Saturday, December 31, 2005


So is anyone else resolving anything for the new year? My top two resolutions are these:

1. Learn to knit really. Like, more than just scarves. I may ask some of you for help. You know who you are.

2. Get to know more about Atlanta, which, despite its proximity (1:20) is mostly a big black box to me. (It's not really the greatest city. Overall, it's extremely "eh." But the DeKalb Farmer's Market has improved our lives so much; surely it can't be the only thing. Stepsister just informed me that there is an Australian bakery I didn't know about. We will maybe meet there for tea sometime. It's a good start.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

So-called buche de noel


Well, Maggie made a buche de noel (see her Dec. 22 post), and it looked like a lovely little cake that you would want to eat. Mine, not so much.

Here is my attempt. This is its best angle. From other angles, it looks somewhat less convincing.

Is it a Yule log, or a dog turd? Only the "artist" knows for sure!

I record it here only because I am fairly certain it will fall to pieces on its way to my stepsister's place tomorrow. Also, someone needs to know what to tell the paramedics if I go into sugar shock from sampling so much buttercream...

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Date pudding

Recipe coming soon...Merry Christmas!

Update 12/29

Whew...time keeps getting away from me! But here's that recipe I promised. It's adapted from The Joy of Cooking, and it's a very manageable size; it fits a 4-cup pudding mold. If you don't have a metal mold with a tight-fitting lid, I'm told you can use a bowl with a towel tightly tied over it. However, I can't vouch for that method, since I haven't tried it.

This is especially nice served with hard sauce (the version I like is basically a butter-and-powdered-sugar frosting with a tablespoon each of brandy and coffee whipped into it). The sauce is solid until it makes contact with the warm pudding, and then it melts. Mmmm!


1 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/4 c. unsalted butter
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
2 2/3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 c. lowfat milk
3/4 c. chopped dates
1/2 c. chopped pecans (optional)

Before you start combining ingredients, set up your steaming pot. In the bottom of a stockpot, place a metal trivet and/or some other device that will hold your pudding mold an inch or more off the bottom of the pot and allow complete circulation of steam. I use three English muffin rings with a shallow trivet on top. Anything will work, as long as it's heat- and water-resistant, is high enough off the bottom, and allows the steam to circulate. An inverted flat-bottomed metal colander might be good. They probably make something explicitly for this purpose, but whatever it is, I don't own one.
Add an inch of water to the bottom of the pot, put the lid on, and bring it to a simmer while you assemble the batter.
Heavily, thoroughly butter your pudding mold.
Cream together the brown sugar and butter. Add the egg and vanilla and keep beating until the mixture is creamy.
Sift the flour together with the baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture in three stages, alternating with the milk. After every addition, beat the batter until it is smooth.
Fold in the dates and nuts, then pour the batter into the mold. Clamp the lid on and place in the simmering stockpot.
Steam for 2 hours (first bringing the water to a boil, then reducing to a simmer for the remainder of the time). Try to avoid peeking, or you'll let all the steam out.
When the time is up, remove the mold from the pot and pop the top off. The pudding should be spongy and moist. Let it cool partway before unmolding it, or it will crack.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Vastly amusing

Slogans on dog bandanas received for Christmas:

Silver - "It's not easy being a princess"
Cairo - "Don't just stand there, pet me"
Gracie - "Wild thing"


Friday, December 23, 2005

News flash x2

Silver seems to be feeling quite a bit sprightlier. A million thanks to all of you who have wished her well. I love all our dogs equally and with all my heart, but Silver's the one who could be described (in terms most often associated with witches and their black cats) as my familiar. She's my mini-me in herding dog form, and it gives me so much joy to see her act a little more like herself again.

Much less importantly, but still joyfully, the radishes and spinach I planted in the greenhouse are beginning to sprout...unless the thing I saw in the spinach row was just a weed, which, considering my past (lack of) success with spinach, is as likely as not. No sign of the lettuce yet, but I await. It's niiiiiiiice in that greenhouse. On a chilly, sunny day like today, walking in there is like entering a room that houses an indoor pool. Humidity drips off the roof. Wow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A scary day

Yesterday morning, Silver was reclining on the papasan when she made one of those tentative washing-machine noises that might or might not mean a dog is about to vomit. I immediately jumped up from my chair and ordered her off the furniture as a precautionary measure.

Silver obediently leapt off the papasan, but when she hit the floor, her legs crumpled under her. And suddenly my beautiful girl was flailing uncontrollably, almost convulsing, on the floor, and there was not a thing I could do to help her.

I think I screamed, because within moments the s.o. was out of bed.

By then Silver was lying nearby, wild-eyed and stress-panting. I asked her if she wanted to get up, and she did, but her back legs were stiff and uncompliant. She settled back into a sphinx position and stayed there.

