Friday, September 30, 2005

Photo Friday: Darkness

The theme of this Photo Friday is Darkness. This moonrise photo is from my husband's family farm last November. Taken on my Fujifilm FinePix A330, focal length 17.1 mm, exposure time 1/27, aperture f/4.8. I hope you like it! Click the image for a larger view.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Swatch

I decided to make a sweater for Gretel and this time wisely took the traditional advice of making a swatch first. It's a simple set of ten rows of ten single crochets but it's so easy to skip. So much of the time I just want to get on to the project at hand and I choose to believe everything will work out in the end. But creating a swatch will indicate whether my tension is too tight or too loose, if I need a different sized hook and most importantly, whether the finished product will be the correct size. If I'm making a blanket I don't worry about it too much because who cares what size the blanket is at the end? But in this case, the sweater needs to fit. Initially I figured that Gretel will just grow into it if it was too big, but my sister pointed out that the sweater might end up being too small. She knows me well -- I would be all kinds of irritated if that happened. So last night I made the swatch and tonight I'm ready to start the sweater itself.

So all of this swatch talk is making me wish there was a swatch system in place for other things in my life. Instead of a Sweater Swatch what I could really use is a Marriage Swatch, Childrearing Swatch, a Career Swatch. Something to tell me whether my tension is too tight or too loose, if I'm using the right tools, if I am heading toward success or destined for disappointment. So far so good, but that is the case with crocheting any garment and really doesn't indicate what the end result will be. And problems typically so easy to correct if you catch them early on and hopeless if you catch them too late. It's not that I always think of my life in craft terms (seriously, this is just a metaphor of the moment) but you have to admit: there is something appealing about knowing before you start whether things are going to work out, knowing what you need to change to make them ultimately good.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Pesto and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Tonight I made pesto and goat cheese stuffed chicken breasts, based on the recipe at Epicurious. I cut the recipe in half and my other modifications are found in the instructions below.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup soft, fresh goat cheese
2 1/2 tablespoons pesto (I used Amore pesto from my grocery store)
2 tablespoons frozen chopped onion (again, from the grocery)

1 tablespoons olive oil
All purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pound chicken breasts between sheets of waxed paper to thickness of 1/4 inch (make sure it's very thin -- mine was a bit thicker than I would have liked by the end). Combine goat cheese, pesto and shallot in small bowl; mix well. Spread boned side of chicken breast with scant 2 tablespoons cheese mixture. Starting at one long side of chicken breast, roll up tightly, jelly roll style. Repeat with remaining chicken and cheese mixture. (I actually rolled from the short end -- it just made more sense to keep the goat cheese mixture exposed to direct heat as little as possible. Perhaps if I'd pounded the breasts a little flatter this would not have been a problem. Also, I had to use toothpicks to hold the whole thing together. I recommend uncolored toothpicks, as the dye may come off on the chicken. Not that I would know this from personal experience or anything.).

Heat olive oil in heavy large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken breasts liberally with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour and shake off excess. Fry chicken breast in olive oil until golden brown on all sides, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes (mine took a little longer, but I have a crazy stove). Place skillet with chicken in oven and bake until chicken is tender and cooked through, about 10 minutes (again, mine took longer, about 25 minutes. Thicker chicken, different rolling direction, etc.). When a meat thermometer registers 170, these are done.

The flavors here are wonderful and using a prepared pesto cuts a lot of time off the Epicurious version. If you make these, I think you'll enjoy this easy and quick to prepare recipe.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

More on Katrina

I am riveted by Operation Eden, a blog by Clayton James Cubitt (also known as siege when he publishes at Nerve). He's a professional photographer and his photos are stunning. Equally powerful is his writing, especially now that he's writing about his family trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina. If you're interested in what's happened in Louisiana and what's happening now, his site provides a frequently updated and strangely beautiful depiction of life there.

