Friday, July 30, 2010

Big Questions

I feel like I've had a 101-week, i.e. Arithmetic 101, English 101, and now Religion/Philosophy 101.

We were driving past a cemetery. "Mom," Bud started, "why are there tombstones?"

"To mark where the dead people are buried."

"Why do we bury people?"

"Well, some people believe in burying dead bodies; others turn them to ash. I think either one is okay."

"I want to be buried. I don't want to be burned by fire."

"But, Bud, you would be dead. You wouldn't know and you wouldn't feel it."

"Ooooh, or the worms climbing in and out of your bones!"

"Right, you wouldn't know that. Because you aren't in your body."

"Where would I be?"

"I don't know, Bud, but I think it's okay. It's good."

"It's good to be dead?"

"No, I just don't think anything bad happens when you die like some people do. I think whatever it is, it's okay. And people still living remember you and what you were like. That doesn't die with your body."

"Why do people die?"

"Everything that lives dies."

"Cars die."

"Actually, we say that, but they don't. Cars aren't alive. Only living things can die."

"What's alive?"

"Living things are born, grow, can reproduce or make more, and then die."

"Like bunnies. Or flowers. But not batteries. Why do living things die?"

"It's normal. Just like non-living things, like toys and cars, living things break down or become old. People die when their bodies break down or get broken."

"Are you going to die?"

"Yes, but probably not for a long time."

Sis chimes in, "And even longer for Bud and I, right? Because we're younger."

"Yes, probably, hopefully so."

Checking Out

We're playing hotel this morning, which is usually one of my favorite games because I'm the guest, sitting in the bed being brought things on a tray.

But this time they wanted to be the guests. Which means I'm running up and down stairs checking on their needs, bringing them food for room service.

Really, then, how is that different from what I always do?

Zeroing In

"Mom, why do we have a zero?" Bud asked this morning after "Sesame Street" featured it as the number of the day (the word was metamorphoses, for those keeping track. I told you we were on a S.S. kick these days. Finally.).

Immediately, I remembered that the Mayans had the concept of zero. I don't know where I learned this or why I remember it, but there it is.

I didn't mention that in my answer. "The number zero lets you count nothing." Oh, goodness. Philosophy and numbers. Not my strong suit.

"But it's not a number."

"Well, it allows us to count what we don't have. What if someone asked you how many dogs we have?"

"We don't have a dog."

"Right. How do you count that? You don't say, 'We don't have one dog.' You say we have no, or zero, dogs."

"Does zero come before one? It's the first number?"

Oh, yeah, because there's no way I'm teaching negatives today . . . .

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Schwaubble Worm and Co.

Mama has been puppeteering again recently, using whatever stuffed critter is available. One of the most popular puppets (though they really do look more like muppets. So is that a cruppet? A crippet? A stuffet? Who knows.) is a previously-ignored green dragon.

Well, he's reached rock-star status now. He has a name: Drag, short for Dragon, the Green-Headed Schwaubble Worm.

Right. That last part. What is a "schwaubble worm?" I'm just not sure. I know my folks say I made up names like that all the time and they wished they'd written them down. Well, there you go, "Schwaubble Worm."

And now there is a Purple-Backed Schwaubblebeak, in another words, a purple penguin.

There's also Gus or Wus, the polar bear. The name seems to change. It doesn't seem to be in the Schwaubble family.

If I find out more, I'll let you know.

Homework

We played school today.

And Sis wanted homework.

So I made up a simple worksheet with addition problems.

Like this:

1 + 1 = ___
1 +2 = ___
1 + 3 = ___
1 + 4 = ___
1 + 5 = ___

I explained the equation, "It says one plus one equals. And there is a blank for your answer. Then it keeps going. Don't forget to put your name at the top." Sis took the worksheet and sat alone on a little chair, using the piano bench as her desk. Busy with making Bud the same worksheet, it was a little bit before I glanced over. And there she was carefully counting out the addition on her fingers and precisely copying the numerals from her ruler onto her worksheet, so she'd get the shape right. And it's so sweet because she got all but the 3 backwards (she's left-handed and I can't help but think it's a challenge for her right now).

But she was puzzled by the last problem. She got the same answer for 1 + 5 that she got for 1 + 4 and she knew that was wrong. I could see what was happening: with five fingers up on one hand and only one on the other, she kept forgetting to count her extended thumb because she would start with her pointer finger and go across the fingers from there. She did it once more incorrectly before noticing her thumb and getting it right. 6, she wrote carefully.

And then she came running over to me, face beaming, worksheet extended. I checked it and everything was right. She was so proud. And demanded another worksheet. So, I obliged:

A B _ D E _ G H _ J K _ M N _ P Q _ S T _ V W _ Y _

And she got all those right too.

But I poisoned the well on the third requested worksheet, because I made it on handwriting and was going to have them copy their first and last names, upper and lower case. Well, their last names are long, and they both decided right then and there that they were tired of homework!

Mercy, I thought I had it in the bag, because they'll be doing homework in kindergarten. And here it is, a month beforehand and I've spoiled the fun already.