In a few minutes she hobbled across the room, then lay down again. Every few minutes she got better, but what chilled me to the bone was that she wasn't right.

I cancelled my afternoon appointments and took her to the vet. And once we were in the tiny examination room with the doctor, the words spilled out of me. Not only was this morning's incident terrifying, but it confirmed my worst fears. For weeks, Silver hadn't looked right. She seemed a little sluggish and stiff, and she'd put on a few pounds. Two weeks ago, I had playfully goosed her on the hindquarters and she had screamed. The s.o. had tried to quiet my fears, saying I had just startled her, but I knew she had seen me coming. Something was very wrong.

The vet talked with me a little (she really was comforting and helpful--must remember to request her in the future) and then took Silver into the back for blood tests and x-rays. I tried, without much success, to interest myself in a copy of Dog Fancy. But it took less time than I expected, and soon the vet brought Silver back and gave me the news.

The good news was that Silver's blood panel is perfect, and that her hips look great. There is also nothing wrong with her spine.

The problem is her knees. Silver has a condition called medial patella luxation, meaning that her kneecaps don't stay within the grooves they're supposed to slide in, but tend to displace toward the middle of her body. Her left is worse than the right. It was the one that had popped completely out that morning, leaving her flailing in pain and fear.

She may have to have surgery on one or both knees in the future, but there's also a chance the problem can be managed with drugs and neutraceuticals. It turns out that both NSAIDs and glucosamine/chondroitin supplements are available as meat-flavored chewables.

And she has to lose some weight, inactivity or no. That should help take the stress off her knees, and maybe they'll be able to work smoothly.

I don't mind taking a little extra care of my girl, and I don't mind paying for drugs and/or surgery. What bothers me is the knowledge that she has been in so much pain, and that there might be more to come. Imagine your kneecaps going out! -- okay, don't, because when I imagine that, my stomach churns from the mere thought. She's been walking around with her back legs stiff because on some level she has figured out that her kneecaps stay in place better when her knees are extended. God, I just feel so bad for her. I love her so much, I just want to scream "STOP! This can't happen!"

But we can hope for the best. And I don't know how fast NSAIDs work, but she does seem a little happier this morning.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Blast from the past

Welcome to our town.

This is a Jack Delano photo of our town's crossroads in 1941, when it was considerably busier than it is now. That smokestack in the background? Gone. The two buildings in the back left? Replaced by a hay field.

The store on the right is still there, although it no longer has a gas pump. It is run by two really great Pakistani guys (who I've mentioned before, I think), and it's the de facto center of town.

The brick building on the left is the Town Hall.

There is no longer a path on the right; somewhere along the line, it was replaced with a proper sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. So the people in the picture are walking in what is now our neighbor Cookie's yard. It would have looked different then; the house was a grand old antebellum mansion with pillars. But it burned to the ground in 1996, and Cookie and her husband built a somewhat smaller house on the old foundation.

What's strange is that this photo is instantly recognizable by anyone who's been here, despite all the changes.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Liz at Pocket Farm has tagged me with a quick and easy little meme that I'm all too glad to do: List seven songs you are into right now. Well, sure. The thing is, a while ago I completely stopped buying music, so the songs you see below are just things I've happened upon online and enjoyed.

Warning: Sometimes I have flawless, unimpeachable taste. But other times I might as well be 15 years old. So wince if you must, but don't mock.

1. "You Only Live Once" - The Strokes
2. "Since U Been Gone" - Kelly Clarkson
3. "Use It" - The New Pornographers
4. "Service and Repair" - Calexico
5. "Dirty Little Secret" - The All-American Rejects
6. "Blow it Out" - The Features
7. "Fountains of Wayne Hotline" - Robbie Fulks

Anyone else want to try? I'm supposed to nominate seven more people. How 'bout you, Cookiecrumb? Ilva? Maggie? m.d.? Szarka? Jo? Doc Rob? It can be any kind of music, with words or without.

No obligation, of course. It is a busy time of year.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Oh, no

E-mail from my mother this evening:

[Stepfather] had bad news from [stepsister] today about their chickens. A dog got into the yard and killed all but one
rooster (badly bitten) and one hen that was saved by the fact she was inside laying an egg. So they are depressed.

What a rotten turn of events. I feel so bad for them. I guess they are investigating some better fencing now. *sigh*

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I had forgotten how much fun this was

Making Yorkshire pudding, I mean. Look how cool it looks as it rises! But I am almost certain that my British readers will be a little disturbed at my breach of tradition.

You see, there was no roast beef on the menu. It was braised lamb. But I needed something to sop up the juices, and it was way too late to make yeast bread. Beer bread was out, too, because there was no beer. So I hit upon the idea of Yorkshire pudding.

I saved some lamb fat from the meat pan before I added the braising liquid, and I used that fat in the pudding in place of beef drippings. It worked like a charm.

