28 September 2010

Lessons from some Eggs and Cream


At my high school we had a Who's Who just like most other high schools -ours wasn't called that, because we were too snobby to call it what most call it... But anyway... Wittiest, Most Beautiful, etc. The senior class voted and nominated three or four girls and guys for each award - and then we voted again to pick from those three or four. You know how it works, right?

I was nominated for four things - Most Intellectual, Most Likely to Succeed, Most Versatile and Favorite. Well, as it probably is in most high schools, the other folks nominated for these things were mostly also great friends of mine. It was nice, because we got to laugh all the way through it - no pressure or hurt feelings or anything.

One of my very, very best friends (now the godmother to my only daughter) was nominated for Most Intellectual with me. And she's smarter than I am, and at least as intellectually curious, so I voted for her and rooted for her (and apparently the rest of the school did too, because she won...).

Another dear childhood friend of mine was nominated for Most Likely to Succeed. And I bet the other three of us nominated got five votes combined because, well, we all KNEW she was more likely to succeed than the rest of us. (Although, I'd challenge the definition of success we were all assuming...). But using the traditional version of success, well, she needed to win, and we were right - she's now in her anesthesia residency and married to a fellow anesthesiologist and just, well, the picture of 'success'.

But... well, I wanted to win Most Versatile. What a fun thing to be, right? Versatile? I wanted it. I can admit it now. I think I admitted it to a few then, but now I can loudly proclaim that's what I wanted (it has been a while...). But I lost. To a friend who was probably more versatile than I - she was an athlete after all. And an athlete I am not.

I got named a Favorite - which is great! And I'm in a Favorites picture with some of my favorites - including bee's other godparent and eason's godmother.

But...I always wish I had been Most Versatile. I was reminded of this adolescent disappointment last night while making supper.

Quiche.

The Most Versatile of dishes.

I should have taken lessons from some eggs and cream. Or joined the cross country team my senior year.

Quiche is an unsung hero in the culinary world. Clearly it is versatile in the time of day it can be served. What other food can be breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon snack, hors doeuvre, weeknight supper and midnight snack and never, ever be out of place? But, it is also versatile in what can be in it. Anything. You can make an anything quiche. Well, maybe not chocolate. But pretty much any veggie, meat or cheese, and the combinations are endless.

There are as many combinations of quiche fillings as there are ways to make shrimp according to Bubba. (Now I know I've referenced that recently.... =) ).

So, I'm here to encourage you to become a quiche maker.

Need a real lunch?
Inviting friends for brunch and mimosas on Saturday ('cause you should...)?
Have people coming in from out of town to spend the night and need a late night snack or an easy breakfast?
Want to feed your family a nutritious meal on a weeknight and clean out your fridge a little?
Morning baby shower?

You get the point - Quiche - it's the way to go.

So, here is the Quiche recipe I use.
Realistically, it's about 30 -35 minutes of active preparation and then 40 more minutes in the oven, but you can do so much in that 40 minutes, I don't really count it.
You could also get your toppings ready to go and all your ingredients out earlier in the day and feel like Martha Stewart putting all together. If you want to eat at 6:30, get out your food processor at 5:15.

For a 9x13. Can be halved for an 8x8 or a 9-inch pie plate, but it makes great leftovers.

Preheat oven to 375. Get out your food processor. Buy one if you don't have one. You know who you are...

(You can use any pastry - store bought pie crust or your favorite savory pastry recipe, but this is my favorite)

In the bowl of your food processor, put 1 1/2 cups of flour and a generous pinch of good salt. Whiz it around once. Take the top back off and take a stick of butter out of the fridge. Cut pieces off until you've cut the whole thing into the processor. Top back on. Whiz again, about a minute until it looks like oatmeal or small peas or some other sort of visual representation of butter-bound flour globs. Leaving top on, leaving it whizzing, spoon 3 T heavy cream into the spout thing. You'll all of a sudden have a ball of buttery dough. You'll want to eat it. Resist.

This is called Pat-in-the-pan dough - a recipe from Joy of Cooking, that I don't remember if I've changed at all. Anyway, pat it in the pan.... =) Take your fingers and just pat it into your 9x13. If you want to refrigerate it first for about 15 minutes, it'll be easier to pat. But I'm usually in a hurry and just fight with it.

Pop in oven for 13 minutes.

While pastry is cooking, do the following:

Wash bowl of food processor. Crack 4 eggs into it as well as a bonus egg yolk, reserving his white in a hand dandy ramekin off to the side. Whiz them about a bit. Add generous salt and pepper - probably 1 1/2 tsps salt and 3/4 tsps pepper, but again, just please grind it yourself.

Now, you have two options. You can be really bad or just sort of bad. You need 3 cups of milk/cream stuff. When I'm being really bad (so making for guests or a baby shower or something), I do 1 1/2 cups half and half and 1 1/2 cup cream. But, when I'm doing it for supper, like last night, I do 1 cup cream, 1 cup half and half, and 1 cup milk. You can tell a difference, but it's still great and not quite so bad for you.

Add your three cups of liquid goodness to the bowl of the food processor. Now, pulse it. If you turn it on and let it run, it will over flow the sides and that will be disappointing for you. Trust me. So, just pulse a few times. And leave it there.

When the crust gets done, remove from oven, brush it with the reserved egg white and set aside.

Now, for the filling. There isn't really a recipe, per say, but I will give you a list of options I use most often.

Sauteed onions
Chopped, fresh tomatoes
Cooked Broccoli
Cooked Spinach
Left over Roasted Chicken
Deli ham or turkey, chopped
Shredded swiss, cheddar, mozzarella
Fresh goat cheese, blue cheese, mozzarella
Rosemary, Basil from the garden

Last night, I did 1.5 cups cherry tomatoes cut in half, an onion sauteed, basil and 1 cup shredded mozzarella. You want about 3-4 cups of toppings. Honestly - unless I have meat I need to use up, I don't add meat. You are getting plenty of protein (and fat) from the eggs, cream, cheese.

Sprinkle fillings over the crust.

Pulse the food processor mixture one more time.

Pour over fillings/crust.

Put back in the oven for 40-42 minutes. =) At 30 minutes, check on it and see it if it needs a foil tent. It may be too brown on top, but not done in the middle. So.... tent it.

Serve with a giant green salad that you sweetly request your spouse make.

27 September 2010

Mama's Chicken 'Ladas



Some of the ingredients involved... =) in 'Ladas. That's what we call them around here.

The cookbook that was THE COOKBOOK when my mother was a young, married Jacksonian was called Southern Sideboards. A lot of the recipes in there are a bit outdated now, but many of them are classics, in the best sense of the word.

There is a recipe in there called Swiss Enchiladas.

I have racked my brain about why in the world it would be called that. I have come up with no answer. There is no Swiss cheese, and I don't think the Swiss traditionally eat dishes like this one.

But, Mama tinkered with it, made it better, and I may have tinkered a bit more.

It is not particularly healthy. But if you are going to make Chicken Enchiladas, why try to be healthy? =) It does forgo pasteurized cheese product (Velveeta) and any condensed cream soup, making me feel better about life.

Here we go:

Dice up a

Large Onion (smaller if you aren't an onion girl, but I am...)

In a pan, heat a glug of olive oil on medium until it's fragrant. (I've always wanted to say that..) Add onion. While onion begins to cook, mince (or just chop finely)

2 - 4 cloves garlic

Add to pan, saute until onion is soft. Add

2 4oz cans of chopped green chiles
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp Tobasco
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
(go to sams, buy a disposable, filled pepper grinder)
1 tsp good salt
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken.
(You can use left over roasted chicken, or poach your chicken, grill it, saute it, bake it. If starting with raw chicken, get about a pound.)

Let simmer the above while you do the following:

In a pyrex measure (some other non-plastic microwaveable container), pour

3 cups of half and half. I warned you...

Stick it in the microwave for 2 minutes.
Pull it out. Swirl it around a bit.
Stick it back in for 2 more minutes. Meanwhile, employ your three year old to peel

6 cubes of chicken bullion.

Break them up into the warm half and half. Stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve them. (Use that same wooden spoon you've been stirring your chicken tomato goodness with).

Now, grab

8 burrito sized tortillas or 10 soft taco size ones.


