Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Harvest to Dinner

Capellini with Fresh Tomato and Parsley Sauce and Chicken

Thanks to the late harvest, I finally managed a tomato-focused meal that James actually liked. Tomatoes are usually a little acidic for him but he said these "taste like candy!"
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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Late Harvest

Last weekend we started cleaning out the summer garden with the intent of planting the winter garden - including my favorite crop, lettuce! You may think lettuce sounds boring, but fresh garden lettuce is one of my absolute favorite things. And with the tenderness and the variety, it's really not boring at all. So I was all for the changeover to the winter garden.

Our decision to take out the last of the fall plants was, as usual, thwarted by a late spurt of production by the tomatoes and peppers. Long after the tomatoes should be through, they finally start really doing something (just like last year, and the year before...). I think the summer heat had been too much, especially for the Romas. Now, with the milder weather, there were blooms, green tomatoes and red tomatoes. We literally watched some turn red over the course of the morning, seeing the color develop by the second.
James and Zack always have fun with the garden, and we brought Sammy out in his bouncy seat to enjoy the cool, sunny day. Zack continues to be fascinated by the produce and the creatures. We have been finding these caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly on the parsley for the past few weeks. I think this was the last one for the season. At first it was tempting to pull them off, but they only ate about a third of the parsley (plenty left for us) and the butterflies were beautiful (wish I could have gotten a photo of one!).
Aside from the lettuce, one of the best things about the garden is Zack's experience of planting, waiting, watching and harvesting. He is thrilled to gather up the red tomatoes and bring them in or go out and break of a few sprigs of an herb. And he will happily pop a "snacking tomato" in his mouth as a reward for time working in the garden. My recent reading on the politics of our food supply (letter to the "Farmer in Chief" and associated interview and the books Food Politics and What to Eat) confirms what James has always known - our kids have so much to gain from growing a bit of food (and so do we). I'm astounded to realize how much we've been blessed by planting in this little five by twelve foot space on the side of our traditional backyard.

Even leaving the now producing tomatoes and peppers (and the parsley and chives that often survive over until the next year), we cleared out enough space to get several more things planted. We enjoyed a trip to the Natural Gardener (wow, they've got some MONSTER sized swiss chard right now!) for plants and seeds, but then ran out of time to get them in the ground. Now we've just today gotten around to doing the planting, so I guess lettuce is that much further down the road. The good side of the delay was that the neighbor girls came and planted seeds with Zack. The kids spent all of twelve minutes at it, so I doubt it was imbued with great meaning... but I'm envisioning getting to show them the sprouts when they emerge and later the plants as they get to edible size. Our relationship with our neighbors has been growing lately as the girls (first and fourth grade) play so sweetly with Zack and the two year old boy at the next house down, so it was a nice opportunity to send them home with some truly succulent tomatoes. Add the relationship building benefit to the joys of the garden!

Now I can't wait to get some lettuce to share too!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hmm. Not so much.

I'm sure it would be better to post a successful craft project. But, since I have an unsuccessful one, that's what I'm posting instead.

We saw this great project to use freezer paper to create a stencil for putting a design on fabric. I checked out her book (really like the book. tempted to buy it.) from the library for all the details and thought I was following them. And I really liked the idea Zack and I came up with for a design. We chose Mr. McGreggor chasing down Peter Rabbit (hee hee!!). Totally fitting for Zack and really cute, I thought.

This craft calls for choosing a silhouette design and drawing or tracing it onto freezer paper, then cutting out the design with a craft knife. You then iron freezer paper to the front (and the inside of the front) of a shirt and use it as a stencil with fabric paint. I did the drawing and cutting but Zack got to do the painting and we were so excited to pull off the paper and reveal the crisp clean design.

What we got was a large halo of paint around the design, nothing like we had intended. Or like these.

In retrospect, we did everything correctly. Everything, but the paint choice. Right brand, wrong line. Dang. I'm still thinking of whether to try to salvage, start over or just chuck it. Would've been cute, right?

Squinty Smile

Sammy has a new expression that amuses me to no end. He doesn't just smile but also tilts his head back, squints his eyes almost closed and wrinkles up his nose. It's accompanied by a "heeeeee-ee-eeh" sound that is the precursor to his laugh. At eight and a half months, he still doesn't have any teeth, so you get all gums. Well, gums and those enviable eyelashes.

Part of what amuses me is that his face takes on a totally different shape, like you might be looking at a different kid than you were looking at a second ago.

