Saturday, July 30, 2016

Summer, this week

This was our ninth week of summer break.

With swimming lessons and the library's summer reading program over, we spent most of the week close to home, which wasn't a bad thing at all. I wouldn't say we've had a terribly busy summer, but calm, unscheduled days at home are always welcome in my book.

It rained a fair amount this week and I enjoyed watching the sky change as storms rolled in. With the monsoon, you just never know where a storm will hit. It could be storming a mile away and dry where you are, but it's still nice to see the clouds gather. This coming week should be even better for storms and I'm looking forward to it.

I started crocheting my Choro Top. It's going well enough, but I have a long way to go. I kept running into one obstacle after another when I was trying to start; I needed a bigger hook than I already had, then I realized I also needed one bigger than that to make the foundation chain properly. I had to wait for both hooks to arrive, separately, well after the yarn was delivered. Then I had some confusion with the pattern, which took me a while to work out. I like it, though. I don't how wearable it will be (it's looking a bit schmatte so far, but it's early days), but I'm happy to be trying. I loooove the yarn (Knitpicks Comfy Worsted), by the way. It's a cotton-acrylic blend and feels so soft and light in my hands. I wish I'd discovered it sooner.

My pirate ship cross-stitch is finished! I'm not sharing a photo today because I plan to show you the finished, framed piece soon, but I'm really happy with it and I think it's going to look good in its intended spot in the family room.

This summer has been really hard on my flowers. The roses would normally be on at least their third good bloom by now if we'd had the normal amount of rain during July. We water them regularly, but it's not the same. I've missed having flowers to bring in; nothing else is blooming well this summer either. I bought myself a bouquet at Trader Joe's to compensate. It has a big sunflower, several orange lilies, greenish-white chysanthemums, purple alstroemeria and pink-tipped ivory roses. Very cheerful and bright. It was a big bouquet so I separated it into two smaller bunches for different parts of the kitchen. I've been enjoying them so much, especially the sunflower. I put that bouquet next to the kitchen sink, where it makes washing dishes just slightly nicer.

We made our own peanut butter! I know, you're falling off your chair with excitement. We had some salted un-shelled peanuts that were getting a little stale so we shelled them and put all the nuts through our Wondermill Jr. It made really good peanut butter, a little bit too salty, but a good texture and very nice with my homemade raspberry jam. We've decided to make PB&J's with the next loaf of bread baked by the Bear, so the whole sandwich will be homemade. #selfsufficiencygoals

The Bear painted a little country house scene in acrylic. I love his paintings so much. I appreciate your compliments on them in previous posts. He loves to paint and draw. I try to show off his work here. He's modest but he appreciates the nice things you've said.

Our homeschooling has continued all summer, though I haven't really mentioned it here - just trying to keep things summery and light, I guess. But we've had daily math, music and art, in addition to lots of reading. Both small Bears entered writing contests this summer. The LB entered a contest through the State of New Mexico, sort of a "why I love NM" contest, and the GB entered one through PBS Kids and the local public TV station. Her contest asked for a creative-writing piece complete with illustrations. Both worked very hard and are eager to learn the results. We've also enjoyed playing a game of our own creation called Math Orb. This involves being asked math questions and getting to take a shot with the Nerf basketball and hoop in our family room. You have to get three in a row correct to have a chance to shoot. I play too; they're more apt to get shots than I am.

School starts in less than two weeks. So far, we've ticked haircuts and new shoes off our to-do list. School supplies remain; I've only heard from one of two teachers so far. I really hope this is our week to hear from her because the school supply section at Target was already looking post-apocalyptic when we went there for the shoes.

Thank you for your comments lately, particularly your replies to my questions about cookbooks. I loved reading about your collections, as well as your preferred styles of cooking and eating. I just adore knowing more about how people do these everyday things and what makes their households run more smoothly or enjoyably. I noticed several replies from new commenters and I just wanted to say hello and welcome, I'm really glad you stopped by and I hope you'll stick around. I'm always interested in reading new blogs, so if you have one, would you please leave a link?

I hope you're having a good weekend. It's a chill one for us, just doing things around the house and looking forward to whatever storminess the afternoon and evening might bring. We all love our summer storms around here. Last evening, a huge one rolled through while I was cooking dinner. The Bear came home from work around the same time; he'd been worried about what he was driving into, having seen a bolt of lightning flash clear across the whole sky. It was good to be at home together, to shut the door and stay inside. Later, there was a double rainbow, a gorgeous sight between us and the mountain. Lucky us, with our rainbows after almost every storm.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cookbook confidential

When I'm in someone else's kitchen, especially if it's a first visit, I always try to take a look at their cookbook collection, even if it's just a quick peek from the corner of my eye. I'm really fascinated by how other people do daily-life things, as I've mentioned many times before, particularly the basic things like cooking. I love to cook and bake and I often naively assume that everyone feels the same as I do about those tasks, though I know this isn't necessarily true. I certainly don't enjoy every moment of it either; it can feel like a real chore sometimes. I try to stay positive about it, though; it's part of everyday life and it doesn't have to be boring or tedious. Having a good supply of cookbooks on hand helps a lot; I feel I can gather inspiration anytime I need it.

