Saturday, August 30, 2008

tomato sauce*

Remember this?

It was washed and cut up into this:
IMG_3143 IMG_3142

To be processed by this crew:

Who turned it into this:
IMG_3149 IMG_3150

Which after a while became 32 pints of homemade sauce (plus a lot of dirty pots).

That red has to be one of the greatest colors, ever.

*Sorry for the unoriginality of the title. I am pooped from all that sauce making, and I got nothin'.

Friday, August 29, 2008

this one's for laurie

I found the loveliest surprise when I went to the mailbox today: a handwritten note from my friend Laurie. It took me an (embarrassingly) long time to figure out why Laurie had sent me a note, when she usually just stops by for a cup of tea or calls on my cell when she has to chat. And then it hit me. She had actually read my blog (!) and noted my love of the handwritten missive (!!) and took it upon herself to make my day by writing me (!!!).

You gotta love a person that is so thoughtful like that.

So today's blog is dedicated to Laurie. She has been asking me and reminding me that she asked me for these recipes ever since she tasted them at our shearing day extravaganza this year, in early April. I have been horribly remiss, and I am suitably chastened by HER excellent follow through, when I didn't even ask for her to send me a letter!

So Laurie, this is for you. (For the rest of you reading this, these are both great brunch dishes. The best part about them is that you can make them the night before.)

Egg and Cheese Strata
2 tablespoons butter/marg
1/2 small loaf sliced white bread, cubed, with crusts cut off
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
4 eggs
2 cups half-and-half or milk (I usually use skim)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
1 tablespoon chopped chives (optional)
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/4-1/2 lb bacon, cooked and chopped
Melt butter and spread evenly in heavy baking dish. Arrange half of bread cubes in dish. Sprinkle with half the cheese, half the tomatoes and half the bacon (plus chives if using). Add second half of bread cubes. Repeat layer, but start with bacon, then tomato, then top with cheese. Beat eggs, then beat in milk, salt, mustard and chives. Pour evenly over cheese. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake for 45-60 min at 375 degree oven until top is lightly browned and egg is "set" in center (shaking pan does not cause center to jiggle). Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Eggs a la 'Rents (my parents, that is)
Start by making a beef sauce. In a large frying pan, melt 1/4 cup butter. Add 1/2 lb shredded dried or smoked beef and 1/2 lb sliced fresh mushrooms. Saute until tender. Add 1/4 lb cooked chopped bacon, and sprinkle 1/2 cup flour over the mixture. Gradually stir in 4 C hot milk and cook until mixture is slightly thickened. Add pepper to taste and set aside.
In a separate (large!) bowl, beat 16 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup evaporated milk and 1/2 cup melted butter/margarine together. Scramble the egg mixture in a very large frying pan until the eggs are set but still very soft and moist. Butter an 11x13 inch casserole and, starting and ending with beef sauce, layer eggs and sauce (5 layers total).
Cover and bake at 275 degrees for 1.5 hours. Can be refrigerated overnight and baked the next day.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

video frustrations

I think I finally might have managed to figure out this video embed thingee to show you the annoyingness wonder that is my kids playing Rock Band:

Secondo would like to point out, for the record, that Terzo's guitar was not plugged in.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

over and under

That phrase says it all about the state of things around here: I am overwhelmed with work and responsibilities and I have been under the weather -- nothing serious, just enough to be annoying.

This blog was one of the more obvious casualties, but it is right up there with the out-of-sight victims, including "the pile of laundry in my basement" and "the weeds in my garden" and "the ickiness on my shower floor" and… well, you get the picture.

I am employing my time-honored system to overcome the more glaring and pressing issues: feudal labor.

In addition to the confessions about my laundry and garden and shower floor, I also feel compelled to confess that I do not pay my children an allowance.

I never have. And I don’t intend to start anytime soon, unless they threaten to out my petty, penny-pinching ways in front of all their friends.

You see, I have conditioned my children to ask for paying jobs around the house should they have some material itch that needs to be scratched. Don’t get me wrong; they do not get paid to do everyday chores. (That is why, for the most part, they avoid doing them.) But if I, or they, am in a bind, then the feudal labor system comes into play: I pay them a ridiculously low amount to do a job that, by all accounts, I should be doing myself.

