Saturday, August 29, 2009

You All Are So Smart

And really good looking, too.

I never do giveaways because I never feel like I have anything worthwhile to give except my book and the only ones of those I have left are the Navajo Quilt Edition. I could knit you some socks but it would be next year before you got them and that sort of negates the whole Immediate Gratification that one associates with the Blogosphere.

However, since you asked for it AND since I have no idea if it's even legal to ship relish and pickles around the country...Announcing the Relish My Relish Giveaway! Just leave a comment and...well, let's see...you all know everything about ME, maybe tell me a little bit about yourself. OR just tell me what you'll do with the tomato relish and pickles. Or just tell me how you found my blog, if you remember. Leave some sort of comment by next Friday, September 4, 2009 at midnight EST. I'll use one of those bloggy number widgits and choose three winners at random.

I'm so excited! I love the idea of sharing my garden's bounty and I love the idea of getting to know my fantastic readers. Let me know if you're a knitter and maybe I'll throw in some yarn. And/or my book.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tomato Relish Day

Yesterday, I made Tomato Relish for the second time in my life. The LAST time I made tomato relish (2007), I used my Father-in-Law's tomatoes which I brought back from Alabama. And I only had enough tomatoes for half of a batch.

This time?



I had plenty of tomatoes. FROM MY OWN GARDEN!

(Er, sorry. I just get so excited about my garden, what with being such a frustrated farmer and all.)

In fact, even after cooking up 16 pounds of tomatoes, I still had these left and that's not even counting the ones that are still on the vine and will be ready today.


(Pardon me while I burst into tears while contemplating the never-shrinking Mount Cucumber.)

The most laborious part of making tomato relish is the peeling of the tomatoes. First I cut a little "x" in them and then blanched them in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Then I put them in ice water to stop them from cooking. Then I peeled them.

This took roughly, oh, three weeks but at the end of it, I had a bowl full of peeled tomatoes. Ana, 11, passed by the bowl at this point and looked at me, disconcerted. "They look kind of gross -- all naked like that."

She has a point.



So, then I chopped the tomatoes and put them in a pot.

Immediately, it became apparent that I was going to need a bigger pot because I still had to chop three green bell peppers, three red bell pepper and TWELVE onions and add them to the tomatoes. (Actually, I only used eight large onions, instead of the twelve medium ones specified by the recipe. I had had enough of chopping and crying after eight, thank you.)

I was forced to use the really HUGE pot I usually reserve for big shrimp boils.

The problem with that pot is that it takes FOREVER to boil.



And then the relish has to COOK forever.

Eventually, though, I had my reward.



I find that I am very glad I made so much tomato relish THIS time because I don't think I'm going to want to make it again for a long while.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Usual Morning Castastrophe

There has been even more drama than normal in the Cooper Clubhouse this morning.

(I know, I know, it's almost impossible to even visualize.)

See this?


That's Geordi La Forge, a character from Star Trek, the Next Generation, lovingly depicted as an Iron Bead Thang (IBT) by one Jane Cooper, 8.

As she was carrying it upstairs so that I could iron it, her older sister came out of a bedroom unexpectedly, thus startling poor Janie and causing her to spill the un-ironed IBT all over the upstairs hallway.

To say there were tears and recriminations and apologies and more tears and sobbing and much rending of garments and accusations and wailing and dismay and EPIC CRYING AND SCREAMING would be an understatement.

So, we sat in the hallway upstairs and tried to recreate Geordi, accompanied by the hiccuping sureness of Jane that we would never, ever, EVER get it as good as it was the first time and we should just give up already and I told the girls the following story:

Once, when I was about the same age as Jane is now, I had filled a large cup with milk and was walking through our house to my bedroom. (This was technically a violation of the No Food or Beverages in Our Bedrooms Rule, instituted by my poor beleaguered mother after I ate a peach and then stuffed the wet and still peachy pit UNDER MY MATTRESS where it eventually became a new life form.) My older sister was coming down the hallway from the other direction and ran SMACK into me, knocking the glass out of my hand and creating the biggest milk tidal wave ever seen in Dallas, Texas.

I stood there, shaking in fury (as only the mother of one Jane Cooper can shake in fury,) and then I said the very, most awful, totally worst thing I could think of.

"You...you...YOU BULLDOZER!"

My sister, seven years older and, although covered in milk, acutely conscious of the small furious dignity of the girl standing in front of her, wisely did not laugh.

(Not then, anyway.)

The puppy took all drama this morning in stride.

(Gratuitous puppy picture, brought to you by Becca.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Good Fight

We're in those really hot humid days of the summer (not as hot as Texas, mind you, but twice as humid) when the weather is so volatile it's like a migraine lurking around every corner.

