It’s Probably Axel’s Fault. All of It.

One of the gifts of technology has been being able to “hear” magazines in podcast form, and in this household, there is altogether too much access to food podcasts. D sometimes listens to them, and gets …these ideas… ideas T really, really, really wishes he had never heard.

His latest idea, though, is Axel’s fault. And, it all started with the cured egg yolks.

What could be finer, terms of lovely things to enjoy, than a fresh new cookbook? With full color images, and cross-sections of the ingredients… the dishes… the appliances… Oh, yes. This is Modernist Cuisine at Home, a very, very pricey little cookbook that is more an art piece than a cookbook (but, to its credit, it comes with an Actual Cookbook which does not contain high def images, and which does have stain-proof, wipeable pages). In this very beautiful book, which is Axel’s newest pride and joy, D saw a photo of someone grating something which was not cheese, and D remembered an America’s Test Kitchen episode he’d seen. “Oh, yeah, those are preserved egg yolks!” he said.

In terms of things T wants to eat, egg yolks are not that high on the list. A childhood of parents who were at times vegan and other times vegetarians who kept chickens left her with a mild distrust of egg yolks. She eats eggs, but prefers them scrambled, so she cannot see… anything about them. Once you’ve candled eggs… yes. Well. The less said, the better.

Now, T didn’t think much of this throwaway comment, but D is in possession of a mind which fastens upon a thing and does. not. let. go. He remembered those eggs. For days. And when we were gifted with a basket of some farm fresh from his niece’s chickens, he had An Idea of what to do with them, he said.

An “idea” he said. “Something cool,” he said.

It seems the word ‘cool’ has varying definitions within a single household, but we digress.

It’s apparently very simple. Separate egg and yolk. Dump yolk in mixture of salt and sugar. End up with far too many whites, and no real plan of anything to do with them. Dismay your spouse with your apparent glee at the disturbingly orange, firm little balls of protein-rich… something-ness, which languish for weeks on end in their dry brine cure, growing ever harder and more disturbingly un-egg-like.

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Some argue that the yolks need to air dry, others suggest a short stint in a low oven. Regardless, they seem raw-ish, and T has determined that no matter how… “like Parmesan” dried, aged egg yolks are, she will not be eating them, thank you so. She will, instead, avail herself of the myriad frozen egg yolks, and inveigle her way into getting macarons. Frequently.

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Macrons are, in and of themselves, another deceptively simple food that is tricky. It’s just whipped egg whites, a bit of sugar, and almond flour for structure – how hard could it be?

Hard.

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Sure, you can whip the whites, but if you don’t sift both flour and powdered sugar, and the sun comes out from behind a cloud, it will all go wrong. You may sift the flour and sugar, but if the chickens laid the eggs on or near a new moon, it will all go wrong. Your eggs may be room temperature, you may whip to stiff peaks, but if the wind is from the East, well. Honestly, the EAST??? What were you thinking?

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You may leave your cookies to sit the requisite thirty+ minutes to set, you may keep your kitchen hermetically sealed against drafts, you may sing all sixteen lines of Va, Pensiero in perfect Italian, swaying gently, but … the cookies will not raise. You will make another batch. You will make stiffer peaks. You will add less coloring. You will give up on remotely following the sanitized recipe and add tiny flecks of ground vanilla bean. They will still not raise, and a few of them will cave in.

You will not know why. You will serve them anyway, they will melt in spouse’s mouth, and be the most delicious puffs of air-infused-with-Creamsicle she has ever eaten. She will share them with her chorus buddies, and they will clamor, in a strictly ladylike fashion, for mOaR.

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(Oh, yes. Fiori di Sicilia, you ask? Well, that most divine of all seasonings makes your cookies taste like Creamsicles. A mere 1/2 teaspoon, and all is delicious and smelling of soft, vanilla-y citrussy goodness. It tastes like your Italian summer dreams, even if that one time you were in Italy in the summer it rained the whole time and you never even heard any Verdi when you were there, only incoherent screams, and a lot of horns from people flipping you off as they drove up waaay too close to your back bumper…)

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*cough* Where were we? Ah, yes. Axel. His fault. His cookbook. Those disturbing orange orbs. The amazing fluffs of Creamsicle goodness. Yes, well. Perhaps Axel can be forgiven this time for once again instigating some hair-brained (like harebrained, but…worse) foodie scheme into this household. After all, the more of those slightly disturbing orange orbs there are, the more freely available egg whites there are, perfect for more experimentation in making the perfect macarons. Some day, they will rise triumphant and smooth, perfected and serene. Some day, there will be no cracks. Some day, all that invisibly melting cookie flavor will actually look as perfect as the ones in bakeries. Until then, we’ll keep on trying. After all, there really isn’t much most of us wouldn’t do for Italian summer dreams. (Dreams work better, after all… they don’t contain those rude drivers, for one thing.)


Health Junk, Because Some of You Wanted to Know: Week… seven? Yes. Week seven of D’s medical leave, and a low, gray fogbank has taken up residence around us. Thank God for a bit of precipitation and moisture in the world, which will soon herald a green springtide, but the low visibility and endless gray means a lot of indoor days… and trips to the Oakland Museum of California. Thank goodness for indoor entertainment. If you haven’t been, go. It’s truly one of the better museums in the Bay Area.

