Monday, June 30, 2008

Evening

i see the moon and the moon sees me
and the moon sees somebody i want to see.
god bless the moon and god bless me
and god bless the somebody i want to see.
god looked down on me from above
and gave you to me just for me to love,
he picked you out from all the rest
because he knew i'd love you the best.

My mom sang me a version of the song above--but more like "I see the moon and the moon sees me. I smile at the moon and she smiles at me"--and I sing it to my kiddos. Mama had never heard the song except from me, but tonight we heard it in a movie, Evening.

The movie, apparently based on a book by Susan Minot, had several of our favorite actresses: Meryl Streep (and her daughter), Glenn Close, Vanessa Redgrave, Eileen Atkins. Wow. I didn't know the plot until we started watching it and, while I found some of it pretty predictable, the themes of motherhood, mistakes, and regret really resonated with me.

Indeed, the last half an hour really spoke to me. I can't summarize the plot well enough here to make sense--and I understand from some reviews that the movie made a hash of it compared to the book. Anyway, in the present, a woman is dying with her two daughters nearby. It is clear from her flashbacks that she has regrets about an early love and the choices she made. Similarly, her two daughters have struggled with some life choices (well, one has anyway). They are coming together here at the end trying to reconcile all their own memories of each other: the dying mother regretting how she was a mother, the daughters coming to understand who their mother was, the daughters coming to understand who they are (specifically as mothers themselves).

In a pivotal scene (for me), the daughter with children talks to her sleeping mom (and it's very powerful that it is a pair of mother-daughter actresses, I think): "And I didn't really understand . . . about, well, how it seems like you break your children's hearts no matter what you do, whether you sing in clubs at night or just stay at home. And you start to wonder which mistakes of yours they're going to forget and which ones they'll still be talking about for years after your gone."

I think one of the complicated processes of motherhood is reviewing and reliving your own childhood and your own mother's motherhood, in light of a much better view and understanding of her position. My mom once said to me that she had her own list of mistakes she has made as a mother and she imagined it wasn't the same as my list of mistakes she had made. I now have my own mental list of mistakes I've made as a mom (and I do worry about the list my kids will compile) and the list I compiled of perceived wrongs my mom did me as a child has gotten shorter in light of it. In the movie, the dying mom concludes that there are no mistakes. I'm beginning to see how that can be true.

In the end, the dying mom is shown as her younger self having trouble cooking dinner with the little girls around. She gives up on doing both and starts to sing them the moon song, with a shot of the stove in complete disaster.

Not a mistake at all.


Time after time
written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne

I tell myself I'm so lucky
To be loving you
I'm so lucky to be
The one you run to see
In the evening
When the day is through
I only know what I know
The passing years will show
You kept my love so young
So new
And time after time
You'll hear me say that i'm
So lucky to be loving you
I only know what I know
The passing years will show
You kept my love so young
So new
And time after time
You'll hear me say that i'm
So lucky to be loving you

Frosting on the Cake

The weekend can be summed up with the question Buddy asked Sis yesterday, "Are you going to have cake with your frosting?"

Her answer, "No."

It was non-stop food and fetes all weekend, from bags of marshmallows for potty-training rewards to a birthday party for a little friend with snacks, pizza, and cupcakes (and cookie favors, to boot!), to our Cajun cooking lesson for a friend from church to lunch out on Sunday at the Cheesecake Factory for Mama's birthday. I didn't even want to eat dinner last night.

It wasn't all food, though. We did the Model Railroad Museum in the special park, enjoying spotting Thomas and James amid all the other engines. They also noticed all the animals in the zoo--Sis spotted the little peacock before anyone else. It really is a great little space, perfect for a lazy Saturday afternoon.

In the late afternoon, we went to a birthday party with bounce house. Mama was nervous about the bounce house--a co-worker's son had seriously broken his leg in two places on one a few years ago--but the kiddos had a safe, marvelous time. They got so sweaty in the heat that you would've sworn we dumped a bucket of water on them.

Sunday afternoon found us at the Children's Museum in West Hartford. And though Buddy is still terrified of the roaring dinosaur, he had a good time (though he woke up scared a few times--and he didn't even actually go in the room to see it!). They especially like the centrifugal force ball game, the Lego car races, the musical instruments, and the bubble games. Amazing how much they remembered about the place, too. We hadn't been in about 2 months, and have been to other children's museums since, but it was as if we had been there last weekend.

