Thursday, July 18, 2013

Current Favorites...and Blueberry Cake Recipe!

In the melting heat (and it's not as bad in Maine as in Boston), I find plenty to complain about--trust me on that.  But it's important for me to remember that there are lots of good things going on too--favorites of July 2013.  These include:

These Granola Bars, which are worth the hassle of stirring a ball of date paste into a bowl full of oats.  Few ingredients, no cooking, and delicious.  Sam is finding that he can't live without them.  Always good to see the kid/s loving non-processed snacks.

Discovering that one of the little trees in the back yard is a cherry tree!  (Sadly, the squirrels got most this year.)

Library books, library books, and more library books.  For all of us.  Anya is the one taking off with reading voraciously this year.  

Riesling just as the sun shifts and the afternoon/evening starts to cool.

Sam's newly green room:

On the green theme: season's first pesto!!!

Farmers' Market on Thursdays.  And Anya's insistence on buying bread and flowers as well as veggies.  Good call, Anya.

Mistress Anya's fortune telling:

Reading School of Fear with the kids.  Yeah, I know, we could be reading something more enlightening.  But this is fun!  At least I've got the boy reading Fahrenheit 451, and that's something, right? 

The bookshelf porn website that I found via Nancy.  Ah, dreams... I will admit, though, that the books/bookshelves-as-art-pieces appeal to me less than the pictures of stacks.  I guess I think function leads to a deeper aesthetic in this case.  

To round out, I will share of one of my favorite summertime recipes that I need to make soon.  This is a cake that can move into fall (any time of year, really), but always seems best in summer.  It's one of the many cakes from my childhood and youth.  Tasty, but not too sweet.  Easily doubled if you want a larger cake.

Blueberry Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Grease and flour an 8x8 inch cake pan (9x13 if you double the recipe)

Mix together in a large bowl:
1/2 cup shortening (or butter)
1 1/3 cups flour (cake flour is good)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup milk 

1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla 
and mix a little more

Fold in 1 cup blueberries.  
(note: these should be the wild, small blueberries, not the big ones!  They are fresh in Maine in mid to late summer, and you can find them in the freezer section--frozen works fine).  

Pour and spread batter in pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until top is springy (or toothpick comes out clean), and edges start to pull from the sides.  You can also smell when it's just about done, if you have a nose trained to that.  I tend to check a couple of times before it's supposed to be done, just in case, but that's just me.  

Sprinkle a little cinnamon sugar on top, and voila!  Delicious dessert without much fuss.  

What are you loving these days?

Monday, July 15, 2013

This I Believe

I have been reading a collection of "This I Believe" essays from NPR--both from the original series in the 1950s and the ones from more recent years.  I have wondered for a long time what I would write about if I could ever read my own essay on the radio. I never settled on anything, until today.

I believe in the power of rituals and traditions. 

This would come as a surprise to many, my mother more than anyone.  I was raised Catholic, but rejected the Church and its ritualistic worship.  I did not convert to Judaism even though I took a conversion class with my then-boyfriend, now husband.  I haven’t gone to my family’s traditional Christmas party in many years.  I don’t go to big weddings.  I also don’t attend graduations, which I really ought to do since I am a tenured member of my university.  I have never been a conformist.  Probably the single easiest way to get me not to do something is to say something like “do it because I say so” or “do it because this is the way it has always been done.”

But I believe in the power of everyday rituals.

I believe in making a bath into an event with bubbles and books and music.  I believe in the comfort of a cup of tea that reminds me of my mother’s warmth and love.  I believe in home-made present night every Chanukah, and telling my kids what to dream about before they go to sleep every night (thank you, Todd Parr, for giving that idea so many years ago with your book Otto Goes to Bed).  I believe in the power of telling my kids to “be good, have fun, and learn stuff” as they go off to school every morning.  I believe in visiting the library once a week and delighting in the world of books.  I believe in lighting candles and eating in the dining room on Friday nights, followed by a family movie.  I believe in reading a good book on a rainy or snowy day.  I believe in the meditative power of knitting, even though I am not especially good at it. 

I believe in saying hello to people that I pass on the street and in saying "thank you."

I believe that watching Shawn the Sheep episodes with my family can improve any bad day.

I believe in taking a walk every morning, usually listening to NPR, as a way to save my sanity.  When it rains or snows, I sometimes get on a treadmill and listen to No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom. 

I believe that birthday cakes have to be made for you from scratch by someone who loves you.

I believe in the kind of love that gets two people who have known each other for over 20 years to go out for coffee once a week so that they can talk honestly about their lives.

It’s a kind of existential belief in ritual, one that presumes that there is no core meaning to find in this world, in this universe.  Belief that comes from within and builds out of ordinary life and choices—not from conformity or established institutions.  Rediscovering the power of everyday ritual in middle age just might reconnect me with spirit, with something bigger than myself, in ways that formalized rituals never did. 

 What do you believe?

Friday, July 12, 2013

This Moment

A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and rememberAmanda Soule

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Facing My Fears, Following my Fantasies

Well, after almost two years of letting it collect dust, I finally took out the sewing machine.  I learned to thread it.  I stitched a few crooked stitches.  

I am in total fear of the sewing machine and have no faith that I can learn even simple, straight-line sewing.  But, for years I have had this fantasy of being able to sew.  Now it's time to face the fears and see if I can learn a little.  Even if I only get to a point of sewing a few simple things (I can make bags to put everyone's knit cowls in!), I'll be happy.  

Now, I just have to keep at it.  Need a few more supplies, or so the beginner's sewing book tells me.  I promise myself to get back to it this weekend, if not sooner.  

Wish me luck!  There's hope, even for someone like me who's never been handy or crafty, right?

What have you always wanted to do, but haven't gotten around to yet?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

House Love: The Kitchen

We recently had friends over for a night in our place in Maine--friends who appreciated this old, crooked, full-of-character house.  So, that got me to thinking: why not do a few posts on parts of this old house that I love? 

Today (obviously): the kitchen.  It's not the most efficient kitchen I've ever had, but it's workable and definitely the most stylish.  Concrete counter tops (that we have to learn how to seal safely for food preparation), hardwood floors, a wonderful pantry (which has much more food in it now than the picture shows), and a stainless-steel six-burner stove.  Love that stove.  And pantry.  

It is a bit awkward that one half of the room contains virtually all of the functioning kitchen (save the fridge), but it is kind of nice to have room for a comfy chair. And the view from the chair (top photo) is one that I always find so peaceful and cozy.  Great place to sit while waiting on something that's cooking, baking, or percolating.

And then, of course, there is evidence on the counter of our coffee habit.  It's a house that fairly demands for one to drink tea, of course.  And sometimes I do.  But: good coffee and espresso are a basic requirement for us in any house.

This kitchen was one of the things that made me fall in love with the house.  It has a gloriously "cottage-y" feel, doesn't it?  Kind of defines the whole house as you walk in.  I saw pictures of it online and was drawn to it, and when I saw it in person it was just as good.  Online pictures, however, did not reveal that the only refrigerator in the place was a wine cooler in the pantry.  Strange juxtaposition with such a fancy stove...!  But, easily rectified with purchase of a full-sized fridge.  

What do you love about your kitchen?  What does your "dream kitchen" look like?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Yet more from the white board

Okay, not only am I puzzled about how to make this dish, but it sounds simply disgusting.  

(This was, obviously, not about a recipe and was simply a note on things we had to remember to bring to Maine.)