Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Wonder Wednesday: Outsider Art

I noticed a fallen branch in my backyard. 

Heading outside, I realized it was a pine branch. Strange, given that no yard neighboring mine has pine trees.

Getting closer, I found this gorgeous sculpture.

So caught up in its beauty, it took me a minute to realize that I was looking at a squirrel's work.

The squirrel had brought this branch to my yard, found a quiet spot, and set to freeing pine nuts.

Valuable calories for the rodent.  Art for me.

These photos can't do the reality justice--stripped like this, the Fibonacci number pattern is clear, a shimmery silver on each edge.

I'll cherish this natural wonder for a while, then give it to an artisan I know. Perhaps she'll work it into one of her pieces, or simply enjoy it on its own merits.

Where have you been amazed lately? Any sweet surprises from critters?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

In its absence

We have a pet turtle. Cute red-eared slider, swimming in his tank and crawling up on his rocks and log. A filter circulates the water, burbling all day long.

Usually the turtle lives in our downstairs bedroom, but while we had guests, the turtle tank came to the living room. Burble burble burble.

The noise was getting to me. One day I let the turtle wander the house for an hour so I could unplug the filter.

This afternoon the tank finally went back to the bedroom. My living room is blessedly quiet.

What I did not realize, though, is the white noise that filter provided. I startle with every rustle.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Mmmm Monday: Holiday Food

Most Mondays I'll post something about what we've been cooking. This is a monster entry, as we've had quite the adventures...

My work slows down a bit after Christmas Eve and we stayed home, so there was plenty of opportunity to cook, smoke, grill, and bake this holiday season. My parents visited, so more mouths to feed and more ideas to consider.

Here's a non-exhaustive (but somewhat exhausting) list:

Holiday cookies: My usual toffee bars, and a new chocolate cookie dough recipe, half with peanut butter chips and half with Andes candies

Hot cocoa mix, for gifting and home use

Christmas Eve: 
Tamales (traditional pork and king ranch chicken, prepared at our annual tamalada in November) with chili gravy, queso, and guacamole

Christmas Day breakfast (above): 
Panettone Strawberry-chocolate chip bread pudding
Eggs Benedict (which turned into queso eggs, as I made the hollandaise too soon, and it broke miserably)

Christmas Dinner: 
Ribeye roast (dry-brined forty-eight hours in advance, it was gloriously juicy and beefy. But that juiciness meant that there were very few drippings, so no au jus or Yorkshire puddings) 
with fluffy rolls, mashed potatoes, sherried mushrooms, roasted root vegetables, and roasted Brussels sprouts

Monday, December 28: Pork shoulder smoked on our gas grill - we did two of them--totally overkill. So much meat in my freezer...

Tuesday: Batch of charro beans, with some of the pulled pork

Wednesday, December 30: 12-hour brisket smoked on our gas grill - we took the advice to wrap it in a double layer of foil when it hit 150 degrees, pushing it through the "stall" that  can last for hours. Next time I'll mess with unwrapping it later, so we get the bark back. Math: a 14-lb brisket gave about six pounds of sliced meat, and we cooked down the fat cap for about a pound of "brisket bits" and a pint or so of brisket fat. The bits are a quick pop of flavor in just about anything, and a dab of the fat gives a deep base for soup, onions, etc.

Pies: I meant to make pie for Christmas, but it was eighty degrees here. So we had New Year's Eve pie. Pumpkin and cherry-blueberry. 
I made my first lard crusts from the lard I rendered for tamales--they came out flaky, but were a bit thick and needed more salt. (I tasted the porkiness, but no one else mentioned it...)

Chex Mix. Because holidays require Chex Mix.

New Year's Eve ended up being something of a repeat of Christmas Eve, menu-wise, with the addition of a cheese slate and the grape leaves a friend brought over. (Tamale course was beef tamales and roasted garlic&cheese tamales.)

New Year's Day I decided the charro beans were close enough to black-eyed peas, and the coleslaw would count for greens. So we just made a cornbread--spouse found the hidden penny.

Using up the pork was an adventure all its own, as I don't really eat non-bacon pork. So I became a pork pusher, setting out hashes, salsa-infused pork and rice (thank you, rice cooker), a penne with pork and red sauce, and a giant tray of pork nachos.

