Monday, June 30, 2008

31: Honey Cake (with Recipe)

It seems Mondays are to be my food posting days, which is only fitting as another beloved Molly (well, that implies that I am beloved, which is not entirely true, but you get what this heat-sleepy girl is trying to say) posts on Mondays.

This Monday, I bring you honey cake.

These days, it's been all about the honey, and I am glad for it too. While Kelly was in the hospital after having Christian, I would piggyback on her hospital food orderings, selecting what was left--banana muffin with honey, bagel with cream cheese and honey. I wanted to cover everything in honey. We have so many jars of it, from last year's farmer's market and from this year's CSA.

Honey Cake (adapted from this recipe):

From the recipe site: "This is an old German recipe. The cake improves with aging, so bake several days ahead."

- 4 eggs, separated
- 3/4 cups white sugar
- 1 cup honey
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 3 teaspoons instant coffee granules
- 1 cup hot water

- We had to warm our honey with just-boiled water as it had wintered over and had coagulated.
- Mix coffee in hot water, then cool.
- In a large bowl, beat the yolks with the sugar until creamy. Add the oil and then the honey, beating after each addition. Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
- Sift and then measure three cups of flour. Combine with salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Add these dry ingredients alternately with the coffee to the honey mixture, stirring only until blended. Do not overmix.
- Whip egg whites until stiff. Fold in three additions into the batter. Pour into two greased eight inch square pans.
- Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

I love baking cakes from scratch, though it doesn't happen as often as I'd like. This, I'm not so sure I would call cake. It was too heavy for that. And I understand why frosting was not added to the recipe; instead, we had it with whipped cream first, then apple pie filling. I'm thinking it might be better to look at this as a sweet bread and try it with nuts baked into it, as one might with banana bread, and then eat it with cream cheese. (I'm thrilled to add cream cheese to things--maybe even more than adding honey.)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

30: Reading

"Toutes gibiers c'est freres moin', I once heard some wizened if unschooled gentleman remark. Every bird is my brother. Yes."
-- John Gregory Brown, Audubon's Watch, pg. 12

I go in cycles with everything. With reading, sometimes all I want is to escape in plot, to hoist a book above me in bed and flip pages, a drone as I read on, helicopters and stolen paintings and coded messages abound. These come when my own life is full, when I can only collapse onto the bedsheets, when my mind wanders to the pile of student essays that threaten to bury me with a vengeance.

"And when she thought of her mother and father, Mei-li got so angry she couldn't catch her breath from the choking sensation. They had absolutely no interest in what she felt. It was as if she had been born an empty box, only to be filled by their desires."
--Gail Tsukiyama, Women of the Silk, pg. 115

And now, I am winnowing down the stack of books-to-get-rid-of, plucking books by their cover, reading furiously, a book a day, loving the poetic moments, which are few in some, thicker in others.

We were in Green Bay for the weekend, celebrating Ryan's father's retirement from his position as elementary school principal. On Saturday night, all were in bed at 10:30, the dogs, the parents, my husband; I lay sprawled on the den's sofa, a book held aloft in the dim light. They live in the middle of nowhere, farms surrounding them, rare houses in a small neighborhood; the sound of a siren approaching was faint and strange. Of course, Chance, the one hundred fifty pound Mastiff-lab mix began to howl along, and Sassy, the ball chaser, had to have her word. Sirens, one, two, still more, faint enough for me to question whether I was hearing things or not, and later, that static crackle, enough for my imagination to cast itself into a flurry--there was an escaped murderer in the neighborhood, or a tiger from the zoo, there was a forest fire that would certainly reach the house, or the police were going door to door in search of a disgruntled deputy. (It turns out a car rolled over at one of the sharp turns on the country highway; from the neighbor's report, the driver was young and speaking when entering the ambulance, so we hope all is well.)

My imagination is a worrier.

Our book club meets on Tuesday. My house is cluttered with bits of paper, bills to pay and critiqued poems to stash. I need to make sure I can light a grill properly, chill some wine, vacuum the clumps of cat and dog fur away, weed the last of the garden... Oh, and read the book. I always hold off until the last possible moment as my memory is the worst of anyone's at my age; of course, sometimes I cut it too close.

