Category Archives: In between

Countdown to Advent

I know that right now most people are ramping up for the big turkey and pie day next week a.k.a. Thanksgiving. We’re going to see my folks and sister in Hudson, New York and I’ve already made and frozen the stuffing (I used this recipe minus the nuts and sausage), gravy and butternut squash. Next week I’ll make a few pumpkin pies and some rustic apple tarts. Maybe the kids will help with some applesauce when they come home from college. All in all I feel like Thanksgiving is pretty much under control.

While turkey day is more or less organized what seems to sneak up on me every year is the season of Advent. This year the first Sunday of Advent is November 30th. Fortunately for me there are four weeks to get ready for the mystery of Christmas. I need all of that time to switch gears and remember there is so much more I am getting ready for beyond the shopping, cookie baking, and jolly guy in the red suit. Since our kids are returning to college the first day of Advent I thought I’d pull out their Advent calendars now. Isabelle and Russell have one (as do my nephews, niece and goddaughter), and we have a few other ways of marking Advent – all homemade. Continue reading

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Grammy’s Advice

Mist on Mountain Street

Grammy Caldwell believed in advice – both giving and receiving. She loved quoting from the witticisms and proverbs in Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and she was known to make up quite a few of her own words of wisdom which she happily passed along. I’ve ben thinking about one in particular lately,

“Have overnight guests once a month and dinner guests once a week. That way you’ll have a clean house once a month and enjoy eating a good meal every week.”

When the kids were still home I gave up on the clean house part. Okay, let’s be honest. Whether or not I had kids I never worried too much about the clean house part because cleaning has never been a major priority for me. Ironically I am actually quite good at removing dirt, grime, and tarnish; and spent one summer during college cleaning houses for other people. It’s not that I live in squalor (and trust me I don’t-it’s just a bit dusty and there may be a few bits of dog hair to be found), but a good book or an interesting knitting project or a yummy batch of biscotti all seem like much better choices of how to spend one’s time as opposed to wielding a vacuum cleaner to banish dust bunnies from under the couch or picking up a bottle of windex and rags to vanquish fingerprints (or in my case paw prints) from windows and doors. Having disclosed that I’m not the world’s foremost cleaner, I will admit to becoming a whirling dervish prior to anyone’s announced visits (especially when it’s my Mom). If folks show up unannounced I try to distract them with a cookie or three. It’s amazing what people will overlook when you feed them.

Sunrise on North Farms Road

The dinner part was never an issue when there were children to feed, but it turns out that Grammy was right about the once a week dinner part when you remove offspring from the equation. With no kids to make meals for Shawn and I have become quite casual when it comes to our evening feed. I won’t say I haven’t cooked for the entire time since Russell and Isabelle departed to their separate institutes of higher learning, but the suppers I’ve produced since the drop off dates can be counted on less than ten fingers. Since I’m no longer responsible for feeding growing bodies I can feed myself hors d’oeuvre for dinner. Or a bowl of cereal. Perhaps even some eggs on toast. Any funny thing that catches my fancy when I open a cupboard or happens to be sitting on a shelf in the fridge. It’s rather astonishing how infrequently I find myself in front of the stove. I haven’t lost my appetite (or any weight for that mater) but I have lost a significant portion of my culinary audience. Plus my husband seems quite content to putter in the kitchen and whip something up for the two of us, or just himself if I happen to be so engrossed in a good book that I don’t feel like eating.

Add to this adjustment of empty nesthood the fact that when I make enough food for eight it actually lasts two people for four meals! With the kiddos home I’d make enough for what I thought was a small army and it would be gone in less than 24 hours. I began to lovingly refer to them as, “my teenage human locusts”. Our grocery bills are a fifth of what they were. Which is, I suppose, in part to compensate for the thousands of dollars we are now spending on their college meal plans.

Honestly I can’t say I’m feeling compelled to become a house cleaning maniac, but it would be nice to actually get back into the habit of cooking dinner – at least once a week.

Beginnings of fall

I took these photos on my way into church yesterday. Fall was one of Grammy’s favorite times of year and I think she would have loved the misty morning vistas I happened upon as I wove my way through the hilltowns to worship. ♥

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Picnic Baskets

There has been a lot of packing going on at our house of late.