And now it's a short week, with more fun planned for the weekend, including a bon voyage visit to Ma and Gong before they head to Thailand. Then, practically, we'll go on our own trip to Texas. Less than three weeks to the wedding!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Laissez Bon Temps Roulez

Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans
lyricsEddie DeLange / Loise Alter

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
And miss it each night and day
I know I’m not wrong this feeling's gettin' stronger
The longer, I stay away
Miss them moss covered vines the tall sugar pines
Where mockin' birds used to sing
And I'd like to see that lazy Mississippi hurryin' into spring
The moonlight on the bayou a creole tune that fills the air
I dream about magnolias in bloom and I'm wishin' I was there
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
When that's where you left your heart
And there's one thing more I miss the one I care for
More than I miss New Orleans


On Saturday evening, we gave a cooking lesson to a friend from church, who had bought the lesson through our church service auction. We had a grand time talking food, New Orleans, kids, and eating everything we made. The recipes are below.

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Muffalettas
Very similar to those at Central Grocery, which I remember eating on our trips there.

Combine:
1 jar salad olives, drained
1 jar cocktail onions, drained
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped fine

Bread—Italian loaf, split in two
meats (cheap lunchmeats—bologna, ham, salami,)
mozzarella, provolone, Swiss cheeses


Mix olives, onions, garlic, and celery, and let sit in fridge a few hours or overnight.  Halve bread lengthwise. Layer sandwich with meats and cheeses and then spread on salad mix; top with other piece of bread. Bake at 350°F until brown and cheese melts.


Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
I didn’t really love gumbo when I was younger but it has certainly grown on me now. So, for the first time, the night before the crash of Flight 587, I made gumbo, based on my mom’s recipes and my New Orleans cooking school class notes. And you don’t really need Andouille sausage—just any smoked sausage. Note: My mom adds a can of diced tomatoes; I don't.

4-5 chicken breasts
½ cup flour
½ cup oil
2 large onions chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 lbs. sausage
6-8 cups chicken stock
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons Tony’s (approximately)

Saute sausage medallions. Saute onions, celery, pepper in sausage grease.
Make roux (Mom says you can microwave til brown, stirring after every minute; I tried this to start but then but it in a pot to finish).  Otherwise, cook flour in oil until brown—the color of peanut butter; do NOT burn.  If it burns, toss it out and start over because it will be bitter.   

Add chicken broth. Add onion, celery, pepper, and sausage.  Saute chicken until dry and stringy. Add to pot. Add bay leaf, garlic, Tony’s. Simmer for 2 hours.


Serve over rice. Freezes really well.
Mom

Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice

1 onion, chopped
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
1 lb red kidney beans (Camellia band recommended), rinsed and sorted
8-10 cups water
1-2 bay leaves
1-3 tablespoons Creole Seasoning (I use Tony's)
1/2-1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke

Saute onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic in olive oil until softened. Add beans, water, and bay leaves. Note: I do not pre-soak or quick soak the beans, just simmer all day--you can pre-soak or quick soak, drain, and then start this recipe if you choose. Boil for 5 minutes and reduce to a simmer for 3-4 hours, or until beans are tender.

When beans are almost at desired consistency, add creole seasoning. Before serving, add liquid smoke. Serve with steamed rice (brown or white, your preference).

Mommy Hungry


Miss B's Red Beans and Rice

This recipe comes from Miss B, complete with tips on ingredients—Camellia beans and Tony’s Creole Seasoning. I think this was my first Cajun food, sitting at her kitchen table with a bowl ladled from a simmering pot. Mama and I made it at the end of the 9/11 week and the beginning of fall—with Goya beans and Chicken Apple Sausage. And it was perfect! Just what we needed.

1 lb. kidney beans
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons ground bay leaf [or 2-3 whole leaves]
1/3 cup bacon drippings [or 3 pieces of bacon]
2 lb. smoked sausage
garlic salt, salt, pepper [or 1 tablespoon Tony’s]

Wash beans. Fill pot with water (2-3 quarts). Add onion, celery, green pepper, parsley, bay leaf, and bacon drippings. Bring to boil uncovered. Simmer and keep adding water until beans are softened, and gravy and beans are desired consistency (we added 1 quart more), approximately 2 hours. Add sausage, then Tony’s. Simmer uncovered about ½ hour longer. Turn off heat, let rest for 30 minutes. Make rice. Serve.

Miss B


Shrimp Remoulade

4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons vinegar
4 tablespoons prepared mustard (French’s)
2 teaspoons horseradish
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoons pepper (dark, cayenne)
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 cup salad oil
½ cup finely chopped celery
½ cup finely chopped green onions
2 –3 quarts cooked and peeled shrimp

Combine first 8 ingredients. Gradually add oil, beating with beater. Add shrimp, celery, and onion. Chill. Serve on shredded lettuce with crackers.