I was stunned today when watching the evening news and I saw Michael Brown defending the job he did as head of FEMA during Katrina. He genuinely seems to have had no clear understanding of his role there or the capabilities or responsibilities of his organization. And there are still so many problems getting help to people who need it, the progress is so slow. I think that one of the tragedies of this hurricane that may persist for years is that people lose hope that their government or the people in this country care about them at all. When people are demoralized this way, what happens to their commitment to their fellow man and their obligations to society as a whole? When the next disaster strikes, why should they care?

I love Operation Eden because it provided a way to provide a little relief to a specific family. I could also see how one family and one community was responding to this tragedy. This family is not necessarily more deserving than any other for donations, but I was so motivated to give because of their story and the way it is being told. And the response of this family is not and should not be representative of the response of the survivors as a whole. But both the family and this site are precious and valuable -- they are worthy of admiration and support. I hope you visit. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Food Timeline

Curious when people first began eating asparagus, domesticating chickens, or preparing sushi? Click over to the Food Timeline for a fascinating way of looking at the order in which foods were introduced to our diets. Dates stretch between 17,000 BC and 2004, so there are plenty of discoveries to be made. Click on any food for a link with more information about it -- in some cases, there are also recipes to prepare the foods. Which would be perfect if you wanted to create a menu from the 1500s for a historical society meeting, or one from the 1800s for a book club, or a 1920s speakeasy evening. Be sure to click to the bottom of the timeline page and look at the Hungry For More section if any of these ideas appeal to you! There are lots of great Halloween ideas up now too.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Fall Weekends

I love it that fall is finally here again. We bought the first of many paper sacks of apples, a gallon of cider and a block of cheddar and settled in for the weekend. Fall marks the return to comfort cooking, where you can cook up stews and soups and apple pies and not worry too much about what's going to happen to your shape because hell, you're just going to throw a sweater on anyway. And this was a perfect weekend for sweater wearing -- a little chilly but not cold, and certainly not enough to take away any hope of a warm day still coming along once in a while.

Somehow, too, with the windows closed up and the house hushed our warm bed with its down comforter is all the more appealing. I've taken two naps already today and love how cozy and comforting it feels to be curled up with my family, Gretel cuddled up between Joe and me. Winter in the northeast can bring its share of headaches, with ice and snow everywhere and worry about the oil burner and just what it's up to this week. But this weekend provided just a taste of how wonderful the chillier months can also be. The leaves will start changing color very soon now and as they drop I will be counting my blessings that I have this life.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Where I Stand

Here are my results from a politics survey on OkCupid!


You are a

Social Liberal
(83% permissive)

and an...

Economic Moderate
(43% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Strong Democrat










Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

This test was actually really interesting to take and forced me to examine why I stood where I do, especially on economic issues. For example, I am not concerned about keeping jobs here in America if foreign countries can do it cheaper or better. Yet I'm in favor of the government subsidizing low profit industries (such as farm subsidies). Does this even make sense? On one hand, there is a very laissez-faire approach and on the other there is a much more compassionate and people-centered tack. I'm going to be doing a lot of thining about this over the next few days.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Photo Friday: Burn

The theme of this Photo Friday is Burn. These are bottles of habu sake, a clear rice liquor (awamori) in which poisonous habu snakes are soaked during the distillation process. Individual bottles are more expensive when they include the snake, which can be several feet long. It gets its color from the herbs and honey that are added and the snake poison dissolves in the alcohol. With alcohol content of up to 35%, there is surely a burn when you drink it. Taken on my Fujifilm FinePix A330, focal length 5.7 mm, exposure time 1/60, aperture f/2.8. I hope you like it! Click the image for a larger view.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Not So Itsy Bitsy

We found this spider outside our back door on a web that is at least two feet across. The stabilizing threads stretch six feet in some places to what used to be a little garden but is now a little weed heap. We blame its return to a natural state on spending more attention to Gretel than to landscaping. Back to the spider -- a few weeks ago we saw the same type of spider build a web that spanned our bedroom window. It stayed for a little while, then seemed to abandon the web altogether.