Fill each one with 1/8 or 1/10 of the chicken mixture. Roll them up. Place seam side down in a 9x13 baking dish. If you are not good at estimating how much of the mixture to put in each tortilla (like me), pour any extra chicken goodness over the top and spread around.

Now, back to the half and half. Stick it back in the microwave one more time for a minute this time. Give it another stir to make sure all the bullion is dissolved. Pour it, slowly, over the wrapped up tortillas, making sure it gets down in all the cracks.

Our saturated fat content is clearly not high enough at this point, so now take

2 cups of shredded Monterey Jack

and sprinkle over the top.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes.

Serve with big green salad, (Sister Schubert) rolls, and a bottle of red wine.


Some Things Never Change

Today, it is cool outside. Thank the Lord.

I actually exercised. I hate exercise.
Some Things Never Change.


I came home to kids swinging in the front yard, one in his underwear, Daddy passively watching, unaffected by immodest three year olds.
Some Things Never Change.


The children said, "It's freezing out here." This reminded me of them, in April, saying, "I'm burning up." I think these statements were said at the exact same temperatures.
Some Things Never Change.

I said, "Go get dressed, please."

Eason returned like this:

Date: September 27, 2010.

I thought to myself, "you are a funny child, but wait...not the first to have this 'mildly cooler than yesterday/dead of winter' confusion"


A strong feeling of deja vu washed over me.

Wait... Iphoto Library... Help Me.

I searched. I knew when I thought it probably occurred...

Around three years ago...

Good thing I 'organized' my photos into seasons...

[This is a good example of proper use of quotations to set something off as ironic - Next in On Grammar: Quotes are not coherently used to emphasize things... They are used to either quote people or set something off as ironic.... see I didn't really organize the photos...I just grouped them into three month spans and am relying on my memory to do the rest. Which is actually, shockingly, kind of working.]

Anyway.

I thought to myself, "Fall....when was the last Fall I had a three year old? Oh, Fall 2007.... Let's go there..."


And, for once this week, I'm validated as slightly competent and not crazy. =)

This is what I found:

And....
Date: September 29, 2007.


God is Good.
Children are Funny.

Some Things Never Change.

26 September 2010

Part 2 C: Home, School or Both, Oh My!

I've been writing about school - non-intentionality is NOT okay and some thoughts on pre-education -

All of this has been leading up to formal school (1st grade and up):

Private? Public? Parochial? Home?

Ada currently goes to school two days a week for 6 hours each day.

The other three days she's at home with me, doing school. We work for an average of 4 -5 hours each day here.

This is a lot of work for me. A whole lot. I'm exhausted. But... We think it's the best thing for us, for her, for now.

Why home?
  • I want to be at home, at least a large chunk of most every day, with my little people when they're little. I have lots of reasons for this, but this little ditty I'm writing is not about stay-at-home vs working mothering. I'm going to be home with Eason and Collins, so homeschooling Ada Brooks is not taking me from something I'd otherwise be doing.
  • I like teaching. I like teaching pretty much anything to any age (save science, which works out, since I'm marred to a science teacher), and
  • I think I'm decent at it. I like to sing This Old Man, can diagram sentences (and relish it a bit much...), do math up through Cal 2 (although would like to skip geometry...), can read about any history gaps I may have (my history education was, in a word, abysmal, but that's why God made Wikipedia...and Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World), and I love to read all types of literature and philosophy - from Amelia Bedelia to Vittgenstein. Wait, I hated that guy, but you get the point. My point is, a lot of people shouldn't homeschool either because they don't have the personalities/temperaments for it, or because, very sadly, the gaps in their own educations are big enough that a little outside help every now and then won't make up the difference: Illiterate people should not home-educate their kids.
  • Ada is easy to teach, and she and I get along for the most part. Some kids are particularly difficult to teach - by anyone. And some just are not motivated or have some other personality clash to be educated by their parents. If it is ruining your relationship or your child isn't learning jack, home education is not for you.
  • The schools in our area, public and private, have some pretty large problems. I know parents who successfully navigate those problems, but I also know ones who really don't. You might get a good teacher, but you might also get an awful one. They public schools are laden with not enough resources, terrifying teacher/student ratios, uninvolved parents, and a bureaucracy from hell. The private schools in our area have many of the same problems the public schools do - and while are 'better' in a lot of areas, they have the added problem of being prohibitively expensive. The school to which we would most likely want to send our kids starts at 10,000 dollars a year for kindergarten and goes up from there. Also, none of the elementary schools in a 15 mile radius from our house uses the classical method, which we really, really like.
  • In addition both types of schools, tend to be unable/unwilling to work with children who fall out of the 'typical' expectations - who need to advance in some areas and to have extra help in certain areas. The fact is that it is rare for children to progress at the same level in all subjects - and to expect 26 of them to progress at the same time, at the same level, in all subjects is the epitome of naivete and a prime example of the assembly line gone awry.
Example: Ada Brooks's handwriting is significantly behind her other subjects. This is normal, not that big of a deal, but if she's in public school, basically, she's 1 of 26 in a classroom and that means that her teacher is not going to say "oh - Ada - you are first grade age, and to stay remotely interested, you need to do third grade math, but write like a kindergartener on a good day, let's figure out how to mesh those." It ain't a gonna happen. But her mama can. I can say "Hey child of mine- Since you were bored out of your mind with the math we did last year, I'm going to get this math curriculum that is for a little bit older kids, but that means it's going to require writing of you that will frustrate you, so I'll make you a deal - if you'll have a happy attitude and you write the answers to the first half of the worksheet, you can dictate the answers to the second half and I'll write them for you."

  • Also, schools have to give pat answers to questions from children. Early childhood is full of questions. Lots of them. All schools have indoctrination. Whoever is teaching your child at a young age will be indoctrinating him or her. It's very comforting not to have to constantly guard ourselves on all sides against things we don't believe coming from outside sources- things too liberal, things too conservative, things too anti-intellectual, things too...well...everything.
Example: When Ada Brooks asks "Mama - why does this book say the world was created 6000 years ago and this one says these bones they found were from 100 million years ago?" I can actually explain what's going on there. Whereas her school teacher may be prohibited from answering (and AB may not remember to ask me later) or give an answer that is, in the best light, inadequate. As she gets older, this won't be nearly the issue that it is now, but now, it is an issue.


If home is so great, why even do the two days a week thing?

Because educating at home has some pitfalls (I see homeschooling parents successfully navigate these pitfalls, much like I see parents who send their kids to school successfully navigate those pitfalls, but I also see parents, well, not so successfully navigate):

  • Isolationism - Man is not made to be alone. Or only with our families... Kids need interactions. And they need to be with folks with whom they don't share DNA. This is not the traditional 'kids need socialization' argument against homeschooling. I don't worry that Ada Brooks isn't going to become awkward and not be able to talk to people, but what I do believe is that she's not always going to only interact with people who love her and understand her. She will, in life, have to abide by people's standards outside of her own mother's, and the sooner she gets used to that, the better.
  • Crazy parents - Homeschool parents sometimes go into crazy land because all they do is talk to little people. And parents who are brave enough, and outside the mainstream enough, to decide to homeschool in the first place are probably a little bit closer to crazy land already. (I can say this outloud since I'm a homeschooling parent...) Adults need adult interaction. And not just with one's spouse. And we need to feel un-alone in the educating of our children. Because we are not alone. In many ways, Hillary was right. It takes a village. (Or more accurately a church...=) ) This is not just denim jumper crazy land (although that's one brand)- I'm talking about a simple loss of identity. I am not only Ada Brooks's teacher, and having her go to school a couple of days a week helps me to remember that I am a wife, a friend, a hostess, a communing member of a church, a plain-ol' mama, a cook, and one day, just maybe, may be something where someone actually pays me... =)
  • Lack of accountability - you need someone, seriously, to say "Gosh - all of little Susie's peers know their multiplication tables, and little Susie doesn't - we need to do something about that..." If your child is never around other children or other educators, and thus never evaluated independently of you, you may not know if you are falling behind. Now, there are other ways than a 2 day a week school - a homeschooling mentor who will, by darn, tell you if your child is just not doing as well as she should - is a good example - or - if you are in Korea or West Texas and you cannot figure out a way to weave external accountability into your homeschool, get A Well Trained Mind - If you are keeping up with what they recommend trust me, you'll be fine. There are also these cool books called "What your (Kindergartener, First Grader, etc.) should know..." Buy them and be honest with yourself and your spouse about where your child is. Now, schools, again, tend to go too far the other way and de-personalize this. They often try to push ahead or hold back kids because they are ticking off a list of things a child should or should not know. And that's short sighted. But so is not having any standards at all. Balance. Moderation. Wisdom.
  • Eaten up with worry (the other side of the lack-of-accountability coin)- you could be like me and need encouraging people who have experience in these areas to tell you to quit worrying that Ada Brooks's handwriting is not progressing - that it's normal. How do they know it's normal? Because they see other kids being educated.... If you go at it completely alone, well, how do you know what's normal?


