Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Purple Pizza

We spent most of Hurricane Sunday indoors, cleaning, reading (I'm reading E and Z book 2 of Harry Potter, and they wanted to finish so we could watch the movie), watching movies (yes, Harry Potter #2, though we didn't finish the book first), with a few forays out into the wild, whipping wind in between downpours. We headed out into our neighbor's field as what we reverently referred to as "The Eye" passed over us and practiced launching hard green apples with the wind's help and ran up and down hills and set leaves flying. We were quite fortunate to be well away from the destructive arm of the storm, and didn't even need to fear losing power, with our solar energy stored cozily in batteries (though the next morning we learned that most around us--including our daycare--had lost theirs and still didn't have it back).

A day of such excitement requires some sort of celebratory that can be made from the dwindling stores of a refrigerator owned by those who spend the day before a storm at the beach, rather than in the grocery store stocking up on water, batteries and canned goods.

And so we have, Purple Pizza.

Sorry for the poor light, but there was a hurricane going on.

To make:


1 c warm water
1 t honey
1 T yeast

Let sit till foamy (about 5 min.), then add:

1/2 c oatmeal (ground to a meal in blender)
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 t salt
1 T olive oil
1 1/2  to 2 c all purpose flour

Knead till smooth and elastic. Place in oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour).

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Punch down dough, roll into a circle and place on pizza stone or pan (sprinkled liberally with cornmeal).

Prepare blueberry pesto:

Combine in blender or food processor:

2 c blueberries
1 c herbs (I used basil and parsley)
4 cloves garlic
1/2 c Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/4 c olive oil
1 c toasted nuts or seeds (I used sunflower seeds)

Whir until if forms a thick paste.

Spread pesto evenly over crust.

Dollop with goat cheese.

Bake about 20 min or until cheese begins to turn golden.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Last Dash for the Beach

So, it turns out that ignoring all of the urgent back-to-school sale fliers does not prevent summer from coming to a close.

This summer seemed to go by especially fast. Perhaps it was because I spent the first half anticipating the trip that would occupy the second half, which never came.

In my usual end-of-summer dash to soak the last bit of summerness out of the season, I declared that we would go to the beach Saturday, come hell or high water, or, as it were, hurricane.

It turns out that the day before a hurricane is a great day to go to the beach, because everyone else is not there.

We had the sand to ourselves for the first half hour or so, then only a handful of families joined us.

And though it was foggy most of the day, it was warm. Turns out tropical storms bring tropical weather.

We chose to go to the small, more sheltered beach, in case Irene was pushing big swells ahead of her, so that an errant wave would not wash one of our children to Nova Scotia.

The surf was mild, but filled with all manner of interesting flotsam, including several clumps of a weird, spongy seaweed that I believe is green fleece (aka dead man's fingers). Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of it.

We did all the requisite beach activities: sand digging (E made sand nests in hopes of attracting his seagull friends, Seagey, Pecky, Laughy and Colorey).

Synchronized reading.

Swimming, tidepooling, drawing, collecting, eating cheese and crackers seasoned with sand. It's the kind of day you wish could last forever.

After it all, though, I headed to Portland to meet my dear friend and her nice new (to me) boyfriend for dinner at my favorite restaurant, and, after sending them off into the hurricane (they had to get back to Connecticut), I happened to be driving through Freeport just in time to catch the last showing of The Passion of the Hausfrau, which I hadn't been able to get to this time around.

Friday, August 26, 2011

No Added Pectin Jam

Wouldn't you know it? Immediately after I did all that whining about no good peaches in Maine the other day, I got an email from my local farm store saying they had--guess what?--peaches! (Dare I complain about lack of apricots in hopes that a rare batch of same will appear from nowhere??) I ran right over and bought a big bag full and stayed up late making jam.

See how gorgeous it is?