Another aspect of my affection for this face is that since he has started doing the Squinty Smile I have realized that I must make a big squinty grin to him. Seeing my exaggerated expression (after all, I was just told I look like the big tricked out name tag girl, who seems to be all about "over expressive") mirrored back to me has its own appeal.

But the thing that I love most about it is that he is very clear about using it as his way of showing you that he's REALLY grinning. He shakes his head back and forth, grinning and squinting for all he's worth, and it's, "you and me, we're really smiling now!" It's engaging another person, it's more beginnings of communication, and baby, it's charming!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Steak Salad

Steak Salad with Blue Cheese, Pomegranate and Shallot Lime Cream Dressing

This meal turned out fun. Probably because cooking is more fun as an experimental venture than a daily duty, especially when it turns out well. I had one lone filet mignon that I needed to use. It had been part of a multi-pack from Costco and I hadn't been happy with the way they had cooked up. Then with only one left, when was I going to serve that? Still, I didn't want it to sit in the freezer forever.

The shallots were sauteed in olive oil then reserved, with the oil, for the dressing. I just pan seared the steak, cooking it quite a long time considering it turned out just the medium doneness I prefer (James, who likes everything well done, was rather good natured about it... though I did give him the thinner, more cooked end).

The salad was romaine, very thinly sliced celery, quartered ripe olives, blue cheese and pomegranate. It was fun to show Zack what the inside of a pomegranate looks like and let him pull and eat some of the seeds.

The rest of the dressing was lime juice with salt and pepper. After adding the shallots and some extra oil to even out the acidity, we finished it out with cream and a little bit of the rendered bacon fat from the filet mignon. Decadent, I know! But, we didn't use much, and boy was it tasty!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Colors Not Previously Known to Exist In Nature

I was making Sammy-food this week and it struck me how bizarrely vibrant the colors were. I don't think I was expecting "regular" food (this is just peas and winter squash) to have colors so intense. (Next time I need to try for a better pictures. This doesn't do the intensity of color justice.)

Hmm... maybe I don't have quite the right ideas about where the brightest and best comes from. Not man-made after all!

And, because we're talking Sammy, he should get a photo op, no?


My four year old son has suddenly figured out that he strongly prefers to win. When he turned three, he didn't have this. It's new.

For his third birthday, his grandmother gave him Candyland. Many people have played it with him (thanks, yall, I know you're taking one for the team...) and they are really good about not just letting him win. We started this very first game as a you-win-some-you-loose-some proposition, and it was fine. We were hoping it would develop in to an equanimity about winning or loosing, an enjoyment of the game for the fun of playing, an ability to be happy for the winner whether or not it is you. That worked for a while.

Today James and I were realizing that we've now had a couple of complete meltdowns when Zack said "Let's see who can get up the stairs first!" and he wasn't the winner of this important race. I guess the problem with that particular contest is that we're old and slow and couldn't physically accomplish you-win-some-you-loose-some.

A few weeks ago James took him to a high school football game, just for the fun of going (and, I think, for the snacks). Zack was very interested in who should win. They decided to pick a team and cheer for them and when the team won (in overtime!), Zack was thrilled.

Two weeks ago, when the Longhorns played Texas Tech, I think he was as shell shocked at the last minute loss as I was. We tried to say "Oh, it was a good game, it's fun to win, but we can handle it when we don't win." Maybe our hearts weren't in it.

And then we had this conversation on the morning of Wednesday, November 5:
Mommy, who did I vote for?

Me: You didn't exactly vote, honey, but you were a good helper when we went to vote and they did give you your own sticker.
But did I vote for Mr. McCain?

Me: Sweetie, you didn't vote for either. Remember how old you have to be to vote?

Eighteen. Eighteen and I'm only four. Yeah.

Me: But would you like to know who won the election?

Yes, yes I would!

Me: Barak Obama won the election, so now we call him the President-Elect. That means he was elected and will be the president soon.

Oh, Ok. So. So, I voted for Mr. Obama.
Ah, revisionist history. I don't think he's alone in this one.

I don't think we can blame school for this. It's possible that we should blame our football watching. But, I think it's more like human nature. And, not to let Zack's parents off the hook too easily, but it's better than the alternative of apathy. It just isn't better than the alternative of working to win and loving others regardless. I guess our job turns out to be much harder than just not letting him win.

Maybe that's not all bad, because I really can't make it up the stairs before him.

Monday, November 03, 2008