Thursday, July 28, 2016

Creamy Chicken With Children

This week and next, we are experiencing a trial run of Empty Nestiness.  (If you want Empty Nastiness, please look elsewhere on the internet.  It’s pretty easy to find these days.)

Both older kids live away from us right now.  Our youngest, our dear Younger Daughter, is away at camp, serving as a Counselor-in-Training for a few weeks.

Now that I am back from the Old Folks’ Home, where the main and only activity is eating food cooked and served by someone else, I thought perhaps I might actually have to make dinner tonight.  I was looking through recipes and found this one.  I cannot remember ever making this, but I must have.  The recipe hints that maybe the experience of trying to cook it with children present was so traumatic that I may have blocked it from my memory.  But on the other hand, I never use canned peas.

Creamy Chicken with Bow Tie Pasta

Prep and Cook:  20 minutes (if no children present)                              Servings: 6
Prep and Cook:  80 minutes (if children present)

6 oz. dried bow tie pasta
12 oz skinless, boneless, spineless liberal chicken breast halves, cut into strips
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 can (15 oz) Contadina Tomato Sauce
1 can (14.5 oz) Contadina Recipe Ready Diced Tomatoes with Italian Herbs
1 can (15.25 oz) sweet peas, drained
1/4 cup whipping cream

1.  Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.

2.  Meanwhile, cook chicken in hot oil in large skillet over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes or until no longer pink.  If children are present, then, at the same time, serve meal to baby.

3.  Stir in tomato sauce, undrained tomatoes and peas.  Bring to boil; reduce heat.  Simmer, uncovered, 5 to 10 minutes or until thickened.  If children are present, then at same time, feed meal to toddler while reading book to grade-schooler and rocking baby with foot.

4.  Slowly stir in cream.  Serve over hot pasta.  Sprinkle with finely shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired.  If children are present, serve older children; pray that younger children will not have screaming contest.  If another adult is present, go out shopping.

5.  Congratulate yourself on making it through another dinner preparation time. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Family Five

 Following Spokalulu’s lead, I will tell you five things about our week here in the Common Household.  I photographed most of these events, but can’t provide any photos, because I haven’t had time to upload them from the camera yet.

1. Last Sunday, in the afternoon, we all went to the Conservatory. That’s a place for plants, not pianos.  It’s not exactly the best place to go on a hot summer day, as it is quite humid inside, but 3/4 of us enjoyed it greatly.  We went into the Butterfly Room, which isn’t always open.  I can tell you that butterflies are very hard to photograph. 

2.  Younger Daughter drove to the Conservatory.  She has now driven into town three times.   I’m getting the hang of it.  Not getting outrageously nervous while she’s driving, that is.

3. Older Niece (ON) has been making dinner for us on most nights.  Earlier in the week, when I went to the grocery store, I saw some huge portobello mushrooms, so I bought them, figuring that ON would be able to decide what to do with them. 

Me:  “I went to the grocery store today.  Look what I got!”  (shows family a bag of huge Portobello mushrooms. ON appreciated them.)
Me:  “They still have a lot of dirt on them.”

ON:   “That’s just extra nutrients.”

Husband: That’s what they call “The Dirt to Table” movement.

While I did some actual paid work, ON and YD made the most delicious mushroom caps, marinading them in some Italian salad dressing and then putting grape tomatoes, garlic, and bell peppers on top.  Bake or broil for some number of minutes.  They were not only yummy but gorgeous works of art.

4. ON has been to the park several times, to enjoy nature.  Once when I went to pick her up, we continued driving through the park, and went past some kids slowly riding skateboards while they were looking down at their phones.  We guessed that they were probably playing “Pokemon Go.”   Children, don’t play Pokemon Go while driving a moving vehicle of any kind!

5. Since today is National Ice Cream Day, we decided to have just a leeetle bit of dinner, and then went out for a lot of ice cream.   

There was a lot more than that (such as being one of the worship leaders at church), but that’s five things, and enough for now.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Deep, Blueberry Cupcakes, and Alternate Energy Sources

Inspiration for baking and writing

Younger Daughter has admonished me that I have not posted enough on my blog.  July is turning out to be just as insanely busy as June was in the Common Household.  My emotional state varies between solid and despairing, based on what I hear on the news.  I can't bring myself to write about it.
My niece is visiting.  On Sunday we did find time to do writing challenges (instructions are described here), even though I really should have been doing work or writing a sermon or cleaning off my desk.  So in lieu of me actually writing something, I will post our writing challenge results.

1.  Writing prompt:  deep.  Write for 5 minutes on this prompt.
Our first challenge is derived from Younger Daughter's 11th grade English class.  At the end of the year, the teacher gives each student a one-word prompt, and students have to write for forty minutes on that prompt.  YD's prompt in class was "Ice."  She wrote almost an entire blue book. That's why, for our writing challenge at home, I put a firm five-minute limit on our efforts.