A few weeks ago I watched as our son Russell simultaneously packed for both camp and college since he was scheduled to go straight from one to the other. Seeing how neatly he lay everything out on his bed, along with how well-labeled his boxes were, it looked like he had everything he would need to start school with. He’d even registered for classes and ordered his textbooks before we took him up to camp. This past Saturday we dropped him off at Simon’s Rock. Turns out he’d done a great job of packing since the only things he needed were a longer internet cable (the connection was on his roommate’s side of the room) and some coffee. Not bad for a seventeen-year-old.

Isabelle and Russell in his dorm room.

This week his sister has been scrambling to get packed for her return to UNH. The good news is she’s a sophomore and has a better sense of what she does and doesn’t need at college. Still, when I peek in her room this morning there seems to be a good many piles which have yet to make it into boxes or bags. It’s not that she hasn’t packed anything – her ROTC uniform has been picked up from the dry cleaners and is ready to go, there are bags of bedding, as well as several games for those necessary study breaks organized in a corner of the living room. I also caught a glimpse of a lengthy to-do list she is clearly working her way through. By the time we pack the car on Saturday I am sure everything will be sorted out.

Picnic baskets

 

House sale picnic basket picked up for $3.50

Unlike my two offspring I am not packing to go off to college, but I have been thinking about what to pack in when I go to visit them this fall. The other day I got out my collection of picnic baskets in anticipation of some upcoming Mommy Road Trips. One of the delights of having both kids go to school so close to home is that it’s easy to pop over (or down) for a day. While there are dozens of great restaurants in both New Haven and Great Barrington, sometimes the best thing to do is bring a little slice of home in a picnic basket and go off exploring.

Briefcase style picnic baskets

I have a small metal briefcase style picnic basket just big enough to hold a pair of plates, cutlery, glasses, napkins, and cups – the food clearly has to come in it’s own basket.
Vintage metal picnic basket

There are also mends on a few of the baskets. Ones which haven’t held up as well as one might hope, or which have been nibbled on by a very naughty mouse.

Mended picnic basket handle

Most of my picnic baskets are either hand-me-downs or from estate sales. In a pinch I have been known to throw together a picnic into a market basket or beach bag. Cold stuff usually ends up in a cooler, since most of our destinations are arrived at by car. Truth be told almost anything can suffice as a picnic basket - even a bag from the grocery store – as long as you don’t forget the essential tools. Here’s my list:

  • Small knife and cutting board
  • Corkscrew/bottle opener
  • Clothespins
  • Blanket or plastic table cover
  •  Rubber stoppered bottle
  • Plastic  or enameled tin plates/bowls & utensils
  • Two gallon plastic bag (for bringing home dirty dishes)
  • Paper towels or cloth napkins
  • Water

Picnic basket essentials

So four days until our eldest returns to college, then I can start planning some picnics.

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Let Summer Commence

It’s over – Oliver’s forty-five days of quarantine are finally done! So now summer can officially commence, and let me tell you that all of us are ready. More than ready.

 

quarantine calendar

 

 

No more rabies shots, no enforced use of the leash for every single walk (though trust me we will  be using a leash more often from here on out), and most importantly no more slamming the door in the poor little dog’s face every time we have to slip outside. We can take him to the park, let him romp with his friends, and he can roll around in the grass outside.

 

Good Dog

To celebrate this momentous occasion my friend Hilary re-gifted our family a charming seed rendition of a raccoon someone gave her daughter. I have to admit I giggled when I first saw it because now that our quarantine is over I can laugh about it.

 

Seed Raccoon

 

 

Hope the rest of summer is full of cooking, trips to the farmer’s markets, and free of visits to the ER.

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The Cape of Shame

Today is day three of a forty-five day quarantine.* It looks like it will be a long month and a half.

The Cape of Shame

Mother’s Day was beautiful – 70s, sunny, enough breeze to keep away the bugs. I was enjoying myself sitting out on the deck for the first time this season and painting. Someone let the dog out so he could enjoy it too. We all, humans and animals alike, have had a serious case of cabin fever after such a relentless winter. Then – zoooom – the dog launched himself off the deck to go chase something furry. What can I say? He’s a terrier.

