Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What's for supper? Summer.

In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver answers the question, "What do you eat in January?" brilliantly. She says, "We eat Everything." As I aspire to reach such food-saving greatness, I can say with confidence that right now, "We eat Pretty Well."

I cracked open jar number two of the three jar canned tomato experiment a few nights ago and we whipped up this righteous winter soup. The next day, Highlander reheated the leftovers and messed with it. I felt a little hurt, thinking soup-perfection had been disturbed, but then I nearly licked the bowl as I complained.

We are big fans of the super simple beer bread. A loaf of that never lasts long, especially when you serve it with this soup.

Here it is:

1 quart jar of your very own home-grown from-seed Brandywine tomatoes.
14 ounces of low sodium chicken broth (check the ingredients...MSG lurks about)
3/4 cup of rinsed and re-rinsed lentils
1/4 cup of rinsed and re-rinsed brown rice (not instant!)
one large white onion, diced
four cloves of garlic, sliced
olive oil
fresh parsley
salt and black pepper

Cook the onions and garlic in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until they are translucent. Add a little more olive oil and stir in the lentils and brown rice. Turn up the heat to high and stir for about a minute. Pour in half of the can of chicken broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper (as much as you like.) When the mixture reaches a boil, turn the heat down to medium low, put a tight fitting lid on it, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Check the lentils and rice for doneness and add the rest of the chicken stock if you like your soup a little thinner. Re-season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley to taste after your soup is in the bowl.

For the bread, you'll need to put 3 cups of white flour, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 tablespoon of salt in a big bowl. Stir in 12 ounces of beer (darker makes a better bread) and turn the mixture into a greased loaf pan. Put in a preheated 375 degree oven for an hour. I've added diced shallot and oregano to the batter and that was pretty amazing. There's a bonus with this bread, too. It makes your house smell like you know how to bake bread. Even if you don't. It's a crusty, rustic bread. So if you really like the looks of the Wonder Bread Sandwich variety, you won't be pleased by the finished beer bread loaf.

The day after the soup experience, Highlander added 1/4 teaspoon of hot Indian Chili Powder and 1/2 teaspoon of Garam Masala. If you don't have those things in your kitchen, go to downtown Cedar Rapids to the Asian food store on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 8th Street for the Chili Powder and check the bulk area of Hy-Vee for the Garam Masala. We use the Frontier variety here. It's mighty fine. You should have these things in your house, anyway. I'm trying to learn to cook a few Indian foodie things and if you don't have the hot hot hot Chili Powder and Garam Masala, you'll just have to imagine your way through the next few months of my little foodie blog.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

what's wrong with the eggs in your 'fridge

Eggs is eggs...right?

Eggs are usually about $1.50 per dozen in the grocery store. They are all white. They are all the same size. It's all good. Until you have eggs from "Happy Chickens."

We were first introduced to the reality of "Happy" versus "Unhappy" by a friend of my parents' who has some hobby chickens near Oskaloosa, Iowa. She rehabilitates animals that have been orphaned, abused, abandoned, or just need a little help. Currently, there is a pitiful three foot tall baby owl following her around the farm crying for a chopped up squirrel. Yep. Land of Strange.

People buy chicks for their kids in the spring (so cute). But then lo and behold; they freaking turn into chickens. Happens every time. Chickens aren't so cute. So they get dropped off at the rehab center for farm-ish animals in southern Iowa. Last I heard she had about 60 orphaned chickens. They don't roam the whole farm, but their pen is bigger than my house. These aren't your normal hens, either. Some have blue mohawks. They are spotted like a dalmation dog, or plain brown. They are tiny or huge. They are a circus. It's all reflected in their eggs. The shells range from light blue to speckled brown right up to normal white. We love these eggs. In the spring and summer, the Happy Chickens yield thirteen dozen eggs every day. In the winter, they don't lay much at all. When the days become shorter than the nights, the hens rest. Commercial farms have artificial lighting, so their hens don't know about seasons. They lay 365 days year. They get tired faster. Tori, Zoe and I have discussed them. We decided that these must be some very unhappy chickens.

When the hens are resting in the winter, we don't have eggs from Happy Chickens. We have brown eggs from the grocery store that promise to be "free range." That's OK. But it doesn't compare to the beautiful eggs we have in the summer. It's one more reason to yearn for spring.

We made a trip down to Missouri this week to see relatives. My aunt is raising chickens and hers are still laying. So we ended up bringing home three dozen of her eggs from Happy Chickens.

The little girls made a note of the difference in size. Funny, Tori made this astute observation while wearing her New Pi shirt. Purely accidental. I swear.
There are lots of places that sell eggs from Happy Chickens here in Iowa. You just have to keep your eyes open for the little sign on the side of the road that says, "eggs."

If you don't feel like cruising around the country hunting for eggs, check out the selection at New Pioneer COOP. Don't even complain about the price. For goodess sakes. Do you want eggs from Happy Chickens for FREE? The folks at New Pi can even tell you which farmer they came from and reassure you that the chickens are in fact, very Happy.

Mother Earth News released a study a few years ago that claims free range eggs have:
• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

Here's the link to the full study. Just in case Happiness of Chickens isn't a good enough reason for you.

I think this is a particularly interesting part of their story.
“What are free-range eggs? Free-range eggs are from hens that live outdoors or have access to the outdoors. The nutrient content of eggs from free-range hens is the same as those from hens housed in production facilities with cages.”
It’s amazing what a group can do with a $20 million annual budget. That’s what factory-farm egg producers pay to fund the AEB each year to convince the public to keep buying their eggs, which we now believe are substandard.

Go get some Eggs from Happy Chickens!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How a good Marinara sauce can fix your life

One night a few years ago, I curled up in my tall chair in the corner of my kitchen in my hollow, just abandoned house, and did a google search for, "food that will make me feel better."
I didn't get far. I quickly realized that aside from the yahoo dating site (ick) that kept popping up like they could SEE me sitting there alone with my supper, there just really wasn't much on the Internet to keep me company while I ate my minute steak with potato buds. So I turned around, grabbed a few cookbooks off the shelf, and flipped through them while I ate. Fifteen minutes later, I was out of sticky notes and opening a bottle of wine. Turns out, cookbooks do not make me cry! I spent the next five hours rearranging my kitchen in a way that would accommodate a person who loves food. I've had a few kitchens since then, and I know this makes me a total nerd, but I still find cleaning out the cabinets and organizing the bulk containers somewhat spiritual. When my kitchen is in disarray, I am in disarray. And that's how you know you are a cook. It is what it is, folks.
My silly little blog meanders from one random subject to another, and sometimes a person who has taken a wrong turn on the Internet highway ends up here and probably slaps themselves in the forehead while wondering...what in the world is wrong with this woman?
Well, if you can answer that question, we'll give you a free carrot.
And you can put it in this perfect marinara sauce.
The recipe has been respectfully lifted from http://www.theppk.com/ (that'd be the post-punk kitchen.)

