Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer, Ramblings, Etc.

The sun came out today for the first time in...a long time (we have had 14 days of clouds/rain this June and now 11 days of sun...which doesn't sound so bad if you're not living it). I didn't get a chance to get outside much, because I had a dentist apt. this morning, and stopped at Goodwill and the health food store on my way back to the office, so I walked over to the credit union this afternoon, just to get some rays on my skin. Most of the walk is along sidewalks and through parking lots, but there are a couple of short cuts through vacant lots and vegetated/bushy median thingies. I just walked slowly letting the sun warm my soul and noticing the life around me: white clover, yellow buttercups, yellow and white daisies, roses. I picked some Labrador tea (or is it sweet fern?) leaves and just inhaled their essence.

It's funny, but I've run across several blogs in the last few days that are lamenting how quickly summer's going by. Huh? Summer hasn't even begun here--school just got out last week, it's been cold, rainy, ugh. Our generator has run every day this week, which really bums me out, and we're quickly falling behind on laundry. I did see some strawberries at the (completely water-logged) farmer's market yesterday, but I think the organic ones are ready later than the not-organic ones...and certainly the u-pick fields don't open up until later. This year, I hope to have everything on-hand and ready BEFORE I go pick: jars, lids, rings, pectin, sugar, honey, yogurt tubs (for freezing). I was also hoping to have a chest freezer ready too, but I guess that won't be happening.

I've been feeling super frustrated/grumpy lately, for a variety of reasons, mainly due to feeling like I have little control over how I spend my time, and when I do get a tiny window of time it rapidly gets filled a sandy hole at the beach (or something). I did my share of conversation-monopolizing last night as my monthly writing group, which is more of a quarterly-semi-annual gab/vent/bitch group, but whatever, we did write briefly, which is what opened this font of Andrea Is Unhappy With Her Life...I ended up standing on the sidewalk talking with another member of the group about our respective life frustrations--and truly, she is going through some much more serious sh*t than I am, so I don't know why I'm complaining--so it was good, and cathartic, and still no obvious solution presented itself, but today I've decided to stop focusing on how frustrated I am with whatever I'm frustrated with. Instead I'll pay attention to the flowers as I walk to the bank. I'll pick--and eat--strawberries when they're ripe. I'll take the kids to the beach Saturday whether it's raining or not.

I'll just live. It's summer, dammit!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I mailed of registration forms for the kids' various summer camps yesterday (two weeks of half-day Nature Camp for E and Z, coinciding with one week of half day Old Fort Western Apprenticeship for M, followed by two weeks of full-day Nature Camp for M), wrote the dates in my calendar, added our still-hypothetical trip to Colorado, and realized, with a sensation not unlike swallowing an apple whole and getting it stuck behind my breastbone, that I had just scheduled away our entire summer.

As I began to ponder the logistics of shuttling said kids to their respective camps and daycare-based swimming lessons while trying to put in somewhat of a semblance of a full work week, keep up with the coursework for my writing class, get in a few hikes for Capital Walks and somehow, among it all, taking my car to the mechanic for a week-long rust abatement and general TLC and pre-trip work-up, the apple grew to the size of a mid-summer zucchini. Fu*******k!

How do I get myself into these messes? I truly try to not overschedule my kids--they have no music lessons, no foreign language classes, no summer sports activities. Just a nice simple low-key nature camp and a week living like Colonial Americans. Shouldn't that be simple?

Here's what I wanted to do this summer, a list I'd started to put together in my head a couple of weeks ago, but hadn't committed to paper yet:
*Go to the beach
*Make knight costumes
*Go to the beach
*Hang out in my hammock
*Go to the beach
*Go to the lake
*Learn to embroider (like Tiny Happy)
*Go to the beach
*Read lots of books--with my kids and by myself

I think there were more items on my mental list, but they seem to have been sucked away into the vast black hole with the rest of my thoughts.

