Friday, August 30, 2013

Back to School, Part II

     Yesterday my not-so-little girl returned to school, dancing her way into the ranks of the high school hierarchy as a Freshman. Many of her friends left this year to go to different schools, so she was quite nervous. A text sent to me at lunchtime (they are allowed to play with their phones during lunch...I wonder how many actually eat and how many are too busy texting the friends they just had class with) cheerfully announced that she was having a lovely day and that she "LOVES BEING A FRESHMAN!!!!!!!" No more worries on her account.
     Truthfully, I was surprised that she was nervous at all. This is the child who has always taken the world by storm. Born an absolute beauty, she has always turned her big blue eyes toward every challenge, and with typical Aries recklessness (I speak from experience) dives in without a second thought, often suffering the consequences of her impetuousness, but always willing to do it again. She is awe-inspiring.
     In more recent years, she has begun directing her reckless energy into her passions, and in her eighth grade year became the first middle school student to land the lead role in the school musical, starring as Annie. This year, she chose to stay at the high school rather than study cosmetology at the Technical School here in town because the Tech School doesn't have a year-round theatre arts program. She is looking into arts colleges and has asked to begin studying dance. She has plans, and she will achieve them. She's that kind of person. She is an inspiration, my daughter. She has courage and drive I have never managed to attain. She doesn't recognize the concept of failure, and she never will. Then:
And now:
Don't ever change, AlysonRose. You're my wild faerie child, my Wild Irish Rose, and I wouldn't have you any other way.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Back to School, Part I

     Today was the day. The weeks of lazy, hazy, ice cream for breakfast days were at an end, and my sixteen year old woke painfully early, scarfed a breakfast of corn fritters, and got ready for The First Day Of School.
     What a change a year can make.

     This time last year he was a shy, unsure, introverted boy, heading to a new school. Familiar classmates were there, but it was still such a change, and sometimes a hard one. Today....
today my son is a confident, self-assured, self-directed young man, eager to return to work, to begin studying the science he so loves, ready to embark on the first leg of the journey to adulthood. As I watched him walk to the bus stop this morning, on his way to begin his Junior year of high school, I sadly realized that as of today many things are at an end. My little boy, my first-born, is an adult now, at least in most ways. He will be learning to drive. He is applying for jobs. He is researching colleges. He still needs me, not quite as much or in the manner that he used to, and that is fine. But I need him too; ages ago, when things were about as bed as they could be, he was my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Inside he's still my baby boy, my Boodah, and I'm so very very proud to be his mother. Congratulations on beginning Junior Year, Henry. Much love, Momma
Henry attends a technical school, so while he dresses for a day at the office, some weeks he needs to adopt another mode of dress:
and so here he is, my sixteen year old machinist-son, far more knowledgeable about things I never even knew were vital to people's every-day existence. He's just amazing.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Much frustration

   I have been having many many problems with my computer lately. I think it's time to take it to the doctor (eg, Staples). Poor sick computer.
   All has not been well here in Ellie's world. My uncle passed away suddenly last week; his funeral was a sad goodbye to someone who lived life to its fullest. And two days ago we learned that my husband's great-uncle passed away as well.
   On a lighter note, my husband, my sister, and my older children and I spent a ridiculous day doing the back-to-school shopping that needed to be done, as my older boy is heading into his Junior year, and my daughter is entering high school as a Freshman. There is no happier sight than a sixteen year old boy, a thirty-two year old woman, and a thirty-eight year old man racing shopping carts through TJ Maxx. (Especially when the fourteen year old girl is IN the shopping cart the thirty-two year old is pushing) Trust me on this.
   The children return to school Wednesday and Thursday, and my little one and I will begin his home preschool program this week as well. I've spent the last couple days planning out his lessons, covering everything from writing and beginning reading to doing a study on blue jays and learning about space, and, of course, cooking. He's very excited. Amazon and my library are going to be very helpful, methinks.
   In light of the returning to school phase that many are in now, I suggest readers check out some of the blog links on my page. Yummy Mummy Kitchen and Family Fresh Cooking have already posted delicious (and super-healthy!) school lunch and breakfast recipes on their pages. And if your family gathers for afternoon tea like mine does (the teenagers are home by 3:00, and the tea service is on the table waiting when they walk in the door) take a look at their snacks and treat as well. (If you really want to go whole-scone for your tea, check out the amazing cookbook, "Alice's Tea Cup")

I will leave you (hopefully only for now, not for the next week and a half...please be all better computer, please please please! I have an article due for SageWoman soon!!!!!!) wi8th a recipe I've only dreamed of making....but this shall soon be remedied. Ladies and gentlemen, dearest readers, I give you Pumpkin Pretzels.


- If you don’t have pumpkin pie spice mix, you can make your own by combining 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ground allspice and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.

-Not a fan of coffee? Just sub it for 1 tbsp of warm water!

Spiced, Brown Butter Pumpkin Pretzels with Coffee Cream Cheese Icing


makes 10-11 pretzels

1/2 cup + 1 tbsp (150ml) warm water
1 tbsp active dried yeast
1/4 cup (50g) light brown sugar
3 1/4 cups (425g) all purpose flour (plus 1/3 cup (45g) more for kneading)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice mix (see notes)
2 tbsp neutral oil (e.g. vegetable oil, grapeseed oil, melted coconut oil)
3/4 cup (185 ml) pumpkin puree
1 egg

For dipping:
1 cup (250ml) hot water
2 tsp baking soda

For rolling:
1/4 cup (55g) butter
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice mix (see notes)
1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar

Coffee Cream Cheese Icing
1/2 cup (50g) powdered sugar
2 tbsp cream cheese
strong coffee
optional: 1/4 cup (4 tbsp) chopped pecans

In a small bowl, combine warm water, yeast and 1 tbsp of the brown sugar. Stir, and set aside.In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, spice mix and the rest of the brown sugar. Add the yeast mixture, oil, pumpkin and egg to the bowl. Stir together until you get a rough ball of mixture.