Migraines make me cynical, which is mostly a foreign concept in our house and not one I like to encourage. We have a PUPPY--there is no place for cynicism here. We thumb our noses at cynicism! Cynicism is for the weak! (Well, okay, and New York City cab drivers.)

Also, I can't WRITE when I am in the throes of cynicism because everything I write sounds like every other cynical writer out there and I fail to see how that improves our collective spirits or adds any value to the world. Let's face it: like its cousin Sarcasm, Cynicism is easy and can be had by anyone with a word processing program and too-tight pants. And/or migraines.

But how to fight the good fight against it?

Weellll...

For starters, you could spend the day with Jane Cooper. (I'm willing to loan her out for a small fee.)

If you did, your day would look something like this.

1. Breakfast at IHOP


She likes her eggs scrambled and would appreciate a chocolate chip pancake chaser.


(Note that you might have to stop yourself from eavesdropping on conversations around you. Because it would be bad, hypothetically speaking, if you overheard one young woman speaking to another about how her boyfriend, "really, really listens to me and cares about how I might react to what he says. I can just tell he's always thinking about me." The effort not to roll your eyes in a cynical manner might cause your brain to explode.)

2. On your way home from IHOP, maybe you could take her to Michael's.



Warning, this will cost you some money so it would help the fight against cynicism if you happen to find a $50 gift card in your wallet. It will REALLY feel like magic if you can't remember where you got it! (Avoid engaging the cashier in any sort of small talk, though, because it might cause you to wonder cynically if the way cashiers at Michael's are hired is to get a bunch of apathetic people in a room together and see who's the rudest.)

3. Sort beads

Jane likes to buy those big tubs of beads ($4.99) and then sort them according to some categorical system that only she really understands. Pay attention.


4.Lunch...

Followed by dessert:

It is impossible to be cynical while eating a fudgesicle.

5. Bounce on the trampoline. Try not to decide that you are old and can no longer bounce in a satisfactory manner. Try not to take it personally when Jane offers to help you back off the tramp.

6. Answer a phone call from a friend inviting Jane for a play date. Try to not let your heart break when Jane says valiantly that she would MUCH RATHER stay and play with you. Reassure her gently that it's really okay if she wants to play with Katie. Tell her you'll go to the grocery store to get the makings for the taco feast the two of you have planned for dinner. Drive her to Katie's house. Love her with all of your heart when she tells you that she will see you in two hours and you'll get to continue to have your "Day Together."

7. Go to the grocery store. Pick the one with the Starbucks in it because a Light Mocha Frappucino will make you feel much less cynical about the world.

8. Come home. Get shirts ready for tie-dying. Cook taco meat. Do a little laundry. Answer phone call from Jane asking if she can stay another hour. Tell her she certainly can and that you will see her at 4:00.

9. Pet your puppy. It is impossible to be cynical around a puppy, even if he is only seven months old and the size of a small pony.
Take a little nap.

10. Pick Jane up and tie-dye shirts once home.



11.Eat dinner.

12. Watch "Matilda," which you bought on impulse at the grocery store under the influence of the frappucino and Jane's genuine moral dilemma over whether or not to go on her play date.

13. Have dessert:

It is impossible to be cynical when you have chocolate sprinkles.

13. Make stepping stone to commemorate day, even if it is after dark. (It has glow-in-the-dark stones! It's impossible to be cynical around glow-in-the-dark things--they are just too cool.)


14. Go to bed thinking about your day. Say a little prayer of thanks for all the goodness in your world. It's impossible to be cynical when you have Jane.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Did I Mention the FREAKING Cucumbers?



See that? That's today's pickling adventure --Sweet Pickled Relish. I'm a little concerned about it because it doesn't look anything like, well, THIS. Which is the store-bought version.

Now that I think about it, though, the ingredient list doesn't bear any resemblance to THIS, either.

I notice they added color--which explains my somewhat anemic looking version, I guess.

I ALSO noticed that they added "high fructose corn syrup," too. I'm convinced that when archaeologists dig up our civilization millions of years from now, they will find that the secret to the demise of our entire population is the fact that we are poisoning ourselves with high-fructose corn syrup. Just TRY to buy things without it. And to think we are feeding that to our CHILDREN--because we are, no matter how we try to avoid it. It's in YOGURT. Ketchup. Ice cream.

In fact there are few things in which it is not.