Of course all of this is voluntary (as are most of my mental crisese, those not related to weather or climate or the impending doom the Earth faces). I can make choices. I can get C involved in camp shuttling (during the month he claims is going to be crazily busy). I can changes M's Nature Camp registration to the one-week session, giving myself a two-week break and an opportunity to get my car dealt with. I can plan a different mode of travel to Colorado, so that my car can hang out with all its buddies at the Volvo place the whole time we're gone. I can shorten our trip, or (C's preferred option) move it to a different time of year. Or I can continue on my current stress-inducing demolition course of craziness. What would you do?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rain and Passion

You may (or may not) recall that back in March when I was suffering from a serious Maine-in-winter-induced malaise, one of my first steps in pulling myself out of my funk was going to see the one-woman play The Passion of the Hausfrau.

Now we are in June, and the sun has not graced us with its presence for a solid week (our generator kicked on yesterday, and if you live in a solar house you know the significance of a generator running on the SECOND LONGEST DAY of the YEAR, if not, suffice it to say that it means Armageddon is surely nigh!), and I've found myself in need of another pick-me-up (yes, the bright duvet does provide a certain amount of color therapy, but I'm talking big guns here), so I abandoned my charges (including my 18-year-old brother who arrived the previous day--more on that later) Friday night and again made my way south, again in the company of same friend, for The Passion of the Hausfrau: Motherhood Illuminated book launch party, to which I had received an exclusive invitation (only by virtue of being a Hausfrau Mutha-zine subscriber, but hey I'll take what I can get).

Hausfrau was the first in the mama-zine genre to which I had been introduced and it served as a major inspiration in starting my own zine, GEMINI (see sidebar) and is still one of my favorites. One of the advantages of being a zine creator, is trading zines with other zine makers. Last year I got up the gumption to send a copy of GEMINI to Hausfrau (in a desperate plea for affirmation) and am now we trade! How awesome. She even wrote "I heart Gemini" in her inscription in my book. Oh yeah, the book. It's fantastic! Yay for dismal rainy weekends--I was able to sneak off and read bits and pieces while the boys (there are now five in my home) entertained themselves playing in the dirt, driving remote control cars and rave dancing. I finished the last chapter cozy in bed yesterday morning--so funny, heartbreaking, real and inspirational. An absolutely necessary addition to the Motherhood Literary Canon.

Sooo...if you're in need of a seasonal pick-me-up, or just need a good read, get thee to thy nearest independent book store and purchase thyself a copy.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What I've Been Reading Lately

In the last couple of weeks, I've read three books by pretty amazing young women, ranging in age from 22 through 30, which is both a) impressive and b) like, what the hell have I been doing?

I had a conversation with a friend recently that got me thinking about The Simple Life, and what it means to live simply. I realize that we don't live THE simple life (this blog, I'm sure, would be compatible with that), but I do strive to make ours as simple as possible, and by that I mean not buying a lot of material items, steering clear(ish) of technology, eating fresh, local and homemade food as much as possible--in short, trying to avoid the engineered, packaged, processed and industrialized elements of our culture. After our conversation though, I was unsure. Was the fact that I have a job and a mortgage incompatible with simplicity? Then I read the book Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich after reading about it on the Cleaner Plate Club blog. Jenna is a young woman (20s I think??), who consciously made an effort to life a simpler, more sustainable life in her Idaho home. The book includes chapters on raising chickens and rabbits, gardening, baking bread, sewing, playing down-home music and even dog sledding. The best part about it is she is not an expert on any of these topics--she's just learning and writing as she learns. It's kind of refreshing to read a book by someone who is not a know-it-all. Oh, yeah, and she works a full-time job too--a (more) simple life and a working life are compatible for her (on the other hand, she doesn't have any kids!)

A co-worker and I stopped at the bookstore after a meeting one day and while I waited for her to get her books, I browsed the new book section and the book Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter caught my eye. It's the memoir of this young (22 y-o) woman's life in the foster care system of Florida as a child. When I got it from the library, it was in the young adult section, which I found kind of odd. While I'm sure it may be interesting for young adults to read, it's really vital that adult adults read it and learn about the craziness of the foster care system in this country. As I read about the over-crowded, emotionally and physically abusive homes Ashley was placed in and the case workers who were fully aware of the horrendous conditions but chose to ignore or cover them up, I had to continue to remind myself that this took place in the 1980s and 1990s, not in some distant historic time or place. At the end of the book, Ashley lists the numbers of social workers, judges and other adults who were supposed to be looking out for her, which came into the 100s, but only one guardian ad litem actually helped her out. The story has a happy ending (Ashley gets adopted), but the fact that such horrors continue today--the Victorian practice of punishing children for their mothers' "sins"--is horrifying.