And they still won't be able to write their full names on the first day.

But at least they can add!

Homonyms

Bud proudly announced, "Mommy, my favorite thing starts with my favorite letter: Night!"

Except the poor boy isn't nocturnal. He's medieval.

And so came another iteration of my lecture, "How English is an Odd Language."

I spelled "knight" and "night" on the big kitchen chalkboard, then pointed to the chalked words "ate" and "eight" from a few days earlier.

Homonyms.

We talked about how English came to be odd--just like America with its diverse multicultural, multinational populace, English is a combination, a linguistic melting pot, full of words from other languages. Of course, now they're going to think English was invented in America, but I can cross that bridge later.

And Bud spent the rest of the day coming to me with more "sounds the same, spelled differently":

Hear and here.

See and sea.

Eye and I.

Not too shabby for a boy who can't read or spell.

Not a Box

If you don't know Antoinette Portis's book about a bunny playing in, well, Not a Box, I highly recommend.

Then, get some boxes.

While we have two paper ream-sized boxes which have done duty as all matter of transportation and furniture, we have never had really big boxes. The fridge, washer, dryer, and stove arrived before the kids (actually, all the appliances died a few weeks after we bought the house. Go figure).

But this week, my 7'-long elliptical came in a humongous (that's been a "word on the street!") box. Perfect for a puppet theater. Mama cut a hole for the performance space and yesterday we took it outside and painted it. Bud practiced color field painting in blue and green. Sis created a landscape complete with white bunny in a field of flowers. I added some rainbow colors here and there.

The theater has dried and now awaits some final touches, mainly some kind of scenery or backdrop or curtain so that you can't see the puppeteers (though, they have to kneel tall even to reach, so that's not too much of a problem) or the kitchen behind them. We could even add waxed paper and make it a shadow puppet theater.

And of course, we'll have to make a lot more puppets . . . . the only downside, as far as the kids seem concerned, is that they can't see the show they put on. I guess I'm going to have to find the video camera.

Weaving for Jesus

Yes, it's Christmas in July at the Hungry house.

We were playing Nativity this morning: Sis was Mary, I was Joseph (but not the one with the rainbow coat!), and Amy the Bunny was Jesus. As usual in Sis's version, Mary is a weaver, making cloth to sell for money since we're so poor. I help, too, and don't do any carpentry. There's even a sign, "Fabric for Sale, by Mary and Joseph."

What was different today is that Bud was playing medieval knight in the next room. Inspired by a video we got on life of a medieval knight, he was practicing with his wooden sword and shield, occasionally holding a dubbing ceremony during which he prayed, considering the difference between chain mail and plate armor, and then, a few times, coming over into Biblical lands and slaying a dragon to protect the baby Jesus.

Now, if that's not reminiscent of the Crusades (and St. George and the Dragon, which story apparently headed West with soldiers from the Crusades) . . . .

Who's the Boss?

We were at dinner last night, showing Mama the chore charts that we'd been making. Sis got the idea from watching "Sid the Science Kid" and had been making charts. Hers includes making her bed, cleaning up her toys, brushing her teeth, and the like. Bud, perhaps not watching the show as closely, wanted a list of things he liked on his, including knights, dragons, castles, books, and musical instruments. Mine had dishes, sweeping, feed the cats, cooking, breadbaking, clean the bathrooms, gardening, and driving. And Mama's has laundry, trash, work, "bring home presents," bills, and giving piggyback rides. Somehow we got on topic of who was the boss. They all simultaneously pointed by voting.

And the winner is . . . . unanimously . . . . me.

What's the prize?

Grapes of Mirth

It was hot outside yesterday, not as hot as it has been, but still bug-buzzing, sun-blinding, clothes-sticking hot. And we were out in it. In the middle of the day. Playing in the backyard. First we painted our puppet theater, but more on that in a separate post. Then, Bud played baseball and then I taught him kickball. Sis was baking with weeds we'd pulled out of the front garden. And when we'd get too hot, or thirsty, or hungry, we retreated to the shade of the table umbrella and ate frozen grapes, marveling at how they got squishier the longer they were outside. You would think they were the best thing ever. And, really, in the sun in the heat in the summer for two dirty kids and one sweaty mommy, they were.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Frozen Grapes

De-stem, wash, and pat down grapes, removing as much moisture as possible. Place in zipper bag and freeze for at least 4 hours. Enjoy straight out of the bag.

Mommy Hungry

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Heal Soon!

Gommie broke her foot by stepping funny on the beach in Texas yesterday and had to rely on the kindness of a stranger in a golf cart to ferry her home. Apparently, it's a clean break of the tibia (the part in your foot, not your leg. Don't ask, I'm not the medical one), which will be set tomorrow.

Good luck and heal fast, Gommie!

Boycott My Favorite Store?

Reading tonight about how Target supported a PAC that made donations to anti-gay Rep. Tom Emmer, GOP (surprise) of MN. He supports a marriage amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman only . . . and is against indoor smoking bans!