Equipment: Blender or food processor
Ingredients: 2 28 oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
3 teaspoons olive oil
3 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced (should be about 1 1/4 cups sliced)
4 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
Directions- Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a medium sauce pan (with a lid) over med heat, add carrots, cover and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add 1 more teaspoon oil, saute garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add spices and salt and saute one more minute. Add tomatoes, mash with fork or potato masher, till tomatoes are broken up. Add bay leaves. Let simmer 45 minutes uncovered. Remove from heat and let cool, just so that it's not steaming very much. Remove bay leaves. Puree in blender. Add back to pot, heat over low heat 15 more minutes.

My twelve year old son, who carefully inspects all of my cooking for anything he doesn't eat (that's pretty much everything that isn't in the ground meat category) and separates supper into fourteen little tiny piles with his fork before carefully consuming the meat, eats this and comes back for more. He hasn't quite put it together that spaghetti sauce and ketchup are made from tomatoes. Let's keep that quiet a little longer.
This makes a lot of sauce. But before you use that as an excuse to not make it, realize that freezing half of it will make your next spaghetti supper night a lot easier. I have to make this disclaimer, also. Even though this recipe is a rocking work of art, it's infinitely better if you are making it in August and you can find enough local tomatoes to use. It's elevated even further if you have home-grown carrots. If you are into it, use fresh herbs. Add them at the end and use about four times the quantity you would if they were dried.
Here's a tip from someone who knows; there is not ever, ever, anything in a cookbook that will make you feel like crap. In fact, reading them for fun will get you up off of your depressed rear end and into the kitchen. Even if you are just cooking for yourself. Your-self needs someone to cook for them, so the next time you feel like crap-ola, curl up in a blanket with that copy of the Lutheran Ladies Cookbook and get inspired. Or, if you don't have a cookbook in your house (in which case I have no idea what you are doing here, but whatever) go to Amazon and order this one.


Make the Snobby Joe's first. Then move on to the grilled tofu. The book is the size of a Microeconomics textbook, so if you still feel like crap-ola after you read it, I'll pass you on to a real therapist.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pig Candy

I was not looking forward to being presented with anything called, "Pig Candy" and then having to disappoint the hostess of the Sweet Potato Queen Party by dismissing the dish as Something-I-Don't-Eat.

Wow. Color me wrong.

It happened a few months ago. My nice little MOMS Club group decided to make The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner) their book club selection for the month. These women were seriously headed off the map. Or so I thought. I went along smiling. I even read the book. Or rather, I skimmed the book. To explain; my natural disdain for all things southern is rooted in my love affair with New Orleans. It ended badly. With a divorce and a hurricane. I try to avoid all things southern so as not to relive any of the anguish. I watched New Orleans taken apart in a natural disaster of historic proportion while receiving a blood transfusion days before my youngest daughter was born. There's something about being physically situated between two cancer patients, watching non-stop CNN, with a large IV dripping someone else's blood into your vein for eleven hours and waiting for the deadly transfusion reaction coupled with the emergency C-section you are about to have and knowing that you are in it alone.....crap. OK. Back to Pig Candy. I didn't want to participate. I like being this far north. I know which side of the war-of-northern-aggression I would have been rooting for (had I been alive.)

The book wasn't enough. They had to have a party. They wanted everyone to wear boas. Again with the disdain for all things Mardi Gras. I went because my dear friend Mollie was going. I went because I wanted to bring a vegetable. I went because, deep down, I kind of hate myself. I went because I thought I could do it and maybe even have a good time.

We walked into Sherri's kitchen and smelled something sweet. Something fatty.

"Wait till you try the Pig Candy!" Sherri overflows with joy just sitting still in a chair. This notion of Pig Candy was really lighting her up even more than usual. I was intimidated. And dressed normally. Mollie had on an evening gown and a boa. She put on lipstick. I wanted to run away.

Sherri's table was overflowing with all of the things I don't eat. Sticky, sweet, fatty, cheesy, messy, now-I-have-to-buy-spanx food. I'm a thin woman. I don't eat these things.

OK, I'll shut up now. I gained five pounds that night and loved every moment of it.

I tried the Pig Candy and declared, in a loud southern accent, "This is on my last-meal-plate! With instructions to contact Sherri for the EXACT recipe!!!"

Maybe it was that sweet thing that Andrea kept pouring in my glass, but the more Pig Candy I ate, the funnier Mollie got. We ate. We ate and ate and ate. Mollie exclaimed, "I'm going to need you to come over later and cut me out of my spanx....if you hear an explosion, you'll know I popped them!"

I could not stop laughing. I love jokes about spanx on any random Monday afternoon, but surrounded by white suburban mid western middle class half drunk stay at home moms, I was inconsolable.

I can't even remember what else was there for food. I only remember the Pig Candy.

I only love the Pig Candy.

Sometimes, when I'm bored, or I can't sleep, I think of the Pig Candy. The women who made the Pig Candy for the first time are a party waiting to happen. In fact, as part of my how-to-survive program, I have re-imagined the transfusion day with the Sweet Potato Queens there with me in the drip...drip....drip.....CNN/nightmare. What a happy memory that would have been. A bloody freaking party.

Here's the recipe for Pig Candy. And I make this disclaimer my friend; please do not make the Pig Candy just because you want to. Please do not eat the Pig Candy in passing, or standing up. Please respect the pig candy. And most of all, respect the Sweet Potato Queens. We should all be so lucky to have such friends. Wait. I am that lucky.

"Pig Candy recipe;
You start with bacon - and don't y'all just know how I purely love a recipe that starts with bacon. The fat is the whole point of the bacon. If you're interested in the red part, get a ham or something. I mean, really.
So anyway, you start with bacon, and the only other ingredient is brown sugar - and do I really need to say the dark brown kind? You just roll the bacon in the dark brown sugar and then you bake it (at 350 F. for about 20 minutes or so, depending on your oven and also how you like your bacon - put it on a rack on a cookie sheet, and you don't even have to turn it over!) - and voy-ola! Pig Candy!"

It's easy. But not so easy. It's an experience. You might want to go buy the spanx first.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


We ate one last night. It was wonderful. That's all I really wanted to say about that. Oh, and I can't wait for tomorrow. I love Mondays.

Friday, November 7, 2008

dishwashing gig

I have an acquaintance that is kind of a caterer. It's complicated. She doesn't cook. She just makes the food look good. I cook. I'm a pretty good cook, too. Every time she asks me to help her, I do so with the disclaimer that I am not a cocktail waitress. I do not stand behind a punch bowl, take orders from party guests, or behave in a way that would lead anyone to believe that I will be right back with their drink/new fork/extra napkin. I cook. I chop, dice, arrange, saute, and garnish my way through an event. That's my deal. I'll wear the black pants and a white shirt, but I'm not wearing a poorly fitting tuxedo shirt proportioned for a midget. I'll wear black shoes, but not the kind you see in a nursing home. I'll wear cute black shoes. My dignity is worth more than she pays.