Mom


Shrimp or Ham Creole

1/3 cup olive oil (do not use with ham)
½ cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup chopped celery
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
dash of cayenne
1 bay leaf
1 lb 4 oz. can tomatoes
1 ½ pounds shrimp, shellled and deveined  or leftover ham, cubed
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
¼ cup chopped parsley (optional)
cooked rice

Saute vegetables in oil until soft.  Toss with flour, salt, and pepper.  Add tomatoes and bay leaf, with sugar if too acidic.  When cooked through, add shrimp until cooked or ham.  Serve over rice with parsley.

Mom




Bread Pudding and Rum Sauce
I got this from Southern Living. Mom makes it now for all of her events and gets raves of compliments from real Southern chefs. I usually decrease the number of raisins, which will burn on the bottom if not floured. I know some people insist on adding fruit cocktail; I don't.

3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ cup butter, melted
2 ¾ cup whipping cream
4 cups cubed French bread
¾ cups raisins (or less)

Combine first 4 ingredients. Stir in butter and cream. Gently stir in bread and raisins. Pour in lightly greased 2-quart deep dish. Bake 375°F for 50-55 minutes, shielding with foil after 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Southern Living magazine

Bourbon Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup sugar
1 cup cream (whipping, heavy, half-and-half)
2 (or 1) tablespoons bourbon (or your favorite--rum works well)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Melt butter in a small saucepan; whisk in flour and cook 5 minutes. Stir in sugar and cream; cook 3 minutes. Stir in bourbon, vanilla, and nutmeg, and simmer 5 minutes.

Family Circle


Pralines
From my class at the New Orleans School of Cooking. They are a little grainy for me. I like the ones you can buy at Southern Candymakers, which are only sugar, butter, and cream, I think.

1 ½ cup sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cup pecans (roasting optional—275°F for 20-25 minutes)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all ingredients and bring to a “softball stage” (238-240°F), stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
Stir until mixture thickens, becoming creamy and cloudy, and pecans stay suspended in mixture. Spoon out on buttered waxed paper, aluminum foil, or parchment paper. When using waxed paper, be sure to buffer with newspaper underneath or hot was will transfer.

Alternates

Praline Sauce: Add ½ cup corn syrup to mixture.
Chocolate covered praline candy
Flavored pralines (add 1 tablespoon peanut butter, chocolate, coffee, brandy, etc at softball stage)

Friday, June 27, 2008

What Are You Reading?

I have several new and intriguing books on my nightstand (and in my car, for Starbucks, after wellness workout) that have been left mostly unread, due to time not interest.
  • How to Bury a Goldfish and Other Ceremonies and Celebrations for Everyday Life by Virginia Lang and Louise Nayer: This book describes ways to honor and observe both everday occurrences and more "red-letter" occasions. Our family has its fair share of homemade rituals--from our goodbye "beep-beep" to our dinner "family song" and our evening tuck-in tradition. Our mornings are a little rough and irregular and we're always looking for new ideas to incorporate. I just like glancing at the text of this very UU book, which has gentle, intuitive ways for marking special and more mundane events.
  • Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish: The titles are pretty self-explanatory, I think, though we're probably a little young for most of the ideas and techniques. Advance prep never hurts, though. Interseting, the whole first section of How to Talk is exactly what we learned in my caregiver workshop and what is described in . . . .
  • Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love by Dan Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt: Not my usual reading, this examination of the Rule of St. Benedict and monastic hospitality as a guide for modern, civilian/secular (i.e. not monastic) living is an inspiring reminder that hospitality is not matching napkins, the right wine, and enough appetizers, but the opening of our homes and hearts to those who are strangers, both literally and figuratively, no matter how different, in need, or even frightening. This book was one of the resources for my caregiver workshop.
  • George Eliot: The Last Victorian by Kathryn Hughes: I really liked my Beeton bio, so I'm reading another by the author. I've read Eliot's Middlemarch and was greatly inspired by its main character. I know something about her life--male pseudoynym and living with a married man--and the ideas behind her amazing books firmly planted in her time and filled with social justice, so I'm loving the bio, even if I'm not keeping up with all of the references. Might have to add some Eliot to my list before I finish this one.
  • World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey and Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen: I love to see all the vegetarian possibilities. But my spice rack isn't this deep. We'll see. I want to branch out . . .

What are you reading?

A Romp

What a marvelous morning we had after what looked like an unpromising beginning when our plans fell through. We went to the special park at the last-minute invitation of another friend.

Though drops threatened as we got out of the car, we headed to the playground (where a little friend had broken her arm last week). After finishing off our snack, the kiddos ran around on all the equipment, especially enjoying the slides and uneven bridge as they pretended to be on a ship looking for dolphins.

It was then that I spotted the bunny. Amazingly, we made it all the way across the field to the little rabbit, without its being frightened away. For about 5 minutes, we followed as it skirted the edges of the bushes. Sis was especially quiet and interested; Bud just kept talking about it (is that the cat-dog thing again?). Then we noticed the chipmunk dashing all about--we didn't have much luck following it, though. On the way back, we found lots of mushrooms. And had to have a mini-mycology lesson, i.e. never eat any mushroom that you find, only the ones Mommy gives you from the store (how's that for 21st-century eating habits??). We also had a little folklore lesson about fairies and mushrooms. It was a very successful walk.