I kept on painting and sipping my wine until his barks switched from “I’m the boss and you’re in my yard” to “I’m in trouble, but that doesn’t matter cause I’m still going to get you”, punctuated with yelps of pain. We all dashed down and found our Jack Russell Terrier had taken on a raccoon. There was a lot of racing under and around the wood piles, with lots of barking and growling. We couldn’t really reach them, and even if we could have, no one wanted to get between the two combatants. Finally my husband managed to separate them after Oliver had grabbed the raccoon by the back of its neck and given him a vicious shake. I took off my work shirt and wrapped the dog with it since he was covered with dirt and blood and who knows what. He was also crazy out of his little walnut sized brain with the excitement of the hunt.

Shawn came up to the house to bathe Oliver while I called our town’s animal control officer. By the time the ACO arrived Oliver was ready for round two and the raccoon had crawled back under the wood pile. The officer decided not to dispatch the raccoon in part because he didn’t have a clear shot and in part because he felt the raccoon wasn’t acting all that strangely. We knew we’d have to get Oliver a rabies vaccine booster and figured that was that. Our Mother’s Day dinner would be a little late, but we’d all move on.

Turns out it’s not that simple. Yes, if your pet is up to date on their shots, they do need a booster, but they also get put under house arrest/quarantine for 45 days. In the house, with only short leashed walks (by an adult), for a month and a half. Did I mention we have a Jack Russell Terrier?

Also because my husband and I had both touched Oliver we too needed to get rabies shots.  A lot of them. Starting with five given at the ER, followed by several more at our doctor’s office over the next three weeks. It is a serious pain in the ass, and I mean that literally since that is where many of the initial shots go. As my sister said via text:

Super bum-mer! Pun intended!!!

 

Cape of shame indoors

So I made Oliver a cape of shame. His very own necktie with a hot pink Q on it for quarantine. Think The Scarlet Letter meets Wishbone. My god-daughter suggested the orange and pink color combination after a favorite pair of sandals she had last summer. I hope Oliver likes wearing it for the next few weeks.

A short walk with the cape of shame

After my Easter disaster and now the Mother’s Day debacle the nurses at our local ER cannot wait to see what I do for Memorial Day.

*From some of the emails I received I realize I need to clarify that the 45 day quarantine is for the dog, not my husband or myself. Though if we start foaming at the mouth and acting all crazy I believe we will get our own special quarantine in a hospital somewhere.

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What To Do When You Can’t Cook

I had several things I wanted to make and post before Easter – my Bunny Garden Carrot Cake, my sister Heather’s Flan, and a great rub for Grilled Lamb which I was planning for our Easter feast. Then I blinked and Holy Week seemed to blur by in a high-speed blip from the Bishop’s visit on Palm Sunday to the wonderful Agape meal on Maundy Thursday to Easter morning. I didn’t get a single post written, though I managed to buy some groceries and scribble a few notes. On Saturday Isabelle, Russell,  and Mary helped me make several dozen rainbow-colored peeps to take to the Easter service at our church. In my pathetic slacker mode I planned to at least post the Angel Food Cake I was going to make for our Sunday dessert on Easter Sunday.

Maundy Thursday Agape Meal

I got up early to revel in the quiet and peace that only seem to happen when everyone but me is sleeping. It always makes me smile to hear the snores and turnings of everyone as I tiptoe to the kitchen. Since I am the only one who is conscious it feels as if I have the house to myself. The sunrises have been glorious of late plus the trees are just on the cusp of budding out. Being the first one up allows me to absorb all of that whispered, early morning beauty. I put the kettle on to make myself a cup of tea,  part of my wake up routine every morning, and as it comes to a boil I start doing some dishes left over from the night before. I like doing dishes. Dunking my hands in the warm sudsy water I can simultaneously loosen my joints – scrub – think – as I slowly enter into full consciousness. Doing the dishes is my drifting time. I can look out the kitchen window and watch the birds flit from branch to branch as I plan out my day. And let me tell you in case you don’t know this, you can do quite a lot of dishes in the time it takes for the kettle to boil.

