Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Culinary Efforts: Food made from food

Following up on my last post…

When I finally got around to cooking something from a recipe, I made Chickpea and Cauliflower Curry.  Only two of us liked it: Oldest Daughter and me.  Unfortunately the recipe made a truckload of curry, so it was around for several days. 

To make up for that, I made lasagna next.  Mine is not high-quality lasagna, but I do put it together myself, so it’s a step above frozen lasagna.  I served it while Youngest Daughter was away at Girl Scout camp.  My son offered this prayer that night, with a tone of relief in his voice:

Thank you, God, for the lasagna.  Thank you for the peace and quiet we have been experiencing the past two days...” 

* * * * *

As much as the Common Household might need relief from processed food, others are really in need of relief.  My prayer lately is for rain and moderate temperatures everywhere they are needed, which is for most of the US.  Unfortunately, that’s not what is in the forecast.  The effect on crops and, by extension, on many people around the world, will be painful and difficult.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Culinary Efforts: food from a box

Lately my culinary efforts have been underwhelming.  This is partly due to the heat wave, but also due to my overload of work trying vainly to estimate drought-inflicted crops.  But hey, that is also due to the heat wave.  We are also in the throes of planning a bat mitzvah, but I prefer to blame my kitchen failures on the weather, even when I am cooking inside.

Instead of “food that is made from food” (as a local restaurant advertises) I’ve served pancakes, mac ‘n’ cheese from a box, and hot dogs.  Well, pancakes aren't too bad, but the rest - blech.

Here is the kind of dinner conversation engendered by these type of meals:

* * * * *

On the night we had pancakes:  

Youngest Daughter took a huge bite, and part of her pancake flopped out of her mouth and back onto her plate. 

I said, ‘Please, take dainty bites.” 

She said, “Why should I?” 

I didn’t have a quick response for this, but my son said, in the form of a question, “For the love of God?” 

I said, “Yes!  For the love of God, would you please take dainty bites!”

* * * * *

On the night we had hot dogs:

Me: There are these various cheeses you could put on your hotdog.

Son:  They are all cheddar.  What’s the difference between these?

Me:  That one is Hoffman cheese.

Son:  Is that like a brand of cheese?  I thought it was cheddar cheese.

Me:  Yes, Hoffman is a brand of cheese.

Son:  Like, the Swiss brand?  The Swiss brand is for cheese, and army knives, and secret bank accounts.

Me:  Um, no.....

Husband:  ALL this cheese was actually made in China.

Me:  No, Hoffman cheese is made in Wisconsin.

Husband:  You mean the corporate office is in Wisconsin.  But it’s actually made in China, out of toxic chemicals.

* * * * *

As you can see, eating pancakes and hotdogs for dinner has gotten us no closer to being ready to dine with the queen.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Suburban Animal Homes

Several days ago, one of the children discovered that there is a mole living near the air conditioning unit.  We have had a slow leak in our unit, and wonder if we have found the culprit.   We adults are all about protecting our suburban lifestyle, but the girls are smitten.

Last night at dinner, Oldest Daughter said, “I saw the mole today.  It was so cute and fuzzy!” 

Me:  Hmphh.

Husband:  I think that mole has been tapping into our air conditioning.  It’s a good summer to get free air conditioning.

Me:  And probably the chipmunks are stealing AC from the mole. 

Oldest Daughter:  It has a name, you know.

Me:  You mean the mole?  Did you name it Genevieve?
(When she was about 8 years old, O.D. found a toad in the yard, named it Genevieve and constructed a habitat for it, although the habitat was more suitable as a mosquito larva party school.) 

OD: No.  (smiling sweetly) It’s name is ‘Peaches.’

Youngest Daughter:  Oh, how cute!  Little cuddly Peaches!

Me:  The mole in Thumbelina was evil and nasty, you know.

YD:  No, he wasn’t.  He was just lonely and misunderstood.

Son: (rolls eyes)

The chipmunks have set up a gated community in our erstwhile strawberry garden.  In a kind gesture, I cleaned it out for them in May, but I have yet to receive a thank you note.  The chipmunks keep very busy running the vast empire of tunnels they have under our yard.  And now we find out that their summer project has been to upgrade to air-conditioned units.

Chipmunk gated community, before urban renewal

After I cleaned it out, leaving the strawberry plants

Chipmunk dessert!

Chipmunk entrance to to the gated community
So far I haven’t seen this mole, and for that and much else, I am thankful.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Library Blitz

If you tell me what book(s) you are reading, I’ll tell you what I’m reading.

When I go to the library these days, it’s usually a surgical strike kind of visit.  I buzz in, pick up a few books based entirely on the title and how the cover looks, rush Youngest Daughter along to make her choices, and fly out to the next errand.

