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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sugar is sweet and so is maple surple...take 1

Roger Miller fans unite!
The trees were tapped a few days ago, and we're all patiently waiting for those sweet weeks when the nights are cold and the days are warm and the sap runs like the nose of a teething baby. (OK, that's kind of a gross analogy, but you all know what I'm talking about!)
Today was one of those days, and in the after school sunlight, we all donned our mucker boots, which I don't refer to as "shit kickers" when the kids are around. Even little Annie had some of her own. They came up to her knees and she took a nasty tumble down the hill in the mulch, but hey. It's all part of the out-of-doors, right? I'm just breaking her in.
There's something theraputic about collecting sap. For me it falls under that whole "something from nothing" concept because it really does just seem to appear out of thin air. As if we could have stuck a little metal tube in a rock or the ground or the thin air and sap would come out. So walking around lugging the giant collecting bucket is one of those things that makes me feel rugged, raw, and happy. A survivor.
One day's worth of sap isn't much to write home about for our measly 8 little taps, but for our family it's the tradition this time of year. It's a rite of passage for spring, our way of saying goodbye to winter and hello to warmer weather.
The ratio of sap to syrup is -- ready for this?-- 40:1. So it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Our production is not a big one, but it's one that is made from these very hands and of course, thin air. The syrup could not be sweeter.

(Hey, moms, anybody twitter? How about http://www.twittermoms.com/? I've started a group there called "Outdoor Mamas" that is just waiting for you to join...)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Who doesn’t love a walk down the high fructose memory lane?

I’m not really sure how it happened, but I’ve recently realized that every major holiday can be characterized by the candy it involves. Every holiday has it’s candy, and every candy has it’s holiday. And it is as sure as the calendar pages keep turning and the “seasonal” aisle in the grocery store is stocked, dentists everywhere drive nice cars.
I call it the “Bermuda Triangle” of sugar, that span of months between Halloween and Easter. I constantly find my kids with that crazed, sugared-up look in their eyes, because it seems that for months on end we are showered with little packs of chocolate and candy canes and candy hearts with ridiculous sayings on them I can’t even understand and the fifty pound chocolate bunny that someone really thinks we need.
It’s all just a little too much, and, I must say, a little too delicious.
I am, without a doubt, a big fan of the sugar confection. Always have been, always will be.
I think it all started way back when on our family weekend jaunts to the cottage on the lake. It just so happened that the bait shop also doubled as a convenience store and had a gloriously long counter filled with a vast array of candies that ended with one of those old fashioned toys where the little penguins climbed up the stairs and then slid all the way back down the chute.
So vivid are my memories of being just barely as tall as the counter and filling my tiny paper sack with candy of all sorts, like I was right out of the Willie Wonka movie, except that I was in rural Ohio, wearing cut-offs and flip-flops and was holding a dozen night crawlers in the other hand.
But the candy we had back then isn’t anything like the candy we have now. And forgive me for the nostalgia, but I miss the candy of my childhood. I won’t say that the candy now doesn’t taste as good, because really it does. If not better. I just really long for some of the delights that aren’t so available these days.
Like the wax lips, which, to this day, I’m not sure were even candy. You couldn’t eat them, you just held them in your mouth and danced around with drool coming out the sides. Eventually, we all chewed them up and remolded them into pretend retainers. Disgusting, but oh so much fun.
And speaking of wax, what about the teeny tiny wax soda bottles? The ones that contained exactly .25 teaspoons of a mysterious sweet liquid that didn’t really taste all that great? But boy, was is a thrill to bite the top off of that bottle and throw back its contents, all 2 drops of it.
It must have been very popular for a while to make candy that appeared as other items. I know I was very fond of the lipstick which wasn’t lipstick at all, nor did it act like it. That never stopped me from pretending to put it on my lips, leaving a chalky smear from my nose to my chin.
We had candy cigarettes that were actually called “cigarettes” and Big League Chew that we all knew wasn’t really tobacco, but we played along anyway by stuffing it into our cheeks. It must have been a real sight to see—a little girl with a Dorothy Hamill haircut and buck teeth, a candy cigarette hanging out of her chalky white mouth and a handful of wax bottles and night crawlers.
Somehow, my parents let me do it. They probably saw that same sugared-up look in my eye as I see in my own kids from October through April. And as much as I know it’s not really good for children to eat candy, I can’t deny them the wondrous grandeur that is high fructose corn syrup. Why should I stop them? I have tasted the sweetness, I have enjoyed it, and I have survived.
I’ve got the Bazooka comics to prove it.

