Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fair Play

We went to the local county fair on Sunday.

It was small.  And, in retrospect, awesome (for people watching,any way.). There were approximately 4 rides and 14 food stands.  The "beer garden" consisted of one small trailer with 2 kegs. There was no bingo. Finn refused to ride the carousel with me but Abby rode the Octopus. Twice. Allegedly, it was that awesome.  There were cheese curds (Abby insisted.).  There was cotton candy (I insisted.). There was beer (Uriah insisted.). And there were monster trucks (Finn insisted.).  Actually, Finn has repeatedly told me every day since: "I don't like monster trucks, Mama. I don't like them."  I guess they were a little bit too loud for him..

All things considered, we spent some hard-earned money on some junky prizes, but the animals were fun to look at and the cotton candy was delicious.  We'll probably do it again next year.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Friday, August 24, 2012

Getting to the good stuff.

I feel like all I've been doing lately is slaving in the garden.  And I love my gardens, but dang...there is no end to the weeds and the random crap poking their heads up helter and skelter.  I'm still not sure if I'm pulling weeds or pretties and I'm not sure if I should be pruning back some of the more rambunctious plants.  But I'm doing it anyway.  We'll see where I need to fill come spring.

It's the weekend, though...or almost, at least.  I'm determined to not step one pinky toe into any of the gardens - my shoulder and my calloused hands need a break!  I plan, instead, to play with lots of construction site trucks outside in the sandbox and to buy some school supplies (because we haven't done that yet and school starts in just over a week.).  I plan to eat pancakes with blueberries at our outdoor table that is, somewhat, in shambles because we are "re-envisioning" it.  Which also means I plan to haul two small humans down to the lake to gather some more rocks for aforementioned table re-envisioning project.  I plan to lay on my back and look at some clouds.  I plan to blue-tape the library in anticipation of painting it next week-ish (I'm having a hard time nailing down my time these days.  At least I get out of my jammies before the church bells ring daily at noon.).  I plan to take in the county fair.  I'm plan to pet a cow (because I love them.) and watch Finn's world blow up when he sees a real, live horse.  I plan to eat some cotton candy.

What about you?  Big plans for the weekend?  The Great Minnesota Get Together kicked off yesterday, but I just don't think we'll have the time to get down for it this year.  There's always next year, I guess.  If you're in need of a fun project for the kiddos that doesn't require blowing your diet on all things fried and secured to a stick, I believe that sidewalk painting is the new sidewalk chalk.  Mix equal parts water and cornstarch, add food coloring and paint the heck out of your sidewalks (and feet).  Washes off easily with water (hose or wait for rain, you decide.) and is pretty much fun for adults, too!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A thousand times Julia.

Okay...so yesterday, I got a little bit big for my britches.

In my perusal of all cook books French (of which I have 3 - and not one of them by Julia Child.) to find something suitable to make in honor of Julia Child's birthday, I stumbled upon a recipe for Strawberry Millefeuille.  Millefeuille, in French, means a thousand leaves, which I guess is in reference to the puff pastry it's made out of puffing up and looking like a thousand layers of flaky pastry goodness.  The picture in the book looked pretty and summery and light and it just so happened I had puff pastry in my freezer; it also didn't call for a pound of butter, so I figured I was in business.

I got to work thawing my pastry and reading and re-reading the recipe for Creme Patissiere, which is some sort of French cooked creamy custard filling-type thing.  It didn't look too difficult and aside from the 6 egg yolks it called for, nothing too out of the ordinary in the ingredient list, either.  I gathered my ingredients and got to work.  The creme patissiere calls for mixing egg yolks and sugar, then adding flour and cornstarch and then heating up milk, more sugar and some vanilla to pour into the egg mixture.  All went well, milk came just to a boil and I added it to the egg mixture.  It turned lumpy like the recipe said it would, so I continued to beat all of my frustrations out into that creme patissiere and it came together into a smooth consistency, if a little bit thick.

Okay, a lot thick.