2. Write about a non-food use for blueberry cupcakes
Our second challenge came about because we had made blueberry cupcakes earlier in the day, using blueberries that we picked ourselves.  We ate most of the blueberries raw (oh, SO good!), but decided to bake cupcakes while listening to selections from the musical "Hamilton."  A very educational experience.  We got so engrossed in the music that we almost forgot to put in the vanilla.

3. Write about a new alternate source of energy.
Our third challenge attempts to tackle an important problem for today's world.

As always with our writing challenges, you are invited to write you own, if you so desire.  And just in case you actually read these, I want to add the caveat that these are unpolished and unedited.

1. Writing prompt:  deep.  Write for 5 minutes on this prompt.

Writer 1 wrote:
            No one really knows what happens in the depths of the ocean.  Strange forms of life arise, like aliens, and dwell under the pressure of miles of murky water.  Sunlight is unknown to their kind.  Tentacles writhe, hungry for unsuspecting prey.  Light exists only as a bioluminescent lure, a cruel deception.  Humans, who think they rule the Earth, hold no sway in those deep waters. While they walk unsuspecting on land, the creatures below plot and scheme their demise.  One day, they will rise up, and a new kind of civilization will begin.

Writer 2 wrote:
            In the darkest depths of the ocean in the farthest lengths of the sea, there is a blackness that extends for miles upon miles underneath the waters.  The strangest creatures, creations of God’s nightmares brought to life upon waking, were sent here to scrape out a fakery of life.  No human has come here.  Even light fears to tread here.  The pressure is too great, the depths too sullen and cold, the deep heartless and lonely, to allow any creature with even a resemblance of a heart to live there.
            This is the deep of lore, a place of krakens and sea behemoths, with the barest of scientific understanding giving rise to a folklore of animosity.  This is the deep of our fictions, of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, of Atlantis, of Grecian maps.  But, it is not the deep of the truth.

Writer 3 wrote:
My son asks, “If there is an infinite hole, is it surrounded by infinite dirt?”  How deep is that infinite hole?  How deep is his question?
            It is a luxury to be able to think deeply about important questions. It takes time, and it requires that one’s basic needs are already met.  Most of us go through our day not thinking too deeply about the larger questions of life.  Otherwise, we’d never remember to fill up the gas tank, pick up the bread on the way home, or feed the cat.  But to us humans it is necessary for us to, sometimes, think more deeply than “The answer to the meaning of life is 42.”

2. Write about a non-food use for blueberry cupcakes.

Writer 1 wrote:
            The Wizard of the Purple Tower hovered nervously at his cauldron.  This potion was a complicated one, and his fate depended on it.  If he could not produce the magic elixir of flight, he would never escape from his tower.  He spared a single glance out the window at the army waiting below.  He would never have admitted it to his rivals, the Wizards of the Red and Yellow Towers, but his magic was not powerful enough to defeat an army.  But now, freedom was almost within his grasp.  The potion needed but one more crucial ingredient.  He turned to his assistant.  “Have you prepared the cupcakes?”
            His assistant, a short bald man wearing a flowery apron, proudly held out a tray of the requested desserts.  “Fresh out the oven, Your Wizardness!”
            “I thought I told you not to call me that,” the wizard growled as he snatched the tray from his assistant’s oven-mitted hands.  He tilted the tray of cupcakes into the cauldron, itching with impatience for the final result.  Soon, the power of flight would be his!  Freedom, and revenge, once he escaped!
            His triumphant inner thoughts were interrupted by a small cough.  He spun around and leveled a glare at the assistant.
            “Excuse me, Your Wizardness, but perhaps I should tell you… you see, this isn’t really the right season for blueberries, and, well, I thought blackberries would taste just fine.  I’m sure it’s not important…” His voice trailed off as he saw the wizard’s face.  Slowly, the Wizard of the Purple Tower sank to the floor in despair.  “What have you done?” he moaned.  Beside him, the contents of the pot began to gurgle furiously, and then all at once, exploded.
            Future travelers would pause at the spot and marvel at the half-destroyed tower that was once home to a great wizard.

