Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What to do with 60 lbs of squishy persimmons...

Persimmon Butter (by Lisa Bennett, December 2009)

Pour into a crock pot, stainless steel or enamel pot:
8 cups of pureed persimmon pulp - the really soft, sweet Hachiyas
1-1/2 c. honey
1c. freshly squeezed lemon juice (I have Lisbons)
grated peel of 1/2 orange or mandarin and 1 lemon
ginger juice squeezed from 1T grated fresh ginger
1/2t salt (if you are on a salt-restricted diet, you can leave this out)

Boil down slowly until quite thick. I used a crock pot and cooked it on medium about 6 hours.
Pour into sterilized 1/2 pint jars and seal.
Process for 15 minutes in boiling water bath.

Makes approx. 8 to 10 half-pints. YUM.
Smother your favorite toast, English muffin or ice cream with it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ladies, activate your starters!

Vroom! Vroom! Yes, it's that time of year again, folks! Feed your sourdough starters now for the cooking extravaganza to begin tomorrow!
Let's see... I will be making "Behind the Stove Rolls", always a favorite (from the group, they have fabulous recipes both from King Arthur and members) and Pagnottine (little square hard sourdough rolls) from The Il Fornaio Baking Book.
This is one of the times of year when I wish I had a baking stone that covered my entire oven shelf. Note to self: Get this done next year.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Lottery

I read the boys The Lottery by Shirley Jackson tonight.

They were transfixed. Why didn't she throw a rock back? Tanner (who turns 7 tomorrow) asks. Why would you want to live there? Why wouldn't you just leave? Ben asks. Why indeed.

There will come a time in your life when you will need to stand up against a crowd who believes something different than you do - will you be able to do it? Yes, I could said Ben. But Ben, of all the people I know, craves social acceptance the most - it will be hard to resist group pressure.

But if I find a story that shakes them by the heels and drops them on their heads, I have succeeded.

Next, it's Metamorphosis (Kafka) and The Tell-Tale Heart (Poe). Shaken, not stirred.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What to do with an Etrog Citron?

I was given an enormous citron today. (I would show you a photo, but I can't locate my little digital camera. If you find it let me know, ok?) The friend who grew it suggested I make marmalade out of it. Problem is, I've already made two large batches of marmalade this summer. I can't eat my way through marmalade nearly as fast as I can make it. So I hunted for recipes, of course. It was over 90 degrees today, and I don't feel like cooking ANYTHING in my kitchen tonight. I found a smashingly easy recipe for a citron liqueur. So I now have it marinating in vodka.

Peel 3 citrons (or one enormous mother of a citron like I had). Discard white pith.
Put the peel in a 1-quart bottle with 2 cups vodka and close it up for a week.
Discard the peels. (I'm thinking of candying them when I take them out.)
Add 1.5 c confectioner's sugar and shake until dissolved.
Add 1 more cup vodka. Shake until clear.
Close jar and store in a cool, dark place at least 6 weeks.

The 6 weeks part is significant - this is the third booze (kumquats, loquats, and now citron) I've made this summer, and it takes 6 weeks for the sugar to dissolve into this supersaturated syrupy booze. When it's done, you'll know: there will be no more sugar on the bottom of the bottle. The first recipe I followed suggested turning the bottle upside down each day during those 6 weeks, and that helped a lot. But don't shake it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Buddy can you spare a jar?

It is the season of fruit in California. Not that we can't get fruit year round, mind you, but it's orangelemongrapefruitapricotplumfignectarinepeach season. There is some overlap in July, you see. I hang out with fruity people. I have a water bath canner and I know how to use it.

There are three nectarine pies in the oven. This morning I canned spiced peach butter. Last night it was five quarts of canned peaches. Yesterday afternoon it was apricot-orange jam with boozy kumquats (yes, that's right, Diana, I found something to do with them). Friday night it was the Santa Rosa plum jam with cardamom.