Okay, really, really thick and not so creamy.  But I put it into a clean bowl, stuck some plastic wrap over it and shoved it in the fridge to cool.

And cool it did, for about 5 hours, into a very thick mess that didn't look so much like the creamy picture in the book.  But I carried forth, after all, my kids were expecting something great for dessert.  Something French.  I beat the whipping cream, and tried to soften my creme patissiere, finally resorting to putting it into the mixing bowl of my stand mixer with the whisk attached to soften it up a little more.  When it looked about as good as it was going to get, I folded in the whipped cream and, honestly, it didn't look too terrible and it tasted great.

I assembled the layers and the strawberries and took some pictures.  Finn, as you can see, likes to be up in my business any time I'm doing anything that requires somewhat of a steady hand.  And also, apparently powdered sugar looks just like snow, and so his monster truck had to take a drive through it.  The teeny-tiny tread marks would have been cute if I wasn't already slightly annoyed by the thick filling and fading evening light.

I rehashed the details of the dessert with Uriah when he got home from work to try to figure out why my creme patissiere was so thick and unruly.  We concluded that I'd probably just overcooked it a little bit and went to bed.  But I couldn't stop thinking about that dang creme.

And then, today, the light bulb went off as I was typing the recipe out for this blog post.  It was the flour!  Of course!  The recipe calls for 1/4 OUNCE of flour in the creme patissiere, not 1/4 CUP, which is what I put in!  I mentally slapped my forehead, except it wasn't a mental slap, I really did hit myself.  I will never make that mistake again, mostly because I highlighted the word ounce in my cookbook!

My only other regret is that I didn't stick a candle in the Strawberry Millefeuille and have my kids sing Happy Birthday to Julia Child.  There's always next year...

A Little Taste of…France, copyright 2003
Serves 6

  • 1 lb.-7 oz. Puff pastry
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ quantity crème patissiere (recipe to follow)
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 10 ½ oz strawberries, cut into quarters
  • confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Roll the pastry around the rolling pin, then unroll onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.  Leave in the fridge for 15 minutes.

To make the syrup, put 5 tablespoons sugar and ¾ cup water in a saucepan and boil for 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

Cut out three 12x5-inch rectangles* from the pastry and place them on a large baking tray.  Prick with a fork, cover with a sheet of baking paper and place  a second baking tray on top to prevent pastry from rising unevenly.  Bake for 6 minutes, then remove the top baking tray and paper.  Brush the pastry with the syrup (you will not use all of the syrup.) and bake for another 6 minutes, or until golden on top.  Cool on a wire rack.

Whisk the crème patissiere.  Whip the cream and fold into the crème patissiere.  Spread half of this over one of the pastry rectangles and top with half of the strawberries.  Place a second layer of pastry on to p and spread with remaining cream and strawberries.  Cover with the last layer of pastry and dust with confectioners’ sugar to serve**.

Crème Patissiere

  • 6 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar, divided
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ oz all-purpose flour
  • 2 ¼ cups milk
  • 1 vanilla pod***
  • ½ oz butter

Whisk together the egg yolks and half of the sugar until pale and creamy.  Sift in the cornstarch and flour and mix together well.

Put the milk, remaining sugar and vanilla pod in a saucepan.  Bring just to the boil then strain over the egg yolk mixture, stirring continuously.  Pour back into a clean saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring constantly – it will be lumpy at first but will become smooth as you stir.  Boil for 2 minutes, then stir in the butter and leave to cool.  Transfer to a clean bowl, lay plastic wrap on the surface to prevent a skin forming and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

*A box of puff pastry can be found in the frozen pie shell section at the grocery store – two puff pastries come in a box.  This recipe only uses one.  Store the other one back in the freezer to use for something else.  It comes folded in thirds, and for a minute I figured I’d just cut where the folds were, but that made sort of small puff pastry layers, so I did measure mine and found I had to roll it out a bit to get the proper dimensions.  Work fast, you want to get it back into the fridge to chill, and don't roll too much or it won't get very puffy.

