You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2007.

 Where have I been? Devouring The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I got up this morning, ate two blueberry pancakes, and didn’t put the book down (except to make a cup of tea) until I’d finished it. It lived up, not only to the title, but also to the front cover blurb describing it as ‘absolutely gosh-wow,’ a phrase I had stuck in my head the entire time I read. It even included an Antarctic adventure! And a near-drowning on dry land! Okay, those were the least of its wonders. A time-investment, all those delicious pages, but well worth it. And, the first title checked off of the Book Awards Reading Challenge. Next up will be Roller Skates (Newbery, but of course), another one that’s been languishing on my shelves for far too long.

I’ll have pictures of the Blackberry Mascarpone Tart once my brother wakes up an emails me the pictures – the final assembly occurred at my parents’ house on Saturday, and I’d forgotten my camera. But good thing I made it for a crowd, because boy was it messy once I cut into it. Also, I couldn’t seem to keep my fork away from it and would likely have consumed the entire thing if left to my own devices. Fortunately everyone else was enough enamored with it to leave no leftovers.

PS – I’m in search of the perfect, classic, blueberry pie recipe.  Any ideas?  I’m considering this one.

If I’m not around here much these days, it’s because, well, I don’t have to have my computer on to do schoolwork.  So, 1) I don’t use the internet as a distraction as much and 2) sometimes I don’t even turn it on for a few days.  It’s a new world.  I like it.

I just finished two books, No One Belongs Here More Than You (Miranda July) and Feathers (Jacqueline Woodson).  NOBHMTY had me reading quite a bit out loud to Kitri – one story in particular, “The Man on the Stairs,” was full of those great observations about life and human behavior that you don’t really think about until someone else puts them into words.  I don’t tend to find short stories satisfying, but these were unsatisfying in a good way.  Often slightly uncomfortable in their intriguingness.  Like Me and You and Everyone We Know, not to be recommended to everyone.  But I think it’s fair to say that the stories leave you (or at least me) with much the same feeling as the movie.

Feathers was a small book without feeling small.  It takes place over a short period of time – only a few days, I think – and it feels cozy at the same that it feels expansive.  It wasn’t what I expected it to be, but it was satisfying (I seem to be using that criterion a lot lately) which is a good thing in a children’s book – the part about not being what you expect.  If you lay out what happens, it sounds like it’s packed with issues, but it’s not, really.  Also, I really wanted to be part of the family it describes.  Sit on my grandmother’s lap (even if you’re too big for it, like sixth grader Frannie) and eat chicken and mashed potatoes.  Heck, I’d even eat the greens.

I couldn’t help comparing it to a similarly sized and issue-packed children’s book – Flip-Flop Girl by Katherine Paterson.  Now, if you’ve ever been around me while I read or talk about Bridge to Terabithia, you’ll know of my abiding passion for the work of Katherine Paterson.  I think of Lyddie whenever I hear the phrase ‘we can still hope’ – and I automatically translate in my head to ‘we can still hop.’  I remember being engrossed by Jacob Have I Loved in middle school.  Picking up The Great Gilly Hopkins in my college library was one of the things that got me back into reading children’s lit.  But Flip-Flop Girl was disappointing.  The issues felt like too much, Vinnie ticked me off (sure she has plenty of reasons to be obnoxious, but does she have to be so obnoxious?  It was almost too believable to be enjoyable) and I wonder how much it would appeal to kids.  Which isn’t to say that it isn’t on some levels extremely well written.  The grandmother is a great mixed bag of a character – full of flaws, but as an adult I can see how behind all her mistakes, she’s really trying to do the best thingThe mother is loving without being perfect.  But I just wonder if it can transcend being an issue book – dead father, brother stops speaking, moving to a new town, being an outsider at school, friend whose father is in jail, etc.

