Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Home and History

Red House
Being a Mostly Accurate Account of New England's Oldest Continuously Lived-In House
By Sarah Messer

Shortly before Sarah Messer was born, her parents purchased "Red House," a home that had been owned by nine generations of the Hatch family near Marshfield, Massachusetts. For over three hundred years, the house had been passed down through the family, as stipulated in the will of Walter Hatch, who built the house. Messer and her siblings grow up among the relics of a family they aren't descended from, with old photos of the Hatch family hanging on the walls and letters and linens passed between the Hatches crowding the closets. The house is often somewhere between a state of disrepair and renovation, as layers and years are peeled back, revealing the evolution of the home with each new owner and era.

The book explores the history of the house and of the Hatches, while weaving in the story of the Messer family. As a child, Messer didn't realize it was strange to live in a drafty house with few modern amenities and no wall-to-wall carpeting until she started to going play at friends' houses. As an adult, she questions what right her family has to Red House, when there are still Hatch descendants interested in the property. She helps to restore the house, and becomes interested in documenting its story and establishing a timeline of its life. As she says in the epilogue, the house has no baby book and cannot speak for itself, so this book is her attempt at giving it a voice.

I picked this book up at a thrift store for a quarter and I'd say it was worth it. It's interesting for me to think about how when family and place get so tied to each other, what happens to the family when the place is gone? At some point, it seems that the place becomes another member of the family, and in the case of the remaining Hatches, when Red House was sold, it was almost as if they had lost a close relative. Messer's memoir goes beyond the history of a home to explore the meaning of place and how we draw on history, both of family and culture, and place to create our own identities.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Better Late Than Never

Moooooom! I can't believe you didn't get my weekly picture up yet! What about my fan club?

Chill out Bert, the photo is up now.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Singing the Blues

Last week, two things happened that couldn't have been better timed. First, I discovered we had not one, but two cups of last years blueberries hiding in the freezer. Second, I was cleaning out my email inbox and came across a recipe from my aunt that I thought I had misplaced. I thought I printed it out and lost it, but there it was, still in my email. And guess what it called for? Not one, but two cups of blueberries. Now that's what I call a happy accident.

Turn these... 

to this...      

Blueberry Pudding Cake

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar (can be cut down to 1/2cup)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup milk
3 tblsp butter or margarine melted

3/4 cup sugar (can be cut down to 1/2 cup)
1 tblsp cornstarch
1 cup boiling water

Toss blueberries with cinnamon and lemon juice; place in a greased 8 inch square baking dish.
In a bowl, combine flour, sugar and baking powder; stir in milk and butter (you can just use a spatula; no need to get the mixer out). Spoon over berries. Combine sugar and cornstarch; sprinkle over batter.  Slowly pour boiling water over all. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until the cake tests done.

I was a little worried when I saw how watery it was after pouring the boiling water on top, so here's a picture so you know you are doing it right.

My aunt recommends serving it warm over vanilla ice cream. I didn't have any ice cream around but I did have some whipping cream in the fridge so I whipped that up and put it on top. Keith says, "Don't even bother with a blueberry pie. Just make this from now on." Now we are really itching for those blueberries to come on this spring, because the only sad thing about making this pudding cake is we don't have any more blueberries to make another one.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Beep, Beep!

When I told you yesterday that I didn't have a picture of Bert playing outside, I wasn't thinking about this one. We were out for a walk on Monday and stopped by a friend's house and she took a picture of Bert and sent it to me (thanks, Kathleen!). So here it is!

Hey baby, wanna take a ride in my car?
We are now officially on the yard sale look-out for a cozy coupe because Bert was really digging this one.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Putting It to Bed

We have been experiencing really mild weather, especially considering that today marks the first day of spring. So of course we've been thinking about our garden. Actually, we started talking about expanding our garden a couple months ago and finally put our plans into action over the last two weekends.

The first year of our garden, we had two 8' x 12' beds that looked like this:

Last year, we combined them and the area between them to make one large 12' x 24' garden.

Our garden space in that area is pretty much used up, so we decided the next place to expand was along the side of the house. We had a little planning session and came up with doing five raised beds. One would be 6' x 6' with a 4' x 4' double-height bed inside it, then two 4' x 4' beds on each side. The gaps between the beds would be 2', enough room to get the lawn mower through.

Keith headed out to Lowe's to pick up the 2" x 6" boards and screws we would need. Once he was home and Bert was down for his nap, we got to work in the garage. I was the official measurer and board-holder, Keith was in charge of sawing.

It didn't take long to get all the boards cut, maybe 45 minutes or so, and then we were ready to assemble. Keith had been scoping out a scrap wood pile at the welding shop around the corner and brought home a bunch of 2" x 2" wood that we used to create the corners. We left the corner pieces 18" long so that we can staple our wire fence to it to keep the rabbits out.