At my last strafing of the library, I picked up these:
The Price of Civilization : Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity by Jeffrey D. Sachs.
Three Famines : Starvation and Politics by Thomas Keneally.
On the Run in Siberia by Rane Willerslev ; translated by Coilín ÓhAiseadha.
God's Century : Resurgent Religion and Global Politics by Monica Duffy Toft et al

What was I thinking?  This seems almost like the reading list my husband devised for me when I had a sinus infection.  Should I be concerned that since I brought these books into my house, my nose has been more sneezy?

I started The Price of Civilization.  When my son saw it, he asked, “Is that an economics book or a philosophy book?”  I said, “Both.”  It’s Jeffrey Sachs, who advised the transition economies of post-communist Europe (and many other countries), worrying this time about the United States.  Until I got to around page 100, it was way too depressing for me to read while trying to fall asleep.  I have had to save it for the dentist’s office and other more painful and awake venues.

Just to round out my list of alarming books: in our Bible study, we are reading Revelation. 

Fortunately, I also got these at the library:
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith.
The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith.
Apple Turnover Murder by Joanne Fluke.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.

I already finished the Mma Ramotswe book.  As always, McCall Smith provides an enjoyable read.  I’m in the middle of The Vicar of Wakefield, which I find amusing.  I just got to Chapter XVII, which contains a piece of poetry called An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog. My husband, unable to resist a book with the words “Apple Turnover” in the title, tried the mystery, but said that halfway through the book the murder hadn’t even occurred yet. He gave up on reading it, but wants to try the recipes.  (More accurately, he wants me to try the recipes.) I don’t know if I’ll even open the Hemingway. The Old Man and the Sea has left a bad taste in my mouth since high school.

Form home, I also requested two books through inter-library loan:
Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith.
The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones.

What does it say about our reading public that I didn’t have to wait at all for The Price of Civilization, but it will be months before I get my hands on the library’s copy of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?

I told you about my books.  Now it’s your turn!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Color my World

The saga of the Painting of the Bedroom continues.  For the past two weeks we’ve been trying to agree on paint colors.

At first I tried to think of restful colors.  My childhood bedroom walls were blue, until we redecorated and I wanted to repaint it bright orange with yellow trim, to match the one wall of bold wallpaper with French words on it. My parents allowed yellow with orange trim, which, though less hideous than my idea, was not restful.  What can I say?  I was a teenager.  At the time, I loved that wallpaper.
I can't believe my parents let me do this to my room. It's a wonder I could sleep there at all.

Back to the present day.  I suggested to my husband, “How about Misty Blue for the bedroom wall?” 

My dear husband responded, “Misty Blue with eyes of goo.”

Only two sentences into the conversation, and I already had to sigh.

Husband continues.  “What I want to know is, will we be getting stripes or polka dots?  And if stripes, will they be horizontal or vertical?”

Me:  “Are you saying that you want wallpaper?”

No. When we moved into this house every room had wallpaper.  Seventies wallpaper.  Room by room we have managed to get rid of it.  At least we agreed on this: no wallpaper in the bedroom.

He said, “How about grey with red lines across the top?  Or grey with black trim?”

I began to think that my husband actually likes the pink bedroom.  After more back and forth, we were at least able to agree that we want the trim to be a different color than the walls.  But if it’s going to be grey, then I might as well just move to the insane asylum now.

Next I decided to bring the suggestions of You, my Dear Readers, to my husband.  I loved all your ideas and eagerly tried them out on an online ‘room visualizer.’ In order to truly use your ideas, though, I needed The Husband to agree to replace our bedroom curtain with something to match the new wall color.

No.  He does not want to replace the curtain. He paid a lot of money for that curtain eighteen years ago, and it’s fine. 

So we will be going with sage green walls and cream colored trim.  I am quite happy with this, and now looking forward to getting it done. 

Later (crude vision). The trim will not be quite that bright or yellow.
I was unable to print from the online room visualizer, so I’m stuck with this crudely photoshopped version of our vision.  And if we end up hating this color, we can always redo with another color.

I can't wait until this is done so I can get on with thinking about things that really matter in life.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Glimmer of Hope

Last week, our neighbor accomplished something I have been trying to do for a while: instill a sense of responsibility in my daughter.

The neighbor called to say they were going on vacation.  “Is there a teenager at your house who would like to earn a little extra money by watering my plants?” 

This is like when the prince shows up at Cinderella’s house to ask if there are any young ladies whose foot would fit the glass slipper.  Or Samuel asking Jesse which of his sons could be king of Israel (1 Samuel 16).  The evil stepmother and Jesse don’t even consider that Cinderella or David are in the running.  My two older teenagers would be just right for the job, but they were busy at a summer internship and Scout camp. 

That left Youngest Daughter – she of the late homework, the reluctance to comb hair, and the refusal to clean room.  This girl does not receive an allowance because she refuses to comply with the one teeny allowance requirement:  filling out a monthly budget page.  In fact, she actively argues against responsibility.  Me:  “Brush your teeth.”  YD:  “They are my teeth.  I can choose to not brush them if I want.”  Me:  “No you can’t.  I’m not standing by while you condemn yourself to rotten teeth before the age of 25.” 