Take that big project I was working on at the beginning of the summer. I paid the older two to watch their baby brother, and I paid the littlest one to be good and mind them. The catch was that they did not get paid if they were watching TV. (I knew from experience that I could do that myself, with far less financial consequence.) This led them to spend vast amounts of time outside, playing various games with each other in the fresh air, and I patted myself on the back for buying myself some peace and quiet while tricking encouraging them to spend time in the great outdoors enjoying each other’s company in relative harmony.


Mind you, it cost me plenty. They kept track of their time, and laboriously worked out their daily earnings, and eventually earned enough to buy Rock Band by the time I finished the project. (I deluded myself that I was also encouraging their math skills.) This was very fortuitous timing, as the steady tick-tick-tick of the pseudo-drum set would have driven me straight round the bend while I was working on that particular project.

(I tried to upload a very cute video of them playing Rock Band which -- at the same time of the cuteness -- demonstrated how annoying that tick-tick-tick is. But I cannot get YouTube to upload the video, and I am too tired to figure it out tonight. I will post it tomorrow if I get it worked out. Meanwhile, a picture of them playing will have to speak a thousand words instead. Terzo is playing the part of back-up dancer.)


Which brings me to today’s sisyphean task: picking the plum tomatoes.

As with the “no pay for sticking your little brother in front of the TV” rule, I have wised up a little in the chores-for-cash department. If I had offered to pay them a flat rate for picking the tomatoes, I would have ended up with twenty tomatoes and them swearing on my grave that the garden did not contain one more ripe tomato.


Instead, I offered to pay them per pound, which resulted in a little more dedication to the task. At this point, they are over sixty pounds and counting. They have picked five plants, with three to go. (I made them take the pictures of their progress, too. I drive a hard bargain.)


And I still managed to buy myself -- literally -- a little peace and quiet while they were outside this afternoon. Whatever the bill eventually comes to, it will be well worth the cash.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


We picked up the boys this morning from camp. After only getting a few short notes from each, I was very curious to see how they had held up for the week away. I know I would have been called if anything serious happened; I gave an involuntary shudder every time the phone rang last week.

We arrived to a camp without any kids present, but mounds of disheveled possessions heaped on the front porches of the cabins.

We sorted through the piles, looking for items that looked vaguely familiar.

We checked our kids out. When we gave their names, the woman in charge exclaimed, "OH! THOSE boys! They got more mail in one week than I get junk mail in a year!" So our campaign to inundate them with mail, which included their parents, brother and grandparents, had worked.

Then we waited by the lake. We heard the kids singing in cadence quite a while before we saw them. It sounded like they were marching two-by-two wearing fatigues, but instead they just ambled in singing something about Bazooka gum at the top of their lungs.

At the end of the closing ceremony, the counselors led them in one last song. ALL the kids, regardless of age and cool-factor, sang along and did the accompanying motions to the tale of "Princess Pat." Apparently, it is a crowd favorite.

And mine haven't stopped singing since they got home. Songs about a little red wagon, and a baby shark, and peanut butter reese's cup, most of which have to be properly sung by two or more people as there is an "echo". They have taught me a card game called "Egyptian Rat Screw" (I cannot figure out why it is called that) and Primo has been busy making friendship bracelets for all of us. Terzo got the first one, and he is already singing about the baby shark.

They have not stopped talking about every little detail of camp, and how wonderful it was, and how they cannot wait to go back next year. I asked both what camp had taught them. Primo, on the cusp of teenagerhood, waxed poetic about how campers were able to show their true inside selves, and do things without fear of people making fun of them. (Presumably, those things included singing songs, with accompanying motions, about someone named Princess Pat.) Secondo, grounded in boyhood, responded that he had learned a lot about shooting an arrow in his archery class.

I think the only reason they were ready to come home was their level of exhaustion. The strategy of camp was apparently to tire the kids out so they more or less collapsed with little fuss at the end of the day. If my two are any judge, the strategy worked perfectly. They even slept on the way home.

Friday, August 15, 2008

heaven on a bun

It's slightly labor-intensive, but well worth it.

Start off by canning a few sweet banana peppers, per this recipe (except substitute apple cider vinegar for half of the white vinegar). Your family will complain bitterly about the smell while the brine is cooking on the stovetop. Ignore them. (Also ignore the recipe's directive to wait two weeks for the peppers to finish. Who can wait two whole weeks?)

Pick a nice, sweet, juicy Jersey tomato. Out of your garden is nice, but there are plenty of farmstands with tomatoes around these days.