Well, Target, I spend literally thousands of dollars at your store annually, having long boycotted Wal-Mart for their egregious labor practices and homophobia.

But now it looks like my money might have to go somewhere else. (Not to Wal-Mart, though.)

Please explain why a company that consistently earns 100% from HRC on equality in the workplace can turn around and undermine a segment of the population it seems to support? Does the "right" hand not know what the "left" hand is doing?

Well, I know what I'm doing. I'll be buying things elsewhere until you come clean on this. And will be encouraging all my suburban mom friends here in CT to do the same.

Gorillas in the Couch

We've been on a Magic Tree House run these last few days: Tigers at Twilight, Afternoon in the Amazon, and Good Morning Gorillas. Yes, the theme is animals--they've been making zoos, drawing animal pictures to make a book, and then, yesterday, acted like gorillas. And I was the Mommy Gorilla, in charge of knit-picking (literally!), supplying leaves and berries, and leading the gorilla charge of chest-thumping, pounding the ground, and hooting if an invader like a black leopard (or domestic cat) appeared. We roamed our African rainforest, from downstairs to up, carpet to couches to beds. The Magic Tree House is, in more ways than one . . . .

Safety Sucks

They were having so much fun upstairs playing deep-sea fishing and later deep-sea diving. I could hear the laughter and action all the way downstairs. And then they came down, so proudly, to show me their scuba gear: plastic-paned backpacks fitting tightly over their heads. My heart skipped a beat to see their beaming faces steaming up the see-through window. And so I took the diving helmets off and told them why they couldn't play that way anymore. Oh, the tears, the thrashing on the floor, the refusal to admit anything else as a suitable replacement. And now, almost an hour later, things aren't quite back to happy levels. It almost makes me sorry that I even enforce health-and-safety rules. Until I remember the steamy plastic. Ugh.

Thoughts and Prayers

Sending love to our friend, Miss J, whose father died at home this morning in Nova Scotia.

T is for Tisane

I mentioned that Mama and I like to share a cuppa in the evenings. It goes without saying, I think, that I drink tea throughout the day, usually Earl Grey with milk, but sometimes other blends, herbal or flavored. Now, I'm experimenting with my own mixtures, inspired by an article in the NYTimes as well as by our Friday Friend's lemon-mint water. I've tried the lemon-mint, finding it very refreshing as long as I drank it all relatively quickly (too much lemon, otherwise, I think). And now I've made a mint tea like a former museum associate of mine, who made it with huge handfuls of mint, tea bags, and sugar, preferring it cold right now. I had heard, somewhere, though I can't find where, about a Californian tradition of putting fresh fruit right inside a watercooler (but, really, wouldn't the fruit get gross before the cooler was emptied??). Instead, trying to find it right now, I found an infusion pitcher that has a pierced tube in the middle. But I think I can save myself $29 and put mint, berries, citrus, cucumber, melon, herbs, whatever, in my little water pitcher directly. And, drinking 8 glasses of water a day, I can change the blend frequently!

-=-=-=-=-=-


AZ's Mint Tea

2 black teabags

bunch of mint, washed

sugar to taste

Boil 2 quarts of water. Pour water into heat-proof pitcher. Add teabags and mint, stems and leaves. Remove teabags within 1-2 minutes; tea is almost entirely for color and under flavor. Add approximately 1 tablespoon of sugar. Serve hot or cold.

Mama's Magic Trunk, or Harry Potter Comes to Connecticut

I first suspected there was magic afoot in the trunk of Mama's Civic one Christmas almost three years ago. There had been an unfortunate accident and Bud needed to go to the emergency room because his elbow had been pulled out of joint. He was wailing hysterically as we buckled him into his car seat (and, also magically, relocated the elbow in the process, thereby rendering the next 3 hours at the ER unnecessary), and suddenly an orange child's digital camera appeared before him. Where had it come from (the very camera Mama and I had discussed NOT buying for Christmas)?

Mama's Magic Trunk.

And I had thought Mama was Muggle-born.

Over the years, Mama's Magic Trunk, truly something straight out of the Wizarding World, has issued forth all sorts of fun, like a mobile Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes shop. Just yesterday, two magnetic science kits appeared to occupy the kids at church while I gave the homily. And it worked. Like magic, of course. There have been activity books, picture books, animal tubes, stuffed critters, a marble run, . . . and even things for me, like spices from Penzey's and chocolate bars from Balducci's. We could stock all the shops of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley!