Spring sunrise

You can also, in the time that it takes for the kettle to boil,  have an accident, which in my case came in the form of a glass breaking in my hand as I twisted the sponge. The circular movement of my hand carved a horseshoe flap off my knuckle. If I’d been going any faster I probably could have managed an entire oval. I sank to my knees and grabbed the paper towels to stop the bleeding then screamed. I wanted the whole house to wake up – I wouldn’t have minded if the whole neighborhood woke up since I needed someone to drive me to the hospital. Easter baskets, breakfast, Angel Food Cake, and the broken glass were left behind as we sped off to the emergency room.

You would think going to the ER at 7:30 am would be fairly quick, but apparently, according to one of my nurses, Easter and Thanksgiving are when most people visit the ER.  For church it’s  the Chreasters (people who attend church on Christmas and Easter), but for the hospital it’s Thanksters (Thanksgiving and Easter). So I waited (still holding the paper towels on) until Dr. T. could look at my X-Ray and decide there was no glass in the wound and then finally, after several shots of numbing stuff, was able to sew me up. No holiday colors of thread to choose from, it was a choice of black or black. I chose black.

Flowering Easter Cross

Five stitches later Isabelle and I dropped Shawn off at church so he could usher in his pajamas (he had thrown on a pair of jeans but he was unshaven, sported a stunning bed head hairdo, and hadn’t brushed his teeth). I had the presence of mind to get a replacement for myself on Altar Guild while we were waiting at the ER. Belle and I zoomed back to the house, changed in less than 5 minutes, and somehow made it back to church with Russell, Mary, and the peeps in time for the end of the sermon. Shawn later joked that all the Chreaters who came to church dressed in their Sunday finest probably thought we had a very embracing community ministry since our church apparently allowed homeless people to usher.

When we got home I realized Easter dinner needed to be significantly truncated since I wasn’t going to be able cook. Turns out I didn’t have to lift a finger other than to feed myself left-handed. Everyone pitched in. I did manage to play my role as the one-handed (one-paw?) Easter bunny once Russell helped me out by bringing up all the baskets and Easter grass. So despite all the drama we had a lovely meal and I got out of doing any more dishes for a while.

Not having the foresight to become ambidextrous my kitchen time will be somewhat curtailed until I heal a bit. Obviously I can type, but gripping a knife or hefting a heavy pot aren’t things I can manage right now. So I’m catching up on some reading and watching a few of my favorite movies again. The good news is the Easter season is six weeks long so I have time to work on those recipes.

Until then here’s what I’m enjoying:

Do you have any recommendations?

Photo Credits:

Maundy Thursday Agape Meal by our Deacon Eric Elley

Sunrise by Shawn Allen

Flowering Cross by someone at St. John’s Episcopal Church

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Fèves Part 2

With epiphany eight days away I am getting out my fève collection and trying to decide which piece I will use in our King Cake* to celebrate the end of the Christmas season. A couple of years ago when I told our French exchange student Charline I was a bit of a “favophilie” (a person who collects fèves) so when she went home she sent me a box of fèves from Paul, a French bakery. I loved seeing the historical evolution of their delivery vehicles rendered in porcelain with one very small slice of pie. While Paul and Ladureé both have stores in America I’m not sure they carry fèves in their shops on this side of the pond. This company in Lyon sells quite a few different sets (including naughty fèves!!!). I have not purchased anything from them so I can’t attest one way or another to how they are with overseas sales. If anyone has ordered from them I’d love to hear about your experience. There also seem to be several folks selling fèves on Etsy and eBay.

Paul Bakery feves

What surprises me is that in France, a country known for its King’s cakes, the fève of choice (at least according to my friend Alexis) is often a cartoon or tv character. I feel like such a fuddy-duddy saying I’d rather have one of the three wise men or baby Jesus in my slice of cake instead of a porcelain dinosaur, duck, or wizard. I wonder what Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar would say?

funny feves

“Bonne Fête des Rois”

*Here is a French video on how to make a Galette de Roi

Here’s my previous post on fèves.

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