Last Tuesday night was a somewhat important evening in the lives of many Americans. We were hoping that our votes would get counted in such a way that by Wednesday morning, we'd know who our new president is. When I was asked to help with an event in one of the largest, oldest, most beautiful mansions in town, I thought that it would at least be interesting from a people watching point of view. So I agreed and left my little girls at home with whats-his-name. Please note: I don't usually do that! I hate missing my kids! I am completely convinced that they grow extra fast when I'm not around.

I stayed in the kitchen for the most part. I put together a salad and a few other little foodie things and as the guests started arriving, they also started dropping their dirty glasses and dishes in the kitchen. So, being accustomed to hanging out in kitchens, I thought I'd make an attempt to keep the counters cleaned off while I made the food pretty. Before I knew it, I was deep into my third hour hunched over a giant granite sink washing the ugliest, oldest, most humongous set of china I'd ever come in contact with. So my cooking gig turned into a catering gig. It wasn't funny at the time, but it sure is now. That'll teach me. So I missed watching the election coverage with my children. I was lured by the promise of a sexy kitchen and the challenge of keeping 40 entitled millionaires happy about their food.

Speaking of entitled millionaires, one of these folks actually stood right behind me in the kitchen for nearly an hour saying the most amazing things. Ready?

"My wife and I like to spend at least four months in Europe each year. You know, there are people here who spend more time than that in Florida. We just love to travel. I'm so sorry for people who just don't get to travel."

Uh, that'd be me, buddy.

"I just feel so fortunate to have had children who were so interested in prep school. I mean, the lifetime friendships they made there....just phenomenal....phenomenal....and really, it's just such a challenge to stay ahead of the game in prep school. There just wasn't anything here that could spark their interest the way prep school did."

My kids will never go to prep school. Wait. Even if I was filthy freaking rich I wouldn't ship my eighth grader off to another state so they could get into an ivy league school so I could brag to the dishwasher about it twenty years later.

"My daughter is just such a direct woman. She never did really get that men don't like that. She's a wonderful lawyer in New York. She turned forty this year. But no husband yet. In fact, she's been so dedicated to her work that she never even really talked to us about having a boyfriend. She didn't date at Princeton. She was just too dedicated to law."

OK. You know 'denial ain't just a river....'

That's but a snippet of the pleasurable evening that was last Tuesday. By the end of the night, many of these wonderful folks had experienced a change of heart where politics is concerned. They went from hoping for victory, to planning their spring in France. They are going on a group trip. I'm sure they will be missed.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I really want to talk about brussel sprouts.


I know they aren't winning any popularity contests. I mean, they are tiny cabbages. I think most Americans have had them once. Or twice if your mom was way into "eat your vegetables." I had them once as a kid. I don't think it was because my mother made me eat them, though. I think it was the fault of one of my grandmothers. Or maybe an aunt. I can't remember. Anyway, a couple of years ago, back when we were eating at Genie's a couple of times a month and I was trying everything she sat in front of me, she made brussel sprouts. I tried to make my usual disclaimer, "do I eat brussel sprouts?" And then, after tasting them, "I do eat brussel sprouts." I don't remember what she did to them. I'm pretty sure it involved butter. I hadn't had them since.

A few weeks ago, in an organic gardening magazine my mom sends me, there was an article on how to grow brussel sprouts. I meant to do that, but I forgot and now it's too late. There was another article on how to cook them. They are in season in the midwest. Had I remembered to plant some, we'd be harvesting them right now. So I figured it wouldn't be too bad to just go to the plain old grocery store and buy some to try this new recipe out on. I love it. I tried to follow the recipe, but as usual, about halfway through I got a culinary epiphany and veered away from the page.

Go get some brussel sprouts and do this:

Buy brussel sprouts. I can eat 6 (cut in half) before I'm sick of them, and I really really like brussel sprouts. Plan accordingly.

Cut the stem end off and half the brussel sprouts. The leaves are connected to the stem, cut them in half so you are splitting the stem end. Keep the leaves that fall off. Rinse everything in a colander and leave it to drain.

Place a large shallow pan over medium-high heat. When the pan has heated up, add 1/4 cup of olive oil and dump in the brussel sprouts and their loose leaves. Turn them so they are cut side down and put a lid on the pan. Check them after a few minutes. When the cut side is lightly browned, turn them over and cook 2-3 more minutes. Add 1/2 cup water to the pan (this will be a splattery steamy mess) and shake the pan gently. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 tsp of hot pepper oil and 1/4 cup soy sauce. When the majority of the water has evaporated from the pan, drizzle the soy sauce mixture over the brussel sprouts. Serve warm, topped with sesame seeds.

Hooray for brussel sprouts.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Beef Stew

OK, back on topic:

You need about two pounds of stew meat, two cups of flour, salt and pepper, a pound each of diced carrots and diced onion, a couple of celery stalks (also diced), and two pounds of cubed raw red potatoes with the skin on and 2-10 cloves of chopped fresh garlic (how much do you like garlic?). For liquid, you can use canned or boxed beef broth or if you are very very cool, use the frozen stuff you made yourself. Pull a bottle of dark beer out of the fridge. Don't drink any. You'll need the whole bottle.

Get a big deep, heavy bottomed pot and put about 1/4 cup of some kind of clear oil in the bottom.

Turn the heat up under the pot.

In a big zip lock baggie, combine the flour and 2 Tablespoons each of salt and pepper. Put your meat in the bag and zip it shut. Shake it around until all the meat is covered in flour.

Working in batches, with a large plate close by, place the meat in the bottom of your very hot oil covered pan in a single layer. You are searing the meat. Not cooking it. It'll still be raw in the middle and that's OK. When batch #1 is seared on all sides, remove the meat from the pan and put it on the plate. Add a little more oil to the mess in the pan and repeat the process. Keep doing this until all of the meat is seared. Note: this is a messy, splattery, stinging process. That’s OK. If your oil isn’t making a fuss, you won’t be searing anything. HOT is GOOD. Also, a pair of long handled tongs are essential to your success.

That chunky brown stuff in the bottom of the pot is magically delicious. Dump the onions, celery, and carrots into the chunky brown stuff and stir it up. Cook for 4-5 minutes and then add the potatoes and garlic. Cook another 5 minutes with the lid on and then gently pour in the beer. Bring to a healthy simmer and cook for 10 minutes with the lid on. Stir again and make sure all that chunky brown stuff has been scraped off of the bottom of the pan. Pour in 3-5 cups of beef stock (depending on how thick you like your stew) and stir gently. Bring the mixture back up to a simmer and add the meat. Stir gently. Simmer for one hour. Or a little more than an hour. In fact, now may be a great time to take the kids trick or treating.

After you've let it sit for awhile, your stew will probably still look like soup. Turn the heat up a bit and stir for 3-4 minutes. Leave the heat turned up and put the lid back on for 10 minutes. The next time you look at it, the liquid will have thickened considerably and it's probably ready to eat. If you want it thicker, stand there and stir it until it looks like you like it to look.