Bottom line: I have six cups of nectarines remaining in my fridge, even AFTER the three pies. I breached the last box of a dozen half-pint jars yesterday, and there is ONE LEFT. I have scoured this house and garage and found just the one, unless I want to go to wax sealing, which is just as appealing for me as leg waxing. It is Sunday night, I have fruit remaining, don't even know where I'm going to keep the pies that are in the oven because my freezer is full and fridge is overflowing, and if I could have just one more hit of that giant tub of boiling water... just one
more raw hand from dipping into the tub for the rings and lids, just one more late, hot summer night watching the thermometer climb past 200 degrees for that sweet spot in the jam.

Is this the alcoholic frenzy that searches out hidden bottles in strange places? Clearly I need a better plan. I need more hiding places.

No, no, it's not just fruit, we're talking about rare, tree-ripened nectarines that don't even have a varietal name, combined with organic blueberries. This is can't-be-bought-for-love-or-money nectarine-blueberry jam, can't you just see it and taste it now?

I'm ok, I'll be ok. Calming down now. Pies have three minutes to go. I can manage this.

First thing tomorrow, I buy more jars.

Snoopy and the Destiny of Reading

Well, it finally happened.

Yesterday we had a big Friends of the Library book sale, where I help set up and tally and - well, everything that needs to be done. The monkeys came with me, and helped sort kids' books and run boxes and - well, everything they were asked to do. Prizes for young helpers are 5 books (or movies or whatever) of their choosing.

Toward the end of the sale there is generally a "bag sale", where you can purchase a shopping bag for $4 and just load it up with books. I don't usually do this, as this house is already swimming in books, but yesterday the monkeys insisted - and Ben was willing to split a bag with me, while Tanner insisted on buying his own (his $5 bill from losing both front teeth in one day still burning a hole in his pocket). I finally relented, with dreams of suffocation by books brewing in my subconscious.

Last night, after they had strewn the bags of books all over the living room floor (akin to the much-awaited sorting event on Halloween night), I read to them from Magic Tree House #33, then they were off to bed while I went back to canning peaches. I agreed to let them read in bed, which I could hear Tanner doing, a sort of halting running monologue of the words of Snoopy. Tanner is a collector (gosh, I wonder where he got that tendency), and yesterday he got five Snoopy books as the beginning of a new collection (to add to the Magic Tree House and Boxcar Children collections).

I noticed that his reading was becoming smoother as he went along, and then I could hear him come out of his bedroom and take up position on the living room sofa, still reading. He asked for clarification on a couple of words, which I gave him, then I politely stated, "I thought you were supposed to be in bed." "Yeah, but Ben just wants me to turn off the light," was his reply. He was counting the pages he had read, in competition with Ben's declared page tally.

And so it has finally come to pass. Two years of homeschooling, a boatload of books, two years of checking out every audio book in the library, two years of season tickets to the local children's theatre and countless hours of my voice reading to them: my boys have become readers. Thank you, God. I focused on math for two years because of Ben's resistance to reading, and finally it has just seeped into their pores, like living in a superfund site. They live with the constant outgassing of every author from Shakespeare to Silverstein.

I don't believe that one day they will come to me in arms, screaming, "Mom! You TRICKED us! It was a plot to make us read all along, and we were DUPED!" Because in my heart of hearts I know that we all want to read. We want to understand the signs around us, communicate with people who are not here and now, record our lives and our thoughts, gain understanding of the history of this earth and humanity, open a work of fiction and expose ourselves to villains, protagonists, and minor characters that allow us to see a larger and different world.

You can walk through this house and find the complete works of Hemingway, Wodehouse, Doyle, McCarthy and Poe, the poetry of Sharon Olds, Billy Collins and Pablo Neruda, two complete Oxford English Dictionaries, and five translations of the Bible. That only scratches the surface of the printed works. If exposure to books were a crime (a la Fahrenheit 451), they would have incarcerated me for life.