I haven't read the blog Orangette much, but many of the blogs I do read have recommended it's author, Molly Wizenburg's recent book A Homemade Life. I was fully prepared to not like the book for some reason--I guess if everyone else is doing something, I'll try it, but I'm not gonna like it--but I was profoundly disappointed. The books is a series of essays about different people and events in her short (30 years) life, each followed by a recipe. The first few chapters are a little slow, but the recipes kept me going (that banana bread with the crystallized ginger and chocolate chips I made for the teachers), and as she moves into her adult life--studying abroad in France (and a brief romance with a Parisian boy), her father's illness and death, meeting her husband through her blog--the stories get really interesting. And the food? I want to make about 98% of the recipes therein, which means I'm going to have to buy my own copy of the book (I already splattered the banana bread recipe with water--oops). My first thought after finishing reading it was, I have not paid nearly enough attention to food. I mean, I love good food, but Molly really defines her life through significant foods. Awesome.
What I was most struck by in all three of these books, is how self-assured each of these young women is. Considering I second-, third- and fourth-guess every thought, decision and move I make, I am quite impressed. And I could probably learn a thing or two!

I also recently read The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, the famous dance choreographer. It's kind of part memoir, part self-help for creative people of all persuasions. I found it a bit overwhelming and intimidating, to be honest. Especially when she described her childhood being constantly ferried to music, dance and art classes--well no wonder she succeeded! I thought. Most of us did not have (and would probably not want) that kind of childhood. Thorpe's stories are interesting, though, and while I did not try most of the suggested exercises, I've put a few in my back pocket to try out some day. I especially like her candor in describing her mistakes and failures as much as her successes. The biggest thing I got out of reading it is that I need to surround myself with creative people, role models and mentors. I do know many creative people, but they are not the people I interact with on a daily basis, and most of us keep our creativity on a hot plate over on the side of the counter, with our kids, jobs, spouses, etc. front-and-center. I'll be working on devising a way to be around more creative people more often...I'll keep you posted.

Finally, these amazing and heart-breaking Kansas Stories by women who were patients of Dr. Tiller. These women found out late in their pregnancies that their fetuses had terrible problems--bones so brittle several were broken and re-healed in utero; calcified brains; hearts missing valves. If they survived to term, their short lives would have been marked by severe pain, major interventions and suffering. These women made the most compassionate choice possible given their situations, then had to travel to Kansas because late-term terminations were illegal in their states, walk past lines of protesters who have no real understanding of what it means to honor life, and, luckily, found themselves in the hands of caring, compassionate staff who helped them through their painful ordeals. We can't walk a mile in their shoes, but we can read their stories and mourn their loss, and the tragic loss of a real hero.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Teachers' Pet

I have never been good at the teacher gift thing. When M "graduated" preschool, I managed a bouquet of flowers for each of his teachers. Then I found out that his friend's mom bought them gift cards to a local spa. Ouch. But I did provide the vases (rummaged out of my cabinet) and I did stop the car on the way out of our driveway to run out into the field and cut wild irises and buttercups and ferns. Way lame, I know. But I had one-year-old twins for Pete's sake! It has become clear, however, that the infant twins excuse no longer holds water, especially now that said twins are nearly old enough to go to school themselves. After reading Sara's post on teacher gifts last week, I felt duly chastened and determined to give something good. But what? And to whom? In addition to M's classroom teacher, there is his math teacher, his music teacher, his art teacher, his library/computer teacher, his P.E. teacher, his gifted and talented teacher, his bus driver, oh, yeah, and his baseball coach. That's a lot of something, but what?

Sunday, while shopping for my duvet fabrics, I did have a brief moment of selflessness and picked out some fabric to make M's classroom teacher a shoulder bag. Then Monday, as I was sewing the duvet, I found myself craving banana bread with chocolate chips and ginger, thanks to a book I just read (more on that tomorrow) and thought, A-ha! Mini loaves of banana bread! I had a bunch of foil mini loaf pans that I bought for some project a long, long time ago and never ended up using. I checked for the ingredients: ripe bananas, check, sugar, check, eggs, check, ginger, check, chocolate chips, check. Yogurt--no yogurt. But did I just go ahead and bake my usual Joy of Cooking banana bread recipe (perhaps throwing in a few gratuitous chocolate chips)? No, I decided to make yogurt. Which takes six hours to set. So, I heated the milk to almost-boiling and returned to my duvet as it cooled. Just before picking M up from the bus, I mixed the cooled milk with yogurt starter and put it in the cooler to do whatever it is yogurt does (ripen? ferment? yogue?).