So in the space of an afternoon, we were able to get these beds put together and in place along the side of the house.

Next up was laying down some paper to keep the grass from growing up in the beds. We had a roll of landscape paper leftover from another project, so we used that up and then just used newspapers to cover the rest.

When all the paper was down and the beds were lined up straight, Keith went to a local garden center for some mushroom soil to fill them. He mixed it with some peat moss before shoveling it into the beds. I did important work too, like getting the bottle tree my brother made for me out of the basement and digging around for some bottles to put on it. Sadly, we only have brown and green bottles so far, so it isn't the prettiest bottle tree. Not yet anyway.

It may only be March, but Keith got a little sunburn on the back of his neck from being outside all day. Poor fair-skinned guy. Which reminds me I need to pick up some sunscreen for Bert if we are going to start spending a lot more time outside. I'll have a little lobster on my hands if I don't. I thought I had a picture of Bert playing outside to post, but I guess I don't. I'll have to get on that.

The big decision now is what is going in the beds. We still need to sit down and figure out exactly what will go where, but we know we want to plant more cabbage, peas, beans and carrots than last year and we would like to give butternut squash, brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes a try. Plus all the other stuff like spinach and lettuce, corn, peppers, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and undoubtedly, more of Keith's gourds.

So that's how we've been filling our past couple weekends, building more garden beds and some spring clean-up around the yard. I am itching to start planting things but I think that might be jumping the gun a bit.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Crock Pot Cake

You all know about the thing I have going on with my crock pot and how much I love it. It's really no secret, but it's almost scandalous when you can make dessert in it. I made this cake a couple years ago when I cut the recipe out and then forgot about it until I recently organized my recipe box.

Lemon Poppy-Seed Cake
Real Simple

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
1 1/4 cups, plus 6 tablespoons, granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grate lemon zest, plus 3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
whipped cream (optional)

In a bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1 1/4 cups of the granulated sugar on medium-high until smooth. Add the eggs and beat until fluffy, 2 minutes. Add the sour cream, vanilla, lemon zest, and poppy seeds and beat to combine. Reduce speed to low and slowly incorporate the flour mixture. Place a 15-inch piece of parchment paper in the bowl of the slow cooker, letting the excess come up the sides. Transfer the batter into the bowl of the slow cooker. Set the cooker to high and cook, covered, until set and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 2 1/2 hours. Combine the lemon juice and the remaining granulated sugar in a bowl and drizzle evenly over the top of the cake. Holding the parchment paper, transfer the cake to a rack. Let cool for at least 15 minutes. Dust with the confectioners' sugar and serve with the whipped cream, if desired.

Oh, the buttery goodness, complimented by the puckery tartness of the sugar-and-lemon-juice drizzle. How did I let this hide away for years?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

The little leprechaun would like to wish you luck today!

“May good luck be your friend in whatever you do and 
may trouble be always a stranger to you.”

Friday, March 16, 2012

Don't Forget to Read This One

The Forgotten Garden
By Kate Morton

Right from the start, The Forgotten Garden had me hooked. Kate Morton tells the tale of Nell, a young girl arriving alone in Australia, fresh off a boat from England. Taken in by the dockmaster, she isn't told about her mysterious arrival until she turns 21. She is drawn back to England to search for her past and her family, only to leave it all behind again when she has to raise her granddaughter, Cass. After Nell's death, Cass picks up the threads of her grandmother's story and attempts to put it all together.

The story spans generations, decades, and continents and manages to never lose it's focus. Each chapter takes a different perspective and time period, from Nell's arrival in Australia in 1913, to her return to England in 1975, Cass's own trip to England in 2005, as well as the years before Nell's ship sets sail from England. The reader finds out bits of Nell's history as first she, and then Cass, trace the origins of a book of fairy tales Nell carried with her on the ship. Nell's notes drive Cass closer and closer to solving the mystery of her family, and the reader is privy to the lives of Eliza and Rose, cousins growing up on Blackhurst Manor in England, and a chain of events set in motion that they could have never imagined.

The use of fairy tales as a strong element in the plot reminded me of Winter Garden. In The Forgotten Garden, the fairy tales are written by one of the characters and serve as powerful clues to the truth behind Nell's past. Though fairy tales were a large part of the story, the central themes of mothers losing children and children losing mothers were what bound the story together and made the development of the story over several generations work. As each woman searched for her past, the discoveries she made filled a void in her life, even as she least expected it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lengthy and Lovely

Before this weekend, I had never eaten butternut squash. Are you surprised? I fed it to my baby, but I never ate it. But when I made the baby food, it looked so pretty and smelled so good that I knew I should be eating it. When I ran across this recipe in a cooking magazine (Cuisine at Home, I think), I pulled it out. Keith had saved seeds from our baby food squash, so I thought I would just file it away until we grew some of our own. Then I picked up another squash at the farmers' market, thinking I was going to need to make more baby food, but Bert is rapidly moving onto finger foods. So there I was, with an unallocated butternut squash on my hands. Four hours and a disaster of a kitchen mess later, I had a really tasty dish. Four hours is a bit of an exaggeration, but not much, because I had to roast my squash first.