Your house now smells like heaven. Go enjoy your righteous stew.

Good job.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October is kinda ugly.

We cleared out our three tomato gardens on Saturday. It was a beautiful day to be outside. Every sunny day seems like my last chance to catch a little vitamin D until May of 2009. The back yard is always at its ugliest in October. There's no snow to cover up the brown patches and leafless trees. There's nothing good to eat out there. It's going to sleep. And I'm piling on the layers of clothing. It's about 40 degrees outside this morning. I'm dressed for a sub-zero climate.

We've decided to go ahead and plant asparagus in the spring. We can put in a line of lilacs against the neighbor's ugly fence and put a few long rows of asparagus in front of it. So, three years from now, the sting of the field of dead asparagus incident will be wearing off a bit. I'll be snapping the ends off of the purple asparagus from my own yard while I stare at a giant bouquet of lilacs in my very own kitchen. This plan doesn't restore my asparagus-farmer status, but that's OK. I've been a lot of things that I'm not anymore. Even when it seems to suck at the moment, leaving something behind (or having it leave me) always yields something more amazing than I could have imagined. So, I'm making peace with the field of dead asparagus incident and turning my attention towards my own back yard. I know. There's probably some larger significance to this whole thing. I'll think about that tomorrow.

As for right now, I'm trying to decide if I should officially turn our last empty corner of the basement into a grow room (tomatoes, people. Jeez.) or if I should turn one end of B's room back into the house of baby green things. The Christmas tree goes up, the Christmas tree comes down, and then it's time to order seeds. (It's my own personal Christmas.) By mid-January, I'll be playing soft pop music and blowing a space heater on tiny cells of sterile dirt. Waiting for my own personal spring.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Murder of Purple Asparagus

OK. I'll just say it real quick. Like ripping off a really big band-aid.

Someone mowed my asparagus field.

Well, someone mowed the asparagus field that I rent. Or rather, that I no longer rent, since someone KILLED IT. Someone drove a really big, strong, many wheeled cutting machine over one acre of beautifully situated purple tipped asparagus ferns. From the looks of the field, the murder acted about six weeks ago.

Let me back up and explain why there will be no more asparagus in that field.

Asparagus produces on faith. It yields produce for six weeks or so in the early spring. When the temperature hits eighty degrees, the tips of the asparagus open up and shoot up at the rate of 3-6 inches per day until the asparagus tip itself looks like a fern. These ferns collect sun and nutrients and pull them back down into the deep rooted plant. The following spring, the plant produces more shoots. We eat those shoots. So....it is absolutely essential that when the asparagus begins to bolt, you LEAVE IT ALONE until MARCH of the NEXT YEAR. Ideally, you would set the field on fire in March, but the field I used to rent, the field that yielded around one hundred pounds per week of beautiful, fat, sweet, perfect asparagus, the field that is now DEAD, is also next to a playground and in the city limits. So, I figured if I set it on fire I'd be in a heap of trouble. Anyway, the ferns dry up over the winter and fall over. This provides a ground cover that keeps the earth from freezing quite so hard. It also holds moisture in as the weather warms up in the spring.

My field is dead.

It looks like a freaking lawn.

So why not just plant some more? Well, because (this is my patient voice) you don't get to harvest any asparagus for THREE YEARS after you plant it. I'm guessing that even if I had an acre of perfectly situated fertile soil with a microclimate just like the one in the field of dead asparagus, it would cost me between $3000 and $5000 to buy and plant enough of the somewhat rare, organically grown (oh....did I mention that the field had NEVER BEEN SPRAYED WITH CHEMICALS!!!) perfect little purple asparagus babies. And then, sometime in the spring of 2011, I'd be back in asparagus heaven.

Excuse me while I go out into the yard and scream.

What am I going to do with my life now? My asparagus farming days have come to an end and all I have left to keep me occupied is this blog.

I can't even think of an appropriate series of swear words that sums this up.


Still nothing.

Asparagus was my happy place.

Now I have to find a new happy place.

That's it.

I'll be in Italy if anyone needs me.

Friday, October 24, 2008

a glass of wine at 10:10am does not make you a bad mom.

Or at least that's what I tell myself to alleviate the rush of guilt I feel for even thinking of trading in my third cup of sugar laced coffee for one of the "good" glasses and a splash of shiraz.

Tori missed the bus this morning. She wanted to engage me in a conversation that went something like:

me: Tori! Leave your shoes on. The bus'll be here in sixteen minutes!
Tori: (ignores me and takes her shoes off) Can I watch Wishbone?
me: No. Zoe's watching George. Put your shoes on.
Tori: I don't want my blue coat. I need a scarf.
me: You can't wear that sweater as a coat. You'll be cold at recess.
Tori: I want to wear the sweater. Where's my scarf from last year?
me: It's not in the box. I looked yesterday morning. Put your shoes back on now.
Tori: Why? My bus alarm hasn't even gone off yet.
(phone buzzes and then sings the bus warning)
me: That's your bus alarm. Where are your shoes? Put your coat on! You are going to miss the bus!
Tori: I don't want to wear my blue coat. I want to wear this sweater.
me: Put your SHOES ON!
Tori: I want help.
me. Fine. Give me your foot.
Tori: (holds foot up limply and whines) I want my scarf....I don't want to wear my coat....
(bus brakes squeal in front of house)
Tori: THAT'S my BUS! MOM! My bus!
me: I'm tieing as fast as I can.
(bus drives away)

Yes. It finally happened. I would like to note that the 8:21 pick up happened at 8:18 this morning. But hey, who's punching the clock.

I guess I could just take her to school myself...oh wait. My car has been in the shop for TWO WEEKS. We are waiting for a part. From Canada. Because you should order a part off of ebay and MAKE SURE it isn't being shipped from the US. We like to keep things as difficult as possible around here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"The" Crucifixion Story

It means something different at my house.

It happened last spring. The story. Not the actual crucifixion. At the time, I thought it was just a cruel joke being played on me by the universe. But really, strange and dark and funny as it is, it really cleared up how I handle religion as it relates to my own little children. So, perhaps it wasn't a joke as much as it was a big flashing neon sign.

The school

My daughter, Victoria, was 4 years old at the time. She turned 5 on April 1. Victoria attended a popular preschool here in Cedar Rapids. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, she spent the morning learning how to stand in line, share with friends, and write her name. The year before, she was a Tuesday/Thursday pupil at this same preschool. The school is in a church. I read the handbook. It specifically said that the school itself was non-denominational and accepting of all faiths. It also said that there would be talk of Jesus, but it would be general. I felt good about that policy and didn't give it much more thought. Victoria liked preschool. Her teachers were really great. They seemed kind and she dearly loved them.