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It’s trade-off time! According to the Geneva Marriage Accord of 1386, spouses have to trade off being ill. By a narrow margin, this time it’s T who is dragging, as her autoimmune disease has figured out a way to bowl over her immunosuppressant drug. Now is the season of enormous fatigue, new labs and new trials and – ugh… just in time for the upcoming choral show, where T is going to put on elbow-length gloves, a string of pearls, and …sequined ears (don’t ask) to make a fool of herself. The performance definitely won’t be as high energy as it might have been, but, at least the drug conk out was expected; her endocrinologist warned her early on that there would be multiple drug shifts throughout the life of the disease, because that just seems to be the way autoimmune disease goes. It’s no fun, though.

Himself, meanwhile, under medical supervision, is doing his own drug juggling, to gradually reintroduce some necessary medications. There are gains every day, and though we still don’t know entirely what caused this catastrophic unhinging of every single thing, having a break from work stress while sifting through the detritus of the implosion of his life has been, while not wholly pleasant, bracing and necessary. Some days it’s a slog, but he’s doing as well as he can, and wellness – and happiness – seems a less elusive goal these days.

And how are you? What are you looking forward to these days? More importantly, what weird foodie thing are you cooking? Here’s hoping it has nothing to do with Axel…

Rubber. Glue. And… Sugar.

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One might imagine that with Himself out on medical leave, all kinds of cooking and travel would be taking place. Well, no… medical leave, in this case, means you feel cruddy enough not to go to work and don’t know what the cause is, unfortunately. We’re working through it – and we’re mostly doing well, but sometimes it’s a slog, without a doubt. Still, there has been some experimental foodie-ing going on, because we wouldn’t be us without this aspect of our lives.

People talk about “adulting” in the sense of eating all of the foods in one’s farm box before it goes bad or eating all the produce in one’s fruit bowl before same. These are huge and worthy goals, dear people. We’ve extended our personal goals to really looking critically not just at our consumption, but at our waste, which the U.S. does a lot of – wasting food, that is. People on a budget considering seriously the impact of really using every single bit of a fruit or veg find that they can save a lot of money while expanding their creativity. It’s definitely a challenge. We discovered an entire cookbook for that purpose. It’s gorgeous and full of interesting recipes, but the one which caught our attention the most was… a banana peel cake recipe. Oh, yes – Banana Peel Cake With Brown Sugar Frosting.

NB: If you have a latex allergy, like T’s youngest sister, remember that banana peels contain latex – please, DO NOT EAT THIS CAKE or even try to make it, as boiled or processed banana peels release more latex than fresh.

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Normally, the idea of cooking with something that is limp, brownish, and usually crumpled up and put in the trash would seem problematic, but the cookbook author swears by this recipe, and said it tasted like the best banana bread, ever. Like the majority of West Coast folk, we’re big fans of banana bread, and the idea of a recipe with a controllable amount of sugar and carbohydrate, yet with still a rich banana flavor seemed remarkable – too good to be true.

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Not even going to lie – it kind of was.

This is not to say that it wasn’t a banana bread-shaped thing in the universe of banana breads, but for all of the accolades, etc., the cake itself was kind of …well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The directions state that you need to remove both blossom and stem ends of the peel, then pry out and discard the white strings from the interior of the peel. Next, one is meant to boil the peel, drain it, preserving some of the water aside, and then to puree the peels. All of that was kind of fun, because it was… just so weird to be messing around with peels, which are so very obviously trash. We started the cake on an impulse, after making a morning protein shake — and if you look, our peels are just of normally ripe bananas. Not nearly overripe bananas. The cookbook strongly suggests you use very brown or almost fully covered in speckles peels, as one does when making banana bread.

But – without the gift of hindsight, we went with what we had, impulsively trimmed our peels, and tossed them into a pot. The kitchen smelled of bananas, as it always does when one makes bread, but it was a slightly …different smell. More rich, but also more bitter, and slightly tinged with an almost vanilla edge.

And speaking of vanilla – or spices of any kind – the recipe is utterly lacking in those. And that was a point of contention with our Baker. There are far too many baked goods in the world which don’t include, at minimum, vanilla. It might be argued that bananas are a relative of vanilla, thus not in need of it, but to us a good banana bread typically includes allspice or ginger or cardamom or at the very least, a simple pinch of coriander, or a bit of cinnamon even — anything, just so the bread doesn’t just have the flat, slightly insipid flavor of banana alone. But, no, not this time. The Baker compensated by adding in ground vanilla powder, but since we were trying to actually follow the recipe, we didn’t take it further than that. We probably should have.

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Something – the peel? the latex? – really informed the texture of this cake in both its baked and unbaked form. Baked, it is slightly springy to the touch, but sticky – really sticky, like Scottish Sticky Toffee Pudding stickiness, as if it is made with dates and a sugary syrup. Unbaked, but the batter is thin and unprepossessing. It didn’t really raise much, despite all the leavening, and it sort of came away from the back of a spoon like …well, not even like pancake batter – like a crepe batter. Noting the batter texture, the Baker decided to bake it as a roll cake, which turned out to be the best call.

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Like Sticky Toffee Pudding, this cake might best be served in the British way, with a sticky sauce, and eaten less like a cake and more like a bread pudding. The whipped cream in the center lessened the effect of the general stickiness, and everyone who had some enjoyed it. We …tasted it, and then said… “Meh.”