Tip the entire contents of the large bowl out onto a work surface. Knead together for about 10 minutes, gradually adding the 1/3 cup of flour, using it to stop the dough sticking to your hands and the work surface, until you get a smooth-ish, slightly sticky dough. Pop the dough into a lightly oiled large bowl, turning it to coat, cover with a clean tea towel . Leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour-ish until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 10-11 equal pieces (roughly weighing 3 oz each) and roll into balls. Dip the bottom of the dough balls lightly into some flour to stop them sticking to the work surface.

Roll each dough ball into a rope about 20″ long.

Shape into a U, cross the ends of the U over each other and fold down to make the pretzel shape.

Combine the hot water and baking soda in a jug, then pour into a shallow bowl. Dip the pretzels into this mixture and place onto a parchment-lined baking tray. Leave to rest while you preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (210 degrees C). Once preheated, bake the pretzels for 7-10 minutes, rotating the tray 180 degrees, halfway through baking, until golden brown.

While the pretzels bake, brown the butter: melt the butter, and continue to cook over a medium heat until it foams up and brown solids appear at the bottom of the pan. Take it off the heat. Combine the granulated sugar and spice mix in a large shallow bowl.

Brush the pretzels all over with browned butter, then coat with the spiced sugar mixture

Combine the powdered sugar and cream cheese in a small bowl. Add some coffee, little by little until you get a drizzle-able icing, and drizzle over the spice-sugar coated pretzels. Top with chopped pecans, if you want them. Store in an airtight container – they’re best eaten warm  (I think I'll skip the icing, but that's just because I don't like super-sugary-sweet stuff like that. Unless it's chocolate. Then bring on the sweet!)


Monday, August 5, 2013

Ah, August

     'Tis a lovely day here in western Massachusetts. Humidity is low, the sun is shining, and while it's lovely and warm, there's a sweet breeze drifting through the open back door, rustling the leaves of the grapevine, and they're whispering fall is coming.

     Fall, my most favorite of seasons. Three of my children were born in fall, I was married in the fall, and my all-time favorite holiday arrives with a gasp, screech, and lots of candy and pumpkins. Is there ever so wonderful a season as fall in New England? (Readers are going to have to help me out here, as I've never traveled outside of the US, and never further from home than Pennsylvania and Florida. How's fall in your world?)

     It's coming, but it's not here, not yet, and summer is still holding her own. On the back steps the peppers and tomatoes are reaching their peak: one pepper picked with much glee, and in a few more days I'll be snapping the next off the plant. My tomatoes are reveling in the near-constant sun, needing water twice a day, but what happy plants they are, and just beginning to ripen into bright yellow globes. I cannot wait to make panzanella out of my very own home-grown tomatoes!

     Just days ago we celebrated the Pagan festival of Lughnassad (or Lammas, as it's more commonly known. It's easier to say.) Lughnassad is the first of the three harvest festivals in the Pagan calendar, traditionally known as the grain harvest, but here in Mass, almost everything is ripening. Our local farmer's market is overflowing with corn, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, berries, salad greens...I could go on and on. We celebrated the harvest with some homemade bread and a vegetarian feast: a light vegetable soup, salad and tomato and zucchini tart. (We threw some cheese in, too, but sadly that wasn't homemade or even local. I'm working on that.) For dessert, blackberry buckle with lemon-vanilla cream, the blackberries picked by my littlest one and I on the side of the local bike path that runs by the river.

     I must admit I'm not as constant in my faith as I perhaps could be. We Pagans are not as much of a minority as we used to be, but my family practices alone. There is no Pagan church or temple nearby, and the local groups are scattered and have conflicting interests (the most common being adult-only study or practicing groups. We are a family; we would like to worship as one. You wouldn't believe how alien that concept seems to be.) And so, often only minimal effort is put into recognizing our holy day. I often wish I paid more attention, used greater resources, made more of the days that in ancient times were so very important, not just to people's spiritual growth but to their very survival. I let myself get distracted by children, by housework, by writing projects, by excuses.

     Mid-September is the second of our harvest festivals. Let's see if I can do better, hmm? And now, I shall leave you with a delightfully delectable thought for this perfect late-summer/early-fall day: cherry shortbread cookies, perfectly suited for sitting under a rustling grapevine with a mug of hot tea...or a glass of iced. Enjoy!

Cherry Shortbread Cookies

1 c plus 2 Tbs of flour
1 stick butter, sliced and chilled (important!)
1/4 c sugar, plus more for sprinkling, if you'd like (I usually skip it, myself)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c dried cherries (feel free to use more. I always do.)

*Preheat oven to 300; line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
* Using a food processor, mix flour, butter, sugar and salt for 20 seconds. (If you don't have a food processor, use 2 knives and cut the mixture together until it has a sandy, grainy texture.)
*Add cherries and pulse until chopped, 20 seconds (or add chopped cherries)
*Turn the mixture out onto your work surface and shape into a smooth ball o' dough. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough into a 7 by 9 inch rectangle (more or less), about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 12 rectangles. Prick each cookie 3-4 times with a fork.
*Place cookies on the cookie sheets 1 inch apart (you may need to use a spatula) and refrigerate 20 minutes.
*Bake 30 minutes, until just golden. Cool 10 minutes, sprinkle with sugar, the transfer to a rack to cool completely. (I can never wait that long. Still-warm shortbread is a gift of the gods.)