I've been experimenting with no-added-pectin jam since last summer--actually, experimenting is the wrong word, since that implies study design, a hypothesis, a control batch and record-keeping, so let's say instead that I've been playing around with no-added-pectin jam and my conclusion, thus far is: (added) pectin, who needs it? My cynical mind assumes it's an industrial by-product of some kind and would otherwise be costly to dispose of, so instead it's packaged and sold as essential.

My general rule of thumb when making no-added-pectin jams is: 4 cups crushed fruit to 4 cups sugar (I use organic sugar, which works fine, despite not being white-white. I would advise against using turbinado, which renders the jam ugly brown and, apparently, the molasses has an effect on the jelling). For non-sour fruits I add also 1/4 cup lemon juice.

Sometimes I mix it all together and let it macerate for an hour or so before boiling. Sometimes I bring just the crushed fruit to a boil, then add the (pre-warmed in a pan in a low oven) sugar.

Some fruit only takes 5-10 minutes of boiling (raspberries, blackberries), some takes longer. I try to avoid the 30 to 40-minute boils recommended for other fruits, because that just seems cooked to death (also, I prefer a softer, less jelly-like, jam). The peach called for 40 minutes of boil, but between 15 and 20 it went from a beautiful golden color to the dark orange you see here (I kept the skins on, which added to the darker color as well, I believe) and started to burn to the pan. My preferred test-for-doneness method is to place a couple of saucers in the freezer, dollop a spoonful of jam onto one of them as it seems to be getting close to done, place it back in the freezer for a minute or two, then push my finger across the surface. If it wrinkles, it's done. If not, boil a few more minutes and repeat.

Some variations on the theme:

With strawberry this year, I had intended to make three batches, but discovered after I had crushed  4 cups of fruit in each of three pans, that I was short by about two cups of sugar. Instead I divided the third batch and between the first two. The down side was that every time it came to a rolling boil, it would overflow, so it never really got to temperature. I also tried straining out the fruit and just boiling the juice/sugar mixture for 20 or 25 minutes, then adding the fruit for another five or ten, to keep a fresher flavor. Still I never got up to full boil long, and ended up with a saucier jam (which I am totally fine with, but it may not be gift-worthy).

With blueberry, I used 6 cups whole berries to 3 1/2 cups sugar. The boiling time was probably about 15 or 20 minutes (woefully I don't take notes!) rather than the recommended 30. Last year my blueberry (using the 4:4 ratio) was way too stiff; this year's I think came out better.

My best and favorite jam is 4 Berry: one cup each raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. We're having an off blackberry year (they're an every-other-year crop), so I'm not sure if I'll be able to come up with enough of them for a batch this year, but if I do, it will probably be my last batch of jam, and then I hope we'll have enough to see us through to next summer.

For years I tried to make low-sugar jams with special low-sugar pectin, but was never pleased with the results--bland flavor, mushy texture, dull color, short shelf life once opened. I was afraid I would poison my family with it. I think the 4:4 fruit:sugar ratio is slightly less sugar than some jam with added pectin recipes, but it is sugary, if that bothers you. Then again, it's only meant to be eaten in small quantities.

What are your jam secrets?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Peachy Keen

Peaches aren't grown commercially in Maine, and the ones from the store are, quite frankly, just gross. (Yes, I am a peach snob, and will not eat a fruit with the texture of a styrofoam ball or the flavor of, well, a hard, unripened, not very good peach). So they are a rare fruit indeed. And to receive a real, ripe one is a gift.

I received such a gift Monday: six perfect peaches from a friend whose mother has two heavily-laden peach trees.

They were so beautiful, that we used them as a centerpiece (before they became dessert) for our dinner of summer succotash and gorgonzola cheese (for me) or local sweet Italian sausage (for everyone else). Except for the cheese, and a little bit of olive oil, it was a completely local meal (all from farmer's markets or a local farm store).