The eggs

One day, near Easter, a note came home with Victoria saying that each child should bring an empty egg carton to school.
The next week, the carton came back home. Victoria was carrying it in her hand and she put it in the seat beside her as she got into my minivan. On the way home, I heard her mumbling to her stuffed cats and I asked her what game she was playing. One kitty was being crucified and the other was crying.
"Kitty, don't cry. If I am crucified, then I get to go to heaven and be with God. If you are crucified, you'll get to go to heaven too!"
I almost wrecked my van.
I asked her what was going on and she said, "I'm not talking to you, Mom. I'm just playing."
We arrived home a few minutes later and the egg carton stayed in the car. I was still trying to figure out why Victoria thought crucifying her favorite toys was a good plan. I got exactly zero information. Later, I opened the egg carton. Nestled inside were twelve colorful plastic eggs. Each one of them had something in it. I called for Victoria. She opened the eggs one by one and explained their contents to me. One had a flower in it. For new beginnings. One had a nail in it.
"For the nails that the JEWS nailed through Jesus' hands when they killed him on the cross!" Yep. One was empty. "For when Jesus came back alive after he was killed and went to heaven to see God. Then he got to come back and there was a big rock!" The rock had its own egg. This wasn't what I had in mind when I thought about religious education. I thought maybe my horror was a side effect of being an overly concerned mama. Not so! In fact, I met a few other parents who had the same experience with these particular eggs. I decided not to send Tori's little sister to that particular preschool, ride out the last month, and chill.

The Easter Program

A few days after kitty was crucified, Tori was in the preschool Easter program as part of the holy week celebration at the church. There were 40 preschoolers or so. They sang songs about Jesus and the pastor talked a little bit to the congregation about Easter and what it means. The kids were on risers behind him. Victoria loves to be "up front" and she sang her little heart out. At one point, the pastor began talking about Jesus and Victoria interrupted him. In her loud voice. "Yes! Jesus DIED! He was on the CROSS! And he DIED! He was KILLED!" The pastor turned to face his interrupter, agreed with her, and moved on.
Somewhere, someone has this on tape.

The End

I realize we live in an area of the world where the crucifixion of Jesus by the Jews isn't exactly news. However, I would have really liked to have a little more control over how my four year old received the story. She was very familiar with the gory details. I would have preferred to tell her the story as a story. Not as a horror film in which her stuffed kitty would be the lead.

where's the sun?

I'm moody.

I know. Not news.

I've been cruising around trying to find artists who paint things that look like home to me. It's cheering me up.

Sharing time:

The leaf painting is by Paul Wolber.

This is his blog: http://pwolberart.blog.com/

He's a professor in Michigan. So....close to Iowa.
The landscape is another one I like. The artist is Ellen Wagener. She's an Iowan. More here: http://www.lucidplanet.com/iwa/ArtistPages/wagenere.htm#stmt
She says this about Iowa, "I think this area is rich. It sheds its skin a minimum of four times a year. Watching the corn grow and beans yellow under the saffron sun is a rigorous pasttime if you are paying attention. "
Amen to that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

two random things; a beautiful man-chef and a chicken joke

Oh...which first?

I have angst.

OK, first the link to the beautiful man-chef I accidentally came across. I assume he's a chef. The blog's not in english. So go here. But COME BACK FOR THE JOKE!
Nevermind. I wouldn't come back. I'd spend the next seven years learning Italian and never return to the foodgeek site ever ever again.
Now, many of you who know me may be saying....
Rachel, you are in a relationship with a man who looks like Lance Armstrong from the neck up and Brad Pitt from the neck down. And he's freaking hilarious! What the hell are you doing with Gusto? He's probably not even funny.
Please be assured that I have considered this fact carefully, and as a result, have decided to give Gusto to my friend, Molly. Happy Birthday Molly. If we actually lived in the imaginary-strangeness of my twisted mind, Gusto would be yours. With a bow tied around his beautiful Italian neck.
And NO, I didn't just put that in to save my own ass in case Flynn ever decides to cruise my blog.

OK, for those of you who are still here. (gay women and straight men only, I presume)
Here's the joke:

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?

A: BARACK OBAMA: The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a change! The chicken wanted change!
JOHN MC CAIN: My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialog with all the chickens on the other side of the road.
HILLARY CLINTON: When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken to cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure right from Day One that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn't about me.
GEORGE W. BUSH: We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.
DICK CHENEY: Where's my gun?
COLIN POWELL: Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road. B
ILL CLINTON: I did not cross the road with that chicken. What is your definition of crossing? AL GORE: I invented the chicken.
JOHN KERRY: Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am now against it! It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken's intentions. I am not for it now, and will remain against it.
AL SHARPTON: Why are all the chickens white? We need some black chickens.
DR. PHIL: The problem we have here is that this chicken won't realize that he must first deal with the problem on this side of the road before it goes after the problem on the other side of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he's acting by not taking on his current problems before adding new problems.
: Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road.
NANCY GRACE: That chicken crossed the road because he's guilty! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.
PAT BUCHANAN: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.
MARTHA STEWART: No one called me to warn me which way that chicken was going. I had a standing order at the Farmers Market to sell my eggs when the price dropped to a certain level. No little bird gave me any insider information.
DR SEUSS: Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed I've not been told.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die in the rain, alone. J
ERRY FALWELL: Because the chicken was gay! Can't you people see the plain truth? That's why they call it the other side. Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that chicken, you will become gay, too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media whitewashes with seemingly harmless phrases like the other side. That chicken should not be crossing the road. It's as plain and as simple as that.
GRANDPA: In my day we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.
BARBARA WALTERS: Isn't that interesting? In a few moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart warming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish its lifelong dream of crossing the road.
ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.
JOHN LENNON: Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace.
BILL GATES: I have just released eChicken2008, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance your checkbook. Internet Explorer is an integral part of eChicken2008. This new platform is much more stable and will never reboot. ALBERT EINSTEIN: Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?
COLONEL SANDERS: Did I miss one?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cilantro Pesto Gnocchi with Steamed Artichoke and a game of chess

