Friday, December 13, 2013

Fog walk

The fog starting to lift on Lake Willastein
I have been trying to get this post written for over a month now, but between chasing Malcolm around, holiday preparations (Thanksgiving first and now Christmas) and blogger eating my pictures multiple times, I haven't had much luck. I don't really remember what I had to say, but figure that the pictures are still nice, and since I have been trying for so long, I might as well go ahead and put them up.

Leaves just starting to change. Now they are all bare or brown.

Way back on the first weekend of November, when the leaves were just changing and the ice storm hadn't turned everything still alive into black and brown blahness, we went for a morning walk at Lake Willastein, the city park in Maumelle. When we first arrived at the park, it was so foggy that you could barely see the other side of the lake. 

There  were some pretty neat spiderwebs covered in dew on a bridge along the path.

The sun came out and melted most of the fog, but the lake stayed mostly still, and there were some great reflections.

Great Blue Heron, fishing
It was a lovely morning, especially compared to our weather over the last week or so. It is nice to have something colorful to look back at, instead of the perpetual brown that has taken over for the time being.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Malcolm does the zoo

Looking for penguins

This past weekend Malcolm and I joined our friends Amber and Caroline for a trip to the Little Rock zoo. Benjamin and I took him back in June, but he wasn't as engaged with the world around him yet; this time, he was all eyes as he observed everything.

Granted, he was rather more interested in the ball in the tiger enclosure than the tiger itself, but he did see the big kitty.

According to the zoo's website, these two elephants are new arrivals - retired Ringling Brothers circus elephants and one is 38 and the other 44. Apparently, the Little Rock zoo has a good record of caring for geriatric elephants; the other elephant is 53.

Watching the elephants
Malcolm enjoyed walking around the zoo on his own. The nice thing about the zoo is that almost everyone else there had small children along too, so he and Caroline weren't the only free radicals running around.

It was a lovely day for the zoo - sunny but not too warm. Many of the animals were out enjoying the weather too.

The jaguars and cheetahs were certainly enjoying the sun. 

The playground was overrun with children, most much older than Malcolm and Caroline, but Malcolm did find this set of drums pretty fun.

It was only a couple of days after Halloween, and the zoo hadn't removed all the decorations from their Boo at the Zoo, so Malcolm spent a lot of time pointing out the pumpkins and other decorations.

We were able to spend about an hour and a half before the kids started getting tired and overwhelmed. That was enough to see most of the zoo, but not quite. We missed most of the monkeys and the petting zoo. Oh well, next trip.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

More fall cooking, now with recipes

My last post prompted one of Benjamin's aunts to get in touch and send along a family recipe for apple pie. Since I still had 7 or 8 pounds of apples waiting to be eaten, and I've already made my standard apple crostata three times this fall and wanted a change, I gave it a try. It is sort of an apple crisp pie, i.e. there is no rolled crust, just a topping that you pat into place; that is a huge plus in my book, since I really hate making pie crusts. They are too finicky and easy to mess up; no matter how fool-proof the crust is supposed to be, I can manage to mess it up, or at least be incredibly dissatisfied with it. Anyway, the Rider family apple pie recipe is too good not to share, so here it is:

Rider Family Top Crust Apple Pie

4-5 peeled & sliced apples
1/2 c sugar
2 T lemon juice
2 T orange juice

1 c flour
1/2 c butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 c nuts, chopped (I used almonds, because that is what I had in the freezer)

Layer apples in a greased pie pan and sprinkle with sugar and juices. (You could probably mix them in a bowl first and then put them into the pie plate, but I didn't, and it worked just fine.)
Combine topping with a fork or pastry cutter (or in food processor) and pat on top of the apples. 

Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.  Great with vanilla ice cream on top!

Sorry, no picture. We ate it all before I thought about taking one. 

And I realize now that while I have mentioned crostatas on this blog a number of times, it doesn't look like I have ever put up a recipe or even a picture (although that doesn't seem possible). Rather than type it out, I am just going to include a link to it from Giada De Laurentiis and the Food Channel. As far as pie recipes go, it is pretty easy, but it does involve a crust of sorts, so it takes more time than the Rider family recipe. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fall cooking

It is fall again, and for the last month or so, I have been busy finding ways to preserve and use some of the bounty. We had enough jalapenos this year that even Benjamin couldn't eat them all, so I tried pickling some. I think I had about a pound and got three pint-sized jars.

