My fingers chill quickly. My body longs for a sweater. Fall.

I've been reading many lists of "things that make me smile" on the blogs I haunt regularly. Today is the day I will join in with Eren and Amanda and many other inspiring women out there.

Ten Things that make me Smile

:: Skype. Calling Africa for free on my computer with a headset the morning of the election to talk with Stephanie about the big day. Who knew that it could work so well?

::Patching a pile of pants that have been sitting on my sewing table for months. Love the iron-on patches.

::Sweet potatoes. This week we've eaten them as fries, in soup and mixed with Yukon Gold potatoes as a mashed potato delight.

::Winter hats. Louise found this Zippity Zany hat from Hanna Andersson in our mitten basket and has basically refused to take it off for a week unless she's bathing.::Grandparents that like to take their grandkids on dates. All three of my kids spend quality time with their grandparents doing special things, without me asking them to. We're lucky enough to have both of our sets of parents in town.

::Puerto Rico for four days with my sisters-in-law next week. Hasta pronto, playa!

::The color orange.

::The excitement of the Holiday Traditions Exchange over at Sew Liberated. I'm waiting my official match-up, though I recently met Valerie at Sierra Moon and we're going to do our own un-official swap. More details to follow soon. A French match up! I'm practicing my French... fun!

::This little roly-poly bug on Etsy. Why didn't I think of that?

::My new camera (except for the fact that it is in the shop. Hopefully I'll have it back by my trip!)

And you? What is making you smile these days?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

From Start to Finish

I'm done. We're done. With the apple sauce, that is. It has been an almost two-week journey, but I've finally put away the canner tonight and the pile of equipment on the drying rack will be returned to the dark corners of the storage room tomorrow. As a result, we have five gallons of apple sauce put up, canned, put away, stored with a zealous locavore sense of satisfaction.

A few weeks ago we were at a birthday party for my Mom's cousin Chuck and noted that their apple tree in the back yard was heavily laden with fruit. Of course my Dad, ever the resourceful one (read: scrounger extraordinaire) brought me over a sample. The taste was delightful, crisp, sweet, a high pitched flavor. The mug on the apple? No thanks. I'd like to say I've never met an uglier apple, but then I remembered the worm-filled nasties we picked from the farm's trees just a few weeks ago. (Some one needs to send me a tutorial on taking care of apples organically!) But the promise of free fruit was there and I had visions of Nora's pear and peach extravaganza earlier this fall. We cautiously inquired about the apples and soon we had a date to pick the beauties.

Sunday afternoon arrived and my parents picked me, Carl and Gus up, ladder loaded atop the vehicle and boxes stacked tightly in the back end. Off to the urban apple orchard, or tree, that is... we go. The boys had already been apple picking this fall and remembered proper technique for removing the apples without disturbing the tree too much. Does that still matter when you're removing all the apples from a tree? We filled box upon box of apples, reddish and yellow, dented and bumped, beautiful and mangled, every kind of apple imaginable. Our thoughts of future bowls of warm apple sauce kept us going as the swarms of ladybugs almost made my stomach turn. It was a beautiful fall day, the best kind imaginable. Being outside with my parents and the boys, joining Chuck and Cyndi for a cup of coffee and dessert in their back yard... well, it was perfect. The apples were not. It didn't matter.

See what I mean about beauty? They sat on my porch for longer than I care to admit but their smell was lovely every time we passed through on our way to gather the mail or leave through the front door. Finally, a week ago tonight I began the arduous task of cutting, trimming and seeding the apples while I stared at the dinky tv that normally lives in my closet and had been dragged down to the kitchen. For three. and. a. half. hours. Yes, indeed. Two gallons of applesauce later, I had enough liquid gold for 8 quarts of apple sauce to make my pantry shelves happy. If you've ever canned before, you know what a mess it makes of your kitchen. I understand why some farm families had a separate kitchen in the basement or in the "summer kitchen" outside, to keep the mess out of the regular living space. It is messy and space consuming.
The two pots in this photo are my favorites for the process. The robin-egg's blue Martha Stewart pot is sturdy and heavy, the perfect pot to simmer the apple bits down to a deep golden sauce. The pot on the right is my canner, a black speckleware beauty that once belonged to the previous owner of this house. We bought Mrs. Carroll's canner at the estate sale held here before we closed on our house. I knew that I would become a canner someday and that the history of that pot needed to remain here. I'm glad I did. It holds 7 quarts and is reasonably safe in terms of my eternal worry of burning myself. It is big, sturdy and has begged for my trust. So far this year, I'm doing fine.
My Dad came over this week to help go through the other three boxes of apples from the porch. The boys played and munched on apple pieces while Louise napped and we pared apples. After two and a half hours, we had finished the rest--three more gallons. His specialty was "grinding the apples," as the boys called it.
Ben Ten and Vinny the monkey tried to hijack my canning tool.

So today, after almost a full two weeks, I'm done. The first batch is already on the shelves in the basement and here are the rest of the girls, waiting to join them. I love love love the blue glass jar, though Carl and Ron both asked me why some of the applesauce was green. Blue + yellow= green, of course.

Glinty and beautiful, here they are. These jars connect me to my ancestors and fellow farm-women at heart. They connect me and those who share the apple harvest to the earth and to our community. They keep me present in my daily life and grounded in my desire to slow down the pace of our generation. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to finish cleaning the kitchen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

5 Minutes a Day:: Pecan Caramel Rolls

Here is the latest from my favorite cookbook these days, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I used the regular dough, the work-horse one used for boules, baguettes, and ciabattas, pizza too... and whipped it into some beautiful pecan caramel rolls. Here they are before I flipped them out on the plate.
And flipped out in all their glory. Too bad I was multi-tasking as I was mixing up the batch. Instead of putting 1/4 tsp. of nutmeg into the mixture that goes on the dough and gets rolled up, I added double that into the caramel sauce mixture. They were edible of course, but I think I'd be happy if I never ate nutmeg again.
Have you ever had any big mixups with ingredients or a recipe? Do tell!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A sneak peek

We have a family friend, Bill Cameron, who is a photographer. He specializes in pregnancy and family photography and we met when I was first pregnant with Carl. While I think I went to the Sears' photo studio twice when Carl was a little tyke, we've been going exclusively to Bill for the past five years. His stuff is fantastic. And personal. And after the shoot is over, we receive the cd with the images on it. We went a few weeks ago for a family shot, in preparation for our holiday cards. We're very happy with the results. Can you tell? Here are a few of the kids.

I think he's working on a website. When it is up, I'll link here and you can check out his stuff for yourself. You'll be happy you did.