On my kitchen counter, I keep a selection of my favorite cookbooks for daily cooking, the ones I refer to again and again. There are other cookbooks in our home - many of them, actually - but they aren't what I consider daily-life cookbooks, though they can be helpful. They include books such as a hand-me-down 1960's edition of The Joy of Cooking, which is surprisingly useful for making classic dishes like roasted meats and fancy desserts. We have any number of bread-baking books, our favorite of which is Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. We also have lots of books related to smoking and barbecuing, canning and preserving, dehydrating, pressure-cooking, and emergency and long-term food storage (we're quite enthusiastic about this subject, though I don't really discuss it here; sometime I'll tell you more). These types of cookbooks live in our home office where they are accessible when we need them, but they don't need to be in the kitchen at all times, especially because we have very little room for them there.

What we do keep in the kitchen includes Betty Crocker's Cookbook (2000 edition), my absolute favorite one of all and the one I go to most often for the basics of everyday cooking (meats, vegetables, cookies and quick breads, pancakes and waffles). This was my first cookbook, given to me in 2001 just before I got married; I needed a whole lot of cooking help and this book was just right. Cooking Light and America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family cookbooks are next in line for usefulness; I use them when trying to remake a recipe to be healthier or less indulgent; neither one makes the recipes simpler or cheaper, though, so it's not always a better way to do things.

Years ago, I went through a phase of enjoying celebrity-chef cookbooks, amassing a large number of Rachael Ray's cookbooks in particular, but I've become much more selective in recent years, paring down to just my favorite book by each of my three favorite celebrity chefs: Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver, Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson, and Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten. Ina is hands-down my favorite celeb chef and I use that book a LOT. Also in the mix are a couple of kids' cookbooks, Betty Crocker's Kids Cook (2007 edition) and a Weight Watchers publication called Eat! Move! Play!, which we do use fairly often. Both small Bears enjoy cooking and while I don't think they need to be confined to children's cookbooks, it's good to have some simple, easy-to-follow recipes for helping them become more independent in the kitchen.

I also have a Weight Watchers Meals For Two cookbook on the counter; this one was a serious lifesaver when the Bear and I were Weight Watchers members before we had children. The Bear lost more than 100 pounds and has kept almost all the weight off, in large part due to the fact that our Weight Watchers habits became so ingrained back then. We no longer attend meetings (and please know that this post is not a plug for Weight Watchers), but we still do a lot of the things we learned and we probably always will.

The large white binder next to the other books is what we call our "family cookbook." In it, we keep print-outs of all the recipes we've found online, tried and liked. A print-out only gets hole-punched if it's very good and we'd make it again; otherwise, into the recycling bin with the rest of the paper. Some recipes were torn out of magazines, or printed in calendars or handouts from the grocery store. We also have lots of hand-written recipes from our families or friends. When I was first keeping my own house, I only knew how to make about five things. My mom didn't own any cookbooks, she just made the same things the same way, again and again, and didn't need recipes. These were mostly things I enjoyed eating, so I had her dictate them to me and I wrote them down. Obviously, I want to make more dishes than just those, but they've been handy to have around.

I don't buy very many cookbooks these days. I've probably gotten rid of thirty cookbooks over the years because they just weren't that good. Luckily, I bought most of them in thrift shops or at yard sales. I've decided to stop paying full price for a cookbook unless it looks absolutely awesome. I borrow cookbooks from the library fairly often; it's a good way to find something new without spending money. I've scanned recipes and printed them, or just copied them by hand. All of my current celeb chef collection was a result of borrowing those books from the library, enjoying them, and ordering gently-used copies for myself. 

So let's pretend I just showed up in your kitchen. Where do you keep your cookbooks? Which cookbooks do you consider indispensable, and which ones are just good to have around? Do you buy them or borrow them? Which ones have you tried and disliked? Tell me all about your cookbook library.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Summer, this week

This was our eighth week of summer break.

We finally had some rain. Monday afternoon and evening, there were on-and-off storms and showers. Tuesday night brought a big storm just after the Bear and I went to bed. The rain on the roof sounded so good. I'd been waiting for it all summer long.