Slice a bun in half. Sprinkle one half with a little shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese, and heat slightly in the microwave or toaster oven until the cheese just melts.

Layer one slice of tomato, a couple spoonfuls of pickled peppers, and then another slice of tomato on the bun.*

Sit quietly and savor the goodness. Subway, eat your heart out.

*Terzo's question while I was taking this picture: "MOMMY. Why are you taking a picture of your SANDWICH?"

Thursday, August 14, 2008

snail mail

It's been a long time since I have awaited the mail with quite so much anticipation.

Remember when friends and family and lovers frequently chose that method to communicate? Some of you reading this might not even remember that. Getting a letter is such a wonderful experience, but one that becomes rarer and rarer. During high school, a friend (who lived a block away) and I used to conduct most of our conversations through the mail, just because, mostly just because it is such a special personal thrill to see mail addressed to you. Thanks to the wonders of the British Postal System, which used to deliver mail twice a day, our letters would flurry back and forth during particularly newsworthy times -- which for teenage girls, is pretty much all the time.

I have a friend who still sends me wonderful letters from time to time, handwritten, with all kinds of newspaper articles and photographs included. I wait to open them until I am sitting down, with a cup of tea at hand and a quiet moment to savor the contents. I appreciate her letters all the more as she is one of the last few to send them.
I am forced to join ranks with the legions of curmudgeons that decry the loss of the letter. I truly think our kids are worse off with the quick e-mail and IM and text messages in their place. They are missing that sweet experience of rambling on about nothing in particular, about creating quizzes and questions to be answered by return post, about stopping and then picking up again halfway through, about thinking about how to communicate just to that one person in particular, about revealing things about yourself that weren't possible face to face. I don't deny that other forms of communication have taken their place, but I don't think they are as rich and deep as the simple letter.

But enough of my waxing poetic about letters. The reason the mail is so special this week is that the older boys are away at a camp that bans all cell phones, computers, and other everyday communication devices. They don't even have access to a phone, except in case of emergency. The only communication available to them is the good ol' fashioned US postal service.

I optomistically sent them to camp with 4 self-addressed, stamped envelopes: two for their parents, and two for their little brother. I had already sent them letters prior to their stay to make sure they would receive something during the beginning of camp week. After they left, while doing our errands, Terzo would choose postcards at the post office, dictate his messages, and then stamp and post them right then and there. Every afternoon, Terzo and I sat down, chose our stationary for the day, and composed additional messages before carefully addressing them and sending them off.

And what have we received in return?

Secondo has been the most prolific: we have already gotten two notes from him, one to us and one to Terzo. (He is so unaccustomed to sending letters, however, that he failed to put an address, beyond Terzo's name, on the card; it found us because I had the foresight to put our home address as the return address.)

As for Primo: nothing, zip, nada. I have the feeling that we will get a short note next Tuesday, as he will remember on the last day of camp to send something off.

I can only hope that the joy of receiving all the mail sent to them -- from me, from LSH, from Terzo, from their grandparents -- will be as special as I remember it, and will stick with them beyond this quick week at camp. Who knows? Next year, I might get two letters in return, but I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

summer's bounty

My dad commented today that he uses my blogging activity as a measure of my general busy-ness. Fairly regular posts mean things are more or less under control. The schedule I have been maintaining lately clearly indicates that I am overwhelmed by my to-do list.

He has it just about right.

I find that summer is like our vegetable garden. It starts out all neat and tidy, with good intentions and grand plans in abundance. But then things progress, and before I know it, my furniture is covered in dust an inch thick, and the green beans are taking over the basil patch, and the laundry is behind again, and the weeds are rampant, and junk and clutter are just about everywhere, and the tomatoes are absolutely out of control.

That’s not to say that fruit isn’t being borne, in every sense of the word. The boys are having a great, old-fashioned summer of hanging out and swimming (thanks to a friend’s pool) and going to 4-H shows and camping and all the other activities that make summer so sweet. All that junk around the house? It’s mostly composed of ribbons they won at fairs, and books and magazines they are reading, and instruments and music they are playing, and toys and art supplies they are using. I am trying hard to feel blessed, and not let it bug me too much, while doing my best to keep a loose lid on it. (I’m not really succeeding on that front.)

The abundance of the garden has seeped over into their own plans. I am not complaining, as the activity does not involve TV or the X-Box.