The kids are entranced, of course, as am I. And the magic never ceases to work!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Like Chocolate for Bribery

I'm sure it was the chocolate bar that made her all better. The trip to the ped was no fun, with a strep culture--Sis cried at the very mention of the culture and only cooperated after receiving a "yes" to her request for a big chocolate bar (the nurse grimaced when the doctor requested one; she has given them to Sis before and hates to see her that miserable, knowing Sis must blame her, she said. Wait til shots in August, which Sis said must be worse than a culture! For the first time ever, it didn't take 2-3 people to restrain her while the nurse did the test. She actually sat on my lap and opened her mouth. Chocolate is a powerful antidote to fear and pain, I guess.). Throat cultures suck, so I agreed with no guilt. The rapid culture came back negative. She had a low point after the visit but was better by nightfall, bright-eyed and almost chipper during storytime as Mama entertained her and Bud with a muppet-like green dinosaur. They talked for 45-minutes after lights-out, a sure sign of improvement. And she's been sleeping ever since. The doctor thinks it's just another virus--asked if we'd been in a pool with lots of kids or something like--and thinks it will last a few more days. The doctor called Sis "the fever kid", making Bud, who I don't think has ever had a fever, or maybe just one, the "injury kid," with stitches, staples, dislocated elbows, neck braces, etc. At least it's not both at the same time, which hopefully means our week will end better than it started. With chocolate . . . .

Hunkered Down

Sis is sick again. No symptoms, just fever. A big one: 104.8F yesterday afternoon when Babysitter was here. It dropped soon, after medicine (note to self: remember to give Motrin when it's over 102F) and a cold bath (and a call to the ped). But it never disappeared and is still here today. What is it about sick children at night, especially with fevers? Maybe I've read too many stories about 17th and 18th-century women nursing (and losing) children in the dark hours before dawn--in The Midwife's Tale, The Year of Wonders, and now (though it was a dad) The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Of course, it's not nearly that awful or life-threatening, thankfully. She vacillates between miserable and almost normal, the fever ranging from just under 100F to 103F. Of course, we'll be going to the ped today. And not doing much for the rest of the week, I imagine.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Word on the Street

"'C' is for Cookie." Rubber Duckie. Number of the day. Maria. "Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?"

Sure, just come to my house at 7 a.m. It's our favorite show these days, making an amazing metamorphoses from show-they-would-never-watch. I always wanted them to be Sesame-Street kids, but for the longest while they would only watch "Elmo's World." What, not watch the Count count? Or Oscar grouch? Or Grover be loveable, Ernie be exasperating to Bert? Or their ever-changing adult cohorts (well, not totally changing--Maria, Gordon, Luis, and Bob are still there) and a menagerie of famous people signing and counting and clapping along? It's fun and smart and educational and a classic!

Now it's just the opposite. The kids love the "Word on the Street" ("why does it always start with W?" "It" being the title that says "word on the street" which they thought spelled the word itself! There just isn't as much spelling as I remember. Is that because sight words are out and phonics are in?). They sit still for the opening narrative (for those of you who haven't watched in awhile, it's not quite the series of diverse and quick-paced shorts it once was; it's structured more as a tv channel with shorts in between longer stories, introduced by Murray the monster and bunches of kids), always have questions about the goings-on at "Abby's Flying Fairy School," wait excitedly for "Murray Has a Little Lamb" introduced by a rapping monster and his Spanish-speaking sheep, and promptly get up as soon as Elmo is introduced! That's fine because we've already seen so many of them that I still have his theme song and "Jingle Bells" tunes stuck in my head.

And there are still the classics I love, from the Rubber Duckie song (which has also been turned into a rap, "Rubber Duck-Duck-Duck") to "Somebody Come and Play," from Bernice the pigeon to the pinball animation for counting to 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12, from Snuffaluffagus (who talks! I liked it better when he was a silent, invisible, mysterious type) to Mr. Hooper's store, which still retains dear Mr. Hooper's name though it is now run by Alan and staffed by Chris. The classics blend well with the new stuff, which I like, especially actual female monsters and fairies which didn't exist when I was a kid (I think the first female Muppet, Prairie Dawn, only showed up years after I was watching) and all the new animated shorts and new songs (like Norah Jones singing about the letter Y or Jason Mraz singing about the outdoors), the new kids on the block like Alan and Chris and Leela.

Funny to think that when my kids are adults, Elmo and Abby will be classics. I wonder what Sesame Street will be like then?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

[AKA the Post I Forgot to Title]

We've had two recent not-quite-obsessions: listening to Sugarland and watching "Pillars of the Earth" on tv. Last one first: yeah, we have movie channels because our cable company didn't want us switching and offered us a bribe which we took. I liked the novel by Ken Follett two decades ago, long enough past that I don't recall anything of the plot or characters to be bored by the miniseries, with Rufus Sewell and Donald Sutherland. I like the costumes and settings, even if the plot is going to be a lot of rich and poor crisscrossing coincidentally across each other's dramas. It's better than a lot of things on . . .

. . . and a lot better than "The Real L Word," the reality show about lesbians in L.A. Well, lesbians in L.A. are just different. But I wouldn't call it "real." Where are the fat dykes? The softball-playing "family?" The downwardly-mobile, socially-conscious, guitar-playing political ones? The crunchy granola vegan pagan ones? Or the "passing" suburban-mom-with-twins-in-her-minivan one? The corporate-IT-professional-who-loves-gadgets one? Ugh. I couldn't even watch. These aren't lesbians I know . . . or would even want to, really. But then I was never a partying bar dyke. Which is, in a way, a segue to Sugarland, because I can't see any of the L Word reality stars listening to the Indigo Girls, Ani De Franco, Dar Williams, or Kristen Hall, who was an original member of Sugarland (and yes, Texas readers, they take the name from Sugarland, TX). I don't really recall how we came across Sugarland (an odd combo of hearing Jennifer Nettles on the new "We are the World" and hearing it at PT), but it's kinda like a faster, funkier Dixie Chicks.