Saturday started off a bit off balance for me. Without children in the house, I had a rare opportunity to wake up slowly, and because I am blind without contact lenses (seriously...-5.5 folks) I had no idea what time it was. Colin wanted to run in the Indian Summer race near Solon and I forget that men roll out of bed, put shoes on, and walk directly out the front door about ten minutes after they should have left and believe they have a chance of being on time. Sadly, I had to follow him. Bedhead and all.
I am a chicken. I like to have gas in my tank. I know. It shows a lack on an adventurous spirit. We drove to Solon on fumes. And then five miles further on the fumes from the fumes. Colin jumped out of the car and took off for the starting line. I scooted over and realized that I was going to have to figure out how to get back to town on the fumes of the fumes from the fumes. I'm pretty sure I made it back only because I was singing, "Jesus take the wheel" the whole way. I pulled into the gas station and had to turn around to line the tank up with the pump. A large man in a very large truck (many wheels!) tried to take my spot. I pointed at him with two fingers through the windshield and mouthed "NO" right at him. He put it in reverse and let me in. That was the first 25 minutes of my day. I wasn't holding out hope that it would improve. By the time I got to Genie's, I just wanted someone to be nice to me and give me a cup of coffee. I got all that and crepes with Genie's strawberry jam.
I forgot about the first 25 minutes of my day and we moved on to a thrilling game of chess on the deck. It was my first time. How did I get to the ripe old age of 33 having never played before? Well, I had some kids. For most of this decade, I haven't been able to remember where I parked my car. Thinking seven moves ahead wasn't an option. Here's what sucked me in; Genie's Dad made her a chess set out of a cherry tree from his yard. The knights are mushrooms, the queen is a butterfly, the pawns are ladybugs. It's so much less intimidating to ask, "so, can my bug move backwards?" It's positively distracting to stare at a board of orange and red ladybugs. I kept getting confused by the coolness of the pieces. That may be why I lost. Yes, let's say that's why I lost.
I hate to be one of those boring people who talk about the weather, but Saturday was perfect. I got a sunburn on our walk. Our one hour, five mile walk turned into a two and a half hour meandering adventure. Thank God for the porta-potties. Literally. The call of nature led us into a church that looked inhabited. We found bathrooms that had been gutted but there were bonus-porta potties outside. By the time we got to The Vine, I was inconsolable with thirst and craving wings. Genie called the running men and asked them to meet us at the bar. Have I already said that there really isn't any point to ordering wings anywhere but The Vine? The service is sometimes nonexistent and you may have to follow the manager around yelling about how bad he sucks at his job to get your order taken (that happened once) but it's so worth it.
We talk about food a lot and that's how I like it. Maybe it was the long walk, or the chess, or the perfect weather, but a beautiful dinner was about to be born and I'm not sure if it was a happy accident or divine intervention.
For those of us who are in love with cilantro and anything made of a potato, this was the ultimate in fine dining. As it turns out, a bunch of cilantro and a couple of cups of pistachios with some olive oil and lemon make a fine pesto. When you sauté zucchini, garlic, and a few hot red peppers in olive oil and then throw in some gnocchi and use the pesto as a dressing, you find yourself in heaven. We steamed a couple of artichokes to go along with it. Get pistachios at New Pi. They have the salted roasted kind in the bulk bins.
As we drove away from Genie and Nick's happy cabin, I looked up the hill to wave and saw them sitting on the deck at the big table full of dirty dishes with the oil lamps flickering and thought that if I saw that picture in a gallery or hanging on someone's wall, I'd have to point it out as the embodiment of what I want out of life. Great friends, perfect views, beautiful weather, and food that is nothing short of pure magic. Other cultures have many different words to describe the many different kinds of love. We have only one word for love, and so I am forced to use it.
I loved Saturday.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Risotto for mental health

Oh, yesterday sucked so bad.

Won't bore you with the details, but I will put in another installment of what I cooked. Sometimes, when you have a really really bad day, all you can do is make Risotto.

It's not hard. Hear that Chef Ramsey? IT'S NOT AT ALL DIFFICULT.

You need chicken stock (canned is fine), an onion, a few cloves of garlic, a red pepper, some really good earthy mushrooms and short grain rice. You can buy that in the bulk bins at New Pi or with the other rices at any grocery store (except Aldis)....

Put some olive oil in a pan and dice the onion, mushrooms and pepper. Cook them for five minutes or so and add the diced garlic cloves. Cook that for a couple more minutes and put a little bit of butter in the pan. When that's melted, put in a cup of rice or so and stir it around for a minute. Pour enough chicken stock over it to just cover it and stir gently. Stir some more. Invite someone into the kitchen to talk to you so you don't get bored. DO NOT LEAVE THE RISOTTO ALONE. It will certainly misbehave. When there seems to be more rice than juice in the pan, pour some more chicken stock over it and stir gently. Stir stir stir stir. Very gently. Again, add more stock if it looks like the rice has soaked it all up. At some point, perhaps twenty minutes in or so, try the rice. It should be tender all the way through. If it is not, add a bit more stock and stir some more. When the rice is tender and the sauce has thickened, your risotto is ready. If you had a super duper bad day, or if you are at my friend Genie's house, your risotto should have 1/2 cup of really great Maytag Blue Cheese stirred into it.

Opening a bottle of really great wine won't hurt, either.

By the way, this is about a $10 meal. It feeds two adults who have had a bad day.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

no pig, no pan, no problem

I just got back from the grocery store. After dragging six bags of ingredients into my house, I sat down to check in with my email. I get a lot of mom-spam. You know, lose ten pounds in ten minutes! and fifteen menus for a month's worth of dinners! and we have the answers to make you perfect at everything! Sometimes I open the ones about food.

I have this hope that somewhere, there really is a week's worth of menus with an attached grocery list that doesn't add up to a $300 tab in the check out. Really, for $300 worth of crappy junky cheesy food, I'll eat out every night and not have to do the dishes. I'm looking for the holy grail, here. $100 worth of groceries, 7 dinners, 7 lunches, 7 breakfasts, and 5 days worth of Spiderman lunchbox worthy snacks. Oh, and I don't want to eat pig. Or cow. Maybe chicken. No cheese.

I know. It's not happening. I'm going to have to do it myself.

Here's my first contribution. I hear there is a similar version floating around that has to do with "A Man, A Can, and A Plan." Cute name, but that's not what this is.

Here's lunch;

One can of extra crispy corn with peppers without the juice
(check the ethnic food section at Hy-Vee)
One can of black beans (drained and rinsed really really well)
One can of diced tomatoes
Two (or three or four) pickled jalepeno peppers (seeded and minced)
Two Tablespoons of sweet rice wine vinegar
One Tablespoon of cumin
One Tablespoon of chili powder
1/2 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper if you want

Stir it up and open a bag of blue corn chips.

That'll be $5, please.
You'll be eating it tomorrow, too.

See? No pig, no pan, no problem.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bar Mitzvah and brown lettuce from Biaggis

In Judaism, Bar Mitzvah (Hebrew: בר מצוה, "one (m.) to whom the commandments apply"), Bat Mitzvah (בת מצוה, "one (f.) to whom the commandments apply;" Ashkenazi: Bas Mitzvah), and B'nei Mitzvah (pl.), are the terms to describe the coming of age of a Jewish boy or girl. According to Jewish law, when Jewish children reach the age of majority (generally thirteen years for boys and twelve for girls) they become responsible for their actions, and "become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah." In many Conservative and Reform synagogues, girls celebrate their Bat Mitzvahs at age 13, along with boys. This also coincides with physical puberty.[1] Prior to this, the child's parents are responsible for the child's adherence to Jewish law and tradition, and after this age, children bear their own responsibility for Jewish ritual law, tradition, and ethics and are privileged to participate in all areas of Jewish community life.[2]

....according to Wikipedia

So, if YOU are the MOTHER of the boy who is celebrating a transition as profound as this, do YOU want to pay $50 for a half tray of brown lettuce. You know. The kind that is $2 pre-cut and pre-bagged in Hy-Vee. The kind that is always a little brown around the edges. The kind with little shreds of petrified carrot in it. Not me. I'd have a tantrum. Oh wait. I think I did.

