Missing the Forest Completely. And Finding It Again.

We went to the mountains this weekend. Peak leaf season has passed, but it was still incredibly beautiful. Peaceful, no. We were in the company of about 10,000 other people, all trying to take advantage of what may be the last warm day of fall.

But while other folks were captivated by this:

A world so big

my heart was captured by this:

So tiny. So precious.

We discovered this very tiny white footed mouse at a very tiny church, which makes him a church mouse, I suppose. His back left foot is injured and useless. He wasn’t as fast as he should be, or as coordinated. But he was giving it a go. And people were rooting for him. Dozens of people who had previously been driving in their own private little bubbles, honking their horns at one another, blocking the entire road for minutes at a time so they could take the perfect picture, came together for this little mouse.

I attempted to herd the little guy under a ledge where he would be safe from a misplaced step. As he scampered away from me, a woman noticed my efforts. He  paused for a moment in the grass, and she squatted beside him to safeguard his rest. He dashed toward another patch of grass out in the open, and someone else gently encouraged him back to safety. Each person whose awareness he touched became a part of the dance.

We’re not fools. None of us believed for a moment that he would even survive the day. He was too injured, too inexperienced to even be afraid of people, and his natural curiosity was bound to lead him in the path of an unsuspecting boot. His insistence on staying in the open made him easy pickings for any predator. We all knew the eventual end. But not on our watch, friends. As long as there were people to stand guard for him, we would.

When it was time for my family to leave the area, there was a new team in place, sharing a common goal, if only for a few minutes.

For a size comparison, that’s the Padawan’s sneaker.

Sometimes I miss the little things. I didn’t this time, and I am glad. Sometimes the little stuff is but a small reflection of a much, much bigger picture. In a world where I sometimes struggle with my significance in the grand scheme, Matthew 10:29-31 takes on a whole new meaning.

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Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31)

Just As Tasty As the Real Thing

Yesterday we celebrated the girl-child’s birthday. She turned 15 in August, but whatever. Better late than pregnant, I always say.  And besides, my niece hit her 18th two weeks ago, so our par-tay was something of a joint hoo-ha.  We marked the occasions with a family get-together around a campfire, complete with weenie roast, which seemed like a good idea.

Fall was made for roasting hot dogs over a fire, flames warming cheeks and hands, smoke permeating clothing with its delicious aroma. One tiny problem. Girl-child became a vegetarian when she was ten. No hot dogs for her. I know what you’re thinking. She will grow up deprived and twisted if she does not experience such important traditions as weenie roasts. Never fear. Mom to the rescue! Or as Squish would say it “To the wrecks-you!” In this case, I think his version is closer to right.

I did what any mom would do. I bought her some veggie dogs. It took some doing. I learned that there are many choices in the veggie dog category. You’ve got your Smartdogs, your Morningstar farms, and the entire Tofurky family. I finally settled on one brand, vaguely reassured by the label boasting the words “Now roastable!” Which according to spell check isn’t even a word. Spell check, you win.

They look like hot dogs. They feel like hot dogs. They don’t cook like hot dogs. Here’s what a weenie should look like.

This.

Note the beautiful and even charring. So pretty. I can taste it now.

 

Not this.

I am reassured by the bubbly skin. Hot dogs should peel like that, too, right?

 

Note the even charring on the real dog. The veggie version looks like it has the pox. And the warnings on the label are pretty insistent that the vega-weenies don’t spend more than 6-7 minutes close to a flame. What it didn’t explain was why. Will an over-roasted vegadog merely taste bad or will it come to life and kill us all? I now suspect the latter.

Girl-child roasted her dog. And watched it bubble. Her grandmother generously offered to fix her a soy burger, but I am opposed to wasting food. I insisted that the kid at least try a bite before writing it off as inedible. She was thrilled.

I have to eat that? Really? You saw the bubbles, right?

 

Sadly, she was only able to take the one bite. The plate was knocked to the ground, and my mother’s dog, who is part cocker spaniel, part Great White shark and something of an opportunistic feeder, pounced and consumed the remainder. Slowly. And with much regret, the expression on her fuzzy face screaming “Oh, dear God! Why are you trying to kill me?”

So I had to try one. Of course. Because I am nothing if not stubborn. All I can say is Mmmm, yummy. The texture was reminiscent of custard wrapped in a latex balloon, and it tasted like paste. There’s not enough mustard and onion in the world to make that thing palatable.

