Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jam Season

Strawberries. Blueberries. Raspberries. Blackberries. Peaches. Apricots. Plums. Pluots.

Tonight I made my first batch of real jam. Until today I've only ever made freezer jam, which is delicious and requires only mashing fruit, adding sugar and pectin, and scooping it into jars -- voila! I learned tonight that when you cook jam, an enormous box of strawberries = only 3 little teeny jars of jam. Good to know.

The three little teeny jars of jam (strawberry with a splash of Grand Marnier, a diced half granny smith apple and 1/2 c blueberries) were so delicious that I went back to the store for more berries to whip up a second batch. It's a little late. I am tired (or exhausted). But I had successfully sterilized, filled, and sealed three jars of jam and seemed quite gifted at making such delicious jam, so I decided to press on.

Once both pots were set into motion -- the jam pot and the pot of boiling water for sterilizing more lids -- I sat at my computer. The first thing that happened was that I smelled burning. A bad kind of burning. So I jumped up and sure enough, it turns out that using a small plastic-handled strainer to hold lids in a pot of boiling water is a bad idea because the entire strainer melts and begins to catch fire.

So after throwing that into the sink and opening all of the windows, I stirred the jam (stir occasionally) and sat back down at the computer. After 25 minutes, it became clear that the sugary, strawberry smell had actually grown too pungent and that I, in fact, was burning the entire batch of jam. Burning it. All of it. Burned.

SO... I am going to go to bed now. And leaving a giant pot of burned jam in the kitchen. And reconsidering my jamming gifted-ness. Maybe tomorrow there will be more...

[added a bit later:
I just took a spoonful of jam up to Ben in bed in hopes that it is salvageable. He ate a big mouthful because he loved the last batch, but immediately: Uchgh, it's burned and then lots of faces and involuntary tongue sticking out. All right, I'm throwing it out.]

Friday, July 24, 2009

Dance It Out

Silas was building a "trap" with 2x4's outside the back door, and Eden was hanging in the doorway, standing on her new-found sturdy legs, which made Silas instantly hysterical. When I walked outside to comfort him, the sound he was making wasn't really crying and it wasn't really yelling... it was more like roaring. He was pacing around, red-faced, fists clenched, roaring with all of his might. At one point he began kicking the recycling bin (he's never kicked anything before), while roaring. Finally he could spit out "I'm so FRUSTRATED!" roar roar roar "She's so MEAN!!!" roar roar roar. The whole time, he couldn't figure out what to do with his body -- he was stomping, tensed, dying to do something.

On Flight of the Conchords last year, Brett danced out his anger, and watching Silas, for the first time, I could see the value of dancing it out.

Maybe this is our future family anger management...

[I am adding this the next morning:
You should also probably know that Silas's newest word is "mean" and that he tries it out a lot, and that after his fuming fury, the two of us sat in his "clubhouse" and told stories about Dora and her baby sister who breaks all of her stuff, and about how babies are more curious than mean. He recovered quite well...]

My Mother and Making Marshmallows

As I stood in the kitchen measuring, stirring, rummaging for mixing bowls in the cabinet today,

This week my mom is here visiting. A month and 5 days ago, she lost her mother. I want to sit with her, to ask her how she feels, what this loss is like, but in the excitement of Eden's new walking, the persistence of Silas's questions, the chaos of moving us to and from anywhere, and the exhaustion that saturates us by the end of the day, we haven't had much space for talking.

But today, we met in the kitchen. I'd just been thinking about how my kitchen is a haven, a place where I can work with my hands, where sound from upstairs doesn't travel, where my mind is freed and I can move at my own pace. Standing back to back, one at the mixer, the other at the stove, it seemed natural that this is where we'd begin to talk.

Loss is a strange thing because there are no constants in it. Sadness breathes and strikes unexpectedly. We talked about this. And about remembering. About setting aside time to remember, remembering as an activity. About how we'll never be able to remember what's been more vividly than we can right now. We talked about the impulse to blame and about the necessity of choosing not to. We talked about forgiveness. About emptiness. About losing a mother and a grandmother.

And as we did, we made our first-ever batch of marshmallows, which seemed just right: an old-fashioned, take-your-time confection while we talked about Nana. The process reminded my mom of making taffy as a girl with her mother, pulling the candy with buttered hands until it was stiff enough to cut and wrap in paper; which reminded me of making popcorn balls as a girl with my mother, rolling the hot sticky balls with buttered hands and setting them to cool. And that's how cooking together goes -- story to story.