Apart from having to wear gloves to avoid getting too much hot stuff on my hands, it wasn't any harder than making regular pickles. They have to cure for a while, so we haven't tried them yet.

I made another batch of regular pickles yesterday too, after I bought a vegetable assortment box at the farmer's market that came with two pounds of cucumbers. There was no way we were going to eat all of those - I like them in salads but often forget to use them, and they don't last very long. I discovered after I started that I was all out of dill seeds, and since Malcolm was napping and I didn't want to waste time, I decided that I would use caraway seeds instead, since I had two cans of those (why?!). I have used them before and can't say that I really noticed a difference, so the three jars I made yesterday should be fine, if not kosher dills.

My other preserving challenge was entirely self-inflicted. I ordered a bushel box of apples from the farmer's market to dry in the dehydrator and use for apple crostatas and other such yum-yums. For several nights after Malcolm went to bed, and one early morning when he had me up at 5 AM, I spent an hour or two peeling and slicing apples and putting them on trays. 

Of course, the next day I had to bag them up. I put some into a ziplock bag for immediate consumption and vacuum-sealed the rest. We've had one crostata so far, and I plan to make another this week while my mom is visiting. I still have at least four pounds of those apples in the fridge, and then I went and bought another 6 pounds of other varieties, so there may be another night of peeling and slicing in my future. Or maybe applesauce. We'll see.

The last challenge is the most difficult - collard greens. I seem to have planted a few too many this year, and we are over-run. I've used it in place of kale in a gratin, make our standard collard greens and black bean wraps, used it in omelets, given some away...The problem with greens is that you can't really can them at home, so you have to find ways to use them while they are fresh. I just saw a recipe for kale chips in the microwave that said you could substitute collards, so that will probably be my next project.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

He's a climber

Malcolm has entered the climbing phase of toddler-hood. For a while, his favorite thing to do was to climb into this basket, even when it was filled with old tennis balls. It took him a little longer to figure out how to get out without falling over.

Next he mastered climbing onto the coffee table, using objects for a boost. Now he doesn't even need anything to stand on, but he will happily use my leg if I happen to be sitting on the floor in a convenient position.

One day, he surprised me but climbing into his rocking chair while my back was turned. It is quite a stretch, even with the stool, but he's only fallen once or twice. At night, he will climb into the chair when he is ready for storytime to be over.

And of course, he climbs onto the bookshelves. Good thing we finally got around to securing them to the wall earlier this summer. 

He didn't stack the boxes, but he was quick to realize their potential and used them to get to an entirely new set of shelves. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Goodbye sweetheart

Last week, our cat Cleo died. She was 14ish, which is old for an outdoor cat, but seemed far to young for our indoor-only pampered sweetheart. Unfortunately, lymphoma doesn't really care about that sort of thing.

She was our first baby. Both Benjamin and I had cats growing up and knew we wanted to get our own cat once we were settled in our own place. As soon as Benjamin's grad school tuition refund came in and we had a little money, we headed to the local shelter - and I do mean as soon as it came in. We went the very same day.

Cleo was the only cat we looked at - we had several in mind, but I warned Benjamin that we had better make our first choice carefully, because I didn't think I'd be able to put a cat back once we had it in the greeting room. She was in the Lonely Hearts club, which meant she'd been there for quite a while, probably because she was shy and nervous around new people. We didn't care. She stole our hearts right away with her big blue eyes, the softest fur I have ever felt on a cat - then or now - and the promise of love if we were patient. And we were willing to be patient.

She spent most of the first 4 or 5 months under our bed, only coming out to eat and go to the bathroom, but we waited, and eventually she came out more regularly to watch TV and play. She liked me OK, but she loved Benjamin. For a while, she would wake me up in the morning with a quiet little meow that just loud enough that I could hear it but Benjamin couldn't, so I could get her breakfast. Then, once I was out of bed, she would take my spot and cuddle up to Benjamin.

She moved from Austin to Bellevue to Austin to Brockport to Conway to Maumelle. She didn't like the changes much, but as long as there was a comfy pillow and a warm lap, she would come around eventually. She learned to like Oliver - as long as he behaved like a properly loyal servant, and tolerated Creamsicle. Once we got Miikka, she retreated to the bedroom for good, making it her domain far from the slavering beast. But she still sat on our laps, took over way more than 1/3 of the bed at night, and demanded petting with the regal bearing of the queen she was named for. We miss her. We will miss her.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Yard interlude

Malcolm is walking everywhere now, and keeping up with him has gotten a lot more challenging. His favorite activity now is going outside, and he is no longer content with sitting around in one spot. Oh no, the whole yard has to be investigated afresh every time out - mosquitoes and Mama's restricted areas be damned!