Squash Spoon Bread

2 1/2 cups cooked butternut squash*
1/2 cup cooked carrots

*I cut mine in half and roasted it in the oven at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until tender. Half of my large squash made the 2 1/2 cups needed for the recipe.

Saute in 1 tablespoon butter:
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped

Add; bring to a boil:
1 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

Whisk in:
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

Cornmeal mixture
Squash/carrot puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Beat; fold in:
3 egg whites

Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in the middle. Puree cooked vegetables. Saute onions until translucent. Add water, milk, and rosemary to onions; bring to a boil. Whisk in cornmeal and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Combine cornmeal mixture, vegetable puree, cream, egg yolks, butter, salt, and cayenne in large bowl. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold into batter. Place in a greased 2-quart casserole dish and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until set.

If you are wondering about the texture of this, think of it like really moist and fluffy cornbread. Almost like pumpkin pie meets cornbread. Moist enough that you have to eat it with a spoon, hence the name spoon bread.

So, was it worth all the bother? Yes, but I'm going to file this one under holiday dishes because it was a lot of work for regular, everyday side dish. My plan is to take some of the squash we grow this summer and puree it with the carrots and then freeze that in batches so it is ready to go when I want to make this again. That would cut out a lot of the hassle, to not have to go through the roasting and pureeing and having the food processor taking up precious counter space. It was a long process, but Keith really enjoyed it, even if it doesn't make the cut for cholesterol-friendly food.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Oh the Shame

It's a sad day when I've let my dishcloth deteriorate to this condition:

Even the faucet is hanging his head in shame. But fear not, the situation has been remedied. After checking out a website my aunt clued me into, I chose this pattern and whipped up a new dishcloth in about an hour. That would be a baby-napping-hour, not a baby-tugging-on-my-leg-hour. So now the faucet can hold his head high again.

I would say that a new dishcloth makes doing the dishes fun, but I think you would know I was lying.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A New Spin on Vintage

A Vintage Affair
By Isabel Wolff

A Vintage Affair is the March pick for the library book club and I think this one will be a crowd pleaser. The book centers around Phoebe, the owner of a newly-opened high-end vintage clothing shop. She opens the shop after the devastating loss of her best friend and the dissolution of her engagement. As she searches for articles of clothing for the shop and greets customers, she meets people who help her to move past the tragedies in her life and embrace the possibilities of the future.

Isabel Wolff's characters were genuine and believable, and the story unwound naturally, at times sorrowful and then heartwarming. I loved the way the shop full of vintage clothing drew the characters to one another, almost becoming a character itself. It made the relationships between characters of all different ages pull together seamlessly, and the past and present mingled easily. A Vintage Affair wasn't a long book, but Wolff fleshed out the connections between Phoebe and a handful of minor characters in a way that crafted and deliberate, not hurried or added as an afterthought. I thought it was charming and engaging, with a weighty enough story that I didn't feel like I was reading fluff.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Spring Moss-t Be Close

I can't be the only one itching to get outside and dig in the dirt. We have had such mild winter weather that the birds are chirping and the daffodils along the side of the house are poking out already. Bert and I went for a walk around the block the other day and noticed some crocuses blooming already. And then we get a rainy, miserable day when we can only dream of being outside.

It might be too early to start planting things outside, but it seemed like a fine time get the green going indoors. When my mom came to visit the other weekend, she brought me some moss because I had been talking about starting a terrarium. Then we were poking around a thrift store and I found a nice little lidded glass container (maybe a candy dish?) that I thought would be perfect.

The whole process is really simple. Put a layer of gravel in the bottom of your container (which should have a lid, but not a tight-fitting one so it can get air), covered by a layer of activated charcoal. Keith had some around for the filter of the turtle tank, so I'm sure you can find it at a pet supply store or garden store. Then enough potting soil for the roots to take hold (I put about 2 inches in mine). Gently tuck your moss in and add a little water and you should be good to go. Now that I have moss on the brain, I'm seeing it everywhere: in the park, in cracks in the sidewalk, along the side of the house and garage. So if you want to make your own moss terrarium, you can probably scrounge up some moss for free on the north side of a tree or building.

And while the moss is nice and green and has me in the mood for spring, I couldn't pass up a $2 bunch of color at the farmers' market. Once in awhile, you can buy happiness and the funny thing is, it doesn't cost much.

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