Wednesday, February 29, 2012

So This Is Happening

I'm getting hits from Germany, Russia, South Korea, India, the Ukraine,  and the Netherlands.  This thrills me to my socks and I'm hoping they add stories from their families in the comments sections.  We're edging close to 500 hits, in five weeks, which seems completely wonderful to me.  THANKS EVERYBODY.
So, I don't know if this is even possible, but I would love it, if my family of readers would write a quick, witting, warm greeting to those  folks.  I've always been sorta sappy about World Peace, and one of the ways to foster that, is to actually talk to people and learn about their lives, their hopes for their countries, and their family stories.  It's just the best.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jackie and The Girls

True love is a work-in-progress that takes the attention of  adults who care about how kids grow up—whether they are safe, whether they are learning effectively, whether they are cared for emotionally and practically.  I met Jackie and her two elementary-aged granddaughters at church.  Their beautiful little family is work-in-progress, driven by a calm and brilliant grandmother, and watched-over and guarded carefully by my tribe of believers.

The girls’ mom and dad are in town, although the parents have substantial challenges.  Both of them love those beautiful girls, but there are decent reasons why Jackie  is the primary stability for the kids.  She’s the one who can get them to the doctors, the counselors, and who can assure that the kids are up to speed with their homework.  Their other grandmother is helping too.   I watched the younger granddaughter as she did her math homework; she was  so engaged and productive.  You could see the pride of accomplishment in every right answer. 

The girls have fallen in love with my buddy. Tim is a dad to two grown daughters. the husband of Julie, and a career safety officer.  Tim is a big, strapping guy whose heart is instantly softened in the presence of kids.  He takes both girls seriously, talks to them frequently and it’s him that they run to in joy.  Talk about a place where kids are protected and safe…    It’s a singularly good choice, and I’m so hoping that this great, good man will imprint on their growing psyches.   Here’s what you look for:  You look for men who respect you; you look for men with appropriate actions, you look for men who really like you, who look you in the eye and talk straight with you.

But here is the thing to me:  Jackie has such maturity, such kindness in her voice, such depth of love, for those two sterling children, such wisdom; she’s a walking, talking embodiment of deep, responsive, responsible love.  It makes me so proud of grandmas. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Best Thing

Carl Sagan said “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe..”

 First, the crust.  You’ll need two crusts.  I make this recipe twice.  It’s easier to handle and separate.  Here goes:
            11/2 cups flour
            ½ tsp salt

Blend the salt and flour.

Add  1 cup  8 oz. of room temperature shortening.  Or a blend of butter and shortening. You might want the butter for flavor, but the shortening creates the right texture.
You cut the fats into the flour by using two kitchen knives.  You pull them across the mixture again and again, crossing the knives, which cuts the shortening into the flour,  until the mixture resembles coarse sand and all of the fat is blended.  You can do this task in a food processor, it’s way faster.  But you get a much flakier texture if you use the knives.  Add 6 tablespoons of water.  Form the dough into a ball. one for each recipe and refrigerate them at least an hour, and maybe over night. 

 Since we already have a universe, an easier approach is to hit the fruit stand.  You need 6-8 large apples or 8-10 medium ones.  I love Pink Ladies or Honey Crisps because they
are spectacularly juicy, and sweet and tart both, and they are easier to get in the Pacific Northwest.  Choose one you like that is raised close to you.  You want apples that are firm and fresh.  Peel, core, and slice them.  Make sure  you add the juice of one lemon and stir the apple  slices often. 

Add ½ cup of white sugar, and ½ cup of brown sugar.  2 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch, 2 tsp of cinnamon, ½ tsp of ground ginger. and ½ tsp of cloves, more of the spices. if you like.  These amounts are pretty subtle, perfect for kids.  Dr. Oz thinks they are great ånti-inflammatories, which makes the apple pie a health food, in case you were wondering.  Put the sugars, cornstarch, and spices over the apples and stir them so the sugars, cornstarch and spices are evenly distributed. 

Roll out the bottom crust to about a ¼ inch thickness,, drape it over a deep-dish apple pie plate.  Make sure the crust is shaped to the plate, and trim off the extra.  Put in the apples and spread them around the bottom crust.  Don’t worry if they are a little higher than the plate, they cook down during the baking.    Roll out the top crust  and put it  on top of the apples.  Trim the crust, leaving about ½ inch hanging over the edges.  Tuck the top crust under the bottom crust.  Crimp the edges of the pie with a fork, which seals the pie and keep the juices inside, which is where you want them.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Slide in a cookie sheet.  Make a wash of 1 egg white and 1 tablespoon of water.  Whisk.  Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the pie with the egg wash.  Cut in three vents into the pie.  Top off the pie with sugar, sprinkled over the top of the pie.  Mix in a little cinnamon if wish. 