After the duvet was finished and dutifully admired, I started cutting out the bag from this tutorial, which I like very much. I offered M the option of drawing a picture on some muslin for the pocket, but he said he thought the fabric looked better (and he wanted to get back to his Lego action, I'm sure). I got about halfway done before dinner, then put kids to bed, talked on the phone to my sister and started the banana bread. It took six bowls. Plus the blender. In the future, if I want to quadruple a recipe, I think I will make two double recipes separately, because no bowl I have would contain all six cups of bananas, eight cups of flour, two cups of sugar, one cup of yogurt, eight eggs, etc. Also I think I would bake them in two batches as well--is there some rule about not crowding your oven? If not, there should be. The loaves looked pretty done when I took them out round about 11 p.m., but the next morning one had a sink-hole and was pretty darn doughy (good thing I had made 11, but we only needed 9, unless we decide to give one to the principal, too. What do you think?) I put a couple of the glossier looking ones back in the oven for an extra 15 minutes that morning. I know this doesn't actually work, but it made me feel better. In any case, banana bread dough is mighty tasty anyway...just not very slice-able.

I had M write notes for each one, which all read: "Mrs. ------, Thank you for being a great teacher, M." and "Mr. ----, Thank you for driving me to school," and "S---, Thank you for teaching me how to play baseball, M." So simple, so straightforward, no unnecessary words or extravagant emotions. On the math teacher's note he wrote a math problem (which I think he solved wrong, but at least it teaches her what he needs to work on next year!).

While the loaves baked, I finished the bag. As I worked, this fabric grew on me until I was quite smitten. Isn't it gorgeous?

I copied Sara's wrapping job

and we delivered bag and bread Tuesday morning (ringing in my head as we approached the school was a steady chant of "brown-noser, brown-noser!") before the one and only field trip of the year (a gorgeous day at the ocean's edge, scavenger hunting for flotsam and jetsam--I think there may still be a dead crab in my shoulder bag in the mudroom).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Duvet (or not duvet?)

I first experienced duvet sleeping at my best friend from high school, CS's house. The beds in her house were made up with thick, fleecy wool blankets neatly pinned inside crisp cotton covers that I'm sure her mother, a German national, had made. I spent the night at CS's a lot--so much that I had my own toothbrush hanging on the back of their medicine cabinet with a little "Andrea" label taped next to it (Mrs. S was a stickler for detail)--and house sat for them when they went to Europe in the summer. I loved the cozy cocoon-like feel of plump blanket tucked up in the course cotton (no poly-cotton sateen sheets for the S family--I still love my sheets to feel slightly crunchy). I also appreciated not messing with hospital corners (while my own mother was most definitely NOT a stickler for detail on the level of Mrs. S, we did make our beds with hospital corners--and I still do) when making the bed (although we did have to mess with pinning the blanket in place with diaper pins).

I didn't have a duvet of my own, however, until about five years ago, when C and I finally bought a new bed (I refused to turn 30 sleeping on a mattress on the floor), and I headed to the nearest big box bedding store and bought two sets of flannel sheets and sewed the top sheets together. We tuck our down comforter inside and it keeps us nice and cozy all winter long. In the summer, however, we switch to cotton sheets and our poor down comforter has gotten a little dingy, all naked and exposed on top of our bed like that. It was ready for a summer cover (yes, we sleep under a down comforter all year long--c'mon this is Maine; it hasn't even been warm enough to open the windows at night yet! Plus I like to be cozy).