But for now, I am driven to the comfort of a novel in my hands, a thick book, that new smell. I have readerly quirks too: I must finish any book I start, no matter how much I hate it; I have been keeping a list of the books I read since 2003 in a tan notebook I've somehow not lost in each move; my favorite sorts of books explore character and setting and use poetry in their language (and I can tell you how many books I've read each year--generally 150+, except the years I've been teaching high school, which left me halfway); I love the way trade paperbacks feel in my hands; I worked at a bookstore for six years and still feel compelled to t.e.b. my own bookshelves (touch every book--a term used when organizing sections, though one that fell out of usage halfway through my time at the bookstore).

I love language. I could live off it as air, as honeyed breakfast, as my pillow at night.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

29: We ♥ Hay Creek

We love Hay Creek around here. We love our dogs leashless and free.

28: Miracles

Bits, phrases and whatnot, collected from a long ago reading of Special Topics in Calamity Physics: "a mashed potato way of looking at you ◦ the year my childhood unstitched like a snagged sweater ◦ smoke squirmed around the rearview mirror ◦ the screen door spank[ed] the door frame ◦ wobbly mind"

I found these phrases on a scrap of paper beneath my bed as I was cleaning. When I read Tim Robbins' Jitterbug Perfume, I kept record of all the words he used I didn't know. I loved the way they lined up, their multisyllabic selves curling along the slip of paper.

I have remained home for the time being, my eyelids lowering in the heat of our house, Kelly's home full with her parents and her husband, helping her, so I have decided to remain here at home, wedged up against my husband, waiting until it's time for me to return. In between the pounding on her roof (hail damage), breastfeeding, and other chaotic moments, she is beginning a blog for her son Christian, and I've begun a photoset, so you can also see photographs of him as he grows up, becomes a boy, forms a sense of self.

While I've felt those 48 hours in the hospital were surreal, were a dream, it has also made me realize just how much every moment is a miracle.

My hands wet from spinach at the CSA. Ryan comes home, late, his hands behind his back: a book, he hoped I didn't have just yet, an incredibly sweet gift. Thunderstorms rolling through, just as our grass begins to pathetically yellow. The intricate pattern of queen anne's lace. The curl of a baby's hand around your finger. The fading scent of peonies. The way Penelope leans against me at my feet. The way Libby curls against me when I read a book in bed. Baking a cake with my husband, flour on the tips of our fingers, smudged on our pants. Every moment, the way it too curls against your heart, unfurling at just the right moment.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

27: Home (Briefly)

Yesterday morning, I came home for the night; I may have driven faster toward my house than I did two days before when I was driving toward my best friend whose contractions were rocking her body.

Everything about the Nelson family growing is wonderful. She has the mothering thing down; her instinct has certainly kicked in. And in those fateful 48 hours of hospital sitting, of Christian cooing, I did not see one foul moment, one frustrated brow furrowed, none of it. She was serene, instinctive, a mama of the highest order.

Watching all that love only made me want to curl up with my own. I missed my husband, my home, my pets. My role in that time was to fill in where needed and to recede when not, and I was blessed to have that role indeed. There's something about being quiet in such a storm of love and triumph that makes one want to turn to one's own heart, one's own daily comfort. It was so good to be enfolded in Ryan's arms, to sigh, and say I've missed you.

Of course, it can't be still here for too long as my to-do list has now grow to astronomical proportions, which is shocking, given that it is summer vacation, but life does go on, apparently, even when you are sitting in the hospital, staring at a seven pound wonder.

Today: oil change, phone call to the vet to reschedule a missed appointment, the garden is overgrown with weeds, and a CSA pick up. And then, a return up north, back to that soft baby skin and sharp baby cry, back to diapers and booties and awe.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

26: Before + After

I will interrupt the baby blogging for a little at-home blogging... I'm returning to Otsego tomorrow, and while my heart is being tugged right back up north, I'm also happy to be home, even if the sink is full of dishes again.

One of my current favorite blogs is Nicole and Jen's Before & After. Each week, a new foodie in images post, each reflecting on the process and enjoyment of the meal.

Remember the days when we used to sit down at the table and talk?

These are my favorite evenings, when Ryan comes home from work, when the kitchen has warmed, and I'm dancing around to Joan Osbourne or Kate Nash, singing along, splattering sauce on the countertops, pulling out greenery from little baggies we picked up from our CSA. We sit down to a homecooked meal, and even if the recipe doesn't work, I'm not bothered by it all, because, though good food is a good thing, good conversation is the best.

I think that's what Nicole and Jen are good at: the artistry of the meal, the peace of eating a well cooked meal alone, or the refuse of good company.