* * *

Ina Garten's Homemade Marshmallows:

  • 3 packages unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and allow to sit while you make the syrup.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to high and cook until the syrup reaches 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin. Put the mixer on high speed and whip until the mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix thoroughly.

Generously coat a 9x11" pan with confectioners sugar and turn marshmallow (which really means wrestle marshmallow) into the pan. Dust the top with marshmallow and let sit over night to dry out.

The next day, remove the marshmallows from the pan and cut into squares. Roll the sides of each piece carefully in confectioners' sugar. Store uncovered at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sleeplessness and Why I Bought a New Toothbrush Today

Sometimes when one parent travels and one parent is home alone, no one sleeps.

Sometimes this is due to a Mary Poppins watching party, and sleeplessness is exciting and paired with a plum tart.

Other times, sleeplessness persists hours past the time the entire house should have fallen silent.
Sometimes, the person refusing sleep is 3 years old.
Sometimes, he lies in his bed crying in bursts and fits because he is hot. Because he wants milk. Because there is no milk in the house. Because his skin itches. Because it still itches. Because there is a tank with red eyes trying to shoot him from the bathroom.

Sometimes the parent on duty on such a night as this, is very tired because of her own project-filled sleeplessness catching up with her and does not want to play the meet-every-need-in-the-night game until MIDNIGHT. But she does play because she must.

Sometimes, once ALL the needs have been met, lotion has been applied, promises have been made about trips to the store first thing in the morning, once the tank peeking out of the bathroom has been redefined as pink and shooting bubbles and rubber ducks, and the child has been safely tucked into the parent's bed for that night and that night only, the parent is quite ready to sleep. Quite.

And so the parent may dim the light so the room is sleep-conducive, put on her pajamas, and walk quietly to the sink to brush her teeth. She may squeeze toothpaste on her toothbrush and vigorously begins brushing her molars, as she does every night, to instantly discover that said toothpaste is in fact diaper cream, and that yes, for the second time in her life, she has begun to brush her teeth with diaper rash cream.

At this point, the parent may curse the designers of diaper rash cream tubes for making them look just like toothpaste tubes, throw her own toothbrush into the trashcan and begin spitting dramatically in the sink.

This may or may not help the onlooking 3 year old -- who incidentally will toss and turn for the next hour -- fall into a deep sleep.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


(This, you should note, I wrote during the afternoon BEFORE the toothpaste incident)

The past few days, we've moved to a vacation cadence: The sun's steadily streamed through the windows, a breeze continues to make the leafy branches nod slightly and the curtains by the backdoor slowly billow, the fair's hubbub spins and spirals down the street, and none of us is sleeping.

Usually Silas and Eden hold a steady schedule -- wake time, nap time, bedtime -- as if tiny timers tick in their silky-haired heads. And I hold them to it, clinging to their sleep because I know how much I need my own for any patience or semblance of flexibility. So we tend to bed early and wake early. By 6ish, I'm flipping eggs in the kitchen while Eden crawls around the floor and the kettle whistles.

But today, we have hit a moment of summer, of timelessness and freedom. For the last three hours, I've sat at this kitchen table reading poems, jotting notes, eating tomatoes with balsamic and salt. Eden threw things from her crib, refused nap, and finally, hours late, fell asleep. By now afternoon is creeping into late afternoon, but I am not waking them. I'm listening to the wind chimes. I'm sitting at the worn table. I'm feeling like I'm at the ocean in my living room. Like nothing matters. Like we may all stay up until 9 together if we'd like. Like we may bake and walk for ice cream cones, or sit on the back deck after sunset. The little ones and I.

And just now as I type, I hear Eden is making little sounds and Silas's husky voice answering. We are awake.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Summer Evening

It's almost 7PM. Silas sits at the table crunching apples with cinnamon. He is tired from swimming, his eyes just pink around the rims from chlorine, his hair drying every which way. He looks like summer. Tomorrow I'm helping with a party, so tonight I bake. I'm standing in the kitchen, the computer half on a cookie sheet, my 1982 oven clicking as it does whenever it's on. A pan of sauteed zucchini rests on the stove. I'm waiting for a loaf of morning glory bread to finish baking and for frozen butter to soften for a plum tart crust.

The kitchen, the cooling evening air through the window, Ben's voice in the other room reading to Silas, little Eden tucked into bed while the sky's still brilliantly light, a bowl of plums on the counter, my skin dry from sun and swimming -- this is July.