Now, I was so, so, so super-serious when I said for us, for her, for now. If I could, I'd add some more superlatives in there. This is not the only way to go. I have dear, dear, dear friends - in Jackson and the surrounding area - and some far away- friends who I love and, more importantly in this discussion, respect, who are currently choosing different education paths for their children. And they are doing an awesome job at it.

Believe it. My way, nor any other way, is the only better way to educate. Really.

Some are devotedly taking those little people to school every day, packing lunches every day (which may keep me from ever enrolling my kids full time in school), dutifully asking questions and genuinely being interested in their days, working on homework, holding the school accountable, figuring out ways to challenge/offer extra help in areas that their kids are either ahead or behind, and on and on and on. And some are at home full time with theirs - seeking out accountability and reassurance from wise, seasoned parents in their community as well as the plethora of great literature on education, avoiding crazy-land, and finding ways for their kids to get some of that good time with non-family members.



Education is a means to an end. When it becomes an end in and of itself, children suffer. There are better and worse ways to educate kids - but if they are successfully being educated to be good, knowledgeable folks, then you shouldn't care how, really. You should find the best way to do that, and go for it - wholeheartedly and with much prayer and laughter.

We are doing what we think is best. We could be wrong.

In no other area, save perhaps religious beliefs, is charity more important. We all must work hard to quell the insecurity in our hearts and the pride in our speech.

25 September 2010

Food

Friday - Some dear friends called us last week and asked if they could take us to dinner. Isn't that sweet? We went to Amerigo - for which I have much nostalgia - and I had yummy goat cheese penne with roasted tomatoes and bell peppers with grilled shrimp. Paul had spaghetti and a jumbo meat ball - why? Because if he's at an italian eating establishment, that's what he gets. Always.

Saturday: I know I've been dinner partying it a lot lately. I try to have one dinner party a month - and this month I had my friend Rache in from out of town, so I had an extra. I may take off October. Or maybe not - I love a good dinner party.

Here's a tip - you do the food, delegate the wine - it makes your cost plummet and your guests get to contribute, which they really want to do, I promise.
So, tonight we're having, in order: Roasted Herbed Shrimp, Crunchy Romaine Salad, Charleston She-Crab Soup, Lemon Rosemary Sorbet, Blue Cheese Crusted Filets with Port Reduction Sauce, Smashed Taters, Glazed Carrots (If I have time - a plate with just taters and meat seems a bit colorless), Creme Brulee.

It seems like a lot of food, but each portion will be tiny, which makes all people happy, trust me. And yes, I have shopped sales and was actually gifted some crabmeat, so although it looks like it's expensive, it's really not. And I'm only doing it for six of us. And I'm pumped. =)

And I get to use a torch. Always a plus.

Some people play golf, some paint, and some sew; I cook.

Sunday Supper: Chicken Enchiladas - my mother's old recipe, because it's the best I've found.
Monday Supper: Veggie Quiche, Sauteed Cabbage.
Tuesday Supper: Tomato Tart, Cole Slaw - my mother's requests that I bring to her house.
Wednesday Supper: Church.
Thursday: Chicken Romano - our favorite red sauce pasta dish.

20 September 2010

Part 2 B: Early Childhood - Or how we talk about bananas



Education doesn't start in first grade, obviously. Much is made of what is called "early childhood education" - one can even get a degree in it, these days, I'm pretty sure.

But, like with cooking, and well, most things, the best education is had by experience.

Ada Brooks was in some sort of daycare/mothers morning out/preschool from the age of 6 weeks until the age of 4.9 years - always about from 15 - 20 hours a week. This was based on me being in school and/or working - not based on her needing to be there.

[And both of my boys are now in preschool/mothers morning out 9 hours a week, again, so I can work.]

I think those places taught her a couple of things - As a first child, she was able to go ahead and learn how to be one of many - sharing, waiting for turns, etc. They taught her how to play well and how to walk in a straight line.

[Which is not tongue in cheek - children need to know how to walk in a straight line. Not because lines matter, but because for the rest of their lives, there are going to be arbitrary rules that they need to follow, not buck. Rule followers with independent spirits and minds - a very, very hard balance to encourage in a child.

And a hard balance to find as an adult. =)]

Other than that, though... No one but Paul and me (with lots of help from the myriad of grandparents/godparents in ada's life) taught her to count, her colors, her letters and phonics. Why? Well, because most early childhood learning places aren't focused on that, and I would argue, shouldn't be. If you send your child to preschool, think of it as fun playtime, perhaps some craftiness that you wouldn't do at home. But please don't rely on them to teach your children jack.

Any profitable 'instruction' little people get will be one-on-one. One on ten won't work - really.

I promise. I've been on both ends.

Eason and Collins are little.

Collins is really little.

The way you educate 1 year olds is that you talk to them like they can understand you and read them a lot of little picture books. When my kids are 1, I'm saying a lot of things like: "Collins - can you say banana? There is one banana. It is yellow. This orange over here is orange. Isn't that funny? It is the same color as its name?"

When your one year old points at the banana and says, "buh", you don't ignore him, and you don't mimic him. You say, "Collins -that's right - that's a banana!" You get enthusiastic without reinforcing the mistake. Not that one year olds are supposed to say 'banana' perfectly, but that you are constantly encouraging correct verbal development.

Unless your four year old little girl says narble instead of marble and then you just make the decision to keep up that charade as long as you can.

And you are letting them know that what they say matters, and that they are being listened to.

But the biggest part of dealing with a 15 month old is obedience. You are trying to get him to learn to obey, so that when he's five, you don't have to worry about obedience, you can worry about phonics. That is the correct order of things. It was a lesson I learned a bit later than I ideally should have, but one I thankfully was taught.
Obedience comes before academics. Get obedience out of the way, so to speak, in the early years.


And then they get older. And the way I talk about bananas changes.

Eason is not quite as little as Collins - right now, he can recognize (and converse quite enthusiastically about) all of his colors, most of his numbers to 10 and about half of his letters. He can write his name, and add very basic things - 1 apple plus 2 apples.

By Christmas, I'd like him to be able to recognize all of his letters, but there is no formal process - just three or so days a week, I get out a white board and say "hey - you what is this?" and if he gets it right, say "good" and if he gets it wrong say "Eas - that's a B, not an M - you know that - B for...banana..."
This process never lasts more than 8 minutes.
He's little.
And bouncy.

And this process should cause neither of us stress. At all. If it does, we do not do it. Or more likely change the way we do it. He's little. Can I say that again? little

again?
little

all together now?
little

I read to him a lot, and sometimes he listens when I do more formal stuff with Ada Brooks, but I never require that of him.

And we talk about bananas.

I say "Eas - how many bananas are in this bunch? Count them. Three, good! and how many in this bunch? two, that's right. So how many do we have all together? We don't know? Let's count and find out. Five - awesome! hey eas - what does banana start with? think about it. sound it out. it's a b."

This work with Eason is just based on his personality and where he is developmentally/knowledge-wise. Some kids know all their letters at 18 months, but kids don't have to know all their letters by the time they turn 4. Or 5. But the vast majority can do it, so why not? Unless it causes stress, like I said, and then, really, it's not a big deal.

My point is to give a picture of what I'd call "pre-education" around here - it involves a saturation with words, books, communication and a little bit of real-life math (counting bananas...).

And discipline. Really. The first grade teacher, whether that's at school or home or both, does not need to be trying to teach obedience....

Other than that, relax. Really.
Maybe I'm too relaxed... =)

Then comes Kindergarten. Some folks are opposed to Kindergarten. I'm not, but I could always be wrong.