**I put the finished millefeuille  in the refrigerator to firm up for about 20 minutes after I made it, but it really is something you want to eat the same day because it gets a little soft by day 2.  Still good, just slightly mushy.

***Vanilla pods are damn expensive.  Someday I may close my eyes tightly and shell over the cash just to see if using a vanilla pod makes a huge difference in a recipe.  So far, my frugal self just adds about a teaspoon or so of vanilla when it calls for a vanilla pod.  Just make sure you use pure vanilla extract, not that imitation crap.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Just a moment.

  • I've started taking an after-dinner walk.  Partly to get in an extra 2 miles for the day (if we walk all the way to the lighthouse) and partly to wear Finn out a little bit between dinner and bedtime.
  • Sometimes we stop and throw rocks into the lake.
  • Every night we see a mama deer and her baby deer and some assorted deer family members (about 6 in all) having a bedtime snack in the field by the lake.
  • I think it's awesome but have yet to remember to bring my big-girl camera (camera phones do not take very good distance pictures.).
  • So far the walks have been working and bedtime for my Tiny Overlord has been a snap.
  • I'm still dealing with spotty internets.  It's not very fast and certainly it's not conducive to getting things done in a timely manner (like Christmas shopping, because I've started that already.).
  • I've also been up to my elbows in the gardens.
  • Yes, plural.
  • I have dirt under my nails and scratches up and down my arms and my shoulder is a little achy at night and my knees have permanent rock dents in them.
  • I have never been so proud!  And so tired.
  • Bedtime is a snap for me, too!
  • I'm also trying to shake this weird post-move anxiety that I seem to have acquired as of late.  
  • I'm back to making my bed when I get up so I'm not tempted to get back into it.
  • Today is Julia Child's birthday - she would have been 100.
  • Ironically, I've been reading Julie & Julia by Julie Powell (in about 2 paragraph snippets before I fall asleep in bed at night!).
  • In honor of JC, I'm going to make something tres, tres French today!

Monday, August 6, 2012

On weight and measuring.

Let's take some time to talk about weight, shall we?  We haven't done that for awhile and I haven't had the opportunity to level with you regarding the ongoing challenge I have to lose roughly the weight equivalent of a medium-sized human, so now's as good a time as any.  Oh, and I'll pepper this weight talk with pictures of snacks, how does that sound?

When our summer of planned bucket list check-offs and afternoons at the beach turned into pack a bunch of boxes and move 400 miles north, it stands to reason that I sloughed weight-loss to the bottom of my list of things to focus on.  I put my energy into cleaning and organizing and throwing away tons of crap.  Sure, I put in a day or two on the trails each week, but nothing significant (I suspect it was more for sentimental reasons because I really, really loved the trail system in our town in Iowa.  It is the standard by which all walking/biking trails are measured from here on out.).  I stopped tracking what I was eating.  I still went to my Fatties Anonymous** meetings I even raised my hand and participated, but I wasn't hard-core counting everything that went into my mouth.  And I certainly wasn't hard-core walking every day, either.

So imagine my surprise when I measured myself in July and found I'd lost a total of 12 inches total in 3 months - one of those months being a huge slough off month that included virtually no exercise and sporadic tracking.  

Let me put it to you this way: I enjoyed a number of cocktails on the patio (for medicinal reasons - stress relief and the like - but cocktails are heavy on the empty calories.), I enjoyed a lot of ice cream (new love - Neapolitan.  In a cone, of course.), and I had some bedtime snacks thrown in there for good measure.  But...and here's the key...I didn't do it every single night.  Sometimes my bedtime snack was an apple and cheese.  Sometimes it was a little popcorn.  And yes, sometimes it was an ice cream cone; we all deserve a little sweet treat sometimes.  And even though my walking was less than consistent, I did still walk and it was still an average for 4.5 miles every time.