Bake it on top of the cookie sheet in the pre-heated over for an hour.  Towards the end of the baking time, check for the doneness of the apples.  Put a fork through the vents and if the apples are tender, you are done.  If the apples are still hard, put some tin foil over the top of the pie to keep it from burning, and bake the pie, checking every  15 minutes.

Pull the pie from the over and let it cool for several hours.  Enjoy the scents while you wait.  We serve this on Dad's Day, the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  A family tradition now.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Kids and Peas

In my family, we were blessed with two brilliant, beautiful, congenial kids, my niece and nephew.  Miss Mackenzie is stretching into a successful, post-college adulthood.  She's also our picky eater, more into her mom's mashed potatoes and her aunt's pumpkin pie.  Scott, whom I called Scott-baby, Scott-boy, Scott-kid, Scott-guy, and now Scott-man, who looked like a sturdy, baby tank as a toddler, quickly lost that profile once he started to walk, is now a tall, skinny engineering student.  His only criteria for food is this:  Is there enough meat and spuds?
When they were toddlers, they lived on Kraft's Macaroni and cheese, tomato pizza, and frozen peas.  Once, they came over for dinner and I served their parents more sophisticated fare, but for the kids I made cork-screw pasta with a little butter and Parmasean.  Scottie literally chirped with joy over his dinner.  He would stretch out the pasta and then watch it spring back into shape.  It was miraculous:  a toy you could eat.
Veggies were limited to carrot dollars, canned corn, and frozen peas. Nobody cooked the peas, so they never got mushy.  Miss Mackenzie, more likely to play with her food than actually eat it, stuffed the little green orbs up her nose.
A massive sneeze erupted, one big enough to take out the back wall of the garage, started her parents into next week because it came from the tiniest, daintiest child, and shot tiny green projectiles across the kitchen.  They'd be finding thawed-out peas for the next two weeks.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentines Day!

So Valentine’s Day is the celebration of true love or something nearly like it.  Lots of us fake it or hope for it.  But it still remains illusive and there’s an outside chance that what we think is love might not be love—for awhile.  Give or take a couple of kids, some financial whooptedos, and 30 years together, some of us will have a decent clue about what love means and who might be in our back corner over the long term.

Today, we had another turn at love within our family.  It was my cousin’s annual check up, the one she gets at the cancer clinic, complete with labs, a scan or two, a thorough going-over by her oncologist—Dr. Dan, a truly brilliant, good guy. 

We await these days with calmness and aplomb, but inside we are a complete, withering mess, and until Dr. Dan gives the O.K., we are not O.K. Every thing hinges on a 20-minute appointment and it takes us all day to get that much done.  Medicine has in its own time zone. 

One of Julie’s nurses stopped by to give Julie a hug in the waiting room.  “You are our miracle kid,” she said.  We know.  Her cancer was a bad one. 

So today, we go what we wanted for Valentine’s Day, an intact family, another crack at life, and love enough.  I wish that for each of you

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Food Food

Here’s what you need to get started.  One triathlete, who spends 8 hours on the bike on Sundays and works out at the YMCA for an hour or so before work in the morning and 4-6 hours in the evening; another man who spends his days behind the wheel of a city bus, wielding a multi-ton hunk of metal in many directions all day every day; a law-enforcement officer who works with young, multi-offenders every day and some nights trying to get those kids pointed in a better direction and who is not above some pretty tough love when it is called for;  a grandmother with Hepatitis C on a serious medical regimen and who can’t eat anything too seriously seasoned or of strong of flavor; and a mom who is brilliant with money issues, an accountant for a major company; and me the woman with time enough to spend all afternoon puttering over a pot roast.  You also need a wintry night and a light rain and a February cold that creeps in.  All told: six hungry, cold people who have worked hard all day and run themselves ragged.

I started about two in the afternoon, a three-inch thick pot roast that filled up the bottom of my roasting pan.  I put oil on the bottom of the pan, added half a chopped up onion and four crushed garlic cloves.  I let the oil cook the veggies down until they were soft, then pulled them out.  I added the meat, let it sere on both sides in the onion and garlic flavored oil.  Then added the onions and garlic back, a can of beef broth and a can of water, a little salt on the meat.  I put a lid on and put it in a 350 degree over for two hours.  A hour before it was ready, I added 6 carrots, half a sliced onion, and 3 large potatoes in the pan with the meat, letting the broth cover the vegg.  Cook in the oven another hour until the veggies are soft.  Cooking while people are having a glass of wine or a cold beer provides scents that are almost too much to bear. 