I was at first inspired by this SouleMama blanket and very strongly considered ordering a stack of Anna Maria Horner fat quarters, but decided I wanted to see the fabric in real life before buying. So Sunday, I was able to escape the brood for a few hours and took myself to a fabric store that carries her fabrics, and which I have only been to once or twice because I always have kids with me when I'm in that neck of the woods (Alewives in Damariscotta Mills, if you're interested). After a good hour or two, I had amassed my giant pile of 24 bolts of gorgeous, bright, beautiful fabric and, as it turned out, not one was an Anna Maria Horner--they were mostly Kaffe Fasset (who is my original and all-time favorite fabric designer), Amy Butler and Martha Negly, and probably some other who knows whats. I felt a bit guilty not buying it all at the local Hallowell shop I usually go to (Whipper Snappers), since I know she carries at least some variation of most of what I bought (I felt even worse when I got her email that on Fridays fat quarters are only $2 each off if you buy more than 10!).

I got home at 5:00 on Sunday with my fabric, and by 4:30 Monday afternoon, I had this:

So easy. So satisfying. So gorgeous. I did have to wait another day to sleep under it because I hadn't pre-washed anything. (The backing is the flat sheet from a set of off-white organic sheets from Target--which I bought last week and which happened to be on sale, woo-hoo!) Somehow I made the button holes excessively large, but since they don't have to hold up my pants, I'm not too worried about it.

What I should have been working on this whole time, however, was teacher gifts, which is why I found myself making 11 loaves of banana bread at 10:00 that night, but more on that tomorrow.
P. S. And the winner of the fabulous Brain, Child Magazine give-away is Snoozetska. Since I know where she lives, she doesn't need to send me her address, but I may hold it hostage for a moms' night out. Congratulations Snooze, and I promise to offer an even more exciting giveaway soon!

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I had to post a photo of myself on the introductions page of the writing class I'm taking, so I scanned through all of the photos saved on our computer, and the only one I liked is the one you see on the right. So now I am no longer a faceless blogger!! I hope you're not disappointed (like when you see the pictures of Public Radio hosts and they look nothing like their voices).

Anyway, it didn't seem quite the right kind of picture for my purposes, so I held a little self-photo session last night, which was amusing because it's almost impossible to take a photo of yourself without looking like there's something severely wrong with your neck). I took about 50 pictures and rejected most of them because, for some reason, on camera I look like I have wrinkles, bad skin, double chins, poor posture and stringy hair (I'm sure that's not the case in real life, is it?)...anyway I finally settled on one that wasn't too hideous, but here's one of the outtakes:
I was trying to make myself smile naturally by making funny didn't work. There were several photos in which mosquitoes were caught in the act of biting my face, and after I went inside I was so itchy that I'm sure noseeums invaded my sweater and socks while I was out there.
Speaking of hair (remember, my stringy hair?), please refrain from asking either of the following questions when you first meet me, or ever:
"Does you husband have blond hair? No? Where did your kids get theirs?" This IS blond hair! It says so right on my driver's license (it also says 135 lbs. but we won't talk about that).
"Three boys? Are you going to try for a girl now?"
Phew, now that I've got that off my chest, I'd like to share with you a letter M wrote to my dad (because he's always asking me very detailed questions about what goes on in the Army, and I keep suggesting he ask someone who's actually been in the army):
"Dear Grandpoppy,
I would like to know about your Military training & tactics. And what did you have to put in the pockets of your uniform? What kinds of food did you have in your M.R.E.s? (Meal Ready to Eat) Did you have fun in your training? What colors did you wear for camouflage? What rank in the Army were you going to be? Love, M---"
I love it--what did you put in your pockets!! Yes my kid is frighteningly obsessed with the military, but he mostly wants to know what colors were the uniforms! My guess is that my dad's training and tactics had a lot to do with beer and bratwurst, since he was stationed in Germany during the 1960s. We'll see what he has to say.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Good News (I hope) and Giveaway

Last night voters rejected the horribly eviscerated Sheepscot Valley RSU 12 (that's fancy talk for consolidated school district) school budget that was approved at a blatantly un-democratic town meeting last Tuesday (I'm sorry, but a meeting that runs from 7 p.m. to 1 p.m. on a school/work night pretty much disenfranchises everyone who has children and/or a job, meaning only old retired farts who don't give a f*ck about anything but their social security checks that pay the satellite TV bill on their trailer so they can keep up with NASCAR. What, bitter? Me?).