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Though this was our first exposure to Peel Cake, it’s apparently quite common in, of all places, the magical land of Oz. The Oz – or Aussie – version of Dateline had it on their show way back in 2009 when cookbook author Edna Toledo came on to the show and made it. Her recipe uses far, far more peels and she says you can use orange peels in it, too. (Hm!)

A more recent NZ version has both peels and… avocado frosting, so you can… be… super… green? Or something.

We may have to try this again, because we must have done something wrong. Everyone says this is fluffy and delicious, and it’s hard to compare our ambivalent response to the rapturous descriptions of what is clearly a beloved cake, but… nah. Sure, the cake is okay, but life’s short — too short for cake that isn’t absolutely amazing. Why waste the carbohydrates? We’ll try something else.

Until next cake…

A Threshold in a Liminal-land

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It tells you a bit about the year you’re having if you’ve already run through your health insurance deductible by the second week in January. This won’t make much sense to NHS users overseas, but suffice it to say it’s the two-edged swords of American healthcare, and it means the last few weeks have been a bit pinching on the pocketbook…

So, now is the winter of our discontent… or something like that. It’s at the very least the winter when Himself is taking a break from work, to plumb the depths of his symptoms (chills and sweating, heart racing, fight/flight responses) and determine their cause (medication interaction, physiology, psychology), and straighten them out. In between, we are discovering and rediscovering things we like about where we live. Today, it was Quarry Lakes Park (which we keep calling Crater Lakes Park, which is… apparently elsewhere).

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Quarry Lakes (Regional Recreation Area – whatever) Park is essentially the correction of a mistake – as a quarry is manmade, while a crater is the result of a no-fault, act-of-God large-item-impact. Alameda Creek was the original boundary between Contra Costa and Santa Clara Counties, and in the mid-19th century transcontinental railroad race, railroad prospectors scooped the gravel from the banks of the creek to help form the western end of the line. By the time the railroad was built, there were just vast, unsightly holes in the middle of the countryside, collecting groundwater – which Alameda County (named and organized in 1853) used to top up local aquifers. In the 70’s when the big push came to celebrate the earth and stop making giant holes in things for not very good reasons, the city bought the property back from various business people, between 1975 – 1992.

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Quarry Lakes Park is 350 acres of lakes, and 121 of land and hills surrounding it. At the central lake, the city put in a gravel-and-sand beach, and buoys where in the summer it must be a hoppin’ place for swimmers who don’t mind swimming with geese and egrets and frogs. On other lakes, there are boat launch areas, they seed it with fish for the fishing fiends, and there are tables and shaded pavilions all over. There are several looping semi-paved biking/hiking trails surrounding the biggest of the lakes, and some of the biggest pelicans we’ve ever seen, gliding smug, fat and happy through the mirror-bright water. They leave wakes. Like boats. They land on the surface with the inelegant thump of a heavily loaded 747. (They have cartoonishly short legs, and look like they’re part of an anime from Studio Ghibli.) The ones we saw had bumps on their beaks – because it’s apparently breeding season, and those bumps are the equivalent of a peacock’s tail advertising virility or somesuch. In a few weeks the bumps will be gone, and in a few weeks more, we can look forward to their ugly adorable, spindly-legged offspring.

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Though there are apparently snakes and hares and foxes as well (though we saw no sign of them), this is one of the best areas for bird life that we’ve discovered. T’s remark years ago that photography was a gateway drug to birding has proven true. We saw that there are wood ducks, herons and egrets in the ponds with swallows and red-winged blackbirds in the hills surrounding. We were surprised by the aforementioned GINORMOUS water birds (American pelicans are between ten and seventeen pounds, which is not bad for a creature with hollow bones) and the expected seventeen hundred Canadian geese, Scrub Jays, grebes, and scaups, we chased a pair of Northern Flickers across the parking lot without getting a good picture. That’s definitely going to happen next time. What’s also going to happen is more photography – we realized that in the past eight months or so, we’ve not gotten out as we liked to record our experiences and see the world. Even if we don’t visit any of the other numerous parks in our area, Quarry Lakes is going to keep us happily occupied for some time.

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Half paved paths with manicured lawns, half scrub oaks and dirt-and-gravel trails, this place is so, so big, we almost missed a little corner of it which houses a Showcase Garden, a Master Gardener’s display piece to show off native species and plants which do well in our particular zone. There were herbs and succulents, cacti, roses, and fruit trees. On a cool morning in the spring and summer it will be delightful, but even on a cool and gray winter afternoon, it was gorgeous and smelled fresh and clean. The green was almost surreal, as the sun sliced a bit through a bank of clouds.

It’s hard to describe the effect of an unexpected garden when your hearts are already full from birds and water and a lot of sky. The tiny paths and bright colors were a treat that lifted us out of ourselves all over again.

When you’re feeling a little rattled by circumstances, a walk in the park (or, regional recreation area, fine, whatever) solves …basically nothing. No voice from above, no angel choirs, nothing miraculously solved. What it does do is suffuse blood into your prefrontal cortex (no, seriously). What that does is disrupt repetitive thoughts. What movement does is raise your endorphin level, lower your stress levels, and reduce anxiety. Sure, everything is still a mess – you’re still waiting in the liminal threshold of a change, trying to determine your direction, but for an hour or so, it certainly gets you out of your head. A brief sabbatical from indecision or angst is worth celebrating.