Our tomatoes have gone crazy! We have fresh tomatoes off the vine every single day now, three different kinds at once. I especially love the Husky cherry tomatoes but the Sweet 100 cherries are nothing to sneeze at. Cherry tomatoes are great to have around; I eat them all day like candy.

The apples are almost ready to eat, by my standards, but they're wildly popular with the kids already. They sit on the wall under the apple tree, picking apples one at a time, eating them and pitching the cores over the wall into the arroyo. Technically, they are littering, but on the other hand, they're eating healthfully and strengthening their arms. Not to mention that it's something to do.

They finished their session of swimming lessons on Friday. Both passed their level, which means that the LB is finished with the swimming-lesson program now. The GB will continue next summer. The LB will be old enough for the junior lifeguard course next year. Can you believe it?

The Bear came to the pool with us on the last day because he was off from work. He brought his travel watercolors with him (he has this set) and painted a lovely little picture of pool life. The boy in the green trunks to the left of the slide is our LB.

I did some nice cooking this week for dinners but didn't get good photos of any of it because of the cloudy evenings and the need for indoor lights. I made eggplant parmigiana, to which I have lately been adding dollops of ricotta cheese between the eggplant layers. It fills out the dish considerably and adds some protein. I also made a chicken and veggie alfredo bake with penne pasta and a Bisquick bake with egg, zucchini and parmesan (the recipe is here; I cut it into large squares for serving instead of the suggested "bites"). And I made a cinnamon-crumb coffee cake (recipe here) -  fabulous with my afternoon tea while it lasted, which wasn't long.

I'm planning a crochet project just for me! This rarely happens. I've been fantasy-shopping a little here and there now that fall clothes are starting to appear, but I'm not seeing much that I love. So I decided I would finally try to make a garment for myself. I've made lots of scarves and hats, but never a real piece of clothing for me. I'm going to crochet The Choro Top from Joy of Motion, a lovely crochet blog and pattern shop. I had some help from a friend, Teresa Kasner, in choosing a yarn for my top. I've settled on Knitpicks' Comfy Worsted Yarn, a blend of pima cotton and acrylic, in the Fairy Tale colorway, which is a deep magenta-wine color. It's very different from colors I usually wear, but hey, I'm branching out. I'm so excited!

I've been reading a wonderful book, How to Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life, by Ruth Goodman. It's a really interesting look at everything a typical person living in the Tudor era would have experienced, from what they ate, to what their beds were like, to the jobs they did. It's just fascinating. Goodman also wrote a similar book about Victorian life, which I've requested from the library. This is the same reason I read blogs, you know; I'm nosy and I just have to know everything about how other people live.

I hope you're having a good weekend. We're sticking close to home. It's really hot. I went to the grocery store early this morning and we've been straightening up the house and yard before some friends visit tomorrow. Tonight, the Bear and I will have takeout Chinese food for our at-home date. Ice cream, too. This coming week will be quiet, without swimming lessons. We'll probably go to the library. I think we should look at the kids' shoes and see what we need to buy before school starts, along with school supplies. Maybe it's a good time for haircuts too, before the rush; school starts in a bit more than two weeks. They say the monsoon should be active again this week; I'm hoping for a few good gully-washers. Or car-washers, I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Old Hundred

Have you ever been inside an underground mine? We had the opportunity to do this last month on our vacation in Colorado. The Old Hundred Gold Mine is located near Silverton, a Victorian mining town in the southwestern part of the state. If you ever have the chance to visit, I think you would enjoy it a lot. Old Hundred, supposedly named for a German hymn, once contained a thick vein of gold within Galena Mountain. Founded in 1872 by three brothers from Germany, the Neigolds, the mine was very productive for decades and made the Neigolds rich. Silverton was a bustling little mining community for quite a while.

At the mine site, located at the end of a long gravel road (the pavement ends about two miles before the mine), there is now a small building where the tour starts, with a real mine train car out back, for entering the mine. Everyone puts on a yellow rain slicker and a hard hat for protection inside the mine. It's cold down there, about 48 degrees all the time, and very damp, so a sweater is a good idea too. You pay the admission price, then you board the mine train, driven by your tour guide (all are retired miners), and it heads into the mountain on the original old track. It's dark as night in the mine, as you might expect, with light bulbs strung up here and there. Water runs down the rocks, leaving colorful mineral deposits. Copper, silver and lead were mined here in addition to gold.

When you're inside the mine, you're actually standing where the vein of gold used to be - they mined every last bit of it, leaving behind a winding tunnel. You have to watch your step to avoid the water flowing across the floor and along the sides of the footpath. Almost immediately, you'll feel grateful for the slicker and the hard hat. Everything about the tour is intriguing. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and experienced; he had many interesting stories to tell and he demonstrated the use of several different kinds of mining equipment. The small Bears were able to try a few things, like pushing down the plunger on an old dynamite detonator. I especially enjoyed seeing the elevator and emergency equipment, as well as the artifacts of mining life - lanterns, lunchboxes, discarded bottles and tins. In our tour group, there were some people who knew a lot about mining and the discussions were fascinating.