Woo-hoo. (I found the article online here, but although the headline reads "Sheepscot Unit Plan Shot Down" the article covers every other school budget in the region, except Sheepscot). Now the school board can go back to the drawing table, take into account carry-over, shuffle the numbers around so whatever cuts they do come up with don't come out of general education, and bring it back to the voters...hopefully at a time when parents can make it (i.e. not bedtime through the middle of the night). Maybe they could even offer childcare (what an idea!) And if we do end up hacking up education further, and our school ends up in the crapper, well at least that gives me one less reason to want to live here (our family practice doc moving to the hospital in a few months is another one), although we'll have to find homeschoolers or retired old farts who don't want to pay taxes to sell our house to.

Now, on to the giveaway. I recently bought a Brain, Child Before Color Pack (i.e. four back issues of Brain, Child magazine) because I should never be left alone with a high speed Internet connection and a credit card. Anyway, one of the issues that came was one that I already had. Sooo...the exciting giveaway is a never-before-read Summer 2004 issue of Brain, Child (I was hoping to link to a photo on their site, but there isn't one! It has a picture of some legs on the beach with a big slice of watermelon...sound familiar?)

If you've never heard of Brain, Child or if you've been an avid reader since sometime after Summer 2004 this is the prize for you!! I've maintained a subscription since that issue and I still love it. Occasionally an essay or article doesn't completely connect with me and there was one issue that I found totally disappointing, but otherwise I love the writing (essays, fiction, a feature, humor). After reading the three back issues I hadn't already read, I started re-reading them all from the beginning (because, yes, I don't throw them away) and I find myself sneaking away to read an essay here, an essay there, gobbling through them at a rate of one or two issues a day (I'm looking at it as prep for an online writing class I'm starting tomorrow--yes I've become the person Sandra Tsing Loh is talking to in A Year in Van Nuys when speaking to a writer's support group she says (and I paraphrase), "You people aren't writers! You're just addicted to writing workshops." Guilty as charged--so I'm just reading essays, not features or fiction).

So...that's a really long way of saying, leave a comment on this post between now and next Wednesday (noon EDT) for a chance to win this fabulous magazine. And remember to come back on Thursday to see if you won, because Google doesn't let me see your email address. Oh, yeah, and if you don't usually comment, don't be shy. That's why we do these giveaways--to flush the lurkers.

Good luck and good reading.

Edited to add:
Thanks for the comment Steve and good point. If you live in one of the eight RSU towns, call one of your school board members to let them know why you voted no (for example, you want the general education budget restored as much as possible and to have the School Board decide where cuts should come from if there must be cuts, just a suggestion). You can find the names (but unfortunately not the phone numbers or email addresses) of the members of the RSU board on their website.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Frolicking and Letting Go

Saturday I participated in a long-anticipated yard sale at my friend's was to be the Yard Sale the Would Change My Life. Starting back in March, I've been methodically cleaning (and by cleaning I mean tearing apart and putting back together) every room in the house, sorting through everything to stuff to jettison from my life. An enormous tower of boxes built up in my basement, just waiting for the day of cleansing.

I filled my car to and beyond maximum capacity (this was my second load and I'm sure I was violating some traffic rules having blocked the view out the entire right side of the car) and trundled half an hour away to Manchester early Saturday morning. The hawks started coming around as soon as I started unloading at 6:30 a.m. The first thing to go was a pink glass candle holder that held the candle on our wedding "altar." I felt a pang of sentimentality as I took fifty cents for it... but I let it go.

"Letting Go" is the Pillar of Mindfulness I'm focusing on this month...I find it's not easy for me.
After seven hours I had made about 100 bucks and sold most of the bigger, bulkier items. The rest, except one yellow chair and a six iced tea glasses (anyone want a set of nice iced tea glasses?) I deposited at Goodwill and the library (six boxes of books--two from my friend--awaiting their book sale later this month). So was it a life changing experience? Hmmm...not so least I didn't wake up Sunday morning a New Woman, ready to sit down and bang out a novel on the manual typewriter which did NOT make its way to the sale. I did feel a little bit of, "hmmm...wonder if I shouldn't have gotten rid of X?" and at least three of my family members have brought up items that went in the last 24 hours (despite the fact that they've been out of circulation and hanging out in the basement for months). I'm hoping the big release...the realization that I'm no longer being held hostage by certain material belongings will come soon. Or maybe I should just Let It Go....