Doing Kindergarten correctly, in my humble opinion =), means treating it as an in between year - after pre-education, but before formal education. I taught Ada Brooks Kindergarten at home last year - which involved about 1/1/2 - 2 hours of school a day, three to four days a week. Plus she went to Jackson Classical, a two day a week enrichment program for five hours each day.

It's not a lot. My goals for the year were to have ada brooks fluently reading and comprehending what she reads, knowing her math addition and subtraction facts for numbers up to 10 (9 + 7 =16). I didn't invent these goals. I called a bunch of area schools, when were deciding whether to teach her at home or enroll her in school, and found out what they do in Kindergarten: Phonics instruction and basic math instruction.

Why do kindergarten? It gives your child a year to 'prepare' for big school - to get used to completing work, learning in a more structured environment, etc.

Why hesitate about stringent kindergarten: Most kids, especially boys, are not ready to sit in a desk for four hours at the ripe old age of five. They are still bouncy, and forcing their attention spans to be exhausted will frustrate them.

The main goal of kindergarten is to create someone ready to read and loving to learn.

These days, I'm still talking bananas with ada brooks, but it goes more like this "Ada - read that banana muffin recipe to me - I only have a 1/2 tsp measuring spoon clean, but I need 2 tsps of baking powder - how many 1/2 tsps do I need? Four! Awesome! How many tsps would I have if I only had three of these 1/2 tsps? 1 1/2 ! Exactly! Now, can you spell banana?"

Now, if you aren't able to be laid back about bananas or need accountability or want guidance about age appropriate activities for teaching your child (all of which I COMPLETELY sympathize with!), buy this book. It's great.

Slow and Steady, Get me Ready:




It's great - and a great baby present as well. I've never used it rigidly, but it has some great ideas, and gives you an idea of age-appropriate developmental exercises. (Although, be careful, Ada Brooks read at four and tied her shoes at almost six; Eason will be the exact opposite... development is not uniform.....)

[My dear darling husband taught high school physical science and AP physics for a year here in Jackson. He had students who were pregnant and had babies while they had him as a teacher. He found used copies of this book for each of them. Does that make you want to cry? It should. He's the sweetest.]

So, to sum up:

Early childhood is uber-important, but structuring it, in my experience, is uber-nonproductive for the most part. Preschool programs are great - as long as view them for what they are - getting our child outside of his home-bubble, creating a good space for play time, making cute crafts, and time for Mama to recover her sanity (or work/school, etc.).
Talk, listen, ask questions of your children. By the time they get to kindergarten, they'll be just perfectly prepared for everything.

The key, I think, is to be intentional, without creating rules for yourself that will just frustrate everyone in the equation.

But, I could be wrong about it all...
No, really.

19 September 2010

Part 2 A: What is essential? (Because it's going to take quite a few parts).


In all things charity, right? Please read that before you read this. Purty please.

In the referenced post, I talked about a quote that has been helping me lately. "In necessarriis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibiis, charitas," and I'll continue using that framework here.


What is the point of saying "in the essentials, unity?" Well, in a theological sense, it is how the church says who is 'okay' and who is stepping outside the bounds of 'okay' - and in an education sense, we can do that as well. Inside the bounds of okay, we can talk about what paths are better generally, and better for each family, but the first step is to cull, if you will, down to what is allowed. And yes, there are things, educationally, that are not allowed.

Okay, with that framework in mind, here we go.

In necessarriis, unitas:

What are the essentials of educating our kids?

Well, the first is that we want to educate them intentionally. That may sound obvious, but there are those that want to/do take a very non-intentional path to educating their children. There are two biggest categories of these folks:

1 - Unschoolers. This is a homeschooling movement that believes that when a child is ready to learn something, he or she will come to you and you will teach it to them. Also, they would rightly point out that children learn a lot more things just by 'soaking them up' than we give them credit for doing. But, the conclusion from these observations goes awry. Rather than intentionally teaching one's child to read, the child will learn it the same way he or she learned to walk/talk - just by mimicking,trying and failing, etc. If a child is not interested in the periodic chart, well, oh well.
Why schooling is essential? Well, because if you have a child like my middle child, he would choose to never, ever learn anything academic, and if I let him make those decisions while he is yet undeveloped and unreliable, that is doing him a criminal disservice. It's like letting a child decide what he or she should eat. Some will choose a balanced meal of a green veggie, a fresh fruit, some carbs and some protein, but others would go with pop tarts. At every turn.


2 - The apathetic schooling parents. The second is the much more common of these two categories - These folks have often times never thought about school. They have not said, "huh - wonder what I want Bobby to know? Wonder what is the best path to that?" They have not thought about it and decided against schooling, like the unschoolers, they just haven't thought about it at all.

How does the traditional Anglican confession go? "things done and things left undone." This is a thing left undone, folks. You have a little person. You are responsible for requiring him to eat green things, keeping him clean, taking him to the doctor when he runs a temp of 103 for four days, strapping him in his seat belt, training him not to hit, and making sure he has read, comprehended and written an essay or two about Lord of the Flies by the time he leaves your house.

These apathetic parents tend to think that the first five categories - nourishment, general well-being, health, safety, character are absolutely in their purview. But the sixth - education - is somehow someone else's job.

It ain't.

It is just as much your job as the feeding of the little person is your job.

Let's all say that together - you have just as much a responsibility to educate to the best of your ability as you do to feed to the best of your ability.

So, if you are not actively educating - By being very, very involved in the picking of the school and monitoring of the job the school is doing or by homeschooling - either out of conviction or out of apathy- then that is not 'okay' -


The second essential thing - other than intentionality - is striving for the good. Nazis very, very intentionally educated their children. As do Mormon cults these days (Think the compound on Big Love). Intentionality can be evil. So, you have to be striving for the good. You cannot intentionally teach your daughters that marriage to The Prophet at 13 years of age is the way to go - just like you cannot instill racism and still be okay.

So, basically, if you are intentionally educating your children within a value system that is okay, then you are okay. And yes, I realize that that is a really vague principle, but this post is not about value systems, it's about education, and my point is that education is not acceptable if it's done apathetically with evil purposes in mind - ie racist, child-polygamist, terrorist, etc.


Those are the essentials. The things about which I'm comfortable saying "you are NOT acceptable" if you are not doing them.

Which leaves a hell of a lot up to liberty. Which is good. Saint Paul tells us over and over again in the NT that if we want to rely on rules it is because we won't grow up. We want to stay children. We want rules. Grown ups are able to say "huh - that's an interesting difference..."

So, within the intentional good, people, the rest should be left up to liberty.

But that doesn't mean we don't recommend. And instruct. And persuade. Because there is always the better. What do you want for Susie? The mediocre? The fine? or the better?

(I'd like to add caution here. Don't go after the best. It will be a never ending quest. We are standing on the shoulders of giants - our kids will hopefully have better educations than we got, and their kids better than what we are giving our kids. So, get over doing it perfectly, the best way, and just figure out a good way - a better way. This something I have to preach to myself about once an hour.)

So, that leaves open a WHOLE HOST of education options: Public, Private, Parochial, Communal, Home, as well as philosophies - German/American, Classical, Unit Study, Charlotte Mason, etc.

And some are better than others.

So, now our job is do decide what is the better.

In more than one post. Because I'm positive you're tired of reading, and I have a whole host of things to accomplish today, not the least of which is educating these urchins around here.

18 September 2010

Food

This picture has nothing to do with the following post, except that I could just eat him up.


[Notice the handy-dandy bolding, which allows you to skip my running stream-of-consciousness narration and just see what we're eating]


Friday:
We had some of our favorite friends over for Lasagna and Caesar Salad and French Bread and Chocolate Caramel Cake. I think it's kind of ridiculous to make lasagna and not share. I mean - it's a lot of food. It's a recipe I've changed up a bit (think i'll leave one alone one day?) out of River Road, which is the Baton Rouge, LA junior league cookbook and is legendary. The cookbook, not the lasagna, although we love love love the lasagna - it's the best traditional tomato sauce, beef and cheese lasagna I've had.

[Do you watch how i met your mother? Neil Patrick Harris plays Barney, and he says "Legen....wait for it...wait.... dary" and it's ridiculously funny]

Saturday: I'm roasting chickens. Daddy and his gf, Carrie, are, last minute, coming. She's a vegetarian, so I'm also doing risotto, homemade bread, and an oven fries recipe in this month's southern living, and a big green salad. She'll get enough calories with the overload of carbs, I believe. Carrie's bringing dessert.

