Friday, June 24, 2011

One Small Step for the Kitchen, One Giant Step for Our Gastronomic Possibilities

For many months our kitchen has looked like this.
The refrigerator has protective coverings but has been plugged in and working for quite a while. That has been the extent of our kitchen function. As you can see, the oven is in place but its protective coverings and interior packing materials have not been removed. The many boxes in this picture contain the cooktop, microwave, garbage disposal and, yes, the kitchen sink. You will notice a definite lack of cabinets and countertops.

Today we took one small step for the kitchen and one giant step for our gastronomic possibilities. The oven has now been fully installed! Real baked potatoes, pizza bigger than 13" (whicht is the biggest that the toaster oven will hold), a Texas-sized pan of brownies and angel food cake that is not seared on the top are all mine with the push of a few simple buttons.

Weber, being a good consumer, opted to read the manual for the oven rather than choosing my more experiential method of just pushing all the buttons and figuring out that way how it all works. This proved to be as entertaining as it was informative.

The following are exact quotes from our new oven's manual.
  • Never Use the Oven for Warming or Heating the Room. I thought this was an added bonus offered with most ovens, one that is not appreciated at this time of year.
  • Children should not be allowed to sit or stand on any part of the oven. I guess that they should be laid comfortably on an appropriately sized pan before cooking.
  • Wear proper apparel. Loose fitting or hanging garments should never be worn while using the oven. I now have an opportunity to wear that baking bikini that has worked its way to the bottom of my drawer. And I'm so glad that they specified "hanging garments." I'd hate to think that I couldn't cook unless I'm wearing proper foundational garments!
  • Flammable items should not be stored in an oven. I sure hope we have cabinets soon since I no longer have a place to store the lighter fluid.
  • Do Not Heat Unopened Food Containers. So much for convenience foods.
  • DO NOT TOUCH HEATING ELEMENTS OR INTERIOR SURFACES OF OVEN. Where was our governor Rick Perry when this manual was being written? He vetoed a bill prohibiting texting while driving because he said that he "did not want to micromanage the personal behaviors of individuals." I think I should have the right to touch my oven wherever I want to. If I am foolish enough to engage in an inappropriate relationship then I should learn from the error of my ways.
Though we had several good laughs reading these warnings, the sad truth is that they are included here because someone or ones did these very things, probably with somewhat negative results, and tried to blame the manufacturer. If we promoted cooking education instead of abstinence our society might be better equipped to face the challenges of everyday life. Oh wait, wrong soapbox, but I guess it works here too. If rather than simply saying don't touch the heating elements, the instructions said be sure to use an oven mitt when the possibility of touching a hot oven exists. And remember, oven mitts alone are not a guarantee against serious burns.

Despite the comical nature of the oven's instructions, it is a very nice appliance and I am looking forward to building a long-lasting relationship with it. It does some really cool things. It has a setting for dehydrating. And one for proofing bread. It also has a Sabbath setting. It does all the normal stuff too. And, did I mention that it will cook an angel food cake without searing the top? This is a relationship made in heaven!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Frames, Francis, and Felines

As the end of June nears, I find myself struck by how quickly time has passed. It has been a little over a year since we began the work to remodel the house and a little less than a year since Weber and I were married. To mark these milestones we are doing our best to assimilate mine, his, and ours to create a home that is comfortable and uniquely ours.

After the arrival of dining room furniture tomorrow, every room will have furniture. I can say this because kitchens don’t have furniture; so, the fact that we are still minus a functional kitchen doesn’t compromise the truth of my statement about furniture. Well, we will eventually need bar stools but that seems like small potatoes in the big scheme of things.

Now that we have furnishings, we can start to hang art on the walls and add those little touches that make a house a home. Once we got all of our pictures and prints in one place I was amazed by just how much we have – photographs that I have taken, paintings done by Weber’s mother and grandmother, prints that we have collected, a few original pieces, and several icons. We spent today looking at our collection, deciding what should go where, and buying the necessary frames. Since we have removed a few walls, we may very well have more art than we do wall space. I can think of worse situations. (Like no sink, or stove, or cabinets . . .) Back to the point-

One of the things that needed a frame was this.

It is an image of St. Francis done by artist Catherine Nolin. ( This was Weber’s wedding gift to me. Sadly it has been safely tucked amidst a cardboard sandwich for nearly a year. I remember thinking when I first saw it that it was beautiful but that it didn’t make any sense to frame it and hang it at that point because we were in a state of transition. I decided to wait until we had moved and settled into our new home so that it would have a room, or at least a wall, of its own.

Looking at this picture again today with fresh eyes, I still think it is beautiful. I feel like I am right there with Francis, watching him, feeling him, admiring him, and breathing his essence. The door is open for me to follow him, to join him on the path of humility, love, and joy.

The thing that today struck me most about this image is the cat. To most, there is probably nothing particularly striking about this cat. However, if you are a regular reader here, you may remember that in the assimilation of mine, his and ours in the “ours” is a kitten who came to live with us shortly after we returned from our honeymoon.