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…and a fat squirrel in an oak tree

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On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… comedy. In the form of volunteering to shop with our nephews.


Christmas this year… well, it happened, but after we put in the requisite time for programs and celebrations, we missed a lot of the spirit of it. Our last concert was the 17th, with lovely brass, bells, and organ, and then we dove into a round of lab visits, specimen samples, and recovery rooms. Swallowing a camera during an endoscopy is, apparently, not something you remember clearly when you wake up, but the photographs of the inside of one’s abdominal caverns is usefully interesting, if not truly illuminating. (“What’s it supposed to look like?!”) Himself has had a lot of trouble eating and keeping food where it’s meant to be, so we’ve been in kind of a quiet blind panic of medical visits. None of the signs of cancer have been found, though, thank you for your concern. We are taking it all very seriously, even if we haven’t been that forthcoming with it in person.

Anyway, by the time the actual holiday arrived, we were exhausted from stress and worry and work nonsense, and so took a day off. We were so grateful for people giving to us – a lovely church service where we didn’t have to do anything but sit and take it in, people sending cards and fun gifts, far too much See’s candy that we didn’t regift, but ATE… And it was Good.

As we recovered, we asked family what we could give them as gifts, and as usual, most of our family said a lot of “Meh,” which is what our family has always done, which is why we tend to get together seriously at Thanksgiving, and spend Christmas a.) avoiding each other, b.) taking long walks, c.) staying in bed, d.)watching movies and e.) arguing about Scrabble points. But, as a mother of growing boys, T’s sister asked for new church clothes for the boys, as protruding wrists and ankles are heralding the newest growth spurts, so T dutifully asked for sizes, and ran into the wall of, “well, that depends on…” and so D said, “Oh, I’ll just take them shopping. Just give me a list, and I’ll take them around and get them a few things.” He also said it’d probably take him an hour.

Theories are great things. But sometimes they don’t take into account, like, reality.

“I have a list, it’ll be quick,” does not take into account the temperaments of a dreamy eleven year old, and a zippy, bounce-around-the-store-because-I-already-tried-it-on-once nine-year old. Theories do not take into account conscientious adults trying to allow children to make decisions, because adults all too often make decisions for children for the sake of expediency (and having the decision made before one expires of old age). There is valuable entertainment to be had in watching expectation collide with reality sometimes. This was one of those times.

D. had already decided to make a whole day policy of not rushing the boys, because there was no true time limit for the shopping day, so he just… waited… while… they… made… up… their… minds. At Jamba Juice. At DSW. At Old Navy.

He regretted this choice. Frequently.

He also regretted that he hadn’t any understanding of shopping for children. The texts came thick and fast: Did you know kids’ jeans don’t have inseam measurements!? How does anyone know what size they wear?” and “I have located a pair of pants, found an empty changing room, tried on a pair of pants, texted you a picture of them, folded them, and returned them to the shelf and that child is still trying one the same shirt How does that one shirt take ten minutes?” and that sort of thing. Those left at home were doing a lot of snickering.

At any rate, the subsequent fashion show went swimmingly, as the boys modeled their new clothing, and the adults sat in various stages of exhaustion in the living room and provided the appropriate drumrolls and applause as the boys emerged from the den. And all went well until we heard older brother say to little brother, “Those aren’t going to fit. You can’t do up the button.”

From the front room, Himself yells, “WHAT!? I had you try on EVERYTHING! How can something not FIT!?”

Ominous silence.

Then, little brother, “Um… Mom…?”

Amid protests from older brother that she’s not “talent” and “only talent is allowed backstage,” T’s sister goes into the den, and lo and behold, a pair of pants doesn’t fit little brother. Which he tried on. And pulled his shirt down over because it wouldn’t button.

Cue myriad exclamations from the adults. “But, why would you do that? You were in a store. You could have just gotten the next size up.”

*Hazel brown eyes blink blank incomprehension*

T asks, “Do you know why you try on clothes at the store?”

Still with the Bambi eyes. “Um… no?”

All eyes turn to Mom, who sighs, and rolls her eyes. “That’s my boy,” she says.

Himself thrusts the receipt into his sister-in-law’s hands. “You’re on your own,” he says. “I don’t do returns.”

Himself says the boys were every bit as good as they could be, and that he’d take them shopping again in a heartbeat… He just needs at least a year’s recovery time. At least.

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On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… wine. SO. MUCH. WINE.

Corporate America continues to reveal its clueless, tone-deaf self in terms of gifts; we have now four (4) bottles of wine D’s been given, plus two T’s eldest sister doesn’t know what to do with. Given the number of D’s Hindu and Muslim coworkers, it is truly astonishing that someone in HR still clings to the idea that Wine is great! Sure, it’s perfectly appropriate; EVERYONE will want this…” but that seems to be the case.