Now, for my non-British readers: Here is how to make a Yorkshire pudding. I grew up thinking everyone was familiar with this dish, because my mom (and of course my British grandmother) made it when I was young. But when I served this last night, it was the first time the s.o. had ever seen, let alone eaten, one. I figure a lot of people are in the same boat.

It's good stuff--the perfect accompaniment for roast beef (or, ahem, whatever). And it is way too much fun to miss out on.


2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. milk (whole is best, but 2% will do)
2 Tbs. roast beef drippings

In a blender, combine the eggs, salt, flour, and milk. Blend for a few seconds, then scrape the sides down and blend again for 30 seconds. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large, fairly deep rectangular or oval pan (mine is about 10x12), heat the drippings over a moderate flame until they start to spit. Give the batter one last stir, then quickly pour it into the hot pan and put it in the oven.
Bake 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees F and bake 15 minutes more. Cut and serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Comfort zone

"This is soooooo nice," murmurs the s.o., eyes half shut, from his reclined position on the new sofa.

"Yes, it is," I say, cradling a cup of long-awaited Horizon Organic Eggnog.

Holiday cheer

Last night was the annual town Christmas party. When you only have 415 residents, you can invite everyone for mini pigs-in-blankets and chicken wings and get away with it.

Last time we were able to attend was three years ago. I remember curling my hair by generator power, in the glow of a flashlight beam. We hadn't finished the wiring or had the heating system installed yet. What a difference three years makes!

Until now, we have unfortunately failed to cultivate a social life around here--I don't know why, but that's how it has happened. We have been kind of reclusive, to put it bluntly. So I went to this party with two important goals in mind: to be friendly with the few people I had met in the past, and to meet new people.

I accomplished both. I gave a big kiss to Cookie, the well-dressed elderly lady from two doors down (recently widowed twice in quick succession, poor thing, and the second one was news to me--now that I know she is alone again, I need to make extra sure to go visit her). And I took a leap of faith and promised to call the mayor's daughter (whom I like a lot) for a cup of coffee.

I met a fiesty, funny 60-something gardening buff named Lucille, who says she will come visit me after the holidays. If she doesn't come to me, I'll go to her! And I was introduced to...wait for it...THE COUPLE WHO OWN THE HORSES ACROSS THE STREET. I don't know how, but I spotted them the moment they walked in the door and told the s.o. I intended to meet them. They just radiated "my kind of people-ness."

Our new hoophouse was literally the talk of the town. The s.o. was constantly having to answer questions about it. "Whatcha gonna put in that greenhouse?" "I noticed you had a greenhouse--did you build that?" etc.

Everyone who attended got raffle tickets. The under-16s got one kind of ticket and the adults got another. Some of the adults came away with door prizes--I won a poinsettia, and I think I may actually have said "Woo hoo!" when my number was called--and four lucky folks won cash prizes to help them through the holidays. But what was really excellent was that every single child in the room won either a football, a basketball, or a soccer ball. The room came alive with bouncing, passing, and tackling.

"What a wonderful thing to do," I stage-whispered to the mayor's daughter.

"For some of them, it's the only present they'll get this Christmas," she stage-whispered back.

And that's why, even though we live in such a desperately poor county, the town council votes every year to throw a party for any of its citizens who want to come.

I really do love it here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

5 weird habits

Jo has tagged me with the "5 Weird Habits" meme, and boy, do I have 'em. Maybe more than other people, or maybe not. Or maybe they're not weird habits at all. (I can hope, can't I?)

Does anyone else suspect that maybe our weirdest habits are those we have no idea about?

But anyway:

1. I eat food in such a way that I finish it "evenly." For example, when I am eating a sandwich or a slice of pizza or pie, I pick away at it--crust, center, crust, center--in such a way that I end up with the last two bites being crust and then center. If I am eating a plate of food with three different dishes on it, I try to make sure that my last three bites constitute one of each, with my favorite being the last. When I eat cereal or yogurt with fruit, there has to be exactly enough fruit so that there's one piece per bite. If there isn't, I nibble away at whatever is in excess until everything comes out even.

2. I joggle my knees constantly. The s.o. calls me "Thumper." Fondly, of course.

3. I also constantly tap my teeth together in synch with whatever music is running through my head. It's sort of like my own little piano: Certain teeth correspond to certain notes. Once in a while I get stressed out about it, worrying that I am causing enamel wear, but so far the dentist hasn't called me on it.

4. Every night I fall asleep with one dog at my head (Silver) and one at my feet (Cairo), because the s.o. usually retires later than I do. I tell both of them goodnight repeatedly, trying to make sure I dote on them equally. (For those who are counting and coming up one dog short, Gracie still has to sleep in a kennel because she has a tendency to wander off and get in trouble. But she is snuggled as much as possible before she goes in.)

