Sunday, November 30, 2008

a little gush

Just have to gush a little over a new blog I found. This mama is in Missouri, where I have long known I might feel at home, especially with cool neighbors like this lady! Is this white xmas tree with vintage blown-glass ornaments not to die for???

While I'm at it, you could also observe and go gaga over this and this.

the princess problem

So here's my parenting pickle of the week. I have a four year old daughter (tomorrow!). And we're all familiar with the Disney Princesses which are foist upon our little ones. And they love them, yes they do. So how to balance the desire to satiate this fairly benign (or not?) obsession and the need to counter it with more substantial interests? Interests that feed the minds and hearts of the little girls who will become the next generation of Americans (and who will raise the generation of Americans coming thereafter??). My eldest glows with pleasure when people complement her (often fantastically creative) outfits and hairstyles. I think we must be biologically primed for this dress-up and primping stage, or it would not be so ubiquitous among this age group. And I don't want to rob her of this. I would like to provide an alternative source of self-confidence, though. A friend suggested that I acquire additional dress-up paraphernalia so that she could vogue not only as a princess, but as a vet, or a chef, or a policewoman. I think I'll give it a try . . .

Saturday, November 29, 2008

punkin bread

My mother insisted that I post this holiday standard at our house. It was handed over to her as part of a church social, where she was instructed to take the recipe and bake up enough bread to feed a gaggle of folks. She passed it out to all her friends and it is now a go-to recipe for holiday get-togethers in the greater Houston metro area!

It is truly delicious and (almost) idiot-proof, so long as you don't substitute peanut oil for the veggie oil (as I did this last time)--in which case it will still taste delicious but will resemble peanut butter cookies in flavor and not pumpkins. This recipe makes three loaves. One to eat immediately, one to take to that upcoming potluck, and one to freeze (if it makes it to the freezer without being eaten by another family member!) Enjoy!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Blend first:
3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil

Then add:
1 lb canned pumpkin

Sift then add:
3.5 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves

Also blend in:
2/3 cup water

When well mixed, divide batter into three greased loaf pans. Bake one hour at 350 degrees F or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Friday, November 28, 2008

a poem for the day after thanksgiving . . .

I had a little existential crisis yesterday, feeling so overwhelmed by love and (lots of) people and food, and then a little old homeless woman hawking sparkling things approached us at the gas station. We didn't help her. We should have.

The Old Words

This is hard to say
Simply, because the words
Have grown so old together:
Lips and eyes and tears,
Touch and fingers
And love, out of love's language,
Are hard and smooth as stones
Laid bare in a streambed,
Not failing or fading
Like the halting speech of the body
Which will turn too suddenly
To ominous silence,
But like your lips and mine
Slow to separate, our fingers
Reluctant to come apart,
Our eyes and their slow tears
Reviving like these words
Springing to life again
And again, taken to heart,
To touch, love, to begin.

by David Wagoner
from Art and Love: An Illustrated Anthology of Love Poetry
Selected by Kate Farrell
Art & Love: An Illustrated Anthology of Love Poetry

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

miss rumphius

I will sing the praises of a book each Wednesday--either a children's book (the only type of book I get to read regularly), a cookbook, or occasionally even a novel. My mom (nana!) is a children's librarian, so at some point I'll list her must-reads, about which she is passionate. But today is one of my own dear favorites. This old book was bought at a library book sale, so it has that washed-out library binding, from many loving reads.

Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius is an inspiration for any artist, small or large, as the overriding theme of this book is making an aesthetic contribution to our world. The images transport you to coastal Maine and all over the map, and the text is simple and easy to connect with. Here's a little excerpt:
"That is all very well, little Alice," said her grandfather, "but there is a third thing you must do."
"What is that?" asked Alice.
"You must do something to make the world more beautiful," said her grandfather.
"All right," said Alice. But she did not know what that could be.

Click here to find a copy for yourself:
Miss Rumphius

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

flameleaf sumac

Mondays I will reserve for praising our tough and lovely native plants and animals. It takes a special soul to survive weeks on end of over 100 degree heat, severe extended drought, and 50 degree temperature swings in a day. And, as for the plants, our rocky, caliche soil is "challenging," to say the least.

I have been adoring the gorgeous blood-red of our flameleaf sumacs for the last couple weeks. Their form is like that of a bonsai (at least out here on our land!), and their leaves are drippy pointed blades. Beautiful, unique, and hardy!

Here's what Jan Wrede has to say about this little tree in her invaluable
Trees, Shrubs, and Vines of the Texas Hill Country:

"The leaflets of flameleaf sumac contain tannin and have been used to replace oak bark in tanning leather. The seeds can be crushed to make a refreshing lemon-flavored drink. Dependable scarlet fall color makes flameleaf sumac a good ornamental, especially along fences, because it spreads by root suckers that form loose thickets. Its fruit is an especially important food source for quail, grouse, and other birds."