Sunday: Going to Daddy's cabin with a few friends and having Hamburgers on the grill! Baked Beans! French Fries! (This is what we had EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY NIGHT while i was growing up. I think it's probably a tradition I should try to replicate better... But it's not very good for you, not very easy (hand-fried french fries are a chore...), and not as cheap as bean burritos...)

Monday: I have a sweet, darling friend's baby shower supper at Julep, where I will most likely order a fish burrito, but cannot promise anything at this juncture. I'm making bean burritos for the rest of the crew before I'll leave. Burritos all around!
Tuesday: Tomato Tart. Fresh Green Beans. Salad.

Wednesday: We are not eating at church this week because pretty much our favorite people in the world (actually, we are blessed with a lot of favorite people), Eason's godfather, Jacob, and his girlfriend, Kristen, are coming. We had supper with this dear man almost every Sunday night for four years while he was in medical school here in Jackson. His mama wasn't here to feed him, and so I started feeding him - we talked theology and/or watched movies. And now he's in Charleston, SC, doing a residency. He has this week off. His girlfriend still lives here (which works out well for his priorities when visiting), and so he's bopping to Jackson, which thrills all five Forster souls. Well, I don't think Collins much cares, but the rest of us, well, we're jumping for joy.
So, after church, we're feasting with them and our other Sunday Supper friends, Calen and Will, who also miss Jacob and Kristen, and who without their presence, Sundays would have all of a sudden become miserable when Jacob abandoned us for Charleston.

Shrimp and potato porridge (Jacob's and Paul's and one of my favorites) and Steak on the grill. I guess I'll make a salad, but Jacob won't prefer me to put anything on it besides lettuce and italian dressing, so.... (we obviously don't love him for his discriminating culinary taste).

Thursday: Chicken Salad, made with leftover roasted chicken and homemade mayo, grapes and almonds, Monterrey Jack Salsa with Tortilla chips, Wheat Thins, Chocolate Chess Squares, all transported to a quilt to hear the Jackson Symphony play in our neighborhood. People say fondren dwellers are snobby. Well, does the symphony play in your neighborhood one Thursday every fall?

I'm just kidding. Sort of.


Busy week - both culinarily and socially - but I like life like that, so that works out. =)

Eat Well, Do Good Work, Keep In Touch.

(copyright infringement much?)

16 September 2010

Pear Tart


I'm obsessed with Pears.

Have you noticed?

I also gained possession of a tart pan recently.
With which I'm obsessed.

Lots of obsession going on.

So, I decided I would make a Pear Tart.

Well, that was harder than I imagined. I flipped through my 12 favorite cookbooks. I do not exaggerate. I could not find a recipe for a Pear Tart. Even my delighful Joy of Cooking failed me. Well, there was a recipe for apple tartlets for which you could substitute pears, it said, but still...

Anyway, so I went to google. And facebook. Well, a friend on facebook suggested I use Julia Child's apple tart recipe. And google led me straight to the number one rated pear tart recipe on Food Network, one by Ellie Krieger.

So, I combined the two, and tinkered/added a few things that sounded yummily to me.

Julia's Apple Tart recipe, here.
Ellie's Pear Tart recipe, here.

I didn't just use Ellie's recipe because, well, I don't believe in healthy desserts. I believe in healthy muffins, bread, salad dressing, pasta -

But dessert? Just skip it if you are watching your calores... =) But, I recognize that I'm not as big a dessert fan as the next guy, so I recognize that Ellie has a place.

But I wasn't interested in her whole wheat tart crust -

AND, i really like a sweet crust on a sweet dessert. Savory pie crusts for savory pies. It just makes order in the world - and more importantly, it tastes better.

So, here's what I did:

In a mixing bowl, I placed
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 5 Tbsps granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder

Then I cut in, with a pastry cutter,
  • 7 Tbsps chilled butter, cut up

(Yes, I probably could have used a food processor, but I was listening to Ada Brooks read out loud and pastry cutting in was just the level of manual distraction I needed).

Then, with a fork, I incorporated
  • 1 large egg, which had been beaten together with
  • 1 tsp water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp almond (Why? Because Pears and Almond go together like a horse and carriage)

The pastry came together in a ball. I wrapped it in Saran, mashed it into a disk, and put it into the fridge for not long enough. You probably need 45 minutes. I had 15 minutes in, 15 minutes in the car on the way to my moms for it to come right back to room temp, and 20 minutes in the fridge once I got there. Learn from my mistakes.

Then, for the filling, I peeled and sliced thinly
  • 3 medium pears, of medium ripeness.
In a bowl, I tossed said pears with

  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 1 1/2 Tbsps Corn Starch
  • 4 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp almond


(Always use real flavoring. If you think it's too expensive, call me, I'll run to sams and buy you enough real vanilla to last you six months of daily baking. And all other extracts are so rarely used, just make the investment. Trust me.)


Then, roll out your tart crust to about a ten inch circle. (I didn't even use my new tart pan). You'll need to flour your rolling pin and do it on a floured surface. This is when chilled dough comes in. If it's not chilled enough, you, like me, will be trying not to cuss in front of your mother.

Put the rolled out crust onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. (someone, please explain to me if wax paper is interchangeable with parchment and why or why not - will wax really get on your food? and if wax paper is just parchment paper coated in wax, why does wax paper cost a fraction of parchment paper...)

Mound your pear mixture in the middle of your crust, leaving a 2 inch border all the way around. Flip that 2 inch border up on top of your pears, it will cover the outside fifth of the tart.

Pop it into an oven which you have preheated to 450. Set timer for 15 minutes. Without removing tart, turn oven down to 350. Set timer for 15 more minutes. Should be nicely golden, but if not, give it another 5-10.

You could do a glaze - either honey or apricot - but I chose to leave it alone. The almond, cinnamon and pears didn't need another flavor with which to compete and I didn't need another thing to do. My feet already hurt.

All the time.


Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream or nothing at all and at room temperature or, like I did, when I realized that I had transported all of my vanilla ice cream to my mother's house, just pop on some chocolate.

Because we all know that pears and chocolate taste good together.

(It was better the night before with vanilla ice cream...)

School, Church and Being Wrong - Part 1




I write about a lot of things - food, family, discipline, potty training, memory work.

But, I don't get emails from folks asking me about most of them. The two things people ask me about most are our education decisions for the children and our church decisions for our family.

I dance around them a lot, and have written more explicitly about school in the past. See this post, and really all of the posts from October of 2009.

But, I still get these questions, so I thought it might be time for another rundown on school and an initial rundown on church. But, first, some general principles.

People ask about church and school - mainly out of curiosity, but as soon as you start talking about church and school, almost everyone becomes defensive. Church is always a very personal, dear-to-our-hearts, decision (assuming it has been a decision and not a default, and even then, the power of nostalgia can stir up quite the pride or insecurity, which are, of course, the same thing). And for parents of young-ish children (or even those who have ever been parents of young ish children), how we educate our little people is also very, very dear.

People do different things; it is a fact of life. And we don't like that. There are those that celebrate diversity, but as soon as you say you don't really care very much about diversity, they don't like you to be that diverse. Rare is the truly 'tolerant' among us.

Why? Because we don't like to be wrong. And as soon as we admit that someone else does it differently, and that could be okay, that means that we could be wrong. And that gives us this icky feeling all over. It's human nature.

And it's something we should figure out how to combat.

Our pastor, Steven Wedgeworth, has used two quotes in sermons recently that I thought would be useful in this conversation.

Do you remember Oliver Cromwell. Yes, he was one of those English dudes, but do you remember the context? I don't pretend to know all of the details, but, basically, O.C. is post-reformation, but believes that the anglocatholic tendencies of the Church of England are still heretical. He's a committed puritan, and when he rises to power in England, he puts those beliefs into political practice. He is loved by Roman Catholics about as much as Americans loved Nixon in the late 1970s. So yeah: Satan, Judas, Hitler, Oliver Cromwell.

He's going around, politically and at times violently, trying to quash any form of Roman Catholocism and, additionally, monarchical tendencies. He, after invading Ireland not very calmly, quite calmly, invaded Scotland to urge them to deny the succession of Charles II. They were very sure that Charles should be King. Oliver was very sure that Charles II should not be King.