Finally, and this is the most exciting part of this entry (best for last, and all that), I ditched Thirteen Moons to listen to Life as We Knew It.   And not just any copy, but one that arrived in the mail straight from the author herself.  I saw she had a giveaway of copies of the audio book, and thought surely I must be too late to snag one, but lo, there was one left and it turned out to have my name on it.  You might remember how it sucked me in and made me want to ration my food when I first read it, and something tells me this time around will be no different.  Susan Beth Pfeffer mentions on her blog about trying to elicit from parents at a reading which parts made them cry – and damned if the very first disc hasn’t already had me tearing up.  I’m driving around town, picking up a bundle of local, organic veggies and just knowing what’s about to happen brings a little tear to my eye.  Of course, when I was driving home from delicious hamburgers and grilled zucchini at my parents’ I turned a corner and there was the moon.  And really, you can’t look at the moon the same way anymore.   But really, only one bag of chocolate chips?  I know what I’ll stock up on come the end of the world.  Verdict on the audio so far: the voice is appropriately teenagery without being obnoxious – hits the right note.  Once I finish listening (and once Kitri has a turn with it) I’ll pass it along to my library.  Thanks, Sue!

I’m listening – or trying to listen – to Charles Frazier’s Thirteen Moons.  I got through the first disc, and I told myself that I would make a decision at that point.  The kid, I can’t even remember his name, is setting off to be indentured to a shop keep.  He’s camping out and killing snakes and fending off bears.  I could care less.  But, it’s well told and read.  I appreciate the old-fashioned turns of phrase and the feel of the thing.  I just don’t know if I want to bother getting into it.

Yesterday I picked up Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You.  At least I think that’s the title.  Just like with the movie she made, I have a hard time remembering the precise wording of her titles.  Short stories, which never quite hook me as well as a novel, but they’re intriguing.  Since it’s due back in 3 days, it got bumped up above Kavalier and Clay temporarily.

What else?  This morning I picked up To Buy or Not to Buy Organic by Cindy Burke to peruse as I waited for a too-ripe peach to turn into a peach oven pancake.  Was the peach organic?  I don’t honestly remember.  Is that one of the things I ought to buy organic?  I haven’t gotten that far.  So far we’re talking about the horrors of pesticides, which I can’t say I’ve ever really dwelt on before.  Let’s cheat and skip ahead (it’s that kind of book, it’s okay) and find out about that peach.  Hmm, it ought to have been organic.  If not, it’s preferable that it was sprayed “before the fruit set.”  If sprayed within the last month, avoid.  Now you know.  (I ought to ask the peach folks at the farmer’s market about their spraying habits – I don’t think they’re certified.  But I like to just buy my produce and walk away – I am an introvert.)

Now, on to food.

Di’s comment about chocolate bars did nothing to abate my cravings.  The chocolate malt I had yesterday was a temporary fix.  As, I suppose, are all consumings of chocolate.  How is it that I have no chocolate in the house?  There is cocoa, and unsweetened baking chocolate, yes.  I could bake something or make pudding (mmm, pudding pops).  But I just want to bite into solid chocolate.

The tomatoes are growing apace, although still completely green.  But it’s heartening to take the compost out and see them all hanging out together.  The sunflowers have also done nicely.  I would show you pictures but for some reason they’re reluctant to upload.

Ah, the last of the pastries.

Well, the last of the official pastries.  They’re here to stay in my life.

This week B and I did Surreal Green Vegetable Tarts (although I’m not quite sure what was supposed to be surreal about them).  With a frozen puff pastry (again), easy peasy and quite satisfying.

While your pastry is thawing, do the cheese part.

Some parmesan and ricotta, a dash of cumin (nice touch, that) and salt and pepper.

I couldn’t find a leek at the store, as called for, but I substituted long pieces of sweet onion.  Most of the zucchini was shredded with the vegetable peeler (once it got unmanageable, I sliced the rest), and peas were defrosted from the depths of the freezer (I have a strange fondness for frozen peas).

The veggies were tossed with a frothy egg white, fresh sliced basil, and salt and pepper.

A note on quantities, while we’re at it.  I bought a 340 gram container of ricotta a used perhaps 1/3 of it.  A sizeable chunk of parmesan broke off while grating, so I just finished it off.  I used 1 cup peas, 1 smallish zucchini, and nearly half of a decent sized onion.  I used one sheet of pastry out of the box (2 sheets to a Pepperidge Farms box).  This gave me a perfect amount of cheese and tons of vegetables.

The cheese was spread on the pastry (which I cut in half for an optimal amount of puff), leaving a 1 inch border.  Vegetables were piled on top and then drizzled with a little olive oil.  20 minutes in a 425 oven.

I probably had enough veggies to use up both sheets of pastry.  The cheese could have stretched to cover both sheets, but I like the level of cheesiness I achieved with these proportions.  I could also have piled on more veggies, but they were mounded fairly high before baking and I didn’t want things falling apart.  They did cook down quite a bit.