Sunday, I took the kids to the Fiber Frolic, which I would happily (and successfully) argue is the BEST fair in Maine--no noisy midway, no greasy carnies, no long drive, long wait to park, long lines or crowds. Only $4 entrance fee (kids free), a lot of cool fiber animals and a lot of cool fiber people. I should probably keep my opinion to myself, or the Common Ground Fair hordes might start taking over this fair too!

First E was visited by a dragonfly in the parking field. It hung with us for a good 15 minutes.

Then we watched the sheep dog demonstrations, which always make me want to get some sheep, goats and a few border collies (you know, to fill up my spare time).
Followed by Llamas.

And more llamas.

And even Leaping Llamas.
The children's activity tent is great--totally low-key with fun crafts every year. Here M makes a god's eye.
Z colors a blue cat.
And E dances with the shakers he made out of film canisters and toilet paper tubes.
They even have my favorite fair food booth. And I made the most amazing discovery--hot dogs! There was a time when I would shudder at even the suggestion of feeding my children the lips, lids and a**holes contained in the natural casings, but they're on $2 at the fair (compared to M's $6 sausage and my $7 falafel)...and I didn't have to coax anyone to eat them (they did partake of my sweet potato fries for some healthy vegetable matter and vitamin A).
Oh, yeah, and lots and lots of gorgeous fiber!
All I bought was some brown and grey wool roving for needle-felting birds (of which I think I lost my light brown skein out of my bag--because I declined the proffered plastic bag--only $1 worth of wool, but I needed it! Let it go). Someday, though, I'll have the time and skills to harness some of those gorgeous yarns into beautiful sweaters and things. There were also some beautiful baskets for really good prices that I waffled on and ended up not getting (and regretting). Let it go.
We finished the day with some delicious John's Ice Cream ($1 cheaper than at the Common Ground Fair, and the line was about 25 minutes shorter...convinced yet?) Three boys, three flavors, a perfect Neapolitan: Strawberry, Vanilla, Chocolate.
We pretty much closed down the fair (having arrived shortly after opening), happy and content and tired. Next year, though, I think I'll take the kids Saturday and go back by myself Sunday to take some workshops and browse unencumbered. Who wants to come with me?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Being a girl for the West, I love Mexican food. Which makes living in New England--the land of boiled dinner, ham suppah, chipped beef and American Chop Suey--supremely depressing. Did the Puritans think flavor was some kind of sin, or what? C and I have bravely tried out pretty much every Mexican restaurant we have seen, heard of or passed by in Maine. Most of the time we have been supremely disappointed.

There have been a few exceptions. Miguel's, in Bar Harbor, I have heard is good. I had a co-worker who would drive from Brunswick to eat dinner there. When I lived in Bar Harbor, however, I was too poor to eat out most of the time, so I have never tried it, even though I only lived a few houses down the street (why am including it on this list? I don't know.) But from the menu, it appears worth trying.

During our early courtship days, C and I went out to XYZ in Southwest Harbor and I had a really gorgeous chile relleno made with a big, fat purple chile and served with my first-ever taste of jicama (I didn't know what it was, but I knew I liked it). Reviews on Google maps say the service is poor, but I'm sure C and I were so enamored with gazing into each other's eyes, we wouldn't have noticed either poor service or a mariachi band serenade. I don't even know if it is still in business.

When we're in Brunswick, we try to eat at El Camino, run by a chef from San Francisco and decorated in amazing kitsch--with bright orange and red walls, chrome car parts and velvet bullfighter paintings. The menu is smallish, especially for a vegetarian diner, and changes regularly, but the food is always fresh and delicious, with local ingredients. Once during rhubarb season, my friend ordered a rhubarb martini. I usually get the limeade with coconut milk, because I'm wild and crazy like that.

Of course, if you want, as my friend Brett calls it, swamp cheese, there's always Margarita's, which, by the way, I am totally not above. However, for something a bit authentico, and when I'm not in the mood to drive to Mount Desert Island or Brunswick (that would be always), I have resigned myself to attempting to create my own Mexican food. Two summers ago, I made it my mission to perfect homemade corn tortillas, and nearly every Friday set myself to work on a batch, along with a sauce of simmered tomatillos and serranos or tomatoes and jalapenos. We had a bumper crop of tomatillos that year and I was able to freeze several pints of the sauce to help me get through the following winter's cold, dead misery. The crowning glory that summer was a batch of chile rellenos from poblanos coaxed from the New England Soil by my own hands. We joked that it was the meal that took seven months to grow, seven hours to cook, and seven minutes to eat. Mmmmm...