And so Oliver wrote to the Scottish assembly: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

Stop. For just a second. Think. For just a minute. Could you be wrong? About church? About school? About a whole host of things?

We tend to be willing to admit that we could be wrong about the little things - the way we do laundry, the way we take care of our cars. Well, some of us are able to admit potential mistakes in those areas.

But when is the last time, in a discussion about church or education, even in your head, you said, "You know - I could be wrong."

And meant it.

So, before I go any further. Know that I actually, most of the time, think that I could be wrong. I don't think I am wrong, because if you think you are wrong, then you should probably do something differently. But, I try, at each juncture, to entertain the possibility that I am wrong.

There are also different forms of right and wrong.

One traditional response to the question of right and wrong - not just moral right and wrong, but right education, right church, right food, right art - is to deny that there can be more than one right - to deny that there is any subjective nature to the right.

Another response is to deny that there can be any wrong. Or at least marginalize the wrong to such a degree that it's irrelevant (Yes, nazi-ism is wrong, beastiality is wrong, but beyond that we cannot say much....).

These are dangerous ditches.
As another favorite preacher of mine teaches me all the time, we are called to avoid the ditches.

In reacting to the wrongness of one ditch, we cannot fall into the other.

Which is of course what the those folks responding that way are doing - falling into an unfortunate ditch.

One is saying, with enough contempt to power the Titanic, that, "Heavens, the world is going to hell in a handbasket and if we don't take a stand on right and wrong then it's all going to fall down around us, so, dammit, everyone should know that voting republican, watching fox news, and being a evangelical, democracy-loving American is the only way to go. Oh, and if you like modern art, classical music, anything european, or don't want to make this current war out to be just, you're probably a liberal, hippie, heretic in disguise."

And the other says, quite patronizingly,
"These sad, repressed people - don't they know that everybody has a different life experience and a different perspective, and that Muslims who are praying to Allah are just expressing their cultural understanding of the same God to whom we pray? We just all need to tolerate all of these differences. Oh, and if you vote republican or are a stay at home mom or don't like public school or are pro-life, then you're probably a racist, rightwinged nut who shouldn't be allowed to raise your own children."

Well, these are obviously ditches. I'm not exaggerating. That's what the talking heads on both sides believe and preach. And if you don't think it's preaching, you haven't been listening.

So, what is the middle way as we approach schooling and churching ourselves and our families? What is the right attitude as we enter into a profitable, interesting discussion?

Well, in my opinion, the right way is to recognize a few things:

1 - Like Mr. Cromwell, said, we could all, every one of us, get to heaven and discover that we had it wrong the whole time. And often, it won't take until we get to heaven. We are daily humbled, and should be, when we realize that we often miss the mark - sometimes slightly - sometimes off by a mile. And we actually miss the mark because we weren't even aiming in the right direction. If we can be off about so many things, certainly we can be wrong about education. This does not mean we go around doubting - I mean, my heavens, I am super-duper confident that the way we are educating Ada Brooks is the right way to go for us, and probably for a lot of other people, too. But, in any conversation I have with people, if I don't keep ever-present the idea that I might be wrong, then I turn into a prideful, unpleasant person.

2 - There are multiple right ways. I know. Gasp. Horrors. But it's true. Some children shouldn't be homeschooled. Some children shouldn't be in school. Which means that for some what is right, is absolutely wrong for others. Some people hate contemporary, substanceless worship, others hate stodgy old-timey worship. We can talk about the better, but in that situation, we cannot talk about the wrong. Which brings me to point 3.

3 - There is a difference between right vs. wrong and better vs. worse. There are wrong ways to do church, certainly, but within the non-wrong, there are also just worse ways to do it. And that better or worse can be subjective. It isn't always subjective, but often times it is. Better church in Jackson, MS looks different and should look different than better church in Hong Kong.

I think this can all be summed up with the other quote that Pastor Wedgeworth recently used in a sermon. This one is in Latin, so that makes it inherently better...

"In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas." - Rupertus Meldenius, a lutheran educator who, in this context, was urging a slew of contending theological parties to be a peaceful people.

In necessities, unity, in non-essentials (dubiis- doubtful things) liberty, and in all things charity.

The liberal/conservative ditches seem to be confused about the essentials. To the folks in that left hand ditch, I would say there are some essentials and to the ones who fell off the right side of the road, I would say that we should be careful how many things we put into the category of essential.

And to us all, I would urge, with Meldenius, all things charity. It has, since Wedge's recent sermon, become our household motto. Don't know that it's working, but we are certainly all preaching it to one another...

This may all seem tangential, but before I write Parts 2 & 3 on School and Church respectively, we have to have a good framework from which to work. How do we think about this stuff?

Unity on the super-important stuff, Liberty on the rest, and Charity in All.

All.

13 September 2010

Food.

So, half of this we've already eaten, but kiss my tail.

Friday: I went to Basil's in Belhaven for my dearest friend's birthday celebration; I ordered, of all things, a meatball panini. I was clearly channeling my dearest darling husband, who was off at a friend's lake house with the kids. Who knows what they were eating... but the sweet friends were feeding them, so that's all that matters. Meatballs, especially on sandwiches, are his fave. They are not my fave, but the fresh basil and the fresh mozzarella just got me in the end, so yes, I had a meatball panini. No judgment. It ain't Christian.

Saturday: Red Beans and Rice with andouille. We were supposed to have this on Thursday night, but it was a GWSTB night.... This is an example of putting your least fresh ingredients items at the end of the week, so if you need to roll them over, then you can. So, red beans, rice and andouille do not go bad in a week. In fact, red beans and the rice might last a few years. The andouille, well....

Sunday: Second Sunday Lunch: I made a Pork Loin, a big pan of super yummy (if I do say so myself) garlic mashed taters, and Footprint cake...

Sunday Supper: Grilled chicken (Joy of Cooking Becker Chicken Marinade - do it - you won't be sorry you did), Fettucine Alfredo, Tomato Tart and a lovely Caesar Salad provided by sweet friend.

Monday: We're having my mother's recipe for Taco Salad - it is vegetarian and involves nacho cheese doritos. I heart it.

Tuesday: My mother is hosting us for supper and I hear we're having spaghetti. I'm going to contribute a pear tart to the meal. For which I haven't yet formulated a recipe, but darnit, that's what we're having for dessert. I'm on a pear kick, which is obvious.

Wednesday: Church - for which its my week to make the bbq pork.

Thursday: Spicy Tomato soup, big salad, yummy homemade bread paninis.

12 September 2010

pitter patter




You know that universal (or maybe I just think it's universal because my children go to the preschool that I went to...) craft that children do when they're little?

They make a handprint- either painted or in plaster or something - and then attached to the handprint somehow is the poem that goes:

Sometimes you get discouraged
Because I am so small
And always leave my fingerprints
On furniture and walls.
I’ll be grown some day
And all those tiny handprints
Will surely fade away.
So here’s a little handprint
Just so you can recall
Exactly how my fingers looked
When I was very small.

Or some variation on the same.

You know... it's so cute.

And it really is - I love handprints - It may be one of those things that you don't quite understand unless you have kiddos you're really close to, but I can actually tell whose hand is whose. And they represent so much. One little messy climber hand, one little person who imagines herself dainty, one little fat hand that points at everything...

Well, on the flipside, you have footprints. They are darling when they are babies - their little fat feet. But, by the time they're two ish - those feet are just kind of stinky and you don't really want them on you... the only cuteness is the little pitterpatter they make coming down the hall...

especially on Christmas morning.. =)

But, for the most part, I'm not too nostalgic about feet and their prints.

But maybe that will change.

On the second Sunday of each month, our church has a potluck meal after Church. Everyone brings a dish or three and we all feast together. The only thing missing is the wine.

That gives me an idear... =)

Anyway, today was the day for that fellowship meal. I made this chocolatepuddingpearcake inspired by a Nigella Lawson recipe in what I think is my favorite book of hers, Nigella Express.

I love pears. I could wax rhapsodic for hours about pears. I feel about pears like Bubba Gump does about shrimp...

I also feel like I've said that somewhere else before - the bubba gump thing.

So, when I see a recipe that calls for pears, I almost always have to try it.