This is the first summer in years that I didn't institute the "Maine-only" food regime, mainly because I had planned (hoped) to spend most of the summer not in Maine. But, we've gotten so into the habit of buying from local farms and farmer's markets, that we have an almost all-Maine diet by default (I will admit to buying a lot more cherries, grapes, ice cream and packaged snacks this summer, though).

Food just tastes better when it comes from down the road (or your own backyard). Especially peaches.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

For my birthday, Saturday, we traded our kids for these:

Two kayaks and the open ocean.

This little rock became our home for the night.

It was not glamping, by any stretch of the imagination (I even forgot my camping bunting). We ate cup-o-soup

and oatmeal

and scrunched into our old two-man tent (and good thing, too, as the one flat spot of sand was just barely big enough for our footprint).

It was a short enough paddle, so we had the whole afternoon to just relax and explore. Do you know how rare it is to have hours and hours with nothing to do? I bet you do. We visited the neighboring island, circumambulated our own, swam, napped. I drew and wrote in my nature journal, and, because I adore Melissa's little nature-inspired embroideries over at Tiny Happy, I free-handed a little picture of our island:

And now I'll be sure to take embroidery supplies every time I go camping. And I won't forgo certain natural colors (I'd only taken blues, grays, greens and browns, due to my preconceived vision of what I would see).

On Sunday, we took our own sweet time packing up, then paddled out to visit some other islands before letting the wind and the waves drift us back toward home.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dome Days

E's was still croupy/coughy Monday morning, so I decided that rather than send him to daycare to play outside in the rain and contract pneumonia, we'd all stay home and have a dome day, which turned into two, because he was still sick and it was still raining Tuesday.

It felt like a snow day, with the gray sky outside, and us dressed in sweatshirts inside. On Monday, I served popcorn and grapes for lunch and even contemplated baking cookies (I have baked nothing at all in ages), which seems like a snow-day kind of thing to do.

The boys mostly just played Lego's for both days straight. I didn't take any pictures of their Lego creations, but they did:

E's house.

Table O' Lego's 

Z's Spaceship

I got out a bunch of wooden toys at one point, to encourage them to play with something else (I do feel sad at the prospect they might be outgrowing the wooden toys). E built this cool fort, guarded by dinosaurs and gnomes:

"Mom forced me to be all Waldorfy this morning"

And he and I did a little art project--paint over crayon to be scratched away later (do you remember making those in elementary school? I had much more fun than he did).

I always feel like I miss out on so much not being with my kids most days, but as it turns out, they pretty much do their own thing most of the time...and I do mine. While they did Lego's, I dabbled with a little reading, some very minor crafting, catching up on blogs, and a whole lot of vegging, which I think we were all in great need of.  I did read the last two chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to them, and then, because we still had all the movies we borrowed, we watched it Tuesday afternoon. Funny how you expose your second (and third) kids to things at a much younger age than the first, isn't it? They weren't too scared (the daylight helped I think), but the plot is a bit confusing for six-year-olds, even after having read the book. 

On Tuesday, I also made jam with some of the 40 pounds of blueberries I picked up Monday night.

6 c. blueberries; 3 1/2 c. sugar; 1/4 c. lemon juice; boil 10-15 min

I bribed E seventy-five cents to write the labels for me.

I wonder if that's how all the crafty mom-bloggers do it? They pay their kids to look cute, helping to stir cake batter and pick cucumbers and make artwork? I do think I'm onto something.

2 batches = 10 cups jam

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Summer Blouse

This was on my to-do list last summer, and I did in fact start it last year, but I think I was so defeated by all the cutting out (and, if I remember correctly, running out of fabric and running back to the store--all the way in Waterville--for more, that I just gave up before getting very far.

It's sat in my WIP basket ever since, until a couple of weeks ago, when I got it out and put it on my sewing table as a hint to myself. Finally this weekend I sat down and finished it.

It's Burda pattern #7834, and while it's not necessarily a difficult pattern, it is fussy. First, there are about a million pieces you must cut, then there's lots of neatening and basting and pressing and topstitching (I don't even know what "neaten" means, as you can see from the photo below) and even a zipper.