Does anyone have any idea what kind of spider this is? It seems to choose relatively protected spots for the webs and the diameter including the legs is 1.5-2 inches. The legs are kind of striped and if you click on the photo you'll see some marks on the abdomen that might indicate a specific spider if you knew what you were looking at. Please leave a note in the comments if you have any idea what's lurking around our house!

Edited to add: This afternoon I found an entry on Wildbell's site about this same type of spider -- an orb weaver (Araneus). What a coincidence! See this site for more information if you've got one of your own and scroll down to the 09/11/03 entry.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Eggs and Embroidery

Celeste had a question about the best way to cook hard boiled eggs so that the shells are easy to peel. Based on my experience and a little online research, here are some key elements to egg cooking perfection:
  • Don't use eggs that have been sitting in your refrigerator for a while. The pH level in eggs changes as they age (which experts believe affects their peelability), and it is best for hard boiling when they are seven to ten days old. Here, I'm assuming you're getting your eggs from the grocery store and a problem is that it's very difficult to know just how old they are there.
  • Be sure to put your cooked eggs in an ice bath after taking them off the stove to stop the cooking process. This will also help prevent the green from forming around the yolk, which occurs after overcooking when iron in the yellow part of the egg combines with sulfur in the white part.
  • Start to finish, the process should run as follows: put the eggs in a pot with cold water (some people believe that putting some salt in the water will ease the peeling process later). Put the pot on the stove and get the water to boil, put a cover on the pot and take it off the heat. When thirteen minutes have passed, put the eggs in an ice bath until they are fully cooled.

Lish wanted to see some free embroidery patterns, which you will not find at my beloved Lion Brand site. You can find them over at DMC, though, whether you're working on linen or Aida. There are also a bunch more over here. Good luck!

Any other questions you think I can answer? I'm flattered to be asked for advice and if you tell me I am smart and pretty I will be especially motivated to find you some answers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Baby Blanket

Lion Brand Yarn has lots of free patterns on their site, and whether you crochet or knit (or just want to learn) there is something for every level of expertise. I made this very easy hooded blanket for my niece with a ball of green Pound of Love yarn. There are only a couple of different stitches and it works up so quickly and seriously? Look at how cute that baby looks with the blanket on the LB website. The yarn costs six dollars, the hook costs one, but the value placed by many people on handmade things far exceeds the seven dollars and few hours of time that it takes to make this as a gift. If you're thinking about making a gift for someone, click over to the LB site for a bunch of ideas. If you don't knit or crochet, there is a crafts section where you don't have to do anything but wrap or glue yarn. It's a great resource -- you know, if you're into making things with yarn.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Two Views


I took these photos last year on my husband's family's farm in South Carolina. They show the same tree from opposite sides, with the sun setting behind it from one perspective and the moon rising above it from the other. They were taken less than twenty minutes apart, in the breathing space between the end of day and the beginning of night. I'll probably post more pictures from the farm sometime -- it is so beautiful, peaceful and relaxing there and I think that feeling is captured in the photographs. I hope you enjoy them.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Emmy Night

I always watch the Emmys, though the show always make me feel like I do not watch enough television. How I could incorporate more television into my life I really don't know. Anyway, here are my favorite parts of tonight's telecast:
  • Doris Roberts dancing with Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas. I loved that she was so enthusiastic and uninhibited. She looked like she was having the time of her life.
  • Donald Trump and Megan Mullally singing the theme from Green Acres. Priceless and also, how unexpected was that? Also Gary Dourdan and Macy Gray's rendition of Movin' On Up was shockingly good and it made me realize how much I miss watching the Jeffersons.
  • S. Epatha Merkerson accepting for (Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie) Lackawanna Blues. She was just so genuinely and adorably flustered at having dropped her acceptance speech down her dress.
  • Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw's tribute to Peter Jennings, and also the In Memoriam section which always causes me to tear up. It is stunning that so many wonderful actors died just this year, but this year is no different in that respect than any other.
So I suppose what I liked most were the unexpected, spontaneous and genuine seeming moments. On this broadcast, they were few and far between. Even Ellen, who I just love, seemed a little off. This leads me to wonder why I even bother with these awards shows. After three hours, I wind up feeling like I wasted an evening but I know that if I didn't watch I'd be irritated that I missed something. Maybe the people who put the show together will change things to try to attract more viewers. As the show is now, and with video captures so easily available online, I wonder how long I'll keep tuning in.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Bumps, Scratches and Scrapes