In fact, one of my favorite soups is a Roasted Red Bell Pepper soup....and it has pears in it. And you get this awesome hint of pearness....and sing hallelujahs.

Anyway, so I made this cake. And it was kind of gorgeous. A lot of cakes aren't that pretty - and they don't have to be. But this was in a bunt pan and topped with all of these beautiful pears and drizzled with chocolate sauce.

I was borderline too proud. I almost took a picture....

And then I gingerly spread a double layer of aluminum foil on top of it.

And put it in the van to go to church.

On the floorboard.

And we got to church.

And Eason unstrapped.

[And if you don't see where this is going, well, you need to brush up on foreshadowing as a literary device.]

And he got all excited about being at church, and hopped out of the car.

Placing his left, sandled, dirty-despite-having-been-showered-less-than-an-hour-before-hand, stinky, pitter pattering foot directly in the middle of my pride-inducing cake.

God was with us and the foil didn't break, so my frustration and annoyance gave way to laughter almost immediately. If the foil had broken, well, worship might have been difficult.

And all of the people at church, especially moms of little boys, laughed a lot. A whole lot.

And one sweet, wise woman said, "Ann Lowrey - if you don't have a name for your cake yet, I believe you do now..."

And so here you go -




Footprint Cake


Two hours before you want to make the cake remove from the fridge your eggs and butter. You can go ahead and put the butter into the bowl of the food processor and let it do its softening there - it's easier to unwrap cold butter than it is soft butter.

Also, if you have a gas stove, put your eggs under one of the eye covers (heavens - don't accidentally turn it on) - this is the best way to keep them from rolling off your counter and causing curse word temptation. Nothing like an egg rolling onto the floor to get me to mutter four letters. or twelve.

[There are many old cooking adages at which I roll my eyes. Room temperature ingredients for baking is not one of them. Do it. I know it requires forethought, but cooking without forethought is more expensive and less yummy anyway, so just think about it before and get your eggs out... Just do it. Think Nike.]

Anyway...

Preheat Oven to 350.
Grease and flour (read: Spray with baker's joy) a bundt pan. Place in the bottom:

  • 1 28 ounce can pear slices, preferably in their own juices, but water or heavy syrup wouldn't be a deal breaker...
  • 3 pears, peeled and sliced.
In the bowl of a food processor (I imagine a mixer would work as well, but I ain't making promises) place the following:
  • 2 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 5/8 cups flour (1 1/2 cups plus 2 T)
  • 2 1/2 sticks butter (20 T)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t baking soda
Blitz for 1 minute. (Blitz is a British (Or perhaps just Nigella) word that is amazingly perfect to describe what a food processor does. I have adopted it and so should you)
Add:
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 t almond extract
  • 1 t vanilla extract
Blitz another couple of minutes- until it seems like a smooth dropping consistency (unhelpful, Nigella)

Spread the brown batter over the pears and bake in oven for 35 minutes. Check with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, grab it out of the oven. If it's still super gooey - ask yourself how important presentation is.... If it's not, then go ahead and grab it, because gooey chocolate hot pudding cake is the best thing since, well, refrigerated pie crust....

If you do want it to be beautiful, then let it get completely done, which shouldn't take longer than 45 minutes.

Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Flip out onto a cake plate and drizzle with warm chocolate sauce - homemade or store bought.

Imagine a little footprint in it - with all of Eason's love.



[On the way home from church the 83% eaten cake was again on the floorboard. And we pulled up in the driveway. And Eason unstrapped. And hopped out of the car.

And put his right, bare, dirty-despite-having-been-showered-less-than-four-hours-before-hand, stinky, pitter pattering foot right in the middle of the remaining three servings of cake.

What are the chances?]

parts


One of the earliest things with which parents have to grapple is what they are going to do about body parts.

Some people go with the nickname route - your pee pee or your hooha.

Some go with the pretending we don't have to talk about it route.

Some go with the ultra-scientific - urethra, etc.

I wouldn't venture to say any is particularly right or wrong (I mean, I obviously have my preferences), but....

I grew up knowing that what my little brother's particular genitalia are - I knew penis, scrotum and testicles. I didn't go around announcing them, but I knew what they were.

I think my mother's biggest motivation behind that was that there weren't really non-crude alternatives. She wasn't going to pretend like my little brothers didn't have testicles, but she certainly wasn't going to call them

*gasp* *whisper* balls.

I had trouble just typing that. Eww. Gross. Tacky. Not-raised-right...

But, anyway....

Interestingly, we didn't use the word vagina in everyday use. I knew it. I knew that's that what I had, but my mother didn't say that. I'm not going to tell you what she said, because it is extremely silly and she would be embarrassed. But it was the nickname type route.

[I had friends who made it to seventh grade life science and the forbidden Chapter 23 not actually knowing that their vaginas were called that. I wasn't one of those, but again, we didn't say it.]

When Paul was growing up someone told him that Babies are in their mother's stomachs. He really worried about that, so when I was pregnant with Eason and my precocious little 2 year old asked where exactly that baby was growing, we explained that people have different organs in their bodies - livers, spleens, stomachs, and that women have uteri (right? not uteruses?) and that it is this really cool organ in which babies can grow.

So, we've told Eas that his is a penis and Ada Brooks that hers is a vagina (which she, before her second birthday, not-so-attractively shortened to gina. Pronounced with a long i. I don't know how I feel about that, but I don't think there's any going back now).

Why have we told them that? Because they ask. Children say "What's zat?" pretty much before they say anything else. And you have to say something.

Tangential to what to call body parts, one must adopt a certain attitude toward them. I mean - some will say that a vagina is just another part - like an arm. But that's bull butter. When my little girl's best guy friend pats her on the arm, that will be a bit different than if he reaches over and pats her lady parts.

So, you want the kids to have an appropriate level of privacy without having fear or any sort of shame.

It's a private part. But it's not a gross part or something weird or odd or anything.

It's a hard, delicate balance. Sounds easy enough, but it's really not.

So, last night, I went back to the kids rooms to monitor the changing into pajamas. Eason had gotten down to his underwear. And when I walked in, he had his hands down his underwear studying something down there really intensely.

I said, "Hey Eas - get your hands out of your pants."

[Which is my standard response to little boy fooling with private parts moments. Which is a habit that begins when they are still in their diapers, hanging out in their cribs, unable to talk.... a habit which ends when they are again unable to talk... or what we like to call 'dead.']

But, since he wasn't just fooling with parts, but actually studying them, I decided that I should probably make sure nothing was wrong and so I then ventured to ask, "Everything okay down there?"

"Yes, Mama, I was just looking at that bumpy thing."

"What bumpy thing?" (Yes, I did worry for a moment there might be some growth or something.- wouldn't you?)

Eas proceeded to show me the bumpy thing. Which was his scrotum.

He said, "What is that anyway?"

I said, "That's your scrotum."

"What's a scrotum?"

And at this point, I have a responsibility to decide how far I'm going with this. And I was tired. And the Rebels were about to kick off.

So I said,
"A body part that boys have that girls don't."

Eason turned to his sister and said, "Ha! I have a scrotum."

And my daughter, who shows a remarkable amount of feminist pride, betrayed the universal penis envy that women have.

(Yes, I'm completely kidding about that second part. Absolutely completely.)

She said, hand on hip, "He may have a 'scrotum,' but girls have lots of things boys don't have.... like a uterus. Yeah- and that's how we can have babies- so yeah."

So...before you tell your children the scientific names of things....

just know...

that one day...

they may fight about which is cooler - having a scrotum or a uterus.
(Of course we all know which is cooler, but don't try to convince Eas....)

09 September 2010

Gin with a Straw and Taco Bell.

I've had an awful day. No one has died, no one is really terribly ill, and we are able to eat and have a roof over our heads.

I like to write about what we believe. I like to write about what we hope. I like to write about that in which we have faith.

But, a lot of the time, life just happens. And it doesn't happen according to what I've so perfectly planned and about which I've so brilliantly opined.

Sometimes, at three oclock, I text my husband and say, "Sandwiches for the kids? Taco Bell for us?" and he says, "Absolutely that's the right thing to do." And then, at five oclock, I pour myself a gin and tonic. And then at 5:03, I make it a double and add a straw.