All that is by way of saying that I haven't had much time for blogging this month. Here are a few pictures from our yard to make up for it.

Flowers on the liriope (monkey grass). The cooler, wetter summer bought many flowers - I don't remember this many in the past few years.

The lime tree we thought was killed in the Christmas snow storm has regenerated from its root - we will be more careful with it this winter, for sure. Here it has some raindrops from a brief afternoon shower.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Malcolm the Lark

I have always considered myself a morning person, an extreme lark even. At sleep-overs in junior high and high school, I usually woke up before the host parents and hours before my friends. On camping trips, I would be up long before my father - in order to keep me from bugging him to get up and light the fire, he started making giant piles of shavings the night before, so I could at least try to get it started on my own. When I was working, I would get up at 5 AM to go the gym before work, and would get up by 7 on weekends.

Lately, Malcolm has been showing us that he too is a morning person. Every morning for the last two weeks (at least - I am sort of losing track of time at this point) he has been up before 5:30. No amount of singing, nursing or cuddling makes him go back to sleep, and usually just makes him annoyed and prone to kicking. Since I am the one doing the nursing, I am the one who gets up with him most often. He's beginning to make me question my morning person designation.

After thinking about it for a while, I have decided that lack of sleep and his inability to recognize a weekend aside, the real problem is that I am not getting up of my own volition, and I am not getting up to have time to myself; I am being forced to get up by the most demanding drill sergeant ever. There is no peaceful contemplation of the sunrise while sipping tea. There is no meditation or tai chi. Just a very awake Malcolm. It isn't all bad - we are easily able to get our daily walk in before the sun is up enough to require sunblock, at least - but I wouldn't complain if he suddenly decided to sleep in as late at 6 AM.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Now we are one!

A favorite new toy

Sheesh. I didn't realize that it had been almost a month since I last wrote anything. Having a one year old will do that to you, I guess. Yes, a one year old. Malcolm turned one last week. 

Cupcake, pre-Malcolm
It has been a roller coaster year for his parents. There were days (weeks, if I am honest) when I wasn't sure I'd make it as a parent. When it seemed as if we would be stuck in purgatory with a crying, non-sleeping, always hungry baby. When I couldn't imagine being able to eat out again, do things with other people, have an adult conversation.

Grandma came to visit, bearing books!

But, as with all things, those days passed. The most important lesson I have learned (and still have to be reminded of, at least when I have been getting up at 5 AM several days in a row) is that every phase is temporary.

Malcolm is growing into a real person, complete with a definite personality. He's stubborn, smart, and funny. There are still days when I am not sure I will make it as a parent, but I guess we all have those. 

Cupcake, mid-Malcolm squashing

Happy Birthday Malcolm! I can't wait to see what year two brings!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Score one for the librarian mama

One of my favorite onesies that Malcolm has is from Mental Floss that says "Jonathan Swift can bite me." For you non-English majors out there, this is a reference to this satirical essay. Go read it, I'll wait.

Anyway, he wore this onesie to library story time today. After it was over, while Malcolm was saying goodbye to the dog puppet, the librarian in charge laughed and told me that when she lost her place and stopped talking during an activity, it was because she had looked over and saw the shirt and figured out the reference.

Sourdough no-go

I feel like I ought to be one of those people with their own sourdough starter living in their fridge; I want to be one of those people. I have certainly tried often enough, but the only time I have been successful was when we lived in New York. Eventually we got tired of always having to have sourdough bread or pancakes to keep it going, and it was forgotten at the back of the fridge. A couple of weeks ago, in my current baking frenzy, I decided to give sourdough another go and mixed up a starter. All was well for a while - the starter was bubbling and souring nicely. But one morning when I went to stir it, I found a fuzzy grey scum on the top. Sigh. I am beginning to agree with James Beard, who thought that sourdough bread was far too fickle for the home baker to deal with, and said that "I am not sure it is worth the trouble." At least not in Arkansas.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Time for Zucchini

Now that Malcolm is able to entertain himself for longer periods of time, I've been able to spend time baking/cooking. In the last month or two I have made my own bread a couple of times (yes, I used to do it almost every week, but between baby and boredom, I've let it go for a while), canned strawberry jam, baked carrot cake cookies, made Mark Bittman's no-mayo cole slaw twice (and then discovered that Benjamin doesn't like it, although he allowed that mine was "better than most"), made croutons (done right, much better than store bought, but I don't usually have the right bread on hand), and baked zucchini bread twice. A while ago, I thought I had found my favorite zucchini bread recipe when I found one in Beard on Bread, but then I found a recipe in Baking Illustrated, and my life has been changed forever.