I don't believe in the tabula rasa theory of child rearing. I don't believe they come into the world as blank slates, and whatever you write upon the slate is remembered, whatever you focus on becomes a talent. I believe in giving tools to children, and they will wield them in whatever way suits them. To my boys I give the written word and the hair-pulling experience of English phonics, the attempt to make sense of the most cross-cultural and historically rich language alive today. This is my best.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ancient Burial Mounds

Schlepping is a Yiddish word that works so well to describe dragging something along. I schlepped one ton (yes, about 2,ooo pounds) of composted material today. Ben watered for me as I covered up more of my front yard with cardboard, pulled massive amounts of die-hard Bermuda grass by hand (why can't it disappear into its famous triangle? eh?), covered the cardboard with straw then 1/2 ton of compost from the SMART Center (read: the dump where they provide free compost from everyone's garden bins that has been ORGANICALLY heated). Then it was time for manure.

The boys and I took a run to Al's property in the hills of Milpitas (I found Al on Craig's List), where he (thank God) loaded the 1/2 ton directly into my truck, and also showed the boys the little Asian pig he has that does tricks and likes dog biscuits, and let them collect peacock tailfeathers.

Then it was back home to create my ancient burial mounds in the FRONT YARD (neener, neener, City of Sunnyvale) and transplant 21 tomatoes and two sugar pie pumpkins babies, and directly sow some pimiento and melon seeds. The boys played with water guns and ate popsicles.

I reek of a rare perfume of compost, horse manure and sweat, and I'm bone weary and hungry.

Therapy doesn't get much better than this. This is it for me, spend all day doing something dramatically laborious for future yield. The only thing that cranks my wheel better than this is baking bread and painting. With bread you get to eat manna from heaven within a few hours, and paint is IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION. Yeah, just call me when you want to paint your house. I'm not joking. You just have to feed and water me.

[Note to self: Eat dinner. Bathe. Bury clothes.]

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tape Hair

As I was concentrating on writing a document this afternoon, my youngest ran into my studio with a "Ta Da!", backed up by his Big Brother. His head and face were covered with magic transparent tape, in a helmet shape, reminiscent of the Viking helmets we studied last year.

Nonplussed, I said, "That wasn't a good idea. It's going to hurt coming off. At least you didn't use duct tape - it takes skin off."

They went into the kitchen and Big Brother found a pair of scissors. I turned around to see my little Sampson bending over for his sacrificial haircut, the long brown tresses he has been nurturing for the past year, even through many accusations of being Ben's sister. "If you need any help, let me know", I said.

Tanner appeared minutes later with his new terraced haircut. It happens to all of us, I thought to myself. Our mettle is tested only by how gracefully we endure the outgrowth phase.

And then I realized that I had lived through the burnishing of motherhood. I have lived with an adult male with ADD and raised two boys. You can't scare me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Random Acts of Gardening

Due to a very ambitious canning schedule yesterday, last night at about 8pm I finally got some time for the garden. I went into the front yard and looked for the potato sprouts erupting from the ground in the borrowed (thanks, Debbie) spud grower. There were two gettingbigger sprouts, so I figured it was time to add material. I have compost and pine needles sitting around in the front yard (no, my gardens are not candidates for Sunset magazine right now).

I needed gloves. Gloves were, I knew, on the back porch.

Moving to the back yard, donning gloves, I realized the baby plants back there had not been watered all day (I don't have the system set up yet this year) and it had been about 90 degrees that afternoon, so this called for watering.

The hose has a rupture. It has had a rupture for weeks, and it's getting worse. Back into the house to acquire duct tape and scissors (WHY didn't I buy that guy's hose and reel at the garage sale this morning?), and wrapped a rupture, had #2 son turn water on, tested, found a rag, dried off the hose again, wrapped second rupture, #2 son turned water on again, dried it off again, wrapped it some more. Final water test - now there's only a minor drip - good to go.

Watered all of the baby plants, and side vegetable garden, and big vegetable garden in back. Boys asked to pick favas. I conceded - they're at the end of their cycle and are on my list of Things To Turn Into Compost.