Give'em both a try, I'd recommend them, as well as the book I'm reading, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, an academic-quest-cum-historical-mystery of the Salem panic which explores the supposition that witchcraft was real. It almost lost me in the beginning, as the main character in the modern-day stressed out about orals and choosing a dissertation topic. Sure, for me, that all ended more than seven years ago with my Ph.D. (in fact, my orals--which I passed with distinction!!--were in 1998!) but came back all-too-strongly. Anyway, considering that more than one witch was hung here in our corner of Connecticut, it's an illuminating (and, gasp, entertaining) exploration of a dark page in New England's history. Hopefully, with some redemption for the condemned.

Tidbits

Yesterday afternoon, leaving Babysitter's celebratory graduation pool party, Bud and I were having a noodle duel. And I was winning. Finally, having been poked and nudged a dozen or more times, Bud asked, "Why are you acting like a kid?" Why not? I parried and made another thrust. I didn't take fencing in college to lose a noodle duel with a 5 year old! "Why are you golden ruling me?" Right. Why was I making him hit me? His understanding of the golden rule is whatever people do to you, you do back to them. Great.

-=-=-=-=-=-

We had one of the worst thunderstorms I've ever heard late last night. Lighting so close you could hear the sizzle and crack, with no delay to the thunder. We swore that one bolt hit across the street (though I don't think it did). The power flickered, resetting our cable box and sending Mama downstairs to un-alarm the house. And Sis woke up, scared to death and not feeling well because of her cold. She curled up in bed with me, then more amazed than afraid of the storm. "Mommy, the lightning looks like twinkling stars. It lights up the whole room!" She couldn't even count seconds between bolt and sound because there wasn't time. Later she noticed that we were only seeing the lightning out one window, that the storm must be passing. And soon she too was ready to move on, back to bed and sleep.

I Love Bertucci's Rolls Even More!

Bertucci's has finally published the nutritional value of their rolls on its website (plus almost all their other menu items) and it is better than I had hoped: rolls are "only" 170 calories, 2 g fat, 1 g fiber. That's "only" 3 points on Weight Watchers!!!!! Just like Olive Garden't breadsticks. Makes my day! Especially because I had one at lunch . . . .

Rise Up: Mindful Baking

Though it seems crazy to bake in this weather, I led service at church this morning focused on baking bread mindfully. Of the small group who were there (because UUs don't usually gather in large numbers in the summer months), the children in the congregation had the most fun, one girl saying that church was finally fun! Of course, children bake mindfully all by themselves, wondering at the smell, texture, sight, and taste of all the ingredients, engaging in the processes with passion as they stir and knead and shape. When kids cook, they cook--they don't talk on the phone or wonder about something that happened earlier in the day; they are fully engaged. And so, baking with the kids and the adults at service today, despite the hot weather, made for a wonderful and tasty morning.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Mindful Baking Service

Gathering: Volunteers help shape existing dough into loaves, covering them and setting them aside (hang signs asking participants to wash hands first).

Chalice Lighting: "We who gather here come for sustenance--we come to break bread together. we come bearing the ingredients of and for creation--we bring ourselves. With the blending of hearts and minds, we join in the work of loving hands which learn to knead the dough. And in the warmth of fellowship will rise the staff of life." --Bread-making Rite, Part One

Making bread, one cultivates generosity.
Making bread, one cultivates patience.
Making bread, one cultivates mindfulness.
Making bread, one cultivates concentration.
Making bread, one cultivates effort.
Making bread, one cultivates wisdom.
--adapted from The Lotusland

Opening Words: "The Kitchen"--Gunilla Norris, Becoming Bread

Familiar and strange,
the kitchen is a holy place--
alive with possibility.

A place for the elements.
Water in the tap,
fire in the stove,
earth in the food,
air--between, around, above, and below.

Behind the cupboard doors
are the pots and the pans,
the bowls and the dishes,
the measuring cups
and the measuring spoons--

holy things
that lie ready for use,
much like our dreams
that lie waiting
behind our eyelids.

The kitchen is alchemical,
a place where we cook--actually
and spiritually. We come to it
for nourishment and ease.
We come to it as to a center--

the heart of the house,
the heart of the dwelling.
In the kitchen we are one,
linked by hunger--
actual hunger and spiritual hunger.

We go to the kitchen to be
nourished and revealed.
It is a holy place.
Opening Music "All I Really Need" by Raffi

Candles of Community

Silent Meditation:

Breathing in, I select,
Breathing out, I slice.
Breathing in, I sautee,
Breathing out, I simmer.
Breathing in, I serve,
Breathing out, I savor.