Last time we moved I threw out my back.  Probably because I was really fat.  I'm sure there were other contributing factors, but weight had a lot to do with it.  When we loaded and then unloaded a 24 foot moving truck in a matter of about 72 hours a couple of weeks ago, I was able to do it without injuring myself.  Yes, I was sweaty and tired and bruised, but it got done.  And it got done quickly because I didn't have to stop and take a hundred breaks because I couldn't breathe or my legs were so tired they were going to give out on me, or I was so tired I thought I was going to give out on myself.

It's still a little strange for me to admit out loud that I had a weight problem.  Not even had - have, because I still do.  It's something I will struggle with for a long time.  It's a balancing act every single day.  But I'm more comfortable with where I'm at after measuring myself and realizing that even without being totally in the tracking/exercising zone, I still managed to lose inches (and even a few pounds) because now I'm making healthier eating choices.  It's no longer a question of: Should I eat the pie or not eat the pie?  Now I eat a little piece of the pie and enjoy it for what it is - a really delicious, sweet treat - instead of eating the whole pie and feeling guilty later.

So that brings me to a non-guilt inducing snack: Grilled Corn and Avocado Salsa.  It seems that since we've moved away from Iowa - the land of corn - all I can think about is corn!  You don't have to grill the corn, you could boil fresh corn or even steam some frozen corn.  I like to grill anything I can - and when I say I, we all know that I mean I like it when Uriah grills for me!  And you don't have to eat this with chips.  I also ate it with a spoon, salad style, too.

And, also - do you take measurements?  Or are you a scale person?  Or do you keep tabs on your weight by how your pants fit? Just curious, if you'd like to share, I'd like to know!

  • 4 ears sweet corn, grilled and the kernels cut off
  • 2 avocados, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • Juice of a lime
  • Chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
Combine everything in a bowl.  Refrigerate before serving.  Or not, I mixed and ate and that's good, too!

*Adapted and adopted from The Pioneer Woman.
**Fatties Anonymous is not a real meeting.  I imagine it would make an awesome meeting, though, and I'd probably be not only a member, but it's founding president.  It would also have 12 steps, like it's boozy equivalent, the first of which would Put Down the Fork.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

From Minnesota.

In spite of some initial renters remorse - due mostly to driving 7 hours in the car with Finn and Abby (Finn needing a toy or a book or a drink; Abby napping and thus, unable to "help.") and worrying about Uriah navigating Minnesota road construction in a huge moving van with a car being towed behind it and hitting a rainstorm that lasted most of the last part of our drive and having a raging headache by the time we got to our new house last week - we are in our house and are getting settled into our new town.  Slowly.  The house itself was built in 1918 and it has some older house quirks: namely, there is no air conditioning (not that we'll need it that much, but everyone that we've talked to has said it's been really warm here - mid 80s - which gets kind of toasty when you're schlepping boxes around.) and also, there are very, very few outlets and they are in very, very weird spots (the middle of the floor!).  But the house is entirely hardwoods, which is a welcome change from where we were before.  I'm just not sure where to store the vacuum.

The first thing Abby and Finn did (besides explore the crap out of the house and "claim rooms") was pick a little bouquet of flowers for me from our newly inherited gardens.  I immediately filled a bucket with bleach water and started scrubbing because, you know, this place needed a good going-over, and headache be damned, I was just the girl to do it.  The fistful of flowers that Finn brought to me was a welcome diversion.  We've had fresh flowers on our table every day since and I'm sure I'll be a little lost when the snow starts flying and we're suddenly without a daily reminder of cheer on our kitchen table.

Abby's been to the library and is already dominating their summer reading program.  We've found a route for our walks.  We've taken a swim in the chilly waters of Lake Superior almost every day to cool off.  Finn got to look his fill at some big boats and a tug boat and a sailboat and a deer and a caterpillar and the neighbor's little dog.  We've been pulling weeds and scrubbing floors and taking baths in the big claw-foot bathtub.  We've been playing outside and reading outside and generally being outside as much as possible (I'm trying to soak up as much vitamin D as I can before the snow starts flying.).  Uriah started his job this week, and while it's taking Finn a minute to get used to it (he asks me all day long: "Where Dad go?") we seem to be finding our rhythm here.