After awkwardly accepting yet another bottle of, what we’ve been assured is some Very Fine Vintage, we’ve been Googling What To Do With Wine pretty thoroughly. White wine lends itself more easily to cooking and to cleaning, but for whatever reason, all of our gifts this year are reds. However, Martha Stewart suggests reds for crock-pot roasts of meat or bean-and-bay leaf stews, or for red cabbage and apples, as well as for simmering a dried fruit compote, with dried cranberries or sour cherries. Once wine reduces, it’s apparently quite sweet. (The good news is that not only does the alcohol dissipate when heated, but the sulfites do, too – so allergy sufferers, rejoice.) We’ve also found recipes for red wine vinegar, chocolate cake, pancake syrup, lentils, jellies, gravies and sauces. D has produced an amazingly good olive rosemary bread with a fine crumb and a hint of garlic – and that all the liquid in the bread was red wine has so far made no discernible difference in flavor – but it might help it keep longer, who knows.

Additionally, wine apparently makes a good skin toner, or you can pour it into a hot bath to soften skin and clear up psoriasis, though we’ll believe that when we see it. It’s allegedly useful for cleaning produce and it makes an amazing fertilizer, apparently. While white wine is known to remove stains, red wine makes a great dye. Will you now please cue a little 90’s era comet blaze across your inner eye, emblazoned with the words, *The More You Know…. Thank you.


And so we conclude: It is not yet New Year’s; somehow, 2018 is still clinging like a viscous film to our brains. We’ll try again at Lunar New Year to see if we feel fresh and at all different in the Year of the Boar. Somehow, we have our doubts. For now, we’ll stick with merely wishing you a Happy Wednesday.

A Bit Of History & A Little Grain: Spoon Bread

Hello from the other side of the first storms of the season, washing away the stench of smoke and the dust of summertime. Mornings now are frigid and damp, and it’s time for December baking.

Most Californians are familiar with horchata, one of several central-Mexican drinks which both refresh and feed. Horchata is made of ground rice, cinnamon, and sugar in its most basic form. Agua frescas were kind of A Thing back in the day — and instead of a rice-grain drink, central Europeans took water and grain and let it ferment — the addition of that yeast turned it into what historians called liquid bread. It’s interesting how many feed-and-refresh drinks from Mayan times there actually are – an exploratory visit to a tiny Salvadorean pupuseria introduced us recently to atol de elote.

Atol – the Spanish word for kernel – is grated fresh from the elote cob and combined with milk and cinnamon. Sounds a lot like horchata, right? Well, it’s exactly like horchata, in that it is sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet. So sweet. TOO sweet. We ordered it to go with burritos, and — nope. We were expecting something more like a naturally sweet chowder, and we got more of a milkshake carbfest. So, the little take-out cups sat in the fridge until we had a moment to figure out what to do with them.

And then we thought of spoon bread.

If you’re native Californian, spoon bread probably doesn’t automatically occur to you, either, but folks from the Southern U.S. and the East Coast likely think of it more often. (Like, MUCH more often. Did you know that The Linguistic Atlas survey of the middle Atlantic and Southern states collected over 330 terms for cornbreads? We are slightly out of control with this dish, people. Just SLIGHTLY.)

Historically, the world was first formally introduced to the dish in the 1847 cookbook THE CAROLINA HOUSEWIFE, by Sarah Rutledge, with the idea that the dish had evolved from the Algonquian languages’ names for baked cornmeal, suppone, appone, and apan. Awendaw cornbread, named for an Sewee tribal settlement outside of Charleston, South Carolina, is close-ish as a sibling, and probably what Rutledge referred to, but it’s …mostly unlikely, as traditional spoonbread, with its light, soufflé-style structure, is the furthest thing from plain cooked cornmeal. Still, however we got to it, spoonbread exists, and the now cold and gelatinous cups full of fresh corn and milk (some recipes call for corn starch as well) had a destination.

The idea wasn’t for this to set up properly like a cornbread, which could be cut into squares, nor was it to be a the consistency of a hoecake, which relies on the buttered pan and crisp edges to keep the inside creamy and the outside firm. This was much more dense bread pudding than soufflé — but it worked. Should you want to try it yourself, sans the side-trip to having the atol de elote languishing in your fridge in take-out cups, try this:

West Coast Spoonbread: Lightly whip two eggs with three tablespoons of canola oil, 1 tsp of salt, a teaspoon of baking powder, and a scant teaspoon of soda. Add this to roughly three cups of corn frehly cut from the cob, and a cup of milk – whether coconut milk or sweetened condensed milk or a full-fat dairy is up to you. Add this slurry to 3/4 cup of finely ground polenta meal and 3/4 cup of AP flour. We added 3/4 cup of rye flour for color and nutrients, but you may substitute with AP, white, or white whole wheat as well. We also added an additional cup of frozen corn kernels just because. Pour into a very well oiled container, and bake for 55 minutes. Expect this spoonbread pudding to puff, and then subside.

Corn bread is the easiest thing in the world to vegan-ify, with plant milk and a couple of flax eggs. We often make it this way, but since we had this dairy-milk slurry, it made sense to just add eggs. This spoonbread is dense, slightly sweet, fresh, corn-y, and delicious, but we’ll be tweaking this a bit as we go on!

Happy December baking to you.

Through All The Tumult And The Strife

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My life flows on in endless song,
Above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the clear, though far off hymn
That hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since love is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

Glorious Days of Gratitude to You!

Whatever you name it – Turkey Day, Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving – and whatever it means to you, we hope you have a relaxing and gratitude-filled long weekend. Even if it’s nothing more than a kick-off to Christmas shopping for you – truly, enjoy the time.