Back to the front yard. Watered all baby plants, noticed tall grass growing in small area next to ceanothus and newly planted eleagnus, decided to weed. Put hose on one fruit tree (I don't have THAT drip system working yet, either). Fetched large basket for weeds from side yard. While I was weeding, Heir Apparent asked if he could boil a couple of favas to see if they're any good. Told him to be careful (I have just taught him how to use the gas range), and please can you move the hose to another fruit tree? Finished pulling the grass (good thing I have my gloves on), put basket on the recycling bin, returned to the hose.

Walked around the yard with the hose, hitting any fruiting or flowering things that might be thirsty by now, and noticed the sprouts in the spud grower. Aha, I thought. This is where I started. Added material, watered them, turned the hose off, kicked off gardening clogs and went inside.

9pm. How time flies when you're in the flow of gardening.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Zen of Ripping

I have been working on a sweater for - um - years. Let's say it's been in WIP for a few years. It's a lovely wool and alpaca blend, and I still think the pattern is very pretty - it's called Northern Lights, and there is a beautiful variegated yarn that is used for contrast to represent the aurora borealis dancing across the chest. I had finished the front and back.

This morning, between 6 and 8am, I ripped it out.

I had planned to finish it. It would have fit. All of my sweaters have relatively thin torsos and especially long (shall we say Simian?) arms, just like moi. That's the beauty of handwork, it can all be customized. It has been on my "must finish it this year" since 2008, and it was next on my list. All I had left to do was sleeves, and then of course the little collar.

The knitting was perfect, or as close to it as I was willing to do. I had experimented with the variegated wool on the front piece, choking it on the wrong side whenever I ran into the heathery green that matched the main body color, but on the back had just let it run its course, and it was fine. The tension was good. Not a single glaring error.

Then I stood up and admitted something to myself last week: despite all it had going for it, I wouldn't have worn it. It was too long for me to wear with skirts, too similar in shape to 367 other sweaters I own, and I simply wouldn't have worn it.

I got to change my mind. I got to say, "I get to do something different. I tried this, I really did, and I did my best, but it's just not the right thing for me, and I don't want to spend any more time on it."

Somehow, I think I am maturing. Maybe it was just a matter of time.

Now I have two beautiful yarns all skeined up and a useful knack for designing new sweaters. I will create something original, something that will be both pretty and worn often. And I won't feel guilty about the Northern Lights sweater any more. It no longer exists. I have moved on.

May you be so empowered in your knitting. (And in your life.)

But What About Googol?

We're halfway through 3rd grade Saxon math. Which may or may not be a testament to how good the boys are in math, since Saxon math bores all three of us practically to tears. It is authored by someone who apparently belives that repetition is the basis for all learning. Gaaack. Nevertheless, both boys are good at manipulating numbers in their heads and on their fingers, coming up with alternative answers to problems, grouping numbers, and some of the basics of fractions and decimals (relating it all to money really helps, particularly with the Heir Apparent).

So, a couple of weeks ago I was showing His Highness that, with long numbers followed by lots of zeroes, we count from the right to left, and every three zeroes we add a comma.

Common mathematical parlance. No big deal.

"Then what about googol?" he asked.

My brain did a backflip. In an instant I knew what he was talking about.

"You know, you must be right," I said. I looked it up, and sure enough, googol - which is a 1 followed by 100 zeroes - is actually a number that begins with 10. Not like a thousand or million or billion or heptillion or any of those other zany bigger-than-life numbers, which all begin with 1.

Pretty good for a 7-year-old. I wonder how long I can stay ahead of him...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Antennas and Tubes

Last week, on vacation in Carmel, my youngest (Tanner, 6) and I decided to have a bath together in the large, jetted tub in the room. He washed my back and asked me where my "weenis" is (I have repeatedly told him that it's called a PENIS, but he and his brother have agreed on the "weenis" term, so we just run with it). I told him you remember, girls don't have those. "Well, then, how do they go pee?" So I explained that ours is more inside.