I'm not Jewish. Big news there, huh. I do sometimes help a friend of mine who does a lot of work at Jewish celebrations. Long boring story. Anyway, last night I was at the temple here in town helping the Biaggis woman open up the food she brought. The price list was taped to the refrigerator in the kitchen right under the directions for what we were supposed to be doing all night.

The lettuce was brown. It was exactly the kind that you buy in Hy-Vee in the bag. Not the sexy mini greens and herb salad. Oh no. Rather, it was the iceberg lettuce salad for people who don't like food.

Biaggis also charged a $60 "gratuity" fee. I suppose for delivering this atrocious crap that pretty much anyone could have whipped up after a quick trip to Hy-Vee and a couple of hours in a basic kitchen.

I feel bad for the woman who planned this event. It's a three day gig and she's the mom. Bother her with brown lettuce concerns? No sir. Pick out the worst pieces and replace the tacky paper cups full of dressing with glass one's from the kitchen? Well, I hope we pulled it off before she saw us. I realize Biaggis probably won't get the chewing out they deserve from her. But there's no way any of us wanted her crying on the eve of her son's Bar Mitzvah.

I'll hold the grudge for her.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A letter to Zoe (who has been celebrating her third birthday for three weeks)

Dear Zoe-
Who told you it was OK to turn THREE YEARS OLD? I realize that it's part of the natural progression of things, but I feel particularly resistant to it happening to you. You. The cute one. I had no idea what the whole, "yeah but that's my baby" thing meant before this week. I guess with your brother, it didn't help that I was still a baby when he turned three. Your sister, bless her dear heart, is a lot of work. But you. You are my little dancing queen. My tough little joking elf. I couldn't believe it when you ended up with a birthday that is ONE DAY past the cut off for Kindergarten. Now, I'm feeling like three more years of hanging out with you couldn't possibly be enough. I've never known a small child to be so obsessed with opening pistachios. You are articulate, although most people don't understand a word you say. You are funny when I'm about to lose my head over another night of cleaning up a very messed up kitchen. You make poop jokes. And just when I think you are going to sit quietly in my lap and listen to Irish folk music in the park, you jump up, run to the stage, and dance until the chubby accordian player is cracking up. I think you were named well. I always wanted a little girl to name Celia, but I happily give up the dream for a little elf named Zoe. So, as sappy as it sounds, you are my baby. Grow slow. It's hard on me.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Poetry deficit and The Lincoln Cafe

I have a poetry deficit.

I know, there's a lot of deficits going around lately, but this is a really really serious situation. I've sworn off pop music, country music, all reality TV (including American Idol), talk radio, the news, and Desperate Housewives. That's where we get our poetry, people. No one sits around at night with class of red wine reading Pablo Neruda it to their loved ones and then discussing the prose. What the hell is wrong with us???? Around here, the moment Tori steps off the bus, it's a flurry of constant activity punctuated by dramatic moments including tears over whos turn it is to use the red paint and why someone got the last drink of orange juice and where are the blue crocs....

And then I collapse on the couch beside my already snoozing love for fifteen minutes before I crash at 9pm.

No. Poetry.

Which leads me to the point of this post.

The point is that even if you (like me) NEVER GET TO EAT AT THE LINCOLN CAFE. (I'm not bitter.) You can still go to their website, sign up for Chef Matt's weekly emails, and have a little poetry injected into your chaotic, romance-less, snoozing by 8:30pm every night no matter what life.

Let me give you an example:

"ALSO, at the cafe this weekend we're doing Angus Ribeye, big ones, with Jasper Hill blue, beautiful butter lettuce, a reduction of Sangiovese,(Luna,) crushed peppercorns, applewood bacon and local country mashed potato. I know it's not all foamy and stuff but it's a really great weekend dinner. Also, Jidori (look it up) chicken with riesling (Esterlina) poached pears, butternut bread pudding, rosemary jus and mustard hazelnut salad. And Lochduart Salmon with romesco, house cured olives, (thanks to Ian forsending me those from the L.A. farmers market in April '07,) pancetta potatoes, and pickled eggs."

He has a really lovely serious girlfriend. S0 don't even think about it. And like most men, even if he did not have a really serious lovely girlfriend and you weren't married with children, and even if you did manage to make him your man, he works all of the time. And like most men, a year in, he'd be snoozing on the couch with not a clue about something interesting to do this weekend. You'd be planning every outing, packing every bag, and picking up his dirty socks from every corner and crevice of the house. This would be your only hobby. So shut that little voice in your head right up.

However, you can get his poetry emailed to your inbox about once a week and then you can fantasize that you eat in his restaurant sometimes.

Go. Sign up.

And for the love of all that is holy and right.

Stop watching Desperate Housewives.

"If you or your wine-swilling friends wish to signup for his regular Lincoln Wine Bar email newsletter, please send an email from the account you wish to receive the newsletter to http://us.mc450.mail.yahoo.com/mc/compose?to=thelist-request@lincolnwinebar.com, with the word "subscribe" in the subject line. You will be automatically added, and your life will automatically take on a lovely bouquet of blackberries, spice, and worn leather.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vieux Fark Toure and Munnelly courtesy of Legion Arts

We spent last night in Greensquare Park listening to Vieux Fark Toure of Niafunke in Northern Mali. CSPS (legion arts) of the recently flooded Oak Hill neighborhood is offering soggy Cedar Rapids our first annual Landfall Festival of World Music. http://www.legionarts.org/

Colin and I put three of our children, a bag full of picnic food (BLT'S!), a couple of blankets and 3/4 of a big bottle of red wine in the car Monday night to check out Munnelly, an Irish folk band. Legion Arts snagged them on their way to a gig in New York. I couldn't help but wonder if Munnelly was wondering where in the world they were. Cedar Rapidians aren't as expressive as the Irish according to the accordian player who begged the audience (in a thick irish accent) to GET UP AND DANCE. Luckily, the children did so with great passion and energy. I discovered that it is impossible to feel sad, unlucky, down in the dumps, or grouchy while a chubby irish man plays the accordian like his life depends on it. We had such a perfectly lovely time that I promised we'd return Tuesday night.

So last night at about 6:45 as I sat on our blanket eating pita and hummus and watching the kids wiggle and stomp to a drum beat from the other side of the equator, I fully expected a baby elephant to wander into the park. There's something about being enveloped in sounds coming from unfamiliar instruments that can make one feel like they are not quite at home. The kids didn't seem to mind. In fact, we listened to Vieux Farka Toure in the car on the way home and I agreed to some after-school dancing for Victoria when she gets off the bus today. With the moon roof wide open, we drove home more slowly than usual while Zoe hollered above the drums, "da stars mama! yook at da stars!" I am currently on a quest to find those ankle things with bells for the girls. That's going to be a good time.

Check out the website at http://www.vieuxfarkatoure.com/ for a sample of what was going on last night in the park.