The result was a delicious lunch, paired with a corn on the cob.  Definitely a keeper.

Now I have to figure out what to do about my immense chocolate craving.  And figure out how to hold my tongue until Kitri has a chance to read Harry Potter (putting that library copy to good use before sending it on to some lucky child – or more likely, staff member).

I just wrote two letters.  Whee!  Mainly so I can’t complain about never getting any interesting mail.  If I reply to some letters, I can go back to complaining.  Productive, that’s me.  Productive while I try not to panic over the fact that my car broke down yesterday and would need $900 in repairs, except that’s a waste of money because it’s 17 years old.  My car is old enough to drive and donate blood.  Almost old enough to die for its country.  Instead of $900, we’re going for the $80 fix which involves the heater/AC not working and me turning around and selling it for however much I can convince someone to pay me.  In the meantime, how convenient that my mom just got herself a shiny new car and I can drive her ancient Toyota in the meantime.  While I pretend to be able to scrape together enough moolah to get a new car.

In other news, the fridge just started making a noise like a tiny rock band is locked in the freezer.  Wait, it just stopped.  At least I’m not responsible for the fridge.  Best thing about renting.  That and not mowing the lawn.

In other other news,  little brother and I are going to the movies tonight, after we both get off work in “downtown” hometown.  I wonder not having read Harry Potter in a few years will allow me to not obsess over the adaptation?  Probably not.  Especially since Joe is pretty much the only person who vaguely puts up with me tearing apart movie versions of books, being perhaps equally obsessed with the details.  I don’t even have to care about the book, I still enjoying ripping into it.

I started The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay last night.  I’m hooked.

Also, Shug is a great little read if you’re sitting in a parking lot waiting for your car to be towed.  Delightfully distracting.

Is it wrong that all I want to do is make and eat pastry?  And feed it to people? My dad and I had an extensive discussion about pie crusts and pastry methods last night.  My dad is all “Martha this” and “Martha that” and we discuss chilling all your ingredients (apparently Martha says everything chilled, but don’t bother with the salt) and America’s Test Kitchen says a 3:2 butter:shortening ratio for optimal flakiness and flavor.  You need a large food processor, and make sure you can still see chunks of butter, and here’s why you need to pierce the dough with a fork.  My sister ignored us and watched Angel.  According to Martha, try rolling your dough out on a surface sprinkled with brown sugar and spices, and they’ll be embedded in the underside of your crust.  I like that idea.

It’s been a while since I tried (and, ahem, failed) a reading challenge, but I like the mix and match quality of this one.  And hey, if I’m running out of time I can always pile on the Newberys.  But really, I read so few ‘difficult’ books, it would be good for my brain.  I’ll mull over possible titles, but since Kavalier and Clay has been on my bookshelf for ages, that’s a good one to start with (Pulitzer).

Tuesdays are lake days so of course that means it starts raining today.  Of course I love the rain, but couldn’t it have waited until tomorrow?  So instead of driving east, I have ample time to empty the dishwasher and clear out the sink and take out the compost and sip my coffee at the table instead of in the car.

I finally finished the curtains, back when it was hot and muggy and ironing was a royal pain, and I would offer you a picture, except it turns out curtains aren’t very photogenic.  You’ll have to come over and see.  Nothing fancy, but they break up the Whiteness of the Wall (like the whale, get it?  Oh, hush, I’m listening to The Secret of Lost Things and have Melville on my mind).

Un Lun Dun was ultimately a bit underwhelming.  Fun and clever, but no need to rush out and read it.  I wouldn’t describe myself as a fantasy fan, but as it turns out there are a bajillion children’s fantasy books that I love.  I’ll eat up Tolkien, CS Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’Engle, Susan Cooper, Patricia Wrede.  It goes on and on…but it’s either got to be quick and fun and to the point, a clever morsel, or you need substance and a sense of the profound.  Un Lun Dun wasn’t either – it was far too long to be a clever morsel, and although it might have tried for substance, I really doubt it.  It was full of characters and situations that begged to be recounted, but the plot and pacing felt off and the substance was absent.  It was like trying to eat a giant meringue for dinner.

I finished Serve it Forth the other night – it was very pleasant digested a chapter or two at a time, and I still have a huge chunk of The Art of Eating left to work my way through.  Recommended for people who like to think about and read about food.