She is not ready to marry the prince, be the king of Israel, or water someone's garden, is she?

Nevertheless, I told her about this opportunity to make some money, and she thought about it for several hours before calling back the neighbor.   Before she committed, she wanted to know just how much work it was going to be.

YD arranged a time to go to the neighbor’s and get the scoop.  She arranged it without me intervening.  The first glimmer of hope!

I went with her at the appointed time, figuring I would end up being the one to do the watering. Not only is this neighbor an excellent neighbor, but she is an excellent gardener, and has plenty of potted plants also.  It would be wrong to abandon her gorgeous horticultural efforts to an irresponsible teenager.

The task turned out to involve a lot of watering, but nothing a conscientious teenager couldn’t handle once a day for four days.  After YD had found out the tasks, she said, in a shockingly mature phrasing, “We haven’t discussed the payment yet.”  The neighbor generously offered $20 for four days of watering.  YD’s eyes popped.  She accepted the job immediately.

I was all “Your first paying job!” and “How will you remember to do the watering?” and “This doesn’t get you out of your dinner chore.”  YD just went home and disappeared into the office.  A while later she came out with this typed list of the oral instructions the neighbor had given her.  The second glimmer of hope! 

Check out the self-motivational speech in # 8.
Click to embiggen for actual reading.

The first day of her gardening duties, I was ready to do it myself, assuming that YD would have lost interest.  But no, she went over by herself without being reminded, and got the task done.  The third glimmer of hope!  The second day I went over with her, just to see how it was going.  She lectured me on what order to do things, and how much water the plants should get.  The third and fourth days she again did her job without being reminded.  

It turned out these four days were the hottest days of the past 200 years (or that's what it felt like).  YD's watering made a huge difference for those plants, perhaps even a life-or-death difference.

Thanks, Neighbor, for giving me a chance to see these glimmers of hope.  And thanks, YD, for stepping forward like Cinderella and David, and proving me wrong.

So, what do you think – should I offer her $20 to brush her own teeth?

What glimmers of hope do you see right now?

A glimmer of hope in our hanging tomato planter

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Final Frontier of Scouting

Yesterday we picked up our son from summer Scout camp.  After a brief report on what was the best meal (steak), and what was the worst weather (the thunderstorm that threatened but never happened), we got down to business. “So, did you earn any merit badges?”  My husband was hoping Son earned the badge for Auto Care Including Oil Change.

“Well!” Son says, “I earned the Space Exploration merit badge!”  
Space: the Final Frontier.
My attempt to photo the Super Moon in March 2011

What?!  This is like when Oldest Daughter told me she had earned a state boating license by paddling a kayak around in the school swimming pool and taking a written test.  (It’s true.)  Our Boy Scout camp is not anywhere near Space Camp or Spacex, so the likelihood of earning a space badge was just ludicrous.  My husband said, “So how was it out in space?”

“Dad.  We didn’t go out in space.”

“What did you do, put on a spaceman suit and walk around camp?”

“No.  We shot off model rockets.”

“Ah, so it’s the Estes Rocket merit badge,” I said, thinking back fondly to my childhood, when my brothers narrowly avoided losing their fingers shooting off Estes® rockets in the back yard while I stayed inside and baked tiny cakes for them in my EasyBake® Oven.

My husband, at least in this respect, had a childhood similar to my brothers, and he and Son eagerly began discussing the intricacies of Estes® rocket engines.  The Boy Scout instructor ignited the rockets using a battery pack.  Great disappointment from my husband.  “No fuse?  That takes out half the fun.” And three-fourths of the danger.

My husband nursed an unreasonable hope that my son had also earned the Pouring Concrete merit badge, since one of the steps at our synagogue needs to be repaired.  “How about the Welding merit badge?” says Husband.  “That would be pretty useful.”  It turns out the Welding merit badge was just created this year.  I still hold out hope for the Sewing merit badge, but it hasn’t happened.

The other merit badges he did earn were Climbing, Motor-boating, Orienteering, and Fingerprinting, which is just as surprising a merit badge as Composite Materials, but probably less messy.

I’ve been saving the best news for last.  Just before he left for camp, Son passed his Eagle Scout Board of Review.  So we are the parents of an Eagle Scout!  This was due to his hard work and perseverance, and the same from many dedicated adults in his scout troop.  The only thing we did was show up with doughnuts and pizza at crucial moments.

We’ll have the formal ceremony a few months from now, but I couldn’t wait to recognize my son for his fine accomplishment.  And that’s not all - his patrol at camp got the second place prize in the Steak-Dinner-Cooked-at-Camp contest!

The Common Household Mom salutes you, Scouts.