One of the guys that runs CSPS opened with this comment, "I have been asked if Cedar Rapids really wants a World Music Festival and I answer, of course they do! They just don't know they want it yet!"

Amen to that.

I didn't know I wanted Irish Folk Music and an African Dance Beat in the park this week. But I really really did.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

School Buses and Blood Marys

School starts in a week. The bus will pick Victoria up at the end of the driveway and Zoe and I will spend our days juicing tomatoes for a winter's worth of spaghetti sauce and bloody marys. Our tomatoes are growing like mad. We harvest about ten pounds a day. Hooray! We grew Striped German, Brandywine, Green Zebra, Amish Paste, and Black Krim. I think we'll try a different black variety next year. The Striped Germans are now a yearly tradition and the Brandywines are really the best tasting, ugliest tomato in the world. I need a good red heirloom tomato that renders a lot of juice. I may have this all figured out by the time Zoe heads off on the school bus.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

It takes longer to grow a tomato than it does to grow a baby.

This never occurred to me before this morning. After our snowy winter, floody spring, and cold summer, I'm desperate for a tomato. Or I thought I was. We are getting about one a day from our garden now. There are nearly 50 thriving plants in the yard. One a day isn't cutting it. I want to see a bushel basket. I want to be up to my elbows in tomato juice. I want a bloody mary. We started our plants from seed in February. That certainly seemed like a leap of faith. It's difficult to choose seeds, place the order, buy the soil, hang the lights, and be convinced that it may still be snowing in June. We started with nearly 100 plants. Half grew to bear fruit. Not bad considering what we've been up against. Staring at the plants does not make the fruit ripen any faster. I should probably write it all up in a scientific study and apply for a grant. I have the research. Yesterday, we ate our tomato in a breakfast burrito with some of those righteous rainbow eggs and extra Tabasco. Today, I may eat our tomato by myself in the yard. Like an apple.

Monday, August 4, 2008

goodwill loves me

I tackled the mess in the girls' room this morning. Tan Van has five (5!) garbage bags of "stuff" in it now waiting to be dropped off at Goodwill. Zoe tore every card in her Elmo UNO game into tiny little pieces and placed them (creatively) around the room. She also managed to sneak a graham cracker upstairs and crumble it into her sister's bed. That would explain the late night cries of "I ITCH! Mom! I ITCH!" Victoria has made a hobby of removing all of the shoe strings from her shoes and tying them together with toys and paper and lots of knots. She has the cutest pants on today. They have little draw strings all over them. She just tied her own knees together. In a knot. I offered to cut the bottoms of the legs of her pants off with scissors. She elected to sit down on the floor and resume watching her show.
The vent is still blocked. I've reached the limit of what I can do. It's going to take professional help. Which can't come until the kitchen sink is put back together and working. I can't have too many plumbers and ac guys around here. Wouldn't look good.
I put locks on the doors. Lots of locks. Locking out....locking in....locking so I can use the bathroom without wondering why I hear Zoe's little voice coming from the basement, where she is most likely attempting to bathe in the dehumidifier water. Zoe will only be home with me for another three years and two weeks. Then she's off to Kindergarten.
I am not engaging my children in mind developing or social activities today. They are watching Scooby Doo. With commercials. Quick call the police.
I am taking a break from putting away laundry and realizing that I have to go to the grocery store. We are out of parmesan cheese and the good kind of bread and anti-cholesterol butter (because even if it tastes like butter, it can still lower your cholesterol). The grocery getting trip can't wait another day. Whatever. Break is over.

But there's one more thing. Being a stay at home mom is hard. The pay isn't great. The respect isn't great. I like stay at home moms. There's absolutely no competition for perfection. None of us can do it. No matter what. It can not be done. So I vote we give up. In a few years, I'll probably go back to work. Maybe I'll have a job I'm good at. This....I kind of suck at. But it beats sticking my kids in the day time orphanage and trying to pretend like I don't have them so I can get a promotion. In the spirit of total and complete failure, I officially declare today "Give Up And Order Pizza Day." or "Give Up And Cook A Frozen Pizza Day."

Pizza. It's what's for dinner.

Friday, August 1, 2008

13 things in the a/c vent

It was so hot this morning at 4am that I had to use the windshield wipers to see where I was going. By 6, I felt like I had been running for days. Most days, delivering 100 papers before breakfast is just good exercise and the only real time I have to think. This morning, it was just humid. After the long drive back to Clear Lake yesterday afternoon to drop off Bastian, I'm feeling a little sore and dumb. This morning's heat just put the finishing touches on exhaustion. I walked through the tomatoes with my coffee this morning and forgot all about the first three hours of the day. The fruit is starting to get some color. So, the weather is bad for me, but good for the garden. I feel like I'm stalking the tomatoes. I check on them four times a day. We have a few green casualties sitting in the window sill from when we staked the plants last week. I look at them fifty times a day. I don't think it makes them turn red any faster.
My parents brought back three very beautiful ripe tomatoes from my grandparents' garden in Missouri. We ate the last one last night with blue potatoes and steak. The kids were all gone so I ended up feeling ambitious and starting a movie. An hour in, I gave up and went to bed. Colin took the papers for me yesterday morning so I wouldn't fall asleep with a car full of kids in the afternoon, so there was no argument from him. We get tired. Stupidly tired.
Bastian took a trunk full of loot to Minnesota with him. I finally gave up on a lot of things I'd been telling him he couldn't take. He's older now, though. I figure he can take care of his stuff. If he can't, he just won't have as much cool stuff.
I scooped the trash and rubble out of his room yesterday and am tackling the little girls' room today. There is a project in there that I'm dreading. The air conditioner vent is in the floor and isn't screwed down (brilliant!!!), so Zoe conducted an experiment where she removed the metal cover and dropped everything she could get her hands on that would fit in a 3" x 6" hole down the vent. So the vent is blocked and their bedroom door has to be open all of the time or it gets as hot as an oven in there. Her toys, a few shoes, and some clothes are all sitting at the bend about 12 feet from the hole in the floor. A broom handle with a wire hanger taped to it is not 12 feet long. I disassembled the tree trimmer and put a wire hanger on that. After retrieving a shoe, a plastic horse, the bottom of Zoe's swimming suit, and half a dozen stuffed animals, I gave up. Mostly because Tori was talking in my ear. "Mom! Mom! I DID not Do This! Mom! Mom! What's down there? Mom! Mom! Mom! Is Zoe in trouble? Will our house light on fire in the winter because all that stuff is down there? Mom! Will it? Mom! Are you getting it? Mom!" And on and on and on and on. All the while Zoe was sitting on the step crying loudly because she knew she was in some trouble for this stunt. I was so thankful when she got quiet that I didn't go and LOOK at her to see what she was doing. So, what was she doing? Spreading lotion all over my bedroom mirror and wall, of course. I've not had the gumption to tackle that situation again. The vent mocks me when I walk by. Today, I will conquer it. Or I will call a professional. I don't know which professional, but I will call one. Maybe a psychic could tell me if the chaos will ever subside. I probably don't want to know.