Got any good candy memories of your own? Please share!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Liar, liar

As I sit here this evening, cuddling a fat baby and a half-eaten bag of potato chips, I am again reminded of something I firmly believe in.
It's not anything grandiose or earth shattering on any kind of level. I'm not taking a stand for or against abortion, gay rights, government health care, the stimulus plan, or the next American Idol.
But I am taking a stand agaist liars. Because that's what they are-- liars.
I hear it now and then and it makes my skin crawl.
"Oh, I don't care for potato chips."
WHAT? That's absurd. Practically a sin for any American. Potato chips are one of the tastiest foods known to man, and when the simple fried and salted starches are coated in copious salt, imitation cheese, or apparent beer flavor (have ya tried these yet?), the just about grow their own little wings and halos and fly around the room.
That is why I am declaring, loudly and clearly, that potato chips are impossible not to like, and that everyone likes them even if they don't want to admit it.
If you're wondering, the same goes for hot dogs.
They are beautiful little compact tubes of fat and salt and protein, perfectly packaged within it's only custom-made gluten-full carrying case. And if you get a decent enough bun, the mustard and ketchup won't fall out.
Who can't like that?
I'll tell you. NO ONE. Anyone who says they don't like hot dogs (especially the ones you get straight from the deli) are just flat out fibbers.
Need more proof? Hot dogs are so delicious that even vegetarians and vegans eat pretend ones.
Besides potato chips and hot dogs, anyone who passes up a dish of ice cream is also telling a big, fat lie. So are the people that say they don't like sleeping in, lemonade on a hot day, hot chocolate in winter, or the song Brown Eyed Girl. Same goes for dancing with a baby, the smell of fall leaves, or riding with the windows down in the springtime.
Because seriously, I turn on the news or flip on the computer, and everywhere I turn there is bad news. Politics, economy, environment, even entertainment. Nobody has anything good to report so in order to keep sane we need to cling to the things that are inheritly good. And if that means embracing my love for snack foods, cheap meat and old Van Morrison songs, so be it.
I'm proud to tell the truth, down to the very last crumb at the bottom of the bag.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Mom Who Cried Dead Fish

We have a refrigerator/freezer that we keep in the garage to hold the extra things—large pots of soup, cases of juice boxes, pop, big bags of frozen veggies, frozen pizzas, the good kielbasa, and now, the dead fish.
And nothing makes me more excited and ready for spring than going out to that freezer.
Curly, our beta fish, had graced the kitchen counter for two years. Blissfully he swam in his murky water, blipping up to the top for his occasional feeding. “A hungry fish is a happy fish,” I was told, and nothing made me happier that not having to tend to this critter on a daily basis.
I’m not sure how the kids came up with “Curly” in the first place, but as most pet names given by children it was fairly normal. A friend of mine had a fish named “Telephone,” so I was grateful to have one of the Stooges living next to the sink.
For the time we had him, Curly and I had a connection. He strangely brought me great joy in a reliable sort of way. He was always there, always swimming, always giving me the fish lips.
But then, last fall, he started to swim a little slower.
“Curly’s dying,” I told the kids, to prepare them for the unavoidable tragedy that would be upon us. And at first they were sad and cried a bit and asked where we would bury him. In my attempt to introduce them to the circle of life and biodegrading and nature and all that stuff, I told them that we would bury Curly in our garden where his body would help nourish our vegetables.
It all sounded a bit whimsical and hippie-ish, but they bought it. And liked it. And so it became the plan.
But Curly didn’t die. He just got a little slower.
Then December came, and Curly swam a little slower yet.
“Curly’s dying,” I again told the kids, re-preparing them. They were a little less sad this time and overwhelmed with the impending holiday, so it didn’t seem like such a big deal. My son just asked if he could dig the hole in the garden.
But once again, Curly didn’t die. He just got even slower. It got to be that every day I would tap the side of his little bowl, only to watch one side of Curly flip and flap before he sank again to the bottom.
And on and on this same story goes.
“Curly’s dying,” I told the kids.
“Yeah, right,” they replied, and I couldn’t blame their apathy. I was the Mom Who Cried Dead Fish.
But finally, after months of the tapping and mild flapping, I found Curly stiff as a board. Cold as ice. And undoubtedly, light as a feather.
The problem now was that Curly had chosen the absolute worst time to die—the cold snap of January 2009. Not only was the outdoor temperature -11 degrees, but there was also snow to contend with. The fish that I had connected with, that I bonded with, that I checked for vitality for weeks on end was putting my parental promises to the test.
And that is why, when you open the freezer in my garage, right next to the pizzas you will find a tiny plastic baggie with another plastic baggie inside, wrapped up in paper towel with a permanent marker inscription that reads “RIP Curly.”
As much as I go out into that freezer, seeing that little frozen dead fish carcass really makes me itchy for spring and planting a garden. I’m ready for the change in season. Not only am I anxious to feel the warmth of the sun and the dirt under my fingernails, but I’m also ready to reclaim those few square inches of freezer space.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Honey Sesame Chicken

This one goes out to Jen H... :)

An unfamous person once said, "Recipes are not made, they are passed from one cook's hands to another's, who then realizes that she doesn't have all of the ingredients so she just wings it."
And that's pretty much how this recipe came to be.
My cousin made this for my parents once, and I have loved it ever since. But, as hectic dinner hours go, this is my cheater-version of what was once even tastier.