Writer 2 wrote:
            “Maria, don’t you know those cupcakes up on Garlam Street are simply the best?”
            “Oh, I know!  I’ve been hearing about them for ages, but I’ve never been able to get ahold of one!  Have you?”
            “Oh, no, dear, certainly not.  By the way, did you hear…”
            The cupcakes up on Garlam Street were known around town as the best in the business, sweet and succulent and full of fresh-picked blueberries.  They were widely regarded as the best in Virginia, and probably in all the colonies. The problem was, so few could get ahold of them.  You would see a group, carrying the cupcakes home to their husbands and children, and then the bakery would not respond.  The cupcakes are sold out, they would say.  You could demand to see their ovens, whereupon they would gladly show you the empty slabs and cooling fire pits.  You could threaten them, bribe them, cajole them, but there was nothing to be done.  Once that group had gone by, there was no chance for anyone.  The best cupcakes in the entire colony of America were gone.
            One woman, Antoinette, had been waiting for these cupcakes for years.  She’d gone to the bakery before dawn, stayed there all day, and still come away empty-handed.  Yet, there was that group, the same wives walking along the same path carrying the same cupcakes every single day.
            Antoinette, in her desperation, went up to them one day.  “Please, ladies, if you could just let me have a bite, a crumb, a smidgen of those blueberry cupcakes!” she cried out. 
            The women shook their heads.  “I’m sorry,” one said.  “We can’t open the box, or we would let you have some.” 
            “What!  If you can’t open the box, how do you eat the cupcakes?!”Antoinette demanded to know.  “Please!  At least let me look at them!”
            The women glanced around, nervous.  Then, one said, “Okay.”  “What?  Are you mad?” someone admonished from behind the group, but the first woman waved her away.  “Quick, behind this building here.”
            She dragged Antoinette to behind the local British armory, where all the guns and bullets for the war were kept.  And slowly, slowly, she opened the box…
                                                B O O M !
            A great victory was won for the revolution, as the best cupcakes in all the United States blew up one of the largest supply bases for the British.  Oh, and also the whole town, but that doesn’t matter very much, right?
            The End.

Writer 3 wrote:
During the baking of government blueberry cupcakes, at the large ovens owned by NASA, the scientists set up huge fans to waft the aroma of the cupcakes out into space.  This is because Dr. Krakatoa has a theory that blueberry cupcakes attract aliens from the planet Arduwan in the Nebulous Galaxy.  The Arduwans have a wealthy store of carbon-free energy.  Dr. Krakatoa hopes to trade the blueberry cupcake aroma for Arduwan energy, thus providing an environmentally sound source of energy for the earth for decades to come.  We think this is like trading the island of Manhattan for 30 duck feathers.  The main result of NASA’s efforts in this arena have been a massive shortage of blueberries and a drastic increase in insanity among us earthlings, from smelling the blueberry cupcake aroma but not being able to eat the cupcakes.  We are calling for armed insurrection to begin at dawn.

3. Write about a new alternate source of energy.

Writer 1 wrote:
Once, in a dying land, the lives of bees were threatened.  They grew sick and fell from the sky, leaving hives abandoned.  Then the people of that land cried out in despair, and set to work.  They built new homes for the bees and learned to use the energy of their motion within the hive.  It took much work, but soon every home hummed with beehive generators and the once-sick land flowed with honey.  The hum of bees replaced the hum of electrical generators.  The people learned to live with bee stings, and were content.

Writer 2 wrote:
            The wheels squeaked as the hamster ran, sounding in a rhythmic pattern that soothed those who worked with it, and grated on the nerves of those visiting it.  The group of visiting students tried not to show their annoyance.  After all, this was a very unusual opportunity.  The Tyrant of Hamster Energy, or THE, would be showing them around the hamster cages personally, and it would not be proper to displease the THE, even if he did happen to be a little late.
            Ah!  Speak of the devil!  The THE arrived in a sparkling uniform, proudly showing a tiny hamster pin on his lapel.  “Wonderful!  A new group of recruits, ready to start work at the greatest energy company in the world!”  He spun, facing the students with an uncomfortable smile on his face.  “Or, at least, they think they are.  You!” He pointed at one of the students, who jumped. “Why did we switch to hamster energy?”
            “Ummm….” the student shivered in the face of the THE.  “Efficiency.”
            “WRONG!” The THE slammed his hand into his palm.  “Hamster energy is possibly the least efficient energy source in the world!  It requires gigawatts put in just to break even!  And no, it’s not cost-effective, either,” he added, causing those students who had been nervously hopeful to slowly lower their hands.  Only one remained raised.  The THE pointed.
            “And you, young lady.  Do you know why we switched to hamster energy?”
            “Cuteness, sir,” she replied calmly.
            The THE gesticulated wildly.  “Yes!  Exactly! Cuteness was exactly what we needed in the energy business, so cuteness was what we got!”

Writer 3 wrote:
            Scientists are working feverishly to bring to market a new, exciting source of energy based on the wriggling of earthworms.  In one day, the wriggling of one earthworm can generate the energy equivalent of 1.3 gallons of gasoline.  This new technology could be a bonanza for the world, if only the scientists could figure out a way to stop the earthworms from their suicidal journey out to pavement after a rainstorm.  The other hurdle that needs to be overcome is to find a way to keep earthworms happy.  A happy earthworm is a wriggling earthworm.  Earthworms with a positive outlook on life generate 41% more energy than morose earthworms.  This is likely to create a vibrant job market for earthworm psychologists in the next few years.