5. I wear my hair down, always, every day, even if I am doing something athletic, even if it is 105 degrees outside. If my hair is in a ponytail, you can pretty much figure I am washing my face at that moment. I don't know why I'm like this. My ears are kind of big, but not enough to make me neurotic about them. I think it might be because I'm too perfectionist. It's really hard for me to create a ponytail without some hair sticking up weirdly somewhere on top.

I am supposed to nominate others to do this, too, but I'm going to leave it up to you because we are all so busy at this time of year. Take it and run with it!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Two days until the new sofa is delivered

...although happy scenes like this, hideous falling-apart papasan and all, will always be part of our living room experience.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

So what became of those crabapples?

Well, I'll tell you. I got out my half-size pie plate again and made a demi batch of Rosy Crabapple Pie, a recipe adapted from my 1960s Farm Journal Freezing & Canning Cookbook. The recipe had been staring me in the face ever since I found the book. Could there really be another kind of classic fruit pie that I'd never tried?

Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. Oddly, it's nothing like apple pie. In fact, it has an almost berryish or plummy flavor, maybe due to some weird synergy with the vanilla (!) in the filling. I guarantee you haven't had anything like it before--unless, of course, you or someone you know owns the same cookbook.

(makes one 9-inch deep-dish pie)

Pastry for a two-crust pie
6 c. finely chopped red crabapples, peels left on
1 c. sugar
1 Tbs. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/4 c. water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Toss crabapples with sugar, flour, and salt. Transfer this mixture to a pastry-lined 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle with vanilla, lemon juice, and water. Cover with top pastry; flute edges and cut vents.
(At this point I like to brush the top crust with milk and sprinkle it with sugar.)
Bake at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 and bake another 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Woo hoo!

We have ordered a sofa! A real, actual new piece of furniture that is not crippling to sit on for long periods of time!

This afternoon we stopped at every store along Athens's "furniture row" and sat on many, many sofas. The one we chose was one of the very few that we liked. It was cushy and perfect for napping or watching TV. It was free of weird doohickeys such as lumpy arms or giant decorative nails or rumpled skirts. I was surprised at how many sofas I found offensive, either because of their stiffness or because of their dowdy appearance.

There was a red sectional I loved too, but it would have taken over our living room completely. The sofa we chose (in mocha, if you care to know) is perfect.

They claim it will be delivered Wednesday. Can't wait!

P.S. We anticipate defying the laws of mathematics because our sofa is already built and sitting in a nearby warehouse.

Unable to let sleeping dogs lie

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I'm home

And I stopped at the DeKalb Farmer's Market on the way home from the airport!

I had further food adventures after the lobster. My stepdad had shot two pheasants, so I made a pheasant coq au vin (from Hugh F.-W.'s recipe in The River Cottage Year) that turned out really well.

It was great to see everyone, to celebrate Nana's life, and especially to make Christmas cookies with my mom, but I am tired and cold-chapped and glad to be home.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Live from LobsterFest!

Yes, I know, I'm visiting Ohio, not Maine. But somebody must have gotten a big air shipment from the coast, because when my stepfather and I met my mother at a local pub last night, the place was crawling with crustaceans. The special menu offerings were practically awash in drawn butter!

This was quite fortuitous for me. As I mentioned once in a comment over at Cookiecrumb's place, I've never tried lobster.* As a kid, I wouldn't touch seafood with a ten-foot pole. And then, just when my tastebuds probably started to mature, I became a vegetarian at 16. Ever since I un-vegged again, I've been meaning to check it out, but lobster isn't the sort of thing you happen upon by chance.

Except that I just did. And I loved it. We split two entrees among the three of us: one plate of Maine lobster tails, and one of South African lobster tails for comparison. The South African ones were sweeter and had more texture, but I think overall I preferred the smaller Maine tails for their richness. Both kinds were more shrimpy than crabby, which surprised me. I was a fan from the first bite (as I knew I would be, because I like almost everything that is generally recognized as a whole, natural food).

The lobster tasted quite fresh and had excellent texture. As I said, they must have gotten them live via air, because there was none of that Red Lobster restaurant fishiness in the air.

I also had an opportunity to try Great Lakes Brewing Company's Christmas Ale, and I loved it, too. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but ever since I lived in St. Paul and developed a taste for Summit Winter Ale, this particular type of seasonal ale has been a favorite of mine. Kudos to Great Lakes for doing an excellent job with theirs.

So far the weather here is just as I remember for this time of year: Grey and chilly. My fingers are a little stiff, but I'm holding steady. Glad to be here nevertheless.

* Mom and John think I may have had some as part of a seafood platter in South Africa a few years ago, but my memory is of bizarrely oversized prawns and other weird and wonderful delicacies. It was all excellent, but I can't recall anything specifically lobsterish. Maybe it was the wine and the time change!