The tour lasts about 45 minutes before the group boards the train and it zips back out again. Then you're on your own, to pan for gold or to walk around the site. We chose the latter, walking out behind the building to look up at Galena Mountain, where you can still see the miners' boardinghouse, located 2,000 feet up the side of the mountain face (the men rode a tram to get up and down). There's an old mine train out there, which you're free to climb on. The site overlooks a ravine with a rushing creek at the bottom. There is nothing but mountains and trees as far as you can see, green and more green. It's a bit sad - the gold ran out, dreams died - but people once flocked here and some saw their fortunes made. It's hard to imagine the industry of it all now, but the abandoned boardinghouse is a good reminder. When you drive back down to Silverton, along the gravel road lined with clutches of columbine, you feel like you've experienced a secret slice of history.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Summer, this week

This was our seventh week of summer break.

The heat has been brutal for the past two weeks, but it seems as if relief is in sight for the coming week. We will finally be seeing some more monsoon activity. This has been an unusually hot and dry summer so far. Everyone is feeling fed up with it. Unfortunately, our break from the heat will contribute to a scary-sounding "heat dome" situation for the Midwest. I hope it doesn't get too bad for people there.

We're eating a lot of cold foods nowadays, just trying to keep the house and our bodies cool. Our tomatoes are plentiful enough to have a few almost every day, though I still buy them at the store too. I make green salads or tomato-cucumber-basil salads most nights for dinner.

We did bake this past week, partly to keep busy but also because we felt like cookies. We made jam thumbprint cookies with our own homemade raspberry jam. It was just a small batch (this is my favorite recipe for thumbprint cookies) and they were delicious. I refrigerated them to keep them fresh and the jam drops got nice and firm, like soft jellybeans.

During the week, I really enjoyed this post about vacationing in Beirut in the 1960's, before the city was devastated by war. It's of particular interest to me because my mother's family, who are Syrian American, often vacationed in Beirut in that era and I've always tried to imagine it as the glamorous place it once was. That's a really neat blog, by the way, lots to see and learn.

The kids went back for another session of swimming lessons. We'll be there this week as well. This session is quite sparsely attended and I've got the shady knoll pretty much all to myself. It's thirty-five minutes of cool, breezy bliss.

We attended the final week of the library's summer reading program. There are still three-plus weeks until school starts and I wish they had more activities to help pass the time, but library budgets are not exactly fat these days. I understand, but still...summer break is long. We'll go to the library anyway, activities or not. The kids have both been reading a lot this summer, especially the GB - her nose is almost always in a book. It's wonderful to see.

My pirate ship cross-stitch is so close to being finished. I'm just adding the final bits of "water" detail under the ship now. I hope to have a finished, framed project soon. There's birthday-gift work to get started on.

The GB found a large clutch of empty snail shells under a wild grapevine in the arroyo. She was picking them up by the handful to save in a bag. They're really interesting; no two are alike.

I'm really enjoying these quiet summer weeks, spent mostly at home in swamp-cooled air, with short trips out for groceries, library books, swims and occasional coffees. My kids are getting older and are better at occupying themselves during the long days, which has been good for my relaxation. I'm feeling so anxious and ill-at-ease with the news and everything going on right now. I'd like to shut off and ignore it all, but I don't think that's realistic. I do my best; I tend to listen to the radio more than I watch TV, which helps. It's all just nuts - the elections, the violence, the political unrest here and abroad. Just in the time since I began writing this post (I stopped for a trip to Costco), there was another mass shooting of police officers. I just don't know what to say about that. I will say again that I'm trying to use the computer less, because it's tempting to click over to the news or - at the very least - the weather (I can torment myself with bad news in any number of ways, just try me), so if I'm scarce, you'll know why.

I hope you're having a good weekend. We're staying home the rest of the day, having gotten the Costco chore out of the way. I'm going to make iced tea now. We're grilling some pork chops and asparagus for dinner and looking forward to our Sunday night PBS watching party for two. I'm really enjoying this show Dancing on the Edge. Have you watched it? It's very good; the Bear is quite possibly the most avid John Goodman fan alive, and as usual, I'm in love with the period costumes.

I leave you with two summer songs from my adolescence, just because I've felt like listening to them lately: this one because it's about, well, summer. And this one because I once heard a radio DJ announce it as "the ANTHEM of the summer of 1995," so obviously it's of major cultural importance.
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