But, once I put my mind to it, it went fairly smoothly and quickly (two quick sewing sessions Sat. and Sun. a.m. and it was done).

It fits well (thank goodness), though it's a bit low-cut for my taste, which means I'll have to wear a tank top under it, and I hate summer blouses that force you to layer--isn't the point to stay cool?

Also, I wonder if I'm a bit old for the print blouse look?

In any case, it's a relief to get something out of the works-in-progress queue (and cross it off last summer's to-do list--at this rate I'll have gotten all my Summer 2010 desires taken care of by 2020).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Twelve Years!

C and I (and our brood) celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary Sunday.

Next weekend we have babysitters and a plan for an overnight kayak trip, so we let the kids hang with us on the actual day.

Also, next weekend is my birthday (ahem), so I thought of this weekend as, Birthday, Observed and next weekend as Anniversary, Observed.

What I like to do on my birthday is go to the beach. And so, though the beach isn't much (nor was the weather), we went to Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth (I spent a lovely day there by myself last summer and another with my sister, but my family, including the one who's lived in Maine nearly two decades, had not been there before).

They spent a lot of time running around in these creepy magazine storerooms (as in weapons magazines, not Martha Stewart).

And were impressed by this ruined castle.

The other thing I like to do on my birthday is eat Mexican food, which has always been a challenge here in the northeast. But I've been dying to try El Rayo Taqueria in Portland for about a year (really that was the whole reason for us to dip down into the gene pool for the day).

And? Yum. Look at that has cheese on it. Brilliant! And tacos, chips, salsa, fancy drinks, all good.

They served the kids' meals on frisbees.

The desserts were also fantastic. This is the coconut cupcake, which I ordered because I thought it would be reminiscent of wedding cake. Z had the best Key lime pie I've ever eaten.

When we got home we watched the video of our wedding (again feeling grateful we had such a short one!). It was sobering to see four people in the video who are no longer with us, including our wonderful officiant, and that the one behind the video camera is now fighting a serious brain tumor. Much can happen in 12 years.

Later C took stock of our last decade dodecade together. From his perspective, it's been a great success--he built this house, started a booming business. From mine, not so much. I feel stuck in much the same rut I was in back then; my career, such as it was, is now in shambles and I don't see a clear path forward. 

Still, we're still together and still in love. He's got a bit less hair and I've got a lot more hips. And of course, we have these three lovely children (one of whom just ran out of the room saying, "I hate you!" to his brother. Sigh).

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Walk Up the River

We have this lovely little river just a short walk from our house (really, it is officially a river, even in this land of big rivers).

And we have never, ever gone there in the summer (stop me if I've told this story before; I swear I'm just a Magic 8 Ball of reused stories...just shake me up and get another one).

We tromp through our trail in the autumn and on snowshoes and skis all winter, and in early spring it's where I go to bird watch. But once the blackflies come out in May, forget it.

And we do forget about it, right through the blackflies and mosquitoes and deerflies. So that the trail gets so overgrown with wild raspberries and blackberry canes and head-high asters that it's not even navigable.

Until after the first frost, when the bugs die back, and the vegetation does too.

But this summer, we've made it a destination. We've braved some bugs, and come in search of others. C, the bravest of all, walks down in the evenings after work, when the mosquitos are at their densest (and hungriest).

Saturday, we walked up the riverbed all the way to where this piece of ledge, some sort of layered rock (schist? shale?) heaved up on its side, forms a riffle, a bit of a fall.

Z caught frogs. I tried to catch dragons and damsels. M chattered nonstop about his latest obsessions--willow trees and poisonous plants (truly I have no idea where this kid came from). E, who has a bad cough (that sounds like croup, but isn't six too old for croup? We're at home today, letting him get better) followed us along the bank until the trees got too dense, then waited for us to come back.

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