So far, Gretel has not tumbled from any beds, couches, or chairs. We haven't left her behind by mistake, allowed her to poke herself in the eye with a pen, or given her peanut butter and strawberry jam causing her to choke or blossom into an allergy riddled mess to be reckoned with. Though I often have nightmares involving dropping her or nearly dropping her, so far that hasn't happened yet either.

At the same time, I am not so blind as to think that this is due to my incredible parenting. Any of the above things can happen to even the most fantastic, attentive parents and I realize that it is just a matter of time before something happens to the girl that I will immediately wish I could take back, something that I know without a doubt that I could have prevented. I'm grateful that whatever this mishap may be at least she's getting bigger, tougher, stronger every day and so she'll be better able to endure whatever oversight I may have committed.

Julie is hosting a great confessional in her comments on this entry -- taking a look over there makes me realize that a) bad parenting moments are just par for the course -- I've had plenty of tough times, they just haven't resulted in physical harm. And also b) whatever happens to Gretel, I am sure that it could be worse. At least all of the things that happened to the parents at Julie's site won't happen to her, and all of those babies made it through fine. I need to remember this feeling of being in it together with so many others who are just doing the best they can.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Photo Friday: Divine

The theme of this Photo Friday is Divine. Here's a quote that captures one of the reasons I selected this photo:

To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.
--
William Blake

To be sure, this rose was no wild flower, but I think the sentiment still applies. Taken on my Fujifilm FinePix A330, focal length 5.7 mm, exposure time 1/45, aperture f/2.8. I hope you like it! Click the image for a larger view.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Google Blog Search

I am now convinced that for whatever kind of search I can dream up, Google already has it in beta form. The latest one I've discovered is Google Blog Search, which I found through rashbre's site. Google hopes that this site will be advantageous to people searching for specific blog content. The search is conducted on a continuously updated blog index for blogs in many languages that publish site feeds. In the Advanced Search, you can restrict your search based on titles, authors, languages, etc., and choose whether you want the most relevant or the most current results listed first. Click here for more information about this tool -- I think it's fantastic. No, Google is not paying me for all of the exposure they've been getting over here lately.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

End of the Day

While we are committed to raising our daughter together in a spirit of cooperation and all hands pitched in for any task and whatnot, my husband and I each have baby related tasks that we don't particularly enjoy. For Joe, it's bathtime. He hates dealing wtih a slippery squirming baby, warm soapy water, and hard surfaces everywhere for the girl to knock into. I, on the other hand, have no problem with bathtime. In, out, you know what you have to do to complete the task.

No, what I hate is bedtime. Even though Gretel is doing much better at going to bed sleepy but awake and is sleeping through the night reliably, I think I have some residual dread from the early days. She used to be so difficult and I still cringe from the entire process. Joe, on the other hand, is a pro and handles this task with an ease that I cannot imagine. She falls asleep easily and comfortably with him (perhaps in part because he doesn't have all of this tension about it) and I wind up simultaneously jealous and appreciative that he handles this task every night.

Tonight Joe is out of town and the task falls to me. Since I've also been working with the girl on naptime and taking naps on her own in her crib all day every day for the past week and a half it is starting to feel like the sole purpose of my life is to convince another person that she is sleepy and that she can fall asleep on her own. Things are getting better, but how is it that the effort of getting her to bed wears me out so much? By the time she falls asleep, I am ready to collapse in bed right next to her! On most thing we both try to pitch in but on this I'm glad Joe is coming back tomorrow and we can fall back into our natural order of things. Even writing about getting Gretel to sleep about wears me out.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Feeding the Chickens

When we were young, my parents kept chickens. This was part of their feed-the-family-on-the-cheap (cheep? sorry) plan that I've touched on before. My father did manual labor at a nearby university and was able to get chicks each spring very inexpensively. These little chicks had been part of some kind of psychological experiment -- their heads were tipped to the side, the amount of time it took them to lift it back up was measured and then that was that for their contribution to mankind's trove of psychological knowledge. After that my father brought a few dozen of them home.