They have started a farmstand.


They worked very hard at picking, and pricing, and arranging their wares just so. They have a whole system set up for reusing the containers. Since part of all their proceeds will be donated to their 4H club, they have been keeping detailed logs and posting their progress on the front of the table.


Unfortunately, despite the prime location by LSH’s parking lot, few buyers have materialized yet. The older two are away at camp this week, and I received detailed instructions in how to keep the stand to their specifications. Unfortunately, business has further suffered in the absence of hopeful-looking boys stationed by the table. I might have to stage an intervention before they return this weekend, just to make sure they stay interested in this particular project.

Hey, it's keeping them occupied and out of trouble. At this point in the summer, that's the best that can be hoped for, along with a futile wish that the tomatoes somehow stop producing quite so much.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

listen to your kids

I’m done. The sheep are done. At least until October, anyway.

Today was our last 4-H show of the season.

Primo and I rose at the crack of dawn to load sheep and trailer them down the state to one of his favorite invitational shows. (Invitational means the kids from that club invite kids from other 4-H county clubs to participate in their show.)

Primo was the only invitational kid to show up. He was the only boy in the show, too. He didn’t let that get in the way of a very successful show. Here he is, post-show, from the front:


And back:

And all laid out on the kitchen counter:

But then we headed home.

Note to self: when your kid tells you that he hears a hissing sound from the air valve on your truck tire, listen to said kid. Put the sheep back in their shady holding pens, and deal with the problem at the well-stocked fairgrounds. Whatever you do, DON’T load the trailer with five sheep and head out on your merry way back home.

Because you will get a flat tire about two miles from the fairgrounds.

No problem, I thought. I will just call Triple A, and they will come rescue me, never mind that I am in the middle of the back of beyond. We did a little rearranging in the trailer so we could open a back door for more ventilation for the sheep, and then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And then Triple A called and told us that we would have to wait some more, approximately ninety minutes more.

So we took matters into our own hands, and changed the darn tire ourselves, which of course we should have done from the beginning. It was slightly complicated by the fact that the truck was hooked to a trailer, so the first order of business was unhooking the trailer, and then trying to figure out where all the various parts of the truck jack were located. (It required some concentrated thinking on our parts to locate the radiator, which, it turns out, is under the hood, because that is where the jack handle is stored. Makes perfect sense, right?) We panicked a little when we encountered the padlock on the spare tire, but it turns out that’s what the little mystery key on the truck keyring is for.

Our progress was further slowed by the antics of our passengers. The ram decided that it was time to make a pass at one of the ewes, who wasn’t thrilled with the attention. We tied him up. After about thirty minutes, his son, out of sheer boredom no doubt, decided that it was time for a challenge and started to head butt his much larger, heavier father, who was prevented from killing the lamb thanks to the halter. So we had to tie the ram lamb up too, and move his father so they couldn’t get to each other. Meanwhile, all the activity was dislodging the panel holding the sheep in the trailer, and mass escape was prevented only by the strategic application of binder twine.

Another note to self: Bring halters along on the next long car ride with the boys. They work wonders to separate sparring partners.

Finally, finally, the spare truck tire was on, the bad one was in the truck bed, and the trailer was hooked back up. This was the point at which, most helpfully, the Triple A guy showed up. After sending him on his way, we unloaded the sheep, and reorganized them, and loaded them back on again. (Which was no mean feat, as they DID NOT want to get on that trailer again.) We made it back home about eleven hours after we had left that morning.

After showering and showering and SHOWERING, I was wise enough to just order pizzas for dinner. Thanks to my befuddled exhaustion, I went to the wrong pizza joint to pick them up.

My son is already making plans to attend this show next year. Me? I'm making plans to spend the next twenty-four hours sleeping.

Monday, August 4, 2008

fair-ly busy

I apologize for the lack of posts lately.

It was fair week last week.

Not just any old fair, but the boys' 4-H county fair. Which involves setting up pens, and preparing exhibits, and getting sheep ready, and hauling almost every animal on the farm there (sheep and chickens and rabbit), and camping near your animals to make sure they are safe, and taking care of your animals, and showing your animals, and breaking down pens, and cleaning everything up... and on and on and on.

It is wonderful and great for kids, who learn all about responsibility and hanging out with your friends and being rewarded for all your hard work through the year.

But for their mom, who sleeps with them in the tent in the field, it is a little hard on the back.