Writer 1 is Older Niece
Writer 2 is Younger Daughter

Writer 3 is The Common Household Mom

Saturday, July 2, 2016

First lines

Here are the opening lines of books I was reading in June.

(PSA: In case you don't feel like wading through all these words, feel free to skip and just go to the comment section to wax rhapsodic about whatever you love best among the books you are currently reading.)

Book #1
Home.  Mona Butterfield felt contentment settle inside her chest like a deep sigh as she drove past the familiar billboard on Rural Route 20.  The billboard depicted a giant wide-mouthed bass, its body arched in a shower of splashing water, a cartoonish fisherman triumphantly reeling it in.  Beneath the picture large red letters announced Welcome to Bassville – the White Bass Capital of the Western Hemisphere.

Book #2
How did the Marquis de Lafayette win over the stingiest, crankiest tax protesters in the history of the world?  He trudged from France to Philadelphia, hung around the building where they signed the Declaration of Independence, and volunteered to work for free.  The Continental Congress had its doubts about saddling General George Washington with a teenage French aristocrat, but Ben Franklin wrote from Paris that the kid might be of use and, what the hell, the price was right.

Book #3
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “the early mornings belong to the Church of the risen Christ.  At the break of light it remembers the morning on which death and sin lay prostrate in defeat and new life and salvation were given to mankind.”  This comes as unfortunate news for someone like me who can barely remember who she is at the “break of light,” much less ponder the theological implications of the resurrection.

Book #4
I am almost a whole day old, now.  I arrived yesterday.  That is as it seems to me.  And it must be so, for if there was a day-before-yesterday I was not there when it happened, or I should remember it. It could be, of course, that it did happen, and that I was not noticing.  Very well; I will be very watchful now, and if any day-before-yesterdays happen I will make a note of it.

Book #5
Let’s get one thing straight right from the beginning: I didn’t set out to be a comma queen.  The first job I ever had, the summer I was fifteen, was checking feet at a public pool in Cleveland.

Book #6
St. Petersburgh, Dec 11th, 17__
TO Mrs. Saville, England
            You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.
Book #7
Mr Logiudice: State your name, please.
Witness: Andrew Barber.
Mr Logiudice: What do you do for work, Mr. Barber?
Witness:  I was an assistant district attorney in this county for 22 years.
Mr Logiudice: “Was.”  What do you do for work now?
Witness:  I suppose you’d say I’m unemployed.

 * * * * * * * * *

Here are the titles that go with the above excerpts.  I’ve listed them in order of how much I liked the book, from best to least.  It’s difficult to rank books of different genres all together.  Is it fair to compare a history book to a novel?  No.  But I can say that I liked the first five books, but not the last two, which are for our book club.

1. Across the River by Melissa Westemeier 
This novel met my biggest reading need:  to get away to a small town with an excellently named river, and meet the people who live there, and enter into their lives.  I think my favorite character was Grandma Nancy. This was a fun read.  You can also get this book here.
Melissa Westemeier blogs here.

Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette answered my need for a snarky take on Our Nation’s History.  I have no way of judging her historical accuracy, but it’s amusing reading, especially considering that it’s history. 

Rachel Held Evans is by turns funny and poignant while Searching for Sunday, but always passionate about her topic, her relationship to the church.  I’m just grateful that when I was growing my church youth group was not like hers. 
Rachel Held Evans blogs here.

4. The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain
Mark Twain wrote The Diaries of Adam and Eve late in his life, and his writing shows surprising tenderness.  That is the book that I wish the book club would pick. 
Mark Twain blogs here.

Mary Norris’ Between You and Me is well done, if you love grammar-related stuff.  Her chapter on pronouns is a striking personal story on just how much those tiny words matter. 
Mary Norris blogs here.

6. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (for book club)
Some count Frankenstein as a classic, a genre I usually enjoy, but Mary Shelley’s writing style was just over-the-top maudlin, a sort of literary wringing of the hands.  Much weeping and death and coldness.  She wrote it when she was 18 years old, so I suppose she should be excused.  I liked the book discussion much more than I liked reading the actual book.

7. Defending Jacob, by William Landay (for book club)
I had no business reading Defending Jacob, by William Landay, except our book club picked it.  I am not a fan of novels about horrendous crime.  I truly disliked this book.  Maybe I'll feel differently after the book discussion.  In my view the writing style was not anything special, and the plot was very disturbing to me.  It’s going to give me nightmares.  I was happy to read Mark Twain afterwards.
William Landay blogs here.

I also read The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West, but I neglected to note the opening lines.  It started out rather Downton-Abbeyish, as a snarky-fun commentary on British upper crust life in the early 20th century, but it got tedious, and some characters that could have been quite interesting were not fully developed.

Now it's your turn.  What did you read during June?