There were good things that came out of this experience, however. The four-legged dog is no worse for the wear, and she may be forever cured of counter-surfing. And the Not-dogs come five to a package, so there are three left. Any takers?

 

Haven’t We Done This Dance Before?

School walkathon this morning. The weather report said “Rain won’t move in until after 10am. Oh, really? So why is it pouring on my head as I walk home at 9:15? Haven’t we had this discussion already?

I consult Jojo the Dojo.

Look at the wisdom in those whiskers

He says it’s going to be a wet day. But that’s what he always says. Because he’s, well, he’s a fish.

How Halloween Ruined My Life

I can’t call this a wordless entry because look. Here are some words I made for you. But there aren’t many of them, so hang with me. Here’s how Halloween ruined what was left of my life. See this?

Everybody say it. Awwwwww.

So cute. Trick or treating at the zoo. Adorable. Sweet. Yeah. And the next day, it turns into this:

Levitating bandit

Photographic demonstration of why I can no longer get anything done in my house. I did move the treats to higher ground, but hope springs eternal. It doesn’t stop him from climbing up for a peek. Out of desperation, I grabbed my camera and snapped his photo as he summited Mount Never-rest. And I told him it was a bad shot and asked him to do it again and then again. Eight times. Until he gave me a withering glare and said “I done.”

Aren't you done yet?

So I have outsmarted him for the moment. A very brief moment. He is currently calling me to the bathroom to attend his performance as he tries  to squeeze out a token for yet another treat. I have become poop police, judge and jury. Anybody know how many tiny nuggets constitute a treat-worthy production? Dr. Spock fails to cover that one.

Goodbye, Dear Friend

Oh, sweet friend, I will miss you. We have shared special times. You have been there for me, I wake in the darkness and find comfort in you. And now you will go, cold, unyielding rejection in place of your warm embrace. A scream in the night. I knew you couldn’t stay. Our time together is always too fleeting. I see the falling leaves as a sign that we will soon be parted. Not forever, I know. Spring will bring our joyous reunion. Until then, my friend, goodbye.

Farewell, warm toilet seat.

So You Think You Can’t Bake

It’s fall, and nothing tastes or smells more like fall than ginger and cloves. One simple and tasty way to add that aroma to the house is to whip up a batch of little gingerbread dudes. I promised an easy recipe to my blogging buddy, and it’s time I make good.

My beloved husband cooks like an art major, feeling in his soul that a recipe is only a suggestion, a mere jumping off point in a quest for self-expression. It makes his cooking interesting and his baking inedible. Therefore I offer a step-by-step guide with pictures for those creative spirits who aren’t sure why their bread has the consistency of a black hole.If you already know what you’re doing, copy the recipe and have a great day! Everyone else, follow me.

Here’s what you need:

1/2 C Butter (softened, not melted)

1/2 C Sugar

1/2 C Molasses (NOT blackstrap)

2 egg yolks

2 C Bread Flour (you can use all-purpose, but your men won’t be as fluffy)

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp cloves

2 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

And here’s what to do. In technicolor.

1) Cream your butter and sugar.

"Cream" on low speed. Sounds violent, but if you keep your fingers out of the way, no one gets hurt.

2) Combine in Molasses

Molasses was intended by God for use in gingerbread. Alone, it tastes awful. High in iron, though.

3) Beat in egg yolks. You don’t need any special gadget to separate the yolks. Save the whites. You can use them in the bread recipe I’ll post soon.

To separate, hold egg a bowl and gently pour from one half of the shell to the other.

4) In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients and blend well with a fork.

Baking calls for exact ratios. Use a knife to level off your flour and spices.

Can't you just smell it?! Yum!

5) Add dry ingredients to your butter mixture in small amounts. I use medium or high speed since the batter is thick. Blend until smooth.

A little at a time so it blends well.

This is what it looks like when you're done. It has little waves in it.

6) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or put it in a small, air-tight bowl and put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour. It seems unfair to have to wait. Leave the house if you must. It makes the time pass faster. You can put it in the freezer if you have to, but I am always afraid that the butter will crystallize. No idea what that would do to the taste, but I avoid unnecessary crystallization in my life whenever possible as a matter of principle.

So close, and yet so far away. An hour. Take this time to catch up on all those shows on DVR.

And now, the fun begins! Here’s the creative opportunity you’ve all been waiting for! Here’s what you need:

Yes, I do recommend wax paper. Buy some now, thank me later.