We put the chicks in a plastic wading pool in the living room at first and loved to watch them running around in their chirrupy enthusiasm. Sure, there was the occasional bloodthirsty chick or vulnerable weakling and if the two of them managed to find each other across the pool that was a difficult scene to watch. In fact we rarely watched, preferring to screech until one of our parents came in to separate the two and end the carnage. People who haven't seen baby chicks up close would never believe the way they act -- fluffy and viscious at the same time.

We gathered the eggs daily once they started laying and they were incredible. White, brown, even softly pastel from a batch of Araucana. They clucked and poked their way around their fenced patch of yard and here was where we really delighted in these chickens. Though inside the fence the yard was pecked bare the grass outside grew in abundance. And it wasn't long before we came up with a way to communicate with our fowl friends. We'd pull a single blade of grass, hold it up at a chicken's eye level, then the questioning would begin. I would ask if they preferred me to my sisters, if they were feeling happy that day, if they were going to lay an egg that day. Waving the blade of grass up and down or left and right would cause the hens to wave their heads to follow their potential snack and voila, I had my answer. My parents hardly believed we got the chickens to talk when we first told them, but seeing the results cracked them up.

Those chickens went into the stew pot at the end of the season. We loved playing with them in the tub in the living room, loved talking to them in the pen in the yard. And we loved eating them up in a casserole around the table on a dark winter's night when our memories of summer had begun to fade.

Today I am surprisingly unattached to people. Friends come and go, loved ones die, family members fade out of touch. I work hard to maintain relationships, am close to my family and have had some friends for decades. Still, though it sounds silly, I sometimes wonder if seeing and accepting the life cycle of those chickens helped me to accept that all living things will come and go in my life. I try to enjoy them while they are around, but do not grieve very much when they are gone. That, I suppose, is the point of this strange and rambling post: it may sound cold, but I think my approach leads to a fuller appreciation of the people who are around me when they are around me.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Montage-a-google


Montage-a-google is a clever site that searches Google Images based on keywords and then assembles twenty of the resulting images into a montage like the one shown above. The keyword used above was September (fatigue is keeping me from even slight cleverness of my own). You can use the resulting grid to create desktop wallpaper, posters, etc. Click here to see more examples or click here to play a game called Guess-the-google where you try to guess the theme in the montage. Have fun!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Safety in Numbers

The world is a different sort of place than it was when I was growing up. That's true for anyone and I don't want to paint too rosy a picture of what it was like growing up in the 1980s because there were certainly plenty of problems then. But it's hard for me to believe that my daughter will grow up in a country where fear of terrorism is at an all time high. In our state, there are now telephones in every classroom, identification badges for students, locked and/or monitored doors. We don't travel on airplanes in part because we don't want to deal with the security headaches with a baby, instead planning fifteen hour drives to visit relatives. My husband and I grew up with only the simple maxim to never talk to strangers -- now we wonder how to instill in her the balance she will need to have between concern for her safety (and the safety of others) and a resistance to an overinflated sense of fear.

The thing is, like many other Americans, I feel less safe than ever in this country. This is due in part to incompetent and corrupt leadership, our policies both domestic and foreign, and the general perception that other countries have of the US. I'm angry that in spite of all of the lip service that's been given to making America more secure we've only achieved a flimsy, ersatz facade. Billions of dollars have been spent in the name of preparing for emergencies but too often that money has been put toward preparing for specific types of crises. This approach simply does not work. Especially in the last two weeks, Americans and the world have seen the results of not being legitimately and adequately prepared for the unexpected crisis that comes to our doorstep.

It's September 11, and the blogosphere is filled with stories of where people were four years ago, reflections on how we got to that point and what has happened since. These are a few thoughts that have been running through my head today. I realize that these are just words to add to the pile, but they are mine. My hope is that the more voices that speak out about this the sooner things in our country will really begin to change.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Which book?