Honey Sesame Chicken
2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

Pan fry the chicken in a little evoo until it's cooked through and even has a little carmelization on the outside. Then turn down the heat and add the following ingredients, stirring as you go, to make a cheater-version one-pot meal.
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup (or a little more) honey
1 tbl dry sherry
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tbl sesame seeds.

(If you don't have fresh ginger, just sprinkle some dried stuff in.)

Raise the heat to cook the sauce through, and you're done.
Serve it over some rice. We like basmati-- if you haven't tried it, have a go. Just double rinse it and add a little more water than usual. It's a very, er, nice rice. :)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Take that, sucker!

Sometimes ideas are too cool not to share.

We saw this in an old craft magazine and decided to try it ourselves for the upcoming Valentine's Day festivities. A trial run proved it to be a fabulously fun, easy, and of course, tasty idea.
You simply melt hard candies on a cookie sheet and make your own little sweet work of art.
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Cover a cookie sheet with foil.
3. Place hard candies in a group-- we found that 3x3 made a nice roundish shape, or you could use about 2 rows of 3 or 4 to make a long, skinny one. We also found that butterscotch candies don't melt well, and that Life Savers worked best.
4. Carefully put the sheet in the oven and let them melt for 6-8 minutes.
5. When the candies are melted, remove from oven and immediately put a sucker stick in there, twisting it around a bit to get it covered in the sugars.
6. Let cool completely, then peel it off the foil.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

knit picking

It is a well known fact that the pick-up line at school gets my dander up. I have resorted to, among other things such as NPR and herbal tea, knitting while I sit oh so patiently for the morons who don't understand that they are not supposed to get out of their cars to get out of their cars. (Sense the frustration?)

All of that plus the cold snap has brought back the little hobby that I tucked away when the kids were born. And even though I'm self-taught and rather stinky at it, I'm darn proud of what I've done this year. This pic goes out to my mom, who I think sometimes can't believe I find time for such trivial hobbies. But then, she's been through the pick-up line...

Annie's hat. Not the greatest angle, but it's very cute. I'd post a pattern, but I totally winged it. It's a little small, so she'll wear it every single day...for the next three weeks. :)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Boom, boom, ain't it great to be crazy?

Note to local readers: sometimes they just don't have the space in the paper. Guess this week was one of those weeks, but I don't want the world to not hear the sunglasses story!

Up until a while ago, I used to think that I have only done three crazy things in my life. And when I say “crazy” I mean “spontaneous” and “zany.” Not necessarily running, screaming, end-up-the-news wild.
For example, one time at a local restaurant I couldn’t decide what to order and so I folded my menu and just told the waitress to surprise me. She was absolutely shocked and the other guests at the table looked at me as if I were, you guessed it, crazy. But it all worked out and I don’t know that I’ve ever had better eggplant parmesan.
Perhaps it was the tasty meal that spurred me into my second crazy moment of life, the day that I sat in the hairdresser’s chair and closed my eyes for the entire haircut. I told her I wanted to pretend I was on Extreme Makeover, Karrie Edition. She looked for assurance that I wasn’t joking, laughed, and then she cut the dickens out of my hair. Cuh-ray-zee.
But my most craziest and spontaneous moment of all time must have been the day I sent my mother’s ugly sunglasses sailing out the car window. She had purchased these sunglasses a few days before, and being in high school at the time I didn’t need anything else to further embarrass me. So when she showed up after school to take me home wearing these hideous things, I had about enough. Sure, I told her that she shouldn’t wear them, that they made her look like Great Aunt Mildred [name changed to protect the unfashionable, of course]. But she wore them anyway.
We were driving through the Valley Parkway near Cleveland and it was a rather sunny day, hence the need for the sunglasses. Not wanting to deal with them anymore, I nonchalantly asked my mom if I could try them on to see how they looked on me, and when she handed them over, I quickly tossed them directly out the window into the nearby field.
I am aware that littering in a park is an offense. But I’m also pretty sure that wearing those Great Aunt Mildred sunglasses was the bigger crime. It was a crime so intense that it practically required a little craziness.
In retrospect, I now really wonder why my memory has highlighted these three particular events as if they are acts that I am proud of. Because, well, I am proud of them. It is really hard to live spontaneously, and no one wants a disgusting meal or a bad haircut. But doing these things were truly fun and remembering them makes me want to rush out and throw out my mom’s latest unsightly accessory and my husband’s leather jacket that I’m not particularly fond of.
Not only that, but I am also tempted to look for more craziness in my life. But amazingly enough, it’s everywhere. Literally. Looking around my own house I see evidence in every corner of things I never planned for or expected. Fifteen years ago, I would have laughed out loud if someone told me that I would end up living in a small town in Wayne County, Ohio. I could have never guessed that my science career would come to a halt and change direction multiple times. And while we knew we wanted children, we never knew exactly when they were coming into our life, and we certainly didn’t know what we would be up against.
So maybe, in a weird sort of way, all of life is spontaneous and crazy. It’s almost as if we sit down at the table, look at the menu, close it up, and put it into someone else’s hands. The best we can do is to have a little faith and hope for the eggplant parmesan.
And, of course, toss out the occasional repulsive sunglasses.

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