Though in her baby pictures the kitten is pure white, as she has grown orange highlights have emerged. To me she looks like a toasted marshmallow. She also looks like the cat it the picture. They both have the orange ears and tail and faint orange shadings on their backs. And, they both enjoy sitting, or lying, at the door and watching the world outside. It is as if our newest family member was the model for Catherine Nolin’s depiction of St. Francis.

As I have said more than once, I don’t believe in coincidence. That Weber chose this particular picture of St. Francis when there are literally hundreds of them available, that it contains a cat that looks just like ours, at that our cat’s name is Frankie, a name that we did not chose for her, are things that did not happen simply by chance.

What is meant to be will be.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day 2011

It is funny how our obligations to and relationships with holidays change throughout life. My first memories of Father’s Day are from when I was four or so and my “gift” to my Dad was to help him wash the car. Having now raised two children who were at various times four years old, I’m not sure how much of a gift that really was for my Dad; it was perhaps a better deal for my mom who got some free time while I had some bonding time with my paternal parental unit. As a teenager I struggled to find gifts for my Dad because as an officer in the Navy he was not home much. I didn’t know him very well and he didn’t know me. Now, some thirty years later, we have gotten to know one another pretty well, and we are very much alike. I sent my Dad a book and a pound of Texas Pecan coffee, two things that I would be happy to receive on any occasion that necessitates gift giving.

The one thing that I did not do this Father’s Day was to help the girls shop for Mike. First of all, they are not in close proximity and second of all, they are old enough to check the calendar and realize that they need to acknowledge the day without me nagging them. So, I didn’t. I do know that Offspring No. 2 was shopping last night at midnight. I’m not sure about No. 1. And, it is not my problem.

At our house, we have joined the realm of people who receive Mother’s and Father’s Day cards from their four-legged children. Technically, Adidas and Harley have a step-dog relationship with Weber. Although with Adidas, “top dog” in his world is whoever feeds him. Most of the time that is Weber so Adidas ignores the stepparent designation.

In the realm of some relationships are kind of complicated, is Harley’s relationship with Weber. In a post back in February of 2007, I told the story of Harley coming to live with us. At that time, I neglected what has come to be a rather ironic detail. I did receive a call from a friend at the local knit shop asking me if I wanted a tiny, freezing, abandoned puppy. The irony is that before this friend called me, she had called Weber’s ex-wife asking if they wanted the puppy. Obviously she said “No” and the rest is history . . .sort of. It seems though that the greater plan was that Harley was indeed to be in Weber’s life and she was destined to live here in Dallas. For this we are all very grateful!

"I love you, Dad!"

So how did the dogs and their dad spend Father’s Day? Doing something that they all love . . .sharing watermelon. Both Adidas and Harley “helped” Weber cut the watermelon, much in the same way that I helped my dad wash the car when I was four. They all had several bites of the melon just to make sure that it was indeed good. Though the process took longer than it probably should have, they all seemed to enjoy themselves.

He who cuts the watermelon gets the first bite.
He who whines the loudest, or helps the most, gets the second bite.
Patient girls finish last.

Good to the last drop!

Happy Father’s Day to all of you who have parented both two-legged and four-legged kids!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Graduate

We spent last weekend in Chicago attending the graduation of Offspring No. 1. The University of Chicago does everything with much pomp and circumstance. On Friday evening they hosted a champagne reception at the Museum of Science and Industry. The Convocation, conferring of degrees and awarding of diplomas consumed most of the day Saturday. We spent approximately six hours outside in folding chairs – and rain and 50 degree temperatures. I must say that I would much rather spend six hours sitting outside in the Chicago chill than the Texas 100 degree heat! The various parts of the ceremony were divided by what someone affectionately referred to as “the $200,000 lunch.” We were given a very nice sack lunch provided “free” by the university – free if you disregard the $200,000 price tag of a UC undergraduate education.

To be fair, Brooke did get a great deal more than a veggie wrap and small cup of fruit from her time in Chicago. She earned a degree in linguistics. She studied both Russian and Georgian and is fluent in both. Her mind was challenged and expanded; her body was challenged and bruised playing rugby on the University of Chicago women’s rugby team; and, her view of the world was challenged and broadened by living on the south side of Chicago. We all know that a college education involves much more than what goes on in the classroom.

I bet you are all wondering what a Russian-speaking college graduate with a degree in linguistics who plays rugby (which really means can hold her own when faced with inordinate amounts of beer) does after college. Lucky for you I have the answer.

They go to culinary school to become a pastry chef. Seems logical, right?

Maybe it seems logical to me since I know that Brooke has had a fascination with food since her tiny taste buds first encountered “real” food. From the beginning she would eat any vegetable that I would puree for her toothless palette. Fruits too. The same, however, was not so with meat. She would not touch baby food meat. Once she had teeth, meat still took a backseat to fruit and veggies. Every now and then she would make an exception for what she affectionately termed “flat meats” – pepperoni, chicken fried steak, and an occasional Chicken McNugget.