--Janice Lynne Lundy, Awake is Good blog

Homily

Inspired by a pledge to make all of my family's bread for 40 days, a pledge that I made right here in this pulpit on April 18, I have spent the last four months learning how to bake. With recipes from friends, a lesson from another friend, and several cookbooks, I embarked on a path which I am still following. I bake bread two or three times a week, even now with the pledge officially over. And each loaf is another learning loaf, as I understand more about yeast and flour, kneading resting, which recipes are good for sandwiches and which for toast, which recipes the kids will eat and which ones Mama and I prefer. More than all of that, I understand more about myself, more about life. I am becoming mindful about and through my bread baking.

But what does that mean? Famed cook and cookbook author as well as Zen Priest Edward Espe Brown writes and talks often about mindfulness in cooking, starting with Suzuki Roshi's advice: “When you wash the rice, wash the rice. When you cut the carrots, cut the carrots. When you stir the soup, stir the soup.” Or quotes Zen Master Tenkei, "“See with your eyes, smell with your nose, taste with your tongue.” In other words, do what you are doing. For me, it means making my bread instead of buying it. It means feeling the flour, sniffing the sourdough starter, seeing the dough spring back when I press it. I smell the bread baking, I see the crust browning, I feel the warmth of the cooling loaf, and finally I taste the bread. It also means I try not to just follow a recipe blindly but try to understand rising and proofing, gluten and yeast. So that I am really making the bread. I make small changes to express myself, using honey for maple syrup, whole wheat flour for half of the white, oats sprinkled on top to indicate oatmeal bread. And when the bread comes out well, it's good; and when the bread comes out unexpectedly, it's still good because I learn.

And so, instead of talking to you about being mindful about breadmaking, we're going to make bread and be mindful about it in the process.

Simple Crusty Bread
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough
Cornmeal.
1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).
2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.
3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.
4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.
Yield: 4 loaves.
Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Place pan on middle rack.

Dr. Jeff Hertzberg,
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
(Procession by a few selected congregants to kitchen to begin baking loaves so they'll be ready by fellowship hour.)

Lastly, Brown notes, "“Cooking is not just working on food, but working on yourself and other people.” And more than anything, that is why I bake. It's not just because of creating a homemade, more natural product and avoiding unnecessary packaging and questionable ingredients. It's not just to learn a new skill and share the loaves of my labor. It's not just to preserve tradition and to resurrect my grandmother's recipes for my children. Though it is all of those things, too. It is to spend some part of each week being. And expressing that being through doing. And to share that doing and being with those around me. Zen Priest and author Karen Maezen Miller writes in Hand Wash Cold about life being a kitchen,

"Every day, I found my daughter's scorched breakfast left on the table, and my husband's crusty oatmeal bowl on the counter. I found shelves of food that no one but me would cook, cabinets of dishes no one but me would wash and put away. I found a near-empty milk jug, overripe bananas, and moldy bread. I found out the same way you did that a self-cleaning oven absolutely never cleans itself. In all this mess, I found the ingredients for the next stage in the spiritual journey: the opportunity to move beyond myself and into compassionate care of everything and everyone that appeared before me morning, noon, and night. I found myself in the very heart of life, an ordinary life, the best spot to give and receive pure love."

As Julia Child wrote in her memoir, My Life in France, "the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite - toujours bon app├ętit!"

Offertory--"Earth, Air, Fire, Water" by Libana

Closing Words: "Working in the Kitchen"--Edward Espe Brown, Tassajara Bread Book
What is it, closer than close?
Not impervious or distant, not
stiff or unresponsive. A get-down-
in-the-mud mind, a root-around-in-the-weeds mind: Food comes
alive with your presence, reaching
out, laboring, taking the time
for flour, salt, water, yeast
to come together, for a bowl
that breaks, the dirty dishes,
a leaky faucet, always more
to cooking than meets the eye!
Each thing asking to be seen, heard,
known, loved, a companion in the dark.
"Take care of the food," it is said,
"as thought it was your own eyesight,"
not saying, oh that's all right, we
have plenty, we can throw that away.
Table, teapot, measuring cups, spoons:
the body within the body, the place
where everything connects.
Ripe, succulent fruit, leaves, stems,
roots, seeds: the innermost mind
awakening, fully manifesting. What
are you up to, after all? What is
a way of life that is satisfying,
fulfilling, sustaining and sustainable?
Cups, glasses, sponges, one
body with a hundred faces,
a sticky honey jar, the half-
empty cup of coffee, each asking
to fulfill, each offering the touch
of the beloved.
Enter, plunge into the heart
of the matter: an unknown destination,
an unknown adventure unfolding
with you wits about you and your
not-so-wits. Things emerging in life,
Life emerging in things, no separation.
Concentrating on food, concentrating on
myself, with heart opening, hands offering
may everything be deliciously full
of warmth and kindness.
Coming form the earth, coming from the air,
a cool breeze, a spark, a flame, go ahead:
Cook, offer yourself, hold nothing back.
Cooking is not like you expected, not like
you anticipated. What is happening is unheard
of, never before experienced. You cook. No mistakes.
You might do it differently next time, but
you did it this way this time. Things
are as they are, even if you say too much this
too little that. And if you want things to stay
the same, remind yourself they have no unchanging nature.
"Wherever you go, remember, there you are." O.K.?
Go ahead. Keep moving. Watch your step.
Closing Music "Simple Gifts"


Blessing on the Bread in Fellowship:
  • This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard work.
  • May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
  • May we transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
  • May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.
  • We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our sangha [community] and nourish our ideal of serving all beings.