1) Lightly sprinkle some flour on a piece of wax paper and on your rolling pin. You can roll if out directly on the counter if you want to, but, wax paper makes it easier to remove even the most reluctant gingerbread dude and get him  to your baking sheet.

2) Roll out your dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. Use your cookie cutter of choice. Or use a sharp knife and create your own amazing shapes.

In ten minutes, I will EAT you! Be afraid, little gingerbread dude!

3) Remove your shape from the wax paper and place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, depending on your oven.

4) Cool for a minute or so, and then remove to wire rack (if you have one).

Five reasons why life is worth living.

And that’s all there is to it. Here are a few tips.

Buy your spices at a place that sells them in bulk and lets you scoop them yourself. I paid about 1/4 the price I would have paid for prepackaged stuff. And it’s way fresher.

The spice amounts can be adjusted according to taste, but try the recipe as-is a time or two first. Too much cloves or ginger will burn your tongue. No joke.

An air-tight wrap or container is important in the fridge. It keeps the dough from drying out.

Put your cookies in an air-tight container before they have cooled completely. The stay softer that way.

Make friends only with people who have no sense of smell. If they can’t smell your cookies, you won’t have to share.

Enjoy, and let me know how they turn out!

The Flavors of Fall

I usually don’t post on weekends, but my blogging buddy tweeted yesterday that she went apple picking, and another pal posted on Facebook that honeycrisp apples (which I suspect were the delicacy responsible for the fall of  The Very First Lady, and may actually have been worth the consequences) have hit stores, and I am inspired! One of my favorite fall traditions is making apple butter in my slow-cooker, and the time is ripe.

Let me dissuade you of the illusion that I have always been steeped in traditional homemaking skills. I grew up watching my great-grandmother pick, cook and can her own fruits and vegetables and create beautiful quilts, and my grandmother sewed many of my dresses and was a skillful knitter,  but in my opinion, those skills were for old people. And since my mother was a single-parent who worked 45-50 hours a week, all that domesticity skipped a generation.

When I got married, I didn’t even know how to cook. Hamburger helper and canned green beans constituted fine-dining in those early days. I could scramble and egg and bake cookies, but those dishes do not exactly make for a balanced diet. Over time, I have branched out, and I am happy to say that I am now an adventurous cook, and definitely not a bad one.

Now I am a stay-at-home mom (and arguably rather old),  I am beginning to appreciate those skills possessed by the matriarchs as a lost art. One by one, I am trying to revive them. Since I am but a slow knitter, and I can’t sew a straight line, cooking is currently the skill at which I am most successful. Enter apple butter.

Here’s my confession. I love eating the stuff. And it makes a great gift for family members. At least the ones who know I actually like them and won’t look at the jar and wonder if I’m trying to do them in. Actually, I’m not above messing with anyone’s head, but I hate to waste food, so I stick to the people I like. What I love most about apple butter, though, is not the taste or the mind games. I love the way it makes my house smell. Like cinnamon and the spices. The fragrance of fall. It’s  simply incredible. Unless you burn it, but I’m not going there.

I do things a little differently than my Nanny. She stirred apples on the stove-top for hours on end, until they were a delicious, caramelized mush. But face it. She raised her kids during the Great Depression. They didn’t have access to the many and various ways to do bodily harm that my kids do. I use my crock pot.

I do bow to tradition in one way. I don’t use those gadgets that will peel/slice/core an apple for you in 30 seconds. My apples are peeled and sliced by hand. It takes an hour or two, but here’s the cool part. My daughter joins me. The time that we spend together here is magic, time we spend actually talking. She is now fourteen, and I find myself greedy for these interludes of conversation and laughter. She may eventually become suspicious and wonder why we are making 6 batches of the stuff, when we normally make only two. I hope she doesn’t catch on for awhile.

So here it is, the recipe you’ve all been waiting for. Or skipped all the other drivel to get to:

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

4 1/2 – 5lbs of apples (no exact measure, but you want so many apples that the top doesn’t quite fit on the cooker) peeled, cored, and sliced thin

4 C sugar (you knew it was going to be good, right?!)

3 tsp cinnamon

1/4  tsp cloves

Combine sugar and spices. Pour apples in large bowl and pour sugar mixture over it. Mix it all up.

Dump in slow-cooker and cook on high for an hour

Decrease heat to low and cook for 9-11 hours, stirring occasionally

Uncover and cook for another hour

Whisk until smooth (I sometimes use an electric hand mixer, but really hot stuff will go flying)

Can in half-pint jars immediately (I’ll post instructions in another blog, if anyone is interested