Above: pasta sauce with basil from our CSA as before; after, the pasta with said sauce along with asparagus and melted swiss (I was experimenting and it worked).

And the mint syrup. We were sent home with a large bag of two kinds of mint, one chocolate. I used the other to make this mint syrup; we are sent home with a newsletter, and this recipe was included:

"In a 1 to 2 quart sauce pan, combine 1 1/4 cups lightly packed rinsed fresh mint leaves, 1 cup water, and 1/2 cup sugar. Stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is simmering. Remove pan from heat, cover, and let stand 30 minutes. Pour mixture through a fine strainer into a small pitcher or bowl; discard mint leaves. Use syrup or cover and chill up to one week. Makes about 1 cup."

(Ours is in a canning jar in the fridge.)

This is my favorite summer adult beverage. We will have lots of mint throughout the summer. This recipe includes the directions for making a simple mint syrup. I keep mint syrup in the fridge and add it to summer fruit salads and iced tea.

- 2 cups light rum
- 1 cup mint syrup
- 1 cup lime juice
- ice cumbs
- fresh mint leaves, rinsed (optional)

In a pitcher (at least 2 qt.), combine rum, mint syrup, and lime juice; add about 2 cups ice cubes. Pour into ice-filled glass and garnish with mint leaves if desired."

Sadly, I promised myself I wouldn't have alcohol until I lost 10% of my body weight, and I'm about halfway-ish there, so I can't tell you if the mojitos are good or not, though I will certainly get a report from my first victim (most likely my patient and adorable husband).

Also from our CSA: Rose Scented Geranium Leaves.

"Here's an idea from Martha Stewart. 'Scented geraniums (Pelargonium), which can smell like lemon, peppermint, apple, or rose, are as welcome in the kitchen as they are in the garden. Inspired by old English recipes, this traditional pound cake has the plant's leaves baked into its surface, lending perfume and subtle flavor to the rich dessert. A pot of tea is the perfect accompaniment.

Spray a loaf pan with nonstick baking spray, and line it with parchment paper. Arrange several scented geranium leaves on the bottom and sides of the pan. Add pound cake batter, and bake. When you turn the cake out of the pan, the leaves will have created a lacy pattern on the cake's crust.'"

See recipe here.

You can also see images from the CSA and the efforts to eat locally with my CSA photoset (includes pictures of food from CSA and cooked with from CSA) as well as the farmer's market photoset.

Tomorrow I pick up from our CSA again, and I will likely bring most of the goodies up to Otsego and cook for the new mama and her beautiful boy (oh and her husband too, I suppose).

25: Lungs, Feet, Heart

When I was little, I used to love wearing my father's plastic rimmed glasses, bumping into things for his blindness, and I would sometimes spin, watching the tilted floor whirl.

"It was light already, and much cooler than in the lowlands. In the night, he had pulled the thin sheet over him, and he was still in his clothes from the journey, still filthy. In his fatigue, he had forgotten to wash. The sheets were soiled with mud. He cursed, and then smiled and shook his head, thinking, It is hard to be angry when one has been wakened by the laughter of children. Points of light shone through the cross-weaves of the bamboo wall, speckling the room. They have brought the stars inside, he thought and climbed out from under the mosquito net. As he walked to the door, the percussion of his footsteps on the wooden floor was echoed by a scurrying outside the door and more squeals. The door still hung open. He poked his head out."
--Daniel Mason, The Piano Tuner, pg. 167

We found out last night he is a wailer; after twenty four hours, this is apparently normal. Kelly bloomed as a mama: her patience was acute, her murmuring into the night soothed me to sleep too. I watched her lean over the bassinet, her bare back catching the moonlight, cooing at her baby whose face turned apple-red, whose lips trembled and his tongue wagged in his mouth.

He is beautiful and sweet and adorable even when he is screeching.

Kelly goes home today, and I will run back to my home for the evening. Ryan's long days are Tuesdays: he works during the day as normal, then teaches his graduate class from five to ten at a Minneapolis university. He won't be home until midnight; the dogs would not appreciate that kind of neglect. I need to sleep in my own bed for a night too. Though it was lovely to be here, to witness his first near-forty eight hours, I will need to be reminded of the garden, of the pots and pans, of the dust bunnies under the bed. The world continues to rotate, despite this incredible change.

Monday, June 23, 2008

24: Christian's First Hours

As if these weren't enough--there are more pictures of Christian's first day here.