Next time we were in the car, he boldly announced that, "Boys get antennas and girls get tubes", to anyone who happened to be within earshot. I was glad we weren't in the middle of a church service.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Problem with Seeds and Skeins

As I planted 940 seeds (ask me how I know this) in flats on Saturday, it occurred to me that seeds are aligned in my brain with yarn in this way:

Seeds aren't little tiny dots, some so small I can scarcely see them even with reading glasses on, let alone count them out one by one (John Jeavons, I will haunt you when I am dead) and plant them in one inch grids.

They're plants. Better yet, seeds are beautiful red peppers, strikingly green chard with red ribs, bouquets of pastel sweetpeas, or HOME GROWN TOMATOES. They are rare and precious and bring color, flavor, aroma and a whole range of very happy emotions to mind.

And thus spake the knitter. Yarn is not twisted strands of (most likely in my collection) animal fiber or strands from the butt of a lepidoptera; it is sweaters against the rain and hats keeping a friend's body heat in and gloves wrapped around mugs of chocolate and it is lace and cables and thick and thin and the most sensuous thing I touch on most days.

Except for bread, the kneading of bread, bread which is clearly not a combination of flour and salt and yeast and water, but a scent radiating from a kitchen and a flake and a crust and a texture with melted butter. Bread, the ingredients I throw my hands into and come out with a velvety bowl of dough that takes the impression of my lifeline.

And my children, who aren't monkeys at all, but living, breathing human spirits with the future walking before them, driving of cars and passing of exams, sports and poetry, love lives and work lives and maybe even procreation.

So I understand addiction. Although I have never been one to think that drugs could take my mind somewhere beneficial and better than this world I see in front of me, I can see and feel and taste how one can become addicted: to this seed, this wool, this bread, these boys.

lgb 2/19/09

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The yellow cap

It is for her son, in a mustard yellow that reminds him of Israel.

It started simply enough, a small band of ribbing around the bottom, as her husband drove her to the airport to visit her daughter in Florida, the first week of this new year. You can see where she has knitted evenly and purposefully, up to the place where decreases need to begin to shape the top of the cap.

An inch into the shaping and she received the call. Her beloved sister, the one she speaks with every day across thousands of miles to Israel, has suddenly and without warning left this life.

She has not cried. She has sat shiva for a week and returns, throws the cap at me, says, “Fix it.”

The cap’s knitting struggles and succumbs to a jumble of I-don’t-know-what-to-do stitches, purl stitches where there should be knit, shaping abandoned entirely, gathered, sewn down, harsh, a giant flat-felled seam of four layers of lumped-up wool. I find the end and begin to salvage it, but discover stitches split beyond repair, damaged yarn: disregard, disarray, and chaos. Wool in fallout.

I begin cutting with small scissors. I use a friend’s head to make sure the cap will fit; I knit it to the very top, clip the yarn, pull the end through those eight waiting loops, to a beautifully finished star.

I leave the tapestry needle, threaded, in the inside of the cap. She will wend the final end through loops on the inside, invisibly, and the cap is still her work, her gift. And on the head of her son, it will remember.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Embrace uniqueness

I was just standing in the kitchen removing pith from four Hand of Buddha citrons while the Pane Acido di Semola was in its last minutes of baking, and the question popped into my relatively unoccupied mind:

Is there anyone else in the world who is doing exactly what I'm doing right now?

Got me. It's all a bunch of chaos theory in motion. But probably not.

The bread turned out beautifully, the citron will be leaching for at least two days, and now I will tuck into a book by Achebe and a bit of knitting as I close my day ("Things Fall Apart", just in case anyone would like to join me and rid me of my notions of uniqueness). My hands smell wonderful. Like the old Jean Nate, only better.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Latest Poem

Today I thought I lost them

It was getting dark, and no kids.
I had sent them outside to play
and they know to come in before dark
and to not go where I can’t see them
and not to talk to strangers
or get into strange cars.

But it was getting dark, and no kids.
I walked and drove the block – no kids.
I yelled in the back yard – no response.
That voice began in the back of my brain
and yet, I felt they were safe somewhere.
Even their bikes were home.