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We’ve been told our fruitcake production level is approaching “scary,” but truly, we don’t need a bakery, we swear. These little cakes don’t stay at our house, but tend to feed our community, to good effect. People are a little sweeter, in this time of stress and hurry, and that can only be A Good Thing.

This is the time of year to fling ourselves joyfully into the food of other cultures, acknowledging that this addition to our nation is for what we should be truly grateful. Unmired from the colonial mythos of saintly pilgrims and simple savages (neither saints nor savages in true history), we greet pancit, sushi, and tasty pupusas Salvadoreñas as part of this year’s favorite foods – and lately, we’ve discovered the tragically delicious La Michoacana, with their fruit sorbets of every imaginable flavor. We blame, with love, our friends Yadira and Jose-Luis for this tiny addiction.

And now it’s time for the list — privileges, duly checked, and acknowledged with gratitude:

  • The D&T show, which has been renewed for a 25th season next year,
  • Our snug little abode – which suits us perfectly for now,
  • Improving health outcomes – D’s recovered from metabolic freefall to gain a pound or three. Additionally, after only a year of fiddling with medication, T’s autoimmune disorder has stabilized. While health outcomes can change at a moment’s notice, the trick is finding joy in the now in which everything is just fine,
  • Our work – while D’s job is a lot like playing whack-a-mole some days, one can at least say he is never bored, and he is well-known and appreciated by the people in his company. Though work relationships aren’t the “40 years and gold watch” variety anymore, D has the skill to move in and out of companies, leaving friends behind. On T’s side, the sale of two more books with a new imprint, coming with the threat promise of a multi-city book tour is a gift she’s not going to squander,
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  • The joys of artistry – whether (badly) playing piano, (badly) embroidering, (badly) knitting, or baking (which some of us Can Actually Do), singing in our chamber group, or glue-gunning anything that won’t be still, we’ve had many ways to entertain ourselves and create serenity this past year,
  • The coming rains – at last – which should heal our poor state,
  • Is it odd to have an entire line to be grateful for sleep, and finally getting some? No? Good.

Obviously, there’s more – always more. Gratitude for the public servants who arrive at every tragedy – the “helpers” for whom adults tell children to look, and which every adult should strive to be. We can be grateful for small movements toward the restoration of checks-and-balances within our government. We can be grateful for our communities, in their richness and diversity, for the expansion of our families from blood to choice, for dresses with pockets. The paean runs ever on – how can we keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

“Is it me, or does that look like a lung?” Adventures in Kombucha

Okay, FINE. We’re making kombucha. We’ve joined the hipsters, and the state of the world is dire indeed.

Honestly, we  know lacto-bacteria is good for health – we were happily okay with fermented lemonade and ginger beer, but truly, the kombucha people are way too into their “mothers” and whatnot. Honestly? That scoby thing looks like a LUNG or something, and we are not even kidding. But – let us back up a titch.

T’s lovely autoimmune disorder is morphing into something new and annoying – gastroparesis. What we believed to be a stomach ‘flu this summer was not, and we’ve learned that few things settle her stomach better than something lacto-fermented. She believes it’s probably a placebo effect because she knows it’s good for her, but it’s also light and crisp and generally only slightly fizzy, which is generally why most nauseous people prefer something carbonated. At an airport a few weeks ago, T felt so bad she was desperate enough to try kombucha, because a shop had one with ginger… Aaaaand… the rest is history. We went home and found a store-bought bottle of organic raw kombucha with a little bit of blobby stuff on the bottom, and pulled out our fermentation crock to make our own.

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The blobby bit on the bottom is a scoby – which is a 
Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. We put our unfiltered kombucha into our crock, fed it a cup of sweetened black tea, and left it alone for two weeks. The bacteria and yeast eat the sugar, just like it does in the yeast in bread, and creates more of itself, with a happy side-effect of mild carbonation. Kombucha is full of probiotics and things which our gut bacteria love which will make them love us. And, despite the lung-lookalike, with its rubbery slippery-ness and brown stringy bits, it isn’t actually that gross. Okay, no it is, but it doesn’t stink – it smells fresh and slightly sour – a little vinegary.  The weird bubbles and blobby bits are a good sign – (a bad sign, of course, would be anything black, moldy, or fuzzy green). It isn’t ever going to be …an attractive-looking process, but as we poked at the thing that looked very…organic and cellular, we reminded ourselves that it was For Our Health! For! Our! Health!

And we’d like it once before, right? Right.

We decanted our first bottle yesterday, made from a black pu’er tea (a fermented tea from the Yunnan province in China – aging and fermenting teas is also A Thing, and there are pu’er gambling rings in some places, because some people are highly motivated to get certain tea batches from certain years, like some people do with wines) and do you know what it tastes like? A much less sugary Mexican Senorial soda, sangria flavor. We have no idea how that happened – at all – but it’s really tasty… and organic-looking or not, it settles the stomach, and that’s good enough, for now.

August’s Bounty, Bittersweet

from E.B. White, CHARLOTTE’S WEB

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone, over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.” A little maple tree heard the cricket song and turned bright red with anxiety.

The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year — the days when summer is changing into fall the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.

Everybody heard the song of the crickets. Avery and Fern Arable heard it as they walked the dusty road. They knew that school would soon begin again. The young geese heard it and knew that they would never be little goslings again. Charlotte heard it and knew that she hadn’t much time left. Mrs. Zuckerman, at work in the kitchen, heard the crickets, and a sadness came over her, too. “Another summer gone,” she sighed. Lurvy, at work building a crate for Wilbur, heard the song and knew it was time to dig potatoes.

“Summer is over and gone,” repeated the crickets. “How many nights till frost?” sang the crickets. “Good-bye, summer, good-bye, good-bye!”

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August already, and so much coming and going. We have now been in this little house for a whole year, whirling here on the winds of fires in the North Bay, and bracketed once again by smoky, hazy days which are beginning to be the mark of summer itself. Dust settles on every surface, egrets stalk up and down the slough, and housekeeping is a futile endeavor, chasing the dust bunnies from the daily wind storms and endless house refurbishments on the block. Summer in suburbia means that someone is always cutting tile, jackhammering driveways, trimming, mowing, blowing, digging. Through windows yawning wide to gather a cool breath to dispel the clinging humidity, we hear the electronic melodies of the neighborhood’s phones ring, and fumble after our own. Child voices raised in shrieking laughter and sobs echo through otherwise quiet corridors. Ah, summertime, and the living is… fraught. Everywhere is a focused intensity, as the community seems to teem with people trying to wring as much enjoyment as they can from these long, bright days… with the ironic result that everyone seems to be whirling along busily, faster and faster than before.

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The busy whirl makes it difficult to remember that myriad people suffer from melancholia in the month of August. It’s a month where it feels like everything is winding down, yet nothing has gotten done, and decisions have yet to be made. “The summer is over, and we are not yet saved!” Many moneyed friends are away on holiday, yet we who want to be outside are prevented from spending time in the outdoors, whether it’s because it’s too hot, too smoky, or we just don’t have the time – yet we feel the clock ticking down to colder, greyer weather. People are drowning in nostalgia for the simplicity of back-to-school when all they have before them is more work – and then the holiday insanity – and too many people feel pushed just now about affording school for themselves, for their kids, uniforms, etc. etc. Check in with yourself and with your friends this month – it’s never not a good time to sure we fragile humans are okay, but it can be an especially good time now. August hits some people worse than February. There truly is such a thing as “summertime blues.”

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T is still a bit miffed that her “summertime blues” have been more tinged with green. She has had two weeks of off-and-on stomach ‘flu which, to her mind, came out of nowhere. She was minding her own business, studying her Dutch (and conjugating zeggen, weten, gaan, drenken, spreken and hebben are enough to make one want to lie down with nausea anyway), when wham – in the middle of making breakfast, it was all over. In the season of white peaches and sunshine, who is stuck in the house throwing up??? The ignominy! It’s mainly the peaches she’s mad about, to be honest. She was marveling over beginning her morning with eating the perfect peach… and then… um. Well. Anyway, D has brought her more peaches to make up for the ones she “lost…” but she’s still holding a grudge against the universe. Ahem.

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In other news, while now we’ve been back in the States now for six years, and a single year in this house, next month also marks the unofficial anniversary of twenty-four years of the D&T show. (And yes, to all of those wondering – the show began when we were in the sixth grade. Obviously.) Unofficial, because it’s an anniversary no one celebrates but the two of us – and sometimes even we forget. The world sneers at those of us who forget to be romantics… but perhaps the truest test of a love is knowing whether or not fuss and roses are happily received. T, who believes firmly in the truth of Cut Flowers Are Dead, has twice now gotten rose bushes – which are perfectly acceptable, as well as orchids, and untold air plants and saintpaulia, which are much more suitable. Meanwhile, D received cut flowers at work once, and has yet to live down the horror. And somehow, the show goes on…

Last guests will be arriving this week – D’s childhood friend from her house in Georgia, and a few in and out trips by other family members who happen to be in town. There are birthdays to be celebrated, and fairs and festivals to attend. The Chamber group kicked off their free community choir this past weekend with games and songs and a picnic – which we missed thanks to germs – but soon we’ll be neck deep in holiday music and preparing for our first show December first. The wheels never stop turning, but in the summertime, one can pretend, for a little while, that they’re not going anywhere in particular… but deadlines are looming, endings are approaching, and so much is on the horizon…including the last of the fresh corn fritters, zucchini crab cakes, more cake, and grilled pizza. (All the things you can find excuses to make when you have company.)

So, friends. How is it with you?

Midsummer

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And on the Fourth Day, there were Fireworks. And again on the Fifth Day. And also the Sixth. And then the Eighth. For behold, once begun, no one seemed to be able to figure out how to stop having Fireworks, but we’re about to hunt them down and help them


We are coming up on almost a year living in this little house. We arrived the last day of the month a year ago, to dirt and chaos. This month, we’re sorting closets as if we were moving again, winnowing all of our possessions in the yearly “why do we have so much STUFF!?” fit that T throws.

(But seriously: why do we have so much stuff??)