But the adventure didn't end there. We headed to some of the nearby buildings and farm, which have (I thought) sheep, chickens, and pigs. They were excited about the pigs. About which I was completely wrong. And so, Sis suggested that we just had to go back to the beginning and start all over without mentioning the pigs. In other words, rewind. And she started to walk backwards to affect this transformation. Oddly, it worked, we saw all the animals again, didn't mention pigs, and no one seemed to care.

Especially because they were entranced by the clocktower, complete with flower stained glass. We kept going inside and out to see how it looked different from different places. We even picked up a map so we could later color it in--and we might make our own tissue paper windows later today.

More fun: we played mill on the old mill site. There were stones and the area where the horse must have walked, so one of us played the horse, one was the millstone, and one was the miller gathering the flour in sacks. Strange, I know, but fun. We went back later on our way to the car and played all over again.

My favorite part was the homestead, which had never been opened before on our visits. It was the kiddos' first house museum tour (with a high school guide who followed us around and offered tidbits to me when the kids were distracted. One of these days I will tell you about Mama's standard house museum tour, which you could give at probably any 19th-century house museum in this country without being wrong at all. She honed it in New Orleans after two townhouse tours and 6 plantations.). We saw the nursery with the old-fashioned potty, and the mommy's room (with her potty--potties are big), and the kitchen, and the parlor with the tea set and old Victrola and piano. The kids were great, liking the model of the park best because they could point out the farm and the mill and the clocktower, but they paid attention in the other rooms too, without even trying to touch a thing. SUCCESS! That's a good thing because I love house museums, having been taking to several from a young age myself (thank heavens, though, there are no mandatory-stop historical markers here in CT. Is TX the only state that has those? Everywhere.) And they got shells--a family custom among the people who used to live there--and a few postcards and I got a little cookbook about pies, to help support the free admission.

The visit ended with us retracing our steps and activities, with a detour through the flower garden and then hopping in the car to head for chicken nuggets.

I think we'll go back tomorrow so they can show Mama all they found. And to see the model railroad exhibit, which is only open on weekends.

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Paper Stained Glass Windows

black construction paper
various colored tissue papers
scissors
glue

Fold black paper in half and cut out holes, much like a snowflake, but leaving a thicker border. Unfold and flatten paper.

Glue pieces of torn or cut tissue paper over the holes. Let dry.

Hang in window.

We Love Beavers*

We have just received our inaugural issue of My Big Backyard, having graduated from our subscription to Baby Animal, both great publications of the National Wildlife Federation (a gift from our dear Aunt J).

There is a huge section on beavers which captured the imagination this morning. We read the story about how beavers cut down trees to make dams and lodges, we drew the little beaver picture making sure to add extra hair, and we played the "get to the lodge" beaver game.

So we called and talked to Pop, who has beavers at his pond in the forest. Though, I'm pretty sure Pop isn't as crazy about those beavers as we are.

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Am I tempting all the pervs on the net with the titles of these last two posts?

Happy Hooker

Yesterday, as I rushed to finish the replacement baby blanket for the new babe in our playgroup, I crocheted while the kiddos had naptime. I don't usually pull out my handiwork during the daytime, mainly because yarn is sooooooo attractive to them. They like to cut it up and glue it to paper or take skeins of it and wrap it around the central wall in our house. Fun, but not conducive to speed or completion of said late blanket.

So, there I am, crochet hook in hand, and Buddy decides he wants to make a blanket too. I cut off a piece from some leftovers and made him a chain. I then handed him a little hook I had and showed him how to stick the hook through the yarn and pull other yarn through, not because he can crochet but because I though he could at least create some great knots. He sat on the floor at my feet "crocheting" for about 20 minutes, happy as a clam.

But, pretty soon, the blanket was abandoned and they started wrapping yarn around the walls again, playing choo-choo train. At least I got a few more rows done.

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My Standard Baby Blanket
(about the size of a small receiving blanket)

Size M hook
2+ skeins of chunky yarn (I'm using Baby Cloud)

Ch enough to make about 2' or desired width
Sc until desired length
Either sc edging (making 3-4 laps) or shell (Attach yarn with sc at beginning of row. *Skip 2 sts, work 5 dc in next st, sk 2 sts, work 1 sc in next st. Repeat from *).

Usually, I do an all-white blanket before the birth and add an appropriately-colored edge afterwards (because most people like pink or blue but don't find out the sex in advance). For this blanket, since the babe has been born, I am doing a blue strip in the center and then edging it in blue as well.