Anyhoo, back to the tortillas, I pretty much never buy them anymore, but make them myself. My recipes for the tortillas and the sauces and pretty much anything else Mexican I attempt to cook, come from Rick Bayless, both his Mexico One Plate at a Time and his Mexican Kitchen. E and Z like to join in the tortilla-making--why not? it's just like play dough--and I think we make an excellent team.

Corn Tortillas for a Gringa in New England Jonesing for Blue Sky, Sunshine and Spicy Food

Mix 1 3/4 cup masa harina* with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot tap water.
Let stand, covered for 1/2 hour

Knead in cool water 1 T at a time until the dough has a putty-like consistency (or as Rick says, get it as wet as you can without it being sticky) and roll into 12-16 walnut-sized balls and cover.

Heat one cast-iron skillet to med-low and heat another to med-high.

Turn stove hood fan on full-blast and possibly open a window.

Get a tortilla press. This may require a trip to the Southwest. Bummer.

Put two squares of plastic to fit over the press's plates (Rick uses garbage bags, I use two halves of a quart-sized ziplock freezer bag--yes I know I recently preached about trying to become plastic-free, but I have several of these bags kicking around that I wash and use over, and over, and over again. I also wash my two squares for tortilla-making and use them again).

Place a square of plastic on the press, center a ball of dough, cover with the other sheet of plastic and press into a flat circle.

Peel of the top sheet of plastic, lay tortilla-side down on your palm, and peel of the other side. Lower your hand into the med-low skillet and deftly roll your hand out from under your tortilla, leaving the tortilla in the pan and avoiding singeing the hairs on the backs of your knuckles.

Cook for about 15 seconds, until the tortilla has released itself from the pan.

Flip into the hotter pan and cook about 30-45 seconds, until brown spots appear on the underside. Flip and cook another 30-45 seconds while you prep the next tortilla. Place finished tortillas inside a cozy cloth napkin.

Rick says the perfect tortilla puffs up like a pita bread. Mine do this sometimes (usually toward the end of the cooking session when I get the heat right), but not always. They may not be perfect. They may not be the absolutely best tortillas I've ever had, but they're pretty dang good for a gringa and two little gringitos in New England.

Here they are turning into quesadillas...mmmm...

* Masa harina, also called taco flour, is ground corn cooked with lime and dried into a fine yellow flour. If you are lucky enough to have access to fresh masa where you live, skip the first couple of steps. Do not mistake masa harina for cornmeal, which is just ground corn.
P.S. New post up at Capital Walks.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Healthy Cookies

I decided to make cookies instead of granola bars, which I've made in the past, for our camping trip because cookies are a lot less work. I considered making these yummy-looking ones, but I had lots of nearly-ripe bananas and went with my old standby healthy cookie, which are so ridiculously healthful that I hesitate even calling them a cookie. They come from the Rancho la Puerta cookbook and are called Amazing Cookies, but for some reason I always think of them as Treasure Cookies. This is my own variation on the recipe, which basically involves doubling it (never make a single batch of anything!), substituting maple syrup for the minimal brown sugar called for and using whole eggs instead of just whites, because I just can't see wasting half an egg (also I think attitudes toward egg yolk have evolved over the last 10-15 years). Mix up a batch and dig in!

Amazing Cookies a.k.a. Treasure Cookies

Preaheat oven to 350 and butter or oil a couple of cookie sheets.

In a large bowl, whisk together:
1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
2 c. rolled oats
3 t. cinnamon
1 t. baking soda

In the blender, whir together:
4 bananas
2 large eggs
1/4 c. maple syrup
5 t. grated orange zest
2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. orange extract

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir in:
1 1/2 c. raisins
1/2 c. chocolate chips

Blop spoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake about 10-12 minutes.

Just so you know, it's a soft cookie, not at all crunchy, and pretty banana/orange-ey. About 3/5 of the members of my household love them, the other 2/5, not so much (yea--more for me!)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...