At age three, I signed up for a Kid’s Cooking Club. It was one of those deals where every month you received recipes, ingredients, and kid-sized cooking tools. A passion for cooking was born. While at home, Brooke baked for anyone having a bake sale, regularly often cooked our family meals, and regularly prepared gourmet meals for a local residential home for persons living with HIV-AIDS.

In addition to her academic and not so academic pursuits while in college, Brooke has continued to hone her culinary skills. Though her meals often consisted of rice and beans, she, her roommates, and her boyfriend’s fraternity never lacked for exquisite desserts.

When I asked what Brooke wanted for a graduation gift, she said that she would like a nice camera (because hers was stolen when her apartment was broken into in one of those worldly educational experiences) so that she could take pictures of her creations to establish a portfolio and hopefully a blog. Since she doesn’t yet have a summer job, cooking is how she plans to occupy her free time. I ordered the camera and it was to arrive today. I am anxiously awaiting her first blog post!

As I began writing this post, my phone buzzed indicating that I had a text message from Brooke. I assumed that it was to let me know that her camera had arrived. The message read, “I just got my first stitches!”

Holding true to her summer plans, Brooke was baking her first cake as a college graduate. Those of you who bake cake know that often cakes need leveling. You get the picture . . . As Brooke said, the serrated knife is the sharpest because it gets used the least.

Her very sweet boyfriend came over and took her to the emergency room, texted her roommate to tell her that the blood all over the kitchen in their apartment was not evidence of a brutal crime scene, streamed cute cuddly pictures from for Brooke to look at as they stitched her finger and tweeted before and after pictures of Brooke’s finger. How’s that for true love!

Despite the somewhat ominous start, I trust that Brooke will have many sweet successes on her culinary path. I am proud of all that she has accomplished thus far.

And in case you are wondering, she was making a layer cake with strawberry jam filling. The cake layers, which she checked to make sure were blood-free, are in the freezer waiting to be filled, iced and decorated with flowers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First Fruits of Summer

When we moved to the country, I had dreams of having a bountiful garden. Despite having four acres, my garden never happened. It never happened because I was the only one who had this dream and I didn't have the drive to go at it alone. I'm not sure why that was the case, but it was.

As this spring approached, I still had dreams of a garden. Now, living once again in suburbia, I have one. How is that for irony?

About six weeks ago, after waiting out the torrential rains that we had this spring, we finally planted our garden. There was no doubt that raised beds were the way to go. Our planting choices were determined by our taste and our space. We figured that this year's garden would be primarily a learning experience. We would see what worked and what didn't and adjust accordingly next year.

Residing in our garden our yellow squash and zucchini, cucumber, red bell and jalapeno peppers, okra, basil, cilantro, and tomatoes. Because we got a late start planting, we began with small plants from Home Depot rather than seeds. We also got three tomato plants from another local nursery.

These three tomato plants have a somewhat sad story. Because it is close to the house, we began our search for plants at a nearby nursery thinking that they might have a bigger selection and might be more helpful to a few novice veggie gardeners. We were wrong on both accounts. But what they did have were tomato plants for 50 cents each. Sadly, these were plants that looked as if they should be in the horticulture ICU on life support. We chose the three that had a little green on them figuring at 50 cents each we didn't have a whole lot to loose. When we got to the register to pay for them, the cashier said that these plants were free. That should give you some indication of how pathetic they really looked. I am proud to say that with a little TLC they all not only survived but are thriving.

Here is our garden six weeks into its growing season.
Even without fresh vegetables, rabbits love our yard. You will see marigolds scattered throughout the vegetables. Those are to deter the rabbits. We lost one squash plant early on, pulled up by its roots with no trace left, but other than that, the marigolds seem to be functioning well in their capacity as rabbit deterrents.

Everything is doing great! All of the plants have either set blossoms or are bearing fruit.

Here are a few jalapenos who are about ready to make their contribution to some salsa along with the cilantro that is growing right next door.
The bell peppers are doing equally well. Though not ready to pick, there are several that are well on their way.
The squash and cucumber are growing to fill all available space and then some. I'm not sure how much longer the marigolds will survive here. They may never see sunlight again!

The cucumber and squash are setting blossoms, lots of them. We'll see how many pickles we get to can and how much squash casserole we get to eat this summer!
The tomato plants have blossoms as well, with the exception of one; it has a tomato already.
And in case you are wondering, this is one of the ICU tomato plants. Its fruit is somewhere between the size of a tangerine and a small orange. Or, I should say, it was. I took these pictures yesterday and this morning the tomato was gone. As you can see, it was on the very edge of the bed - an easy target for any tomato predators.. Some wildlife somewhere is enjoying a nice plate of fried green tomatoes.

I picked two okra the other day but did not cook them. The only way I like okra is fried; we still don't have a kitchen so frying them was not an option. We took pride in our success at having actually grown them and then put them out for the birds or rabbits or whomever.

Perhaps our first taste of the garden will be a basil, (store-bought) tomato and mozzarella pizza.

Ya gotta start somewhere, right?