We have a huge book collection that is only growing larger year by year. It is very difficult to part with them -- we love reading and love having our books all around. There is something that feels comforting and connected in having great stories, advice, and information surrounding us. When we moved to this house we had to have bookshelves installed because the only alternative was to leave towering stacks of books all around the perimeter of the dining room -- not a great way to live, especially with a baby on the way. Our dining table sits in the middle of a library now and it is one of our favorite rooms in the house.

So as you can imagine, we are always on the lookout for our next great book. Today I found a great site that will help you choose your next read. You can select variables like character, plot, setting, or overall tone and characteristics of the book and receive recommendations with brief summaries. For bibliophiles like my husband and me, this site is a great way to find new books whether you choose to buy them or borrow them. I discovered this link on Zeneece's site, which is always a great resource for new (and often funny) information. I hope you enjoy whichbook.net and find something wonderful to read.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Photo Friday: Massive


The theme of this Photo Friday is Massive. I've been posting a lot of photos from our vacation last year in Japan lately, and here's another one. This is the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, the closest building to remain standing after the atomic bomb blast in 1945. It has been preserved as it stood after the massive effects of the bomb to remind people of the incredibly destructive results. Taken on my Fujifilm FinePix A330, focal length 5.7 mm, exposure time 1/400, aperture f/2.8. I hope you like it! Click the image for a larger view.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Mothers


Even before I became a mother I felt a kinship with mothers struggling to do the best thing for their children. I knew that I would love my baby and imagined how hard it would be to see my child going through a difficult time or experiencing danger. Now that I have a baby of my own the empathy I feel with other mothers has deepened, which makes watching the news about what is happening in the wake of Katrina heartbreaking and joyful in turn.

Tonight I was watching Anderson Cooper on CNN and there was a story about a woman in labor who was forced to leap from a rooftop to get help as her neighborhood was flooding. In doing so she had to leave behind her five year old son with a friend. For days after she delivered her baby, she had no knowledge of where her son was -- it turned out that he was moved to Houston. The mother was moved to a shelter with her new baby and was overwhelmed by the generosity that people had shown her. What she didn't realize was that her son had been driven in and was waiting on the other side of the door. When she saw him, the raw emotion that washed over her appeared so visibly. She just melted, wrapping her arms around him she would not let him go. As is my way, I just broke down crying, imagining what it would be like to be separated and reunited with my daughter. And I am certain that what I imagine, as deep as that feels, does not even approach what the experience would actually be like.

I took this photo in Hiroshima last fall. Shin Hongo created the statue, which shows a mother clutching an infant in one arm while trying to shield a child with the other. Leaning forward, she is intent on surviving the atomic bomb's that tore apart that city. Motherhood brings out different things in different women and lord knows we've all got our own approaches to raising our children. But however we show it, I believe that we all love our children and care for them the best way we know how. I know there is no count yet for the number of mothers who lost their children in Hurricane Katrina or the troubles afterward but my heart still breaks for them. But stories like the one above fill me with joy and hope. I am so glad that this woman's attempts to do the right thing for her unborn child and her five year old son worked out this way, that they all came through the storm okay. And my fervent hope is that this is the case for the other women who are still looking for their children out there.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Summer Ends

Summer while I was growing up always meant a lot of work. To make ends meet, my parents needed to create huge gardens to provide food for all of us. Gardens that size are a tremendous amount of work, and so daily my brothers and sisters and I would be called upon to go out to plant, weed, and pick the fruits and vegetables that we would eat for the rest of the year.

The heat and humidity didn't seem to bother my parents and it was certainly no excuse for us to get out of the fields no matter how much we wearily begged. For some tasks we were able to go out first thing in the cooler mornings and move between the rows, pulling extraneous plants, selecting ripened peas and beans. The newly turned earth would cling to our hems and our shoes, our skin would itch from rubbing against the exasperating weeds and we would jump up every so often as a particularly large insect leaped from its disturbed patch of shade. The buckets of newly picked fruits and vegetables never filled as quickly we would like and when we were through in the garden there was more work back at the house, shelling the peas, cutting the beans, etc.