Finally I stood in the dark house,
centered, that panic grabbing me
and the thoughts of calling police
and my God, what would I say to their dad?
I wailed for my eldest son, desperately, loudly,
and I heard his reply.

They had sneaked back into the house
and put themselves to bed, perfectly quiet,
completely covered by their blankets,
ears stoppered to my yelling with sleep.
I stood looking at them, dumbfounded,
no sane response.

I won’t dwell on where my mind had gone.
Shots, treatments, anguish, surgeries, years,
cannot have more, and no longer have each other.
I won’t focus on how my life revolves around
these two small and wonderful souls.
I will just live gratefully.

30 Dec 2008


Last night we had fondue (cheese and chocolate) on a blankie on the living room rug as a way to bid adieu to 2008. We do this occasionally, and it's always lots of fun.

Before we began eating, we went around our little circle (two kids and moi) and said what we had enjoyed about the year. Both boys said they enjoyed field trips. I told them I had enjoyed field trips, our trip to Spain and being with Pat and meeting Pau and everyone else, and our time together at Meadowood, and the new friends we've made this year... welll, I went on and on, as adults often do (I also seem to have a longer term memory than 6- and 7-year-olds).

Then we were to say what we loved about the other people. Tanner said he loved Ben for cleaning up his (Tanner's) messes, which was a really nice acknowledgement (because Ben really does clean up more than his share). Ben said he loved Tanner for always sharing with him (and it's true, Tanner has always had a sharing heart). Both boys told me they love me for homeschooling them (thank you, God). I told Tanner that, of all the guys I know, he is most likely to come up and kiss me (true), and I love his affection. I told Ben that I love the way he's always willing to help me when I'm stuck and yell his name - he comes running and helps every time. Then I said grace, and we began our dipping.

Ben bawled. He sat there for about ten minutes crying. I couldn't figure it out.

When he could finally speak, he said he was crying because of what I said. I told him it was all true, he is a tremendous helper boy and I really appreciate it. Then I said that maybe I don't tell him often enough. Ben is very high on the emotional and expressive scale, hot and cold, and perhaps I need to give him more warm fuzzies.

I listened to a webcast the other day about how we need to learn to honestly tell people how much we appreciate them - it can be so good for everyone involved. I never thought I had been shorting my own kids in telling them just how much I appreciate all they do. It is a truism that my life would not be the same without them; I also consider them to be the best-behaved kids I know their age.

So we will begin doing our appreciation circle every week. No sense in keeping it till year end.

The Hole of Lust

Yesterday afternoon, as I was finishing my last garment of the year (a traditional Shetland cardigan with wool that I overdyed, don't ask me how long this one has been in process, I'm not even sure both boys were BORN when I started it), the boys were creating some sort of secret game in their room that involved tape (no ask, no tell). When I had the bread on the rise they asked me to come see their room, and the "HOLE OF LUST" sign was posted prominently on their bedroom door.

One must always attempt to not be an alarmist when raising boys (kids in general? I don't know, I only got boys), and I know spelling isn't their strong suit, so I calmly and without facial tics asked them what the sign said. "It's the Hall of Justice, from the Justice League of America", they said. Well, thank God for that. We need someone promoting justice and trouncing crime in this country, whether they can spell or not (no Presidential names mentioned).

I was led into a room that has TOP SECRET signs all over the closet door now. I was impressed. I think they might be a year or two ahead of their time in the concept of keeping everything hush hush and labeling their privacy. I know it happens between girls (because I have an older sister), and I know there's a stage in our lives when we want our sibs to be hands off our stuff (does that ever end?).

They wanted me to open their closet door. "No way", I said. "It's top secret."

"There's nothing in there", they said. Oops, they're still not clear on the practice. It's the IDEA that you MIGHT have something private and don't want others messing with it that is so important. The last thing you'd want to do is tell someone that it's all a sham.

But they'll catch on. I just know it.