Since I'm always encouraging my sons to cook, I got them tools and kits for mushroom ravioli this year. Firstborn has oyster mushrooms growing upstairs, and secondborn opened his cheese-making kit yesterday. He made his first batch of mozzarella (yum!) and I used the whey to make a ridiculously small amount of ricotta. I think I'll go for whole milk ricotta next time. 

This morning's experiment was looking for a use for a package of bacon rind (not the fried stuff) a friend got with her half-hog purchase. I'd found this recipe online, and it seemed simple enough. In reality, I think it was meant for more delicate rind, if there is such a thing- ours turned into shards of pain. Breaking a tooth is never a good adventure, so the remainder of the rind was cut into squares for the stock pot. Spouse will have many flavorful pots of soup and beans over the winter.

A last experiment for the holiday was a batch of rolls, using some of the whey from yesterday's cheese as the liquid. YUM! I accidentally duplicated a taste from a long-closed restaurant nearby. (Good Eats at Wilcrest and Westheimer.) 

Tomorrow is back to a full work schedule and the kids are back to school. The good news is, the freezer is full of food for easy dinners in the month (or three) ahead.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Ritual for even the smallest fingers

The congregation I serve has an annual Turnings Service, recognizing the births, deaths, and other transitions in our community.  

This service is meaningful and emotional for many, and we encourage older children and youth to attend.

For our youngest children we have Turnings, Too- a parallel chapel service where we talk about the turning of the year and all that may have changed in our lives. For each sharing the children can drop a glass bead into this dish of water--light blue for the joys, and the darker colors for the struggles of life.

Every child has known joy and sadness. They welcome new cousins and aunts and cats and turtles into their lives. They feel the loss of death, of friends moving away, of changing family configurations. They recognize that some things are a mix of good and bad--a hospital stay and then recovering, missing loved ones while on a long but exciting trip.

And we build community in our sharing, knowing that church is a place where people want to celebrate our joys with us, support us through our struggles, and take interest in our hopes and dreams. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

If You Give A Katy A Cookie...

If you give me a cookie, I'll probably want a cup of coffee.

As I fix that cup of coffee, I might spill the half & half. In today's episode, I might drop the bottle, splashing half of it on the counter, down the cabinet doors, to pool on the anti-fatigue mat and floor.

I wiped up the kitchen mess and took the mat outside to spray clean. Only the garden hose was disconnected from the bib, so I had to figure that out.

Then I remembered that the new perennials needed watering.

Coming in the house, I discovered drips in the hallway. I handled that, too.

All said, it took twenty minutes to get back to my coffee. 

By then, I was ready for another cookie.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Inspiration, please?

Still life from backpack
My last post was July 22nd, in the midst of a month I took off from blogging as I concentrated on other projects.

And whoops, I did not pick the blog back up when August came around. 

A nonessential project buried under the stuff of life, deeper every day.

But I find that I miss it.

My most fluent times come when I am sticking to a Seinfeldian chain, writing every day. And indeed, I've stuck with my daily journaling throughout. Not much of it compelling, but the words were written.

The real question is what do I have to say that people actually want to read?

I welcome suggestions as I try to get myself back on something of a schedule.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Blip in the Radio Silence

Poetry takes absolutely forever.

I finally passed the halfway point to the minimum (10000) word goal for Camp NaNoWriMo. It's July 22nd.

The good news is, I surpassed my personal 620 lines of poetry goal days ago.

98% of my writing is very very rough draft. Dreck.

At the same time, about half of it is personal, dealing with things I'm still processing. So I'm spending the time quietly, not publishing.

But here's a piece that's exceedingly meta, because that's what happens when you take on NaNo.

Drawing drops of blood
from the heel of a
shrieking newborn.
Writing a poem
feels like that.
Except when the muse of loquacious imagery
points the fire hose of words,
blasting straight at your face
in your mind
out your pen
please don't run out of ink!

The muse gives no guarantee
of quality or satisfaction-
often you wake hungover,
faced with pages upon pages
of utter crap.
Still better than the empty page,
the taunting blinking cursor.