It is NOT, however, in cucumbers. This is the remainder of the cukes in our house after making relish and pickles and giving them away (I told the house cleaners that part of their clean-up was to take away cucumbers) and looking for blemishes which might excuse the fact that I am pitching them over the back fence to feed the rabbits... after all of that, I still have THIS:

(Note the bowl of tomatoes--merely a precursor of the harvest we'll have of THEM.)

Y'all.

No, SERIOUSLY.

I think I am Cucumbered OUT.

I've resorted to using them as a drying rack for my new socks, a gift for my uncle who hosted us so amazingly graciously in Germany.

The yarn is Claudia Hand-Paint (my drug of choice) in the flavor entitled appropriately enough, "Eat Your Veggies." And you GUYS, I knitted them in five days. AND I didn't run out of yarn. AND, I had house-guests. I'm on something of a sock BINGE, even though I didn't go to the Sock Summit.

Not that I'm bitter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Should I Be Impressed? Or Really Worried?

Jane (8) just came to find me. "Mom, what is that quotation from...?"

I waited.

"You know, from Macbeth, I think? 'Is this a dagger I see before me...' You know? That one?"

"Well, I don't actually know it exactly but I can look it up for you."

"Oh, thanks, I want to put it on my profile page for Our World. You know how some people have quotations or poetry?"

Uh, yeah.

[Updated to add: Turns out that Jane learned everything she knows about Macbeth from reading the comic strip FoxTrot. Should I be relieved, do you think?]

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There's no such thing:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one halfworld
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain'd sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's offerings, and wither'd murder,
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Milestones

So, yesterday, my older daughter Ana (11) got her cell phone. She and her dad had been researching phones and plans all summer and he made her make a spreadsheet where she kept all of the data organized. She is perhaps the happiest 11-year-old on the planet today. I am pretty sure that she isn't quite touching the ground.

Today I also made the appointment for Ana to get her braces installed (?) er... affixed? There seems to be no verb for something that will immediately turn my eleven-year-old into a teenager--in form if not reality.

But perhaps the biggest milestone of all was mine. Yesterday, I took the first exercise class I've taken in well over a year and a half. (I've written before about my long journey through chronic pain and disability but in case you are new to the blog, here are a few links to the whole saga: Here's a blog post that sort of hints at it: Elvis Has Left the Building


So, then this happened: and then THIS happened:

And finally, THIS happened.

I am living a MIRACLE.)

Anyway, I met my friend Donna at the exercise studio. I was a little nervous but everyone was really welcoming, despite the fact that I was definitely the most out of shape person in the room. The class used these BOSU things--like half of a balance ball? --and spent a lot of time dedicated to core work. I couldn't do everything with my foot but I just modified as we went.

Driving home, I almost started crying. How far I have come in just a few months, you know? From thinking that I would be in a wheelchair to taking an exercise class --that's some kind of quantum leap. I bought the package that lets me take an unlimited number of classes. Because that's really the metaphor for how I feel--utterly, wonderfully unlimited.

(Except, of course, for the fact that my muscles are SCREAMING at me today. I was afraid that I didn't HAVE any core muscles but it turns out that I do and they are VERY, VERY ANGRY. Is it possible to be too sore to knit?)

Anyway, I am grateful beyond all measure --I feel like I am overflowing. It's going to be a long road back but I hope if I complain about it, you all remind me of this moment.

This is apparently the Summer of Milestones. Even though some of them are bittersweet, I could not be more grateful.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

A Little Croaky But Mostly Fine Otherwise, Thanks

I know. I know. One post in a week--people are starting to send me e-mails questioning if I'm still alive or if I've been buried under a mountain of cucumbers who are now holding me hostage until I make something besides those Bread & Butter pickles. (Y'all, they're like candy. They are so much better than pickles have a right to be. People who don't even LIKE pickles have one small taste and fall writhing in ecstasy to the floor.) (I hope that's ecstasy.) (I'd hate for someone to be having a seizure while I stand there wreathed in smiles and thinking they're complimenting my pickles.)

(Okay, okay, this is exactly why I am truly certifiable. Not only did I make the whole thing up about people falling on the floor in ecstasy/seizure about my pickles, I then found a way to feel guilty about it. Of course I did.)

AS I WAS SAYING, I came home from Europe and promptly developed the Upper Respiratory Scourge of Death, also known as the Dreaded Summer Cold. This is markedly different from the cold I had while actually IN Europe because I'm on a totally different continent and on THIS continent, laundry waits for no illness.

Anyway, I seem to be getting better, which is good because we've had house guests--our former babysitter from Austin, Steffi, has been here since Tuesday (leaves today, sob!) and my mother-in-law comes next week and at some point, we have to fit in all the doctors' appointments and eye exams and back-to-school shopping because school starts in a month. It will be nice not to feel like I need a defibrillator every time I walk up the stairs.