This bread is light and fluffy, not heavy and gummy like most zucchini breads I have ever made or eaten. It is almost cake, but isn't over-loaded with sugar or eggs. I can see myself making it several more times this summer, and strongly encourage you to give it a try.

Zucchini Bread from Baking Illustrated
Makes one 9-inch loaf

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1 pound zucchini, washed and dried, ends and stems removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) sugar
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped coarse (I left these out in the second batch so I could feed it to Malcolm without difficulty, and because I am not a huge fan of nuts in bread. Either way is fine)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plain yogurt (recipe says you can use whole-milk, low-fat, or nonfat. I used whole-milk because it is what I had on hand)
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon (I used lemon for the first loaf, but didn't have any on hand for the second, so I used lime. Still worked well, and the bread has a slightly more green tinge.)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan; dust with flour, tapping out the excess.
2. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the zucchini and 2 tablespoons of the sugar until the zucchini is coarsely shredded, twelve to fifteen 1-second pulses. Transfer the mixture to a fine-mesh strainer set at least 2 inches over a bowl and allow to drain for 30 minutes. Do not skip this step. It allows the zucchini to get rid of a lot of water that would make the bread soggy.
3. Meanwhile, spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Don't allow to burn. Cool completely. Transfer nuts to a large bowl; add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and whisk until combined. Set aside.
4. Whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, yogurt, eggs, lemon juice, and melted butter in a 2-cup glass measure until combined. Set aside.
5. After the zucchini has drained, squeeze the zucchini with several layers of paper towels (or a clean cloth towel to prevent ripping) to absorb excess moisture. Stir the zucchini and the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture until just moistened. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula.
6. Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick in the center comes out clean, 50-60 minutes (in my oven, well heated, 50 minutes was just right). Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool for at least an hour before serving (if you can wait that long!).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Twelve Years

Drawing by Chris Van Dyke. *
Today marks our twelfth wedding anniversary. When I stop to think about how long that is, how much we have done and seen in our own lives and how much has happened in the world in that time, I am amazed. When we got married, Google didn't exist. Neither did iPods, or YouTube. Iraq was the country we went to war with when I was in elementary school, and Afghanistan wasn't on the radar at all. Since then, we have moved from college in Walla Walla to Bellevue to Texas to Bellevue (for a summer anyway, but it involved driving both ways) to back to Texas to western New York to Arkansas. We have both completed graduate school, adopted three cats, a dog and a chinchilla. Bought a house. Grown (or tried to grow) hundreds of tomatoes. Played hundreds of games of racquet ball; traded racquet ball for tennis. Read thousands of books (I am not kidding. Until this past year, I read about 100 books a year - combine that with all the reading we both did for graduate school, and multiply times 12 years...) Had a baby.

What hasn't changed? The fact that Benjamin is still the person I want to be with every day, the person I want to see the world with, the person I want to grow old with.

*If you like this picture and want something like it for yourself, Chris is available for commissions. Check out his page here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Spring flashback

Summer seems to have arrived in Arkansas to stay. April and May were cooler than normal, so we have had a bit of a reprieve, but temperatures are forecasted to be in the 90s all week. So it is a nice little break to go back and look at this pictures from our trip to Bellevue and Idaho last month, when it was cool and refreshing. Enjoy.

 Benewah Creek, just outside Benjamin's mother's house.

A door to nowhere, Lake Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. Without a boat there, I can't tell if it is supposed to keep people from the lake off the dock, or people from the dock out of the lake!

Apple blossoms.

Lavender in my mother's garden, with one of her bees.

Poppy with bee (look closely, she's in there).

Chives, and bees.

Early morning raindrops.

Roses, in a delicate state of decay.

Spiky and purple and geometric.

One more rose, because I can't help myself. I love photographing them.