Why? Well, because my life, like most people's lives, is sometimes not very fun. Sometimes, one child is teething, one is unable to burn all of his energy in obedient ways and consequently is literally alternating between standing on the dining room table and serious bouts of discipline, and the third, well, she's upset at herself because her S's and her 5's are looking remarkably the same and that gets on her nerves.....

And then my husband is anxious about and frustrated at inefficient beaurocracy, professors who have an axe to grind, and the unreliability of teenagers. And sometimes that, shockingly, overflows into our home life.

Sometimes all of this happens on the same day that the dryer inexplicably stops working, I realize I've forgotten a pretty big responsibility, one of our cars is in the shop, and the dogs have found yet another route of escape from the back yard.

And on those days, all of the belief and the faith and the hope and the wonderful aspirations go flying out the door; they are replaced by comfort food from a chain food store and New Amsterdam gin to take off the edge. But they aren't really replaced... or shouldn't be. The faith and hope and belief cannot stand alone, and so they are propped up by the non-homemade bean burritos and the tonic/lime/juniper concoction.

[Is it weird that our favorite homemade supper is bean burritos and our go-to fast food supper is bean burritos? you'd think, when rarely eating out, we'd order something I don't make at home, but no, I make bean burritos with salsa, onions, beans and cheese....and so does Taco Bell....]

And that's okay.

Well, maybe it's not okay. It's certainly not ideal. But, it's life. And reacting that way is better than reacting with a nervous breakdown or a silent, emotional withdrawal.

It is better to laugh and admit life stinks sometimes - too many times - than it is to pretend it is always perfect and hate your spouse/children/self or God when it doesn't turn out so perfectly.

God is good, we are fallen, and He has provided many remedies - prayer, fermentation and Taco Bell being the three relevant tonight.

So, next time you have a terrible day:

1) Know that we all do.
2) Pray. No seriously. Take a moment, sit down, and confess your sins, and obey that wonderful verse that commands that we be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, we make our requests made known to God.
3) Pour yourself a glass of wine. If that's not for you, a nice hot cup of tea, or a cold glass of the iced stuff with mint. Or a perfectly ice-cold canned coke poured over ice. Whatever it is, do it, because why? God promises that the peace of God, which surpasses our understanding, will surround our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. And he gives us many such ways to get to that peace.

If we are truly seeking peace, not avoidance or other forms of false-peace, then God will be faithful to use all sorts of vehicles for that peace.

Scripture, friends, backrubs, taco bell, and gin.

08 September 2010

joy of cooking


This is not a post about my own joy in the art/chore of cookery, but about the actual book titled Joy of Cooking.

[Do 'titled' and 'entitled' mean the same thing like 'flammable' and 'inflammable' mean? And how very, very annoying.]

Anyway, my dear friend gave me a copy of Joy of Cooking's 75th anniversary edition for my 25th birthday just over a year ago. She wrote in it:

"In my opinion, this cookbook is far superior to any other. I could not live without it. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do."

[Another side note: Write in books that you give to people. Please, please, please! It will mean so much to them. And when people give you books that have not been written in, if they are close enough, grab a pen and ask them to at least date it and sign their name. If they aren't, write in it yourself "Given to me for Christmas by Uncle Andrew, 2010" or something. Seriously - My kids open every book to the front page to see if they can find who gave it to them. And it is so darling to find notes from grandparents, godparents and special friends. Eason's dear godmother is a bookgiver like I am and she always writes darling notes in them. The kids say, "Yep, this one is from Mellen again" - and so she is always present in their reading mind. And, my dearest friend who gave me Joy of Cooking is always present in my mind when reading it. Also, I use the card that came with it as a bookmark, which helps as well!]

Anyway, she was absolutely correct. I cannot live without it. There are other cookbooks that I love to use and by which much of my culinary taste has been informed- Come On In, Square Table being the two at the top of that list. And then there are other cookbook writers - Nigella Lawson and Robert Capon - who I, quite literally, keep by the bedside. But Joy of Cooking has a recipe for everything. Name something. Look it up. I'll give you a nickel for everything you can come up with that it doesn't have. And you will not be rich.

It does not have the humor or prosaic ability that books like Lawson and Capon write, nor does it have such a high ratio of exciting/yummy/southern greats like Come On In and Square Table (But it's not a Mississippi cookbook, so one cannot really hold that against it), but it is huge. It is a tome if ever there was one. And it is correct. And it is normal. And it does have a bit of wit flowing through it.

Favorite witticism so far is that first of all, there is an actual recipe entry for Tequila Shots, and, second of all, it ends with this sentence:
Repeat the process as often as good sense allows.

Love that. Subtle, but it's there.

Also, there is, what I've come to call, the Joy of Cooking method for writing recipes. The most common method of writing recipes is to list the ingredients:

1/2 ounce tequila
Salt
Lime wedge

And then to write the method:

Pour tequila into a shot glass. Turn one hand sideways as if to shake hands and form into a loose fist, then lick the portion between your thumb and the knuckle of the forefinger. Quickly sprinkle with salt. Drink the tequila in one swallow, then immediately lick the salt off your hand and suck the juice from the lime wedge.

BUT... JOY OF COOKING IS BRILLIANT.

It writes recipes as follows - putting the ingredients in bold and on their own lines so that you can still scan to see what you need, but the ingredients are in context.

Pour into a shot glass
  • 1/2 ounce tequila
Turn one hand sideways as if to shake hands and form into a loose fist, then lick the portion between your thumb and the knuckle of the forefinger. Quickly sprinkle with:
  • Salt
Drink the tequila in one swallow, then immediately lick the salt off your hand and suck the juice from:
  • A lime wedge
Repeat the process as often as good sense allows.

This is just a superior method. It is just great.

Anyway, I've tried a lot of recipes out of Joy Of Cooking - I think there must be thousands, so I haven't quite gotten through it yet. =) And won't, because some of them are completely unappealing to me.

But, I thought I'd flip through and tell you a few of my favorites:

So buy the book - and make (in addition to as many tequila shots as are prudent) the following:
  1. Spiced Hot Cocoa, page 36, I left out the ginger
  2. Old fashioned lemonade, page 40
  3. Champagne Cocktail II, page 53
  4. Mulled Wine, page 67, I halfed it.
  5. Quick Cheese Straws, page 91
  6. Tuna-Vegetable Casserole, page 97
  7. Pork Shoulder with Mustard and Rosemary Sauce, page 99
  8. Cheese Quiche, page 109, I add various items - it's fun.
  9. Becker Coleslaw
  10. Creamy Coleslaw
  11. Sauteed Cabbage, page 263, left off sour cream and let wilt longer in saute pan.
  12. Fettuccine Alfredo, page 327, This recipe is perfect and I'll never try another. Sometimes I add a grating of nutmeg.
  13. Peach Pie, page 679
  14. Becker Chicken Marinade, page 585 - best marinade ever
I know I'm forgetting things, but these are the ones that I can recall from memory they are so good. I know there are lots, lots others.

Seriously. Buy the book. Put it on christmas lists. Read through it. It will take me years to try everything I want to try, but I'm working on it.

(Don't make the Baked Macaroni and Cheese for a Crowd.... blahblahblah)

Are you a Joy fan? What's your favorite?

04 September 2010

Food

Friday: Out on a double date to Aladdin - the Mediterranean restaurant around the corner. So good. Shrimp Plate. Only thing I ever get. I will not branch out! I won't! It's too good! You cannot make me!

Saturday: Our dear friend Rachel is bopping home from her big city job in New York to visit for the weekend. Consequently, we're having a feast. If I tell you, you'll just be jealous... but it involves shrimp, soup, pasta, steak, fruit, salad, cheese, cream, merengue. I'm going to be in the kitchen all day without kids, so I'm hoping to take pictures and do a blog post entitled The Dinner Party.

[What percentage of the blog posts that I say I'm going to do do I actually do? 12%? That's generous, I know.]

Sunday: Leftovers for lunch; (Hopefully) dove for supper - Paul is dove hunting today - who'd a thunk? Anyway, a few folks are going to come, bring their doves, and we'll put them on the grill with various sides - corn, salad, taters, etc.

Monday: Labor Day! Lunch with my mom; Supper at Daddy's cabin - I'm going to make ribs! Yay!

Tuesday: Sloppy Joes, per Ada Brooks's request. It's the kids' favorite and Paul and I kind of like it too.

Wednesday: Church!

Thursday: Red Beans and Rice!