Rick, our athlete, pulled out the meat and veggies and sliced them apart so people could serve themselves.  The meat was massively tender.  He cut the roast into large pieces, because we were hungry.  I made the gravy from the broth, onions, and garlic.  Add 2 heaping tablespoons of corn starch into ¼ cup of water, dissolve the corn starch, and add the whole thing to the broth.  It will form a gravy very quickly that is also dense and complex.  We ate and ate, and then ate some more.  We were all righteously fed, with meat and vegetables that met our needs for both dinner and buddies for companionship.  You know, food food.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What Happens When The Kids Grow Up

William was always the kid who was way smarter than anyone else, a big a boisterous boy with potential spouting every time he opened his mouth.  But he had something of Peter Pan about him and that turned him into a wild child.  He dabbled in things that weren’t in his best interests.  And you had to catch him to get his attention. 

His mom really, really tried—for decades.  Mama knew that he was up to not-so-good stuff, but he was a strong-willed child and he more-or-less wore her out.  Then it all came crashing in on him—as it does on everybody at some point.  That got his attention and he began to take his life seriously, his mom seriously, and himself seriously.  Particularly he took his brains seriously. 

In the midst of this serious transformation, his girlfriend wound up pregnant, maybe not a surprise to anybody.  But here’s what babies do, if you let them.  They stabilize you, they give you direction and a reason to re-enter the good side, and they teach you how to love.  William fell seriously in love with his son and redoubled his efforts at school.  All the years William had spent mucking about now became lessons in why not to do that.  The baby’s mom and William couldn’t make a go of it as lovers, but they are both sterling parents of baby Harry, now about three years old.  William is now well into his college career, with wonderful grades and he looks like a healthy, loving dad in it for the long haul.  Grandmama is permanently happy.  And Harry is a charming, beautiful, healthy child.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

From the Archives

The duck wasn't moving, so I was trying to get my various hairs pointed in a socially acceptable direction.  It was before school, somebody was in the bathroom, so I relegated myself to the hinterlands, the laundry room with its sink and mirror. My brother had been out duck hunting at dawn, had some success, and left his duck on top of the dryer to deal with later.  As I carefully arranged my naturally curly hair in some fashion or another, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed movement.  Duck  movement.

"Hey! This duck is alive,"  I shouted to the rest of the family.

No response.  My dad and brother were avid hunters and knew that sometimes birds have a little bit of movement after death.  That's what they thought I was seeing.

What I was seeing was a duck whose head was up and alert and looking at me.  Blinking.   "Hey, this duck is alive and I'm not kidding."  My voice was going up, in both decibels and in octaves.  The duck sits up.

But then, you could hear me in the next county. And then the duck gets up and takes a little walk around the top of the dryer.  I'm pretty much screaming by this point.

My dad, my brother, and my mother, with their toothbrushes still in their mouths and brushes still in their hair,  show up in the laundry room with me,  just in time to see the duck take flight in a long, slow loop around the laundry room, and then watch me open the back screen door, and let the duck fly out and away.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

How Brent Does Vegetables

Our church has a chef, not that every church needs to have one.  But ours is a dandy.  Brent Southcombe, an Australian/New Zealand chef,  settled in our city and wanted to use our church's  professional kitchen to teach refugees kitchen skills that would get them great jobs in great restaurants.

So far, so good.

We fell in love with the refugees, who've lived through horrendous things, and come out the other side with serious cooking skills and more than ready to work.  And work hard.  As a trade-off, Brent cooks one meal a week for our congregation and his students help serve.   It turns out to be a mixture of a French cuisine and  ethnic foods.  We love Brent too.

Last night we had Morroccan Beef, which our teens promptly called Rockin' Beef.  That more than pleased Brent.  But his real gift to us, as a church family, is that he's got our little kids and our teens loving vegatables.  They come back for more and and more, and lots of those kids, who had vegetarian tendencies, anyway, feast on Brent's proper way of doing vegies.  Here's how he does it.

Step 1:  Clean and cut the veg into mouth-sized bits.  He prepares galloons of vegetables: carrots, yellow squash, red peppers, green beans, et al.  He covers them with a clean, moist towel and puts them in the fridge.

Step 2: Rehydrate the veg.  He has a simmering pot of water on the stove and he puts about a cup of veg in a colander and give the vegetable a quick dip in the hot water.  Not more than 30 seconds.  He drains them.

Step 3:  He puts a skim of olive oil in a beat up skillet and heats it until the oil shimmers.  Then he puts the veggies in the oil, adds 1/2 tablespoon butter and salt to taste.  The veg get a quick toss, a time or two, until they are heated through, not more than a minute—and served.

They are exquisite.