Tea for Two

Usually when Mama and I enjoy a formal tea time together (not just grabbing a mug of decaf Earl Grey when the kids are off to bed), we go English--with crumpets or scones, marmalade and clotted cream, or just a good cuppa slowly sipped with care. But Friday night, we opted for something out of the ordinary--Armenian Spiced Rose Petal Tea from my Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey by Najmieh Batmanglij. I had the rose petals from Kalustyan's and all the other spices as well, and so we brewed the tea and enjoyed reading through some of our Silk Road books, since it's rather a topic du jour at our house right now. And the tea was so fragrant, with the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and rose blending so subtly together. We even liked the leftovers iced, which is good because it's almost too hot to enjoy a cuppa--English, Silk Road, or Chinese--anything but Southern iced!

-=-=-=-=-=

Armenian Spiced Rose Petal Tea

4 cups water
one 3" cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 tablespoon organic rose petals
2 teaspoons loose black tea (we used 2 tea bags)
2 tablespoons sugar

Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Add spices. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place the tea leaves and sugar in a teapot.

Fill the teapot, through a strainer, with the boiling spice water and steep for 5-10 minutes. Do not steep more than 10 minutes.

Before serving, pour a cup of tea and return it to the pot to make sure tea is evenly mixed.

Fill each glass with tea. Keep teapot warm

Najmieh Batmanglij, Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey

. . . . . .

We bought an elliptical workout machine today, upon the advice of my PT when asked about the best exercise for me--low impact cardio. Sure, swimming is great--and I'm still walking my laps in the pool (not allowed to do strokes right now)--but I can't do it at the end of the day when I haven't gotten to exercise yet. And so the elliptical is my back-up exercise insurance, so to speak, so that I do it everyday. No excuses. Of course, it's huge and expensive, both motivations not to ignore it.

Now, I just need a big screen tv to put in front of it!

(Get the post title now? Ellipses? Hee hee hee.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Adventures in Cooking Our CSA Share: Hidden Zucchini

I made the cookies . . . and Sis wouldn't even try them. I'd like to be able to blame the fever she
developed today for her lack of appetite, but I think she sensed the zucchini. Even though I called them
"Summer" Chocolate Chip Cookies. It's just a summer
cold, I'm sure, so she'll be fine. But I don't think that means she'll try the cookies, which were
good (enough--I like mine crispier so I'll need to fiddle with it a bit, maybe somehow strain the
shredded zucchini) and not even a bit green.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-
"Summer" (ZUCCHINI) CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

(Makes about two dozen)
1 egg, beaten
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Combine in large bowl.

1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg

Combine in a separate, small bowl and blend into liquid mixture

1 cup finely shredded zucchini
12 oz chocolate chips
Stir these into other ingredients, mix well. Drop by spoonful onto greased baking sheet, and flatten with the back of a spoon. Bake at 350°, 10 to 15 minutes.

from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Adventures in Cooking Our CSA Share: Squash Overload

The Best Zucchini Recipe:
1 bushel zucchini
1 raincoat
1 pair of sunglasses
A moderately fast car
Directions:
Go to a busy parking lot. Drive around until you find an unlocked car. Put the zucchini in the back seat and drive away FAST before you are discovered!
--Darius

I have something like 8 lbs of zucchini and summer squash in my fridge (and yes, I recognize that, by comparison, that's not much). And pretty much only me to make a dent in it, since the kids won't readily eat it and Mama gets lunch at work (though, she'll see squash every night!). Friends don't eat it or don't want it. And I don't want it to go bad--it's in my crisper, frozen in my freezer, on the menu for dinner! I usually eat it baked or in soups, but I need a way to devour it faster, especially because there will be more coming out of my garden and more in my CSA box next week!

I was going to make the zucchini chocolate chip cookie recipe in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or some kind of "zapple" (that's zucchini-for-apple) crumble mentioned in my Classic Zucchini Cookbook, you know a baked good that takes 1-2 cups and hides it from the kids. But, see, I bake during the day and they would be suspicious of grated green stuff going into the mixing bowl. I guess I'm going to have to do some stealth baking!

And, if you happen to know any other great zucchini recipes, please pass them along. I'll do a post with a compilation of zucchini recipes later in the week.

So, no need to lock your doors, dear neighbors . . . .

-=-=-=-=-=-

How to Use Three Squash Recipe

2 yellow summer squash, whatever shape you like (I like half circles or wedges)
1 zucchini, whatever shape you like
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup picante sauce
olive oil

Heat olive oil in skillet, adding onion and then garlic. Saute squashes in skillet, adding picante sauce when translucent. Reduce liquid in dish to desired consistency. Serve with pinto beans, tortillas, and avocado!