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Things are still lovely here in beautiful brown Newark. We still get weird bursts of humidity. The light is still way too bright. God’s AC still turns on faithfully at about half two in the afternoon, and the slough still provides us with an astonishing variety of weird smells and odd noises in the middle of the night. (It is disturbing to hear things swimming when one leaves the windows open.) The “bandit cats,” as D one day called raccoons when he couldn’t remember the name for them, continue to be huge and disturbing and stare fixedly at one from eerie, backlit eyes. The crow guard continues to be… nosy, and have taken to moving the patriotic pinwheel some realtor left in our yard from whichever planter we put it in. At least they’ve mostly been leaving the fountain alone…

The newest Wild Kingdom entertainment is that we have ground squirrels undermining the bank in the back of the house and watching hawks pounce and strike at them… and being startled and horrified watching an egret do the same thing. It is NOT nice to watch something with that long of a neck attempt to swallow… Ugh, never mind.
Nature, y’all.

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As delightful as all of that has been, we’ve been a bit restless. Several news agencies reported on the research behind a story run in the Guardian about how $117 thousand a year is “low income” in some places in California, and how ridiculous it all is to struggle so hard to make ends meet. We had hoped to stay in this area long enough to retire, but after our trip to the Netherlands and visiting with friends from other states, we are at long last taking a serious look at other options for a slower life. This doesn’t mean we’re giving up on our various projects. We’re working on media for next year’s season of our chamber group already, finding ourselves somehow involved in helping with graphic and website design. We’re still doing fermentation projects (Fermented green plum pickles = amazing), and not yet giving up our summertime joys of cycling and putzing around the Farmer’s Markets or wherever. We’re giving ourselves ’til August to get serious about thinking, but… the thoughts are already sneaking in.

For so long, we thought we should stay in California because there were more ethnically mixed families here, and some of the more painful, oblivious, and/or overtly malicious interactions one can experience being part of a mixed family were at a minimum here. But, as the world so handily proves these days, racists are everywhere. We may as well just say “forget it,” and take our chances elsewhere.

For a long time, we felt like we couldn’t leave our church community. That’s …changed, and not in a wholly negative way, but we’re in a weird middle ground where we don’t have kids, and find a lot of things are very families-with-kids oriented. We’re in that same weird liminal space that probably a lot of single people get lost in, the This Is Not About You But You’re Welcome To Sit Here Anyway place, which can feel a bit alienating.

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The thing about communities is that they aren’t static, and neither are we, and sometimes, what was a good fit doesn’t remain so. Currently the not-good-fit that many churchy people are experiencing is the cognitive dissonance of religious communities who remain utterly silent in the face of atrocious goings on in the nation. One can grow up on tales of bold apostles and a social justice God, yet see nothing of this echoed in the behaviors of modern day saints. What does one do, when one believes that truth doesn’t just set us free, but speaking our truth can set others free to articulate theirs? There has to be a way to …speak out to lift the burdens of injustice while also respecting a distinct separation of church and state. And so, we join many others who are now wandering to find that new middle ground. It’s something which feels a little risky, but things have already been lost in a very amicable way – so being intentional is probably the best way to go about things. Perhaps one should just take a plunge and let go.

This all feels very adolescent, this itch for risk and change and new challenges. Probably this is the point at which most people would have a baby or something – but we’re late bloomers on every level, as usual. Instead we’ll probably just get matching nose rings and take off for South America or something.

Or, you know, just donate a lot of our stuff and move. Again.

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At D’s office… put up anonymously.

Exit Signs

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You know you’ve been on vacation just that little bit too long when you’re contemplating rearranging the furniture in your rental. When you’ve been there long enough to be grumpy that there aren’t pans for baking, and you begin to start to examine real estate. Usually, one feels like vacations don’t last long enough, and that there’s not enough time to see friends and see the countryside, but this one was just long enough to see both, and wish to either stay forever, or go home.

We got to go out to Gemert to see friends one last time. T. has been challenged by a six year old to say her alphabet and count to an hundred in Dutch, so that’s her new life goal, so she can win a contest she had no idea she was entering (it is already uneven, since this child has Dutch in school, and has a more elastic brain. This is not going to go well). Mr. S. offered to introduce D. to his bosses, should he ever want a job here, and he will hold that lovely thought in stupid meetings where he’s annoyed with his current position. We will both hold the memory of the beautifully green countryside close, as we return home and summer bleaches the hills golden blonde.

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Our last full day was an Event, as the Market was in full swing again, and the organ grinder, of course, was back, playing TV theme songs and Beatles tunes. We ate at a bagel restaurant that had vegetarian options on the menu… as well as… bugs. No, really. For a bagel topping, you can get mealworms and crickets with your cream cheese instead of …jam? It was startling, to say the least… maybe next time. (Or, maybe never?)

After taking a gander at all of the things on offer, we visited an old-fashioned apothecary (for mosquito cures again) and met a New Zealander who has lived in Delft for twenty years – and her accent hasn’t budged a bit. We also met a woman from Edinburgh… who chased us down in the middle of the market because she was nosy enough to want to know why T was carrying a Macsween’s Haggis bag (which we got it in Scotland for groceries). We ran into a group of school kids on a huge scavenger hunt, and snagged our first cherries of the season! All in all, a good ending to a memorable trip.

And, then, of course, our exit flight was delayed, and our connecting hour and a half layover in Keflavik was delayed FIVE EIGHT HOURS. Apparently hurricane season, or something, has thrown storms along the path, and every single flight in this airport is delayed. The people trying to get to Texas have been here for EIGHT TWELVE HOURS, so we can’t complain. Much. Isn’t that always the way it goes? Here’s hoping they’ll announce our gate shortly.

… Happy Travels,

D&T

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