Speaking of food, even my humblest tomato plants are working to put fruit on the vine, with the baby plant in a pot offering up a single crinkled green tomato and the larger plants hiding a multitude behind their lives.  Hopefully they won’t all ripen on the same day.  I was going to try, per Di’s suggestion, cutting back the watering on the most mature to force them to ripen, but the rain has squashed those plans.  I pulled out most of the dill to make more room, but left a few stalks to go to seed and give me more dill next year.   I’m thinking about braving the wet grass to go pick more blueberries while it’s cloudy.

Oh, and I got new glasses.  A bit reminiscent of my grandmother – the one whose vision I inherited – but not as severe.  (I ought to scan a picture.)  They will, I hope, give me amazing shushing action at work.

Behold, the free form fruit tart:

Before, and…

After.  Fairly simple.  I used the pastry recipe from last week, divided it into four pieces, rolled them out.  Gathered a few measly berries from my parents’ yard – there were four raspberries left, and three boysenberries ripe, and a handful of marionberries.  Picked up a few northwest-raised apricots at New Seasons, and used some blueberries I picked after church yesterday.   Tossed with a lemon juice, vanilla, and sugar combo.

Heaped on the pastry, attempted to pinch the edges together.  I’m messy enough getting pastry into a pie/tart pan, so I wasn’t too surprised when the juices burst through the pastry blockade to establish a settlement on the baking sheet.  The apricots were mildly disappointing – not as flavorful as I hoped, but pleasing to the eye.  The berries were the messiest part, but I wanted to add more color to the whole adventure – probably should’ve stuck with just a sprinkling of blueberries.  Less time consuming than last week’s tart, easy to eat a lot.  Messy on the plate and quick to disappear into my mouth.  The free-form part was fun, though.  I’d like to try it again and be more inventive.

Going to the lake two days in a row and sitting in the shade watching kids frolic really eats up your time.  What’s even better is being the laziest adult at the lake – the only one without younguns to tend to.  I bring enough food for one, I don’t have to remember when to reapply sunscreen on little bodies, I don’t have to keep track of sand toys or inner tubes, and I get to sleep in the next morning after a hot, restless night.  Believe me, I’m enjoying my carefree existence while I’ve got it.

Yesterday I got sick of the heap of wrinkled fabric sitting on the rocking chair and decided to allow it to fulfill its destiny as curtains.  One panel down, three to go.  Surprisingly easy – cutting it into four even pieces was the hardest part.  And ironing on a hot afternoon.  Then it’s just fold, iron, fold, iron, sew, at top and bottom.  The long sides are the selvage, and look neat and presentable unless you put your nose right up to them.  Easy peasy.  And I even got around to buying proper fabric scissors when I ran to the Mill End Store for green thread.  And I even frozen a big bag of sliced rhubarb so that we can enjoy strawberry rhubarb joy in the coming winter months!  I am a domestic creature.

Un Lun Dun is going nicely although I’m not in love.  Listening to Stargirl in the car and The Secret of Lost Things at work.  Kaaterskill Falls will have to go on my recommended list whenever I get around to updating it.  And now I suppose to ought to go to work…

The Week of the Buttermilk Blueberry Tart (seriously, I can’t type buttermilk anymore. I am compelled to add an E and make it buttermilke). Try it yourself! Slightly more complicated than last week, what with the actually making the pastry, but the filling is quite simple. I’m low on photos this week – it was hot and my hands were continuously floury.

This tart featured two new additions to my kitchen: the pastry blender and the tart pan with removable edges.

It blended very nicely, until the egg yolk and water were added and then fingers came into play. There was lots of to-ing and fro-ing – form a ball, refrigerate. Roll it out, put it in the pan, refrigerate.

Fill with beans. Bake. Cool. Fill with blueberries and top with ‘buttermilke’ mixture.

Bake. Cool.

It’s still cooling, in fact, but the mini tart made from the extra dough was delish and tided us over until tomorrow. When it shall be round about 100 degrees and I shall flee to the lake with cold leftover pizza and never dream of turning on the oven.

Edited to add…I see that Bronwen had some of the same frustrations with rounds of chilling, getting pastry into the pan (notice how I glossed over that part?  there was a minor panic and scramble for something to pry the suddenly-melting pastry off my counter.  Let us not mention it).  But the sweet-tart balance is excellent and, even in my panicked hands, the pastry is presentable.

July 2007

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