Not long ago I was talking to my mom about picnics -- about her parents and grandparents used to pack up jars of food and pull over at picnic tables at the side of the road. what got me thinking most of all was the JARS. There is something about envisioning a picnic in which the food is in glass jars that really appeals to me. I'd like to start picnicking with glass, and linens, and silver forks.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Morning Glory Muffins

I fell in love with Morning Glory muffins the summer I was 18 in Rockport, Maine. Early mornings, lanky Laurel -- my photography teacher's assistant who made Polaroid transfers and weathered a rocky love affair -- and I sat on the seawall sipping hot cups of tea. One morning she arrived with a white paper bag -- muffins, still warm from the bakery, the subtle crunch of carrot and coconut, the moist crumb.

The fun of morning glory muffins is that you can add whatever you have -- bananas, raisins, coconut, applesauce -- and play with proportions. Make a loaf or muffins, though I find mini-muffins a bit dry.

Garden Harvest Cake/Morning Glory Muffins
recipe from Cooking Light, June 2009

1 c flour (I used white whole wheat -- a flour I don't understand and think must be quite processed but whose fiber I appreciate -- you could also use regular whole wheat or white)
3/4 c sugar
1-2 t cinnamon
1 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1/2 c grated, peeled Granny Smith apple (about 1 medium apple)
1/2 c grated carrot (about 1 med)
1/2 c grated zucchini
1/4 c chopped walnuts
1/4 c canola oil
1/4 c nonfat buttermilk
2 large eggs
cooking spray (or oil or butter to grease the pan -- I used butter for the flavor)

1. preheat the oven to 350

2. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk

3. Add grated apple, carrot, zucchini and nuts, toss well

4. Combine oil, buttermilk and eggs in a small bowl -- add to flour mixture until JUST combined

5. Spoon into greased loaf pan and bake for 50 min, or until toothpick comes out clean.

6. Cool 10 min on wire rack then remove cake from pan. Cool completely before slicing (I didn't wait that long, what can I say)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Question of Space

Growing up, I loved my room. I loved the white painted sliding lock on the door and the old fashioned keyhole i could peek through to see the hall I'd left behind. I loved the quiet that hung like a sigh just after I closed the door. I loved my window unit air conditioner turned to the coldest setting that made the room smell cold. In hot, sticky, Washington July, cold air feels like salvation.

Escaping to my room often involved tearing down the hallway and pulling the door shut as fast as I could; pushing and shoving heads and fingers -- pinching them if I had to -- back into the hall so the door would close; a little cruelty and some screaming. This was, after all, survival.
Publish Post

Perhaps this need for MY own closed space sprang from having brothers 1 1/2 and 3 years younger that I. Perhaps it came from my need to guard the teeny breakable objects I adored and perched around my room. Perhaps it came from some introvert hard-wiring. Or from the fact that I was given a room that I was allowed to defend as my kingdom. In any event, the fight for my own space, and relief of having found it, has never let up.

But now, looking at my children I have questions (funny how that happens). Silas, too, appears to be a child who loves -needs? - his own space. When Eden moved into his room, after a month, he moved himself onto the floor of the laundry room, where he still sleeps. He likes to close the door. He likes to retreat. He does not like Eden to barge, or even sweetly crawl, in. He likes to play alone sometimes.

When I started hearing cries like, Mamaaa! E-MER-GEN-CYYYYYYY! in response to Eden's crawling toward him and his Duplos, my reaction was to defend him and to help him stake his boundaries. I'd give him suggestions: go to the kitchen table, play upstairs -- i.e. think about how you can maintain the space you want. If you're on the floor, she will come.

Soon after I became aware of all this, we spent an afternoon at a friend's house. Silas had taken a roadwork game to the couch and was playing alone. A child came over and started digging through the pieces. Just as I opened my mouth to say, "Silas is playing with that. You may have a turn when he is done." The child's mother said, "Silas give her half of those." Oh. He looked to me for help. I bit my tongue. He protested a few times and then kept playing. Oh.

As I watched, it was clear that personal space did not exist in this home. All the children overlap all the time. And no one seems to mind (though granted, there is a lot of fighting) or ask for anything more.

In some ways I love the rough-and-tumble we're-all-in-this-together family dynamic. I've learned a lot about that from my sister-in-law's family -- the girls, close in age, have lived on top of each other and are incredibly sweet together and mindful of each other. On the other hand, I wonder if I even could raise a family like that with my own bent toward space and doors and lines drawn down the middle of the seat.

So with these questions, I've been watching -- myself, Silas, other families -- and wondering. What messages am I giving Silas that are simply from my own childhood? What needs or wants actually spring from him? What am I reinforcing? What could I challenge? How shall I lead him? What are the best ways to form sibling dynamics as Eden gets older? What creates rigidity and what fosters growth?

Parenting is so tricky. I would love your thoughts if you have any to share.