Trees, Shrubs, And Vines Of The Texas Hill Country: A Field Guide (W L Moody, Jr, Natural History Series)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

stalling at bedtime . . .

My eldest daughter has begun to master that ages old trick--the bedtime stall. She needs another drink of water, she needs the loooong book and not the shorter one. She needs her hair brushed and her blanket smooth as silk. She wants three songs and not two, and halfway through that last song decides that no, she doesn't actually want "The Wheels on the Bus." She wants "How Much is that Doggie in the Window." Her pajamas are not soft enough. She needs to change. And my patience, at the end of the day, it falters. I am tired. I want to spend time with my husband. I want to spend time with myself (but oh . . . wait a minute . . . I have another child to get to bed too . . . . ).

But I do want to maximize this potentially lovely time of day. The sweetness of tucking a little person into bed and kissing them as they lull safely off to dreamland is one of those parental moments that we all envision, probably even before we become pregnant. It is iconic. So why is it such a hassle? Any suggestions on streamlining this process would be greatly appreciated!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

soul food saturday

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, so I'll post what has become my contribution to most Thanksgiving tables (when I'm not hosting, that is). This recipe is an adaptation of one found in Martha Stewart Living (yes, I do read that magazine, and I do not apologize) many years ago. That original recipe used summer squash, but the texture using that seedy squash is not nearly as delightful as the velvetiness you get from the winter squashes.

Beautiful winter squashes are abundant in the supermarkets this time of year, but every time I come home with one, at least one person I encounter along the way asks me "What are you going to do with that thing??" Well . . . the first step is always roasting. Roasting concentrates the sugars of the squash and helps it turn the corner from pretty good to impossibly delicious. And it bears saying that, while this recipe is decadent (but Ruth Reichl says that you get a free ride on calories at the Thanksgiving table!! thanks!), the butternut squash used here is equally delicious with a drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkle of sea salt. Try it!

Church Street Squash (adapted)
ample olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large or 2 small butternut squash
1 large onion -- finely chopped
3/4 cup freshly grated cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 large egg -- lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F

Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise, place face
down on a baking tray covered
in olive oil. Roast at 450 for 30-45 minutes,
until the skin is blistered and the
flesh tender. Remove from the oven, flip over and allow
to cool. Reduce oven heat
to 350.

While squash is cooling, saute onions in 2 tbs butter until
almost caramelized, set aside.

Scoop cooled squash out of skins and into large mixing
bowl. Mash lightly.

Add onions, cheddar cheese, sour cream, salt, pepper,
beaten egg and paprika to squash; fold lightly together.

Pour into 9x11-inch glass baking dish buttered with
the last tablespoon of butter. Bake until solid,
with no seeping moisture (30 to 45 minutes
depending on your oven). Let sit at
least 5 minutes before serving.

8 - 10 servings.

Please comment with any beloved turkey day recipes
you'd like to share!

Friday, November 21, 2008

cranberry garland . . . or so i thought

I had a plan to get my eldest daughter to string cranberries on thread, so that we could hang the garland from one of our live oaks as a little treat for the doves and scrub jays . . . But of course she rapidly tired of this idea, and decided instead to transfer the berries between teacups, and feed them to ladybugs, and cut them in half with scissors. What do you do when your activities go so far awry of your intentions? Do you just flow with that childlike energy, or do you keep calling the child back to task? At my daughter's school the emphasis is always on the specific and successful accurate completion of lessons, or "work." I am so conflicted on this. What do you guys think???

a poem for today

I am feeling like words are pretty powerful now--like they can be both the rock upon which a house is built and the lashing winds that are vicious enough to tear it down. So I'll dedicate each Friday to a poem, to one of those concentrated word-bonbons that are so easy to digest but so challenging to create!

A Child is Something Else Again

A child is something else again. Wakes up
in the afternoon and in an instant he's full
of words,
in an instant he's humming, in an instant warm,
instant light, instant darkness.

A child is Job. They've already placed their
bets on him
but he doesn't know it. He scratches his body
for pleasure. Nothing hurts yet.
They're training him to be a polite Job,
to say "Thank you" when the Lord has given,
to say "You're welcome" when the Lord has
taken away.

A child is vengeance.
A child is a missile into the coming generations.
I launched him: I'm still trembling.

A child is something else again: on a rainy
spring day
glimpsing the Garden of Eden through the
kissing him in his sleep,
hearing footsteps in the wet pine needles.
A child delivers you from death.
Child, Garden, Rain, Fate.

by Yehuda Amichai

Does that send shivers up anyone else's spine?