Mommy Hungry

Friday, July 23, 2010

Too Many Tornadoes

At least too many watches and warnings. We're under another one tonight, which makes 2 in 24 hours, three this month, I think, with a tornado and a microburst in our recent past here in Connecticut. Enough is enough.

Though, at 70F today and overcast skies, I could almost convince myself that fall is on its way. It is, of course, and I don't really want to rush it . . . .

Thursday, July 22, 2010

License to Kill, Revoked

In my post the other day about my personal war on flies (which has ended because they've disappeared), I forgot to relay a conversation we had about killing flies.

Bud said to me, "Mom, if we believe in the importance of all living things, why do you kill flies? They're alive."

Darn church attendance and those UU principles, anyway.

I tried to explain that flies weren't clean and would just multiply, that it was a health-and-safety issue, that we'd tried to get rid of them mercifully by sealing the windows and such, but it hadn't worked.

"But you're a vegetarian. You don't kill animals."

Sigh.

I guess they were listening.

And now they're not going to believe me anymore.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Give a Fig

I ate a fig this morning, a black mission fig, which might seem like an ordinary thing to do except I'd never had a raw or fresh fig before, only dried or Newton-ed. And I even googled how and what I could eat it--do you eat the skins? the seeds, if it's not dried? You can do both of those, but most people seem to recommend peeling the skin from the stem.

And they really are wonderfully good that way, delicately sweet with occasional crunches. Lots of people said to eat them with goat cheese, which would be good. But they're good just plain, too. I had seem them at the fancy food market on date night, choosing them because I'd never had them before (such an adventurous eater I've become! Not.). A nice treat from date night--Mama, I saved you a few, too.

Takes the Cake

Specifically, Sis took the cake. To a playdate yesterday. With some of our new kindergarten friends. Well, "new" isn't exactly correct because we've known the families for years but haven't spent too much extra time together outside of the big playgroups of the toddler years or some moms' night out (MNO) opportunities. Anyway, Sis was excited and wanted to take a treat (Bud was excited too but doesn't immediately think of baking!). And so she flipped through her chocolate cookbook and spotted a picture we liked, for Hershey Special Dark Picnic Cake; luckily, we had all the ingredients, including the sour cream which I don't always have on hand (though I've found that plain yogurt works admirably as a substitute). She proudly mixed, poured, and even cleaned up (with lots of licking of bowls first), then later iced the cake and joyfully carried the cake to the playdate. Everyone welcomed it, making her happy. Best of all, it was delicious, just the kind of chocolate sheet cake I have been hoping to find. More than that, it made meeting some new friends who will be in our kindergarten easier than it would be. Chocolate cake makes everything better! (And next time we'll try the cocoa substitution that the online version of the recipe suggests.)

(Bud had a good time too, especially when he got to perform his kung fu forms to everyone's applause. It's just what we needed for school.)

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Hershey Special Dark Picnic Cake

1 cup Hershey Special Dark Chocolate Chips (regular semisweet work too!)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
1-1/3 cups boiling water
2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup dairy sour cream
2 eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Special Dark Frosting (recipe follows)

1. Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan.
2. Combine chocolate chips, butter and water in large mixer bowl; stir with spoon until chocolate is melted and mixture is blended. Gradually add flour, sugar, sour cream, eggs, baking soda, salt and vanilla; beat on low speed of electric mixer until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.
3. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Frost with Special Dark Frosting. 12 to 15 servings.

Special Dark Frosting

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
1 cup Hershey Special Dark Chocolate Chips
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place butter and chocolate chips in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at MEDIUM (50%) 1 minute; stir. If necessary, microwave at MEDIUM 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, until chips are melted and mixture is smooth when stirred. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, milk and vanilla, beating until smooth. If necessary, refrigerate 5 to 10 minutes or until of desired spreading consistency. About 1-2/3 cups frosting.

VARIATION: For a stronger chocolate flavored cake, decrease flour to 2 cups and add 1/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa.


Rise Up: Two New Loaves

I keep trying new breads, mainly for my bread machine. The two below are good, especially the first one, which is similar to Molasses Oatmeal Bread and very good. I'm trying it today with honey because I ran out of maple syrup. Next time, molasses (and perhaps some whole wheat flour)!

Maple Oatmeal Bread

1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 cups bread flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon gluten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast

Place all ingredients in bread machine pan according to manufacturer's instructions. Set crust on dark and program for basic. Press Start (do not use delay timer). If dough is too stiff, dribble with some water.

When baking ends, remove from pan and place on rack. Let cool before slicing.

Sour Cream Bread

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1 cup sour cream
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 teaspoons gluten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast.

Place all ingredients in pan according to order in manufacturer's instructions, with water and sour cream first, adding dry ingredients on top. Set crust on medium and program for Basic. Press Start (to not use delay timer).


When baking ends, remove from pan and place on rack. Let cool before slicing.

Beth Hensperger, The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook