Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 30

I visited a synagogue for the first time today. Cal lost his first canine tooth. His sweatshirt was blood-splattered when I arrived to accompany his class for a part of their study of world religions. The paucity of church (synagogue/mosque/temple) goers that I perceive in my community chronically saddens and worries me; by and large, people must not be deriving any real comfort from this communal aspect of life. We all depend on small intimacies to stay afloat, whether vis-a-vis a religious community or the cashier at our grocery store who asks how hockey is going for our boys in their absence. Today's experience left me feeling like I'd moved into a warm pocket of air.

Monday, September 29, 2014

September 29

The tide was coming in as I walked Nelly first thing this morning, and in the darkness, I could hear smaller rocks being shifted by the water. Light began to emerge through the early fog just as I returned home and proceeded with my morning rituals – switching on lights, setting the breakfast table, packing a lunch. These small pleasures of my days in their simplicity, their abundance, fill me to the brim.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

September 25

While Nelly pattered across the deck and a branch knocked lightly against a window, I spread pear and chocolate jam on my toast (thank you, Tara!). I noticed the yellowing leaves of a neighbor’s gingko as I ate.

Cal now sleeps with a pink pony that whinnies when you squeeze it; a treasure from an airport gift shop. Elaborate games of cops and robbers involving airport-purchased toy handcuffs have played out all week.

The wedding brought me - as weddings do - face to face with what I believe lies behind the mystery of our existence.

Many years ago, the wife of a colleague of Alexi’s told me she does her best to make it to at least one wedding a year. I didn’t get her comment at the time, but now I do. The longer I’m married, the more affected I am by how imperfectly I love; by the chance to witness something about others that is also about myself. In the act of loving my husband, I’m joining in the act of all women who are loving men.

While the boys sorted through their homework this afternoon I put together a batch of arroz con tres leches to simmer on the stovetop.

I’m glad for it all.

Tres Leches Rice Pudding

Slightly adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

I always have the supplies for this on hand; the only cans I don’t let the boys take when they fill a bag for a food drive. It’s the perfect comfort dessert, and the easiest thing in the world to make.

1 cup (180 grams) long-grain white rice
¾ teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
One 12 ounce can (1 ½ cups or 355 ml) evaporated milk
One 13.5 ounce can (1 cup or 415 ml) unsweetened coconut milk
One 14 ounce can (1 ¼ cups or 390 grams) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) heavy or whipping cream, chilled
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
Ground cinnamon, for dusting

Place the rice, 2 cups of water, and the salt in a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil, until you hear the pot lid fluttering and see steam puffing out around it. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook the rice, covered, for 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat.

Whisk the egg in a medium bowl, and then whisk in the evaporated milk. Stir the coconut and sweetened condensed milks into the rice, and then add the egg mixture to the rice mixture. Return the saucepan to medium-low heat and cook the mixture until the liquid looks mostly, or about 90 percent, absorbed (the pudding will thicken a lot as it cools), about 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract, and then divide the pudding among serving dishes. Keep the puddings in the refrigerator until fully chilled, about 1 to 2 hours. 

Whip the heavy cream with the confectioners' sugar until soft peaks form. Dollop a spoonful of whipped cream on top of each bowl of rice pudding, dust with ground cinnamon, and serve. 

If you have 2 cups of leftover white rice, you can skip the first step, and jump in with the egg and three milks.

Yield: 8 servings

Monday, September 15, 2014

within spitting distance

I’ve been listening to Johnny Cash even more than usual this week; I’m going to Nashville (!!!) over the upcoming weekend for a family wedding. I inherited a love of country music from my granddad (or maybe television, or, I suppose, both); visiting my brother in Music City - where he went to law school, and then stayed - is as good as it gets.

After he retired from farming, my granddad spent his time at home vacuuming and watching TV (never at the same time). He didn't miss an episode of Hee Haw or Wild Kingdom, or a chance to see what Vanna White was wearing. I found it more interesting to examine the pattern in the shag carpet underfoot. I sort of enjoyed his reruns of Gunsmoke and Bonanza, but truly loved watching Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters with him; I fantasized about my own future career in country music during their show. We all know how that worked out; still, this weekend, Country Music Hall of Fame, here I come!

I can’t quite believe I have the good fortune of seeing my siblings, niece and nephews twice in one month. Or that my brother and I will be able to celebrate our birthdays together for the first time since we were kids, as we’ll be within spitting distance of both our birthdays this weekend. I’m thinking about baking my best birthday cake to bring along.

North Douglas Chocolate Cake
Adapted from The Fiddlehead Cookbook

The best old-fashioned birthday layer cake around.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Baking and cooling: 1 hour
Completion time: 30 minutes

1 cup water
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup canola oil
3 ½ tablespoons sifted Dutch process dark cocoa
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
½ cup buttermilk (preferably Bulgarian)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ pound plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
½ cup Dutch process dark cocoa
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoons vanilla extract

To prepare cake:
Preheat oven to 375F. Butter and flour two 8 or 9” cake pans.

Combine the water, butter, oil, and cocoa in small pan and bring to boil.

While the mixture is coming to boil, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Set aside. Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla in a small bowl and set aside.

When the butter mixture comes to a boil, pour it over the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Add the egg mixture and fold together gently. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake for 20-25 minutes (8” pans will take slightly longer), until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cakes rest briefly in their pans (no more than 10 minutes), and then turn out onto racks to cool completely.

To prepare icing:
In a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add confectioners sugar and cocoa, and mix until partially combined. Stir in the milk and vanilla and beat until smooth and spreadable. Additional confectioners’ sugar may be necessary if the mixture seems too soft.

To assemble cake:
Place one layer, top side down, on the bottom of an inverted cake pan. Spread with ¾ cup of the icing. Place the second layer, top side down, on top of the first. Spread with 1 cup of the icing, allowing a little to go over the sides. Using a straight-sided metal spatula, ice the sides of the cake, filling the cracks between the layers with icing. Smooth out the top of the cake and use the remaining icing to decorate the cake as you like. Chill the cake briefly to firm the icing.

Using a large spatula, transfer the cake to a cake plate. Serve at once, or cover and store at room temperature.

Yield: 1 8- or 9- inch, 2-layer cake.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11

I don’t know whether I was more surprised to learn that Cal’s school library is phasing out the Dewey decimal system, or to realize Abbott assumed I was coming in with him as I took him to the seventh grade dance tonight (parents weren’t, of course, invited, but it’s the first dance he’s attended and he didn’t know what to expect). He is lovely. I haven’t yet decided how I feel about what’s going on in the library.

The only grandfather I ever knew was born 99 years ago today on a farm his family homesteaded in Indian Territory; Oklahoma, by the time he was born. Alexi and I were supposed to go visit my grandparents the day after his birthday in 2001, the year the day became infamous, but no flights left Seattle the rest of that week. So instead, I spent the days walking, aimless mile after mile, disbelieving, grief-stricken, enraged. Day after day, my legs propelled me through my neighborhood and into the next one and the next, taking in the flags on porch after porch through my tear-blurred vision. I was a sister who was lucky not to have lost her sister in the World Trade Center. I was a beloved granddaughter who was missed; a bride who wanted to be visiting her grandparents with her new husband; a cancer survivor who approached life looking for hope and joy. I needed to keep hope alive in myself.

Abbott just finished reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for his humanities class; I love that book for many, many reasons. (The audio version is also fantastic.) I thought about it a lot today. A few favorite excerpts:

“I had to add my hope to somebody else’s hope. I had to multiply hope by hope.”

“Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community.”

“I realized that I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I was not alone in my loneliness. There were millions of other Americans who had left their birthplaces in search of a dream. I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian – that I belonged to that tribe – but I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants, and to the tribe of basketball players and to the tribe of bookworms, and the tribe of cartoonists….and the tribe of teenaged boys, and the tribe of small town kids, and the tribe of Pacific Northwesterners, and the tribe of tortilla chip and salsa lovers, and the tribe of poverty, and the tribe of funeral-goers, and the tribe of beloved sons…”

Best wishes for all of us this September night.

Monday, September 8, 2014

September 8

We’re back to the days of catching up on sleep over the weekend; homework, and trying to remember enough math to complete it; voracious appetites after football and hockey practices staunched by hurried bowls of granola and milk in a dark kitchen. The boys seem to be taking it all in stride. I sometimes forget where they are during the day; in the back of my mind they’re reading in their rooms. I worry there will come a time when I forget to pick them up from school.

We're going through flat after flat of peaches while we can. Every day some teeter on the edge of overripe and become smoothies for snacks. Pears are beginning to make an appearance at the market, but I don’t have an appetite for them, yet.

Bedtimes, Cal has been on a “making” jag: paper snowflakes and paper chains, mostly. Abbott gets under Cal’s covers and one of us reads to them while Cal cuts, tapes and colors. And then, after talking, talking, talking, the house settles and its already time to think about tomorrow, which will be some version of today. At least I certainly hope so.

Peach-Banana Smoothie

1 medium banana, cut into chunks
1 medium-sized ripe peach, pitted and sliced
1 cup vanilla yogurt, preferably European-style
¼ cup orange juice
optional: 1 cup small ice cubes

Add all the ingredients to a blender, and blend until uniform.

Yield: 2 servings