For all of the work that getting the produce in entailed, there was never any doubting that the quality of the food we had was far above anything that could be bought at the grocery. To this day I long for the crisp new freshness that even the frozen garden vegetables managed to retain. I have never again had such delicious jellies and pickles. And when my mother gave me a jar of her strawberry jam this summer, I was instantly transported back to those earlier times with every mouthful. My husband and I don't have the time, space, inclination or need to create gardens like my parents had, but maybe next summer we'll put in a few plants. He can get a taste of my childhood, my daughter can create flavor memories of her own, and I will have a chance to see what it's like managing a garden of my own.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Go

My husband and I are learning to play Go, a 4,000 year old game from China. We bought the board when we lived in Boston and decided to look through antique stores in Plymouth, MA. We'd thought about playing for a while, my husband especially, and this set seemed perfect. It was made in the 1950s and is still in great condition. But we were busy people and the game got shelved until we moved to our new house. Even here, it has taken us over a year to really start to learn how to play. Of course, now that we are, we're loving it and wondering why it took us so long to get around to it.

From the American Go Association's website, here are the basics:
---------------------------------------------
It is said that the rules of Go can be learned in minutes, but that it can take a lifetime to master the game.

Two players alternate in placing black and white stones on a large (19x19 line) ruled board, with the aim of surrounding territory. Stones are never moved, and only removed if they are completely surrounded. The game rewards patience and balance over aggression and greed; the balance of influence and territory may shift many times in the course of a game, and a strong player must be prepared to be flexible but resolute. Like the Eastern martial arts, Go can teach concentration, balance, and discipline. One cannot disguise one's personality on the Go board. The game combines beauty and intellectual challenge.
---------------------------------------------
I suspect that an experienced Go player may not think much of the way we played the game in the photograph above. It was only our second game, though, and we are learning a lot each time we play. According to another website, there are more than 25 million people worldwide who play the game, most of them in the Far East. It is estimated that 100,000 play in Europe whereas the United States has only around 20,000. Given how crazy our lives are and the way that American culture can sometimes skew our sense of balance, this game may help to restore (or develop) some serenity and discipline. At the very least, we're having fun playing.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Fried Green Tomato Salad

When I went to New York last week we came back with a paper bag of tomatoes in different states of ripeness. Tonight I made a fried green tomato salad that used green, yellow and red tomatoes along with basil from my mother's garden. I started with a recipe from Epicurious but halved it to make a main dish for the two of us and switched out the bacon for pancetta and salad mix for the arugula. Fresh tomatoes made this dish delicious and I think this would be great to make if you had a lot of tomatoes in various states of ripeness. For vegetarians, I know there are bacon substitutes you may want to try here, though I cannot vouch for their baconey-ness or how they would be in the final product.
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Here's a quick rundown of the recipe as halved and modified from Epicurious:

1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used low fat and it was fine)
1.5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard

8 slices of bacon

9 1/4-inch-thick slices green tomatoes (about 3 tomatoes)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 large eggs, beaten to blend
1/2 cup olive oil

4 1/4-inch-thick slices red tomatoes (about 1 tomato)
4 1/4-inch-thick slices yellow tomatoes (about 1 tomato)
3 cups bagged salad

Puree basil, 1/8 cup mayonnaise, lemon juice, and mustard in processor until smooth. Transfer to small bowl; mix in remaining 1/2 cup mayonnaise and season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Cook bacon and put it on a cookie sheet or oven safe plate big enough to hold the bacon and cooked tomatoes. Warm the oven to 200 degrees with the sheet/plate inside.

Sprinkle all green tomato slices with salt and pepper. Place 1/4 cup flour in shallow bowl. Mix remaining 1/4 cup flour with cornmeal in another shallow bowl to blend. Working with 1 green tomato slice at a time, coat with flour, then egg, then flour-cornmeal mixture. Transfer to a plate. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry green tomatoes until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side (each successive batch will take less time as the oil heats, though). Using slotted spoon, transfer to baking sheet/plate in the warm oven.