While Steffi was here, we did a few things we've not done yet on Long Island, at least this year. We went to the beach (it finally stopped raining, yahoo!) and Knit Night.

And we went to this place called Old Westbury Gardens, which is this fabulous estate in Westbury, New York. It's just spectacular. I mooned about, seeing The Great Gatsby characters around every corner, with their casual disregard for the grandeur and their complicated social agendas.

(Perhaps I should be clear and tell you all that I didn't really SEE them, but I could IMAGINE them. This was actually made more difficult by the insistence of the museum curators on these incredibly stupid costumed mannequins posed ever-so-artfully in most of the rooms.



I wish I was better at Photoshop because the effort not to add thought bubbles to these pictures is making my head hurt.)

At any rate, the grounds were beautiful and we got eaten alive by mosquitoes so we were reminded that such lush vegetation comes with a price. Plus, lest we wax too nostalgic for such a romantic time, let us all remember one thing: Lack of Indoor Plumbing.

And that's all I'm going to say about that. Mostly because I have to get these cucumbers taken care of because, y'all, the tomatoes are starting to come in and I have this feeling Mount Tomato is going to make Mount Cucumber look like a speed bump.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Loaves, Fishes and Cucumbers

I really WANT to tell you about our Europe trip and how amazing it was and how we had this chance magical dinner with one of the team directors/owner of one of the American teams in the Tour de France but I'm having something of a cucumber crisis. As in: they are taking over my house and there is a mountain of them on my kitchen table. No matter how many I give away, the mountain still grows!

Yesterday, I made pickles, thanks to a recipe sent to me by "Rhonda from Baddeck" (unfortunately blogless but always so nice in the comments) and also because I wanted to do it before the house cleaners came in case I exploded something.

Here's how that went (my editorial comments are in "cucumber" green):

Bread & Butter Pickles

Prepare canning jars & lids – hold in a pot of just-under-boiling water. (I put mine in the dishwasher and used the SANITIZE setting. Because I am lazy.)

2 qts (after slicing) of unpeeled cucumbers sliced very thin (if they’re small, keep the seeds – if not, scoop the seeds out and slice up what’s left. Appearance isn’t critical.)

(HAH, if they're SMALL! I've got cucumbers here bigger than my first apartment. In fact, I have such large cukes that I can make this entire recipe with two of them. I decided to double the recipe in order to use up more cukes.)

2 medium white onions, sliced in half and then very thin
2-1/2 Tablespoons Kosher / pickling salt

Put cukes & onions in large bowl, sprinkle salt over them and then cover with ice water. Put in refrigerator for 3 hours to “brine.”

(Look, here they all are, brining madly. Wait a minute! What's missing from this picture?

Oh yeah, the ONIONS.

Dang it!
It would sure help if I could read.

Take Two:


Juice:

5 cups sugar (Which, when doubled is TEN FREAKING CUPS OF SUGAR. This is what ten cups of sugar looks like in the pot.That's a lot of sugar right there.)

3 cups cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons mustard seed
1-1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1-1/2 teaspoons celery seed

Combine juice ingredients in large pot and bring to a simmer. Drain cukes/onions and add to pot. Bring to medium boil and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. With a slotted spoon (and a canning funnel), put pickles loosely in jars until half- or 2/3 full. Fill with juice to 1/4 “ from top.(I have no pictures of this because A) I have no canning funnel and B) withOUT a canning funnel, you sling a fair amount of really hot stuff about, causing some of it to land on your skin and make you curse. Er, hypothetically.)

Wipe rims (inside & out), tighten lids and invert for 5 minutes.

The pickles will continue to absorb the juice, which is why you don’t want to pack the jars too full. Give them a few days to “marinate” (if you can wait that long). If pickles don't seal (distinctive "pop" and lid is depressed), put them in the refrigerator and eat them first.

I didn't hear the pop but the lids look depressed--downright suicidal --so I think they turned out okay. I will say that I think I chopped something wrong because these don't really look like pickles so much as some sort of relish you might eat on crackers or hot dogs or something. Oooh, I bet they'd be fabulous in chopped salad.

I tried to take some artsy pictures of the row of jars with the sun shining through them, turning them golden and luminous but, um, the sun is not shining because it is raining (shocker) and besides, how beautiful can a jar of pickles really be?I decided to go with supermodels posing with the pickles.
Austin (I'm Only Six-Months-Old and I'm Already the Size of the Couch) Cooper
Edward (No Wonder I Keep Leaving Home, You Silly Twit) Cooper


Thank you, Rhonda!!!