Sprinkle red and yellow tomatoes with salt and pepper. Alternate fried green tomato slices spread with basil mayonnaise, a bit of salad, half a bacon slice, red tomato, yellow tomato around the outside of the plate. Put all remaining lettuce in center of plate, top with a bit of basil mayonnaise, crumbled remaining bacon and the divided extra fried green tomato.
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The textures and tastes of the components comes together so well, and I think this would make a wonderful sandwich if you wanted to assemble it that way. It has all of the essential BLT tastes but goes much further with the improved mayonnaise and fried green tomato tastes. Let me know if you try it!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Thinking Over

I've been thinking today about how certain smells can bring back a world of memories. Wood pencils in a drawer, the polyester scent of my favorite blue nightgown from childhood, the peonies from my grandmother's garden -- I catch a whiff of any of these and I am instantly transported back to a time in childhood summer when things seemed so pure and days were full to bursting with simple pleasures that were all that we really knew.

I try to fill my days with simple things now that bring me happiness: helping my daughter learn to eat and enjoy food, arranging flowers in a vase, making something delicious that my husband loves. The thing that I can barely realize now is that I am establishing a whole new set of smells that will bring back memories of this time that I will be able to enjoy in the future.

In the end, I don't believe that things that are complex and expensive make that big an impression on my memory. What sticks with me best are the easy times spent with loved ones and the little details of those times. Which makes me feel lucky, to be living in the moment and to know that I'll be able to carry elements of these moments with me for the rest of my life.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Front Pages

I know that I've mentioned this site before in comments, but thought you might like to see it now if you hadn't noticed it earlier. If you're interested to see how newspapers around the country and around the world are covering the situation in the wake of Katrina, Today's Front Pages is wonderful. You can hover over points on a map to see what the newspaper in that area put on the front page exactly as it looked this morning. Click on the spot to get a larger version, to get a pdf version of the page, or to click to the paper's website. There are 415 newspapers included in the site from 43 different countries. It can be addictive, rolling your mouse over the globe to see how the coverage differs so much.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Photo Friday: Order


The theme of this Photo Friday is Order. Here's a picture I took last fall at Koko-en in Himeji, Japan. There are nine separate gardens here on the site of the samurai houses that formerly served Himeji Castle and they are all distinctly beautiful. There is such peace to be found here. I still find it restful to see this photo of a place where man made objects and natural ones exist in their own quiet order. Taken on my Fujifilm FinePix A330, focal length 17.1 mm, exposure time 1/60, aperture f/4.8. I hope you like it! Click the image for a larger view.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Traffic

I'm not sure if it's too self-referential to talk about getting traffic to your blog on your blog. It feels a little strange to me. But I have to mention how amazed I am by the flurry of visitors after being chosen as Michele's site of the day today. I write this blog for me first and foremost, but it is very nice to see that other people appreciate the writing and the ideas here. Thanks to everyone who came here via Michele Agnew's wonderful site.

The other traffic that's been on my mind is what's on the road this holiday weekend. We were supposed to drive down the east coast to South Carolina tonight, but instead we find ourselves staying home for the next few days. Stories about increasing gas prices started to trickle in over the past couple of days along with photos of tremendous lines at gas stations. Then we started to hear about gas stations all along Interstate 95 selling only 5-10 gallons of gas at a time and even that after an hour wait. We called AAA and were told that many people are not cancelling their travel plans at all, and so the prices and the waits were likely to get worse. It sounded bad enough if it was just going to be my husband and me going down, but with the baby in the car and 90+ degree temperatures most of the way down, this just seemed like a terrible idea. We're disappointed because this would be the first time my husband's side of the family would have met our daughter, but this just seemed too extreme to risk. We were worried enough about travelling so far with her anyway, and being stranded? Too horrible to think about. So -- we're home with no plans at all... which isn't really such a terrible thing at all right about now.